Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Flower photo subjects

Two years ago I was scrambling around on steep mountain trails, positioning myself to capture close-up images of God’s tiny works of floral art in the Smokies and on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Saxifrage at Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway

St. Johnswort, another abundant summer bloom at Waterrock Knob

This summer my balance and mobility issues limited my flower photos on our mountain trip.

Below is one of the few flower photos I took.
A species of Sidaroada

The same photo tightly cropped for a closeup view

The “Sidaroada” is actually one of several species of sunflower found in the Smokies. I borrowed the name “Sidaroada” from a relative who always makes me laugh, in this case with the name she gives unidentified wildflowers she spies, you guessed it, on the side of the road.

I have a weakness for corny puns, so I appropriated her tongue-in-cheek term since the only blooms I shot this year were those easily accessible on the side of mountain roads.

There was no scrambling on trails or mountainsides, and there were no contortions in order to capture the closeups I like to take. Maybe next year!

Friday, July 27, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Then and now

Enjoying Laurel Falls with family in July 2011, less than 90 days after I had a stroke

During our July visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year, I was in the early stages of relearning how to move about safely following a stroke. The damage caused by a burst blood vessel in the right side of my brain had left me weak and without normal movement on my entire left side.

Thanks to family, my physical deficits did not diminish my experiencing the restorative joy that mountain environments offer me. Strong sons and hubby wheeled me around, and up and down, in a wheelchair, including on a 1.3-mile uphill hike to 80-foot Laurel Falls and back down. Talk about a thrill ride!

I also spent many happy moments in a sturdy camping chair, soaking up the exuberance of our grown sons, their wives and our grandchildren experiencing everything from tubing the rapids to roasting marshmallows and assembling s’mores.

More than a dozen steps pushed my limit at that time, and those steps were only accomplished on flat, even surfaces with a strong adult holding fast to my gait belt as insurance in case I lost my balance.

This year my balance and strength have increased dramatically.

Traditional family photo July 2011

Traditional family photo July 2012

Before we left for our Smokies trip, my physical therapist suggested that I acquire a hiking stick. On Day 3 in the Smokies, I took her advice and purchased one at the park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center outside Cherokee, NC.
Ready to move in the mountains with my new hiking stick

The new addition to my collection of “assistive devices” didn’t cause me to see a burning bush nor did it turn into a snake as Moses’ staff did in the Old Testament. The one Moses wielded played a role in achieving freedom for the Israelites.

My hiking stick played a role in achieving freedom, too, my freedom to successfully navigate modest but challenging walks on Smoky Mountain paths of changing elevation and terrain uneven from exposed roots, erosion and broken asphalt. Some of those walks were even solo.

And I used it early this morning for my first solo walk part of the way around our circle.

A break for stroke nomenclature: Med Terms Web site defines assistive device as “Any device that is designed, made, or adapted to assist a person perform a particular task. For examples, canes, crutches, walkers, wheel chairs, and shower chairs are all assistive devices.”


The term fits, and in spite of its inelegant, bureaucratic ring, I appreciate the existence of such devices. I have used nine or more different ones during my recovery and still use four regularly and two or three others as circumstances warrant.

My new hiking stick did not, however, achieve freedom from looks directed my way during our camping vacation. My footwear was the culprit. I hadn’t managed to purchase additional walking shoes in a narrow size before we left. I have a pair of narrow athletic shoes in white that I wear with my Bioness system of electrodes. When the Bioness is not charged up, I resort to a brace that fits into a wider black shoe.

The matching black shoe for my right foot is not narrow enough to keep my toes from sliding down and jamming into the front of the shoe. I was happy that the white athletic shoe for my right foot offered the option of comfy toes. I just wore my mismatched shoes and answered all puzzled glances with a smile, content with my Smoky Mountain therapy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Home to Internet, electricity and laundry

Savoring hot tea, lunch and nature at Chimneys Picnic Area in the Smoky Mountains

Husband Walter and I are back home after nearly two weeks camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Right now I am taking a break from LAUNDRY! Forgive me if I seem to be shouting, But I AM shouting.

There is a mountain of damp, stinky laundry before me. But the upside is that laundry is something I can actually do, even with my left arm and hand not fully operational yet. That is a blessing, and makes me thankful and even gives me joy. Hubby did sort the mountain for me, without my even asking, and has just now enticed me to take a break. He made me a cup of hot tea and got my laptop out of its case.

Thank you, Hubby!

A thank you also goes out to two blogging friends who in the midst of their own health challenges, inspire and remind me to keep my focus on God, my ultimate caregiver. Sally’s post here about moving from mourning to joy included her consideration and eventual application of another writer’s observation in his book about grief. He wrote, “Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back to living life.”

Sally’s recent posts about a stepdaughter’s journey to athletic accomplishment and about family summer joys were also inspiring spirit boosters.

Ginny, at Let Your Light Shine, has been dealing with an extended hospitalization and unable to post. She did post an update on her condition and included this quote by Shad Williams:

“The Lord is Good” - period. Everything about God is good,
including everything that is related to me-- His thoughts about me,
His plans for me, His actions toward me, His guidance in me, His
blessings to me, His protection of me, His purposes fulfilled
through me and His ordained circumstances that surround me at
this very moment in my life. They may not look good, seem good,
sound good or feel good--but because they are ordained of God,
they ARE good. Colossians 3:3 says that “your life is hid with
Christ in God.” Every detail of your life is contained in Him,
including your present circumstances, trials, and needs.

These blogging friends and others throughout the United States and around the globe have made a difference in my continuing recovery from my 2011 stroke.

I have let this post languish for a few days but I am definitely determined to finish it today.
The problem with this and previous thank-you posts about specific bloggers, though, is that each of the cyber friends who shares life experiences and observations through a personal blog and/or through comments on Retirement Daze is among the wonderful family and friends who are healing helpers all. Each deserves a personal thank you.  I am so thankful for their continuing contribution to my stroke recovery.

I am also thankful for ELECTRICITY. Hubby is an expert at providing comfort, wonderful meals and fun while we camp sans power. For some reason, though, neither of us considered that my Bioness L300 Footdrop system has to be recharged every night while we sleep.

I guess it has become such a habit to wear that cuff under my knee and the little control unit on a lanyard around my neck that I didn’t give any thought to the fact that the electricity necessary for its continued operation would not be easily or consistently available. We did, however, bring my plastic brace that keeps my ankle rigid and my foot from dropping when I walk. I don’t walk as well with the brace, but at least I can walk.

My Bioness is now charged. Both our laptops are also charged and so is my Kindle. I had read that the Kindle would stay charged about a month. My Kindle’s charge lasted exactly 15 days. But I suspect I was reading much more than the average on our trip and I also didn’t turn off the WiFi feature. I would have had to deal with an unwieldly stack of books without that Kindle. Yes, I am an official Kindle fan.
Me and my Kindle, a new camping buddy

I will gradually be catching up with other blogs in the next few weeks and posting more about camping experiences. Right now, however, we are “recovering” from camping and preparing for overnight visits from kids and grandkids next week.

I should be a bit more accurate about those preparations. Husband Walter is executing preparations for those visits. My role is mostly happy anticipation and cheerleader. Oh, and hubby also jumped into the laundry operation and hastened the demolition of Mount Laundry. Okay, I am definitely bragging now. What a guy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Unexpected visitors in the Smokies

Shane, left, and Chastity, bound for Istanbul via Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains always have something special for Husband Walter and me, and this year’s summer sojourn is already meeting our expectations.

We were enjoying temperatures in the low 70s at the mile-high Balsam Mountain Campground where we were setting up camp Friday, July 6, for our first two nights in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Our neighboring campers across from us were from Moss Point, a Mississippi Gulf Coast town not too far from our own. Chastity is a Moss Point native who has spent four years in Istanbul, Turkey, as a missionary with the Mission to Unreached Peoples (MUP) organization.

She and Shane, originally from Tennessee, have been married for a year. They haved lived in Moss Point as they prepare for returning to Istanbul where both will work as instructors of English as a second language and will serve as missionaries with MUP. We enjoyed some delightful conversations with them Friday and Saturday before they broke camp and left to drive several hours back to the site of their next week of language and cultural training.

They both had entertaining stories to tell about their experiences in Turkey. I have their email address and look forward to updates on their continuing adventures. Chastity was also a physical therapy tech during her university pre-med studies. She decided working toward healing hearts through the spiritual route rather than the medical profession was her calling.

She had had experience with stroke survivors as a tech. Her encouraging words were a special blessing as Hubby and I are charting stroke-recovery territory that is new to us on this year’s camping vacation.

 Later that Saturday afternoon, Hubby’s sister Anita and her husband Scott, showed up on Scott’s Harley. They would make good detectives. With minimal clues from my mother-in-law, they had scouted out our location, successfully avoiding some heavy wind, rain and elk that had laid claim to the road.

Scott and Anita, a happy surprise from home

Scott, a veteran Harley aficionado, offered me a ride. Since I occasionally fail to achieve total stability on a stationary chair, I declined the opportunity to test my ability to keep my seat on the back of a Harley. I still have visions of last year’s Smokies camping when I had been out of the hospital for less than five weeks.

I was seated on the bench of a picnic table and went sailing off, crashing to the ground and scaring dear hubby and myself. I haven’t fallen off any picnic table benches so far this year, so maybe I’ll try the Harley next year!

I have missed keeping up with the blogs I follow, but electricity to recharge and Internet connection has not been readily available. We will return home to electricity and WiFi soon, though. I hope to post more on our Smoky Mountain experiences then and catch up on your blogs, after eliminating a Smoky Mountain of dirty laundry, of course. Have a great week!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A grand weekend

Granddaughter Charlie demonstrates dance camp skills.
On a recent weekend, Husband Walter and I made a trek for a weekend dose of our Georgia grands. A special treat for me was to attend the closing “demonstration” of six-year-old Charlie’s week of dance camp.

This was a welcomed first. Due to distance and other conflicts we have yet to attend dance programs or recitals of any of our three granddaughters. I am thankful for photos and video, but there is no substitute for in person whether it is dance, spelling bee or sporting competition. I did, however, successfully enlist Baboo to capture images I used in this post.

At the dance camp finale, the fledgling ballerinas had made their own costume accessories for a butterfly ballet they performed for the small but enthusiastic audience of parents, grandparents and siblings. Male siblings in the audience were noticeably less enthusiastic, but they were well behaved, even if there was no mayhem or weaponry involved in the performance.

Charlie performs in the butterfly ballet.

Our little dancer proudly shows off the butterfly hair clip and wings she painted.

After the program grandsons Luke, left, and Nate pause in the midst of mischief to fulfill Nana’s photo request.

As we waited outside the studio for Charlie and Mom Sarah to join us, the grand moments continued.

Luke is first to check how much taller he measures on the nana-meter.

This Nana finds grandkid humor irresistible.

Hubby and I started the new week back at home, tired but happy after our grandchildren “fix.”

Thanks to my favorite photographer, aka Hubby/Baboo, for photos.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: About comments on yesterday’s post

Comments on my post here yesterday about the frustrations and positives of a recent shopping trip reinforced reasons I keep blogging. The women who left comments have all contributed to my continued recovery from last year’s stroke.

They and several other fellow bloggers have encouraged, shared their own experiences, made me cry happy tears and sometimes nostalgic or heartbroken tears. They have made me laugh inside and sometimes laugh out loud so hard and long that tears and gasping for breath resulted. Extremely effective medicine all!

Retired English Teacher’s observations about handicapped accessibility reminded me of thoughts I had facing some relatively minor challenges during a recent stay in a motel that was otherwise a pleasure.

I was really put out about a couple of inconveniences that did not diminish my safety, only my sanity. I stewed awhile, grumbling to myself that a simple, inexpensive alteration could have eliminated the source of my discontent.

After prolonged internal grumbling and a bit of out-loud complaining to Hubby the next day, the light bulb, the old-fashioned kind, not the energy saver with weird colored light, went off in my head. What would have been more convenient for me would most likely be inconvenient or even unsafe for a person who had survived a stroke in the brain’s left side. I also realized that what I need in order to operate safely more than a year into my recovery is far different in many respects than when I was in a wheelchair.

How can any business attempt to anticipate and equip exterior and interior spaces for every single permutation of various disabilities? Just as off-the-rack clothing, no matter how well made, does not fit every body type, travelling and shopping with disabilities often requires adjustments to specific circumstances.

That said, I am fortunate that I have Husband Walter and other friends and relatives who help me meet those challenging circumstances safely. I am also fortunate to live in the United States where there are minimum standards about access for individuals with mobility limitations.

One of the airline employees who assisted me on my solo travel in May (I posted about that trip here) said his brother who is handicapped and lives in England was advised he must appear in person to apply for a disability badge. He made it to the building. But there he learned that the office was not on the ground floor, and there was no elevator.

It’s ironic that a disability thwarted his efforts to secure the disability badge. A Google search showed that the possibility of applying online is now in place in England and Wales. Our conversation was interrupted before I found out if the brother ever obtained the badge.

Another light bulb just went off. My posts have been getting longer and more rambling. Short and clear is harder, but I must keep reminding myself that succinctness and clarity are essential goals for this long-winded blogger.

Monday, July 2, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Retail challenged

A gracious and beautiful white-haired lady at WalMart turned a frustrating shopping excursion into a successful outing Sunday afternoon. My shopping list was threefold:

1) pants and tops that are comfortable and appropriate for hot weather camping

2) lightweight knee-high socks to protect my skin under a plastic brace that helps me walk when I don’t have my electronic Bioness system on.

3) Personal care items I need for our summer travel and camping

First stop was a department store in a mall in Gautier, a neighboring town about a 15-minute drive from our home. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted just from walking through the entrance and facing the sea of clothes on display. Because I am still doing everything pretty much one-handed, I was especially interested in pants with an elastic waist.

All I saw in the first few minutes were pants in zip and button styles. We browsed through selections of summer sportswear tops. After a few pointed looks at each other, Hubby and I agreed that the few garments we had considered as possibilities didn’t spark enough interest in either of us to bother with my trying them on.

“I’m ready to go,” I stated.

Actually I was near tears. Just because a female is over 60 and has had a stroke, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to look decent. I had definitely spiraled down into bitter resentment of retailers who did not have exactly what I needed. How dare they, even if I didn’t really know exactly what I needed or wanted?

“No excuses allowed,” I bellowed internally.

I lectured myself to shake it off. There was still a list of personal care items I needed for our camping trip. I was confident I could find most, if not all, at our next stop. That confidence lifted my spirits a little as we pulled into the Wally World parking lot. I even opted to use one of the store’s motorized scooters and let Hubby enjoy some freedom from babysitting me for bit.

“Wow,” I thought. “I must really be feeling better if I’m willing to give the scooter a try.”

My scooter-driving record hadn’t been notable in the past, causing myself acute embarrassment and onlookers spasms of sympathy. At a WalMart in another coast community early in my recovery, no family restroom was available for Walter to accompany and ensure I didn’t fall. In those early days I was at major risk for falls. A female employee assured me I would have no trouble taking the scooter into the handicapped stall. I scooted in.

What I didn’t realize was that I had an antique, poorly operating scooter that called for a minimum of two operable hands and a brain with undamaged brain cells. I successfully took care of business, managed to get back on the scooter, went backward and stalled. I opened the door, tried going forward and stalled. Repeated attempts produced the same result. I was stuck!

The employee I had encountered earlier tried to help me maneuver through the door of the handicapped stall. Another customer, a petite and elegant Asian lady stepped up to help as well, all to no avail. Finally the tiny Asian lady grabbed the front, bottom edge of the scooter and jerked it out the door. I was flustered and embarrassed as well as thankful and amazed at her strength.

And I still faced the challenge of getting through the restroom door! That was another adventure in getting stuck. The stroke-induced inability to determine where one’s body is in relationship to other objects sharing one’s environment evidently extends to one’s scooter, too! I have avoided those conveyances since then.

But now here I was, almost a year later, cautiously bumping the little lever back and forth to back up then go forward, hoping I wouldn’t remove any of the other shoppers’ appendages.

Leaving behind the nearby shoppers with their limbs intact, I buzzed along to the health and beauty section, trying to concentrate on driving but somewhat distracted, ruminating on the optimistic use of the word “beauty.” As I searched the shelves I did become quite adept at getting close enough to reach items on shelves.

Okay, maybe “adept” is not the appropriate word. How about “determined”? I did sometimes have to go to the end of an aisle, tentatively ease around the end, go down the adjacent aisle and come back to the targeted aisle for a second try, or a third.

If such ineptitude seems implausible, I assure you that I am extremely creative about ways to mess up anything that requires coordinated movement. Every time I would seem to have mastered all that back-forward and left-right steering business, a short circuit somewhere, like in my brain, would propel me into a shelf or display. Although there were some near misses, at least I didn’t hit anybody or their shopping carts. But that may have been because everybody around me was eyeing me fearfully then fleeing in the other direction.

Finally I had everything on my Wal-Mart list except the knee-high socks. I breezed up to the lady stationed at the dressing rooms. She was busy answering the store phone and paging sales associates. That gave me a chance to admire her snow-white hair and the cheerfulness and courtesy in her voice and manner. She gave me directions to women’s socks and off I scooted.

Ugh! Close aisles and packages of socks jammed on those hard-to-deal-with little metal rods. I found a three-pack of trouser socks that had potential. They didn’t look long enough to fit under the entire length of my brace, though. I headed to the men’s section.

Aha! Dr. Scholl came through. I snagged a two-pair pack of over-the-calf socks for diabetics. I am not diabetic but the description of cushiony comfort, air circulation and toe-pampering seams sounded like just what I needed, romantic even. 

I pushed the scooter’s little lever in order to back up. I turned the steering wheel sharply at the same time. Uh oh! Who knew that such a simple combination would produce centrifugal force that could shatter the sound barrier? Before I could stop I had whacked off a week’s worth of socks—for at least half a dozen men. And the little metal rods they were displayed on had clattered to the floor, too.

No way was I able to clean up the mess I had made. I made my way back to the lady at the dressing rooms to confess my scooter-piloting shortcomings. She assured me she would take care of the downed socks. Now, since we were bonded via retail mayhem, I showed her the diabetic’s socks I had found.

Evidently I had missed the smaller versions in the women’s section, and she offered to go get me a pair. I hope that she recognized that my gratitude was sincere. Exhaustion was complete, but I counted our shopping trip a success and my spirits lifted, all thanks to a WalMart angel.