Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A vacation day with Isaac

A panini lunch treat for a stormy vacation day
When I woke up this morning, Husband Walter greeted me with, “This is going to be a vacation day.” That could mean a number of alternatives, all enjoyable. This time it meant a visit to Coffee Fusion.

Hubby and I have been scarfing up any information we could about Hurricane Isaac and preparing for the visit of such an unwelcomed visitor for the past few days. Hubby has done the heavy lifting. I have been in charge of staying out of his way and conducting any fretting that I deemed necessary.

As Isaac slowly eased westward, school districts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast announced school closures, usually for today and Wednesday. That meant Hubby was not waking up at 5 a.m. today to pilot a huge yellow school bus full of students on three different routes morning and afternoon.

Isaac’s promised rain and winds had not yet arrived. Sunshine was intermittent with cloudiness so we headed to the coffee shop a few blocks away for the first activity of our "vacation day." A good crowd of regulars was there, enjoying coffee and conversation. We settled in with our coffee, tea and computers.

Several guys from a “regulars” group dropped by our table with questions and observations about my stroke recovery. They volunteered that they would keep me on their churches’prayer lists.

 Another enriching encounter was catching up with Judy. She and I went to church together about 15 years ago when she was a single mom raising two bright little girls who had inherited her dark hair and eyes and her amiable, can-do spirit. I had not seen her in years. The unexpected opportunity for an update on her now-grown daughters, her remarriage and the births of two more youngsters now 10 and 8 was a treat.

Judy had pursued college studies while still a single mom. She recently completed a master’s in family counseling and is now interning at a local residential, faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. I am so thankful for and proud of her and her determination, perseverance, and steadfast trust in God’s faithfulness to light her path. That there are parents and offspring like Judy and her family give me such a sense of hope.

We ended our Coffee Fusion visit with a panini lunch. Afterwards I watched and waited inside the coffee shop as Hubby hauled our computers out to our van for our departure. The moment he opened a door and put the computers in the van, a feeder band from Isaac arrived. I burst out laughing at what happened next. Sudden rain had dumped on my hubby in a near solid waterfall then eased to a drizzle.

He returned inside to collect me and to put up with some good-natured ribbing from other patrons who had witnessed that particular rain event. When we exited the van at home, there was no rain, but we were still under a hurricane watch as well as a tornado watch.

My vacation day delights continued with a not quite ready for prime-time rendition of the happy birthday song delivered via phone to grandson Nate, who celebrated his eighth birthday today.

In return I got an enlightening and fascinating education about the Legos of my grandchildren’s generation, including Lord of the Rings sets, dinosaur sets and more. Once the goodbyes ended, his mom Sarah and I spent awhile reminiscing about his one-year birthday party.
Grandson Nate

Thanks to Katrina the large cook-out and family celebration our daughter-in-law Sarah and son Walt had planned for Aug. 28, 2005, morphed into cake and ice cream with fellow evacuees at our evacuation site, my mother’s home in Hattiesburg, MS. Hubby and I had evacuated from the coast and Sarah and the boys joined us from their home nearby. Our son  was at the power company’s Hattiesburg command center.

The birthday boy didn’t seem to mind the small group. The next day Katrina arrived with fury, toppling a huge pine tree across the back of my mother’s home, including the bedrooms where Luke and Sarah were napping. We hustled the very pregnant Sarah, the little boys and my 86-year-old mother into a safer corner of the house. I suspect Nate’s birthday will always prompt me to whisper a thank-you prayer for the lives and well-being of loved ones. 

It is about 10:25 p.m. CST here; things seem calm; and we are waiting for what happens next!

Husband Walter posted more about Isaac here today. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anniversary #45

My guy
Husband Walter and I are celebrating 45 years of marriage today. We have always been a bit casual about anniversaries. That fact has never bothered me. I have been blessed with a mate who regularly works on preserving and strengthening the glue of our relationship.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t ever been beset by insidious solvents that are capable of dissolving the glue. But regular “glue maintenance” and dependence on a faithful and sovereign God has given us the joy of both spontaneous and planned celebrations of life throughout the year.

So today I celebrate life with one of those rare men, a guy who “sticks” through good times and bad, who has never stopped growing in all aspects of life, who accepts me with all my irritating faults, who encourages me and engages me in adventures I would never have enjoyed on my own. He is God’s gift to me.

Happy anniversary, hubby!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Things capturing my attention

A determined marigold
Garden survivors
On a foray into our backyard recently, I discovered a couple of garden survivors.

The marigold above has survived our erratic weather this year. Husband Walter had set out a few marigold plants he bought in the spring along with some veggie plants. Finding the healthy, blooming marigold was even better than his bringing home a bouquet from the florist.

Thank you, Hubby!

The other survivor was a green onion that was barely hanging on, crowded by weeds in a flower pot. And it was that struggling survivor that bolstered my courage for my first post-stroke gardening attempt the next day.

I put my favorite weeding tool, gardening gloves and Osmocote slow-release plant food in a plastic bucket. With my hiking stick in my right hand and bucket in the left, I stopped at the back door, setting the bucket down and beginning strategic maneuvers to get bucket, hiking stick and myself over the threshold and down the step.

I found a second flowerpot with several tiny surviving onion bulbs and successfully weeded, fed and watered the baby onions in the two pots. I also realized the gloves were superfluous. I still have a ways to go before I can get gloves on by myself.

I hope the onions survive. I could always buy more sets, but the original sets that the babies descended from were pass-alongs from a family friend’s garden decades ago. Before my stroke the onions had survived and multiplied with only occasional watering and sprinkles of Osmocote.

I enjoyed darting out the back door to snip the tender green blades to add to our lunch or dinner salads. Until my retirement, they represented my only consistent success at growing edibles. Their connection to loved ones past and present always seemed to add extra flavor. I am going to enjoy future excursions to check on my two-pot “garden.”

* * * * *
A headline blooper
A headline that showed up in a recent edition of our local newspaper and gave me a chuckle:

Grenade found
Cutting grass

That was quite a versatile grenade. I sympathize with that headline writer, though. In my newspaper days most of my deadlines were for news articles and features. But I had also on occasion experienced the daunting task of fitting a subject, active verb and direct object in a one-column headline.

Under the pressure of a tight deadline, mental processes do sometimes hiccup. The result can even be a grenade that is cutting grass instead of a man who, while he is cutting weeds in his yard, finds a grenade.

I’ve been there, done that, and am too embarrassed to wear the T-shirt.

* * * * *
My new word
An intriguing new word for me is “proprioceptors”—nerves in the skin that sense where our body parts are in space. At least that was a definition in the Parade magazine insert in a recent edition of our local newspaper.

Early in my stroke recovery I was alerted that stroke survivors commonly are not able to tell where their bodies are in their environment. My personal experience confirmed that.

I do not automatically sense where my shoulder is in relationship to a door jamb, for example, or where one body part is in relationship to another of my body parts. I have to be careful not to sit on my left hand or get my foot wedged at a potentially injurious angle between table leg and chair.

As one therapist put it, my stroke “fried all my internal cues necessary for normal movement.”

But this was the first time I had encountered a specific word that helped me understand how undamaged bodies gather information and transmit it to the brain for use in maintaining balance and accomplishing simple and complex movement. I was enthralled and plunged into a Google search.

I found that proprioceptors are also in muscles and joints as well as skin. The process of gathering information and transmitting it is “proprioception.” Inoperative proprioceptors on my left side evidently are the reason I must develop new cues using sight, sound or even a touch of the fingertips of my right hand on a wall, chairback or some other solid object, to add other points of reference for the proprioception process.

One of the sources I read also noted that proprioception is the reason most people can walk in the dark. My ability to do that is non-existent now.

“Proprioceptors help the body recognize, activate, and coordinate its various parts in relation to its other parts and the environment. For example, being able to touch your nose with your finger while your eyes are closed is due to your proprioceptive sense. Walking without watching where each foot lands is also due to functional proprioceptors. Tying your shoes, finding your house keys, and unlocking the door without looking are all possible with the assistance of proprioceptors as well.”

Our bodies are truly amazing, miraculous, and for me, a joyful reminder of the Master Designer’s work.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Back in therapy

An exercise to encourage stroke-impaired parts to get back to work—Step 1

I was back in rehab therapy this morning after more than a month hiatus for vacation, summer visits and summer fun.

Today’s visit consisted of evaluation sessions that helped my fantastic therapists chart a course for my next six weeks of PT (physical therapy) and OT (occupational therapy).
Step 2

I was interested in finding out if I had regressed or improved. I felt like I had improved. Although activities and environments limited my regularly doing the assigned “homework” exercises, I counted overcoming challenges during our camping vacation and in our other summer activities as good therapy. And even better therapy was the pure joy of nature, time with family and friends, and adventures with Husband Walter.
Step 3

Both therapists said I had improved and that I was doing great. I am excited to begin the actual therapy next week. The photos are of an exercise Amy, my occupational therapist, gave me in June. The first time I worked on this in therapy, it was so hard. Straightening my left elbow and keeping it straight was difficult. I couldn’t keep my left foot from coming up off the floor when I tried to move my arms to the right in Step 4.
Step 4

It was also hard for me to keep my torso straight instead of leaning back and to keep my knees from moving in the direction of my hands in Steps 2 and 4. And once I tried it at home, I couldn’t remember if I was doing it right. Amy’s solution the next week was to use my camera and photograph me as I “got it right (almost)” thanks to her verbal cues.

The only trouble this exercise gives me now is bending my left elbow in Steps 1 and 3. And now I have more exercises to strengthen specific arm muscles to overcome that deficiency.

Such a happy morning!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: More firsts

I like this bridge that accommodates vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists*.

In this my second year of stroke recovery, I am often tempted to think about what I cannot do. I fight that temptation by celebrating even the most minor of firsts and advances in movement and daily living skills.

Friday offered two opportunities to celebrate. With walking buddy Pat, I walked on the “new” bridge that spans Biloxi Bay and connects Ocean Springs with Biloxi. It has been on my wish list for a while, but I was reluctant for two reasons.

First, I anticipated difficulty with the incline. The old bridge demolished by Hurricane Katrina was a drawbridge and not that high. The replacement bridge arches extremely high to allow passage of shrimp boats, tug boats, sailboats and other pleasure craft. But it also has a wide section that accommodates pedestrians and cyclists south of the eastbound lanes, and draws walkers at all hours.

The second challenge, in my mind, at least, is that there is nowhere to sit down and rest until about the highest point. I had set a goal to walk the entire mile-long paved walk on Ocean Springs’ front beach before tackling the bridge. But, as with other challenges that have seemed to be overwhelming, I finally realized that I could rearrange the order of those goals any way I wanted.

I didn’t have to wait until I conquered the entire length of the beach walk to give the bridge a try. I also did not have to accomplish the entire 3+ mile roundtrip bridge walk on the first try. I could indulge in a change of scenery and the immediate gratification of a short walk on the bridge, getting a feel for the incline and then heading back—a doable walk.

Pat, a veteran of walking the bridge roundtrip from beginning to end, was ready. For an August day, Friday’s temperature was mild, skies were just a bit overcast, adding to our comfort, and best of all, the breeze was invigorating. At the one-tenth mile marker, I was not tired but decided to turn back to be sure I handled the downward slope with ample energy.

Once off the bridge, I had more than enough energy left for a good session on the beach walk and, with Pat’s help, exercises for loosening my left shoulder and for strengthening and lengthening weak arm, hand and back muscles on my left side.

Success, large or small, is a great encourager.

After lunch and a rest, I tackled another challenge I had been avoiding. I have been reluctant, no, make that a big chicken, to walk alone in our backyard, let alone attempt gardening.

I used my hiking stick, and navigated a turn around our overgrown vegetable garden plots. I checked out what I would need help with in order to get started on some independent weeding and prep for a fall garden. I also checked on the condition and location of tools and supplies.

No falls marred my outing. My most uncomfortable moments were getting out one door and entering the other side of our house through a screen door on our screened porch. Different doors, different anxiety factors. On our visit to the Smoky Mountains in July, I had eventually developed effective strategies for entering and exiting the extra-heavy doors of restroom facilities in the National Park. Most of those doors closed so quickly they threatened to topple me over.

The exterior doors in our home present less of a challenge. I know now that I will gradually deal with them comfortably and navigate gardening solo, as well. There remains much that I have to figure out before I will feel safe gardening when I am totally alone at home, but the fear is gone.

Inch by inch is the way I go, oh, so slow but definitely in the right direction.

*Husband Walter captured the bridge image during a sunset walk we took on a newly opened fishing pier, another post-Katrina replacement.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Noodle wars

The games begin.

Prior to our trip to the Smoky Mountains in July, husband Walter, AKA Baboo, purchased four noodles, those long foam cylinders that provide flotation and entertainment in swimming pools. There were no swimming pools and few spots of calm water where we were camping, only mild to scary rapids over rocks. But Baboo was confident that, in the absence of television and electronic games, the creativity and imagination natural to children would find fun uses for those noodles.

He was right. The four Georgia grandchildren and parents met us at Elkmont Campground in the national park outside of Gatlinburg, TN. It wasn’t long before grandsons Luke and Nate inaugurated the unused tent pad in our campsite as an arena for noodle battles.

Nate seeks an advantage in our pop-up camper.

Luke, left, and Nate, center, double-team Baboo.

Laughter attack

Granddaughters Charlie and Stella were more likely to use the noodles to extend their reach as they played in a shallow little water flow that had cut its way through the back of the campsite over the years. Even the girls entered the fray at times with vigorous attacks, though.

Ahh! Good entertainment and great memories for this grandparent.

Friday, August 10, 2012

One stroky’s Journey: Healing guidebook

Among the aspects of my stroke recovery that I find amazing are the many positive influences on my continued progress. The Bible has been a major factor. I have absorbed and meditated on the scriptural accounts of the different avenues God used for healing in both the Old and New Testaments.

One example is the account of Jesus’ healing 10 lepers in Luke 17. After the lepers called out to him to have mercy on their condition, apparently His only action, as recorded by the physician Luke, was to tell them to go and show themselves to the priest, a step necessary for officially confirming they were disease free and could reenter community life. Here are the verses from Luke 17 that hit me upside the head recently:

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.

16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

I have read that account for years, taking from it lessons about God’s willingness to heal and that we should always thank God for his blessings.

But my latest lesson was the timing of the lepers’ healing. They were healed “as they went.” They took Jesus at his word and started on their way to do exactly what he had told them to do. They didn’t wait until the evidence appeared that their disease was gone.

That is a practice I am working on in my stroke recovery, to trust “as I go.” I am happy to report that evidence of healing as I go continues to appear.

Another Bible passage, Psalm 68:19-20 expresses my thanks:

19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

20 Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death. 

Psalm 68:19-20, New international Version

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


In my obsessive diligence to rid my blog account of automated comments that pile up in the spam folder, I hit the “all” option and deleted about 25 or more comments.

The only problem is that somehow I had moved to the published comments section. I had deleted fellow bloggers’ comments. Arrrrrggghhhh! Those comments are special to me, each one a gem that makes me feel connected with some courageous, gifted individual who smooths my path, brightens my day and inspires me with his or her words and life.

My first foray into Blogger help has uncovered no pearls of wisdom about correcting my goof. This has not been my favorite experience of blogger education via my standard method of trial and error! I do plan to double or triple check in the future before deleting ANYTHING.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A grand summer

Late June through early August has offered grand opportunities for visits with Georgia grands and most recently, our two Louisiana grands.

Grandson Walker watches for Nana’s imminent tickle attack.
Our youngest, Walker Vincent, is almost constantly in motion and is rarely interested in being the object of my photographic efforts. Between his nonstop action and a camera that is evidently feeling its age, my useable snaps of Walker were limited.

He does like the game of climbing on the sofa just near enough for me to grab him and tickle, and that gave me a brief window to capture a still and fairly in focus Walker, even though my flash was not working to compensate for the backlighting. That little body is made for snuggling, and in the midst of tickles, I was sneaking surreptitious cuddles and kisses. I love the anticipation on that little face.

Molly Kate focuses on her percussion performance.
Molly Kate is a different story. She loves the camera and loves to pose. She is an entertainer. She rounded up a stool from a bedroom, topped it with a tub from our family room and ferreted out a small bucket. She upended the bucket and kept her foot up on it during her entire -- and lengthy recital.

Her drumsticks were plastic tools from the doctor’s kit in the collection of toys. I couldn’t quite place where I had seen her drummer’s stance before, but I’m thinking the Celtic women concerts on public TV.

Grands continue to top my list of excellent entertainment.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Celebrating Recovery

A small but happy occurrence invited me to feel celebratory this morning. Husband Walter suggested we go out for breakfast at McElroy’s, recently rebuilt and back in operation after Hurricane Katrina obliterated it from its Biloxi Harbor location in 2005.

We first started going to McElroy’s, called Harbor House then, when our oldest son was small. Saturday morning breakfast at Harbor House became a solid family tradition. The family-owned operation had already expanded to a beautiful hillside location on the bayou in our town before Katrina. Katrina’s tidal surge pushed about six feet of water into the restaurant, but the structure stood. When it was back in operation fairly quickly, we continued a modified family tradition.

But we are happy to have two McElroy’s to visit now. The new Biloxi version is one-story, but elevated well beyond a two-story height in accord with new post-Katrina building codes. At that height we can no longer see the boats in the harbor unless we are sitting outside, but the big windows still offer a beautiful view of the channel, Deer Island and the water beyond. 

It seems that recovery from a disaster of Katrina's magnitude is similar to my stroke recovery. Some initial recovery was rapid, but continuing recovery requires determination to keep at it for the long haul. And both quick and slower-arriving increments in recovery are cause for celebration.

Update on my word verification experiment

I moaned in Friday’s post about a spam attack. I also activated word verification Friday. Since I did that, the barrage of automated hits and comments has stopped. Saturday at 7:55 p.m., I took word verification off.

It is now Monday morning, and there is still no evidence of the nonstop repetitive hits from the same source that led to my experimentation with word verification. The same ads for drugs started showing up again late Saturday. There were about 17 of them again on Sunday, and five so far today.

But the Blogger spam filter has been totally effective in keeping software-generated advertising and other comments from appearing on my blog. I hope that all those repetitive, unrelenting hits from a single IP address don’t start again. It really did feel like an attack.

Upon my post about my defensive maneuver, I was surprised and impressed with Arkansas Patti’s take on word verification, which I regard as an onerous process even though I had activated it as a last resort.

Patti commented that it has almost become enjoyable to her, a game to guess the letters. Her approach shouldn’t have surprised me. Her blog posts at The New Sixty often include humorous chronicles of her coping with life’s aggravations and challenges minor and major.

One day her writing may engage me in celebration of the heroic or generous about fellow human beings and the next in unrestrained laughter. Thanks, Patti, for good medicine. And thanks to the other fellow bloggers who shared their own experiences, advice and opinions about spam and word verification with me.

Enough of this attention to word verification. I am going to work on a different experience with words for a bit before I continue catching up on my fellow bloggers’ posts.
P.S. Just read that Arkansas Patti is hanging up her keyboard. A bunch of people are going to miss her.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Spam attack
Today I am experimenting with word verification on this blog. I hate word verification, but weird stuff has been going on with my blog for several days now—a bombardment of automatic spam, most of it advertising Viagra and other drugs.

The Blogger spam feature has effectively blocked the comments from appearing, but a constant flood of those kinds of hits can’t be good. They are all from the same IP address that apparently originates from the United States.

About the same time I started having problems with Sitemeter. At first it wouldn’t accept my login name and password. I can now log in, but reports that I look at several times a week just come up with the message:

“The report is currently unavailable. Please wait a few minutes and try again.”

A few minutes or a few days don’t seem to make a difference. The same message appears. Now I am wondering if all these irritating conditions are related.


Alien attack
In July two years ago, we vacated our campsite in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and headed for an early morning drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped in the parking area at the foot of Waterrock Knob. The view of mountains and clouds was framed by several lush evergreens that I assume are eastern hemlocks.

Husband Walter pulled out our camping chairs and Coleman stove. In a few minutes he had brewed coffee for himself and hot tea for me. We sat and soaked in the sensory feast of visual splendor, cool breezes on our faces contrasting with the hot liquids we sipped, quiet sighing of gentle wind in the trees and the clean, woodsy smell of our natural surroundings.

The July 2010 view that sparked a top of the world feeling

According to a National Park Service Web site here, eastern hemlock trees are some of the largest and most common trees in the Great Smoky Mountains. Called the "redwood of the east," they cool mountain streams and provide habitat for many other species.

They can grow more than 150 feet tall on trunks measuring six feet in diameter. Some hemlocks in the park are more than 500 years old. I haven’t personally visited any of these hemlock “elders,” but I do love the dark green and graceful geometry of healthy hemlocks.

Fast forward to July 2012. We looked forward to revisiting the Waterrock Knob overlook. How things had changed. The view-framing evergreens were now suffering a slow death, under attack by an alien aphid-like insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, that entered the United States in the 1920s.

July 2012, evidence of infestation

A sad graying of the green
Dying trees and stark, lifeless skeletons are now a common sight in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where whole sections of the Smokies’ distinctive hemlocks have died. The NPS Web site noted that along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Shenandoah National Park the wooly adelgid has killed as many as 80 percent of the hemlocks.

Some changes make me especially sad.


Attack on a messy problem
I regularly order a Darjeeling variety of the Mighty Leaf brand of tea at the coffee shop that Hubby and I frequent. But a couple of months ago we experienced a series of what we thought at first were cup malfunctions.

Moments after my tea would arrive at our table, tea would puddle around the cup. We finally figured out the culprit. The string between tea bag and tag was wicking tea out of the cup and sending it dripping onto the table. We still don’t know what about the string had changed. But true to his Boy Scout training, Hubby comes prepared. He whips out a tiny pair of scissors and attacks the string. A single snip and the minimal remaining string, still attached to the tea bag, slips back into the cup.

Problem solved!

Have a wondrous weekend.