The poet Lorie Hill states in one of her poems that March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I don’t know if it’s a U.S. thing or a northern hemisphere thing, but this is how I was raised. It’s fitting that my March post is about transition.

A lot of people ask me why I’m such a big baseball fan and there are several reasons. But for me, it’s a very social thing. It connects me to something else (other than the stroke) and lets me share something with others. Even people who aren’t big baseball fans get that it is important. The main reason I love baseball is a childhood thing which always connects me to that time and place. I am a big fan of March Madness. It is the college basketball championship tournament in the U.S. Now you may be asking yourself what does basketball have to do with baseball? Transition! I know when March Madness comes around that it’s the start of the baseball season. We have Stanford baseball season tickets (college) and that way I can start watching live baseball in February.

I’ve said before that the house cleaners come every other Tuesday. I have to put it in the calendar because I can’t remember which Tuesday it is. Before they come, we clean for the cleaners. We actually tidy up because I don’t want them spending their time doing that. Whenever we do something, I am aware that it affects the cleaning. There are somethings that I just make a decision that I’ll tidy up before the cleaners come and other things that I just put away as I use them. We also have somebody else clean to make sure that cleaning is done regularly for me as a stroke survivor and something we can do for Matt as the caregiver. A clean house is important for anybody especially a stroke survivor. It says a lot about the value of a person.

I’ve said when I had the stroke, I lost my sense of taste and smell and I was thrilled when the taste and smell of lemons came back. I have been disappointed that I can’t taste things when I can’t see them. Many spices are “wasted” on me. Recently Matt went to a cooking class and the instructor said a little lemon zest enhances the flavor of many pastas and people can’t see it. The last time Matt made some pasta, that’s what he did. I could smell the lemon zest! After 9 1/2 years, Matt is still mindful of that and it is a part of our lives. That is an example of the whole thing about transitions, our actions are like spices, we don’t always see them!

It was the author Mark Twain who said ‘everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it’. There are just somethings beyond our control. As transition for various aspects of weather, we dress accordingly. There are some things we wear for summer and somethings we wear just for winter. The whole idea of a wardrobe for the various seasons is a great start to the process!

Things don’t have to change for a transition, maybe just our description or perspective. I had many migraines before the stroke. The dark is best for a migraine. I just got used to the dark and I no longer have migraines. Matt calls me a mole. Before the stroke I would say dark is best for a migraine, now I just like it. I’ve used this quote by C.S. Lewis on prayer. (I think it’s a great example of transition.) “It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

For the last three years, I watched a TV show on HBO titled The Newsroom. It was well written. On the last episode, they did the Tom T. Hall song That’s How I Got To Memphis. It’s a great song and not really about Memphis but rather how he got there and we can take it as how any of us get to the place where we currently are. I think it’s about the fact of what are we going to do now? I’ve said before that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I had the stroke. (I never got an answer that I liked!) May is Stroke Awareness month. I see that as very different than prevention. The source of my stroke was an AVM. It was congenital. I had it at birth. The fact that it burst when I was 49 is phenomenal! That’s the thing about transitions. We have to always be mindful of things. I can summarize all my transitions from the last few years in a single sentence. Whatever I’m supposed to learn from this adventure, I’m going to because I am not repeating this!

“It’s all therapy.”  Matt Sorgenfei
This is Matt’s saying and I totally agree.  I think this is great!  This is how I view things.  I’m calling this post the big picture because I feel things are bigger and more than we originally think.  It’s not just about right now but beyond that.  As I’ve said before, consider people who plant fruit trees.  It takes me a long time to read these days but before I had the stroke I had a goal to read all the books that were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  I still have that goal.  By the way it was originally called the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was inaugurated in 1917.   The award last year was The Goldfinch by Donna Pratt.  I started the book and at one point decided that I didn’t like it as I didn’t like the characters (they weren’t very compelling and certainly not anybody I would have as friends) but it had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  Here’s an insight I got about myself. I was stubborn before the stroke and that didn’t change!  I started the book so I was going to finish it.  In the end, I’m glad I did.  It was a great learning for me about friendship and how something that happens to one affects our entire life.  That’s the big picture.  It wasn’t just about the characters for me but about the story.   (There are some books that I just don’t finish.)
Those who know about Cirque Du Soleil will get this  My favorite show is Saltimbanco.  It ran from 1992 to 2006.  It was described as a celebration of life.  Its creators described it as an antidote to the violence and despair prevalent in the 20th century.  English has lost the word ‘saltimbank’ from current usage but it is still familiar in Spanish as ‘saltimbanco’ and in French as ‘saltimbanque’ or ‘street acrobat’ or ‘entertainer’.  According to the company’s website the word ‘saltimbanco’ comes from the Italian “saltare en banco” which means to jump on a bench.  The etymology of the word reflects its acrobatic associations.  A ‘salto’ is a somersault in Italian; ‘banco’ in this context is a trestle holding a board, set up as a temporary stage for open-air performers.  Saltimbanchi were those who performed somersaults on a temporary platform — wandering acrobats, performing in the open air, the platform giving their audience a better view.   (Not to mention that it helps to get the big picture when one is on a platform or bench!)  The Cirque du Soleil performers/artists have flair, dance skills and acting skills.  All the shows are a fusion of the worlds.  Performers have to express themselves without words and they go into a databank of talent.  The shows are fabulous as one sees how being part of a team is an important aspect for each artist (all of them are athletic).
 When it comes to life since the stroke, I’m going to use Matt’s comment — everything is therapy (and everything is related).  Everything I do (chores, going to sporting events, visiting with people, playing games, any social event, etc) are all therapy.  Once I had a goal in Speech Therapy to improve speaking on the phone — something many of us do frequently, when one doesn’t speak or speech is compromised, it becomes a big deal!  (How we breathe when we speak and where we breathe.)  Now every time I speak on phone, I think about all of that.  I did say to the therapist at one point, “I know what I’m saying!”  She just smiled and said “I know” but does everybody else?  Here’s a story I told my Physical Therapist and my Pilates Instructor (also a Physical Therapist).  The salon where I go for haircuts has uniquely (I think) these beds or tables where people lie on while they get their hair washed before a cut.  This fall when I was there, after my hair washing, the hairdresser told me she was done and for me to get up.  So I did.  She said “wow, your core is really strong!  Most people can’t get up or use their arms extensively.”  We have been working on my core strength!
Matt is on the Board for the Magic Theater.  We go to see each play a couple of times.  (I see something new with each viewing!)  I love the theater.   Before each play starts, they have a reading of the script with the actors, the director talks about the play and the set designer describes what they are doing with the scenery.  It’s a fabulous experience,  We take advantage of Matt being on the Board and do more things with the theater.  I consider this “big picture”!  It’s about being present with everything in life — sometimes we use that awareness right away and sometimes it goes to an awareness databank for use later.

Hakuna matata is a Swahili phrase which means “no worries” or “there isn’t a problem/trouble”. We have a friend who says that is a great translation of Sorgenfrei! It does not mean that we will not have issues or concerns. There is a popular song in the Lion King called Hakuna Matata. In the song they say “it’s a problem free philosophy”. That is my resolution for the upcoming year. Here is a story that I heard/read when I was young and has always stayed with me. It is the story of the boy who could sleep on stormy nights.

A rancher, who had a small farm, went to the cattle fair to sell some of his stock and hire someone to help him with the upcoming harvest. He spoke to several young men who were experienced farm hands, but liked a young boy the best as he seemed to be very sincere, though lacking in experience. When speaking to the boy, the rancher asked him what he could do, to which the boy replied, “I can sleep on stormy nights”. Feeling rather disappointed that such a nice boy should turn out to be more than a little weird, the rancher went on his way. However, he wasn’t satisfied with the other prospective candidates and came back to the boy and again asked him what he could do, to which the boy again replied, “I can sleep on stormy nights”. The rancher once again walked away, but didn’t find anyone else to his liking and eventually hired the boy. The first week passed and the rancher had no complaints against the boy or his work. Then one night, a freak storm suddenly blew up. The rancher, awakened by the howling wind, grabbed his lantern and hurried to fetch the boy. He found the boy sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, snoring away, blissfully unaware of the gale. Despite the rancher’s urgent pleading and pummeling, the boy continued to sleep soundly. Cursing the day he hired the boy, the rancher hurried out into the gathering storm to secure his property. To his surprise, he found every window latched, every door locked, all tools and implements locked down, even the straw tied down with sacking, nothing loose to be corralled, no loose ends to be tied up. Tired, wet and shivering, the rancher slowly walked back to the ranch house and suddenly realized what the boy had meant about sleeping on stormy nights. He always did his work conscientiously, so he didn’t have any need to be a light sleeper.

If I were to read this story for the first time today, I probably wouldn’t be as impressed by it but as a kid it had quite an impact. It’s message is still very clear today. It set an example for me to live up to, a goal to achieve, a benchmark to meet, but mostly, it inspired in me the desire to put duty first. I won’t say I have achieved it, but I definitely try. My issue with sleep (or lack of it) is interesting. I feel very comfortable and complete with the things that have to get done. I sleep according to the clock. I am not good about napping (which is unfortunate as I hear much about the value of sleep)! I often say that the brain keeps learning while we sleep. Since strokes are called “brain attacks”, I totally support any activity for the brain.

I have done many therapies since I had the stroke (and I consider myself fairly enlightened). But it was about 9 months after I had the stroke, when I was in water therapy that the reality of the stroke set in. I had to learn to swim again (relearn everything). I was never a strong swimmer, (I tell people I was a rock in a previous life) but it was that experience that made the stroke real! I say that I don’t like the water but that’s not really true because I love showers, bathing, boats and the ocean. I just don’t like to swim! I’ve said this before but the therapist who worked with me said at one point “don’t worry, you won’t drown, it’s too much paperwork!” That puts a smile on my face each time. I see that humor is always a part of what we do! A couple of years ago, I did a post on adjusting the sails. That is what I try to do.

I have never been a vegetarian. I was raised not having big meat portions and that seems fairly standard to me. Before I had the stroke, I liked my beef rare. I used to say just walk the cow through a warm room or wave a match at the cow. I thought one could taste the beef more that way and the various cuts tasted different. My taste is coming back but not as strong as it was before. I find that beef cooked well is easier to chew and swallow. I can’t really taste the subtle differences. Now I prefer my beef well done.

There’s an HBO special the late comedian Robin Williams did sometime ago. He does a great bit in it about golf. He explains why they are called strokes and how each hole has a pole which has a flag on the top to give us hope! Once isn’t enough, we see it 18 times in a game. We can all understand hope. I am not a Pollyanna, but I choose hakuna matata!

Here’s another thing that I mentioned before about the swimming adventure. When I went to the deep end successfully, the instructor told me even though people may not realize it when they swim, they keep moving. I figured I was floating in the deep end so it was good enough. The moving part was a big surprise for me. I share this story again because I don’t think there is a simple or single version of hakuna matata. That’s been major for me after stroke — how we keep moving (physically and emotionally) is a huge part.

Próspero Año Nuevo (I like it so much better in Spanish)

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”  William Shakespeare
I’m using the term Happy Holidays instead of Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or Joyous Kwanzaa for the simple reason that the stroke has affected my memory and it is one less thing that I need to remember in acknowledging the holiday time.  After all, it is the spirit we bring to the whole time.  Whatever people believe, I don’t know too many who wouldn’t celebrate a holiday that has giving and receiving gifts!  (You’ve probably heard the saying ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called present.’)
My mother was raised in a family with 17 siblings.  There are many wonderful lessons about life that I learned from my grandmother (her mother).  Here are two of them.  When my sisters and I were old enough to write, she had us address envelopes for her children and grandchildren.   She sent us all birthday cards.  She wrote something in each card as she sent it and I don’t think anyone thought about the fact that our handwriting was on the envelope.  It was the fact that she acknowledged that special day.  Here’s another story.  After my grandfather passed away, she lived in various places near her children.  At one point, she lived next door to my parents.  She had a buzzer that went off in my parent’s house to alert them of an emergency so they could come over.  She decided to use that buzzer and redefine “emergency”.  She buzzed them every morning when the coffee was ready.  Isn’t that a great idea?  There are many wonderful things I learned from her.  Obviously that there is no limit to love.  There is plenty to go around.  Last month I said the cooing of the Mourning Dove was one of my favorite things.  When I hear that sound, I think of her and her many wonderful attributes.
Matt and the boys will tell you how my holiday tree has brunette angel ornaments.  They are not easy to find.  I have been collecting them for many years and the ornaments I have are from all over the world.  I decided a long time ago that my tree would have them.  Yes, it is still a grand tree.  Each ornament has a special meaning and memory.  I share this for a couple of reasons.  The first is the idea of thinking out of the box.  They are still ornaments for the tree.  It is a great conversation piece!  Who doesn’t get a kick out of brunette angels?  The second is the concept of time.  I have been collecting them for over 30 years.  Whenever I go places and I see one I like, I buy it or when people travel and think of me, one thing they think is brunette angels!  (It’s a journey!)
I do my exercise/walk after I finish my breakfast.  If you ask me at lunchtime if I did my exercise, I can’t remember if I did, but I must have after I finished my breakfast.   That’s an example of things today.  I have a Physical Therapist who comes to the house to do Pilates.  Some time ago, I told her I wanted to do strength exercises and she added weights to our routine.  When she says “now we are going to a second set of those exercises”, I have to really think about what I just did so I can do a second set!  (Little did I know it would be a brain exercise too.)  I’ve said that one of my chores is to do the laundry.  We have a pretty small laundry basket.  So when I see it full, I know it’s time to do laundry.
When the San Francisco Giants (baseball) won their 3rd World Series Championship in 5 years in 2014, Brian Sabean (the General Manager and architect of the team) did an interview where he described the team members as cockroaches!  Those who followed the Giants saw them fall out of first place in their division, sustain major injuries to various team members, saw the team go through a major losing streak and yet showed resilience in winning the World Series (as a Wild Card).  While I am not a fan of cockroaches, I totally understand what he is saying.  You know how cockroaches seem to be hearty and show resilience?  I would say the Giants winning a World Series Championship is showing resilience!  So I see it about doing what is right for us at that time.  Be a cockroach.  Are you a fan of the movie Galaxy Quest?  My favorite line from that movie is “never give up, never surrender!”   I am mortified when I find out I got somebody’s name wrong, but like someone said (and I agree) “call me anything but don’t call me late for dinner.”    I hope others feel the same.

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