Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Happy New Year and a Look Back at 2017

Here's wishing all my readers a happy new year! I pray that 2017 wasn't too rough on you. If it was, then may the coming year truly bless you. Does it still seem as strange to you as it does to me writing 20XX? I still catch myself writing 19XX on the few checks I do write these days. After almost two decades into the new millennium! How sad is that? Maybe I'm regressing. Yeah that sounds better than old fart's disease.

2017 in retrospective...
This blog hit 350,000 page views in 2017. Relearning Something New was the most viewed blog with over 7,500 page views. For the life of me, I don't know why. It's pretty standard of most of my blogs.

2017 was a productive, but unproductive year for me. I made absolutely no forward progress in my stroke recovery. In fact, I regressed due to the increased amount of spasticity. I lost all mobility in my arm, wrist, and fingers and most of my shoulder range of motion. This was truly disheartening. To work so hard at regaining use after the strokes only to lose it all due to brain farts (brain miscommunication to the muscles or electrical misfiring of neurons in the brain).

I finally got frustrated enough, tired of waiting, and maxing out my Botox levels every three months, to stop Botox all together. Not that I was having any adverse reactions, but when you pay so much for something you expect it to work better. The fact was, at 500cc of Botox every three month wasn't improving my mobility. The longevity of the drug was only halfway working after 45 days out of the 90-day cycle in pain management.There HAD to be something else. I'd given it the old college try for 4 years with only limited results. My proactive self kicked in. The risk of dying during any surgery out weighed continuing like this. I consulted a neurosurgeon about permanently ending the cycle.

This in turn led me to Emory University. At my first appointment, the initial fellow hemmed and hawed. He started with the whole disease process line. I wasn't allowing that! I said, it's broke, fix me. He called in his superior. On the Ashworth scale my spasticity was rated 5 out of 5. It's more like cerebral palsy rather than post stroke spasticity, he explained. Doh! Tell me something I didn't know. In speaking to the stroke team over a couple of appointments and a bunch of tests, they feel confident they can restore my arm back to the lower spasticity gains that I had two years ago. That means a reduction in pain, mobility in my shoulder, elbow and I might even get my index finger and thumb back again. I'd worked too hard recovering that much and they see no reason for me not to continue recovering in spite of my spasticity. It was an angelic choir singing praises. The possibility of neurosurgery is still in the mix, but it will be later in 2018. I'm not sure what all this entails. I'll keep you posted. But at least, there is renewed hope of a solution rather than treading water waiting to drown.

In 2017, my Medicare kicked in finally five years post first stroke. This, in turn, opened a whole new can of worms with my other medical insurance because I'm a few years short of age 65. The Human Resources office at the college was trying to work this out. Finally, success!!! My medical insurance premiums dropped to a little over $100 a month (a $250 a month reduction). Sounds better, huh? The over payments for all these months will pay my bill for the first quarter of 2018. A good thing with the new year's deductions.

It seems that not only can my beloved cause policy changes at the college but I can too. My husband had three months worth of vacation time and 6 months worth of sick leave on the books when he was no longer able to work because of his illness. Talk about a headache for the college! They couldn't fire or replace him until the time was off the books. The policy is now changed. And now, the pre-65 clause in our medical insurance is history too. It pays to be pro-active and self advocating.

The absolute best thing about all of this is that I'm now within the university system for medical care. The university system picks up the tab that insurance doesn't cover. This is important because a new year means new deductibles are due for both Medicare and my private insurance. The almighty buck is important on a fixed income. I'm just thankful.

Here's praying that I no longer have difficulty in getting my diabetic, orthotic, specialty shoes in 2018. Lord knows, they put me through the wringer in 2017. But at least if I do have difficulty, I have a back up pair of shoes now. A new friend of mine, via YouTube, had a suggestion for me. A sample of the Purple seat cushion. She just ordered one. The sample is a 2"x 2" square of the product. Just the perfect size to go between my AFO and my foot to add extra cushioning when my foot attempts to develop a pressure sore. I still have days when I'm on my feet a lot. When walking sloping or uneven sidewalks at festivals and events, there's very few places I can sit and rest my foot. These are pressure sore danger times. Even with the padding Hanger put into my AFO, and two pair of thick socks and 4 x4 padding that I do, I just do too much. But then again, I'm trying to enjoy my life to the fullest living post stroke as much as possible. She emailed me that she ordered one for me after our conversation. Could it be that my foot pressure sores are history? I'll have to let you know.

The home and property on our homestead got some much needed upgrades too. A new rabbitry/barn/food storage building, a new and regraveled driveway, and plumbing and electrical work. A virgin quarter of an acre was cleared and terraced for our planned orchard, and a new deck complete with ramp access into the house was also built by outsourced labor. A new rabbitry and chicken hoop houses were built. All the gutters have grates on them so we can harvest the rain water. No more compost and baby trees growing in the gutters. So it's been a busy year on the homestead front. All thanks to the sale of my property in south Georgia. Sometimes, you just have to spend the big bucks to make life easier and more accessible. It was money well spent. At least now it's all done and we look forward to having many years of pleasure and profit from it all.

My children are still barely speaking to me after a year and a half of moving up here. Oh well. I had to do what I did to be happy and I am except in this one area. Life's too short to dwell on such things.

No new major accomplishments for 2017. I've just been honing what I have relearned and doing it better. Although I did make my first hard cheese to stretch my repertoire in cooking and preserving. I canned and put by more produce than I have in years past except when I was raising my children. I'm enjoying my end of 2017 by not having to go out shopping. I "shop" instead in my freezer or food storage building once a week. In fact, I'd never leave this homestead, other than pleasure, if it wasn't for doctor and therapy appointments. Yes, it's still physical not mental therapy sessions. I like it like this. I  don't miss the go, go lifestyle I had in the city.

2018, like the beginning of each year, holds the promise and expectations of starting things anew. Revamping our little vegetable and herb gardens into a adaptive gardener's heaven is definitely an open promise. The seeding of rabbit yummies in the orchard, and berries and grapes this year also is open to expectations. The first harvest of our own fruits to make wine is another...not that I drink it, but I love the process of making it. Mel loves wine so again we balance. I made four gallons worth in 2017. Clearing more trees for firewood and allowing much needed sunlight into growing areas is slated for 2018. Maybe even dairy goats (dwarf variety). If nothing else building an area for them. I refuse to buy livestock that don't have proper areas set up for them. It will give me a new challenge in 2019...yogurt, butter, cheese making.

Life is what you make it...
Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas and a RIP

Image result for merry christmas imagesI wanted to wish y'all a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Once again this year has flown by. Why does it seem that time flies by at break neck speeds the older you get? I find it hard to bbelieve that it's once again Christmas.

Was it just a month ago that we were busy in the orchard with temperatures almost 70 degrees. It's down right blustery outside now. If you are going outside, you better at least have a sweatshirt or sweater on. Brr!

I'm actually down in south Georgia this week celebrating the holiday with my family. I left Mel with all the fixings for a prime rib dinner. All's she has to do is place it in the oven or place the steaks on the grill. Down here, it's still t-shirt weather. Aren't you jealous? What a difference from my mountain homestead. Just driving across the state, I had to stop midway and shed my sweater.

I hope y'all have a good one with full bellies, and plenty of good cheer.

You remember me telling y'all about Logan, the cat, right? How he was leaving presents for me long before Christmas. Well, I caught him mid squat in the hallway a few mornings ago. Not too long after I'd cleaned up his last presents for me. I yelled and kicked at him. Don't worry I wasn't even close to hitting him. I must have made my point because he high-tailessed, he's a Manx, out the pet door outside.

As much as I get irritated by him, he's pretty handy to have around as a service cat. He was a purring glucometer. He learn this by being with his previous owner, Mel's mother. She was an insulin dependent diabetic. Upon her death, Mel inherited the cat. He would warn her if her blood sugar was too high or low. How did he do this? He sniffed her breath. He took his job very seriously. But he didn't stop there. He had to sniff everyone's breath that came in. He would pester and yowl until he did. If your blood sugar was fine, he'd rub you and want to be petted, or he'd just leave you alone. If your blood sugar was too high or too low, he'd bite you. Not hard at first. Just hard enough to get your attention. If you ignored him, he'd continue getting more intense as time went on. He'd often sense my blood sugar an hour before I started feeling symptoms that my blood sugar levels were off.

Image result for brrrAnyhow, it wasn't until much later, I noticed he wasn't with the other cats on or by the breakfast table by the wood stove. In winter, the cats and dogs all pick their favorite spots for optimum warmth. Concerned, I asked Mel if she'd seen him. Her answer...not since mid morning. I was concerned, but not concerned enough to go out in after dark temperature fall off. The low was in the 30s. He was old enough to come in from the cold.

The next morning, still no Logan. I'm really concerned now and we both bundled up and looked for him in the light of day. We found his body by the wood shed. We have no idea what the cause of his death was. I'll miss him. Now I have to put batteries in my glucometer. I haven't had to use it since I've been here except to double check the cat. The cat was never wrong. RIP Logan.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Just Try Not to Grimce or Laugh- Just Try

Today is another story of living post stroke. Fair warning- just try not to grimace or laugh while reading this post. Bet you can't.

The set up- I was sound asleep, curled up under my quilt against the chilled air in the house as the wood stove exhausted the last burning embers of wood left to burn while I slept. It was the wee hours of the morning. My night medication was wearing down, but still enough was in my system to allow for a few more hours of restful sleep before the painful spasticity kicked in and time to take more. Mel often wonders why I don't go back to sleep when I wake up in the wee hours. Sometimes I do, but other times it's just impossible. Sometimes, it doesn't pay to be a Murphy.

The story-

A twinge of pain in the calf region of my left (functioning) leg. Somewhere in the recessed of my mind it registers that a Charlie Horse is beginning. I try moving the leg into another position to no avail. In the dark, I don my sock and reach for my AFO knowing that I'd have to walk it out. The first month of a new shoe purchase, it's easier to leave the AFO in the shoe rather than trying to put the shoe on after donning the AFO. Then, I work on putting the sock and shoe on the left foot. Always a joy to do without making the cramp worse. Some time while fastening the third or fourth strap on my AFO another realization filtered through the drug induced hazed mind...I have to pee! Rushing to do something while drugged is never a good idea, but still I try.

When I stood up, the degree of the amount of drugs I'd taken caused a swaying, faulting step. Oh boy, this is going to be fun was my next thought as I regained some balance and continued to the door. In the dim light of the hallway, dark mounds on the carpet announced that Logan, the cat, had left me presents while I slept. I lifted my leg to step over them. I now had one paramount mission. I have to make it to the toilet. As I placed my AFO clad foot in a safe spot, I over compensated for my balance.BOOM! I hit the floor. As I struggled to my feet, my bladder released soaking my underwear and pajama bottoms. I should have worn a pad to bed, I chastised myself. But hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn't it?

Now I don't know about you, but when I fall backwards, my head always rests on the floor for a few seconds before I get up. This time was no exception. As I sat on the commode, I'm still rubbing my calf fending off the Charlie Horse that threatens to cramp down on my calf. It's a little better now that I had put my weight through the leg, fallen, gotten back up, and walked to the bathroom. I was thanking God that I again averted a full fledged Charlie Horse. I ran my hand through my hair. It met with a horrible feeling courtesy of Logan. So much for the possibility of returning to bed as if the what had already happened would allow it.

I stripped out of my clothes and got in the shower. I turned on as much hot water as my body could stand. I washed my hair three times to be sure it was clean. Now, rosy skinned and wrapped in a towel, I again donned my socks, AFO, and shoes. I walked into the bedroom. I pulled off the AFO and shoes, and got dressed. Not in fresh pajamas, but in work clothes. The roosters were already crowing a full hour before sunrise.

I raked through the night's ashes in the wood stove and pulled the ash pan. I carried it outside and dumped it. I had plenty of wood ash for the chicken's dirt bath area and for making lye. Strolling back inside, I replaced the ash pan and set the intricate lacing of paper, twigs, and bark to start the day's fire. I put the three split pieces of firewood on top and flicked my Bic. I was greeted by the warmth of the blaze before I go outside for another load of firewood.

So begins another day on the homestead and living post stroke. On the agenda today, make a half dozen Belgian waffles, half a dozen crepes, a loaf of sourdough bread, sprout another bucket of seed for chicken feed, grind the cleaned, used egg shells to supplement the sprouted chicken feed with calcium for the hens, and groom two rabbits, and finish making the mason jar candles for Christmas. Oh, and in between this fun, there's cooking meals, laying cardboard and spreading straw in the orchard, bring firewood onto the porch again, and tending to the house pets. But that's a normal day's routine around here.

How you start your day is important. Mine has already gotten off to a bad start. Hopefully, it will get better as the day progresses. As tired as I am, I may only get half of my to-do list done today, but...

Nothing is impossible.

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.