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Blueberries grow at Blue Fruit Farm outside of Winona, Minn.  

Hello, warmth: 35-degree day ends 13-day stretch below 20

The Coulee Region witnessed a weather phenomenon Sunday afternoon unthinkable just a few days ago: Water in its liquid form fell from the sky.

The light rain — unwelcome to motorists who saw it turn to light icy rain in the evening — capped an afternoon that saw a high temperature of 35 degrees at the La Crosse Regional Airport, breaking a bone-chilling cold snap at 13 days.

The temperature had been below 20 degrees since Christmas, according to the La Crosse office of the National Weather Service. This 13-day stretch was the 13th-longest such period in recorded history, tied with similar cold snaps in December 2000, January 1982 and January 1918.

While those 13 days closing out 2017 and launching 2018 were cold, with an average temperature of 0.8 degrees, La Crosse has experienced much worse. The 13-day stretch from Jan. 25 through Feb. 6, 1996, averaged minus-5.7 degrees. The coldest 13-day period ever recorded was an average of minus-12.9 degrees Jan. 1-13, 1912.

The NWS predicts a high of 33 degrees today, 36 on Tuesday and 45 degrees on Wednesday before a return of more January-like weather.

The East Coast on Sunday was still waiting for the warmer air after the blast of arctic air that broke cold temperature records from Maine to West Virginia and stunned sea turtles in Florida.

Burlington, Vt., and Portland, Maine, set records, with Burlington falling to minus-20, beating a 1923 record by a degree, and Portland recording minus-11, also a degree below a 1941 record.

By today, Boston temperatures should return to a more seasonable low 30s. The mercury will continue to rise, and Boston could see temperatures in the mid-40s by Thursday and as high as the low 50s on Friday.

As aviation crews at South Carolina’s busiest airport, Charleston International Airport, struggled to clear runways of snow and ice so they could be reopened, in New England water main breaks, frozen hydrants and burst pipes created new headaches for officials.

The chilly winter blast did not spare Florida, where rescuers rushed to save hundreds of young sea turtles stunned by the cold. State wildlife officials said they had rescued more than 100. The Gulf World Marine Institute in Panama City Beach said it had treated 200 turtles by Thursday evening.

Cold weather is good news for Winter Carnival ice harvesters

SPICER, Minn. — At Green Lake near Spicer, workers are busy harvesting a cold crop — big blocks of ice.

The blocks will be used to build the ice palace for the St. Paul Winter Carnival later this month. Ice harvesting is a long Spicer tradition that dates back nearly a century.

On Green Lake, which borders the east side of town, crews spent several days cutting blocks of ice that weigh nearly 600 pounds each. They need about 3,700 blocks to build the palace to be the centerpiece of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

It’s a precise process: First, they dust off the ice with a sweeping machine. Then, they use a specialized saw to score the ice into carefully measured sections.

“See, right now we’re scoring down about 12 inches. And the ice is 16, so we’re leaving four inches. And that’s what carries us the whole time while we’re working on it,” said Mike Lint who works for Wee Kut, a local company that’s been cutting ice for 30 years.

Workers cut away three sides of the ice float, making room around it. Then they use a chiseling tool to break off the blocks.

The workers push the blocks through a channel they cut earlier all the way to shore. A conveyor belt lifts the blocks onto dry land, where they are loaded into wooden pallets.

“In total we’re going to do 4,000 which will be about 60 loads going into St. Paul from here to Rice Park,” said Mike Gutknecht who works for Park Construction of Minneapolis, the general contractor for the project. It will take five to seven days to truck all this ice to St. Paul, he said.

Gutknecht said Green Lake is known for freezing early and producing thick, clear ice.

“When we go back to St. Paul and shine the lights through it, you can get all the visual effects,” Gutknecht said. “You’ll get milky ice and that type of ice, but out here it is crystal clear and it’s got a blue tinge to it. It’s really beautiful.”

The last time ice was harvested from Green Lake for the St. Paul palace was 1992.

“We make good ice. That’s why St. Paul wanted it,” said Spicer’s mayor, Denny Baker. Baker added that this year’s ice palace will get extra attention with Minneapolis hosting the Super Bowl.

“Most people you know have never seen a block of ice,” Baker said. “And then to see what you can build with it and how you can build a structure — that will be amazing. It will be fun for them.”

Ice harvesting on Green Lake dates back to the 1930s, when local companies used to cut it and deliver it to resorts to use throughout the summer.

Many of the tools used today haven’t changed much since then.

The splitter bar is the same ones they used in the ‘30s, Lint said, and the wooden-sided conveyor belt used to hoist the ice blocks was built around 1941. Without it, it would be almost impossible to get the ice onto shore.

“Each one of those blocks weigh close to 600 pounds apiece so you can imagine the amount of weight,” he said.

A few old timers turn out every year to help out with the ice harvest. Brothers Bill and Jim Doty are both in their mid-70s. Bill Doty said he doesn’t mind the cold.

“You dress for it, you know,” Doty said. “In fact, I almost got too much clothes on if you can believe it.”

Some years the weather hasn’t gotten cold enough to make thick ice by January. Gutknecht said they were hoping for at least 12 inches, and they have at least that.

“(Cold weather) is a very good thing for us,” Gutknecht said. “Two weeks ago we were worried it was only 8 inches thick out here so we were thinking about having to go to a different lake which is further away. So this worked out great for us.”

Once all this ice is in St. Paul, construction of the 70-foot-tall ice palace will begin. The whole thing has to be done by Jan. 25, when the Winter Carnival begins.

Family celebrates mom's recovery from brain injury

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Miracle is an overused word.

Often used to describe an unexpected, but welcomed occurrence, the true essence of a miracle is an event that defies known cause because of divine intervention.

For the people who know and love Judy Bryant, miracle is the only word to describe the last four months of her life.

On Aug. 26, Bryant suffered a brain injury that doctors said she would never recover from. Life support was ended and she was moved to hospice so she could be kept comfortable until she took her last breath.

That breath never came.

While at one point Bryant only took two breaths a minute, she kept on breathing. Then she wiggled her toes. Then she squeezed her daughter’s hand. Six days after the accident that fractured her skull and injured her brain Bryant, then 69, opened her eyes and began to mumble.

On Dec. 16, nearly fourth months after the accident, Bryant celebrated her 70th birthday surrounded by family.

Bryant has only one memory from the first weeks in the hospital.

“I remember praying, ‘God, whatever your will is I’ll be happy with it, but my children still need me,” Bryant said.

“She felt her life was unfinished,” said Bryant’s daughter, Tammy McLamb.

An achiever

Bryant has always been an achiever, even with odds were stacked against her.

She left school after the ninth grade. She later obtained a GED and went to work as a receptionist at Eastern Radiology. When she retired more than 35 years later, Bryant was the practice’s chief executive officer.

Not content with retirement, Bryant became become a real estate broker.

Bryant had been working with a couple six years to find their “dream home” in Greenville.

The couple had asked her about a home that was under construction in the Ironwood neighborhood. Bryant decided to give it a quick once-over and drove out there on a Saturday afternoon. It was Aug. 26.

“It’s the only time she had been to a house without them,” McLamb said.

As is common with most people who sustain traumatic brain injuries, Judy doesn’t remember what caused the accident. It appears she was walking up a flight of steps, misstepped and fell backward, striking her head on the concrete flooring.

She remained there for nearly 24 hours.

The first people to realize something was wrong were the members of her church family.

Bryant is a devout church-goer and was scheduled to do a scripture reading during that Sunday’s service, said Pastor Keith Gardner with First Free Will Baptist Church.

Gardner called Bryant’s mobile phone but got no answer. So he called her children.

Bryant’s grandson, Christopher Bryant, was the first to arrive at her Irish Creek home. When she didn’t answer the door, he broke out a window and climbed inside. She, and her car, were gone.

His dad, Bill Bryant, soon joined him. They called McLamb, who was in Charlotte at her daughter Kasey’s soccer game.

Christopher had briefly lived with his grandmother and she had installed the “Find My Friends” app on both their phones. Christopher activated it and it took him and his father to the Ironwood construction site where they found Judy bleeding and unresponsive at the foot of a staircase. Her body was covered in insect bites that were later determined to have come from fire ants.

“She couldn’t talk, couldn’t anything. She just made a moaning noise,” Bill Bryant said.

Severe injuries

The family later learned Bryant sustained injuries that likely saved her life and allowed for her recovery.

The skull fracture was so complete that the bone shifted when her brain began swelling, lessening the buildup of pressure. The bones in her inner ear shattered, which allowed some blood to flow out, again lessening pressure on her brain.

And the fire ant bites, “her back looked like third-degree burns,” Bill Bryant said, kept her system stimulated enough that it didn’t shut down.

“The bad was always offset by another bad that turned out good,” her son said.

None of this was obvious when Bryant first arrived at Vidant Medical Center.

While McLamb and her daughter were driving in from Charlotte, the doctors were telling Bill Bryant his mother’s injuries were non-survivable. This is a difficult memory for McLamb.

“I was so angry with the trauma doctor because I felt they just wrote her off,” she said. However, McLamb said she suspects if her mother’s brain scans had been shown to 10 other doctors most would have arrived at the same conclusion.

Later, during Sunday night services, Gardner and about 50 members of the church gathered at the altar and prayed.

“We said Lord, we need her here,” Gardner said.

Bryant had a living will with a “do not resuscitate” order. She also gave her son her medical power of attorney. Believing he was honoring his mother wishes, Bill Bryant wanted to end life support. McLamb wasn’t ready to make that decision.

“I was looking for closure,” she said. She was thinking about Kasey, the only girl among four grandchildren. Kasey is very close to her grandmother and sat constantly at her bedside, holding her hand.

McLamb said she kept asking for a sign to show her what was the right decision. She thought she got it when her mother briefly opened her eyes. McLamb said she saw no recognition, no awareness in her mother’s eyes and agreed withdrawing life support was the correct decision.

Other family members protested, Bill Bryant said, but on Tuesday, Aug. 29, Bryant was transferred to palliative care. Her breathing tube was removed and family and friends gathered to say goodbye.

Her older sister, Linda Wallace, was devastated.

“I went to stand by her bed and my thought way, I’m going to be by myself,” she said. “But looking at her now, I realize God has performed a miracle few people get to see.”

‘We’re seeing a miracle’

That Wednesday, Aug. 30, four days after the accident, Bryant was taken to hospice where the plan was to keep her comfortable until she died.

Kasey, 17, remained with her grandmother. Hospice staff brought in a therapy dog to comfort the teenager. It was during that visit that Bryant opened her eyes.

McLamb said she felt a surge of hope but medical staff, in an effort to control her expectations, said patients often display what is called “rallying,” actions that appear to signal a turnaround but actually mean death is near. The staff pointed out Bryant’s coloring was gray, which happens close to death.

But as family and friends visited and talked, Bryant started wiggling her toes.

“It got to when we asked her if could hear us and she wiggled her toes,” Bill Bryant said. Her children kept talking to her and eventually Bryant started squeezing their hands in response to questions. She then opened her eyes and her family realized their mom was still with them.

Gardner received a text message from a church member who had been with the family.

“He said ‘Pastor Keith I think we’re seeing a miracle,’” Gardner said.

Bryant’s children asked that she be returned to the hospital for treatment. They are still upset because no department initially wanted accept her. They were repeatedly told their mother’s coloring and breathing — at one time she was taking only two breaths a minute — meant there was no hope. However, Dr. Quing Cao, a specialist in geriatrics, hospice and palliative medicine with the Brody School of Medicine, advocated for the family and she was returned to Vidant’s medical intensive care unit.

By this time, Bryant was mumbling in an apparent attempt to communicate. However, new brain scans indicated the damage was worsening, Bill Bryant said.

Several nurses who the family described as a “rapid response team” took an interest in Bryant and advocated for her treatment.

In the 10 days following Bryant’s accident she had received no water or food which lead doctors to believe her internal organs would be shutting down blood work taken at this time showed her organs where not only functioning properly, they were functioning as if she had suffered no injury.

“I asked the doctor, ‘How is this possible?’ and he looked right dead at me and he said, ‘I don’t know. It’s not medically possible,’” Bill Bryant said.

News about Bryant’s turnaround was spreading.

“Later on, when I went back to hospital I would say to the people at the front desk, ‘I’ve come to see Judy Bryant’ and they would say ‘Oh, our miracle woman,’” Gardner said.

“They didn’t even know Mom but the story had gone through the hospital,” her son said.

Difficult rehab

Fourteen days after Bryant’s accident, on Sept. 8, she was flown to Atlanta to begin rehabilitation therapy at The Shepard Center of Atlanta, a private, nonprofit hospital specializing in treating people with spinal cord and brain injuries.

It was another tough decision, McLamb said, because it meant taking her from family and friends and putting her in strange surroundings. However, the Workman’s Comp Insurance representative they worked with identified it as one of the nation’s top rehabilitation centers.

Bryant struggled. She didn’t understand why she was in a hospital so far from home. Her children and the center’s staff kept telling her she was recovering from a brain injury, but she didn’t believe them because she didn’t see bruises or broken bones.

She always had a reason why she had difficulties with certain tasks, her son said, but nothing was caused by a brain injury.

“I would argue with anybody; there was nothing wrong with me,” Bryant recalled. It was only when she saw photographs taken shortly after the accident that Bryant began to believe something was wrong.

Her rehabilitation routine was intensive. It started when she woke up and staff would ask her what clothing she needed to get dressed, insisting she name every item.

After breakfast, she attended physical, recreational, occupational and speech therapy sessions.

“There were days she was almost in tears, she was so physically tired,” McLamb said.

Once she regained basic skills, Bryant was moved to Shepard Pathways, a residential treatment home.

The therapists had Bryant identify the activities she enjoyed the most so she could relearn the necessary skills. For Bryant, that meant cooking, her volunteer work within the church and driving.

Bryant’s children, sister and other family members took turns staying in Atlanta to offer her support.

She made rapid progress until mid-October when she began forgetting things and started physically regressing. She started cursing, which her children had never heard her do. Her doctors attributed it to a negative drug reaction and stopped the medicine. They also discovered a urinary tract infection which — for reasons they can’t explain — sometimes causes rehabilitation patients to regress, McLamb said. A course of antibiotics cleared the infection and Bryant’s recovery continued.

Bill Bryant said doctors at The Shepard Center were hard-pressed to explain his mother’s recovery. They had patients with similar injuries who were wheelchair-bound and had limited responses.

Bryant and her children attribute it to the overwhelming spiritual support she received.

McLamb had started daily Facebook posts shortly after Bryant’s accident to keep people updated on her condition. As she recovered, people started sharing the posts with people who never met Bryant.

Gardner said he often heard people say they started their day “with coffee and a Judy story.”

Her children estimate Bryant received about 500 greeting cards, a number from strangers, saying how much she inspired them.

“That is exactly what brought me through it,” Bryant said.

She came home briefly for Thanksgiving. Bryant wanted to cook, as she always does at Thanksgiving, but couldn’t remember her recipes for biscuits and for dressing. However, she does remember her recipe for divinity.

The staff as Shepard said there are some memories Bryant may never recover. There also are questions about what activities she’ll be able to resume.

Coming home

Bryant returned to Greenville on Dec. 13. The next evening she attended a Christmas party at the real estate firm where she worked.

However, the noise and movement proved soon became too much and she had to leave. It’s common for sight and sound stimulation to produce anxiety in brain injury patients, her children said.

Bryant’s rehabilitation team warned her family that once they leave recovery, patients like Bryant have difficulty accepting the fact they still need recovery and cannot return to her previous routine.

Bryant experienced that difficulty on her birthday, Dec. 16. She went shopping with her son and realized she couldn’t negotiate the escalator at a department store. It triggered a sensation that the clothing was moving around her and she became anxious.

Bill Bryant said he hated seeing his mother upset, but it showed her she needs to slow down and continue the recovery process.

Knowing something, and accepting it, are very different things.

Bryant is a supporter of Community Crossroads Center, Greenville’s homeless shelter, and organizes and cooks the monthly meal the church serves.

Her birthday was the church’s day to serve a meal.

“They are good people, they just need help and I hate that I’m missing this time of year,” Bryant said. “I want to drive because people depend on me to bring them things.”

Her family reminds it may be some time before she gets behind the wheel.

She still needs physical therapy, more rehabilitation assistance and eventually surgery to repair the damage in her inner ear, her daughter said. Doctors said it could be two years before her body completely heals.

Guided by God

Bryant said she is ready for what the future brings because she’ll be guided by God.

“I know he heard me and he took care of me. I know there is something else he wants me to do. There is something else he has in store for me and I’m looking forward to finding out what it is,” she said.

Her children and Gardner believe Bryant is already serving God’s will.

McLamb said while she wasn’t raised in the church, she is experiencing a renewal of faith that she wants to explore. And while some may say while would God allow such a tragedy to befall her mother, McLamb said she knows God didn’t cause the accident but is now using her mother as a tool to spread his message.

Gardner said he thinks back to the concern people at Vidant had for Bryant.

“It really speaks volumes to the people there because they were seeing something that really defied human explanation because the doctors couldn’t explain it,” Gardner said. “If you look up the definition of miracle in the dictionary it tells you something that happens, occurs that is beyond human explanation.

“Everything from the very beginning until now fits into that category,” Gardner said.


Bannon apologizes over damning portrait in book as White House presses defense of Trump

WASHINGTON (TNS) — With President Donald Trump cheering from the sidelines, the White House Sunday pressed its defense of the president’s fitness to govern, as fired former aide Steve Bannon reversed course and apologized for his role in a new book’s explosive portrait of Trump.

The president’s critics, meanwhile, said Trump’s stream of taunts and insults in response to the book — “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” released last week —only emphasized the author’s unsettling portrayal of Trump’s presidency, depicting a leader whose own aides consider him childish, ignorant and dangerously erratic.

The most vehement defense of Trump Sunday came from senior adviser Stephen Miller, a former Bannon acolyte who distanced himself from his former mentor. Miller, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” called the book “grotesque” and writer Michael Wolff “the garbage author of a garbage book.”

Miller called Bannon, who was one of Wolff’s principal sources, “angry and vindictive.” The author quoted Bannon as using the label “treasonous” for a Trump Tower meeting last year with Kremlin-linked figures, in which Donald Trump Jr. took part.

The book quoted Bannon as predicting that the younger Trump would “crack…like an egg” in the face of the Russia investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

On Sunday, however, Bannon — who has faced withering attacks from the president since the book’s contents were first aired — sought to mend fences, praising Trump’s son as “both a patriot and a good man.”

“He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around,” Bannon said in a statement first reported by Axios, which marked a striking reversal of the stance he struck in Wolff’s telling.

Also Sunday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Wolff’s characterization of Trump as averse to digesting classified briefing material was “ludicrous,” and the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that those around Trump “love their country and respect their president.”

Trump is known to closely monitor aides’ televised performances in putting forth his case, and he gleefully weighed in within moments of Miller’s televised clash with “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper. CNN has long been a particular target of Trump’s.

“Jake Tapper of Fake News just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller,” the president tweeted. “Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”

Trump’s reaction, however, seemed to bolster Tapper’s on-air depiction of Miller as using his appearance on the show to play to the president rather than addressing questions put to him. “I get it — there’s one viewer that you care about,” Tapper said in exasperation after Miller turned the discussion repeatedly to negative news coverage of the president while deflecting specific queries.

Wolff, interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” acknowledged some minor errors in the book but said he emphatically stood by its overall thrust, including its portrayal of Trump as uninformed and unstable in the view of his aides.

“This is alarming in every way,” he said.

Before the abrupt conclusion of the CNN interview, Miller defended Trump’s political acumen, referring indirectly to the president’s description of himself Saturday as a genius — and “a very stable genius at that.”

“I saw a man who is a political genius,” Miller said of the candidate he observed over many months, adding that Trump had “tapped into something magical that is happening in the hearts of this country.”

Haley, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said she had not heard anyone in Trump’s circle question his stability. Instead, she credited Trump with pushing back appropriately against bombastic threats by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

After Kim said in a New Year’s message that he had a nuclear button at the ready, Trump retorted that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

While some of the president’s critics were incredulous over the schoolyard tone of the exchange, Haley defended it.

“We want to always remind them, ‘We can destroy you too, so be very careful with your words and what you do,’” Haley said. She added that a perceived element of unpredictability on the president’s part was “not a bad thing, it’s really not.”

One of the president’s most consistent critics, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said the Wolff book’s overall thesis reflected the concerns of many in Congress, whether or not lawmakers were willing to air them publicly.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress, frankly, of either party, who does not concur at least privately with those observations and concerns” about Trump’s fitness for office, Schiff said on “State of the Union.”