About Katy Gilmore

Katy Gilmore is an artist (watercolors and artists' books ) and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She is the author/illustrator of "The Year in Flowers: A Daybook." Katy has had more than 25 solo exhibitions, and her work is included in public and private collections. Her blog "Her spirits rose..." explores art and inspiration in the everyday things of home and garden, and her work is found at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

St. Francis Leaves the Bluff

When we moved to Bainbridge two years ago, we wanted to make sure the move was right, so we didn’t sell our house, but leased it. Planning to visit often, we kept access to the guesthouse, the Buffalo. But the universe conspired to prevent visits, and time has come to put the property on the market. (I recognize this as a tale of privilege. Several times that’s stopped me from writing, but the blog began on the bluff, and now that part of the story ends.)

Only 900 square feet, the Buffalo is still a complete house with the utensils, bedding, linens, art, photos, books, and furniture of a house. And, because of a big closet, extraneous things got stored over the years – all our photo negatives packaged in labelled shoeboxes, beloved aged backpacking tent, sleeping bags, extra kid equipment. An empty file cabinet became the repository of my mother’s things when she died, her purse, her files and photos, and little stacks of expired passports and driver’s licenses.

In her book of essays, titled “Everywhere I Look,” Helen Garner quotes a clergyman’s wife on changing houses, “Every time you move you have to work through your whole life.”

Because we never really lived there, the Buffalo’s emotional weight blindsided me. In the first few of many trips to clear out, I thought it would be just sort, give away or toss, pack. But things speak of their provenance to a person packing up, voicing memories and original hopes.

A lot of the things I hoped for came to be. We built the bigger house and a garden and moved there, our sons came willingly to visit, and one married there in a beautiful ceremony. Eventually the Buffalo sheltered their growing families, and always it made it a pleasure to have guests.

In the drawing below, done early in the garden’s life, it’s orderly. But this spring, nature occupied every available space. Thuggish plants crowd and engulf plants once cosseted. Buttercups invade the beds, water suckers ruin the shape of the enormous Sambucus, the paths are clotted and choked by grass. I used to fantasize it was “contained abundance” – no longer.

My friend the wordsmith (who has been the most amazing help and support, making a sometimes hard thing cheerful) says it looks like the garden of an abandoned English estate. Kinda. The realtor will have it cleaned up for listing, and I’m hoping for a new gardener to love it.

The wordsmith’s husband muscled our statue of St. Francis (it stood for years in the center of the foursquare garden) into my car. I remember the first time Lady Baby spotted him and stood nearby, seemingly shocked he was taller than she. He looks contented now, in his tiny pretend Tuscan courtyard, surrounded by rosemary and welcoming hummingbirds who visit a nearby fountain.

 

“Hamilton” Redeems July Fourth in the Time of COVID-19

Probably I should drop the “…in the time of” business, because it’s all COVID time – our reality in perpetuity. Only the degree of infection changes – and it roars again now.

And didn’t the celebration of the nation’s birthday seem like a party that wasn’t, like an ill-behaved child’s birthday party cancelled, or maybe this is also apt, the child got sick? At least that was my Fourth of July. Only the president seemed to spend it in his alternate universe where a lethal virus and heartfelt protests don’t coexist, where he is threatened by all of us wearing masks and wanting fairness and health – frenzied hoards in his selfish, petty mind.

Gloomy weather and gloomy spirits on Saturday – until the evening, when we joined Disney, and, with millions of Americans watched the unparalleled, “Hamilton,” on television. What a gift from the creator, Lin Manuel Miranda. Oh, I know he’s already made a fortune, but watching all those performers – the dancing, the singing, the stage, the lighting, the humanity of the show – that should earn buckets of money.

And anyway, Miranda has now given it to us (for $6.95) – to watch and absorb how inexhaustibly creative it is – so clever, so witty and wise. And beautiful, and joyful, and tragic. It rewards multiple viewings (on top of all our listening to the soundtrack).

When I saw “Hamilton” two years ago (a lifetime ago), I kept thinking of the line, “immigrants get the job done!” (Even more true now in the time of essential workers.) This time I saw the inequities built into the whole American endeavor from the beginning. And registered, as the new Americans begin to create a nation (mocked by the glorious King George), the partisan fighting, the negotiating, the compromises.

On television it’s more personal, but it lacks the electricity of real people making this happen in front of a live audience (remember those times, sitting close to strangers!). But filmed during a performance in the early days on Broadway – now we get closeups of faces, beautiful Phillipa Soo as Eliza, singing her heart out in joy and grief, Miranda himself as Hamilton, expressive face alight. I would never have imagined it could be so luminously transferred to the screen – preserving the magic for all to see.

Firecrackers boomed across our island as we watched, and I finally felt slightly celebratory – for the creativity of Americans, for Black Lives Matter protesters (along with pain that this is still necessary on this 244th birthday). And maybe a glimmer of hope that we won’t “give up our shot!”

Walking in the Time of Covid-19

Well, Americans won’t be walking in Europe! Not just because the worldwide pandemic makes travel dodgy – but because the EU has banned Americans. While European countries largely contained the coronavirus, as we know the U.S. did not. American (presidential) incompetence and recklessness allowed unnecessary and tragic COVID-19 infections. A bad situation, getting worse. Denial, lies, and obfuscation prove poor tools for virus fighting.

Exclusion from Europe is just one way American esteem has fallen in the world under this administration. Aside from other bad presidential moments – George Bush in Iraq comes to mind – Europeans always greeted us and our tourist ways with friendliness and curiosity. This, too, shall pass, and if one isn’t too old, travel will happen again – a new president and a controlled virus will encourage summertime in British gardens, hot nights in Italy, train rides through countrysides, and walks in Irish rain.

Ordinary days merge together in routine, but trips with walks leave indelible impressions. For a decade, with our increasingly complex family – first adding wives, then one child, then two, then three – memorable moments of stress and joy accompanied those trips. Selfishly I’d so hoped for more with all four grandchildren.

But meantime, in a treasured second life of travel – trip memories come on my daily walks this summer – footfalls as madeleines. My island walk has variety, and, in some form of compensatory thinking, invites remembering – stirred by my footsteps on pavement, outdoor café seating (lots of that now), and flower filled window boxes. Beside a body of water, I stop to gaze over the harbor as we might have stopped over a promontory and considered the valley below.

I climb hills, lots of hills, and down again through a new neighborhood catching glimpses of lived lives, lush gardens and inviting porches. I discover commuters’ connecting trails –– and a root-riddled path through a patch of woods, trees and undergrowth close, for a moment like a forest in an unknown place. I try to stop the internal fret and let my mind go – rainy days bring the sound of wind and rain flapping my hood, poles hitting the ground – and hot days, sun on my back walking up a hill, I expect vineyards instead of 50s ramblers and basketball hoops.

It works a little. I’m very grateful for all there is and all there was – but for sure, I’d rather be walking with Beowulf.

Masks in the Time of COVID-19

No agreement existed about the benefits of masks early in this pandemic, and conflicting advice confused everyone. But now the science is clear – face coverings provide a serious impediment to the spread of the coronavirus. It’s both considerate to others and safer to wear one.

It seems tedious and disheartening and idiotic that this has become another national divide. If we now announce our political leaning by our PPE, I’m glad to be on the common sense, science-supported side of the debate. (And I don’t have antibodies – whatever felled me in March didn’t give me superblood.)

In this interesting discussion of mask wearing by Rachel Sugar, writing in Vox, psychologists weigh in on the social ramifications of losing easy smiles and revealing only the top of faces (where we signal anger and fear), and designers discuss masks as fashion statements in our sure-to-be-mask-wearing future. (https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/6/8/21279725/masks-face-psychology)

I’m still making masks – more than 200 now, thanks to fabric from my generous Alaska neighbor – working through her second stash of colorful patterns, including grizzly bears and moose. Through the Lt. Governor’s initiative, I mostly send to Volunteer Kitsap, which coordinates helping organizations in this part of the state.

And friends still request them. Right at the start of the Black Lives Matter protests a friend asked for six more masks, and offered a donation to a favorite cause in return. She contributed to a Go Fund Me for a vandalized Atlanta dress shop, and her sister, who received some of the masks, also donated – to a protest bail fund. Another friend sent to Obama’s Meet Anguish With Action fund.

That seems a good circle.

When they send photos, it’s fun to see how people wear the masks. Cotton masks wash well (and help eliminate some of the mounds of waste generated by disposable masks) – but can offer a conundrum for comfort. With a label I tried to explain how to determine which side up and out for best fit over one’s nose.

And the ties present difficulties (but also launder better than elastic, which is still rationed at our fabric store). People adapt – ponytail or bun wearers do best, top string tied jauntily on top, and a friend wears his with the top tie over his ears then both ties fastened low down on the back of his head.

A useful and clever suggestion comes from a teenager (of course). Her mother showed her the masks, she said, “that won’t work,” and proceeded to knot permanent ear loops exactly to fit her – then tie both strings at the back of her head under a shiny teenage mane!

 

Happiness in the Time of COVID-19

Writing in Slate, (https://slate.com/technology/2020/06/advice-on-reopening-activies-er-doctor.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab), Amita Sudhir, an emergency doctor, discusses what’s permitted now that states begin to open, and analyzes what and why we might choose certain activities. She’s clear-spoken and kind, and I appreciated reading her words as we grapple with acceptable risk going forward. While weighing pros and cons, she admits: “We are all in need of a little happiness right now.”

Dr. Sudhir considers the possibility of in-person family visits, and while I’m beyond grateful for all the electronic interchanges (and painting Lord B’s outfits has been a very real source of lockdown happiness), like all grandparents, I’m nostalgic for adventures of the past and wondering about the future.

Tiny Triumphs in the Time of COVID-19

Back in the Before Times, I wrote about Austin Kleon’s book, “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Creative in Good Times and Bad.” In his recent newsletter, Kleon quoted from a letter he received: “Every time we make a thing, it’s a tiny triumph.”

Maybe now, after last week, there is a glimmer of political hope, racial justice hope, but probably not COVID hope, and while I ask myself what’s next (a friend suggested earthquake) – I relish the idea of registering an ordinary accomplishment as a tiny triumph. Making a mask, yes, and a rhubarb crisp or dinner – or a flower postcard.

And joy is to always get a flower postcard in return!

 

Both Anguish and Action

It’s impossible to ignore what has happened this last week in America. And from a position of white privilege, but with no political power and no ability to influence unacceptable police behavior, hard to know what to do. I’ve already voted for people who support fairness and equity under the law and against the evil occupant of the White House.

And yet, just to post the blog intended for today, is inadequate. To say nothing at this moment seems completely head-in-the-sand unacceptable.

So, I offer the Obama Foundation’s suggestions for turning anguish into action, because, of course, these people have thought long and hard about what needs to happen. They make concrete recommendations for how to get informed and involved – for people like me – and hopefully you. Their statement of purpose:

We work to help leaders change their world—and the world needs changing. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the loss of far too many Black lives to list, have left our nation anguished and outraged. While now is a time for grief and anger, it is also a time for resolve. Find resources below to learn what you can do to create a more just and equitable world.

https://www.obama.org/anguish-and-action/

 

Optimism in the Time of COVID-19

Did you hear the NPR piece about whether optimism is learned or innate? After reading a transcript, I’ve been thinking about the psychologist Martin Seligman’s comments about optimists and pessimists – and wondering if alternating between these two ways of being explains my changeable reaction to life right now. Seligman says an optimist assumes the problem is “temporary, just this one time and controllable,” a pessimist believes bad events are “permanent, pervasive, uncontrollable.”

Controllable – whether the pandemic is controllable or not – that’s the fluctuation and uncertainty. If we knew more, I might indulge my fantasies about motorhomes (new for me). My first notion (mostly as something to talk to Sweet B about) was the proposal I rent an RV and park it in her driveway. I threw that suggestion out on FaceTime, and Sweet B said, “hmmm, my mommy’s car is parked there.” She was quiet for a minute, then said, “we need to give that some more thought.” Indeed.

When we next spoke I proposed the LA family rent an RV and drive it up here, and we discussed the logistics of such an journey. A pleasant distraction for people to whom planning (and controlling or at least arranging outcome) is a pleasure no longer available.

Creative projects can be controllable, but these days the big blankness at the beginning intimidates me. I’ve liked watching other people’s creative moves though: my painter friend makes little water media paintings that I picture as big oil paintings someday, and as a daily discipline, my old friend who lives on the island makes postcards to mail to her three grandsons. She includes riddles, odd facts, and lists the things she is grateful for. The Wordsmith grows a garden destined to be bountiful with food and beauty.

Some have used the time to teach and to learn. My friend who paints in the woods posts video tutorials about her work methods on Instagram, another friend, a woodworker, whose daughter expressed interest, makes furniture with her – imparting skills to last. My physical therapist completely gave in to his teenage son’s long held obsession with llamas, and together they built the llama barn and fencing required to adopt two llamas, Ned and Giovanna. My good-natured husband (certified optimist) continues his pursuit of the Greek language – ancient and modern.

But I often retreat to the repetitive, familiar, doable task of mask making – more than 150 now, sending them to the project initiated by Washington’s Lt. Governor and the United Way, where mask makers are matched with volunteer organizations like shelters and food banks.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d have done more creative work if I didn’t make masks, but maybe I’d just be doing more “doomscrolling.” (What a great new phrase to describe that which we do too much of!)

One heartening thing has been to see the ever-changing costumes of Lord B, like the one below. I asked for identification of the knight – Mrs. Hughes replied, “just a run-of-the-mill knight.” But the ballcap and basket lid seem inspired.

At least we can control our outfits and accessories, if not the outcome of our current plight.

Life Still in Lockdown

My thoughts flitted all over this week, always recognizing the need to keep them corralled and forbid awfulizing. And I’m in a privileged world with work and loving families in secure situations – for now. Maybe that’s it. We have no idea what’s coming – some recovery? Or the “darkest winter in modern history?”

To think I began the year imagining us walking along the remains of Hadrian’s Wall this summer – knowing Lady B would love that. She’s very interested in history these days, her prized possession a fat history of the world from prehistoric times to “the year my mom graduated from college.” My only concern then was how old Sweet Brother would be for traveling. “We were so naïve,” a friend said yesterday.

The other day I walked down to the ferry dock just to remember leaving the island and was shocked to see the totally empty parking lots. I can read about things, but seeing the vacant tarmac startled me.

I walked home thinking about the administration’s frighteningly successful attempts to dismantle our democracy, and their chaotic and pathetic response to the virus. What if this pestilence that’s touched the entire world had been some universal good circling the globe, sudden outbreak of fair treatment and kindness – a virus causing reasonableness.

At my age will I ever see the grandchildren again in real life? What will happen in the election? That’s what my mind does – goes a little way down the path of despair, and then remembers how lucky we are when getting through the day and the month, is a challenge for so many. Countless lost lives and livelihoods.

And then my mind veers off, into dailiness or into the legitimate enjoying of what is still before me. I can’t hug the grandkids (although I really loved the tale of a grandpa donning full motorcycle leathers, helmet, mask, gloves so he could hug his grandchildren or the family who erected a plastic barrier with plastic sleeve tubes so a grandmother could hug her little people), but I can talk to ours, engage with them on a screen.

We could be there virtually at reading time when Lady B discovered the dictionary definition revealed when you press a word on a Kindle – and learned the magic of looking up Stonehenge and seeing what the index of her history book can do.

We admired Lord B’s costume of the day (Artemis, goddess of the hunt, with tropical shirt and shorts) and viewed a favorite book of his about trucks and excavators, followed by his rendition of “Henry the Explorer.”

We’ve seen puppet shows and live performances (every detail planned by Sweet B), including “Sunset Performance” – staged in the garden and set to classical music as she twirled and posed in ballet moves, including lifts by her tuxedo-clad dad.

And Sweet Brother – he’s the one who has changed so very much in the lockdown – transformed in these months from newborn to chubby, cheerful guy, cuddling against his dad in matching gray sweats and blue t-shirt.

It’s greedy to want more. Being thankful for what is seems a better idea.

 

 

 

Another Postcard Project in the Time of COVID-19

But first – the time has come for a name change. I started to write that recently I saw a photo of Baby Brother wearing a helmet and sitting on a rock by scrubby grass on a spring bike ride with his family. He was drawing in a large sketchbook. He’s no baby anymore. He’s tall and smart, and has an astounding vocabulary. Therefore, henceforth, in keeping with his sister’s title, his name here shall be Lord B. He might like that if he ever knew, certainly like it better than Baby Brother.

And it’s time for a project with him. I asked his mom if he might like to do a postcard project, she said yes, and added that when he draws, “every scribble comes with a story.”

So, in postcards north I plan to ask about those stories, and maybe receive a drawing and story in response (this will require some dictation to his parents).

Lord B excels at costuming – one of the highlights of our three-times-a-week reading sessions with Lady B is the initial brief appearance of Lord B in the day’s outfit – firefighter jacket, mask, and sword, or police hat and cape – ever varied.

My first postcard depicts Lord B (or a boy looking vaguely like him) drawn from a photo where he’s dressed after the protagonist in “Alexander, the old Town Mouse.” I didn’t know that book, but looked it up and the re-creation is spot on. Alexander has a green sash, and to mimic this Lord B used his Super G cape slung over another cape. Perfect.

I hope I get to hear the story.

 

 

The Garden Here in the Time of COVID-19

Today, spring rain falls on the tiny patio outside the window where I sat so much during recovery – my spot for early morning tea. Last month I watched the rosemary bloom sky blue and eager hummingbirds visit. Beneath it, pink blossoms of thyme crowded the pavers. Planted three years ago, the clematis finally produced white flowers against the trellis. The old rose is huge and full of budded promise.

A pot of Apricot Beauty tulips, one bulb planted years ago on the bluff, produced three welcome flowers. I can see lily spears emerging from another pot, and the hollyhock from last year looks strong. A bundle of forget-me-nots – tagalongs from Alaska – fills a pot. Bags of potting soil and compost clutter the space now – spring cleanup and planting underway.

Theoretically. But this year, like everything else gardening is different. An old and dear friend, wrote that “it’s hard to match the exuberance of my outside spaces with the interior obsession with pandemic news.” That’s true.

At the garden center, with limited opening and strict rules, I bought compost and soil and pumpkin seeds – and sweet pea seeds (quickly, as we are one person at a time inside the building). You can wander the plants outdoors, staying apart from other masked people, but I came home feeling a little sad, the springtime enthusiasm seems muted, wary, gardeners stopping to chat a thing of the past. Employees looked windblown and exhausted. Plants limited. Something grim tinges everything with so much sad and awful news circling the planet.

So far, my sweet peas seeds and cannellini beans haven’t germinated. I’ve attempted to prepare the pumpkin patch from last year (it’s still lumpy with unbuilt planting mounds). Eager for their color, I bought a couple of tiny calibrachoa, destined for containers, at the grocery store on my weekly shop.

But exuberance? Thanks only to perennials (my friend has a perennial garden I bet). The sturdy, old and beautiful trees and shrubs left by the gardener of 30 years ago – the crab apple, rhododendron, and lilac – all burst forth undiminished. I greet the newer perennials with gratitude – the scraggly rose bushes, gift from a gardener on my morning walk, now fill their space, a California poppy rescued from the garden center (the one blossom such an unusual pink) has become a sizeable clump. Lavender, nepeta, and geranium, return and push aside the yellowing leaves of daffodils and tulips.

And on a self-seeded foxglove, gift from a bird, six sturdy stems head skyward. Out back, a grocery-store-purchased compact delphinium I never managed to repot, neglected all winter, reappeared with new healthy foliage – a rebirth I don’t deserve.

And in a cheerful quarantine garden activity, Sweet B and I are beginning a project. Each week we plan to send each other a little painting on a watercolor postcard of a flower from our gardens – adding words about the flower on the back of the card. We’re in early stages, but it’s a thrill to get mail from her. (On FaceTime recently, she advised me that I might want to add some figures to my paintings and they wouldn’t be so plain.)

It inspires to make a record of garden bloom – maybe specially in this pandemic year.

 

 

Gardening in the Time of COVID-19

The other morning I read an inspiring and joyful article by Charlotte Mendelson titled, “It’s Time To Grow Your Own Beans.” Right away I forwarded it to the California gardener, and put a handful of heirloom cannellini beans (from a sealed bag I seem to have saved for the apocalypse and can now use to make soup) in the mail to California.

I kept thinking that the author’s name sounded familiar, and, to my chagrin, realized Mendelson’s gardening memoir, “Rhapsody in Green: A novelist, an obsession, a laughably small excuse for a vegetable garden,” has sat unopened on our coffee table since last year (it does have a wonderful cover, but still).

For this whole strange time when thinking about reading, I have assumed I would concentrate better on a page turner, some junker that could transport me to a different catastrophe, one with an ending. I would never have predicted a memoir about a “comically small town garden, a mere 6 square meters of urban soil and a few pots,” would be my escapist dream.

Mendelson’s writing really appeals – and her delicious sense of humor about gardening, gardening experts, and gardening desires – also slugs, failures, and small triumphs. In her prologue, she welcomes the reader, “Come into my garden. Try to keep a straight face.”

Gardening season begins now in Washington, but we are weeks behind California. Over these last years, Sweet B’s dad (with her help recently) transformed a barren urban plot into a green haven. Larger than Mendelson’s garden behind her terraced London house, the California garden has a tiny square of lawn (just big enough for a small bike rider to make circles), and a brick patio (just big enough to hold a large deep wading pool). A pergola, covered in grape vine and shade-cloth, provides shelter from the sun for an outdoor couch, chairs, and table.

A podocarpus hedge grown tall shields the garden from close next-door neighbors. A variety of fruit trees in garden beds surround the lawn: banana, pomegranate, lime, papaya, orange, plum, and an olive. Bougainvillea climbs the painted bright-blue cement wall at the end of the garden, and throughout the beds California drought-tolerant perennials crowd huge lavender and rosemary shrubs and smaller herbs. Seasonal color flashes from early sweet peas, California poppies, red hot pokers, and more.

In the past, family summer traveling limited vegetable growing, but this year, by using a graveled-with-pots, previously ignored space at the corner of the house in full sun, a vegetable plot took shape. The chief gardener and his assistant cleared out the gravel, constructed an L-shaped raised bed, and erected a sturdy trellis.

By ordering soil and starts online, the gardeners planted food – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberries, snap beans, carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, green onions, radish, and zucchini. Behind the garage by the compost (beside a volunteer pumpkin), corn, melons, and cucumbers found space. (I had to ask for this list. It ended with, “and a few things I may have forgotten about – we’ll see if they grow.”)

And now there’s a chance for Jack-in-the-beanstalk moments!

Blue bird, butterflies, and bees visit flowers in her garden, by Sweet B.

 

Olive tree with climbing ladder, spirit house on stilts, and gardeners watering, by Sweet B.

Reading in the Time of COVID-19

Different – the reading. Several friends have said it’s hard to concentrate. The lure of news is huge – so much news that affects us all, fine journalism, hard to resist stories of the illness from doctors, sufferers, the recovered. The politics of it all.

A smart and thoughtful blog reader alerted me to a fine way to read important news quickly, without having to (heaven help me) watch the so-called Coronavirus “briefings” from the White House (the occasional glimpse of reality from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Brix so drowned out by nonsense, lies, and misinformation) is to subscribe to the newsletter, “Letters from An American” by Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson, an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College, writes clearly, conveying the important political happenings of the day in an immediate and accessible way

The New Yorker has been my breakfast and dinner companion for decades – and I’m always months behind. But not anymore – I’ve taken to reading the most recently arrived issue.

And now, because of sewing and not much time for reading, I’ve discovered the app Audm – professional voices read articles from multiple periodicals. The New Yorker posts many – including long profile pieces (the one about Mitch McConnell is horrifying) and short pieces they call “Dispatches from a Pandemic.” The sewing machine whirs, the voices keep me company, I get to catch up.

A great pleasure has been reading with Lady B and her brother on dual Kindles. We schedule our times to meet on FaceTime (once the pair showed up with a big container of cookies they’d made, oatmeal with smashed Oreos, to taunt their virtual granddad known as a cookie hound). For an hour or so, we take turns reading, until their iPad is needed for a classroom Zoom or the outdoors beckons.

We are all loving Damien Love’s “Monstrous Devices.” An English schoolboy, 12-year old Alex, a collector of toy robots and bullied at school, receives a toy robot from his grandfather and the adventure begins. The two set off by train from London toward Paris, and on to Prague. There are robots that come alive, enough humor and just enough fright to be perfect.

Lady B has become a proficient and expressive out loud reader. The book offers a sprinkling of unfamiliar words, French phrases and Britishisms and gives us food for discussion. Her mother tells me that the other day, Lady B said, “books are best.”

And wondering about sharing a book with Sweet B, I googled “books to read aloud with a smart five-year old,” and found an article from Wired magazine, “67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10.” Great books, and Joan Aiken’s “Arabel’s Raven” looks just right for now, the adventures of a young British girl and her pet raven Mortimer. Sweet B could even listen to colorful British accents with the Audible version – listening with headphones on her “radio,” as she says, a favorite activity as she draws.

Lady B is right – books are best.

 

Sewing in the Time of COVID-19

Way back in The Before Times, in early January, time of resolutions and plans for the new year, I thought I would like to sew more. Thinking about how much I loved it – from the time I learned at 14, taught by my mother’s friend, through years of clothes making (my woolen wedding dress), screen-printed quilts, various Christmas ornaments, pillows, repairs, curtains, up to Sweet B’s cloak last Christmas. My 50-year old Singer, a gift from my husband when first we married, has stitched valiantly through all kinds of fabric.

But I had no idea what 2020 would offer by way of sewing opportunity! Since I began to get better, I’ve been making masks. I began for the Californians – using this Kaiser Permanente pattern and video: (https://about.kaiserpermanente.org/content/dam/internet/kp/comms/import/uploads/2020/03/02_COVID_Mask-Instructions_v9.pdf

I quickly used up all my stash – fabric I never thought would get used – and had to piece the ties from short lengths and mismatched patterns.

But now I have a bonanza! My old neighbor, generous-hearted owner of the Anchorage shops, Cabin Fever and Quilted Raven, sent me a dream stash! It arrived last Thursday – a bulging, large flat rate box delivered to the doorstep by our mailman (wearing one of my first masks, I was tickled to see).

It’s remarkable fabric, tightly woven with patterns whimsical and beautiful – a s’mores and a campfire print, multiple, colorful patterned Batiks suggesting frost, fish, or flowers, an eagle soaring over conifers, and blueberries!

I smiled hugely at the blueberries. On my first foray into the world – nearly four weeks since symptom onset and nine days past fever – I geared up and went to the grocery store! The precautions there are impressive, and most all the employees wore masks (a flowered one on the woman who mans the floral department). The Town & Country Markets network had put out a call for 1800 cloth masks, and I delivered my first 10.

After all that time of sickness and inactivity, and knowing there is so little to be done except for staying home, it feels great to be making. I probably would have been a bandage roller back in the day. This is close. Grocery store workers, delivery people, and mail carriers, come right behind the real front lines – the medical people and hospital custodial staffs. With no job to do at home or children to teach and entertain, I’m available – and it’s rewarding to work hard all day toward a goal.

I’m slow but try to be efficient, working in sets of ten, production line style. I’ve learned that to speed things up, you can sew the pleated side of the masks all in a row, and a pin in the ironing board the width of the tie’s turned-over edges makes that task quicker. Exploring this wonderland of fabric brings pleasure to the undertaking.

Queen Elizabeth’s speech moved me. No matter our useless head of state who tries to make the claim, the Queen has the best words. Encouragement for the future: “We will be with our families again, we will be with our friends again, we will meet again.” And inspiration for now: “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.”

It’s becoming more clear every day how much safer we privileged people are during this pandemic – time and space and health or health resources. Lady Gaga made me cry announcing her concert for kindness (https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-52199537), her way to support medical workers and those struggling in the face of the virus.

Maybe sewing helps too.

 

 

COVID-19 Close to Home

Three Saturday nights ago, out of the blue, I began shivering, fever followed chills, and I slept restlessly all day Sunday with fever, headache, nausea. By Monday I wrote both my regular doc and my pulmonologist (from my bouts of cryptogenic organizing pneumonia, called COP), and they scheduled a test.

Eight days later it came back negative, but those eight days I’d like not to do again – perpetual body aches, headache, nausea, fever, no appetite. In all I had 17 days of fevers above what Mrs. Hughes calls “doctor fever” 100.4°.

My pulmonologist, Dr. Steven Kirtland, VM Seattle (so expert and so kind if you ever should need such a person) called on the ninth day to say ignore the test, many false negatives, you have COVID-19. He said no Advil, take Tylenol (data cautioning against ibuprofen slim but concerning).

He called again the next weekend, checking on “patients I’m worried about” – said it wasn’t inevitable I’d get COP back, but very possible – and that would be difficult, because he couldn’t prescribe the usual treatment for it with COVID-19.

But thankfully I didn’t go there, after a wretched two weeks and more functional third week, I am Recalled to Life – and appreciative beyond measure. I recognize my good fortune in medical providers and access.

On Dr. Kirtland’s last call, he said he wanted to see temperatures below 99° for three days. I have learned a lot about fever these weeks – such a difference in functionality between 99.1° and 99.9°, let alone a night of 103°. Now I write this on the fourth of April – having been below 99° since the first of April.

I have this layman theory about why the coronavirus got me. I really never got over the California bug, still a little symptomatic on return, and got briefly exposed to the coronavirus someplace. Then that Saturday we attempted a walk by the water in a stiff wind, getting so chilled we turned back. Instead of walking I wish I’d gone home to a cup of tea and not stressed my immune system further!

A corollary story is my good-natured husband, who has managed to stay good natured (in the face of my failure to perform my “wifely duties” of cooking and cleaning), and also stay healthy. Dr. Kirtland always inquires about him.

My husband attributes his health to his new civic duty – to stay home and take lots of naps. I think he has a strong immune system. We also quarantined from each other as best we could – upstairs for him, and down for me, not in the kitchen at the same time. Wiping down the most used surfaces. You know the drill. Still, he was royally exposed.

Last week, as the fever diminished, I had what my local and beloved doc (Dr. Jillian Worth, VM Bainbridge Clinic) called “the last gasp” – a little conjunctivitis and swollen occipital nodes on the back of my head (who knew those were even there!). They’ve gone now too.

We all know how devastating the bad cases can be – but the mild ones offer no picnic. All the efforts to stay safe and be more sensible than I was will pay off! I write this because I read and reread the two accounts of COVID-19 I knew about, a younger Seattle woman who had fever for five days, a Bainbridge woman who had fever for 13 or so, and spent time in the hospital. I felt very disappointed to go past the five days, and very thankful to stay out of hospital.

My gratitude truly knows no bounds, grateful for our old friends on Bainbridge who brought food and still bring groceries, and our sons who text and cheer and keep us in touch.

I send this cautionary tale along with another guest illustrator appearance by Sweet B. This one, a view “looking down at the world” seems full of rainbow hope – and charming critters!