Monday, December 10, 2012

Pre-Christmas Prep

Some people get to eat at the table.

Flannery O'Connor would be proud as a...
We finally got our first snow on the Row, so it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the farm. Today, it’s a balmy -4 degrees. But let’s backtrack...

Pies or museum pieces?
Thanksgiving at Mom’s was excellent. All three of my brothers made it—from Kansas, Ohio, and Ecuador. My Ohio brother brought his lovely Russian partner for her first Prescher Thanksgiving. (Bringing a new partner to his or her initial Prescher gatherings is always a test of true love and endurance.) She’s been to a BBFR (Big Bohunk Family Reunion - and Thanksgiving now, so she’s officially part of the family. And once you’re in, there’s no escaping. Ever. My Kansas brother—who jumped in his car and came up to check on me right after BS, bless his heart—brought his sweet redheaded Farkle family, and my Ecuadorean brother came solo, since his wife was visiting her mom in Arkansas. Two of our four kids and one of our three grandkids were there. Our son-in-love spatchcocked the turkey, which might have been the best I ever tasted, and my daughter’s chocolate and cherry pies were works of art. There was more food than we could possibly eat, TV football was a constant drone in the background, and 3-year-old Clyde entertained non-stop.
Peacock tree, angel choir, coffee cup quilt, Buddha.

It was really funny to see all four of us Prescher siblings together—one recovering from a stroke, one recuperating and half-blind from 4 or 5 detached retina surgeries, one with a bad back, In our decrepitude (or because of it), we were incredibly grateful to be celebrating another holiday together. We’re also at the age now where our conversations sound like bad standup routines about retirement plans, medical procedures, and faulty body parts. Oy…

Anyway, piles of turkey sandwiches, vats of creamed turkey, a mountain of turkey salad, and sixty gallons of turkey soup later, we’re well into Christmas prep. The tree is decorated, Grandma’s ceramic Christmas plates and angel choir are out, my Bob Penn print, “Sisters,” has been temporarily replaced by the coffee cup Christmas quilt Ray’s sister made us, the house is all a’glitter with twinkly lights, much of the shopping & wrapping is done, and the freezer is stocked with cookies. Christmas will be cozy. Mom, all three grandkids and three of our four kids will be here (the oldest kid is leaving next week to spend the winter living & skiing in Utah). There WILL be oyster stew, Chex mix, sticky green holly cookies, and monkey bread. I’m thrilled the grandkids are coming and that I get to shop for loud, silly toys because really, there’s nothing like Christmas morning mayhem to warm the heart.

довольно людей, глупые шляпы
2012 has been quite a year. Between Ray’s 2nd heart attack, my BS (double entendre SO appropriate), the drought, the tragic Peafowl Vanishing and consequent epic fail of the Great White Raccoon Hunters (, I’ve been antisocial, fractured & moody lately. Ho ho frickin’ ho. Let’s just hope we’re wrong about that Mayan end-of-the-world business, because that might just push me over the edge (cue hysterical cackle)…

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Meditations on My Stroke

Huh? What reindeer antlers?
Random thoughts about BS (my name for an unexpected little right pontine stroke I had back in October):

1.     I am a completely different person now. I will never be the “old me” again.

2.     I am exactly the same as I was before, so don’t be afraid of me.

3.     Chex Mix and chocolate chip cookies are profoundly healing.

4.  Once upon a time, while I slept, undetected high blood pressure sent a tiny clot through an artery in my brain until the clot blocked blood flow (and oxygen), killing off some circuitry in the pons area of my brain. I woke at 3 a.m. because my hand felt funny, heavy and wobbly. So of course, I went back to sleep. When I finally got up at 6 a.m., my left side didn’t work right. My arm & leg were heavy and wouldn’t do what my brain tried to tell them to do (brush the hair out of my face, pull back the blanket, get up, walk, etc.). You have a window of 3 hours to get to a hospital once a stroke starts, and maybe get the miracle TPA (clot buster) drug that can help minimize damage or even prevent a major stroke. I missed that window. My left side is slowly coming back online, but I know now (admit) that it will be many months before my brain has things fully reconfigured.

5.  TV is good cognitive therapy. For example, “Alaska: the Last Frontier” makes me thankful for grocery stores and summer. “Finding Bigfoot” is an excellent pre-nap sedative. And, if the alien overlords judge us by “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” our planet is doomed.

6.  I look perfectly fine and healthy on the outside. So to you, it may seem like I’m well now. Or, it may seem like all I do is watch TV, read, or eat chocolate chip cookies. But I want you to know that on the inside, my brain is finding new pathways around the burnt-out wiring in my pons as it tries to reconnect with my left side. My brain is holding my left arm in place to keep it from drifting off into space, away from my body. My brain is keeping my left knee from locking up with every step. My brain is making sure my lazy left chest and rib muscles expand with each breath. My brain is forcing the left side of my throat and vocal folds to keep up when I talk or sing. My brain is keeping my left eye centered and focused. And my brain is simultaneously controlling and monitoring every other function of my body. So believe me…on the inside, I am working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life.

Pontine Stroke
7.  The pons is deep in the center of the brain, at the top of the brainstem. Among other things, it contains nuclei that help control sleep, respiration, swallowing, bladder function, equilibrium, eye movement, facial expressions, and posture. So if you’ve seen me since BS, you know I am a VERY, VERY lucky girl.

8.  A dog or cat (or both) in the lap is effective at lowering blood pressure, and picking cat hair out of your food is good occupational therapy.

9.  The brain accounts for about 20-25% of the human body’s energy use. I’m pretty sure my brain is sucking up more than that right now, which is why for now, I need frequent rest, I often prefer a calm, low-stimulation environment, and I’m learning the art of napping. See #6.

10.  A life-changing illness is just that: life changing. It causes one to re-evaluate everything. It brings things into startling new focus. It shifts and solidifies priorities. It allows one to contemplate mortality. It reveals the true nature of relationships. It helps one to let go. All of these are good things.

11. Dear Self: Please drive a stake through the heart of your inner guilt-ridden, hyper-responsible, overachieving demon. This post-stroke recovery period is NOT an opportunity for you to get a bunch of stuff done. Healing is what you need to get done. Period.

12.  For a while after BS, I needed time to get to know the new ME. I didn’t want to see or talk to people at first. But now I’m comfortable with my post-stroke self, even on my clunkiest days. Now I love to see friends & family. Yes, visits need to be shorter than before—I can go about 2 hours now before I need rest. And yes, I might actually tell you when you need to go. But know that I still love you and will want to see you again.

13.  Some days are better than others. On clunky days, my left side reverts to the wobbly lack of coordination I experienced just after BS. I drop things. I have more trouble walking, and I move much slower. I lose my balance. Having a conversation takes effort and concentration. Deep breathing is work. Little things—like frustration or walking to the kitchen—wear me out. On these days, I rest more. I don’t try to measure my progress. I don’t allow myself to think “setback.” I just let my body be however it is and know that soon, I will have another great day.

14.  I am inspired and motivated by Jill Bolte Taylor (, Ram Das (, my friend Cindy Kirkeby, my friend Larry Smith (, and many others who are far braver than me and who remind me that self-pity is a waste of precious energy.

Memorize this!
15.  Sleep is my new BFF. Sleep truly IS the great healer, something most western medicine doesn’t seem to know. In the hospital, they woke me up every hour or two (throughout the day and night) to ask my birthday or to ask who was president. In many rehab facilities, post-stroke folks are given Ritalin or other stimulants to keep them awake. Or, they’re given antidepressants because someone decided they sleep too much. Then they’re taken to PT or OT on the staff’s schedule, not when the patient feels rested and ready for it. All of this SLOWS the healing process, I’m sure. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who, at age 37, had a massive hemorrhagic stroke. Instead of going to a rehab facility, her mom lived with and took care of her. Taylor credits her mom for giving her the best therapy possible—sleep. Taylor’s mom let her sleep whenever she wanted. Then, when she felt rested enough, her mom would work with her at some small task until Taylor needed to sleep again. Typically, she would sleep 6 hours, work at something for 20 minutes, then go back to sleep another 6 hours, etc. My mom, who sat with me every day after I came home from the hospital, did the same. Some days, we would both take a nice long nap, knit a dishrag, then fall asleep again. Sleep helps the brain catalog and retain things in memory. Sleep helps the brain move things from short-term to long-term memory. After a stroke, sleep gives the brain the rest it needs to process “new” information (re-learn) and to re-route information around destroyed brain tissue. Research at the University of Chicago showed that patients with high blood pressure who had a stroke can decrease their risk of another stroke by increasing the amount of sleep they get.

So what’d’ya say? Let’s all have a nap…sweet dreams…

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Big Universal Crapshoot


Brain injury can lead to wearing funny hats.
Back to my “crapshoot” theory of life. You may have read about it in an earlier blog post of mine: The theory was reinforced by my recent stroke, affectionately named BS. In my previous life (before BS), I considered myself a pretty healthy person. Ray & I are old granola-eating hippies. I “eat like a rabbit,” as my son likes to say, which means very little fast/restaurant food, as much local and organic food as I can get here in the land of livestock, loads of veggies, tons of whole grains and legumes, olive oil, few sweets, hardly any bread, tofu, homemade tabouli, falafel, homecooked soups & stews, and mostly chicken, fish, organic venison, and organic lamb when we eat meat. I’m slightly overweight (good winter insulation for prairie folk), but I’m active, and I work damn hard. Oh yeah…and that granola? It’s homemade, low-fat, low-sweet (honey and agave), with all organic ingredients from the co-op.

In spite of our healthy lifestyle, Ray’s had two heart attacks and I’ve had a stroke. Us—not the bazillions of cheeseburger pounding, beer guzzling, sedentary NASCAR-watching, hairspray wearing, preservative-eating, pork rind and sour cream dip aficianados out there. They’re often perfectly healthy. (Sorry…I’m working on my teensy weensy bitterness.)

Anyway, BS left me with left-side “weakness and incoordination.” That’s stroke-speak for no paralysis or numbness but an inability to use much of the left side. Try touching each fingertip of one hand to the thumb on that hand—I couldn’t do that with my left hand at first. But it’s coming back—I can do most things now, though everything’s much slower and requires concentration. My left knee still can’t quite decide if it’s supposed to lock or not (c’mon Brain…we need a new neural pathway for this!), so it just kind of flops back and forth, and I look like Frankenstein when I walk (ironic, since this is the novel my Honor’s students are studying this semester in my absence). I wouldn’t admit this for a long time…till now, really…but my entire left side was affected, so the left side of my throat is weak, and if I talk (or try to sing) too long, I get tired and hoarse. Also, if I’m upright for a while, my stomach muscles start to hurt just like I’d done 100 crunches. It’s almost as if trying to control (ha! such a myth…) or re-route my left side requires so much new brain and muscle energy that it quickly wears my body out. In fact, any use of my left side seems to require extraordinary effort followed by a nap.

Granola & morning meds...mmm!
I don’t quite have a handle on the emotional baggage of BS, either. Sometimes, suddenly and for no apparent reason, my stomach muscles tighten like a giant sash, and the floodgates open. I’m really good at quickly bringing this under control (hehe...there's that myth again), but I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. One possible disadvantage of immediate and constant loving care after something like this is that one is never alone to really let go emotionally till one is tapped out. I think a person who’s had a stroke, accident, heart attack, etc. needs to grieve for their former life. Otherwise, it’s like a constant shadow a half-step behind. 

Anyway, this probably wasn’t a smart move on my part, but last weekend, we went to the funeral of our friends’ son—a 26-year-old kid just pulling his life together, who died in an accidental apartment fire. We had just gone to his dad’s funeral last summer, making it doubly sad. Then, the next day, I went to our semi-monthly SOPD (Sisters of Perpetual Disorder) dinner. When all 20+ women stood to say they’d do whatever I needed to help me recover, I was completely overwhelmed. I had to beat a hasty retreat, so I wouldn’t burst into tears and turn the dinner into one giant sobfest of gratitude and sister-love. Mom is still coming every day to stay with me. Having my 77-year-old mommy commute daily to the farm to take care of me isn’t exactly how I saw things developing in my life, though I can’t imagine how we would all have gotten through this without her.

In addition to the immediate physical and emotional wreckage of BS, the stroke brought other changes, as well. No more daily caffeine, which for me was dang near a French Roast IV drip. Now, I buy incredibly expensive decaf beans, so I can keep my daily coffee rituals. And I’ve started drinking a bit of decaf tea now & then. No nicotine anymore. Yes, I still smoked, though not that much and only chemical-free cigs. Smoking was a ritual, too…10 minutes on the back porch, watching the rural scene, away from the gizmos and noise…ah. Meds. Before BS, I never took anything except Advil or vitamins. Now I have a daily pill reminder case. Argh. I take my blood pressure at least twice a day. We just finished a sleep study (people with apnea are 4 times more likely to have strokes and/or heart attacks), and it looks like we’ll be picking out his & hers CPAP machines in the next couple of weeks—they come in blue paisley, right? Praise all that’s holy my neurologist said to keep up the red wine because it can lower cholesterol. Giving up wine would have been the last straw…

Ray and I are trying not to BE our health issues, not to be THOSE people—the ones whose world is all doctor appointments, lab numbers, and medical jargon. I like to think the Universe was tenderly hobbling us with these little setbacks, helping us slow down and re-prioritize before we end up with BIGGER problems from which we can’t recover. I like to think I’m learning important stuff from all this. I like to think it’s an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-direct our energies. And I did get a huge batch of yummy granola made (guess what everyone’s getting for Christmas this year?).

Sleep study or Borg assimilation?
These health “blips” might be the result of lousy genes—I just found out my dad and mom both have high BP. Or, they might be from too many vices for too many years—I did have the stroke “quadrifecta”: Stress, high BP, high cholesterol, and smoking. But then, I’m in Walmart picking up prescriptions and plantar fasciitis heel pads, and I get a gander at the people walking about who have NOT had heart attacks or strokes, and in a moment of brilliant clarity I know the ugly truth: It’s just the Big Universal Crapshoot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Case of the Disappearing Peafowl

Dahl, Rapid City - peacock made of silverware.

If you followed my earlier peacock blogs, then you know that 2012—a drought year that drove almost all wildlife to scrounge for nontraditional food—was a rough year for the flock. No chicks were hatched here this year, and after a couple of unsuccessful nesting attempts (something(s) ate all the eggs in two rounds of laying), most of the flock took off for greener, more predator-free parts unknown. So here at the Row, we’re down to 4 birds—2 males and 2 females. Since we typically lose a bird or two over the winter, we’re really down to critical mass as far as the flock is concerned.

We made a single bold attempt to go the pragmatic, stoic homesteader route this summer. We bought live animal traps and set them in the barn. The first night, we caught a very large mama raccoon. The next day, I hauled the cage out to the yard, then I sat in the grass and talked to her about why she was in the cage. I explained that if she’d stuck to frogs and toads and hadn’t started dining on peacocks, she wouldn’t be in that predicament. I called my near-son-in-law over, and our plan was to load the raccoon up—cage and all—in his car, and release her at the river. But then we noticed she had already chewed through several bars of the trap. The vision of her getting out of the cage in his car and wrapping herself around his head while he was driving her to the river was just too ugly, so we decided we would have to buck up and shoot her. He did the dirty work—he talked to her for a long while, shot her, then prayed over her. It was an emotionally-wrenching day for both of us (and a tragic day for Mama Raccoon, too). I’m a huge fan of Yukon Men, with their homemade corrals of strung-together beaver and badger pelts, but I know now that two semi-Buddhist, bleeding-heart pacifists will probably never be good trappers. So I’m in the process of turning the traps into planters.
My peacock teapot.

Anyway, maybe the peaflock’s dwindling numbers are the Universe’s way of lightening my post-stroke workload. I miss the peacocks, don’t get me wrong—at one point, our flock was up to 28 birds—watching them, feeding them, picking up those long eye feathers in the fall…it all brings me great joy. But I’m trying to practice my best compassionate detachment, learning to trust in and be grateful for the wisdom of the Universe.

Jada, Yogi, and a dsplaying peacock.
I keep hoping the flock is out there somewhere, happy & healthy & slowly making their way back home. But they aren't homing pigeons, and their brains are really VERY tiny. Then my friend L told a story about her dad herding wayward geese home with a frontloader because they weren’t smart enough to find their own way. I can picture the peas out there somewhere, wandering in circles and wondering where their corn & cat food buffet went. We don’t have a frontloader, so another option might be to bring in some new peafowl next spring and re-invent our flock, just as I’m re-inventing myself after the stroke. Seems fitting somehow. And now that we know Barack’s in for another term, maybe I can get a peafowl husbandry grant....For now, though, I’m just thrilled to see our 4 remaining peacocks wandering about, and for “occupational therapy,” I’m knitting them all reflective orange safety vests for the hunting/holiday season.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Among other things, the pons area of the brain (the part I fried in a little baby stroke that I affectionately named BS) regulates emotions. And no matter what part of the brain a stroke affects, depression is often part of the aftermath. For me, this has resulted in occasional spontaneous sobbing. And as much energy as it takes to coordinate my left hand finger movements now, it can take even more at times to keep myself from diving into the bottomless pool of self pity. I LOVE my brain…my brain TURNED on me, dammit.

Then yesterday, I was listening to an OM chanting CD loaned to me by my friend CK, when it hit me like a ton of bricks: CK had a double lung transplant, and I’ve never heard her complain about it. Not once. Not about the disease that led to the transplant…not about the numerous trips to Mayo…not about the anti-rejection drugs. None of it. Oh, I’m smart enough to know that in her private moments, she’s probably let down her guard once or twice. But whenever I’ve seen/talked to/emailed her, she is the epitome of peacefulness & positivity.

So in those moments when I want to crumple to the floor and weep, when I feel old and battered, my new mantra will be: WWCD? I’m pretty sure she would offer someone a big happy smile and a cup of coffee. And bad left hand or no, I can do that too…although now, it’ll be decaf.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Control: the Grand Illusion

I’ts VERY hard for me to ask for help. I’ve never been good at it. But there’s nothing quite like a stroke to knock you right down to diapers, lying around waiting for people to do stuff for you. At least since I had my first kid at age 21, I’ve always been a nurturer, a caretaker. But then I read this quote from Ram Dass, the 1960’s guru, who had a stroke in 1997 and has almost no use of his right side:

“I had gotten power from helping people, and now I need help for everything. That was the grace. The stroke happened to the ego, and when I could witness the pain, my life got better.”

Ouch. Painful, but probably true. Maybe all that nurturing wasn’t entirely altruistic. Maybe it was also about feeling in control—feeling I had some power. And those of us who are less than enlightened tend to define ourselves by what we do: I am the woman who was always in control, who knew who she was, who took care of others, who sang, who knitted, who danced, etc. But I’m having to come around to the idea that since I’m still here and NOT doing any of those things right now, “me” must be something else. Maybe my self-definition was wrong. Ram Dass calls it a "fierce grace." I get it.

But clearly, the Universe didn’t believe I was getting it. So last Thursday, I ended up back in the hospital, this time in our Little Town hospital. I went in for a follow-up GP visit after BS, and my BP was so high that they took me straight to the ER and loaded me up on IV BP meds. Let me tell you—the ER is NOT a place to go to relax and lower your BP. They scared the bejeezus out of me. They didn’t say it, but I could tell by what they were doing that they thought either another stroke or a heart attack was imminent. Thank heaven my body was just toying with them. And with me.

Three days later, I’m home again with a new cocktail of meds. The good news is that my left side is getting stronger, I’m getting some fine motor movement back in my hand, and the new meds make me just relaxed enough to take the edge off the panic attacks that can sometimes plague me when I start obsessing over BS and my brain’s betrayal or my own mortality.

Ray and my mom continue to be the best caretakers a person could ask for. Ray always says that when someone asks if they can do something for you, you need to let them—it's your gift to them, really, because they NEED to do something. So I’m learning to let them—my beautiful friends are ignoring my pigheadedness and tendancy to isolate and are coming anyway, bearing flowers, cards, scarves, and soup. Yes, like Ram Dass, I am slowly re-defining myself, learning to trust my body’s amazing ability to heal itself, accepting the fierce grace of this transition in my life, and reluctantly letting go of the “me” that believed it was EVER in control of ANYTHING.

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's all just BS...

Post-stroke, Day 6. I fell over backward yesterday. I was just standing there. Did you know that your brain controls whether or not you can hold up your head? Sheesh. Who’d’a thunk.

So my totally Type A son, who should be taking his OWN blood pressure several times a day, did an awesome job of reminding me why I can’t sit around and cry like a little girl. He said:

The bad: 1. Goofy left hand. 2. Goofy left knee. 3. Months of dumb ol' physical therapy and a few more pills to pop. The good: 1. The universe used the only feasible tactic to force you into positive physical change (quitting smoking, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, more exercise.) Though, I'm sure you would have gotten around to most of that on your own. )2. Lots of family and friends to help you through it, like it or not... I saw one man in the stroke unit who had nobody in his room the entire two days I was around. 3. You've maintained your wonderful ability to write, to inspire, to think, to speak and to sing. 4. Semester off... maybe time for another poetry book or perhaps a novel about a Chechen warlord who sneaks into America to start a new life as a children's birthday clown? 5. Opportunity to pull off a cool cane with a concealed sword inside. 6. New appreciation for things previously taken for granted, and all that baloney. 7. You have a beautiful country acreage on which to recuperate. 8. More time to read, watch movies and maybe invest in Rosetta Stone French. 9. You taught your like-minded type A son to take stock and make similar positive changes before we both end up making goofy slack-jawed shadow puppets together. 10. You reminded your kids how lucky we are to have such a fantastic mom. We love you.

I’m toying with the Chechen birthday clown novel idea, and believe me, I know how lucky I am to have such amazing kids. I should add that I’m also terribly grateful that Ray has the legs to pull off a nurse’s uniform. Oh yeah, and that my 77-year-old mommy is bringing me food, that my younger brother drove up from Kansas and bought me a bag of 100 therapy balls (stupid floppy arm keeps chucking them under the furniture), and that my daughter brought me homemade lentil dahl and cookies. Heck, if all the function came back this minute, I’m not sure I would tell…

I named my stroke BS; according to many old traditions (Vedic, Islamic, Judaic, etc.), naming something gives you power over it. You can probably imagine what the initials BS stand for, and even if you’re wrong, you won’t be too far off. And yes, it’s both cliché and true that we need to focus on what we have, not what we miss or don’t have. This morning, for example, I came downstairs and made my own tea. Take that, BS.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stroke of [some sort of] Luck

I had a stroke, I'm only 56 years old, and I’m gonna tell you about it.

It started last Sunday, October 21. I had graded and updated grade books for about 10 hours on Saturday, and I was feeling great to have gotten so much done. I was up in my greenhouse office, answering emails, when suddenly, I was dizzy, I had a headache, and I couldn’t make my hand work—it was “floppy” and unresponsive. I could feel it—it wasn’t paralyzed or numb—I just couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to. My overly analytical brain immediately said, “You could be having a stroke! Take an inventory!” So, I methodically went through the steps: Hold your arms over your head and leave them up for minute to see if one “drifts;” smile, to see if the two sides of your mouth go up the symmetrically; remember and repeat back several small sentences. By the time I got through the inventory, the dizziness had passed, and my hand was cooperating again.

I came downstairs and took my blood pressure. It was 188/127, which I immediately wrote off to old batteries in the apparatus, because I’m a total pro at rationalizing. I went in the bathroom, where I had another “spell” just like the first. When it passed—they lasted about a minute each--I sat down and had a little wine (as one does), then took my blood pressure again. It was 137/120 now, so I figured the freak show was over. I went to Susan Osborn’s “Singing and Silence” workshop (, which was wonderful, and the rest of the day was normal.

On Monday morning, I called and made a doctor appointment to deal with the blood pressure. Then, when I walked into my 11:00 class, I had another “spell.” It passed and I got through class, so I headed to Mom’s to wait for the doc apt. I had another little “spell” at Mom’s. The doc did a once-over, a CT scan of my head (which looked normal), and put me on blood pressure medicine and a blood thinner, then scheduled more tests for Wednesday, when the MRI truck came to town. She wanted me to see a neurologist, too, and they would call me soon with an appointment time.

During the night, maybe 3 a.m., I woke up and thought my hand felt funny…heavy…slow. But I didn’t have a headache and I wasn’t dizzy, so of course, I went back to sleep. Then, when I got out of bed Tuesday morning, I had trouble getting down the stairs and making coffee. Since the neuro folks hadn’t called back yet, we opted for ER in Sioux Falls, which seems to be the ONLY way to get a neurologist to see you.

Soooo…an MRI, MRA, CT scan, echocardiogram & bubble test, carotid Doppler ultrasound and 3 days in the neuro/stroke ICU later, I know that what I had is a small ischemic stroke in the PONS structure of my brain ( 

The stroke educator told me the little "spells" are called TIA's--"mini strokes" that can warn of a bigger one coming--but I didn't know that then. I also didn't know then that in spite of a relatively healthy body & lifestyle, I had the stroke precursor quadrifecta: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and stress. Woops. She told me the pons is the “Manhattan” of the brain. I’ve also seen it described as the brain’s “junction box.” Either way, it’s a very busy place, and damage there can really muck up the whole system. So I got off relatively easy; I can’t use my left hand much, and walking is tricky, since my left knee doesn’t seem to know if it should lock or not, but my thinking, speech, vision, hearing (all things that can be affected by pons damage) are intact. 

I'm home, and for now, I can’t go for more than a few minutes at anything without resting, work is out for the remainder of this semester at least, and I look like a drunk zombie when I walk. I burst into tears occasionally (the brain stem also coordinates emotions), I have to wallow in self pity now & then, and I don’t want to see or talk to anyone who knew the “old me.”

Oh, and the neurologist finally called. They can squeeze me in December 4. Hehe. Ah, the efficient American health care system...

Ram Dass, a stroke survivor (, says that you have think of yourself as having two lives: the you before the stroke, and the new post-stroke you. He says there’s real danger in comparing the two, because then you focus on what you CAN’T do anymore. For example, the old me liked to play guitar and dance and knit and cook. The new me likes to button my own shirt and wipe my own arse. See how that kind of comparing might not be productive? Anyway, the docs say I could get a lot of this function back. In the meantime, just know that the new me is here, brain sparking out new neural pathways, and who knows what I’ll be when all this is done?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Big Fat Bohunk Family Reunion 2012

The rest of the summer whizzed by as fast as the first half, and Semester is already stomping me with his steel-toed boots. I’m a pathological procrastinator and a badger-fierce protector of my “summer space,” so the cold sweats I’m having over next week’s start of the school year are my own dang fault. Come next Tuesday (it’s pathetic that I KNOW this and do it anyway), I’ll be ready to go, I’ll have a tingly sense of adventure & excitement about my fresh new students, and I’ll be totally mystified about why I put myself through the wringer like this. Every. Single. Time. So here I go procrastinating a little more, recapping one of late summer’s highlights…

It seems like our Big Fat Bohunk Family Reunion was decades ago, though it was at the end of July, in the Minnesota woods near Leech Lake. It hasn't even been a month ago, but I miss my Big Family more this year than I remember in the past. Maybe our friend’s and my uncle’s passing from our lives this summer leaves me contemplating priorities more than usual.

Anyhoo, you can see last year’s revelry at;postID=6223593135121397134

This year, there were 57 humans and 15 dogs, and our slightly irreverent theme (it’s 2012 after all) was, “If I’m not Mayan, I’m Dyin’” (complete with reunion theme t-shirts for all, thanks to my little bro). The festivities included the 2nd annual Esther Williams Invitational Lake Swim with 17 participants, ranging in age from teens to sixty-somethings, and included folks with bad tickers & bum knees, and folks so out of shape that near-drowning seemed like it might be a mercy. To everyone’s surprise, the only Bohunk to make it across the lake and back was my little bro, who’d packed on a little pre-winter hibernation layer since his recent move to Ohio, so we all had to eat a little crow and crown him the Big Fish.
One cousin led us (and by us, I mean them, since I was typically still at the coffee shop in town) in early morning Beach Towel Yoga. I couldn’t talk her into evening yoga instead, but I’ll work on it for next year. Our Campfire Hootenanny this year included two generations of musicians and several great sing-along numbers. There were always a few folks gathered around the firepit chatting, knitting, and reminiscing, while others went off to water ski, tube, jet ski, or treat their third-degree sunburns. The 2nd annual Go Whole Hog Pig Roast was exceptional, although there was, sadly, no hat for the pig this year. 

We even held the first annual Bohunk Bonanza auction, where everyone dug through their cars for stuff to auction off in support of the cabin taxes. Among the bargains were crushed straw hats, a piece of rock from Jerusalem, old plastic signs, a toy airplane made of pop cans, and felted baby hats. 

There were unlimited floaties, a canoe, a paddleboat, and always, shampoo & conditioner on the dock.

The tent city was already tightly packed when we arrived, so our Ecuador, Kansas and South Dakota clans stayed at the motel in town, a strip motel my grandson dubbed “The Number House.” He could bang on any numbered door (then barge right in Dragnet style) and find family. I’m pretty sure he’d like things permanently arranged this way, with Mom, Dad, Grandma, Great-grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins all handy. My dad didn’t make it this year, so Mom was the Grand Matriarch, a title she wears well, and we met our two newest baby-boy cousins. And other than the usual water-sport strains and sprains and the sound golf thrashing of the old by the young, there were no serious injuries.
I’m already looking forward to next year. My sunburn has peeled & healed, I have a delightful new layer of freckles, and I’m hard at work on waterproof glittery headbands for next summer’s auction…

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Empty Nest. Literally.

Yes, Ray and I rigged up an emergency incubator using a styrofoam cooler, clamp light, 40-watt bulb and several dishtowels. Yes, we are incubating 5 peacock eggs. Yes, we will turn the eggs 3-5 times a day, keep the temp at 100-103 degrees, and provide at least 60% humidity. And no, we have no idea what what we’ll do if they hatch.

It isn’t really my fault. Due to a genetic anomaly (see, I cannot leave the wise & gracious Universe to her own devices. So after a particularly brutal season for our peafowl flock, my heart broken, I stepped in.

The brutality started in early spring, when we lost several peacocks to various predators—at least one to a raptor, a couple to what appeared to be mink or weasel, and several more to something much larger, large enough to rip apart an adult peahen, drag it around, and leave chunks of it lying about. I figured word had finally gotten out that the Row was a veritable peacock buffet.

But this past week, the brutality escalated beyond our comprehension when, in a single day, 8 adult peas (2 males and 6 hens) went MIA. We have walked the property, and there is nary a fluff of down, no sign of what happened or where they went. I have theories, some of which involve human predators, adding to my post-Aurora, CO stupification at the human capacity for cruelty.

(Weird side note: Got a text from my son the morning the peas went missing, before I knew they were gone, asking if the peas were okay. He said he’d dreamed the peas were hanging on a neighbor’s barn. He fought with the neighbor to get them back, somehow tore off the neighbor’s face, and discovered the neighbor had an iPhone brain. I texted back that he should avoid burritos at bedtime. Still, spooky prophetic, and I did cruise the neighborhood once I discovered the peas were AWOL.)

I called the Big City zoo to tell them to keep an eye out for folks wanting to sell peacocks. I left a message with the county game warden. I warned our neighbors to be on the lookout for hooligans with guns, and to gauge their reaction, like some crazy Criminal Minds investigator. I figured I’d done about everything I could do. And then, when I called yesterday to alert the only other folks in the region I know have peacocks, they told me they were about to throw out a clutch of eggs their hen had just laid – they don’t want any more peacocks – and did I want the eggs? Every fiber of my being pushed me, slapped me, jabbed me to say no thank you. So of course, I said, “Absolutely.”

Here’s the trick: Peafowl are not like chickens. Peachicks do not come out of the egg knowing how to eat & drink & roost. Peachicks must be taught. They spend the first 2-3 weeks of their lives sleeping 15 feet off the ground, tucked up under their mother’s wings. For a couple of months or more, they follow their mother everywhere, watching her peck at the ground and listening for her back-of-the-throat cluck that means, “This is okay to eat.” Those are some enormous 4-toed shoes to fill.

Yes, I should have said no. But my heart was broken. I’d been pretty stoic until Day 3, when it finally hit me that our peas weren’t coming back (one of our two white peahens, Ike, had been with us a long time and was named for my son’s friend who’d committed suicide—both white hens are gone). I was attached to those peabrains, dammit. 

So, thanks to my aching heart and my hereditary HHN-i, I said yes. And I am enormously grateful for Saint Ray, who knows, loves, and fears me enough not to get in the way of my Panic Mothering. If by some miracle these eggs hatch, I will figure this thing out. And I have at least 18 days to grow some feathers…

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Summer Blur

My granddaughter, the Butterfly Whisperer
Lately, I’ve been contemplating (while on the run) the human inability to remain still. My long summer to-do list, which includes writing, daily meditation, long stretches of contemplative silence, writing, Xtreme relaxation, self-reflection and re-centering, and writing, remains on my fridge with nary an item checked off. Instead, summer has been a blur of perpetual motion…

1. As soon as Semester uncurled its fist and let me loose, we headed to Milwaukee, where Ray and Little Henry played a wedding dance for the daughter of one of the geetar players. It was a beautiful, joyous occasion. And how cool is it for the bride to have her dad rock the house at her wedding, then for the bride and her sister to sit in with the band? Very cool.

Three Graces
2. Next stop, Madison, where we visited my two dear friends, Emma and Ruby, and their families. It was a 24-hour whirlwind of garden tours, knitting shop & food co-op runs, an incredible lasagna dinner, wine & philosophy, and smiling till my face hurt.

3. When we got back from WI, Mom and I headed to the Black Hills to hear my oldest son, Ryan Kickland ( play a gig. The music was stellar, with special guests Jami Lynn and Josh Hilpert, and it was wonderful to see so many former Little Town friends show up to support Ryan.

Ryan and Jami Lynn
4. In early June, four of us took off for our WAC-y (Women’s Annual Campout) getaway. This year, we went to Kansas, west of Topeka, to my brother’s lake cabin. We spent several glorious days drinking coffee on the patio and wine on the dock, playing in the water, reading, overanalyzing our lives, learning to speak Great Blue Heron and, with 4 geetars along, serenading the neighbors.

5. On our last WAC-y evening, we got the news of our friend’s suicide back home. He was a local legend and a larger-than-life character—waist-length rattail he refused to cut, silver star embedded in a front tooth—who sometimes went about town in a tux & spats. He was a talented songwriter, musician and artist, and a person who rarely compromised. He was also gravely ill and facing a steady downward spiral. We went to his memorial, a sweet celebration of his life. And I know some people feel suicide is selfish, but I quickly realized my anger at his choice was really about my own pain in missing him—I was the selfish one. So now I’m simply wishing him freedom, peace, and great love in his next adventure.

WAC-y Women
5. Then the grandkids came to stay at the farm for a few days. This, too, was a whirlwind that included soccer games, a day at the beach, and a day in the Big City, shopping, visiting the Butterfly House, and hanging out at the skatepark.

6. In between trips, we’ve been scrambling to save our little peaflock. Between last summer and this one, we lost 18 peacocks to predation (and 1 to fast cars on I-29). Judging from the killer MO’s, we’re dealing with more than one kind of varmint – raptors, weasels/minks, coyotes, and possibly a badger. So for Father’s Day this year, the kids got Ray a rifle they dubbed “The Farm Protector.” I’m very conflicted, as we’ve never had guns on the premises, and I’m a devout peacenik, treehugging, varmint-sweater-knitting hyper-nurturer. But after discovering the most recent (possibly badger) kill site, which looked like a scene in a low-budget slasher flick, I might be mad enough to sit up in a lawn chair all night in my jammies and headlamp, rifle at the ready.

Howard Jones. So, so cool.
7. My next road trip was back down to KS to leave Mom at the cabin for some well-earned lake R & R. I stayed for a couple days, and we sunned, floated, toured local towns, and prissied up the cabin with solar lights and hanging petunias. Then back home, a 7-8-our drive.

8. Soon after getting home, Ray and I headed out again to Minneapolis, to visit the oldest Remund kid, hear Howard Jones at the Varsity Theatre, and catch a Twins/White Sox game. Howard was—and yes, I hate this word too—awesome! And driving around the Cities always reminds me: You can take the city out of the girl, but…you can’t put it back.

9. Next, we drove to Omaha to rendezvous with my brother and bring Mom home. Omaha is my hometown, but in spite of my thrill over shopping at the Asian Market and Whole Foods, I was glad to get back on the road the same day and head back to the farm.

Uncle Don at Linoma Beach
10. This past weekend we learned of my uncle’s death. He was my dad’s brother, making my dad the last of three siblings, and he’d been in a nursing home for a while. He was another larger-than-life character, a sometimes rude, crude, arse-pinching, cussing Bohunk. He was also an old-school family doctor who treated folks whether or not they could pay, and who doctored for free a passel of cousins, neighbors, friends, friends of friends, etc., often at his kitchen table. He pierced my ears, stitched me up after a car wreck, delivered my first baby, and set that baby’s broken arm four years later. So, we’re off to Omaha again this week to bid my uncle farewell.

At this point, I feel like I’ve spent the summer in the car, and we still have my Big Fat Bohunk Family Reunion coming up in late July, an 8+-hour road trip each way. All four of our kids are going for the first time ever, and our giant extended family (65-ish of us last year) will be honoring my dad’s 80th birthday and taking into the Giant Family Fold the two babies born since last summer.

We humans come and go. Literally. Figuratively. So before I pack for the next trip, I’m going outside in the yard. I will hold aloft the peacock egg I found on the front steps. Ray will softly play his congas in the background. I will sing several choruses of “The Circle of Life.”'re scoffing now. But you’ll come around. Literally. Figuratively.