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.

What’s Gnu with You?

I knew from solving crossword puzzles that wildebeest are also known as gnu. What I didn’t know is that a herd of wildebeest is known as a confusion. I’m not certain whether that is because it looks like mass chaos when they migrate in huge bunches, or because wildebeest look like a conglomeration of an ox head, a horse mane, and buffalo horns. Another term is “implausibility,” perhaps for the same reasons.

Wildebeest are included in the safari “Ugly Five” list. I personally think they look more interesting than ugly, unless you’re looking at this bull with a broken horn and grizzled ear.

This wildebeest was the only birth we witnessed during our safari.

Calves are up on their feet almost immediately after birth.

Wildebeest are very protective of their calves. Hyenas, lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs prey on wildebeest. The calf on the right is the same one as the prior two photos.

Is this a confusion? An implausibility?

Perhaps a dazzling confusion? A confusing dazzle?

The wildebeest led the way across the water, paving the way for their zebra compadres.

Dazzled by Zebra

A herd of zebras is called a dazzle – one of the most descriptive group names I have ever heard. Aren’t they dazzling? I am excited that one of them is looking directly at the camera.

Zebra and wildebeest hang out and travel together. Wildebeest have better hearing and zebra have better sight so they can work together to warn of impending danger.

Also zebra eat tall grass while wildebeest eat shorter grass so they are not competing for food.

These two young male zebras are competing for the attention of the young female. This skirmish went on for quite a while up and down the lakefront.

Zebras seem to enjoy turning their backs to people. I’ve noticed this at zoos as well as in the wild. Sometimes you just have to make the most out of circumstances.

This lovely young zebra was kind enough to be cooperative.

We encountered a herd of zebra and wildebeest crossing a body of water. I wish the water had been clear enough for reflections.

An entirely separate zebra skirmish. Boys will be boys.

A classic zebra portrait, complete with swishing tail.

It’s hard to pick a favorite zebra shot, but I do like this restful scene complete with a flock of flamingoes.

What next? I’ll make a decision after my Photo Club presentation tomorrow evening.

Tons of Elephants

Today is World Elephant Day. Six months ago I was actually in Tanzania seeing elephants in person, so there’s no better time to post about the tons and tons and tons of elephants that I saw. I am working on a presentation for Photo Club a little later this month, so I have been diligently perusing the thousands of shots I took.

The very first game drive photo I took on safari last February was of an elephant, notably with my own camera and lens rather than the top-of-the-line equipment I borrowed from Canon. One of the first admonitions from photography pro Jeff Cable was not to neglect wide angle shots. I did my best to follow that advice every day.

There are an estimated 3,000 elephants living in Tangire National Park, and I think we saw every single one of them. Mike G of M&M Photo Tours told us that his first safari group saw only six elephants. Our group was much more fortunate; sometimes we were surrounded by elephants on all sides as far as the eye could see. I wish I had a good wide-angle shot with a huge group of elephants, but my tendency seems to be to focus on smaller groups such as this one, with elephants spanning a range of ages. By the way, a herd of elephants is known as a memory.

The lighting was not always ideal, but we had many opportunities to shoot iconic elephant shots such as this one slowly lumbering along with ears fanned.

Elephants love water. I particularly like this shot because it caught water movement in two different places.

The elephants had no fear of our safari vehicles and would cross the road in close proximity to our great delight.

Some of the elephants coated themselves in clay dust to help themselves stay cooler. Or perhaps just to become a redhead.

Here’s a little guy doing the same thing:

One of the benefits of seeing so many elephants was the opportunity to watch for different types of shots, such as these these elephants that almost seem to have choreographed their walk.

One phenomenon I noticed in Africa is the number of times that animals turn their backs to humans. Sometimes you just have to seize the opportunity for a rear view.

Some elephants do cute things with their trunks, like this one curling it around its tusk.

Or this elephant enjoying a snack:

One evening we came across a small memory of elephants in lovely evening light as we returned to camp.

These adolescent bull elephants treated us to an extended skirmish. This is my favorite elephant shot of the safari.

I probably have sufficient elephant photos for another weblog post or two, but first I plan to feature some other animals. Stay tuned!

Big Cat Country

I was intending to launch my Africa series today, but something came up that has been demanding my attention for the past few days.

A little more than a week ago I volunteered to foster kittens for the animal shelter. Last Tuesday, I was offered a pair of adorable kitty brothers who just needed to gain weight before being neutered and offered for adoption. Over lunch Wednesday, I picked them up.

Meet Siegfried (left) and Tristan.

One of the perks of fostering is the privilege of naming the kittens. This is not an obligation if the foster parent is afraid of becoming too attached, but I see it as an honor. I chose to name my first set of boys after the Farnon brothers in James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series.

As in the books, Tristan is the more sociable of the two. He is the first to greet me after a separation, the first to crawl into my lap purring, the one to try to get into my glass of wine. Even as I write this post, he is jumping on the keyboard to help.

Tiny but fearless.

Siegfried is a bit more reticent and studies each situation before leaping in. It took a few days for him to start purring; I think that’s an indication that it may take a little while to gain his loyalty, but once earned it will last forever.

Studying the lay of the land.

I think these pretty boys may have Siamese or Himalayan in their background giving them their lovely seal ears and the blue eyes that I hope they keep. Siegfried is fluffy, like a Himalayan, and very photogenic. Tristan has tabby markings as well as a ringed tail, like a raccoon.

I think I am going to love fostering. We’ll have adorable kittens in the house as often as we like, have the flexibility not to foster when we wish to travel, and with any luck never have to deal with them dying. I do envy the family or families that end up with Sieg and Tris; I am also honored to have a part in getting them ready for their next adventure.