Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stroke recovery update: Bridge walking

New distance record

There are just a few hours left in 2013. I am not going to make my goal of walking the 1.7-mile length of the Biloxi Bay Bridge end to end.

But walking buddy Ann and I have made it to the shrimp plaque at eight-tenths of a mile twice now.  Both times the weather has been beautiful.

Shrimp boats

The day we reached the .8-mile marker the first time, shrimp boats were passing beneath the bridge on their way to harvest those delicious Gulf of Mexico crustaceans.

We stopped to take in the view and spotted a mama dolphin and her calf. That made two firsts for me that day--the .8-mile marker and the mother dolphin and calf. I had seen a mama and baby manatee in the wild before, but the pair on our bridge walk was my first sighting of a dolphin mama and baby.

Only .9 mile to the end of the bridge

At eight-tenths of a mile the marker is almost half way to the Biloxi side of Biloxi Bay. We have been walking nearly equal to 1.7 mile as we walk toward Biloxi then retrace our steps back to Ocean Springs and Ann’s vehicle.

Over coffee and tea at Coffee Fusion after our most recent walk, Husband Walter floated an idea that Ann and I liked. Here’s the plan: 

For our next good-weather bridge walk, Ann will park as usual on the Ocean Springs side. We will ride with Walter to the Biloxi side of the bridge, and Ann and I will walk back the full length of the bridge to where Ann’s vehicle awaits.

Hubby had an ulterior but benign motive. His suggestion was a strategy to avoid what could prove a lengthy wait for us at the Biloxi end of the bridge, depending how long my rest stops would be at the benches on the bridge. 

As part of his plan, once he drops us off, he can wait in the comfort of Coffee Fusion with a latte, his computer and free WiFi.

And I won’t have to gradually work up to making the 1.7-mile one-way distance then another 1.7 mile back to Ann's car. The 3.4-mile round trip will be a longer-term goal.

I hope to be celebrating accomplishment of the end-to-end bridge walk goal at Coffee Fusion one day early in 2014.

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A family first

Our extended family

On December 27 Husband Walter and his siblings gathered with spouses, grown children and their family or friends. Our first Christmas get-together since the death of our matriarch Grandma Sugar stayed true to her love of the Christmas season.

In 2013, well before her final hospitalization in August, she shopped. So Grandma Sugar had gifts under the tree for us all. I think some sisters-in-law served as Santa’s elves to sort and prepare gifts for the celebration.

And Grandma Sugar would have been proud of her grandchildren. They have stepped up to organize, host and contribute to keeping the family tradition. It was a poignant time, full of love.

And brother-in-law Randy did a great job of capturing the spirit of the evening in the group photograph.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A late Merry Christmas wish

Our kids and grand kids will arrive any moment 
now from Georgia and Louisiana 
for our family Christmas celebration.

So it is with lots of cheer I wish you

A late Merry Christmas 
and an early Happy New Year
by way of Husband Walter's recent post. 

He has been a busy, mostly happy, 
sometimes frustrated Christmas light elf
as he has festooned house and yard.

Here's our home sweet home.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Our very own Rudolph

Walker, our red-nosed reindeer

Husband Walter and I made a flying trip yesterday to attend grandson Walker’s first Christmas program at his Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pre-school.

Walker’s mom, our daughter-in-law Katie, had warned us that he might not even go on stage, let alone sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with his class. He did sing and at the end of the performance even added his own “Ho, ho, ho.”

As Walker’s great-grandmother Jan noted on Facebook afterwards, “I knew Walker would do fine - he has the genes, twice over.”

Hubby and I were just happy to be there, whatever he did or didn’t do. When his little class came on stage, I started waving maniacally—and shamelessly.

Walker flashed his characteristic grin and waved back. He repeated waving later as he and his classmates finished their song. My cup of happy ran over.

Lunch with son Jeremy and his family at their home topped off the day. Goodbyes seem to get harder and harder for me, but I had an abundant store of good memories to contemplate during the 150-mile drive home.

Thank you, Jeremy, Katie, Molly Kate, and Walker, for a wonderful day celebrating Christmastime!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The decorating elves

Christmas elves at work

Our six grands and their parents officially ushered in the Christmas season for Husband Walter and me by helping us decorate the Christmas tree after our Friday Thanksgiving feast.

Grandkids are one of the great blessings of our getting older. And our tribe’s participation in the tree-trimming tradition was a memory I savor. Thank you to sons and daughters-in-law for carving out the time for togetherness and for fueling enthusiasm in their offspring.

 Non-stop decorators

 Attention from older cousin Nate, left, has Walker all smiles. (Photo by Katie)

Dad helps Molly Kate reach new heights of decorating. (Photo by Katie)

Walker to the top (Photo by Katie)

 Tree-elf cousins Molly Kate, left, and Charlie (Photo by Katie)

Among Stella’s favorites: Ponies and angels

Our big guys take time out to observe and direct.

‘We did it!’ (Photo: by Katie)

 Post tree-trimming, granddaughter Charlies’ paper folding enticed our “big girls,” daughters-in-law Katie and Sarah, to resurrect childhood skills that kept the grand girls engaged.
Katie and her handiwork

The day ended with everyone settling down to bed. The three little girls had their own “sleep-over.” After giggles and whispers, they fell asleep in sleeping bags on the floor in front of the newly decorated Christmas tree.

It was a grand day that will not soon be forgotten by this Nana.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas procrastination

Angel amidst soothing green

I am supposed to be working on Christmas gifts right now, finishing online orders, wrapping and bagging, sorting stocking stuffers, making a list of things I’ve missed and checking it twice.

Obviously that is precisely what I am NOT doing. My intentions were good. But I bogged down in my survey of different models and brands of a relatively inexpensive piece of electronics gear that appeared on son #1’s wish list

Then I labored through an excruciating episode of operator error as I attempted to select the correct options for the ordering and shipping of several books and toys.

When I finally closed the deal, I drifted off into wondering what I was doing this time in Decembers past. That sent me to posts I published shortly after I started blogging in 2009. A December 11, 2009, post brought back memories of a trip to Savannah, Georgia, 18 months into my retirement.

Gardens and green can rejuvenate me, even via that four-year-old blog post, “Savannah sampler: Green.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stroke recovery: Prepping for physical therapy on my own

Working on stepping high

October 23 was my last day of physical therapy, except maybe for once-a-year one-session “tune ups” on my walking.

Therapist Ashley, Phillip the tech and Sterling the neuro rehab intern were all working with me to be sure I was clear on several exercises I could do at home. Now it’s up to me to keep working to improve my walking and balance.

 Visual cues

The two strips of tape above provide targets for a marching-in-place exercise. Without that tape strip or some other target in front of my toes, I would unconsciously wind up all the way across the room as I focus with tunnel vision on swinging my right arm forward in concert with stepping high with my left leg.

The second strip serves as a visual cue for vertical movement. It lets me know my step is high enough if my knee intercepts my line of sight to the tape. When I can do that smoothly and consistently, it will mean my control of that stroke-affected left leg has increased measureably.

Some things still work!

I am so glad Ashley had Sterling document my movement that day. The right leg and arm are doing okay. The left needs lots of work. The photos will help me to see progress.

I am fortunate that I will restart occupational therapy in the new year. I hope one day that the left hand will open at my brain’s command. Right now I have to use my right hand to force it open, and when I let go it quickly curls back up.

And the work continues. I am thankful for that.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

WWII Museum visit

A visit to the National World War II Museum was at the top of my to-do list for a recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Victory Theater
A showing of Beyond All Boundaries at the Victory Theater was my first and most moving experience at the museum. The 250-seat theater was built especially for the 45-minute movie that the Web site describes as a 4D journey through the “war that changed the world.”

Narrated by executive producer Tom Hanks, it features special effects, animation using computer-generated imagery, multi-layered environments--whatever that means, and first-person accounts from the trenches and the home front read by 30 actors, many of them household names.

My uncles and my father were WWII veterans. They rarely talked about their experiences or about the war at all. I knew my father had been in combat in the Philippines. At a young age I was also well aware that after watching TV shows involving men in combat, Daddy would have nightmares.

Audience experiences special effects

In Beyond All Boundaries the personal accounts, sounds, vibrations of explosions, scents, even falling snowflakes give one a hint of the action. The presentation sparked memories of my father and my uncles, now all passed away.

As viewers filed out at the end, Husband Walter kept me company while I sat and gained control of emotions pulled to the surface by thoughts about what my loved ones and others had gone through and what young men and women continue to experience in military service.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hubby’s coffee shop fix

Finding a trip-worthy coffee shop was part of a day trip during our early October trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.

The government shut-down had closed our favorite national park. As an alternative to visiting our usual haunts, we made Gatlinburg, Tennessee, home base for four nights and explored mountain towns and scenery outside the park.

Husband Walter had taken us on a scenic and narrow, winding, steep, backwoods mountain road. It eventually intersected with a major highway. We made our way to Waynesville, North Carolina, a mountain town where we had visited a local art association’s gallery and had taken in some of the town’s whimsical public art on a previous trip.

But on this visit, coffee for him and hot tea for me in “just the right” coffee shop was the objective. Finding an interesting coffee shop that fits his idea of comfy, cozy and with hometown appeal qualifies as sightseeing in Hubby’s travel plans.

A nice coffee spot but too touristy for Hubby

In Waynesville he checked out two coffee shops on Main Street. They were attractive but not his cup of tea, uh, coffee.

To my surprise, a love of coffee shops had turned my reserved spouse into a chatty traveler. He did not hesitate to accost individuals for recommendations about the coffee shop choice of locals. 

Thanks to a Waynesville pair, who both happened to be non-coffee drinkers, we wound up at Panacea Coffee House Cafe and Roastery.

A local gathering place

It was ju-u-u-st right! Staffed by friendly, conscientious baristas and at home in one-half of an old warehouse, Panacea invited patrons to linger, enjoy, and become part of the Panacea community.

A sign of historical roots

The warehouse was in what had been the commuity’s industrial district from the late 1880s until the late 1940s. The building’s industrial origins welcomed us at the entry with a historical plaque outside, commercial coffee roaster just inside the door and coffee beans in burlap sacks deposited around inside near the roaster, ready for roasting.

Panacea’s commercial-sized roaster

Beans in burlap bags sit handy to the roaster.

Old brick walls, concrete floors and a rustic wooden ceiling with exposed beams contributed to the distinctive atmosphere. The establishment’s Web site said the owners did their best to preserve as many historical features as possible. It appeared that their efforts had paid off.

The addition of a deck in the back ratcheted our coffee shop experience over the top. It offered a pleasantly cool temperature, a canopy of trees and a view and sounds of the creek just a few yards away. We settled on the deck and enjoyed our hot drinks.

Mission accomplished. Hubby had his fix.

*   *   *   *   *

A couple more treats awaited us on our return trip to Gatlinburg. We pulled off near the national park’s Ocunaluftee Visitor Center to indulge in a little elk-watching. 

We admired the huge antlers of the males in the adjacent meadow then pulled back onto Newfound Gap Road. By the time we passed Newfound Gap, the setting sun prompted us to pull off the highway at the Morrow overlook.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Celebrating our blessings

Mrs. Linder, a special neighbor, created the turkeys above, one for each of our grandchildren, visiting for our Friday Thanksgiving celebration. The grands, ages 3 through 11, had to wait until after the Thanksgiving meal for the tasty creations.

After their treat, next on the day’s agenda was a tree decorating frenzy. Mrs. Linder had sent over a treat for the grands to celebrate the Christmas season, too—Rudolph made from a Nutter Butter cookie, chocolate, pretzel antlers and a red hot for the nose so bright.

Thank you, Mrs. Linder!

The blessings I counted were abundant, among them family, friends, food and faith.

Grands in front of their tree-trimming results  

Thank you, to Daughter-in-law Katie for the photo above.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bittersweet Smokies encounter

An October trip to the Smokies was a mix of happy and sad. The government shutdown had closed our beloved Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Lisa Duff, center, with Walter, left, and me
One of our happy times was meeting Lisa Duff, marketing and membership director of the Great Smoky Mountain Association. Her colorful and well done e-newsletter and email updates keep association members, including Husband Walter and me, informed of news and opportunities related to the national park and ongoing projects that the non-profit Association funds for the park.

We met Lisa at one of the Association’s visitor centers that was outside the park and therefore not subject to the shutdown. Not so happy was the fact that the government shutdown closed all visitor centers inside park boundaries, laying off more than 40 Great Smoky Mountain Association employees who work the Association’s gift shops.

The closures coincided with the fall color season, the heaviest weeks of visitation during the entire year. It is also among the busiest gift shop sales weeks and fuels a significant income stream for the Association’s mission to preserve the park and to promote public understanding and appreciation through education, interpretation and research.

In addition to the visitor centers inside the park, other closures included our favorite picnic areas, beautiful Cades Cove, most other scenic park locations we like to visit, and Little River Road that is our usual route to the Cove and Townsend, Tennessee. The park was reopened about five days after we headed home, with official Association stores opening, too.

No regrets, though, about sticking with our original travel plans. We knew of the closures before we left home, and we arrived prepared to enjoy the many other opportunities to relax and explore in the region.

Monday, November 25, 2013

‘Escaping the memory thieves’

In a recent post, Arkansas Patti (The New Sixty blog) used the phrase “escaping the memory thieves.”

It created a distinctive image of her original desire to record family stories and memories before she forgot them. Now, her reason for blogging is more about online interaction with caring, supportive, interesting people.

Today as I savored kind and encouraging comments from readers on previous posts of my own, I was overwhelmed with the continuing positive impact that online friends have made in my life.

When I started blogging in November 2009, the reason was so I wouldn’t forget the experiences and people populating my retirement. I had already enjoyed more than a year of that busy new stage in my life. I never dreamed that about 17 months later my retirement landscape would undergo cataclysmic change as the result of a major hemorrhagic stroke.

When I tentatively resumed posting after more than a month in the hospital, I assumed the blog’s value to me was the same, an avenue to assimilate and record the events of yet another phase of life. But a far greater value was soon apparent.

Throughout the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual ups and downs of my post-stroke life, blogging friends have been a constant. They have been a source of encouragement, prayers and good wishes, good advice and good laughs. 

Comforting, inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking glimpses of other bloggers’ own mountains, valleys and deserts, seasoned with photos and chronicles of people, places, things and experiences from their daily lives add additional dimensions of meaning to my life, whether through shared celebration or shared sorrow.

Even a fellow blogger’s captivating turn of phrase--such as “escaping the memory thieves,” can lift my spirits in a paroxysm of word lover’s delight.  Thank you, thank you, my friends.

Hooray! I finished this post before I forgot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What I’m reading lately

If you are looking for a stocking stuffer for someone who enjoys reading fiction, I recommend Fannie Flagg’s Redbird Christmas. This is a feel-good Christmas novel. A strong cast of characters, including a redbird named Jack, packs its 240 pages.

Flagg wields a deft touch in her portrayal of Southern cultures and environments. She also captures the human heart, from heartbreak to healing kindness. Set in Lost River, Alabama, both the residents and life in the small town could have been inspired by scenes from my childhood.

There were, for example, my 32 aunts and uncles, all gone now. That included the in-laws grafted into my parents’ families. All of them, except two of the spouses, were native Mississippians who grew up on farms in tight-knit, rural communities.

Then there were the colorful characters who were in my life during the time we spent on our primitive houseboat on the West Pearl River in Louisiana. From my pre-school years until Hurricane Camille smashed the houseboat when I was a young married, my family and I spent part of every summer and many weekends at the houseboat.

We were accepted as transients in the river culture. Whether fishing, gathering muscadines, visiting or going to Mr. and Mrs. Blocker’s artesian well across the river for potable water, small boats and outboard motors were a part of our life.

I treasure experiencing the visit to Flagg’s fictional Lost River, where engaging and amazing events unfold. It was a good read that also resurrected those childhood memories for me. 

The only regret I have about this book is that in a fit of making room for more books, I turned it into our library’s paperback one-for-one swap section. I may just buy it for my Kindle and read it again during this Christmas season. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A change in purchasing patterns

Louisiana satsumas

The first weekend in November is a citywide street party of arts and crafts, live music, food and drink in our small city. The two-day annual Peter Anderson Arts and Crafts Festival has grown from the first celebration by a small group of local artists and friends. 

Now it includes 400 vendors selected by a jury committee. Organizers estimate crowds at well over 100,000, and we braved the crowded downtown streets this year. 

I enjoyed soaking up all that beautiful, unusual and even humorous creativity on display and for sale. Vendors were having a great day as people came ready to buy, some pulling children’s wagons or other maneuverable conveyances to handle their purchases.

But the only purchase Husband Walter and I made was a bag of Louisiana satsumas. We have reached a stage where we want to simplify rather than add to our home environment.

The satsumas were definitely simple.

There were no decisions about where to put our purchase or what to move or give away so new stuff would fit. And the tasty citrus disappeared quickly.

There was a time when the vendors’ displays tempted mightily. Now, looking is the pleasure and staying upright in the crowds is the challenge. Our changed purchasing pattern is probably another sign of aging. And I am comfortable with that.