Friday, May 31, 2013

Roadtesting the New Brain

Mortar-less flint walls are everywhere
Last weekend, we had Summer’s first mini-vacation. We drove to the Flint Hills of Kansas for my nephew’s high school graduation gathering at my brother’s lake cabin, and to spend a couple of lazy days on the water – a treat, since we’re fairly land-locked in our corner of the prairie.

Girl & Chessie share hair color gene
I was a little worried about such a long (it’s a 7-hour drive), high-stimulation trip, but I did surprisingly well.  The visit was excellent physical therapy—hauling stuff from the car to the cabin, walking up and down the small hill from cabin to dock and back, climbing into and out of a large jet ski tube tied to the dock, etc. There were 7 adult-ish people (plus one extra on the last night) and 3 dogs (a small poodle and two very large Chessies) in the 2-bedroom cabin, which seems like potential disaster, but it worked out fine.  We spent lots of time outdoors, which is the point of a lake cabin anyway. And my sister-in-love brought her espresso machine to the cabin and made us lattes every morning. And my brother strung blue sparkly lights absolutely everywhere. A wee slice of paradise.

Lest you think it was picture-perfect, though, BS (my brainsplosion) did toss a couple of minor monkey wrenches in the works: 

Supermom jets off
(1) New Circuits/Misfires – Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had occasional, sudden intense pain in my left big toe, shooting up my leg, but only when barefoot. One day, I had fleeting jolts of fire, as if someone was jabbing my left shoulder blade with a fork (testing for doneness, perhaps). Another day, my left eye twitched sporadically. These sensations are momentary and come & go with no pattern or regularity. So either random nerves are waking up, clicking back online & off again, or someone has a voodoo doll made from my old socks. 

(2) Not-Drowning – Last Sunday, I’d been sunning on the tube and decided to roll off into the water for a swim. Quell surprise! Apparently, in my post-stroke brain, the proper sequence of holding one’s breath BEFORE going under water is no longer instinctual. Fortunately, the tube blocked me from everyone’s view, so there will be no FoolTube video of the uncoordinated chubby redhead gasping, choking, and flailing for the dock ladder.

This non-swimming revelation kept me from riding my brother’s new jet ski, but my 77-year-old mom braved it and looked positively sporty & fetching cruising around the lake. I think Mom is secretly sneaking up on my 80-ish aunt’s para sailing record, to which I say (in begging, whiny tone), “Please please please let these genes be in me too.”

lake at dusk
When we got home, Ray’s sister, who’d been house/pet sitting, had cleaned, weeded, pruned houseplants, tended to our dog’s sore nose, and left us an old wooden ladder she’d painted and turned into a work of art. It’s now a gorgeous garden trellis. It was like coming home after the shoemaker’s elves had been there.

ladder trellis art
The trip was fun, but it also tested my recovery progress and zapped me good. (When I get tired, I transform from a seemingly normal woman to a lame, stammering, Kwasimoto with advanced dementia.) So I’ve been recuperating for the past week—physical therapy, low-stim days, lots and lots of rest. Mom and I are planning a short trip in June to Louisiana to see her new great-grandchildren, so for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be perfecting my 15-minute power nap. Beautiful bayou, Pain perdu and café au I come!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Road Trip Redeaux Redone

I know, I know…I’ve already done the “then & now” travel edition (  But this is the post-stroke “and now” edition, so you can either bear with me or go do your dishes.

This is what I'll be doing if I ever actually get on the road.
Ray and I decided not to take any big long vacations this summer. I’ll concentrate on continued recovery, and we’ll take occasional short trips instead. The need to stay closer to home came clear to me after last Saturday’s daytrip to Omaha. I was a total dynamo! Mom and Ray could barely keep up! My physical therapist had relieved my heel pain with ultrasound, laser, and iontophoresis, so I didn’t have to limp…drag…limp…drag all day. Why, I was unstoppable!

Alas, pride does goeth before the fall. I’m now paying the price for my haughtiness. I’ve spent the last two days soaking my heel and napping. Okay. Good reminder. Go slow. Pace yourself. You’re not there yet…

Listmaking: Pre-draft one, sketching out ideas.
Now Ray and I are getting ready for our first real road trip of the summer. We’re heading to Kansas for my nephew’s graduation party, and we’ll be gone three days. Getting ready to go is a whole new study in preparedness, because in addition to motor deficits and fatigue, some of the most annoying (and also the most bizarrely fascinating) after-effects of my brainsplosion are a sketchy short-term memory and occasional scattered thinking—thoughts that jump randomly from one incomplete idea to metric conversion tables to a recipe for maple cheesecake.

(Side note: Merhaba! to my regular reader in Cypress, Ciao! to my reader in Rome, Hello! to the rest of you too. Do leave comments when you can…I’d love to hear your voices, too!)

Here’s what I did in my hippie youth to get ready for a short road trip: Throw an extra broomstick skirt and halter top in a backpack (it’s three days…you don’t need those material possessions that only tie you to the bourgeois Establishment, like underwear or a toothbrush). Throw in sunflower seeds and a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine. Go.

Here’s what I’m doing now to get ready: Make the following lists:

List ONE: Things to Pack (include everything you’ll need…if you don’t write it down, you’ll forget it)—Clothes, underwear, walking shoes, iPad, iPod, chargers, pillows, meds, CPAPs, hummus, leftover venison meatloaf (so it won’t go to waste), kombucha, nuts, smoothie stuff, sunscreen, toothbrush & toiletries, filtered water, graduation card & present.

List TWO: Things to Do (organized by day)—Clean bird cages, water plants, make handouts for pet/housesitter (pet feeding, supplements for old dog, treats for parrots, note about ticks/Frontline, using the Mifi, working the TV remote/DVR, thermostat, asparagus picking), dust, vacuum, change bedsheets, clean bathrooms, do laundry, make hummus, pack (see list ONE).

List THREE: Reminders—remember to look at lists one & two. Check things off as you go.

You can see why taking even a teensie road trip is a monumental undertaking these days. That’s why, as soon as I’ve finished compiling, typing, alphabetizing, appropriately highlighting, and printing out the lists, I’ll take a long nap. Bon Voyage!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Manic Much? (foodie edition)

Bulgher/Quinoa Tabhouli
I’ve long suspected (as have most people who know me well...hey…don’t you LOVE parentheses?) I may have a weensie bit of OCD, a smattering of adult ADHD, and a pinch of bipolar disorder. Or, maybe a more accurate label (because we can’t have too many labels, right?) would be climepolar disorder: fluctuating by climate—depressive in winter, euphoric in summer. Right now, semester has crawled off to hibernate till fall, South Dakota is twirling in her gorgeous flowered petticoats, the apple & plum trees are in bloom and alive with much-welcome bees, and life is grand!

Kongnamul Bab
Now that the fog of trying to teach while pretending I didn’t have a stroke is lifting, I’m shifting my focus back to recovery. My awesome PT person just wrangled a few more sessions out of my insurance company. I’ve seen an ENT, an ophthalmologist, a podiatrist, and a pulmonologist since school got out, sizing up the residual effects of BS (my nickname for my pesky brainsplosion). I’ve cut my meds as low as I dare, to try and get rid of this mind fuzz and to kick-start my stalled metabolism. I sang with my friend L last weekend!!! And my friend M and I have vowed to spend more time at the gym.

I’m also continuing to adjust, monitor, modify, supplement, and detoxify my diet. Yesterday, Ray and I took Mom to Omaha, so she could catch a ride to KS for my nephew’s graduation. But before we rendezvoused with her ride south-er, we did some intensive shopping in support of our nutritional therapy…
(1)   We hit Trader Joe’s for nuts and salmon oil.
(2)  At Whole Foods, we snagged raw greens superfood for our breakfast smoothies (frozen organic berries, fresh raw kale, a spoonful of yogurt, whey protein, superfood, a packet of Emergen-C, and water).
(3)  At the Asian Market, I found shaved bonito fish (for making homemade dashi, the fish-broth base of miso soup, since we’re trying to add fermented foods to our daily diet – see for recipe).
(4)  Our last grocery stop was at Penzey’s Spices, where I sniffed the saffron, re-stocked my spice rack, and got some berbere to make this chicken & lentil dish:

Tofu-Mushroom-Seaweed Miso Soup
I’m not much for baking (I’ll take savory over sweet any day) but I LOVE to cook. Pearl Bailey said, "My kitchen is a mystical place, a kind of temple for me." I get that. For me, cooking is the perfect combo of chemistry, meditation, prayer, occupational therapy, love & magic. A Reubenesque shape signifies survival, safety, security (clearly, I have food issues, to which the swishing of my generous thighs and flapping of tender arms will atest). I chop/slice/dice/julienne by hand. I put spacy new-agey instrumental music on the house system. I sip strong coffee or red wine, depending on the hour. Sometimes, I wear a dress, an apron, and cowgirl boots while I cook. I cook enough to give at least half away.
Packrat Discovers Penzey's

2nd Picking
Today, however, we’ll eat our 2nd picking of fresh garden asparagus, and we'll clean up leftovers: For breakfast, I had an incredible miso soup my son-in-love made with mushrooms, tofu, and kombu. Later, we’ll have kongnamul bab (one my all-time favorite foods…Korean soybean sprouts & rice – my recipe’s here: For dinner, we'll eat the last of the tabhouli, with pine nuts and feta. And since I walked at least 20 miles gathering the goods yesterday, I might indulge in reward therapy tonight with a glass of homemade petit shiraz zinfandel and a chunk of the sea-salted 75% cocoa dark chocolate I found.

 Yes, by gum…life is darn-near euphoric, isn’t it?

No well-appointed kitchen is complete without solar hula dancers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day...Again?

About three years before the last sib, our adorable redheaded baby brother, arrived.
Happy, sweet Mother’s Day to Mom, my daughter, my daughters-in-love, my sisters-in-love, and to all the other mothers everywhere!

As Mother’s Day rolls around again, I’m offering two previous Mother’s Day posts within this post (metablogging?), because (a) I still mean it all, and (2) with my current stroke-addled brain, I can’t come up with better ways to say these things, and (IV) the original posts include a poem of mine that I would have included (again) in a new post anyway.

Update Addendum: I’m delighted (ridiculously giddy) that by this fall, THREE of our four children will have children of their own. We’re incredibly amazed and proud of the loving, devoted, gentle parents they are/will be, and honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better Mother’s Day present (plus a new tat, a Morkie puppy, and a cabana on a white-sand beach).

So I hope you’ll grab a cup o’ joe and a gluten-free, whole grain bagel with goat cheese, sit back & put your feet up, and enjoy:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I'll save the world...tomorrow.

For most of my life, I have suffered from SS (Superwoman Syndrome). The syndrome affects mostly women born after WWII and includes a belief that one can—and must—single-handedly save the world, while simultaneously feeding, nurturing, protecting, cleaning up after, loving, and being loved by every skin-y, feathery, furry, and scaly critter on the planet.

Because of the delusional thinking common to sufferers of SS, I thought I could casually stroll back into teaching darn-near full time at Little Town U a mere 10 weeks after having a stroke. O, what a poor, misguided fool I was!

I did a fair job (I think) of covering up the lingering aftereffects of the stroke, but covering takes enormous energy and left me running on fumes. And the need to get grades done on time, plus my pesky SS, make especially troubling my post-stroke difficulty focusing, paired with short-term memory wormholes. For me, grading requires total concentration and huge chunks of quiet, uninterrupted time. But this scattery brain can make things take much longer; it’s tough to focus on a student’s argument that Katniss Everdeen is a reinterpretation of the Greek goddess Diana when my thoughts are zig-zagging like cartoon lightning bolts. 

Here’s a peek inside my post-stroke/SS brain:

Google student’s reference to Wingshooter’s Guide to South Dakota.
Cool! Look at that hummingbird nest!
(Ding) Check Facebook.
Yikes! Migrating hummingbirds can’t find enough food because of cold, late spring.
Go outside and get hummingbird feeders.
Put them in a sink full of soapy water to soak.
Do I boil water and add sugar, or add sugar THEN boil the water? Google.
Wow, I should try this dog biscuit recipe.
Grocery list: liver, quinoa, eggs, millet flour, kale.
I wonder if the coffee stain came out of my nightgown?
Yikes! Look at the lint screen!
I’d better change the batteries in the smoke alarms.
(Ding) Check Facebook.
That moth can’t be real. Google “Poodle Moth.”
I wonder if anyone’s ever crossed a poodle with a papillion? Google.
Check Humane Society puppy list.
Find Jada, put aloe on her sore foot.
Take the dogs for a walk on the trail.
Wait a minute…where’d the hummingbird feeders go?
Oh yeah. Scrub & rinse.
Google homemade humming bird food. Make it, put it in the fridge to cool.
I should grade a paper while it cools.
Google student’s reference to Wingshooter’s Guide to South Dakota.

Ad infinitum…

Hope springs eternal, though. After chewing me into a ragged cud, Semester spit me out yesterday when I turned in my final grades. (Note: Hitting the “submit” button on the online grade form always results in a bizarre narcoleptic/manic paradox that makes me do things like pass out while micro-planning a 30-day cross-country tour of orchid growers.) Miraculously, I made it through the entire semester without having another stroke.

So today, as my reward, I will stave off my SS, kick back under my fuzzy blankie, keep my iPad open to my email as I wait for the post-grade student shockwave to hit, and watch a Monster Quest or Finding Bigfoot marathon with a dog in my lap and an Icy Hot patch on my bent-neck grading hump. 

Tomorrow, though, I will save the world.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Groovy, man.

Vietnam Prisoner of War Bracelet.

This has been circulating on the Interwebs lately:

I had to laugh as I mentally checked off each item, sure that my kids would see their childhoods in the list. At some point, I’ll have to apologize for the warm garlic oil in their ears (and other hideous home remedies). Other tell-tale hippieisms from my life…
  • I snuck tofu—crumbled, breaded & deep-fried, sautéed, sliced & marinated—into everything I fed my kids.
  • I still have—and am using—the same bottle of patchouli I bought from the food co-op in 1978.
  • In the 1970’s, I selected my piano teacher, Stanley Capps, not because he was a brilliant teacher, composer, and performer (which he was), but because he had a pyramid hanging over his piano. When he died, his wife gave me one of his small collections: about 100 tiny, solid wood pyramids, and a larger hollow pyramid under which I kept drinking water for 24 hours before putting it in the fridge.
  • I wore bellbottoms (some with awesome paisley inserts sewn in the legs) the FIRST time around.
  • I still have my record albums. I have ticket stubs in my scrapbook to Yes & Moody Blues (saw both many times), It’s a Beautiful Day, Allman Brothers, Al Stewart, Grand Funk, Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead and other concerts. Some of these, I actually remember going to.
  • I have several pictures of my toddler children naked, naked wearing capes only, or in bib overalls and gypsy bandanas, which I’m saving for blackmail purposes.
  • My canisters are blue antique Ball canning jars. That I once canned in.
  • I know what bulgher is and how to use it.
  • My children used correct anatomical terms for body parts. No “pee pee,” “ding-dong,” or “girl bits” in our house. To the chagrin of a few other parents, my kids taught the correct terms to their playmates.
  • My senior project for Sister Mary Andrew’s art class was a ceramic bong, which she put in the hallway trophy case with a sign that said, “Bud Vase.”
  • I have been in protest marches and yes, I have chained myself to a fence.
  • I keep a tube of henna paste in my fridge in case of sudden inspiration.
  • I teach dream-journaling & poetry workshops at events called “Celebrate Yourself.”
  • My home’s ambiance is “health food store.”
  • I played in a band while I was pregnant with my youngest child, an electric guitar humming against my belly. Once my son was born, I took him to band practice and put him in a crib in the practice room. As soon as the band started playing, he’d fall asleep.
  • I’m still boycotting Nestle.
  • For a couple years, I wore a Vietnam War POW bracelet every day. These were each engraved with the name of a missing soldier. I wore it until the soldier’s name showed up in one of the published lists of deaths. Then I took the bracelet off, taped his death announcement inside it, and put it in my jewelry box, where it’s been ever since.
  • I still make my own granola.
  • My cousin once gave me “love beads” from Haight-Ashbury.
  • I sometimes play “House at Pooh Corner” or “Needle and the Damage Done” on my guitar when no one’s around.
  • I have a copy of Timothy Leary’s Info-Psychology that he signed when I met him in Vegas.
  • In my cedar chest, I’ve saved broomstick skirts, two of my original tie-dyed t-shirts, a few embroidered denim work shirts, a crocheted halter top, a fringed leather jacket, and my first pair of Birkies, bought in Lincoln, NE in 1975, for a whopping $30.
  • I have a home altar that includes a tzedakah, Ganesh, Mary, Buddha, Bastet, a Day of the Dead nicho, Jesus, sage, blessed padukas, and a white buffalo. I have a copper Feng Shui plate in the northeast corner of my house. One of my favorite books of all time is Occult Anatomy and the Bible. I have copies of the sacred texts of all major world religions, which I read. I keep dream journals. I want to mow a labyrinth in my pasture and put a tipi in the middle.
  • Houseplants (I still have macramé hangers) are the main motif in my home décor, which I like to call “museum archive nature chic.”
  • My first car was a VW bug with maple leaves airbrushed on the front trunk lid (the engine was in the back).
  • Where most people keep salt, pepper, and sugar, I keep nutritional yeast, kelp granules, cayenne and raw honey.
  • I’m in my 50’s, and I wear white after Labor Day if I want to. I still wear my hair in pigtails sometimes.
  • My kids drank raw, unpasteurized cow’s milk, had peanut butter and raw honey before they were two, went barefoot most of their young lives, got dirty and didn’t bathe daily, sometimes slept wherever they happened to drop, ran around hippie farmyard parties in small, unattended packs, and survived. Miraculously, they’ve all grown into intelligent, gentle, compassionate, talented human beings. Seriously, who could hope for more than that?

As Jerry said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” And is. And will be. And for me at least, that’s just groovy, man.

SHA! (Spontaneous Henna Adornment)
1976 road trip to Taos, New Mexico. I still have this geetar.

This is how I got pregnant at 21.