You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Oscar Wilde

I’m calling this post the Foundation but maybe it’s just about looking at what’s underneath. I recently saw a movie where a man and a woman are forced to work together. They have to go the same place and decide to walk. After a few steps he says “could you walk any slower?” She replies “we’re strolling.” They would both get there, but at different times. One is not “better” than the other. They just had different goals. She was interested in the scenery and he just wanted to get to his destination. The stroke has forced me to slow down and consequently I’m looking at a few different things.

Art is one of the things that I look at differently since I had the stroke. I can’t exactly describe the “magic” of art but then again I would imagine people having a difficult time describing the brain and how it works. Last year we got a piece by artist Kara Maria ( called Paint Palette through the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. We went to an event recently and saw other works by her. I was very taken by her work. The piece we got is not a depiction of her work but rather one can see how she uses color. I love the piece Paint Palette — the title describes it perfectly. I think we can begin to see what she is building. Her website describes her as a “visual artist working in painting and mixed media. Her work reflects on political topics—feminism, war, and the environment. She borrows from the broad vocabulary of contemporary painting; blending geometric shapes, vivid hues, and abstract marks, with representational elements”. I love this description of her and her work! How perfect is it as a parallel to describe the post-stroke effort? It’s not just about stroke renewal but many other things. I particularly like the part about ‘borrowing’. I can’t begin to describe the magic of art, but I will say that it engages a different part of my brain. There are pieces that I like more than others but that is the brain at work. One of my favorite quotes is by the French artist Edgar Degas where he says “art is not what you see, but what you get others to see.” As I looked at her work, I was reminded of this. I was as taken by the beauty of her work as well as the palette piece we got. Here’s the learning for me, it’s about life not just post-stroke — we often look at the surface while there are things that we may not see but are important to the whole.

One of the first pieces of art that we got was when we were on a trip to the state of Arizona. It is by the artist John Cogan ( He works in acrylic, focusing on color and the effects of light. John earned his Bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, then an MA and a Ph.D. in experimental physics. He uses his expertise of physics in his paintings. We have a piece by him that changes as the light changes!

I’ve said that my mother is a fabulous cook. When she cooks traditional Mexican food, she uses a molcajete. I’ve said that we were raised where food and a meal were an experience. A molcajete is a stone tool (the Mexican version of the mortar and pestle) used for grinding various food product. I don’t even know where someone would get one today! I bet my mother’s is over 60 years old. I would imagine people today use a blender or food processor to perform similar tasks. Now the reason I share this story is simply that we can’t say what flavors are left in the molcajete. She can tell us the ingredients that she used. One can wash a blender or food processor to get rid of a flavor, but we don’t exactly know if the tastiness we sense is something that was left in the molcajete. My mother makes these fabulous fried potatoes. We can’t duplicate the taste (though we’ve tried). Matt jokes and says “it’s her pans”. He may be on to something.

I once took a class and one of the activities we did was to make a mask. What was unique about this experience was that we used strips of casting plaster to make our masks — they were plaster moulds of our own face. While many of us look in the mirror and have a vision of ourselves, it is interesting to look at our face from that perspective. The next step was to paint the part that people see. I painted a queen (of course)!

These examples all use something ‘underneath’ or ‘behind’ what we see. In the post-stroke effort, we draw on various resources. Well, I do anyway! I would imagine that other stroke survivors do also.


“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. William Shakespeare

This has been one of the major learnings in my post-stroke life. I’m calling this post “change your …” and in many ways, I would say that this seems to be something from which we can all benefit!

We have a week at the Carmel Highlands as part of the Hyatt Residence Club. We entered into that contract just before I had the stroke. Yes, it’s a timeshare and before you roll your eyes (I can see/hear that), I’ll share why it’s been a good thing for us. When they told us about it, we found out that there were a few two-bedroom units. That was huge. It wasn’t just about us. We could have family and friends overnight and they could have their own space. For us, this whole experience has not been just about us but includes others in the process. We have not banked any weeks or gone anywhere else. Carmel is a little over an hour drive, which is something I can do when we go somewhere. That seems to be just about my maximum travel time. It’s not a distance thing but rather a duration issue. Camelot and Carmel both start with a ‘C’. That is not a coincidence. Our unit has an ocean view and we can see parts of the state preserve of Point Lobos. We try to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium every year. There’s a quote at one of the exhibits by Anne Stevenson that says “the sea is as close as we come to another world”. We missed the first year after my stroke for obvious reasons, but we have gone every year since. It’s a beautiful unit and a great experience. Here’s the big deal for me today. We go on vacation every year. I totally subscribe to the concept that a change is a good thing. It would be a very simple thing to get caught up in the whole stroke survivor thing and not focus on anything else. I would add the same concerns for Matt as a caregiver. It’s important to treat ourselves! If you don’t value and honor yourself, your history, or your talents then others probably won’t. It’s at this point that I would imagine many are thinking that this is very uncharacteristic — maybe it’s time to change (slowly and gradually).

It’s February! That means the U.S. college baseball season starts and in professional baseball, the players report for Spring Training (pre-season)! Last year, the Houston Astros won the World Series Championship and here’s my theory about ‘why’. The manager A.J. Hinch, like Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants, is a former catcher. Those who follow baseball or are familiar with the positions know that the catcher is the only player on the team who sees the whole field during the game. As a catcher, they have a different perspective of what goes on during a game. Here’s another thing for me about sports in general. College sports teams have a ‘shelf life’ of the time people are in college. Professional players usually retire from the sport by the time they are 40. This concept of what do have right now (not forever) is a big deal to me. People who manage the ‘business’ of sports are always thinking about this. I like this concept a lot.

We have shared with people the game of CASHFLOW. It trains players on the fundamentals of finance. It is based on the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The main thing about it is that by playing the game over and over, we see the value of changing our attitudes and language as it relates to money.

If I were to title this paragraph, it would be ‘I’m a shopper; he’s a buyer’. Here’s a story I told on Facebook. Before I had the stroke a good friend gave me a bottle of limoncello that she made. She has a Meyer lemon tree in her back yard. It was very good and since we too have a Meyer lemon tree, I was inspired! I went looking for a recipe and found that the main ingredients are vodka and lemons and it takes a while to cure. There are two stages in the process. I wasn’t sure which vodka to use that would make the best limoncello. I mentioned this to Matt and while I was in my ‘shopping’ mode and trying to decide which vodka to use, he went out and bought several varieties of vodka, ranging from inexpensive to expensive. I have brands of vodka that I think are very good, so when people ask me about which vodka makes the best limoncello, I usually pick one of those, but really it doesn’t matter. They are all very good. The learning for me was that I need to change my mind about the limoncello! Maybe it’s the type of lemon that’s the key or maybe that it’s made with lots of love. Another vodka story about “change your ….”, when Matt fixes me a vodka rocks cocktail, he usually adds a couple of olives to my drink. It’s his way of getting ‘greens’ in me. (Most of us have been told that every meal needs greens.)

I mention several pre-stroke memories in my posts and it’s not because I wish to go back to that in my post-stroke renewal efforts. It’s simply that those are an important part of me. I remember once in Pilates, we were doing something new and I was struggling with it and my Pilates instructor (who is also a Physical Therapist) said “your muscles will remember.” That was very important for me. I’m not saying the renewal process is as easy as “change your …” but it’s a start. What does she mean by ‘change your ….’? Well start with change your words, instead of saying “spoiled” say “loved” and instead of saying “I’m nervous”, say “I care”. Feel what that simple shift does?

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Stephen Hawking

The title of this post comes from a story that Meghan Markle told when she did an interview for a magazine. She is the United States person that is engaged to Prince Harry of Britain. (His full/given name is Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor.) However, Markle’s situation with Harry could be seen as controversial. What is also certainly groundbreaking about the upcoming marriage is that Markle is a woman of color. Her father is Caucasian and her mother is African-American. (I think the royal family could use a little color!) One of the challenges of being biracial is that society wants to categorize people as one thing or the other — either white or black. She felt this push most acutely in seventh grade when she was asked to fill out a census document that asked her to indicate her ethnicity. But her only choices were white, black, Hispanic or Asian. “You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other,” she said. When she told her father that night about her dilemma, he calmly, but with visible anger, told her, “If that happens again, you draw your own box.”

I was totally taken by this Hawking quote when I heard it. Here are two ‘feet’ stories as it relates to my stroke. I’ve said that I had a complete foot drop with my stroke and was in a wheel chair in the early days. One of the first therapies I did was ‘water’ therapy. One of the therapists in my swimming endeavors realized that I could stand but needed support. She recommended that I get a rolling walker (rollator) to use rather than a wheelchair. It also put the responsibility on me. Later on, another physical therapist was working with me on my gait. She asked me to put my feet together (touching) and I couldn’t do it — not sitting down or standing up. Whether it was mental or physical, I don’t know, but that was a big ah-ha moment! That’s the moment that I realized that the mental would be as much a part as the physical of my post-stroke journey! I can put my feet together today but it was a lot of work getting there. (The things we take for granted!)

Here’s my other ‘feet’ story and probably a good summary of the post-stroke journey. Even before the stroke, I was one of those people who constantly looked down at my feet — climbing stairs,walking, etc. I shared this with my Physical Therapist. She said “just look where you want to go and your feet will follow”. This is why that quote is so meaningful.

People who have flown will recall the flight passenger announcements on an airplane. Right before the airplane takes off the flight attendants do several safety announcements and they talk about the oxygen masks. One of the things they say is “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” It’s counter-intuitive, that’s why they make the announcement and it makes a ton of sense. This is an exception to how we are traditionally taught. In this case, one sees how situational this all is. We have to put our mask on first in order to assist someone else. We cannot make a rule that always applies.

I love bacon. Matt has found a deli where he can buy a few strands of bacon that are already cooked. He used to buy a pound and cook it all up but that meant I had to eat it all. He also found a food truck that does everything bacon. Once he brought me a strand of bacon that was dipped in chocolate for dessert! Yum — sweet and salty. I’m going to tell the Bacon Adhesives story again. When I could taste and smell bacon, Matt got for my holiday stocking some Bacon Adhesives. They came in a tin like most bandaids and they looked very real. At one point Matt said “why are the bandaids in the refrigerator?” They looked so real that I had stored the package there. Here’s how this relates to ‘draw your own box’. When he said that, I realized what I had done and although I had a good reason (at the time), I moved the bandaids. So this might be a simple definition, but I’m a believer that we can always draw a different box.

Several years Matt and I read a book by Keri Hulme called The Bone People. She is a New Zealand writer and I believe it is her only novel. There are many things I could say about the book, but I’ll just summarize it by saying it is an unusual love story. (In no way a romance novel.) Here’s something from the book that has always stayed with me. “They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great. Together, all together, they are the instruments of change.” This is mostly for people that feel like they need to draw that box alone!

John W. Gardner said “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” The good news about this is simply that we don’t need an eraser to draw a box!

This is a modern day ‘draw your own box’ story that you may find difficult to believe. (I do even as I type this!) I would add here that animals can have an impact on our boxes. I love Mourning Doves — especially the cooing. It’s a very nostalgic sound for me. When I hear the sound, I am immediately transported a specific time and place. We’ve had a few in the yard over the years and try to keep food in the bird-feeders so they will keep coming back. We did a little research on their eating habits and found out that they like to eat food that is low to the ground. The bird food that we had been buying has sunflower seeds — which squirrels love. We have lots of squirrels in the yard also and it looked like the squirrels were not letting the birds eat because they were eating! Matt went to a specialty bird store and explained about what was happening. A person at the store suggested a kind of bird seed that wouldn’t be of interest to the squirrels. So Matt bought some and put it out. The birds went wild and true to form, the squirrels were not interested in it. One day when the food was finished, Matt told me that a bird had come up to the kitchen door and pecked until he refilled the bird food. Cute story — not sure I believed him. One day when Matt was in his office, I heard a strange noise and went to see what it was. I went to the kitchen and realized that I had gone too far. I listened some more and saw that a bird was pecking at the kitchen door! It’s happened a few more times. We are always in awe when it occurs. How did that bird figure out what needed to be done? Lately we’ve had two birds at the kitchen door! It’s not a ‘passing of the torch’ but rather, as Matt has pointed out, it’s like ‘here’s what to do if I’m gone’. Unbelievable! This is another way to look at ‘draw your own box’ … it takes things from unbelievable to believable.


‘Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la (from Deck The Halls — a traditional holiday song)

Before Matt and I got married, I did a Vision Quest for 3 days in Death Valley. I did it with a group of women. We prepared for 6 months (maybe a year). We went out as a group, but after we got to our destination, each woman found a place where she camped on her own. Two things that I’ll share about the process are as follows: 1) we fasted from food for 3 days and nights “to eliminate thinking” about it. We carried plenty of water and 2) we each had a partner and we signaled each other via a rock pile that we were fine each day. When it was over, we came back together as a group and told what we had experienced during the 3 days time. Here’s the clincher — we told the story in the third person! “Then she …. ” it was a different experience. I have always remembered that. Yes, things happen in our lives but telling it in third person gives a whole new perspective!

Early in our marriage, we saw a play about baseball called Rounding Third. It was actually nine one-act plays about baseball (get it? Nine innings in a baseball game) and one of the plays was called The Dalai Lama Goes Three for Four by Eric Overmyer. See, you were thinking that I wouldn’t mention baseball in a December post. A friend knew Overmyer and got me a copy of the script which I gave to Matt as a gift. It was the first script that I ever gave him. It delightfully explains the ancient wisdom, precepts and rituals of baseball in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. Overmyer is a master of words. I love the whole idea of explaining baseball in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. Who would have thought it?

I told that story about the vision quest and the telling in the third party intentionally. It’s a unique experience sharing things from another perspective. It’s not just about what happened to me! It’s this concept that has stayed with me. I said that I mention this whole thing intentionally. I am one of those people who says Happy Holidays or Seasons’ Greetings and I do that intentionally. I try not to say Merry Christmas because there are many holidays that people around the world celebrate at this time. A silver lining of the stroke is that I am much more aware of the inclusivity thing.

This example is about someone else but pulls a lot of this together. It’s an example of how we can have an impact on perspective. I love the TV show Modern Family. In general, I love how the whole landscape of the family is changing and how it is depicted. The actor Sofia Vergara plays a character named Gloria who is Columbian. Her natural hair color is blonde. When the show first started, she made a decision to dye her hair a darker color. She thought that she would be more believable as a latino with dark hair or as a brunette. (Because we know that latins have dark hair!) She says “the dark hair toned me down.” Now that the show has been on for several years and she has established herself in that role, she is free to modify her looks as she wishes. Sometimes we make decisions based on things that we think will make a difference. I know people mean it as a compliment but it bothers me when people say “I didn’t know you were of Mexican heritage …. you don’t speak with an accent”. It used to be one of my pet peeves but now it’s just a bother. It’s someone else’s stereotype — not my issue to address. I know (and hope) many don’t experience any kind of stroke, but I still try to update people.

One of the best films I saw was Lars and The Real Girl which follows Lars (Ryan Gosling), a sweet but socially inept young man who develops a romantic yet non-sexual relationship with an anatomically correct sex doll. The doll’s name is Bianca. It is a totally sweet movie and the thing that struck me the most when I saw the movie was how everyone in the town accepted Bianca and never let on about her being a doll — no judgement.

Happy Holidays