Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: The "Laziness" of Two

I've always said that I was fortunate that I didn't have a spouse that could do for me after my stroke for my recovery's sake. My husband was terminal ill and actually 18 months from dying when I had my first and second stroke. I had no choice, I had to recover as much as I could and fast. I relearned how to speak legibly, move, fetch, carry, cook, shop, clean, drive and be a full-time caregiver within six months. I had no choice. Amazing, but that in itself was a blessing. Everything was have to relearn it NOW!

Fast forward five years. I'm living in an environment with an able bodied roommate. I find myself "lazy." I'm no longer struggling to lift 30-50 lbs of animal feed. If I don't want to, Mel can do it. In fact Mel is doing a lot of things I used to do if I find it's too much of a struggle for me. This is a luxury I never knew when my husband was live.

Am I wrong to take advantage of this luxury? When I think of other stroke survivors out there living post stroke who've had this kind of support all along, I rationalize that I was due. But in truth, I'm just being lazy and not being my proactive self. To me, yes! It's the laziness of two syndrome setting in.
Not really, but this morning...

Take this morning for example. It was cold in the house. It was only 31 degrees for the night's low.The night's fire in the wood stove had burned out. There was nothing but ash in the hearth part. I left it, donned my sweatshirt and turned on my personal electric heater.  Mel has gotten me spoiled by always making sure there was enough wood inside to start a roaring fire until last night. I didn't run out to the front porch for firewood. My fingers were too cold to even sort through my morning medicines. In my rationalizing, self centered mind, it was Mel's fault for not bringing in enough wood to start a fire. It didn't matter that I had overslept. In fact, Mel woke up 30 minutes after I did. That almost never happens. Usually, by the time she wakes up, I'd started a fire, cooked breakfast, made her tea, had the bread or whatever started, and assorted other things.

In reality, I was lazy and full of self pity. I actually can see myself in the role of other stroke survivors out there now with others able to do for them. I did eventually set up Mel's breakfast tray after she started the fire and she was outside feeding the animals. A short year ago, I would have done all these things. The sad thing is that this behavior is becoming the norm for me now. Sure, I'll still sort out and help with the garden, care for the homestead critters, and cook. But now it's with lackluster enthusiasm. It's the laziness of two because there is someone else to do it for me.

I realized my laziness of two is causing more work for us this morning when I thought about how we set up the straw bales in the garden. In part, honestly it was a brain fart moment. When I brought in the last ten bales of wheat straw, I suggested putting cardboard down first under the bales. Mel decided to use weed cloth because it was easier. I didn't argue with her because I was tired and couldn't voice my reason for using the cardboard instead. This morning, it came to me crystal clear why I wanted cardboard under the bales and use the weed cloth in the walkways. It was a "Doh!" moment. Worms can't get through the weed cloth, the plant roots can't grow through it, and it won't decompose for decades. Now, we'll have to redo a whole 40' row. Made worse because the rain we had this week has soaked the bales so now they are twice as heavy. The composted straw bales were to enhance the decomposing wood  chips to build the soil. With the weed cloth down we would have had to remove the good composted bales in two years to add it to the wood chips after removing the barrier. So much for working smarter. But at least I caught my mistake before 40 bales of straw was down.

Another example of sheer laziness of two on my part has to do with the little shopping I do. I don't put the reusable shopping bags back in my car. As a result we get a those plastic bags. But there is a happy result with this laziness, I can spin Plarn (plastic yarn). With the plarn, I can knit or crochet market bags which I can use or sell. But it's more work on me and Mel. I still don't play well with scissors. Then, I have to spin it on my spinning wheel. Yes, I know you don't have to spin it to use it, but I have a stronger more consistent product to work with by spinning it. Part of me is still in the marketing mode that dictates a better product commands a better price point. So now, I'll have tan (grocery bags), blue (walmart bags) and white (pharmacy, Lowes, and Dollar Store bags) to work into plarn this winter as if I didn't have enough angora and sheep's wool to spin already. Oh, and all those little plastic bags filled with product, I only carry half of them inside...Mel gets the rest. It's the laziness of two.

In a way the luxury of the laziness of two has been a blessing. It's less wear and tear on me having someone else share the load. But when I start taking advantage of it, that's just not right. That's one thing I've got to change starting today. I'll be making A HUGE pot of beef, vegetable and barley soup tonight. I'll be canning the excess. Why? Because I can and it's less work later. Mel has to pick up a truckload of wood and cardboard today, so I'll keep her company and help as much as I can. Tomorrow morning I'll be out in the garden and orchard with her, sans two hours for a doctor's appointment. I'll be side by side working with her until weather stops us. The laziness of two stops right now. Together we can accomplish more.

It snowed this week! The whole area was blanketed with the white stuff.  It was predicted to only be a couple inches worth, but you couldn't tell it by our place. There was enough snow to have a snow ball fight in the garden. I'd say closer to 6" on Thursday and another inch or two the next day. Well, the straw bales will get a good soaking when it all melts. It still hasn't as of this morning.



Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Combating Adversity

One of the hardest things about living post stroke is combating adversity. I mean carrying on with your life as if nothing devastating has happened is a challenge, right? It's hard to stay motivated when you are talking about charging uphill for years. Now, I can say that because it's almost been six years since my first stroke. I'm still charging. Maybe not with the gusto I once did, but it's still going forward. Even when I'm standing still, it's a battle not to back slide down the hill so that counts. Sometimes, that's the best you can do so stop knocking yourself.

Today, I faced a task, that on the surface, seemed easy enough. I was asked to remove the old door from the well house. The door had split in two and needed to be replaced. Part of me should have known that anything built prior to our move to this property would be cockeyed. That's how we came up with our homestead's name in this first place. Nothing was done properly the first time around. When looking at it, you turn your head to one side and wonder why they did it that way. But honestly, we do things in not the normal way ourselves too, but it works.

I digress as usual. Back to my story. All the previous being said, how hard could it be? I'm just removing hinges, right? I approached the door, about two hundred feet from the house. I'm armed with a drill, two screw drivers (slot and phillips) and a hammer. I even have a chisel stashed in one pocket because I don't want to have to traipse back to the workshop once I start. I'm ready to do battle. I already know whoever hung the door used gate hinges rather than standard hinges.

I pulled the broken piece of the door away to get a closer look at what was left attached about six inches was left that was hinged to the frame. I put my tools on top of the well house. It's about 4' tall so my tools would be in easy reach without stooping to the ground. See, I'm thinking and doing smarter. I take a look at the screws except they weren't screws, but lag bolts. WTF! Now I'd have to go get the wrench set. But I investigated further still thinking smarter. Not only were they lag bolts but the back (inside) where the bolt came through the wood, the bolts were bent over 90 degrees. The idiot did not use a hack saw to cut the bolt excess off and put a nut on to hold it in place HE BENT THEM! To me this was beyond cockeyed carpentry. I knew at this point, this was a two handed operation. Sadly, I walked up to the porch where Mel was stacking firewood and gave her the bad news. Not that I couldn't have figured a way to straighten the bolts out with one hand, but I couldn't see a way of doing it without causing more damage.

It's one of those days when fighting adversity is me standing still. While loading the wood into the back of the truck to bring it to the house, it was more of me standing still. The cut wood was in an unlevel area and heavily overgrown. I helped where I could but it wasn't much as I watched Mel do the lion's share off the work. Loading the wagon with wood from the wood shed and bringing up to the porch is another story. That I can do all day long, but wood split in the wild part of the acreage, there's just no way for me to do it without falling. I just went along to keep her company I guess because that's all I could do. But now the wood is stacked on the front porch for the wood stove for another week or so.

Now, I'm playing poor, pitiful me blogging instead of sharing the work load around here. I will be throwing some steaks on the bbq for dinner. I'll even roast some potatoes and corn to go along with it. Ooh, if I feel really adventuresome, I might even make some sourdough rolls to go with it. Maybe some deviled eggs too. We've only got ten dozen eggs in the refrigerator. That's the ticket. Move forward uphill by accomplishing what I know I can do. Now for dessert, I can do a peach cobbler. It's only noon, I got plenty of time since I'm not doing anything else.

Combating adversity is a cinch. Not really. When adversity seems overwhelming, focus on what you can do and do it well.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Orchard Project, Shoes, Medicines and More

We've had an unseasonably warm November so far. I think we've only lit the wood stove three or four times so far. I know this will change, but for now it's great. Thank goodness! Preparing the organic orchard with cardboard and hay has taken longer than expected. Doesn't all plans versus reality take longer? We started on the lower tiers first, so the upper tiers are yet undone as you can see in the picture. It takes two weeks to do one 8' x 75' tier. We've only accomplished the lower two tiers as of today. Ah, if only we were younger and both able bodied. It would all be done by now. Or, am I just kidding myself? Probably, keep reading and you'll see why.

The rains has also delayed us. Not that I'm complaining. I don't think I'll ever complain about too much rain again after the drought of 2016. I guess we could continue to work in the rain, but we have heavy clay soil. It's like walking on an oil slick when it gets wet even with two working legs. Even with the wood chips down on the tiers, it's unstable footwork when its wet. When you are talking about a sloped clay access to the lower levels, it's a downhill slide quite literally. We err on the side of safety here. We could easily slide all the way down and off the twenty-foot drop at the bottom tier. No thank you! Besides, being older folk, we ain't ducks, rainy weather with its winds racing down the hollow, is for the insane carrying large pieces of cardboard as sails. And scattering straw, fuggedaboutit.

I've come to the realization that it'll get done when it gets done. Hopefully before the freezing temperatures set in. If not, then it will have to wait until spring thaw. I'm just not going to worry about it. At my age, things just don't have the immediacy it once did. It's better to enjoy life than killing yourself getting it done. Being limited in mobility and living post stroke are besides the point.

It truly doesn't help that Mel took another tumble and cracked a bone in her forearm two weeks ago. No, as usual, she didn't go to the doctor. She hates them all. She depended on her common sense and "Dr. Jo" to diagnose her problem. It was fairly obvious over time. No nerve or mobility impairment. Just pain with certain movements and point tenderness. It lasted for days so it wasn't a sprain or deep bruise. Of course, it could still be the last two, but treating it as a hairline fracture is the same treatment.
It's only common sense, right? If it hurts, don't do that. If you are tired, rest.Who needs x-rays and doctors at today's price of several hundred bucks to diagnose it? Why does it seem the younger folk out there seem to have been standing behind the door when God handed it out these days. I noticed it in general observation of my children and grandchildren. They have a lot of "Doh!" moments when shown the sensible way to do something. I mean, I'm older, brain damaged, and have multiple CRAFT (can't remember a freaking thing) moments, but still I'm capable of common sense. Enough of this rant.

I also finally got my new shoes! I'm a lot more stable upright and less chance of a pressure sore developing. Insurance covered one pair of specialty orthotic shoes and I paid for a second pair. My AFO needs the support of my shoe to work properly. I really dislike Velcro closures but I'm limited in style because of the deep depth I need with the build up on my AFO. With the new shoes, I'm more active. Yippee! I'd be going like gang busters if it wasn't raining. But rainy days the work of the homestead doesn't stop for me. There's baking to be done, herbs to dry (yes, the warmer weather means they are still growing), clothes to wash, caring for the animals, etc.

I'm still playing at making hard cheeses. But, it's a lot less attractive, or self-sufficient, or sustainable when you have to purchase the milk to make cheese. We go through about 1 1/2 gallons a week, on average, in general consumption. Mel is a heavy milk-a-holic, and I use quite a bit in cooking and drinking also.

I'm waiting for my appointment at Emory. It should be in two weeks. I'm hoping they have the answers I'm looking for. The increased doses of Dantrolene seems to help more with the pain I'm feeling with the spasticity. I'm close to the maximum dose now with no noticeable improvement in mobility. With the increased dose, the side effects of diarrhea and headaches have come back again. Add drowsiness and dropping off to doze at a tip of a hat in the late afternoons. It may be a couple of weeks before this stops, I hope. At least, the pain is more manageable. I'm able to sleep 4-6 hours a night without waking because of pain. Wohoo! That's better result than I expected especially being seven months without Botox.


 I've decided to change bedrooms this winter. I'll take the larger front bedroom that's the office now. Not that I need the extra space, but the two large northeasterly windows allow for more sunshine in the room. I do love my sunlight. Besides, since neither of us actually use the office/craft storage room, it makes better sense. Bonafide shelving and cabinets in the smaller room, my current bedroom, will work just fine. But first we have to empty the rooms, paint the hideous wood paneling, build the shelving units, and move all the stuff over. So work continues on the orchard and around the home of the homestead. Until next week, remember...

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Cutting the Cheese


We are two cheese loving fiends in this household. Cheese omelets, grated cheese in dishes, cheese and crackers, or even just slicing it and eating it.

Don't get me wrong. Any self respecting homesteader/DIYer has made cheese. I'm no different. I've probably made half a ton of cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and other herbed spreadable cheese over the years, but never a cheddar or even a semi hard cheese like Swiss. Which we love the best. But, living post stroke is full of challenges every day. What I've got to say to that is..."What's one more?"


My excuse...I didn't have the molds,nor weights, nor a press. They are costly. Then, I figured I didn't need a fancy smancy cheese press or cheese molds the online places sold. I went to my favorite place to learn something new...YouTube. There isn't much that you can't find if you look for it. I also bought one of those Ricki Carol kits. The one with various cultures and rennet. It also came with cheesecloth, a thermometer, a strainer basket, and instructions. I much prefer my flour sack dish towels than cheesecloth. It's more sustainable than cheesecloth.

My friend in North Carolina had sent me home with a gallon and a half of frozen goat milk. Mel was tired of "tripping over" all those
Mel built hers with 16" bolts
quart bags in the freezer when she was trying to find something. She told me to do something with it. There was no room in the freezer for ice trays. She had made herself a book press a while back because she wanted one. She used it once and put it aside to gather dust. I simply repurposed it into a cheese press. I had some leftover 3" PVC pipe from when we made our rabbit poo removal system to use as a mold. I didn't have to pay another penny. What can I say...I'm cheap.

All I needed was to fashion was the follower that moved freely inside the pipe on to the scrap pile. We tried several ready made options, like a wide mouth canning lids, but the all could not stand the pressure without bending. Mel then took a leftover piece of 1x4. She cut the insert and sanded it. We finally had something that would work...sort of. It took several more cuttings and sanding attempts before we got it perfect. By using wood as a follower, the wood would get wet and swell. After a while, the follower wouldn't move freely in the PVC. So, wood would not be the best option, but it's what we had. We also pulled small blocks from the scrap pile to take up the space between the follower and the top of the book press/cheese press. Voila! We had a cheese press and molds.

The weights were empty, gallon milk jugs filled with water. 1 gal of liquid= 8 1/3 pounds. I figure 1 jug equaled about 10 lbs or at least close enough for just playing around. I could fit two gallon jugs and two juice containers around the bolts. If I was successful and I liked making hard cheese, a yard sale or Goodwill would have a set of standard weights cheaper than new. And then, we'd have to buy the dairy goats to feed my cheese making endeavors. Right now, I was playing with options. Who knows, I could hate the process and not want to do it again. No sense in spending my nickles and dimes yet.

Now I was ready to make cheese! I mixed enough cow's milk with calcium chloride with the partially thawed goats milk to make two gallons of liquid. working with full gallons is a lot easier than cutting a rennet tablet into 1/8th or 16ths. Then I placed it in a large, heavy bottomed pot. I gently brought the combined liquid up to temperature. I added the culture and let it bloom in the warm milk. I added the required rennet. It was instant gratification to see curds forming as I stirred it in. I put the pot in a warm water bath to let the curds finish forming.

Now many folk will cut the curds very precisely with a long knife, aptly named a cheese knife. I'm a one handed homesteader living post stroke and don't have a lot of patience. I used a wire whisk to cut my curd. I didn't need perfect cubes. I just needed it cut fairly uniform small chunks, and the whisk did the job. It was a whole lot simpler.

I cooked off the curds and strained them dry. Getting that large pot full of curds and whey into the kitchen sink one-handed is another story. I poured the curds into the mold. I retained the whey for ricotta cheese later. But that's another process.

I have to say, that I'm actually pleased with the result.  Did you know that cheddar cheese is made by cheddaring the curds? I didn't. I thought this was kind of neat. It seemed a shame to have to break that glossy, smooth cheddared cheese up to add salt, but I did.

I air dried, to set the rind, 1 1/2 pounds of freshly pressed cheddar. The bits and pieces that did not fit into the mold for the first weighted pressing was put in a bowl with cream, garlic and herbs for an overnight aged treat to be eaten with crackers. After all, the cheddar won't be aged for 3 months to a year before it's ready to eat. The whole process would need to be done on a large scale to meet our desires for this milk based product in the future because of the aging time involved.

As with most homesteads, the Cockeyed Homestead believes in waste not, want not. Everything has a second or third use. The whey was turned into ricotta cheese. Add some day old cream cheese, homemade sour cream, and leftover cottage cheese and we had the start of my infamous baked cheesecake. Just something else to nosh on while we are waiting.  Topped with my Triple Berry Delight jam made this summer as an extra fine treat. Yum!

After all is said and done, I may be investing in some weights. Cheese making is a labor of love and time. I can see myself doing this again. Now, about them goats... :o)

Nothing is impossible.




Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: I'm Still Crazy Part Deux.

Today, I'm revisiting last week's blog on my craziness living post stroke.

You may remember a few weeks ago, I blogged about our orchard being cleared. Yeah, once again real life got the better of me pulling me away from the homestead. Doctors, therapy, and orthotic appointments were heavy over the past several weeks. Ah, such is life living post stroke. We never got the chance to broadcast our deer plot seed to green up our tiered orchard before the cooler weather started.

3 of 5 tiers
Now that the firewood is stock piled, the garden has been put to bed for the winter, and the chicken coop and run are done, we can turn our attention to the barren ground which will become our orchard. It means hauling and spreading cardboard all over the five 25'x 75' tiers in the orchard. We've already spread the wood chips. What a job!

We've saved all the cardboard from deliveries to the house, soda cartons, and everything in between for months. All of it broken down and stacked for easier distribution. But, what we have won't cover more than two terraces. That means several trips to the grocery store to get theirs. We'll also be picking up empty 3 and 5 gallon buckets of frosting, pickles, and assorted other things. They are extremely useful on the homestead.
 
Anyhow, back to the orchard. Mel Jerry-rigged a hitch for our lawn tractor/mower for my garden cart. So now we can just drive big bunches of it down to where we need it. Considering the tumbles and falls I've suffered through the past month or so, it only seemed the smart way to do it. I can now ride all the way down to the lowest tier without the danger of falling. This is a huge plus for me. And, me just getting over a pressure sore too, it's faster for me to get around.


I'll be buying two large bales of wheat straw to go over the cardboard. Then, we'll be spreading rabbit and chicken manured hay over the straw. The last coating is a hand broadcasted layer of bone and blood meal as added nitrogen fixers before putting it to bed for the winter. We'll depend on mother nature to water it all in. I'm crazy, but not that's crazy to hose the quarter acre area by hand. It will take several months to achieve. Organic gardening on this mass scale is not adaptive gardening, but necessary for the organic orchard to get off on the right foot. It all goes back to I'm crazy. But I have a plan. So it's my planned insanity.

Now for the adaptive gardening segment, this anyone can do. I'll be bordering two sides of our vegetable garden with straw bale gardens. Since our vegetable garden is a side ways trapezoid shape, the longest edge borders a narrow car park area and the barn/workshop. It was originally fenced against the chickens (didn't work) with a five-foot welded wire fence held in place by Mel's moveable fence posts. I was looking to replace the fencing beside the car park and the new driveway beside the house. Since it's relatively new soil, I also wanted to build it up some too. The straw bale gardening techniques seemed to be the way to go.

By stacking these 2x3 bales of straw, it raised the planting area above ground level. Much easier for me to maintain. There are little to no weeds produced by using the straw bales to plant in. The weeds that typically come up are wheat grass and clover which the rabbits and chickens love, and inky mushrooms which  I use as a black colored dye for wool.So it sounded like a win-win scenario to me also. The fencing could still be raised for support of these vegetables too. It's a couple weeks process the get them ready for planting, but I've got all winter. The bales will slowly decompose over the next two years. Plenty of time to get perennial plants like rosemary and lavender thrive and established. It will also give me rich fertile soil in the end several inches thick so it would eliminate digging into the hard packed clay to plant.

I'm trying to think of the path of least resistance for our spring garden. Accessibility is also important. In between plants or even into the sides of the bales I can plant garlic, onions, leeks, carrots, and lettuces.
I'm thinking the after Halloween or Thanksgiving sales would be the best time for normal folk (small scale) to buy straw bales cheap. Or ask your friends and neighbors for their decorations after they've finished with them as a free option.  Even straw that was used to stuff scarecrows can be used for mulch in the garden. I always think of cheaper alternatives when possible. The fall is the time to think and plan your spring gardens. Another man's junk or garbage can be repurposed for your gardening endeavors on the cheap. The results are a healthier more active lifestyle for you living post stroke. If you need a higher platform to garden and harvest from stack the straw bales two or three high to a comfortable level for you. Split pallets to support the hay bales for longer life.  Start small and work your way to bigger as you go.


The inside of the bales will still continue to decompose (shrink) over time. Use it as a challenge to bend a little more gaining balance as you do. I was thinking about when I came home from the hospital after my stroke. I was asked to bend forward (as to the floor) without losing my balance. It wasn't very far. Now, I can pick things up from the floor without losing my balance. It's a gradual process to relearn, but an inch at a time is progress. A decomposing bale of hay can be used as a tool towards recovery.

A word of caution here. I actually lived a pretty organic, self sufficient lifestyle for decades before my strokes. So I tend to do things on a grander scale than most stroke survivors will, because I had the knowledge and experience previously. Now, it's just getting around to do it again.

Nothing is impossible.