Sunday, April 29, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Bloomin’ Crazy

A community of yellow trilliums
I love the flowers and foliage of the Smoky Mountains, especially in spring. On our trip this April, however, I had to temper my desire to see and photograph the famous spring blooms in the Smokies.

I had a choice. I could manage my expectations and adapt to the realities of my current post-stroke abilities or I could drive myself and husband Walter bloomin’ crazy.

I chose the road less traveled, at least less traveled by me. I chose to be reasonable. Make that fairly reasonable. I had already had a little practice going down that road during a previous day’s stop in Dahlonega, GA. I posted about that experience here, but evidently I need a lot more practice to establish new attitudes.

On a 2010 Easter-week trip to the Smokies, I was in a state of euphoria over all the different spring wildflowers that I had never seen up-close-and-personal before. I enjoyed them all over again when I posted about those flower species here.

On our recent 2012 trip, time and terrain eliminated our taking the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail at Chimney’s picnic area, the Porter’s Creek Trail on the way from Gatlinburg to Cosby and other spring wildflower hotspots.

But there were consolations. Loads of trilliums were ready to bloom. I ventured on a solo walk up a gravel path to take photos of a patch of yellow trilliums at Chimneys picnic area. When I arrived at my targeted destination, I realized I might take a Jack-and-Jill tumble down the hill I had just walked up if I tried to bend down low enough to get the close ups I wanted.

Instead, camera clutched in right hand, I wrapped myself around a small tree immediately uphill from the plants and snapped. I am now literally a bona fide tree hugger.
Trilliums catch sun’s late rays

I never did see any of those yellow trilliums fully opened, in person or on any Web sites other than commercial sites advertising plants for sale. But they still provided a wildflower rush. The curled up yellow looked like a candle flame and I loved the geometry and coloring of the mottled leaf trios.
Mottled leaves grace yellow trilliums.

We saw abundant pink trilliums on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a one-way drive that is just outside of Gatlinburg and is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The delicate pink barely showed up on the photo that I enlisted husband Walter to snap with my camera. Unlike their yellow cousins, the pink trillium’s leaves were a uniform spring green, just as striking as the yellow’s mottled leaves.
Pink trillium

There were other patches of intriguing blossoms but rarely space to pull over for a closer look. We did see something else that delighted us, a young bear asleep high above the forest floor in the fork of a tree. He was too far away for our available camera lenses, but Walter did include our bear sighting in his post about the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail here.

We had wanted to revisit this steep and winding wonderland for a number of years. This was our first springtime visit, and it did not disappoint. The added plus is that, even though my photo opportunities were scarce, I can visit Walter’s post whenever I want to. I can relive the drive and enjoy the historic buildings that he photographed while I relaxed safely in our comfy van.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Hubby!

Hubby starts preparations for tea and coffee in the Smokies.
Husband Walter celebrated a birthday today. We ate our way through the day at some of his favorite establishments: breakfast at McElroy’s on the Bayou, and afterwards coffee, tea, conversation and computers at Coffee Fusion, followed by lunch there.

Dinner was hubby’s choice, and he prepared a delicious birthday meal – steak, fettucine alfredo and English peas. In between all that consumption, we had Blue Bell banana split ice cream and phone calls from loved ones with birthday wishes.

After dinner we enjoyed a couple episodes of Northern Exposure, a TV series that ran on CBS from 1990 to 1995. It revolved around the mix of independent and quirky residents of the fictional Cicely, AK, and a New York City doctor transplanted into the community in the Alaskan wilderness.

The DVD set of the fifth season was supposed to be a surprise gift, but we have been watching episodes since the delivery from weeks ago. Duh! I need to fine-tune my attempts at birthday surprises.

Happy Birthday, Babe!

AKA Walter to me, Dad or Daddy to our sons, Baboo to our daughters-in-law and grandchildren, Skupie to those who have known him since his childhood, Uncle Skupie to his nieces and nephews and Mr. Skup to the kids who ride his bus, he is also my best friend. He brightens my life, gives me courage and makes even the simplest experiences fun.

May your coming year be blessed!  

Friday, April 27, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: New Take on Travel

Dahlonega Gold Museum

Pre-stroke I had to work hard not to drive my patient husband Walter crazy with my obsession to see everything and experience everything on our travels.

His idea of a perfect trip was and still is totally the opposite. He likes to just be. Leisurely and limited touristing is okay if, and this is a crucial if, it allows him abundant opportunities to just soak up the spirit of a destination new to us and to capture that spirit via photography.

The first day of our early April trip to the Smoky Mountains, however, made me realize how totally I have come to adopt hubby’s approach of “just being” since my stroke last year. On our way to the mountains, we ventured off our usual route to check out the historic gold rush town of Dahlonega, GA.

Our first stop in this pleasant town was the square, a bustling and vibrant city center watched over by the old county courthouse which is now the Dahlonega Gold Museum. In my pre-stroke mode I would have been itching to visit the museum and the attractive shops around the square.

Instead, I sat on a bench outside some of those shops while hubby went on a brief photo safari around the square. I was content and entertained as I soaked up the comfortably cool weather, sunshine, flowers and the creative details of facades of nearby shops.

Walter captured this image of the square and of my walking unassisted. Woohoo!

When Walter returned, we took an amble around the square, which was my opportunity to snap some memories of a delightful visit. More of Walter's Dahlonega images are here.

My view of the courthouse

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: One-Year Anniversary

Sunday April 22 marked the one-year anniversary of my Good Friday stroke last year. I was a little nervous about that approaching anniversary. I admitted my nervousness to son Jeremy while we were visiting Saturday.

“Mother,” he said, “It’s just another day.” And it was: Sunday was just another wonderful day. With the cool temperatures that had arrived, husband Walter surprised me with a fire in our fireplace. We had breakfast in front of the fire, went to church, enjoyed a casual lunch then a quiet afternoon and evening at home.

I typically seem to need such downtime in order to recharge after a day trip such as Saturday’s travel to Baton Rouge. Recharge I did, and Saturday plus Sunday added up to a perfect reminder to myself of how far I have come in the  year since my hemorrhagic stroke and of how I can be thankful that my stroke recovery will continue to be made manifest.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Concluding my ‘Family Fix’

Our youngest son’s offspring, Molly Kate, 4, left, and Walker Vincent, almost 2

With four of our six grands living in Georgia and two in Louisiana, I don’t get to love on them in person nearly as often as I want to. I am thankful, though, for sons and daughters-in-law who keep me connected via anecdotes and images of their activities and conversations.  But I need a regular “fix” to satisfy that ever-present longing for time in-person with the grands and their parents.

Our trip the week preceding Easter provided part of that fix with a happy dose of the Georgia grands. Yesterday, husband Walter gave me the rest of my grandkid fix. We picked up Walter’s mother and headed west for Baton Rouge, LA.

We spent several hours filled with Molly Kate’s dances that she choreographed, Walker and Baboo playing in the “toy room,” and both siblings engaging Baboo in made-up games requiring abundant romping. Molly Kate also involved me in her newest sticker book, the modern equivalent of the paper dolls of my childhood.

Not to be left out, Walker brought out his Elmo sticker book while Molly Kate colored in her Hello Kitty activity book. In between, the pair induced euphoria for Nana by climbing in my lap for cuddling, tickling and nibbling on ears. As lunchtime approached, a spent Walker went to sleep in Baboo’s lap and was installed in his new “big boy” bed. After Jeremy served up a scrumptious panini lunch accompanied by fresh fruit, we headed home.

It was soon obvious that Walker wasn’t the only Skupien whose energy had run out. Walter’s mom and I both napped most of the way home, replete with our grand and great-grand “fix.”

I borrowed the photo for this post from daughter-in-law Katie’s blog, The Daily Skup. Jeremy and Katie had teamed up for a photo session with Jeremy as photographer and Katie as kid wrangler. Katie blogged about their experience here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Family ‘Staycation’

Our pre-Easter trip gave us three nights with son Walt and his family. The visit also supplied an opportunity to tag along on one day’s adventures of the “staycation,” the stay-at-home vacation ” daughter-in-law Sarah and son Walt had mapped out for their offspring to experience Atlanta’s attractions.

Baboo and Nana, AKA Walter and Linda, tagged along for Monday’s trip to Zoo Atlanta. Walt worked most of the week and joined the fun on Good Friday for a trip to the aquarium.
From the left, Stella, Nate with Flat Stanley, Luke and Charlie pause for a photo in Flamingo Plaza at Zoo Atlanta.

Sarah’s temporary exit to locate Baboo was the perfect chance for capturing pix of the Fab Four. The kids and I waited just inside the entrance. The girls skipped and twirled in the yet-to-be-crowded Flamingo Plaza.

The boys, true Skupien males, pored over their maps of the zoo, charting the quickest route that would take them to the monitor lizard and the World of Reptiles. Both boys had asked for their own personal copies of the zoo map, and they proudly lined up for the photo with their maps on display.

Nate was diligent about keeping Flat Stanley involved. Notice Stanley peeking out over the top of Nate’s map. The grands were back in school this week, and I am looking forward to a report on the reception accorded Nate’s completion of the Flat Stanley assignment. Flat Stanley is a 1964 children's book written by Jeff Brown. I think I need to put it on my to-read list.

Sarah makes memories.

Then we were on our way. The lush foliage in the photo above was one of the great design features of the zoo. Mature trees shaded much of the connecting walkways, and there were even frequent tags identifying plants large and small.

The spacious paved paths were another design plus. Even as the crowds grew thicker, we were able to maneuver my lightweight transporter wheelchair with little difficulty. At least that was my impression, but I was just sitting in my chariot, a lady of leisure. Husband Walter provided the push power, so his take on the ease of maneuvering in increasingly more crowded conditions might be different, especially since there was often one of the grands hitching a ride on my lap. 

Charlie and Stella encounter sheep in the petting zoo.
Even though we hadn’t gone to the reptile house first, the boys as well as the girls enjoyed the petting zoo.

Cuddly looking guest from China
Unlike some of the creatures in outdoor living arrangements, the pandas were quite active in their air-conditioned indoor habitat. What a treat to see these real-life mammals, the species that was the model for the teddy bear of my childhood. Okay, I admit it, the teddy bear of my teen years, too. In fact, I slept with that teddy bear until I got married.

Nate makes sure Flat Stanley’s visit to the pandas is documented.

Nate’s photo of the spitting red cobra
Our guys could have spent hours among the reptiles. But there were orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, emus, a rhinoceros, elephant, kangeroo, tigers and more to see. The kids were also looking forward to their choice between a train ride around the zoo or a ride on the carousel, populated with creatures of the wild instead of horses.

Alas, after the reptiles my energy had diminished, and the crowds had grown until taking photos was no longer a priority. But husband Walter posted his images of the zoo excursion here. After the train and carousel, we headed back to the Skupien household. Sarah took orders for our individual choice of a flavor from her stash of Blue Bell ice cream, and we topped off a wonderful day with bowls of the luscious treat. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Beach Benefits

Ocean Springs’ beach walk
The photo above shows a section of the mile-long paved beach walk that was constructed in Ocean Springs as part of ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina. It is a great place to walk and offers interesting visual appeal, wonderful breezes, and friendly people.

That’s not all, though. Walking with a friend on the evenly paved, landscaped beach path is a healing social experience of exchanges about family challenges, triumphs and traditions; discussions on solving the world’s problems; and lots of laughter-generating conversation.

My “hitching posts” where Ann (above) or Pat drops me off and I wait until they are parked.

On top of all those benefits are the walkway benches that work better than any surface I have at home for some of my occupational therapy exercises involving my hand, arm and torso. At a particular bench located just about where I need a rest break, my walking buddy of the day helps me uncurl my left hand.

She positions my hand with fingers pointing left and holds my fingers and thumb flat on the bench while I twist my torso in the opposite direction: twist and hold to the count of 10 and repeat 15 times. Then we reposition my left hand farther back. I go through the same routine then we move my hand even farther back. 

By the third position I am moaning, groaning and pretty much doing a super-speedy 10-count. But the payoff is worth it. Even pre-botox, at the end of these exercises my fingers are flexible and straight for a little while. And Ann and Pat share my excitement about those stretched out fingers. These ladies are effective and appreciated cheerleaders.

Yesterday Ann expanded the cheerleading role. We finished our walk. Once in her car she set the vehicle’s trip meter. After prolonged hilarity about our blunders reading dashboard instruments, we figured out our round trip on the beach walk yesterday was six-tenths mile.

One of my long-term goals was to make it to the city pier and out to the pavilion at the pier’s end. Accomplishing that would be a mile round trip. We drove to the beach walk’s end. “One mile,” Ann said. “Two miles round-trip. That is a good long-term goal.”

I guess that means walking to the pier and back has now become a short-term goal with walking the entire paved walkway a mile one way and another mile back as a new long-term goal.

And an even longer-term goal is to walk the Biloxi Bay Bridge. The new bridge that connects Ocean Springs and Biloxi replaced the one swept away by Katrina. It includes a 12-foot wide path that is spacious enough for both bridge walkers and cyclists. A large concrete barrier keeps people safe from vehicle traffic. Completing the trip over and back is 3.2-miles. A challenging uphill change in elevation comes with splendid views and breezes.

Bridge walking has become an integral part of the culture of our town. But I am not going to think of my potential as a bridge walker right now. I will continue to take little nibbles of tasty challenges before contemplating huge feasts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Atlanta Botanical Gardens

The afternoon of Palm Sunday, husband Walter, AKA Baboo, volunteered to keep the Fab Four at home so their parents and I could visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

A happy Baboo with granddaughters Stella, left, and Charlie

The medical equipment that our neighbors in Ocean Springs had loaned us after my stroke included a transporter, a lightweight type of wheelchair. It is not designed for the occupant, me in this case, to propel it. It’s designed for someone else to push it around; and with son Walt as muscle power, the transporter made it possible for me to comfortably enjoy the hills and valleys of the trails in the gardens.

Daughter-in-law Sarah makes a new friend.

A walkway suspended through the treetops and a flirtatious frog welcomed us into the gardens. The website of the structural engineers on the suspension walkway project said the structure is suspended up to 40 feet above the ground within the canopy of hundred-year-old trees. The suspension system uses cable stays connected to four 65-foot-tall masts.

A series of circular curves about 600 feet long and 11 feet wide includes five overlooks that widen the bridge and provide stopping points where we could see the tree canopy.

Another froggy find--real and alive

Unseasonably warm weather had evidently left beds of tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers bedraggled. That was a disappointment to Sarah and me. In my previous off-season visits to other large gardens there were numerous areas cleared and awaiting new plants, often edged by attractive borders. For me a clean, empty bed ready for the next occupants and revealing the bones of the landscape is happier looking than sad, decaying blossoms.

Kids-garden whimsy

The kids garden was one of our favorite sections. I loved the colorful characters as well as the foliage and blossoms.
More attention getters in the kids-garden

Flower bridge, a pleasant walkway

Vibrant-hued orchids
The Orchid Center and conservatory of tropical and desert plants were  interesting endings to our visit.

We only had that one day, but if I lived near, I would check the website here to see what was in bloom before making the trip and paying the entrance fee. I would also spend more time in some areas we missed. But the weather was really warm and our stay was just the right amount of time for me to enjoy without becoming totally and miserably exhausted.

Thank you, Walt, Sarah, and Baboo.

Friday, April 13, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Photography Post-Stroke

In the spring of 2010 hubby Walter and I headed to the Smoky Mountains for a pre-Easter trip. We planned to do several photo safaris. I was on the prowl for spring wildflowers. Hubby ‘s passion was capturing images of moving water.
Sharp-lobed hepatica

That March 30-April 3 trip was a little early for the prime spring wildflower season, but a helpful ranger who was a wildflower fan clued us in on spots where blooms were appearing. Our days devoted to recording our “finds” on the mountain trails were exhilarating.

To get close ups of Smoky Mountain flowers, I hiked, jumped flowing water, crouched, kneeled, sat, scrambled up and down steep banks. Every flower I photographed sparked a hunt for its name. And that search was another adventure. The species I identified with field guides or with the help of fellow enthusiasts that I encountered were rich treasures for me. I posted photos of that 2010 trip: a few of the wildflowers here and other snapshots here.

Easter travel plans for 2011 were interrupted by the stroke that launched me and my hubby into an entirely different kind of adventure. With nearly a year of being a stroke survivor behind me and encouraging improvement in my mobility and stamina, I was thrilled when hubby proposed a jaunt for the week preceding Easter.

First stop on our itinerary was our eldest son’s home near Atlanta. I had been nursing visions of a repeat of our 2010 photo fun. Those visions vanished with my first impulse to snap pictures of our grands.

I still had photo fun, but of necessity my photos of grands and for the rest of the week were usually taken from where I was sitting. And even though the results didn’t always measure up in the quality department, they are fulfilling their purpose of helping me remember a week of good times. So here are the first of several installments.

Nate, right, and Flat Stanley
Grandson Nate’s spring break homework assignment was to take “Flat Stanley” on the family’s “staycation” activities and document Stanley’s participation. Sunday after church we all gathered for a family portrait to record the beginning of Flat Stanley’s adventures with the Skupien family.

Our son Walt prepares for the photo.

Granddaughter Charlie . . .on the move and up close

Luke, our oldest grand, showed off his new braces and BB wound, the red dot just below his cheek, while daughter-in-law Sarah proudly showed off Luke.
Luke and his mom Sarah

Late afternoon on our first day, I was resting and reading a book. Stella, nearly four years old, bounced into the bedroom. She rarely walks. She bounces, skips, runs, climbs, twirls and even crawls. She announced it was time to get up. Then she promply climbed into bed with me and snuggled. When she saw my book, though, her attention took a different turn.

“I’ll go get a book from my room and read it to you,” she said.

She bounced up the stairs and returned with several tattered board books by illustrator/author Leslie Patricelli. Stella proceeded to “read” the books to me. The photo below is out of focus, but I don’t want to forget these moments.

Stella reads.

Happiness is snuggling with one of my favorite little sprites while she reads a couple of  books, multiple times, by one of my favorite kids’ illustrators/authors.

Stella’s choices for my listening pleasure:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Sharing Solar-Powered Happiness

Carolyn’s happy sunflower
During my mother’s final days, Carolyn, a dear cousin, opened her home to me so that I could be with Mother as often as I was physically able to make the trip to Hattiesburg, about 90 miles from our home.

She not only housed me, but she fed me, helped me cope with my personal care challenges in a new environment, ferried me back and forth for the 30 something miles from Mother’s apartment in Hattiesburg to Carolyn’s home, and even stayed with Mother and me. But that’s not all.

One morning, as Carolyn and I were eating breakfast before heading to Mother’s, I noticed a little ceramic sunflower in a tiny pot on her windowsill. Carolyn told me the story of how the cheery little flower came into her possession. But she also told me to watch closely. The sun was coming up and was soon shining on the sunflower.

It was a “solar” sunflower. The blossom started waving side to side and the green leaves moved up and down. Carolyn said it always brightened her mood when it started waving at her. Mine, too. A bubble of laughter tickled its way out of me, and I felt comforted and more peaceful the whole day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Electric Smile

Although the one-year anniversary of my April 22, 2011 stroke is more than a week away, Good Friday fell on April 22 last year, so this past Easter weekend triggered a look back at my year’s journey as a stroke survivor. More on Day 1 here. I imagine this post will be one among a number of posts that help me sort through the year’s impressions, experiences and milestones in my recovery process so far.

Thankfully, one of the least affected functions was my speech. And even though my speech was only minimally affected, I still had that weakness in the left side facial muscles that gave me a characteristic lopsided smile and a flat “stroky” appearance.
Day 14 smile

The exercises I did with the therapists and as “homework” helped strengthen the tongue and mouth muscles necessary for both clear enunciation and a symmetrical smile. Exercises weren’t the only treatment strategies therapists used during my inpatient therapy and later in outpatient therapy.

They both took me a step further with the application of electrical stimulation to stroke-affected muscles and nerves.
Day 13 speech therapy included electrodes and jolts of electricity.

Gay, my outpatient therapist, used a handheld device in addition to the adhesive electrode patches. She would dip the business end in water for better conductivity then zap a specific area that needed reawakening and strengthening on the left side of my face, especially around my upper lip.
Prepping to zap

Targeting specific facial muscles

Day 32 smile

It was fitting that my speech therapy ended with Gay. She had seen me early during my stay in intensive care right after my stroke. I remembered her visit but could remember neither hers nor any other new faces from those days in ICU. I definitely remembered the exercises she gave me, though.

I would wake up early and practice the face stretching exercises: opening my mouth wide, sticking my tongue way out, trying to touch my nose and my chin, plus doing a bunch of other facial calisthenics and articulating specific words and sounds.

Although the rest of my body was not doing much effective movement in ICU, those face contortionist exercises were extremely effective in tickling my funny bone. I posted about one experience that resulted from those exercises, memories #3 and #4 here.

Day 337 smile, March 24, 2012

Sunday, April 8, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Resurrection

Yosemite photo borrowed from the Yosemite National Park site here

Hope you are having a blessed Easter! Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays, filled with joy from several sources:

1--Joy flowing from the monumental love behind the divine sacrifice and resurrection;

2--Joy from loving my immediate and extended family and their loving me, even when we are not physically together at Easter; and

3—Joy that God granted me a resurrection into a full life after my stroke on Good Friday 2011. The days since Easter 2011 have been filled with life’s challenges and triumphs, sadnesses and joys.

I am thankful for the assurance that God has been with me in this continuing journey of recovery. During these months I have often thought of an Easter message I heard in 1978 in a rustic chapel in Yosemite National Park. The chapel was nestled on the valley floor in sight of majestic peaks carved out by ancient glaciers. I don’t remember the clergyman’s name, but I remember his sermon about going through life’s valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death.

Thirty-three years later, I spent Easter 2011 in the intensive care unit in Ocean Springs Hospital in our hometown. It must have been several days after Easter, still in ICU, that I started thinking about that Easter message. The speaker offered three words as a game plan for living through life's valleys with a determination to trust and honor God.

I could remember two words, “thankfulness” and “thoroughness”; but as much as I love alliteration, the third word always seemed just out of reach as I floated around in my post-stroke sea of tranquility. That was okay, though.

The idea of going through my personal stroke-induced valley with thankfulness and thoroughness kept me busy. Visitors may have thought I was unconscious, and I was told I was asleep most of the time. But I remember the calm and peaceful place I was floating in as quite active. Thinking was an absorbing, highly pleasant activity, occurring as my weightless body floated in that sea that was around me and somehow was me.

It was joyful to think about the professionals who had come into my life because of the stroke. How rich I felt, savoring the compassion, skill, humor and casual conversations that were amazingly life affirming. And then there were visitors and cards and flowers and thoughtful gifts that brought so much meaning, encouragement, comfort and pleasure. Floating around giving thanks was a joy to be experienced, not a duty to be filled.

During that time, I determined that I did not want to forget a single person or experience from my journey. I spent pleasant times, writing blog posts, still in that sea, squeezing the essence out of every encounter and experience and putting that essence into words, sentences and paragraphs. I couldn’t wait to get to a computer. Of course, once I did, I realized that new limitations in my physical, mental and visual abilities as well as lower energy levels put using the computer somewhere further along in my recovery.

My wonderful, carefully crafted posts dissipated. And now my memories have probably even changed somewhat. Others are gone, perhaps permanently, perhaps to resurface. But that early “in-the-sea” composition did start me on the “thoroughness” part of that Easter sermon that I heard so long ago.

A couple of months ago, I finally thought of another word that might be word Number 3: thoughtfulness. I am still not sure that is the word. But it seems to fit. I need to exercise all three, thankfulness, thoroughness and thoughtfulness, to learn all God wants me to learn and to experience all the blessings he has planned for me on this stroke recovery journey.

And one of the biggest blessings is that He has been in charge of the itinerary all the way and has also been the ultimate tour guide!