Traveling with Sclerals: 2022 Edition

It’s been a minute or two since my last post about traveling with scleral lenses, so it’s probably time for an update with new products, insights, tips, tricks and strategies.

I’ve done a bit of traveling in the past year, by plane to Seattle, Las Vegas and Scotland/Ireland, and by car to Minnesota, the northeastern states for fall foliage, California to visit Joshua Tree National Park, Indianapolis and Valparaiso, Indiana, a cargo van road trip to Las Vegas, and a hiking trip in the Arcadia, Missouri area. No matter where I go or how I get there, I have to plan supplies for my scleral contact lenses. I need to wear these specialized lenses because I have left-sided facial weakness due to a surgery for hemifacial spasm that resulted in seventh cranial nerve damage (click here for more information). While I have experienced a good bit of recovery, my left eye still does not completely blink or produce tears. Without intervention I am in continual pain (think sand in your eye). I can deal with the pain by applying ointment to that eye, resulting in blurry vision. But add a scleral lens—plus a pair of progressive reading glasses with no distance correction—and my vision is nearly normal with no pain. I cannot overstate the improvement this treatment approach has made to my quality of life.

The trip to Scotland and Ireland was the most extensive and required the highest level of preparation, so most of this post relates to that trip. These are the supplies I packed (in addition to a pair of prescription progressive readers worn in conjunction with scleral lenses and a second pair of prescription glasses with distance correction for use without the contacts):

Contents of my carry-on scleral care bag for Scotland and Ireland.

Solutions:

  • For filling: I am one of the fortunate individuals for whom it makes no difference whether or not the preservative-free sterile saline I use for filling my lenses is buffered. Generally I use the more economical 5ml nebulizer saline vials, such as Addipak or Modudose. However for a two-week trip abroad, I decided to take Nutrifill solution because I had read that many scleral wearers find it more comfortable and that it helps with fogging. I also liked the 10ml size — twice that of the nebulizer saline vials. I took sixteen Nutrifill vials in my carry-on and sixteen more in my checked bag. (I always overpack filling solution because preservative-free saline is not readily available in most areas.)
  • For cleaning: Who doesn’t love a good sudsy cleaner for their scleral lenses? I used Lobob ESC for many years until is was discontinued. Currently I am using Naturalens GP Cleaner, but it also appears to have been discontinued. I packed my last bottle in my carry-on. I’m not sure what I will use once this bottle is depleted, but I am open to suggestions.
  • For rinsing: At home I rinse my lenses with neutralized ClearCare solution from the PROSE case, supplemented by any leftover saline. If my lenses occasionally need additional rinsing, I keep a supply of Target brand saline for sensitive eyes on hand. When I travel, I throw a large bottle in my checked bag. Recently, however, our mail order pharmacy mistakenly sent a 90-day supply (360 syringes) of IV flush saline rather than nebulizer saline. It was just before changing insurance plans, and in order to avoid a potential ordeal trying to return the order, I opted to keep them. The website indicated that the flush saline is preservative free, but erring on the side of caution, I decided to use them for rinsing. I packed 16 syringes in my carry-on and a bunch more in my checked bag.
  • For disinfecting: My preferred method of disinfection is ClearCare Triple Action (or equivalent Target generic) in a large PROSE case. Shortly before I began preparing for the trip, I started seeing posts about the discontinuation of travel-size ClearCare, and decided to see if I could find any. Walgreens #1 — out of stock. Target — out of stock. Walmart — out of stock. Panic starts to set in. Walgreens #2 — out of stock. HyVee (a grocery store where I seldom shop) — one lonely bottle on clearance! Score! My local pharmacy — never stocks. Gerbes West (my usual grocery store) — out of stock. A second local pharmacy — out of stock. Well, at least I have one bottle for my carry-on bag. Schnuck’s (a grocery store where I occasionally shop, usually on “Wednesday Wine-day”) — six, count ’em, SIX, bottles. Not on clearance, but I buy them out. And decide that I have enough not to head to the east side of town in search for more. I packed two travel-size ClearCare in my carry-on plus a large bottle of Target brand hydrogen peroxide cleaner in my checked bag.
  • For nighttime lubrication: As I first began recovering from my microvascular decompression surgery and needed round the clock eye protection, I tried every type of eye lubricating drop, gel or ointment that I could find. The one that worked best for me was RefreshPM ointment. Even after I began wearing scleral lenses, I used it on my left eye at night. During a prolonged shortage of RefreshPM, my optometrist had me switch to Muro 128 ointment. After RefreshPM was available again, I discovered that a combination of the two ointments worked best for nighttime eye comfort. I took a tube of each in my carry-on bag. I also packed a few vials of TheraTears nighttime eye drops in case my right eye was feeling dry at night. Fortunately this seldom happens.

Additional Supplies: All of these were packed in the carry-on scleral care bag pictured above.

  • DMV vented inserter and suction cup remover.
  • PROSE scleral lens case for hydrogen peroxide cleaners with a neutralizing disc.
  • Jar from Almay 120-count eye makeup remover pads. A perfect fit for the PROSE case, it minimizes solution spills while traveling.
  • Contact Lens Accessory Pads, small green sponges used in conjunction with cleaning solution. I cut them into quarters because I find it easier to clean the interior of my lenses. Plus they last longer. I packed eight quarters (two sponges).
  • Two spare pairs of lenses in small cases filled with Bio-True solution. I also carried a travel-size bottle of Bio-True in my carry-on.
  • Silicon drain cover. More than once this has saved one of my lenses from going down a drain with no stopper. (In the future I will also include a small suction hook so that I can hang the drain cover on the bathroom mirror to dry.)
  • Travel size fragrance-free and lotion-free hand soap.
  • Lens cleaner and microfiber cloth for cleaning my glasses. Also handy for camera lenses.
  • Travel size package of cotton swabs.
  • Alcohol wipes.

Most of the products noted are available online from Amazon or the Dry Eye Shop. Many may be available locally from Target, Walmart or Walgreens — the exceptions being the large PROSE case, DMV inserters and removers, and preservative-free saline solution. The latter may be available from a local pharmacy with a prescription, but I have always resorted to Internet purchases.

Whenever I fly, I also carry a letter from my optometrist explaining that I need to take medically necessary fluids for scleral lenses in excess of the 3-1-1 TSA limits. I keep this with my COVID vaccine record and passport.

Check back next week for my top 10 scleral lens travel tips and tricks. Meanwhile, remember that there is no reason to let scleral contact lenses keep you at home. Happy travels!

Photo of the Year 2020-21

The COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the Jefferson City Photo Club schedule, causing the cancellation of fifteen consecutive meetings. One result of all these postponements was rolling contest themes forward, another was combining 2020 and 2021 contest winners in the Photo of the Year contest.

I have been pushing myself to enter images in every monthly contest, and had one or more winning entries in seven of the eight contests. Out of those, I placed first in two categories.

Color Print

This photo originally took first in Color Prints in June 2021 for the theme of Boring. Charlie is an extremely photogenic cat.

Open Print

This image also took first in June 2021 in the Open Print Category for the theme of Boring. Archive photos taken more than one year in the past may be entered in this category.

First Solo Photo Exhibit

Artists Helping Artists, a wonderful community organization that encourages artists of all types to express their creativity, meets every week at Faith Lutheran Church. Late last year, the group initiated a series of public exhibits in the main stairwell at Faith, an airy space with lots of natural light. The first exhibit, in October/November 2021, featured paintings by local artists Caryl Collier and Jan Sonnenberg.

I was thrilled to be asked to assemble a photography exhibit for the next timeframe, December 2021 – January 2022. I decided to feature my favorite images from a Tanzania safari taken in February 2019. I also chose to mount the photos in reclaimed vintage frames (this will be the topic of a future post).

By the time this weblog is posted, the exhibit will be nearly over. Next time I will be more proactive about announcing the exhibit in time to see it in person, but showing the chosen images will have to suffice for this one.

Upper Level (Choir Loft)

A group of elephants frolicking at dusk.

The ever-popular “roaring” lion cub, who is actually yawning.

Upper Landing

Another crowd favorite, I often use this image for wedding cards.

Adorable mother and baby monkey.

Main Level (Sanctuary)

Two young bull elephants skirmishing at dusk.

Lovely zebra with some nice tail switching action.

Lower Landing

My favorite safari image — I still feel the exhilaration of locking eyes with this regal lioness.

The tour guides gave me the nickname of “Mama Twiga” due to my love of giraffes. This shot showcases the symbiotic relationship with ox-pecker birds.

Lower Level (Fellowship Hall)

This elephant was kind enough to pose with an ubiquitous acacia tree.

These young male zebras are competing for the attention of the female. They engaged up and down the flamingo-laden coastline for quite a while.

Please feel free to contact me for more information about Artists Helping Artists, Jefferson City Photo Club, or M&M Photo Tours.

I’m a Muse!

This is a post that I intended to share more than a year ago, but time slipped by and so did my inspiration. Recently something happened that spurred me to action.

First, some background. In August 2019, Norbert Haupt, a guest at the photo club presentation about my Tanzania safari, was inspired to create a painting from one of the featured landscape shots. No only that, he wrote about it in his own blog.

This is a sausage tree, so called because its fruit resembles a sausage. An interesting fact about this photo is that it was taken from a “Loo with a View” following an early morning hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.

Artist Norbert Haupt chose to move the hill in the background to better highlight the tree as subject. I have no problem with that decision. Had the loo to the right been vacant, this is how the photo could have turned out.

What caused me to write about this now? A couple of days ago, I received a large package. A very large package containing, as you may have guessed, this very painting. Many thanks to Mr. Haupt for his generous gift.

One of my next framing projects will be for an enlargement of the photo that inspired the painting.

2022 Here I Come!

I’m trying to wrap my head around a new normal. For the past few years Phil and I have been operating within an overall life plan that included my working through 2022. However due to increasing stress caused by significant changes, both at the workplace and in my personal life, we made the decision that I would leave my job at the end of 2021.

Just a few days into the new year, I am already at peace with our decision. I plan to spend the 40+ additional hours per week wisely, and look forward to:

  • Spending time with family — it’s going to be a big year for the Hartmans. Granddaughter Lillian turns two next month, and is growing and developing so fast! We would love to spend more time with her, Hanna and Ryan. Laura will graduate from vet school in May and will be moving into a new chapter of her life, location yet to be determined. Joseph is on schedule to graduate from his master’s program in December, at which point everyone in the Hartman family will have an advanced degree! I am also happy that I no longer need to stress over taking time away from work to take my mother to67 doctor appointments. She’s working on regaining strength and skills to return to her home; if and when that happens it will also take more time.
  • Health — I need to take better care of myself, both physically and emotionally. Last year I started using my Fitbit to remind me to get up and moving during the day, and hope to continue to meet movement and step goals on a daily basis. I also plan to start taking yoga classes again, include fewer processed foods in my diet, and drink more water.
  • Travel — Phil & I hope and pray that our twice-postponed 25th anniversary trip to Scotland and Ireland will finally take place this June. Hanna, Lillian and I are looking into a spring trip together. Although it’s unknown at this point where Laura will end up practicing (she loves the Rocky Mountain states), I want to be available to help her move and settle in, wherever it may be.
  • Photography — digital photography has bubbled up as my favorite hobby over the past few years. I definitely want to improve my skills, which takes practice, which takes time. I plan to enter each Jefferson City Photo Club monthly contest and to spend more time taking photos and trying new techniques.
  • Home — our house has been neglected over the past few years with both of us working plus the added responsibilities Phil has faced as executor of his parents’ estate. As that (hopefully) wraps up, we have plenty of projects of our own. We are already starting with replacing our picture window and storm door. I also plan to switch rooms for my office/craft space to one of the larger bedrooms. We have some plumbing problems, plaster issues, floorboards, and general touch-ups to address. Plus — and this is a biggie — we want to significantly pare down the volume of possessions in our own home so as not to leave a mess for our children and grandchildren.

This may be a rather dull weblog post for others, but I am hoping that it serves as my inspiration to refocus the use of my time this year to meet these goals and aspirations. Toward that end, I plan to return to posting weekly weblogs as a means of keeping on track.

COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Donation

From the time that I realized I would have a very mild case of COVID-19, I knew that I wanted to donate plasma for those with more serious symptoms. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but shortly after my quarantine I saw a donor recruitment post on Facebook from MU Health Care. I waited the requisite fourteen days after COVID-like symptoms and submitted an application on Friday, July 31.

A program volunteer left me a voice mail on Tuesday, August 11. We played phone tag for a couple of days, finally connecting on Friday, August 14. She asked me a series of questions about general health, travel, vaccinations, and whether or not I had a subsequent negative COVID test. I met basic donor qualifications, and had two options: taking another test and waiting two weeks following a negative result, or waiting six weeks from my final COVID symptom. By this time, waiting out the six weeks would happen sooner than going through the testing procedure, so we decided that she would submit my application on Friday, August 28.

All of this waiting was so frustrating! It seemed like the sooner I could start donating the better, and I could very nearly visualize my antibody levels dropping. But as in enduring quarantine, there was nothing to do but wait. On Sunday, August 30 I received a call from Red Cross. We went through the same series of questions as the initial call from MU Health. Then I was finally (!) accepted as a donor and given an appointment for Tuesday, September 8 at 10:00.

I was instructed to drink an extra 16 ounces of water, have something to eat about an hour before donating, and complete a “Rapid Pass” questionnaire before coming into the donation center, which turned out to be a third round of questions I had already answered, with some extras about medications, pregnancies, and past travel. I was careful to save the Rapid Pass QR code to my phone so that I wouldn’t have to repeat the process at the donation center.

I spent a couple of hours at work. Because I had eaten a bigger-than-usual breakfast, I had to make a choice between the extra pint of water and eating something mid-morning. I opted for the water.

Once at the donation center, I had my temperature taken and was directed to a waiting area. After a few minutes I was called back to an intake room with a tech named Eric. I had to identify myself by showing the email confirming the appointment. (I wish I had printed it out, because it took a while to find on my new phone and then I had to search again for the QR code.) He asked me a few of the Rapid Pass questions to be sure that I understood them. Finally I got stuck for an iron level and once I passed that we moved to the donation room.

Best one-handed selfie I could manage. Should’ve asked Eric to take a pic!

I had a couple of pleasant surprises—first, I thought that there were two needles involved—one to take the whole blood and another to return the red blood cells. But there was only one. Eric gave me a rubber bulb and instructed me to squeeze when it was firm (that’s when whole blood is flowing out) and relax when it was flat (that’s when red blood cells and saline are being returned). Second, the e-mail stated that a donor can expect to spend up to 2-3 hours in the chair, but it was only about an hour for me. The amount of plasma that a person can donate is based on height and weight, and I was able to donate 450ml. Eric said that would provide 12-15 treatments for seriously ill COVID patients.

I was provided with a warm blanket because donors tend to chill as the room temperature saline and slightly cooled red blood cells are returned. I set off an equipment alarm fairly often. Eric explained that I have smaller veins and while that’s not a real problem, I can’t pump as quickly as the machine is calibrated for. After the last of my red cells were returned, I was asked to remain in the canteen and have something to eat and drink. Being gluten-free is not an asset in the Red Cross canteen as it limited my choices to fruit gummies or raisins. But I had a Clif bar in my bag and with that and a box of juice I was good to go.

At checkout the scheduler told me that people are able to donate plasma as often as once per week, but their computer system requires four-week intervals and there is currently no way to override that. At the time I found that a wee bit ridiculous (after all, those antibodies are decreasing by the day!), but after going to bed early four days in a row, I could see some wisdom in not donating weekly. I’m next scheduled to donate on October 6, but I don’t know whether I will have sufficient antibodies after that.

Either way, I’m happy to have done it. It has given me a sense of purpose in a chaotic world. I can honestly report that it is not an arduous process, other than the waiting! While my overall prayer is that everyone who reads this remains COVID-free, if someone finds themself in a position to donate convalescent plasma, I recommend it.

Edited 09/23/20 to add: A couple of days ago, I received a letter from the Red Cross indicating that I carry the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) antibody. Female donors who have been pregnant are more likely than others to have HLA antibodies in their plasma. There is a link between HLA antibodies and Transfusion-Related Acute Lung Injury (TRALI), a rare but serious complication of blood transfusions. I am still eligible to donate whole blood or red blood cells, but not plasma or platelets. This is a very disheartening development as I was hoping that convalescent plasma donation would be the one positive from having had COVID.

On the Other Side of COVID

I am a COVID-19 survivor. That sounds more dramatic than it actually was. I have asked myself many times whether I was typical or fortunate, and I’m honestly not sure, likely some combination of both. Several people have asked me over the past few weeks to post about my experience, and I’m happy to oblige.

First reflection: COVID-19 was easier to contract than I thought.

Opening disclaimer: I cannot be 100% sure that the exposure described here caused me to contract COVID-19. It is possible that either my husband Phil or I was exposed somewhere else without knowledge. We had not traveled outside our community. Thus, it is our only known potential exposure and as such, the prevailing theory.

During the afternoon of Tuesday, July 7, I spent about 20 minutes with a visitor to my office. Far fewer than 15 minutes were spent within six feet of that person—maybe five? The afternoon of Friday, July 10, that person notified me that s/he had been exposed over the Fourth of July weekend and had gone to be tested. I immediately informed my supervisor and went home for the remainder of the afternoon (more on that later). Shortly after I arrived at work the morning of Monday, July 13, the visitor called to inform me that s/he had tested positive. Again, I immediately informed my supervisor, and called my personal physician to arrange for a test. I spent the hour of wait time packing up my work computer and other supplies to take home in case of quarantine, then proceeded to a drive-through testing site.

My car was third in line at 9:30 a.m. Soon after there was a long line of cars behind me. My wait time was about 10 minutes, although it seemed longer! The test itself consisted of a long cotton swab inserted in a nostril to what seemed like all the way to the brain. (My testing site used one nostril; others do both. I’m so glad I picked the right location!) It was unpleasant, but not to the point of making me cry. At the testing site I was informed that I would have results within the next 24 hours (although my doctor’s nurse had told me 2-3 days) and instructed to self-isolate until I was contacted with results.

Then I went home and set up my remote office. Phil, who works from home, decided that he would also be tested. He left around noon and texted that there were 15 cars in line ahead of him. He waited for about an hour before his test. As I worked that afternoon, I went through the office visit over and over in my mind and convinced myself that there was no way I could have gotten COVID from him/her. But just in case, I also made a list of everywhere I could remember going and everyone I was in contact with.

Even though Phil was tested later in the day, he got his results earlier, around noon Tuesday. He was positive. At that point I figured I was positive as well. After checking my patient portal periodically, I finally saw the result just after 5:00 p.m.—positive.

A health department contact tracer called about half an hour later, asking a series of questions about COVID-related symptoms and who I had been in contact with beginning 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. If contact was under fifteen minutes at six feet or less, it was not considered an exposure. If I wore a mask to a public place, it was not considered an exposure risk. If both parties were wearing masks (such as my MRI appointment) it was not considered an exposure. My potential exposures were my hairstylist and two coworkers. It’s worth mentioning that I did not receive a contact tracing call from the county from my encounter with the office visitor. I voluntarily requested a test because my elderly mother has multiple risk factors. I also personally called a few individuals who had been in my office for multiple short visits.

We received quarantine orders from the health department via email. Mine would expire by Monday, July 20 and Phil’s by Thursday, July 23 if we were fever-free and our symptoms were improved.

Second reflection: Having COVID-19 was not as bad as I thought.

I have had worse-than-usual allergy symptoms this year, beginning in early spring. Not the runny-nose-and-sneezing kind, rather a sinus-pain-and-throat-drip-with-occasional-productive-coughing sort. This occurred before, during, and after my quarantine.

I had a diagnostic MRI for an unrelated condition the afternoon of Friday, July 10, prior to being notified of potential exposure. During the MRI I got a headache from the noise. When the contrast media IV started, I experienced a metallic taste and became queasy (not to the point of nausea, but close). I got dizzy getting up from the MRI, a fairly common side effect of the magnets on the inner ear, possibly exacerbated by my MVD outcome. I have experienced all of these symptoms with past MRIs. I felt generally unwell, which contributed to my decision to go home following the call from my office visitor. Friday evening I went to bed at 5:00 and slept until 3:00 Saturday afternoon. The headache was gone, but queasiness and malaise, as well as overall joint pain, continued for another 24 hours. By Sunday evening I felt back to normal.

All of these symptoms are also on the COVID-19 list, however, and were used by the county health department to determine my quarantine dates. I never experienced the trademark symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, dry cough, or loss of taste or smell. A couple of days later I experienced moderate difficulty in concentrating and focusing, similar to side effects I experienced while taking Tegretol for hemifacial spasm. This is not something I associate with past MRIs, nor is it something I have ever experienced during past stressful periods.

Phil experienced a dry cough, though not continuous—mostly in the mornings right after waking up and in the evenings. He has had a diminished sense of smell for several years, so that could not be used as a gauge. He fatigued easily and would take an afternoon nap, unusual for him. Like me, he avoided fever and shortness of breath.

COVID did not keep either of us from working. Phil was already working from home. I had developed remote office protocols during Missouri’s initial stay-at-home order that enabled me to work from home full time during my quarantine, although this time is was necessary to involve volunteers to take care of things that could only be done at the office.

If asked to rank the sickest I have felt in my lifetime, my response would be: bronchitis, appendicitis, mononucleosis, 2016 flu, COVID19, food poisoning, normal flu. I don’t remember enough about tonsillitis to place it in the list.

Third reflection: Emotional side effects were the worst part of COVID.

The scariest part about a COVID-19 diagnosis is being told to lock yourself in your home and hope for the best. No medication, no therapy, just instructions to call your doctor if serious symptoms crop up.

Although the actual odds are overwhelmingly favorable for COVID patients, the news and social media bombard us with ominous statistics and worst-case stories. Even the success stories feature time on a ventilator before a miraculous recovery. So once I knew we were positive, the what-ifs started bouncing around in my brain. We were both just months shy of the at-risk age threshold. Phil is overweight, has an autoimmune condition, and had just started taking blood pressure medication. Just a couple of weeks prior to diagnosis I asked my doctor whether exercise-induced asthma put me at greater risk. Answer: yes, but not to the degree of persistent asthma. But there’s always my overall track record of falling on the wrong side of odds lurking in the back of my mind.

I asked my doctor about hydroxychloroquine therapy. I was all for trying it because it seemed to be a proactive option when there was little else we could do. Unfortunately, the FDA had recently withdrawn approval for use even in emergency situations. My doctor did reassure me that by five days after the onset of symptoms, COVID patients face almost no risk of progressing to a cytokine storm (my biggest fear). By that time I had passed the five-day mark and Phil had just a couple of days to go.

We were in isolation for eleven days. My county quarantine expired a couple of days before Phil’s, but my doctor did not release me to return to my workplace until we were both released. We have a well-stocked freezer and pantry and could have done fine on what we had on hand, but a friend was kind enough to deliver some fresh produce.

Phil was frustrated with not being able to walk around our neighborhood park for exercise, and I struggled with what I felt were mixed messages put out by my workplace as well as having to cancel a trip to visit our daughter and granddaughter. During our eleven days of isolation we had only one major disagreement—and fortunately we have a big house with plenty of room to spread out when need be.

I deeply regret causing other people to be quarantined. One of my coworkers missed a trip to see family, another had to stay home during a family funeral. My hairdresser, a small business owner, missed a week of appointments and some family activities.

Fourth reflection: I’ve witnessed an interesting variety of responses.

Prior to our quarantine, we were fostering a kitten for the animal shelter. We were scheduled to have him for three weeks, expiring at the same time as my quarantine. When I called to explain our situation, we were asked to keep Tiberius until they were able to ascertain when it was safe to bring him back into the shelter environment. We were able to keep him for an extra week. He was a darling kitten and we were happy to prolong his visit. (I later found out that Tiberius found his forever family a mere two hours after reaching the adoption floor.)

This adorable kitty pic of Tiberius may result in more hits than the COVID reference.

Some weeks ago Jefferson City was hit by a major hailstorm that damaged the roofs of 70% of buildings in the city, including our home. Phil had been working with a contractor on our house, my mother’s house, and his late mother’s house. Our shingles were on back order, so we ended up last. The contractor declined to work on our house while we were in quarantine, even though they would always be outside and we would always be inside, so we waited another two weeks.

Upon returning to the workplace: some people avoided me entirely. Once I entered a room, masked, and a person moved to a far corner to get as far from me as possible. On the other hand, another person told me that s/he wasn’t afraid of my germs, in fact s/he wanted the kind of COVID that I had. My coworkers and I are much more careful with social distancing as none of us wants to go through another triple quarantine. We hold staff meetings in a room that allows us to sit farther than eight feet apart, and have adopted the habit of using our phones rather than dropping by one another’s offices.

It took me a bit by surprise that a family member said that s/he expected Phil and me to look frail and haggard post-COVID and s/he was happy to see that was not the case. We’re happy too!

Fifth Reflection: I have my own set of interesting responses.

I keep a mask with me at all times. I don’t like wearing it and leave it off when I am by myself, but if anyone outside my immediate family is in the vicinity—it’s on. I understand and respect both sides of the mask issue, but if any erring is to be done on my part, it will be on the side of caution.

Even though I am currently in the “sweet spot” of knowing that I am neither contagious nor at risk, I am uncomfortable dining out and prefer to pick up and eat at home. I still worship online. Due to revised county contact rules, I am vigilant about keeping time spent with others to under 15 minutes whenever possible.

I try not to worry that we may get COVID again and not be so fortunate next time. But I do.

Sixth Reflection: The aftermath of COVID-19 lasted longer than I thought.

Although I worked through COVID and felt fine returning to work after quarantine, I had lingering fatigue on evenings and especially weekends for about a month post-COVID.

Remember that ranking of the sickest I have felt during my life? Here’s how recovery lengths rank: mono, bronchitis, appendicitis, COVID19, 2016 flu, regular flu, food poisoning.

Phil’s after-effects, particularly fatigue, lasted longer than mine did. He learned that about a third of COVID patients’ immune systems continue to fight the virus even after it is gone. This seemed a reasonable explanation for what he was experiencing.

Seventh Reflection: I am thankful and want to pay it forward.

I am immensely grateful that both Phil and I experience a mild case of COVID symptoms. I am relieved that everyone we potentially exposed either tested negative or had no symptoms during their quarantine.

Because of this, I was interested in becoming a convalescent plasma donor once I recovered, to help those who do become seriously ill from COVID. Just when I was wondering how to do this, I saw an opportunity posted by University of Missouri Health. I registered as soon as the two-week recovery period passed, and my first donation is scheduled for next week. I am interested in how many times I will be able to donate, and how long it will take antibodies to leave my system.

Eighth Reflection: I think we are focusing on the wrong things.

I have grave doubts whether there will ever be an effective vaccine for COVID-19. We haven’t been able to do so for the common cold, the flu vaccine is hit or miss, and viruses mutate.

It seems to me that there must be common factors, likely genetic, shared by the people who get dangerously ill from COVID-19. The resources being spent on a vaccine for people who will have a mild illness should be reallocated to identifying those risk factors and devising avoidance and treatment plans for those people.

Closing disclaimer: The experiences and opinions in this post are strictly my own. Those of readers may differ and I’m fine with that. I welcome civil discussion, but comments that are less than respectful will be deleted.

Kumihimo Unity Project

Nearly four years ago I published a post featuring a kumihimo project that I designed following the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Follow-up: my son has graduated with a degree in criminal justice and will be attending graduate school this fall. I’m quite proud of him, but the recent events in Minneapolis and across the United States have reignited my anxiety about his safety when he enters the workforce. I do not understand the actions of the police officers or the ensuing rioters, nor will I likely ever comprehend either. What does seem clear to me is that every one of us needs to examine our personal views and behaviors for biases and do our very best to eliminate them.

This inspired me to pull out my trusty kumihimo disk to design a companion piece to the Thin Blue Line bracelet—I call it a Unity bracelet. I chose craft thread in the colors featured in the children’s song Jesus Loves the Little Children: “Red, brown, yellow, black and white; They are precious in His sight.” I placed the string on the disk in that order (see photo). Because there were five colors, I arranged them in groups of three and two strands. While I haven’t encountered another kumihimo pattern laid out quite like this, it worked out fine. Otherwise, the project parallels the instructions for the Thin Blue Line bracelet.

Kumihimo means “coming together of threads,” which strikes me as an apt metaphor for working toward preventing future events such as those in Ferguson and Minneapolis. In my impatience to get this project underway, I did not bobbin the strings, and at first they snarled with almost every move, requiring patience for the frequent stops necessary to untangle the threads before moving forward. As the “coming together” progressed, however, tangling became less common and braiding became easier. The final pattern turned out to be an attractive tweedy design that showcases each individual color equally.

With plenty of craft thread left over after the bracelet was finished, I decided to create a matching key fob. The simplicity of this project is very appealing—it uses only string and a lanyard clip and requires much shorter braids. I created the Unity pattern first, then rethreaded the lanyard clip to add the Thin Blue Line part. The ends are finished in overhand knots—easy peasy and quick.

I now wear a Unity bracelet in tandem with a Thin Blue Line bracelet, have a fob on each of my key rings, and plan to make a few more to secure (and identify) camera bags and luggage. Ideally they will serve as visual reminders to love all of God’s children and pray for equality, justice, and unity.

Mama Twiga’s Adventures

Guess what? I have an African name! On the final day of safari, Peter, one of our drivers, dubbed me “Mama Twiga.” Twiga is the Swahili word for giraffe, and Mama is, as in many languages, mama. If I decide to chuck it all here in the States and move to Tanzania, I can open a tour company named Mama Twiga’s Adventures. Maybe Peter will come work with me.

Getting great giraffe shots was at the very tip top of my safari wish list. In fact, I had a very specific wish list of giraffe photos: silhouetted with an acacia tree, splayed to take a drink, ambling in groups across iconic African landscapes. As the safari went along I was thrilled to see (but not necessarily have an opportunity to shoot) giraffes each day. However I wasn’t catching my dream shots and didn’t think I was capturing any particularly special images.

But after I got home, I found that I had captured some interesting giraffe images even if they didn’t meet my preconceived notions. For example, I have many shots of giraffes eating, but I find this one special because not only was this giraffe caught with its mouth full, there are also bits of the leaves flying through the air.

By the way, a group of giraffes is aptly called a tower.

I’m not sure how giraffes think they can hide, but this kind of thing happened all the time:

Check out this little guy:

Later he gave us a better look:

I’m not sure what this giraffe was about, but it is very amusing:

I do have a few shots that came close to my preconceived notions:

Interestingly enough, one of my favorite giraffe images turned out to be one of the infamous rear-end shots. Check out the birdies!

Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Evolution is so creative. That’s how we got giraffes.” On the contrary—the fact that something as wonderful and quizzical and awesome as the giraffe exists is a great gift of God.