Friday, March 30, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: More about My Botox

Today is Day Two following botox injections for the bad tone in my arm and hand. If it works results won’t show up until more than two weeks from now, according to my neurologist.

Yesterday I noticed two things that had changed already. For the first time since the tone set in big time about three months after my stroke in April 2011, I was able to easily extend my left elbow, almost completely straight.

I have been working on that with a medical apparatus by DynaSplint that stretches my arm straight at night while I sleep.
Elbow DynaSplint

And I consciously work on straightening it when I am sitting or walking. Success until now has been inconsistent. While I’m walking, the left elbow usually pops up into a 90 degree angle. When I am sitting before I know it, the tone has made my hand migrate into my lap.

When I was in inpatient rehab during the second through fifth weeks after the stroke, I had started calling my left hand Cheryl after Cheryl Burke, one of the professional dancers on the reality dance competition Dancing With the Stars.

Burke was great at whipping some truly hopelessly awkward celebrities into a semblance of the demanding dance moves. My strategy was that my naming the stroke-affected hand after the show-stopping dancer and gifted teacher would inspire my hand and injured brain to start communicating again and restart movement. But my hand remained uninspired and got worse.

“Cheryl, get out of there!” was my frequent cry as that hand landed at my crotch, or worse, in my underwear as I would be pulling clothing into place after taking care of business. If you ever have a loved one who has had a stroke, you may encounter a return to some aspects of the toddler stage. I didn’t do a repeat of the terrible twos. Pottying, though, came with challenges of balance and transferring from a wheelchair. It was a major big deal and still can be although I am walking now and mostly independent in that area of personal care.

Cheryl still migrates, but not as persistently.

The other thing I noticed was that yesterday, the day after the injections, the top of my left shoulder was distinctly achy and has been so today, too. I don’t know if that is connected or not. 

Here are some replies to comments about my botox.

To Gigi: No, botox is not permanent. But that is okay. The goal is to relax those muscles and nerves that cause me to curl up. Curling up is my description, not a word I have ever heard from physicians or therapists, but precisely what I feel like. Relaxing the appropriate muscles and nerves will give us a chance to work on exercises to strengthen the opposing muscles, like the ones that open up my hand and spread my fingers.

Various exercises along with my elbow DynaSplint and wrist DynaSplint will hopefully work more successfully as the botox kicks in. I will also continue using the shoulder DynaSplint that husband Walter has dubbed “the rack.” That apparatus is helping to increase my range of movement in my locked up shoulder.

To Patti, Friko, and Glenda: My neurologist did say even if the injections don’t eliminate the tone, he guarantees I will feel better.

To Ginny: My insurance will supply a limited number of treatments each year. I am scheduled to go for a follow up visit near the end of June.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Botox

I had a bunch of botox injections yesterday. Yes, botox. But not in my face.

My botox was in my arm to relax some of the mucles that are tightened by negative tone. The bad tone keeps my left hand curled into a tight claw, my elbow at  90 degrees and a bunch of other "tightenings" that affect hoew things work.

My therapists have been helping me with various other strategies to relax the tight spots so that I can strengthen the opposing weaker muscles. We are hopeful this will help me literally get out of the tight spots I am in.

Off to therapy now. More on botox coming up!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Name That Tool

My favorite garden hand tool
More than a decade ago I bought a galvanized bucket and the garden tools it contained at a yard sale. I asked the husband babysitting the sale if he would throw in a small Igloo cooler and give me a reduced price for the whole assortment. I even mentioned a ridiculously low price.

I think I embarrassed my husband, but starting at a low price, delivered with a cheerful, humble smile is always worth a try at yard sales. Bargaining is entertaining. Some folks are ready to get rid of stuff. Others want to get rid of stuff, too; but they set their yard sale prices much higher based on what they paid for an item new or the value they unconsciously place on the item’s ability to invoke treasured memories.

This gentleman didn’t blink at my offer. He said, “Sure!” I promptly hauled my purchases to our van before the wife could return and throw a fit. I still use the galvanized bucket to hold my gardening hand tools, and several that were in that bucket are among the ones I use regularly. And the little cooler continues serving us well for his and her picnics and day trips.

My haul also included a tool I hadn’t seen before but which quickly became my favorite garden hand tool. It has a wonderful wooden handle and a single long metal shaft that ends in a flat triangle with a “V” notch in the business end. I love how I can poke it deep into the ground next to a stubborn weed and loosen the unwelcome offender from its grip in my garden. Ha! Take that!

But I can’t very well sing my favorite tool’s praises without knowing its name. It would be like leaving the hospital with your newborn, lovingly addressing him or her only as “Hey, You.”

The trouble with me and Google searches, however, is that I turn the search into a major expedition as one intriguing fact, at least intriguing to me, leads to another jewel of information and another and another.

The tool I finally found most like mine was an asparagas knife. I had never heard of an asparagas knife but enjoyed the description on the Red Pig Tool’s site:

“Asparagus harvesting knives . . . became America's favorite weed pry by default -- they're vastly more effective than either a screwdriver or a table knife, the usual alternatives.”

I googled the words “weed pry” from the same product description and wound up back at Red Pig again. I was rather charmed by the text that asserted that my beloved weed fighter was either a “dandelion weeder” or not a weeder at all but an “asparagas harvesting knife under an assumed identity.”

The "dandelion weeder" reference gave me another term for googling. Bingo! Among the sales sites that popped up were several that included images. Definitely just like my favorite tool. Although it has yet to encounter either a dandelion or asparagas, now I can choose to refer to my “dandelion weeder” or if I want to embellish my meager gardening skills, my “asparagas harvesting knife.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Frustration, frustration

After stellar therapy sessions Thursday morning with my physical and occupational therapists, Thursday  afternoon I hit an inconsequential snag that made me whine all out of proportion to the whine-triggering event.

The morning included self congratulation on my best week of keeping up with our laundry since my stroke almost a year ago. All that patting myself on the back ended with a load of wash that included a pair of my pajamas. I had checked the pockets, always a part of my routine, but this time evidently I didn’t check well enough.

The “clean” clothes started shedding little shreds of damp tissue as I emptied the washer and tossed clothes in the dryer. The sound of grinding teeth and a loud “arrrrrrgggg” brought me to serious consideration that a tissue is a lot like little boys.

One active little boy can seem like two or three and two can seem like 10. I like that about little boys. A tissue that has gone through the wash and rinse cycle multiplies similarly. I could go on about nasal mucous frequently appearing on both tissues and little boys, but I think I will stop here and instead post grandma brag pix of my favorite active little boys who are growing so quickly. Photos below thanks to dad of the twosome and mom of Walker.

Non-stop grandson Walker thrives on experimental climbing and exploring.

Ta dah! Mission accomplished!

Grandsons Nate and Luke cooperate – reluctantly -- for a photo moment.

Friday, March 23, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: A Change of Scene

My husband Walter loves to travel, but one effect of my April 2011 stroke has been to limit our usual jaunts, both the long weekend variety and trips of a week or more.

But hubby got us back into the swing of travel, sort of, in January on the Sunday and Monday of the Martin Luther King holiday (or celebrating Robert E. Lee’s birthday if that is one’s inclination). Our pleasures are usually simple and the overnighter to Alabama’s coast and “sugar sand” beaches along the Gulf of Mexico was no exception.

Here are a few that made the trip memorable for me.

Husband Walter treats us to soft-serve ice cream cones on a warm afternoon.

Dinner at Lulu’s

Lulu is the sister of singer, songwriter, author, entrepreneur and free spirit Jimmy Buffett. Her restaurant is a large and casual establishment at the Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores, AL. We arrived as the sun slipped below the horizon, and the festive vibe of Lulu’s surrounded us in the large parking lot with palm trees, lights, a separate whimsical-looking gift shop and the engaging combo of Alabama country and beach casual before we even made it to the entry.

Husband Walter’s photos on his travel blog here capture Lulu’s and the rest of our trip better than mine do. But that won’t stop me from posting my own photographic record of good times.

Once we were seated, the delightful young lady who took our order was gracious and cheerful as I asked could they leave this and that out of the salad I ordered and add the other so I could be compliant to the low-sodium directive that is now a facet of my post-stroke life.

The salad was delicious, filling and ranked an extra high score on my picky, picky, picky freshometer. The atmosphere was congenial. There were families and groups of all sizes and a buzz of happy conversation that even muted the protests of an outraged toddler exercising his or her freedom of expression somewhere beyond my sight.

Music at Lulu’s
Live music was enjoyable, not ear-injuring. I didn’t have the luxury of walking to a better position to photograph the band under the neon Lulu’s sign. The image above was my effort with my point-and shoot’s telephoto setting. I was able to hold it fairly still by setting the camera on our table.

The next day we toured around the state park just east of Gulf Shores, checking out the cabins, campground and, of course, the empty beach where the park’s motel units, small convention center and restaurant used to be before Hurricane Ivan’s destruction.

Husband Walter and I are nostalgic about that site. We enjoyed numerous wintertime getaways there. The rooms were dated but clean and less than luxurious. But the sliding glass doors all the way across the south wall opened to the glorious sounds of surf and views of the Gulf, and that was luxury to us.

On this trip we also checked out the variety of attractive cottages on the west side of town and ended our visit with a walk on the beach. The fresh breeze off the Gulf, shorebirds and open, uncrowded vistas were an effective catalyst for soaring spirits.

Small shorebirds dart after tiny critters in a surf smorgasbord.

An almost empty beach on a beautiful day

A snowbird enjoying the weather

I enjoyed chatting with this just retired second-grade teacher from Illinois. She was spending her first month of retirement in Gulf Shores and said she was enjoying every minute. She planned to return home the last day of January and finish out the school year substituting for a fellow teacher. She was also a good sport about my taking her photo.

The only downside was walking in the softer sand away from the water. There definitely was some extreme stretching of all my left ankle’s moving parts, although not all of mine actually move yet.

It took several weeks of babying my ankle before it stopped hurting. Since then my physical therapist insisted I shed the athletic shoes I was wearing and buy some with more ankle and arch support.

She informed me that well-worn shoes are no longer an option. “Your days of wearing old shoes are over,” she said.

Now who could complain about that: an official mandate to go shoe shopping!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I’m Reading Lately

The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love by Michelle Maisto was a charming and gentle chronicle of the merging of two lives and their respective emotional and culinary heritages.

I enjoyed Maisto’s ability to reveal crucial facets of character with her deft, concise detailing of a facial expression, action or conversation. Much of those facial expressions, actions and conversations revolved around “What’s for dinner?”

I am not the meal preparer in our family, even before my stroke last year. But I do love food and enjoy the process of creating a tasty and comforting meal, as long as someone else is in charge of the process.

But Maisto’s tales of bringing Chinese and Italian sensibilities into harmony enough to arrive every night at an answer to the dinner question made me want to step into the kitchen. Well, not really, but almost, especially when she described how she had learned to make the dishes she had loved and watched her mother make during her growing up years.

She made the recipes sound so simple that I kept thinking, “Hey, I could do that!” And that may be part of my enjoyment of this book.

I have to finish this now. Our son Jeremy called over an hour ago to alert us that he is on his way to make business calls in our area and is going to stop by. Now, if I was like the mothers or the principal characters in this book, I would be whipping up a quick and simple but elegant meal for my much loved offspring.

Alas, Jeremy knows me well. When I invited him to have supper with us, he didn’t miss a beat.

“How about if I treat y’all to dinner at Coffee Fusion!”

Good sons are such a blessing. Ours are also extremely entertaining. Oops! I just got sidetracked with shameless bragging. Son Jeremy also loaned me The Gastronomy of Marriage so I will return it tonight. I found it when I was waiting for him on a recent occasion. He had bought the book but confessed to letting it languish unread in his vehicle for quite awhile. He does love to cook, though, and definitely takes after his father in that department.

I hope he does read this book. Almost as enjoyable to me as reading a good book is interacting with someone else who has read the same book. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fabric Fantasia

Kitties for quilting
A few months after my stroke last year, I made my first visit ever to a quilting shop. I don’t quilt, but someone I care about quilts and I was on the prowl for a happy for her.

The bolts of fabric in vibrant hues and imaginative prints filled the room. They immersed me in a sensory ocean of pure visual pleasure. The felines above posed on newly arrived fabric. The cat print was accompanied by a variety of complementary fabrics in solid colors, all ready for quilters to make into comfy quilted items. For a moment I considered the possibility that a new quilter might be lurking inside me.

No, my skills aren’t in that direction. Instead I just took a picture of those cats and acknowledged an expanding appreciation of the passion quilting engenders in quilters among family and friends.
Fabric felines

Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Fashion by Hubby

Hubby saves the day with fashion foot protection from WalMart (plastic bags) and rubber bands (Office Depot). 

Yesterday was beautiful. I hadn’t grubbed in the dirt since before my stroke in April of last year, and I was ready to be outside.

I have new shoes that protect my left ankle from the soreness that is a result of the stress from walking on uneven terrain or walking more than a limited number of steps per day.

But wait! Those new white athletic shoes are the only pair I have right now that are narrow enough to give the needed support. I don’t want to get them dirty.

And I don’t want to get dirt or debris on or in the sensor that is under my heel inside the left shoe or on the transmitter that is clipped to the outside of my left shoe. Both are part of the Bioness L300 Foot Drop System that sends electrical stimulation to reeducate the nerves and muscles that lift my toe up when I walk.

Hubby came to the rescue. He put WalMart plastic bags over my shoes and fastened them with rubber bands around my ankles. I spent a happy hour and a quarter weeding in preparation for planting okra seeds. At the completion of my enthusiastic grubbing in the dirt, my new shoes were still pristine white and my spirits considerably brighter.

Happy Birthday Katie!

Katie Yarborough Skupien is celebrating a birthday today. She is
-       the wife of our youngest son,
-       the mother of two of our grandchildren,
-       a ballet dance instructor,
-       a gifted kindergarten teacher who is taking an extended break while nurturing Molly Kate, 4, and Walker, 23 months,
-       a blogger,
-       a photographer,
-       a creative, kind, compassionate and giving individual, and a blessing to our family.

We love you and appreciate you, Katie!

Friday, March 16, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Test Driving a Kindle

My walking buddy Ann not only helps me with my stroke rehab, she is also acquainting me with new technology.

Last week after we finished our walk on the beach path, she delivered me home and came in for a visit. She told me about a book she wanted me to read written by a young woman recovering from a catastrophic brain aneurysm. Then she pulled out her Kindle and insisted on leaving it with me for a test drive.

A quick demonstration was all it took. Navigation was a snap. Although the size and weight didn’t feel exactly like a book, it didn’t matter. Someone designed the Kindle with readers in mind, and that sensory experience of holding with one hand and turning pages by touching a button with that same hand was every bit as seductive as holding a paperback with an intriquing, high gloss cover. And best of all, I didn’t have to take my glasses off and hold the page close to my nose to read. I could just make the type as big as I needed.

I know, fellow bloggers have sung the praises of their e-reader experiences. I am almost sold. I have to confess, though, that my frugality genes most often keep me from spending for books. Instead I go to the free paperback swap shelves at our local library.

That way there is no guilt in not finishing a book when the first page or so fails to engage me. But Ann said she would clue me in to Web sites that offer free limited time offers of good newly published books.

I finished two during my test drive. The only other thing that gives me pause is that I can already tell that a Kindle would be addictive. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mardi Gras and more

One of the things I love about blogging is the painless (meaning with no effort on my part) encounters with fascinating new information. Gigi, blogging at gigihawaii, visited my Mardi Gras 2012 post, and her comment sent me to Wikipedia to find out about malasadas, the Portuguese donuts that are a Fat Tuesday tradition in Hawaii.

Wikipedia said that malasadas are made of egg-sized balls of yeast dough that are deep-fried in oil and coated with granulated sugar. Photographer's info didn't include name. Or at least I couldn't find it. But I am including the photog's comment. It was tasty: (Leonard's Bakery, Honolulu, Hawaii) We couldn't decide! So ended up getting at least one of each of the flavor-filled (custard, chocolate, haupia, guava) malasadas, a cinnamon plain one, and an original one. 
Malasadas. Photo from Wikipedia 

According to Wikipedia here, eating malasadas on the day before Lent dates back to the days of the sugar plantations of 19th century Hawaii. The resident Catholic Portuguese workers, mostly from Madeira and the Azores, would use up all the butter and sugar they had prior to Lent by making large batches of the traditional pastry.

Malasadas sound similar to the beignets hubby and I like to indulge in at Café du Monde in New Orleans, except beignets are flat squares of dough deep fried then adorned with a generous dump of powdered sugar. I guess every culture has its own version of deep-fried confection.
Beignets in New Orleans

I always like to stroll along the back side of Café du Monde. There is a window there that lets me see the beignet makers in action. Glare was a problem for the camera during this February visit but not for me. I received my visual fix that will hold me until our next NOLA jaunt.

A motorized gizmo cuts the dough into squares.

Separating and picking up the squares of dough

Making the toss to the deep fryer and hitting the target without looking

I guess my lifetime lack of coordination, including in the kitchen, is the root of my fascination with these guys’ skill. The whole process is one of speed and muscle memory.

Note: Blogger has struck again. I decided to cut and paste a paragraph into a different position. That made the paragraph that preceded the cut text jump to a larger size type. I tried every trick other bloggers suggested when this happened once before. It drives me crazy, but maybe I have learned my lesson this time. Note to self: Self, after a post is published, Do Not Do any edits that involve moving text around. Resist the urge to tinker. I repeat. Resist the urge! Do you think Blogger has me trained yet? 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I A Princess

A Feb. 25 visit to Louisiana for granddaughter Molly Kate’s birthday party included a tour of her family’s new home in Baton Rouge. Tour guide Molly Kate made sure that her bedroom and the princess vanity that she had received for her birthday topped the itinerary.

Then while she became engrossed with other birthday gifts she had received, little brother Walker zeroed in on the vanity. He examined all the pink pretend makeup, tools and hair styling items. The attraction for him was music. Some items, when lifted from their “homes,” triggered music.

I had to stifle a laugh during his encounter with a pink plastic comb. First he sat in front of the vanity, observed his reflection in the mirror, combed his hair then held the comb to his ear and carried on a lengthy conversation.
Walker hones hair-combing skills.

Walker talks on his version of a “princess phone.”

And talks some more.

The tiny pink and purple stool that accompanied the vanity held his attention the longest, though. He carried it around the house and set it down in various locations. He experimented with seating strategies. He was unperturbed that some of his more creative seating attempts sent him tumbling to the floor one way and the stool flying off in another direction.

Our son Jeremy reported an earlier conversation, sparked by Walker’s fascination with the new vanity that was obviously now among his sister’s most prized possessions. Walker had proclaimed, “Daddy, I a princess.” 

No tiaras are in store for Walker, though. His choice of a kingdom is all outdoors, and this perpetual-motion child chooses grass, dirt and puddles over tiaras every chance he gets! Of course, now that I think about it, with an older sister who enlists him to play dress up by her rules, there are probably still going to be tiaras in his future for awhile!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Celebrating Family Firsts

A long to do list has discouraged me from blogging lately. Not that I am getting any thing done on that list. I’m just experiencing an immobilizing attack of guilt over what I haven’t done. Crazy, huh!

But an email message with photo sent four hours ago from son Jeremy gives me a celebratory urge that has overcome the inertia. He alerted me about the first home-cooked meal in the Louisiana Skupiens' new home that they moved into on Sunday: “Roasted veggies over whole grain pasta.”
Son Jeremy celebrates first meal prepared in new kitchen!

And a call earlier today to the Georgia Skupiens unearthed the news that oldest grandchild Luke, 9, has been recognized as his elementary school's student of the month. Plus he was awarded a game ball in his opening Little League game. He made his team's only hit. Way to go, Luke!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Swimming in the Gene Pool

Molly Kate tries on glasses.
Granddaughter Molly Kate turned four Feb. 20 and about a week later she was fitted for glasses. Arriving soon will be her new pink and brown frames with their lenses crafted to deal with nearsightedness and astigmatism.

Both her mom Katie and I began wearing glasses in childhood, son Jeremy, Molly Kate’s dad, well past childhood. There is the possibility Molly Kate’s myopia could be genetic. I am so thankful her nearsightedness has been recognized and addressed early.