Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: My Birthday Month

February is my birthday month, and I initially intended to follow the example of fellow blogger Freda at What’s the Story in Dalamory. She launched her 2011 birthday month with this brief and understated post on March 5, 2011, about her strategy: “This is my birthday month. Now what treats can be scheduled?  Detailed planning is required.”

She followed up with periodic briefs chronicling her BMTs (birthday month treats). They ranged from a walk in her garden and carving out quiet time for some light reading to more elaborate, caloric and festive treats.

When Day 1 of my own 2012 birthday month arrived, though, I felt like the mental gymnastics required for planning and executing a daily treat, no matter how simple, were beyond me at this stage of my stroke recovery.

But the idea of a treat a day was such a great, happy idea. I decided I could still enjoy a birthday treat every day. Instead of planning I would just tune into the moment and stay on high alert for things that gave me a joy .

By Feb. 3 I was patting myself on the back for my brilliance--three days and three happy treats. By Day 6, I realized I needed to keep a list on my computer. Then I could blog about my daily treats. I really did intend to do that but it just didn’t happen. Now I can’t remember all of them or the dates on which the ones I do remember occurred.

I doubt that I am the only stroke survivor who has found that their “want to do” is bigger than their ability to get it all done.

There is always next year. For this year I can assure you that every day of February did bring an extra special treat. I have finally posted about some of them and plan a few more posts about February’s joys. And even though I can no longer recall all of my “treats” specifically, I will always remember my surprise, happiness and excitement about the treats that came my way in my birthday month, without any effort on my part.

I wonder, is the decision to watch for daily “treats” an exercise of faith, a form of prayer or is it too frivolous to be considered so? What do you think? Regardless of the answer, I am thankful and consider my birthday month a spirit-stretching experience.

Thank you to Freda and to friends, family and other blogging buddies who delivered treats verbal, visual and edible.

Other Birthday Month Posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February is for Birthdays

February is a month of birthdays in our family. Among them are niece Amanda’s on Valentines Day, Granddaughter Molly Kate’s on Feb. 20, and yours truly on Feb. 26.

Niece Amanda, center, in costume for a 2011 Richmond, VA, production of Pirates of Penzance

Granddaughter Molly Kate beams her pleasure about her baking party Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Young Chef’s Academy.

My husband Walter and I are parents of two sons, and I loved the never-boring, rambunctious world of little boys. Our only glimpse into the girly world came through our wonderful nieces, the daughters of our siblings. I treasure the “aunthood” that gave entre into the world of sugar and spice. But there was no cloying sweetness among our nieces, thank you!

Rather, they exhibited abundant spice. They were independent, adventuresome, creative youngsters. They have left childhood behind, but I am proud to say that even though they are strong, caring, gracious young women, they have all retained their childlike enthusiasm for life.

Now I have another generation of girls in my life -- granddaughters! Molly Kate’s birthday celebration was set for Saturday, four days after her actual anniversary day. Having it on a Saturday, only two days before my birthday, felt like a special gift to me.

Friends, cousins and their moms  sample the teddy bear biscuits and cupcakes they baked at Molly Kate's  celebration of birthday Number Four.
What a joy it was just seeing that little face light up and hearing her exclamation, “Nana and Baboo!” when we arrived just in time to join in singing “Happy Birthday.” It was a happy time even though we were late (Some online maps and drive directions can't be trusted!).

Molly Kate, fledgling pastry chef

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rutabagas for Mardi Gras

Friends Elton and Joyce Raby with me in the middle.

Tuesday was Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday. It was an extra-special Mardi Gras for me. No parades, no beads, moon pies, doubloons or Fat Tuesday excess.

Instead, husband Walter and I spent a wonderful few hours visiting special friends in Hattiesburg, MS, my birthplace and my late mother’s home for most of her adult life.

Elton and Joyce Raby had invited us for lunch. It was a chance to continue a long-standing tradition shared by the Rabys and my parents. For several decades, the two couples shared a weekly fish fry and fixings, alternating between the Raby and Carpenter homes.

The weekly get-togethers continued for more than two more decades after my father passed away. Even when Mother was no longer able to cook or to drive, Mr. Raby would pick her up at the Provisions Living retirement community and transport her back to their home for that traditional meal.

About every third time Mother would treat the Rabys to lunch at a local eatery, sometimes a favorite restaurant, other times a visit to a new establishment they all three wanted to try. This wonderful couple enriched my mother’s life.  The Raby’s, their children and their grandchildren were dear to her.

As time went on, the fish on the menu was sometimes baked or broiled as changing dietary restrictions mandated.

The side dishes might also vary depending on the season and what was growing in Mr. Raby’s garden. If adult children or grandchildren were in town, they were likely to be included in the festive occasion.

Mardi Gras day Mrs. Raby had recreated a typical meal Mother would have prepared: fried fish, cole slaw, fresh green beans, potatoes, cornbread and iced sweet tea.

There was also one other side dish. Mrs. Raby had cooked rutabagas. She reminisced about how Mother would often buy the root vegetable and cook it for them to go with the fish.

She also recounted her first attempt to cook rutabagas after eating them at Mother’s. Her preparation included cubing them instead of cutting thin slices.

“It tasted awful,” she said. “I didn’t realize the way I cut them up would make a difference.”

She has since thoroughly mastered the technique for making the dish a tasty experience, and I was not shy about taking generous additional helpings.
I didn’t eat rutabaga growing up. Oh, Mother cooked it, and she and Daddy loved this vegetable. But I don’t remember if I had ever even tasted it. As a headstrong child, I could well have refused to eat it without ever letting a bite pass my lips.

As an adult I eventually became more willing to taste new things, and the chance to taste one of my mother’s favorite veggies Tuesday was not to be passed up. The rutabagas were delicious. The appearance was attractive, an almost translucent, muted orange. The texture was pleasing. The taste was slightly sweet with a hint of the flavor of cabbage, which I like. Mr. Raby said they remind him more of turnip roots, another dish I need to become better acquainted with.

This Mardi Gras was filled with good food, a continuation of two families’ joint tradition and a chance to revisit joyful shared memories and make new memories.

Thank you, Rabys!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras 2012

Last year most of the Mardi Gras color I encountered was a smattering of the traditional purple, gold and green in doctors’ offices as I ferried my mother and husband Walter’s mother to appointments, my mother’s in Hattiesburg, MS, and hubby’s mom to doctors and labs in Biloxi and Ocean Springs, MS, locations. To see my 2011 Mardi Gras post click here.

This year we have been surrounded by purple, gold and green. Even a visit to a local bank proved to be a Mardi Gras experience. We encountered tellers in purple Mardi Gras T-shirts, plus


And a Mardi Gras tree complete with purple, gold and green . . .


Masks and


Walter and I are not into celebrating Mardi Gras in a big way and in the past have seized his three days off for Mardi Gras as an opportunity to head out of town. Last year it was to Boone, NC, for a skiing trip, definitely a pre-stroke adventure. I posted about it here.

This year our Louisiana kids and grands invited the Georgia Skupiens to meet them in New Orleans for a Sunday of parades. Daughter-in-law Katie’s family has been gathering at the same spot on St. Charles Avenue the Sunday before Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday) for four generations.

The crowds have increased over the years so much that Katie’s dad and our son Jeremy made a 6:30 a.m. run to claim the family’s territory for the day. There is still a family-friendly vibe to the carnival atmosphere in that particular location with a multitude of multigenerational groups, including youngsters from infants on up.

We couldn’t resist seeing our six grands together enjoying the parades. Plus it is always a treat to see Katie’s family. They are a welcoming and fun group. We arrived after the first two morning parades. By 4 p.m. the kids had at least five parades under their belts along with several huge bags of “throws.”

Throws are trinkets that the krewe members aboard floats throw to people lining the streets along the parade route. Beads, stuffed toy animals, doubloons, whistles and other noisemakers, toy spears decorated with feathers in Mardi Gras colors, and plastic cups rained down on the parade watchers.

Most of the kids joined the “Throw me something, mister” chorus, shouting and waving their arms. In between parades they played full tilt. Grandson Walker wielded his Mardi Gras plastic sword with the big boys and rarely stopped long enough to watch a parade.
An enthusiastic Walker celebrates with mom Katie after a rambunctious sword fight with sister, cousins and grandfather Baboo, recuperating in the background.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Overload

Walmart dressed for Valentines Day
When I first pushed my walker into our local Walmart on the Saturday before Valentines Day, the saturation with valentine shopping choices seemed festive. Shoppers were busy buying, and there were plenty of shoppers.

I maneuvered my walker around, hoping to find a spot and an angle that captured the transformation of the entire area from check out to the farthest edge of the wide aisle that runs behind all the checkout aisles. It was over-the-top hearts and flowers in red and white. If ever a rainforest could undergo genetic engineering to accomplish photosynthesis via red foliage instead of green, this was it, the valentine jungle. Maybe on another planet.

I finally gave up my photographic effort and launched the search for a number of items I wanted to locate. It wasn’t long before I was exhausted and dismayed. I felt completely drained of physical and mental energy and had not located a single item on my list.

I parked my walker in the book section where hubby and I usually meet, then rested and mulled over the fact that I seemed to be losing rather than gaining stamina.

The opposite was true when I had published the October post My New Rehab Center. Four months ago, on every trip to Walmart, I was expanding the distance walked. What was different? I mentally ticked off changes in my Walmart experience:

- Lately I had not walked just to walk; I walked to shop for specific items;
- In October we were venturing forth on less crowded days and times;

- I had noticed that the processes of searching among shelves of different heights, attempting to differentiate among varieties of the same category of food or other items, then reading fine print labels for nutritional or ingredient content, even remembering to relock my walker before I sat down when I had to reposition it multiple times during the hunt for a single item--all were tiring.

As I pondered, a breeze, air conditioning maybe, stirred the valentine jungle and focused my attention on the heart-shaped balloons in all their different graphic combinations of red, white and valentine wishes.

“That’s it!” I thought. “Valentine overload.”

Insight blossomed. Now I am convinced (almost entirely) that my physical stamina has not been decreasing!  My mental stamina has just not caught up. The more abundant the details, the more fatigued I become, and the faster I run out of steam, whether the details are food labels, valentine balloons, layers of sound, or people.

Ummm! Relieved and happy sigh!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day: 55 years and 9 days together

Mac and ImaJean

Sunday Feb. 5 husband Walter and I dropped by Wendy’s to enjoy a baked potato, a low-sodium get-out-of-the-house treat for me, and a cheeseburger and fries for him.

We encountered Mac and ImaJean Warth, a wonderful couple we attended church with years ago when our children and theirs were growing up. We haven’t been members of the same church for several decades, but we still catch up when we bump into each other.

Sunday, however, was extra special, their 55th wedding anniversary.

I had never before heard how they met, and their story delighted me. Twenty-one-year-old Mac was returning from a visit to his family’s home in Ohio. The bus trip to his military base took him through quite a few states. At one of the stops to pick up new passengers, a mother and her 18-year-old daughter boarded, and started looking for seats on the packed bus.

They eased into the only two seats available. ImaJean, a high school senior, sat in the aisle seat next to Mac. Her mom sat across the aisle. The two were on their way to North Carolina to visit an aunt who was hospitalized with cancer. By the time the bus arrived at the ladies’ North Carolina destination, Mac was smitten. He made sure he had all the contact information he needed to stay in contact with ImaJean.

They married as soon as she graduated high school. Thirteen months later the first little Warth arrived. Mac said that started them in the kid business “and we have been working with children ever since.”

Now in their 70s, they continue to work in the children’s department at their church. Mac smiles at the close of his story.

“She’s God’s gift to me,” he said.

One Stroky’s Journey: Holding Hands

A helping hand

More than a decade ago my husband and I found ourselves labeled “cute.” We were on the return leg of a 180-mile roundtrip church excursion from our coastal Mississippi town to New Orleans.  We were newcomers to the church, and as soon as we settled into one of the two vans at the start of the trip, we noticed we were the “elders” in a group of fellow church members who were 20-somethings and 30-somethings.

We discovered our new “cute” designation when the group stopped for dinner at a restaurant on the way home. With about 16 of us seated together, conversation was lively as we waited for our dinner selections to arrive.

“Y’all are just so cute, still holding hands,” one young lady intoned. Others joined in and similar comments cascaded into the conversation. I doubted that holding hands automatically generated “cute” as an adjective. The tone and comments clued me in that it was two OLD people holding hands that generated all the interest.

I wasn’t offended. My first reaction was a sense of loss and sadness for the young marrieds surrounding us. I was thinking that I had not seen any of the couples with us holding hands as we were walking into the restaurant. My second reaction was a mental “Oh well” shrug and the thought “Different strokes for different folks.”

Husband Walter and I have been holding hands when we walk together ever since our earliest days as a couple. I have found it a comfortable and comforting habit then and now but had never given it much thought.

Now I am clearer on what it means for me. Such a simple, undemanding touch is healing. Even when we were aggravated with each other, that instinctive, habitual joining of hands was a form of communication that helped strengthen the foundation from which we worked through our differences. I think couples who maintain an enduring, loving, and caring relationship have all developed such communication “shortcuts” of some kind.

Right now, in this stroke recovery phase of life, we don’t hold hands the same way. When we are walking Walter is holding my gait belt with his left hand in case I lose my balance. His right hand is available for me to touch or hold as needed for balance.

The hand holding in the photo at the top of this post is actually hand-relaxing. His hand has just finished uncurling my fingers and thumb. What is not apparent in the photo is that he is exerting extreme pressure to keep my fingers, thumb and palm straight and flat against the table.

It is hard work, and that photo is the only time we have gone through that hand-relaxing process exactly like that. The process is good for fighting my stroke-induced tone, but it is far more effective as part of weight-bearing, and shoulder-loosening exercises that my occupational therapist assigned me for homework.

I sit on a firm surface with my hand beside me. To get my hand flat on the surface beside me takes the help of someone else to force my fingers and thumb open and hold them down. Because the negative tone causes everything to tighten back up as soon as I talk, laugh or yawn, the exercises are challenging for whoever is helping me. So far I have successfully enlisted the help of hubby, my youngest son home on a quick afternoon visit, and one of my walking buddies.

These helpers have been gracious about ignoring the moans and groans that I sometimes (okay, always) emit with the stretching of tight nerves and muscles. The encouraging result is that at the end of the exercises my fingers are straight and loosely relaxed, as least until I walk, talk, laugh or yawn. Even then they are easier to uncurl.

This new “hand-holding” is a welcomed part of my life. And the moments that hubby and I sit together and hold hands the way we used to do pre-stroke are also a welcomed part of my life. Such hand holding still supplies me with the same healing, comfort, and communication that it always has. 

Thank you Walter! And Happy Valentines Day to my dear husband! Wishes for a happy day also go out to all the other dear friends, relatives, readers and even strangers whose actions, prayers, positive thoughts and good wishes have helped me and encouraged me.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Anti-frustration Buckets

A plastic bucket enhances this stroky’s independence. 
Three or four inexpensive plastic buckets have been my ticket to reducing frustration at some of the limitations imposed by the stroke I experienced April 22, 2011. Some months ago my therapists cleared me to walk around with a walker even when I am home by myself. I did an internal “Hooray!” Up until then I was confined to moving about via wheelchair when I was alone.

My expectation was that I could do at least a little bit of the housework that husband Walter was handling on top of everything else he was doing in caring for me. After a little experimentation, I found that buckets topped small laundry baskets and other rectangular or square containers for a stroke survivor with limited function in the left hand. At least that was true for me. And “limited” until recently meant practically no function at all!

A bucket solved the difficulty I had lifting a loaded laundry basket from the walker seat to another surface. With the bucket if I needed to move the contents to another surface, it was no problem. I could just grab the bucket’s handle and go, no matter how heavy the contents. I am sure there are square containers available with handles, but we already had buckets.

The buckets tend to stay on the walker seat better than the other containers I tried. They even make it possible for me to move clothes on hangers from laundry room to closet. Holding the hangers, I can just drape the garments over the bucket that is situated on the walker seat. I can then bring them back toward me in a loose fold. The hangers don’t slide out and the clothes don’t slide off.

The downside is that I can’t move as much “stuff” at one time as I could pre-stroke. Now I usually make multiple trips to complete even the simplest of tasks.

I’ve learned, for example, to do smaller loads of laundry so that I can complete everything from sorting, loading the washer, drying, folding and putting away. Each time I am able to “completely” complete a task, I feel victorious, joyful, thankful, and tired.

To celebrate I usually reward myself with a Granny Smith apple. I prop up in bed with two pillows at my back and legs stretched out, oh, so comfortably in front of me. I grab a paperback with my cooperative right hand and start the juggling process. That same hand turns pages, holds the book open while I read a bit, closes the book, lays it down and picks up my apple. How I savor the crunch and tart juiciness! Of course, the Granny Smith has to be one of the larger ones sold loose at our supermarket. The smaller ones in the 3-lb. bags won’t do. Usually the little ones don’t measure up in crunchiness, tartness or juiciness.

After attempting a number of different chores, I have found that, for the present, doing a portion of the weekly laundry and decluttering our kitchen table are the tasks that I seem able to finish and that contribute most to my peace of mind. Dear hubby and I are both clutter bugs, and since my return from the hospital after my stroke, the kitchen table has served as stroky central. Post-stroke, it is the easiest place for me to work on my computer, to deal with paperwork and phone calls for business or health, to manage medications and to fold clothes.

Okay, I have to confess, any folding of laundry that I do usually has to occur somewhere else. I haven’t come close to conquering the clutter. But I shall prevail!

At least I am keeping enough space cleared for my computer and the writing, addressing and stamping involved in snail mail. Yes, I am one of those individuals who still uses the services of the U.S. Postal Service. Whether our latest batch of forever stamps will outlive that venerable institution remains to be seen.

Oh, and back to the laundry. I wasn’t good at folding laundry neatly before my stroke. Now, with left hand still not up to full participation, my finished product is even less tidy. But Arkansas Patti gave me hope and a good laugh with a recent post on her blog The New Sixty.

She reports that she was watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory, now in syndication. She features a video of the part of that episode that was life-changing for her. Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, the lead character and an off-the-charts anal retentive, was using a clothes-folding gadget that triggered Patti’s shopping hormones. She is ecstatic about her new purchase.

Her humorous review has convinced me. I am ready to exercise my own shopping hormones and purchase a Flip Folder. Even though it probably won’t fit in my anti-frustration bucket, I think a pink Flip Folder will contrast nicely with my bucket, and it will surely qualify as an anti-frustration gadget.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Looking Back: Thanksgiving 2011

 Four generations of Skupiens

Celebrating Thanksgiving 2011 with our sons, their wives and their little ones was an extra bright spot in some challenging times. We gathered at our house the day after Thanksgiving. Our offspring and their families spiced up our non-traditional holiday meal, simple and casual, with appetizers and sweets.

The only Thanksgiving turkey was a company of cupcake turkeys created by daughter-in-law Katie and granddaughter Molly Kate. The colorful, whimsical cupcakes were a hit with kids and adults.

A proud Molly Kate offers yummy chocolate cupcake turkeys.

After lunch moms, dads and kids helped decorate Nana and Baboo’s Christmas tree.
Grandson Nate works from the bottom up.

Grandson Luke and a carousel horse from his father’s childhood

Little Walker and Stella, our youngest grands, were both a bit under the weather. Basking in the attention of his older boy cousins Luke and Nate, Walker perked up, and his usual sunny smile was in evidence for a while.

Alas, I was never in position to catch that heart-warming smile. I was acutely aware of the post-stroke limits to my mobility and to my ability to photograph youngsters in action. The reality is, though, that I am thankful to still be around to experience that smile. That smile and the individual personalities of these special little people truly made my list of blessings extra-long on this day of thanksgiving.

So here is a photo of that smile borrowed from daughter-in-law Katie’s blog.


Baboo took advantage of warm weather and set the scene for an extended do-it-yourself dessert with a campfire and the chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers required for s’mores.

Adults and kids roasted and sometimes gleefully incinerated marshmallows in their quest for the perfect s’more. I observed and snapped a few photos from the stability of a sturdy camping chair. I didn’t quite trust my post-stroke ability to maintain balance around the combo of fire and half a dozen little bodies. I did not want to bump anyone into harm’s way.

Even so, I enjoyed the camping treat, thanks to grandsons who toasted marshmallows and assembled s’mores for me!

Granddaughters Charlie, left, and Molly Kate hone their skills for roasting marshmallows and keeping conversations lively around the campfire.

Eventually Luke, Nate and Charlie had their fill of s’mores and wanted to try out my point and shoot camera. They did remarkably well. One of my favorite images was the photo of Stella below, a result of Charlie’s fascination with close-up images.

Once Stella had satisfied her appetite for s’mores, she retreated to her mother’s lap for a snuggle. Charlie captured Stella peering out from the midst of her mimi. “Mimi” is what Stella calls the crocheted confection that Grandma Sugar created for her. Through the years my mother-in-law has crocheted comfy, colorful afghans for all her kids, their spouses, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.
Charlie’s photo of Stella

Happiness is . . . grandchildren!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: A Fine Day-Brightener

Two of my favorite guys: son Jeremy, left, and Hubby at Coffee Fusion
Our son Jeremy made a good week even better Thursday. He stopped by on his return from a sales trip to the Florida panhandle. He had alerted me earlier in the week that he might drop in.

I, however, was guilty of not relaying that message to husband Walter. On Thursday evenings after driving a school bus for nearly 8 hours a day, hubby often experiences both a drop in his meal preparation energy and a larder nearly depleted of ingredients that inspire him. And I was no help in preparing a meal.

Since my stroke April 22, 2011, cooking is still off limits to me without complicated precautions to prevent burns. The truth is, though, that Walter had taken over the cooking and grocery shopping, much to my delight, even before my stroke. In about the fifth year of our marriage of 44 years, our work schedules had my husband arriving home several hours before my workday ended.

Jeremy’s arrival Thursday offered the perfect excuse for a trip to Coffee Fusion, our home away from home, for an informal, tasty supper and a good visit.

And I enjoyed the updates on work, home and grandkids, stimulating conversation and abundant laughter--a  wonderful couple of hours with two of my favorite guys!

Thank you, Jeremy and Walter!