St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

May Day

With the maple syruping all done and the equipment stored away and Margo stable, we are switching to our summer activities here on the farm. 

Margo enjoys the outside porch on the old lift chair Dad used in his last few years with Parkinsons.  
Margo is nearly a month out of surgery and gradually improving.  Although the leg and shoulder pain that were so debilitating before surgery seem to be gone, the surgical wound is still quite painful and is likely to be for some time yet.  She wears a neck collar all of the time (and probably for 2 more months) to keep her from bending or turning her head at all.  She is walking with a walker a few hundred feet at a time.  Every Thursday we drive to Barron, WI where she has physical occupational therapy, attempting to get her back to independent functioning.  Balance is still a problem so she uses a walker all of the time. 

Although the surgery seems to have relieved the pain from spinal stenosis, it left her weakened in the arms, hands and legs so the rehab is to get them strengthened and working again.  Pain or function is a hard decision, but the doctors think that she will regain the function with effort. 

Her progress is steady, so we are hopeful that in a few months the pain will be gone, the walker replaced with a cane and she will resume things like driving and washing dishes -- yes, Scott and I do all the housework now.

Sister-in-law Connie stopped by and gave her a very short haircut --to keep it out of the neck brace and make it easier for her to comb -- raising her arms that high is still difficult.  However, things are improving and we were warned the recovery may take a year or more. 

Scott and I finished an average maple syrup season.  That is actually a good result, as average means a quart per tap and with 80 taps (the final count) we did get 20 gallons of syrup.  Neighbor and friend, Dave, helped us during the whole season so we split about 1/3 of the syrup with him.  With Margo ailing and having surgery in the midst of the season, it was great to have someone to collect the sap when we were away.  I think next year we will go back to 200 or maybe 400 taps and cook about the same amount and sell the extra sap to one of the local processors.  Since 2012 with my knee surgery, 2013 with myasthenia gravis and cancer, and so on we have cut back.  
The last (4th) batch of syrup this season was only a gallon and a half -- sort of the cleanup of the last sap to run.  The sap had already turned slightly cloudy, but when it cooked down seemed to taste pretty good.  All of the 4 batches this year (20 gallons) were good flavor and nice looking.  We used to sell it at the Eureka Farmer's market every Friday, but with that closed just sell a little to folks who stop by to buy some.  Not enough to really do any serious selling until we go back to a few hundred taps again.  

Gardening is getting underway seriously as May starts and the nightly frosts seem to be done.  The row of lettuce I planted on March 10th as an experiment finally sprouted last week.  The peas planted then have not.  After a few warm early March days, the weather got back to normal and with a few snows and lots of freezing nights, the seeds just sat, so early planting probably gave me no advantage to planting right now. 

Bought a dozen new everbearing strawberries at Walmart to add to our Winona Giant spring bearers and set them out 2 weeks ago, but it appears they were all dead on arrival, but they still may get going. 

 Looking for some everbearing raspberries to add to the spring bearers we already have.  In the country we usually swap berry plants with the neighbors rather than buy them -- the varieties in the chain stores seem to be suited for southern Iowa rather than the far north.  

Set out two blueberry plants here on the farm.  Hauled a lot of sand from the River Road fields up here to amend the soils for blueberries.  Also, since watermelons grow best on the sand, hauled some tubs of it up here to try container watermelon plants -- big tub containers.  We always have a sand garden but would like to try to consolidate to a single garden this year. 

Broke a part of the west side of the yard extending into the field on the farm to plant a new pumpkin and squash garden this year.  The cabin garden was a little too low and frosted and flooded too often to be successful (last two years total failure).  With 40 acres surrounding the farm we should not need to have three gardens a few miles apart. 

The 1952 Super C Farmall tractor and the 1946 Swedish Farmer disk a new garden spot just west of the farm yard.  Pumpkins and squash garden.  This spot has not been farmed, mowed or disturbed for about 20 years so should make a good garden spot.  
The first pass was with Farmer Chuck's garden tractor to break the sod.  He rents the rest of the farmland and plans to have corn on the field west of the yard.  Right in front of him is the big brush pile from dying apple trees.  I keep meaning to burn it, but it has gotten so large and supports such a number of animals and birds, decided to let it rot down instead.
My latest project is picking rocks from the field and using them to build rock landscaping.  Here is the first try -- Pebble Dam on the dry run that comes through the 40 acres into the pond.  
Every year a new crop of rocks appears on the farm fields.  In the old days, we drug a low wooden stone boat across the field, pitched on rocks and dumped them in a pile here and there on the farm.  With the realization that rocks are now sought after by folks for landscaping, we decided to try to use ours more creatively. 

A little tractor and little trailer to haul little loads

Some water comes through each spring and after rains into the farm pond.  Behind this pile of rocks is a big swamp that at one time was a big lake from a series of three beaver dams in this narrow drain.  The farmers had tried to drain the swamps and farm or pasture them, so my attempt to repair a large old beaver dam right here was to make a very small pool right behind it.  It appears that rock dams are not really dams at all and let the water flow through freely.  Have to find a pair of beavers and rent them for the summer I guess. 

Just below the rock pile, is our farm pond, Dub Lake.  It is an old cattail swamp that had filled in and no longer held water.  In 1970, a dry summer, cousin Harvey bulldozed it out and returned it to a farm pond.  Very nice!  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Early Spring on the Farm

Margo has been home now for her 3rd day.  She can walk around some with a walker, but still needs help getting dressed and getting out of a chair and bed.  However she is improving some each day.  She is still in a lot of pain, but it is different from the pre-surgery pain and we are hopeful that this is just the pain left over from major surgery healing.  She had much work done on her back and neck!   Thursday we take her to Barron for an outpatient occupational therapy session and an outpatient physical therapy session.  OT is getting back to the daily functioning to be independent and PT is regaining lost strength.  It is likely to be a year-long recovery, but coming along good so far. 
WiFi reaches the porch where Margo enjoys the outdoors

For the past two days, with the very mild weather, Margo sat for several hours out on the porch and enjoyed the birds, cars driving by, farmers working in the fields and some visitors who dropped in to see how things were going.  "Much more interesting than in a hospital room and bed!"  We put on the little porch to the east to give Dad an outdoor place when in his last 2 years parkinsons limited his ability to get around. The old motorized recliner/lift chair has sat there for 15 years and plugging it in -- still works!   We picked it up for free as it was not all there, and converted the missing electrical transformer to a 12 volt battery and Dad used it for his outdoor port into the world. 

A busy week ahead for me with two reunions scheduled.   I am helping out with the Duncan Yo-Yo employees reunion on Thursday afternoon at the Luck WI Senior Citizens Center, a block away from the old Duncan Yo-Yo plant.  The plant closed in the early 1960s and so we expect employees from about my age up to Edna Lawson at age 99.  

Edna was promoted to a job something like office manager and when asked by her fellow employees why she was promoted over many others who had been their longer, stated "I got the position because the distance from my navel to the floor is exactly the length of a Yo-Yo string."   I think that probably shushed the complainers as they pondered this fact.    

My 98 year old neighbor, Jennie Iverson Nelson also plans to attend.  "I was the fastest string cutter/twister in the whole plant" back in the late 1940s or early 50s.  Should be a fun time with folks reminiscing about a business that employed 1000s of people and offered women a good job too, something hard to find in those days.  The plant started in about 1946 and lasted until 1964.   
Jennie and Margo visiting a few years ago--Jennie shows some handwork.  She crochets, knits, writes poetry and recently renewed her driver's license at age 98

The other reunion is at the college in River Falls, UWRF, for those who went through the physics program.  About a dozen years ago I nudged the physics faculty in River Falls to put on a physics reunion and the 25 or so of us who showed up from all different years had a good time as well as donated a little money for the department. The faculty decided to try again and Friday and Saturday have invited former students to a picnic, tour, visit etc.   I looked at the attending list and see at least 5 students from my era.  I think most of us from my era will be retired, except for my friend Reg Ronningen from Frederic WI who wraps up a long career helping to run a cyclotron at Michigan State University this fall.   (A cyclotron is something like the cyclopes of Greek mythology)
Not sure if this is a cyclotron diagram or not, but it looks scientific and it came from MSU.  Below is a pair of glasses for a cyclopes.  

Farming and gardening underway in the farm with our renter digging up the fields.  He plans to plant some soybeans, wheat and alfalfa and corn this year.  I think he heard about Margo maybe getting a herd of beef calves as a rehab activity and is planning to help out!

 Planning to move our pumpkin and squash garden from the cabin to the farm this spring.  Two garden tractors breaking up the sod west of the yard.  

Skunk Cabbage and Marsh Marigolds in the springs along the St Croix River north of the falls.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Margo Back to the Farm

After 2 weeks in the hospital for neck and back surgery, Margo is home on the farm again.  She has a walker and wheelchair and is still weak and needs help, but is enjoying the early spring warm up by sitting out on the porch watching the wildlife.   Quite a change from the hospital!

Looking from the back -- two sets of lego scaffolding on either side of the spine to hold the vertebrae stable and away from the spinal cord where it had been pinching it and causing pain and weakness

Side view showing the pegs, screws and other stabilizing hardware.  Included, but not visible are some pieces of bone removed from the pelvis and stuck in the back.  

Margo is very sore and weak in the arms and legs, and they are painful, but it is more the pain from the surgery than the old back pain, so it should gradually disappear.  

About all she can do right now is practice working with her hands, arms and doing some walking.  The neck brace is likely to be on for three months.   April 23rd is the first outpatient therapy session which is in Barron Wisconsin or maybe Rice Lake -- not quite settled which Mayo branch is closer or more easily scheduled.  She has a long way to go, but she is home, functioning and with a few oxycodone every once in a while, getting along fine. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Maple Season Complete

About a month after tapping the first maples, today we pulled the taps and declared season over -- an average season with 1 quart of syrup per tap hole.  Average actually means we are pretty happy!

This season was interrupted by Margo's neck/back surgery so we didn't tap as many trees as usual.  

Margo is at Mayo hospital in Rochester until Thursday when she will return to the farm.  She had some complications after surgery that made her arms and hands weak, so they wanted her to do rehab there where lots of support was available. 

She feels good; her pain is still gone, but she has to spend time trying to regain the upper body strength, and still has to wear a neck brace around-the-clock for 3 months.  She can walk with a walker, but for any distance, she uses a wheelchair for now, as holding on to the walker is not too secure yet.  She expects to recover, but slowly.  If the pain stays away, the main purpose of the surgery is accomplished. 

Scott is down there and keeping Margo under control while I came back to finish up the maple syruping.  

Mallards on Dub Lake


Pulling the taps
A successful year 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Margo Improving!

A week after Margo's back and neck surgery and with only a few setbacks, she is doing well and in a Mayo rehab room for another week as she regains functionality. 

The surgery went well, the repairs are done, and the chronic severe pain seems gone.  She has a neck brace on all the time for the next 3 months, and has to be quite careful in using her upper back, but things should gradually improve with the full recovery taking about a year. 

She had a weakened right hand and arm after surgery, but that is improving and should get back to normal too.  Now she is practicing the functions of daily life in rehab and coming along gradually.  

The surgery was very extensive with a lot of hardware and bone grafts.  The surgeon was quite pleased with the result and after a few days of grogginess and difficulties, Margo is back to feeling pretty good and looking forward to coming back to the farm in about another week   She will continue outpatient therapy locally for some time after that. 

She had planned to do her rehab at Mayo Barron, WI, but the complications with the arm kept her at Mayo for an additional week.  

Maple sap season seems to be over, so probably will pull the taps this weekend.  Been a somewhat busy season between spending time at Rochester and back here at the farm.  The season will end up being about an average one with close to 1 quart of syrup per tap.  Not a great season, and not a poor one, just average.  

It will be nice to finish the season and get Margo back home painfree!   She has had almost a year of pain, the last six months quite severe, and two surgeries -- lower back in December and not the upper/neck in March.  Hopefully the back is done.   Her recent cancer check says no signs of that returning either!

As of April 1, I have been in remission for 2 full years from myasthenia gravis (medication free).  So that is great too,  Maybe by later this summer we will both be fully functional!

The frogs have been croaking this week.  The wild crocuses are blooming on the sand barrens.  Fifty or more trumpeter swans are hanging out on Bass Lake just north of Cushing, raiding the fields during the daytime and resting on the lake at night.  Quite a spectacle!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Margo Surgery today

Margo went into upper back/neck surgery this morning and as of 2:30 pm the surgery is finishing.  The back surgeon said the surgery went well and although it may or may not reduce the pain, it will prevent the condition of the pinched spine from progressing to paralysis and even worse pain.

The Doctor's notes are somewhat worse case scenario, but read like this:
We discussed with her today a fairly extensive C2 to T1 decompressive laminectomy with foraminotomies to address her C5 radiculopathy and weakness followed by instrumented fusion, likely C2 down to T3 (neck to mid back).
We discussed all the risks including (but not limited to) death, paralysis,
stroke, blindness, infection, pseudarthrosis, persistent pain, CSF leak, bleeding, transfusion
complications, instrumentation failure, swallowing dysfunction, hoarseness, and the need for additional surgery.

What the plan means is to relieve the pinching on the spinal cord and put in some hardware to hold them away from the cord.
The Informed consent -- what can go wrong.

We are waiting for Margo to return from the recovery room later today.  A few weeks will have to go by to see how things turned out relative to pain.  The plan is to stay at St Mary's (Mayo) hospital until Monday then move to the Barron WI hospital rehab center for a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, the maple sap quit running with the warm weather, but we have not given up yet as there are a few freezing nights ahead before the season will be over.

The Easter Bunny was out earlier this week on a foggy morning.  

The well dressed deer crossing the road near Wolf Creek WI