Monday, October 29, 2012

West Coast whimsy

The Black Bear Diner offers a whimsical start to our first morning on the West Coast.

We have made 15 or so West Coast trips through the years. When we fly, our destination has always been San Francisco. Sometimes we stay in the City. Some trips we explore other locales new to us. 

Regardless of which direction we head after we pick up our rental car, one pattern seems firmly entrenched in our travel pattern. We go all out during the day. By the time dinnertime rolls around, we are bushed and have little interest in fine dining. We just want something simple, light, tasty and quick so that we can crash and sleep.

The next morning, however, we are ready for breakfast with a capital B. We both enjoy breakfast, and on this trip there was much we found to enjoy.

We started our first full day with breakfast at the Black Bear Diner. It is a chain in western states, and our introduction to the chain was in Yreka, Calif.

The first thing we noticed as we entered the diner was that the black bear theme was over the top and offered an entertaining side dish to our breakfast fare. Black bears marched

. . . across the valance over a window,

. . . on our mugs of tea and coffee,

. . . on our water glasses,

. . . across our napkins, and

. . . on staff shirts.

Restroom doors were, of course, labeled Mama Bears and Papa Bears.

The bear cubs in the women’s rest room didn’t bother me. After all, we are always on the lookout for black bears on our trips to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Bear cubs 

The scene of a raccoon coming in a door made me laugh.

Memories in a mug
I ended my black bear experience with the purchase of one of the heavy mugs like the ones we used at breakfast. I have enjoyed hot tea in it every morning that we have been at home since our return.

Neither Hubby nor I are much into souvenirs other than our photos and shared memories. But this souvenir is an exception. It gives me a chuckle as my hot tea helps me on my early morning journey from groggy and incoherent to awake and functioning.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Our West coast trip: Unforgettable giants

Husband Walter  hugging a giant.
We are back home after a nine-day fly-drive trip to the West Coast, Oct. 6-14. Well, actually, at this moment we are on a weekend jaunt to visit our Georgia kids and grands. But the West Coast memories are still bright.

A highlight of that trip was visiting three of the world’s largest groves of giant redwoods.

The first and northernmost grove we visited was in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Our drive through was a bit surreal. All low-to-the-ground foliage and the base of the trees close to the gravel road wore a coat of pale gray from dust stirred by traffic on the unpaved drive, a former stagecoach road.

At a visitors center in Humbolt Redwoods State Park, I fulfilled the role of typical tourist and badgered my longsuffering spouse into posing with a redwood cross section. 
Felled giant

A walk through Founders Grove in Humbolt Redwoods State Park the next day was a chance to experience the natural wonderland of giant trees. My balance was more wobbly than usual. The result was out-of-focus and poorly composed photos. But the two below will spark my memory of an enjoyable walk.

The first recommended itself to me because the dimensions were listed and the trail in front of it was level. The second was a survivor. Hollowed out by a lightening strike, it continues to grow. I do have a fascination for survivors. 

Husband Walter chronicled more details and images of our redwoods experience here. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Down home weekend: Louisiana Pancake Festival

Redo of Steisand hit: “People, people who love pancakes .  . . are the happiest people in the worrrrrrrld!”
Our weekend with youngest son Jeremy and his family included a 63-year tradition and another tradition of more recent vintage.

Tradition #1--Saturday, Oct. 20, the Downtown Baton Rouge Kiwanis Pancake Festival served up food and fun for the 63rd consecutive year. The festival included a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage links. Since enjoying them at the festival, those Manda Party Links are now my favorite product produced by Manda Fine Meats.

The company is a long-standing enterprise started by daughter-in-law Katie’s great grandfather and his brothers. Son Jeremy is now also in sales in the family business of producing and supplying smoked sausage products and other Louisiana-flavored meats--a major food group in the diets of Louisianians and many Mississippians.

For many years, Manda produced that particular sausage link variety once a year for the pancake festival only. Recently they have started offering them as an official item in their product line. Now I just have to convince some market locally to start supplying my new breakfast addiction. I am sure son Jeremy will help me in that endeavor.

Tradition #2—Dancing in the festival talent contest. In the 63rd edition of the festival’s traditional amateur talent competition, Katie and Jeremy’s four-year-old, our granddaughter Molly Kate, followed in her mom’s dance shoes. She danced  a “Fashionista Princess” solo. Katie was pre-school age when she first competed at the pancake festival, too.

Mom and daughter confer on final preparations.

Mom was a bit stressed. “I am not cut out to be a dance mom,” Katie said as she unpacked dance-mom tools: hairbrush, makeup, costume and accessories. Molly Kate seemed calm early on, but Katie was nervous until the Division I (Pre-school through Third Grade) segment of the talent show was over and Molly Kate and her fellow performers exited stage right.

Molly Kate loves that she gets to wear “real makeup” to perform. And she made sure she posed her hands so that my photo below would show the pink fingernail polish that her mother had applied for the little fashionista.
Almost ready to dance

In her pink tutu Molly Kate lines up with other Division 1 competitors.

A bit of nerves before her performance produced tears, but when her turn came, she was eager to dance and didn’t miss a move of her number. She took third place.
An escaping balloon trumped the awards ceremony in the intensity level among the tiny performers.

Molly Kate loved sharing the awards stage with two friends from her dance studio. But she was also excited to meet the bewigged songbird who sang the Shirley Temple classic “The Good Ship Lollipop.” Molly Kate’s admiration of her fellow performer made me wonder if our little dancer will want to add singing to her performance next year.

Besides the talent show, the festival included an art contest for school-aged artists, face and fingernail painting, music, clean down-home humor and fast-paced recognition for the work of staff and volunteers from a number of community non-profits that the Kiwanis support.

We were scheduled to babysit little grandson Walker while the rest of his family scattered for the next obligations on a full day’s schedule.

Babysitting equals quality Walker time.

When the rest of the tribe returned home, the siblings tag-teamed Hubby and me, AKA Baboo and Nana, vying for attention. It was a great close to a wonderful day.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cameras: Grandkids’ love-hate relationship

Oh no, not another photo!

An unexpected facet of a delightful and busy weekend with our Louisiana kids and grandkids was insight into the children’s love-hate relationship with cameras.

Two-year-old grandson Walker has lost all patience with parents’ and grandparents’ requests for him to pause for photographs. In his earlier months of life, what passed for patience with the staging and arranging strategies that accompany all but candid shots of the kids was probably a result of an infant’s limited mobility. Once he started crawling and walking, the carefully composed photos that many moms and grandmothers love became difficult to achieve.

He will occasionally still flash his trademark grin toward the lens. More often, though, the camera provokes a grimace, a scowl or an unblinking stare. This imp has perfected the stare down.

At Walker’s age, granddaughter Molly Kate, now four, went through a camera-averse stage. Now she relishes posing for photos. I’m not sure the same change will occur in Walker’s attitude.

He is still, for awhile, when he is . . .
. . . snuggling,

. . . eating, and

. . . sleeping. Mostly he is focused on moving and grooving. When he is not disgruntled by a camera in his face, he is so engaged in what he is doing or what is going on around him that he may not even notice a surreptitious snap.
Walker focuses on an early morning jump.

That’s when it is sometimes possible to capture that twinkle indicating that a plan may be hatching for his next foray into an adventure. And the adventure may not technically or otherwise stay within the bounds of his elders’
rules and expectations.
Walker soaks up the hubbub of a festival environment.

In contrast, Walker’s sister currently exhibits characteristics of a natural performer. Early Saturday morning Molly Kate was in tears when she was required to put tights on in preparation for dancing in a talent-show competition at an annual Baton Rouge pancake festival. She had fallen the day before and still experienced some pain from major scrapes on both knees.

Daughter-in-law Katie knew that I wanted to take a “dance-prep” photo of our little dancer with her long hair in rollers. As soon as her mom alerted Molly Kate, she stifled the tears and gamely attempted a smile without any instructions from adults.
Little trooper Molly Kate tries to smile with tears still pooling in her eyes.

The photo above makes me tear up. Here are more that demonstrate her relationship to the camera.

Molly Kate waits for her performance at the festival, subdued and in her own world.

Noticing my camera, she turns on a smile.

Sunday morning mom Katie wanted to capture her pair of munchkins in their coordinated brother-sister Halloween-season outfits as they prepared to head out to a birthday party at a local “pumpkin-patch” attraction. Katie knows that in the near future one or both of the pair will not want to “match.” She is having the outfits made and snapping lots of photos while the kiddos are still cooperating to some extent.

Molly Kate was eager to pose and show off her pumpkin outfit.

Although not as eager, Walker did light long enough for us to capture the image below of the pair near each other. With husband Walter, AKA Baboo, behind the camera, Walker even shared a smile.

Our pair of little goblins.

And this coming weekend we are off to Georgia to see our other set of kids and grand kids!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Butterflies of Alabama

On our way to the Gardens

Saturday, Sept. 29, I attended my first program at the Mobile Botanical Gardens. Featured were authors of Butterflies of Alabama: Glimpses into Their Lives. Photographer Sara Bright and writer Paulette Haywood Ogard spiced their overview of the state’s butterflies with humor and personal experiences from their 16-year pursuit of knowledge and images about butterflies.
Writer Paulette Haywood Ogard, left, and 

photographer Sara Bright.

With an enthusiastic crowd milling around to examine exhibits and purchase books and plants before and after the program, I stayed seated and indulged in a little photo therapy. My indoor snapshots were of the “from where I sit” variety.

On display was a sampling of living plants favored by butterflies, some for nectar and others as hosts for caterpillars.

Can you find the human butterfly volunteer sporting wings and helping to usher youngsters to adventures of butterfly art and discovery?

As I waited for a “butterfly walk” to begin after the presentation, individuals walking between projector and screen were unaware that they were entertaining me with a butterfly fashion show.

A monarch T-shirt

The authors warned their audience that butterflies don’t like “herds.” But the butterfly duo and Gardens Executive Director Bill Finch were willing to lead the herd, and about 40 members of the audience stayed for the stroll. After a stop at a bed of lantana for a look at several species attracted to the golden blooms, our guides headed up a hill and into the coastal woodland that the Gardens is restoring to its primitive state through controlled burns of undergrowth.

Sure enough, butterflies took flight and made themselves scarce, but it was immediately obvious that the trio’s knowledge about the wildflowers and their relationships to the butterflies would make the trek worthwhile.

Even with my trusty hiking stick, I soon realized, however, that the low-growing vegetation, uneven surface and steady change in elevation would make slow-going for me. I paused to photograph the native red basil Finch had mentioned. The plant’s proximity to the ground was a challenge, but one of the things I like about flowers is that, unlike butterflies, they don’t fly away.

The native basil’s delicate bloom in vivid color

The plant boasted abundant blooms.

A vine snagging my foot reinforced my realization that, at least on this occasion, I would not be able to keep up with the group or position myself to hear our guides. Hubby concurred and pointed toward dark clouds moving in from the west.  We headed back to our van.

As we drove just beyond the Gardens entrance, rain started. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. While we waited for our country cooking choices to arrive, I indulged in a few rounds of that peg game that is always on the restaurant’s tables.
A Cracker Barrel addiction

We drove home in a downpour, but the day was a success and the weather’s timing perfect for us. And I was well-pleased with my new book.

My new book

Hubby posted here about our outing.

Update on therapy
We received a call today from my rehab center. I have been approved to restart occupational therapy sessions next week. I was discharged from both physical and occupational therapy in late June. I am excited to start back working with therapist Amy on regaining the function in my left shoulder, arm and hand.

Monday, October 15, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Readers fuel my mania

My enthusiasm about our region’s autumn butterflies and the Mobile Botanical Gardens compels this response to comments that fellow bloggers have left on my Butterfly Mania post.

Gigi, Marcia, Muffy, Dianne, Sandra, and Sue, thanks for the encouragement about my photographic efforts post stroke. It helps more than you could imagine.

Lyn, thanks for the reminder about the continuous shooting option. I have that setting on my Canon, too. I am excited that I can try that right now, even while I am still working on getting function back in my left arm and hand.

Your tripod suggestion is for the future. Right now, operating my little Canon Power Shot A590 with one hand is what I can do without help. I look forward to eventually implementing both suggestions.

In fact, the final connection on our return from our West Coast trip was delayed from 7:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.  I spent time playing with my camera, taking snapshots of My FOOT among other things. I avoided pointing at people. I didn’t want to aggravate the other weary and frazzled travelers around us, all waiting and hoping that the aircraft that would take us to the Mississippi Gulf Coast would eventually appear at the Houston gate.

 Dianne, I do hope you get to visit the Mobile Botanical Gardens.

The governing folks of the non-profit gardens appointed my favorite local garden columnist as executive director not too many months ago, and he already has things hopping at this modest operation.

Sue, for the closeup of the butterfly wing’s underside that you mentioned, I cheated. It is a tightly cropped version of the original below.
Original photo

Cropped version

Use of telephoto would require a tripod; macro setting requires getting close. Both are challenges.

My closeup strategy these days is to hold my camera as close as possible without toppling over. I can rarely see the screen in sunshine, and neither screen nor viewfinder is an option for targets close to the ground. I just try to have the lens pointed in a direction that may capture the subject. Sometimes it feels like photography by Braille.

Friday, October 12, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Butterfly mania

Gulf Fritillary on lantana bloom, Photo by Walter Skupien

During a bridge walk in September, walking buddy Ann and I were amazed at the abundance of bright orange and black butterflies whizzing by from west to east across the bridge.

Their color at first made me think that the monarch migration had arrived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Nope. They were Gulf fritillaries, on their annual migration from southeastern states to South Florida.

White flowers created a butterfly welcome station.
When we took the steps down from the bridge’s pedestrian lane, fritillaries covered the white flowers next to the steps. The butterflies were taking a rest and nectar break, flitting from bloom to bloom. I am not sure if they were actually imbibing, but it looked as if they were.

Ann held my gait belt while I maneuvered on an uneven surface, trying to capture a useable image of the brightly colored insects. There were also Common Buckeye butterflies sharing the flowers.

Attempts to position my point-and-shoot Canon close to the moving targets, to steady the camera, to keep my balance, and to actually get a butterfly in the frame just didn’t work.

Although the effort was probably an excellent stroke recovery balancing exercise, the photographic exercise was pretty much a bust. But it was a fun bust. 

Here is sample of my flutterby fragments:
Oops! A bit of a fritillary

Partial view of the underside of a fritillary wing

One of the big eyes on a wing, an example of the protective mimicry of the Common Buckeye

Rather than discouragement, my photo efforts resulted in an acute attack of butterfly mania. I managed to suck Hubby into my new obsession. The result was a trip eight days later to Mobile Botanical Gardens for a Saturday morning butterfly program. I will post more about that pleasurable experience later.

Hubby Walter captured butterfly and other images that he posted here in his chronicle of our trip to the botanical gardens.

At the botanical gardens I did get a few butterfly shots, although the fritillaries were so fast and stayed so far away that I had more success with the Common Buckeye butterflies. The buckeyes shared the fritillaries’ attraction to lantana but perched in one place longer and didn’t startle as easily as the fritillaries.
My snapshot of Gulf Fritillary on lantana

Common Buckeye, taking a nectar sip, perhaps?

One of many Common Buckeyes on lantana at Mobile Botanical Gardens during our Sept. 29 visit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Bridge therapy

Biloxi Bay Bridge 0.7-mile plaque celebrates part of local history.

Mile-marker 0.7
Thanks to walking buddies Ann and Pat for bridge-walking therapy and their contribution to my reaching the 0.7-mile marker on the Biloxi Bay Bridge. That is my farthest point on the bridge so far in my stroke recovery and translates to more than 1.4 mile round trip!

Other bridge-walking milestones that I don’t want to forget:

Oct. 2—Passing mile marker 0.5 with walking buddy Ann
One-half mile means a round trip of more than one mile.

Bridging the Bay

Oct. 4—The day’s bridge walk with Pat included passing the 0.6-mile marker as well as the 0.7-mile marker.

0.6-mile marker

Improved gait takes me past the gator at mile-marker 0.6.