Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today 2/26/2013

I am counting this morning’s blue skies after days of rain, thunder and lightening as an extra special birthday happy for me. Phone calls, cards, and in-person and online wishes have all given me touches of love. And as I type this I have a cup of hot tea beside me at our favorite coffee house.

That is a birthday treat from Husband Walter before we head out to the neuro rehab center for an occupational therapy session with Amy. That is also a birthday happy. It is now nearly two years after my stroke, and I am so thankful my gifted therapists are still working with me!

*   *   *   *   *

This is Day 3 of my fast from complaining. Several blogging friends commented on my fasting. Their comments were encouraging. I had wondered, though, “Why 21 days?” A comment by Arkansas Patti of The New Sixty blog gave me the answer. It takes three weeks to establish a new habit!

I have already hit a few bumps in this fast. Hubby and I were on the way to the library when we became involved in a discussion. At one point he said, “You told me to tell you, so I am. You are complaining.”

I didn’t think so, and I started to explain why my comments were NOT complaints. He stopped me. I almost insisted. I do have a tendency toward going for the last word. This time, though, I kept silent and thought about it. If he took my comments as complaining, then I either really was or I needed to reconsider how I was expressing myself.

I also caught myself several times yesterday harboring complaints, although unspoken. Complaints lodged in my noggin still count as complaining. I am encouraged, though, by a new sense of awareness. I hope that awareness lasts. And the fast continues.

UPDATE 2/28/2013
Somehow I thought I had posted my birthday post on Feb. 26 but apparently not. I guess two days of celebrating plus a chance to get out in our soggy yard derailed good intentions. I  was eager to prep spots so that we could get a few tomato plants in the ground once our four-day cold-snap passes.  

After tracking black moist soil indoors, I reprised Hubby's earlier plastic bag strategy to avoid dirty soles since my waterproof gardening shoes no longer work for me post stroke. I did enjoy myself, even with my goofy but effective footwear. The photo below was in a post here about my new garden "shoes."

March 2012 photo of my garden footwear

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Today 2/24/2013

Lately I have been trying to catch up on all my favorite blogs. Igniting memories of times with my late mother was a post by Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By here. Her take on an interview by Mr. Rogers of the iconic children’s television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood opened a discussion about the lives of elders who are beyond the busy contributions of those mid-life years of careers and raising children.

One comment especially resonated. Marian wrote, “I am firmly of the opinion that human society needs its elders—in fact it needs them like never before.”

The first time I understood how aging can limit patterns of life that previously brought deep emotional and spiritual fulfillment was through my mother's experience. Now I am going through my own aging journey.

When Mother was about 67, the age I will be in another year, my father died suddenly. Mother missed him every day of her remaining two and a half decades. But she found strength to continue living joyfully and meaningfully, moment by moment and day by day, through her faith.

By her early 80s, though, she was losing the physical strength and stamina that she had expended willingly in what she loved: expressing God’s love through giving comfort, caring, food and fun to others.

It was hard for her when she could no longer take shifts at the bedside of a hospitalized friend. Grocery shopping became increasingly difficult, as did preparing and carrying meals to those dealing with grief, with illness or with being housebound.

Preparing and serving meals to loved ones in her home, teaching a Bible study class and preparing for overnight guests became challenging and stressful. It pained her, too, when she could no longer maintain her flowerbeds or play with her great grandchildren on the floor and out of doors.

I always seemed a few steps behind in recognizing the level of help she needed, even though she had often talked about the changes of aging and what her options would be if various circumstances should come about. Her willingness to initiate such conversations was a gift she gave my brother and me. I had finally “caught up” when the time came that she mourned the progressive loss of physical strength to “do for others.”

She listened with little comment when I expressed confidence that God still had his purpose for her and that she could trust him that the fulfillment of that purpose would continue even as her physical abilities changed.

I knew her love was so strong that she touched others by simply being herself. As mobility and strength continued to decrease, she found her own path to continuing her contribution to the lives of others.

Her great grandchildren loved the attention she gave and her obvious delight as she savored their visits. Family, friends, and fellow residents and staff at her assisted living home appreciated her sense of humor, her ability to create fun, and her interest in, respect for and patience with everyone she encountered.

As I face the "old-age" category, I am thankful for her and the many other elders, living and deceased, who have been great examples of grace-filled “being.” Their lives continue to illuminate my way. And thanks to Ronni for advocacy for old people and for providing a forum for discussion.

*   *   *    *    *
February is my “birthday month.” A desire to celebrate with meaning was born via blogger Freda of What’s the Story in Dalamory. She celebrates each day of March, her birthday month, with a planned treat. Her treats could require complex logistics or could be as simple as a walk among signs of spring near her home in Scotland.

Unlike Freda, I have let several birthday months slip by. This year I decided I would begin my “month” on my birthday instead of Feb. 1. That decision was a sneaky form of procrastination that gave me almost all of February to come up with my “meaningful” celebration.

And today, thanks to TV, I found my birthday month route. I paused in a fit of channel surfing this morning as the celebrity guest on an inspirational talk show described his spiritual journey. 

He had gone from complaints about circumstances to thankfulness when he began to see every day as God’s gift to him. The show’s host closed that segment with the suggestion that viewers commit to a “21-day fast from complaining.”

I have never “fasted” in the spiritual sense. My only fasts have been preceding blood tests. But the idea of consciously fasting from complaining has a powerful appeal. My complaints are largely internal, although I find myself letting loose verbally with walking buddies and friends and relatives on occasion.

I turned TV off and mentally started my “fast.” My birthday is a few days away. In these next few days I will enlist the support of husband and others to call me out when complaints slip out. I have changed some mental bad habits before, and sharing my resolve about changing this one will help, I hope, to keep me on track.

My complaints may be about circumstances, others or about dissatisfaction with my own behavior, attitudes or capabilities. They may be articulated are not. Either way, my complaining is insidious, whiny and erodes my energy for positive action.

Change, here I come. Life’s a ball!

Exercise balls at my neuro therapy center

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Our Mardi Gras 2013

Biloxi, MS, Mardi Gras Feb. 12, 2013
Husband Walter and I had planned to forego joining revelers for Mardi Gras parades on Fat Tuesday this year. We were both recovering from his gallbladder surgery. And neither of us wanted to brave the rainy weather that was in the forecast.

We elected instead to visit his mom, enjoy lunch at a favorite restaurant then get some walking in at an indoor mall. I had been neglecting that part of my stroke-recovery rehab due to recent cold and rainy weather.

When we headed home, Hubby took a chance on a direct route east on U.S. 90. The westbound lanes of the four-lane highway along the beach become part of parade routes during Mardi Gras season. We thought the rain would mean reduced traffic on the eastbound lanes we were traveling and maybe even the delay or cancellation of the day’s parades.

A small but enthusiastic crowd braves rain in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Determined revelers lined the westbound lanes, though. And traffic was slowed but not clogged in the east bound lanes. Hubby graciously filled my request to take my point-and-shoot Canon and document our unexpected opportunity for a sampling of Mardi Gras festivities from the high and dry comfort of our van.

King d’Iberville arrives.
Traffic lights slowed our progress enough that we saw about seven of the 17 floats featured among over 100 different entries in this year’s Gulf Coast Carnival Association parade.

Red, white and blue

Walter stuck his arm out and waved at the folks tossing beads, stuffed animals, doubloons and other Mardi Gras trinkets from the floats. Some ladies with exceptional strength and accuracy sailed beads right into his hand.

The four or five colorful strands did not compare to the “haul” characteristic of past up-close-and-personal parade experiences. And we  didn’t see any of the extravagant, professionally designed and crafted floats we have seen in New Orleans. But the fun, laughter and hometown atmosphere we enjoyed in our brief drive-by Mardi Gras was pure Mississippi Gulf Coast merrymaking.
“Throw me something, Mister!” 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Today 2/15/2013

Four days since I last posted. My relationship with my laptop lately has been strained. The laptop is working wonderfully. My eyes are not. It is definitely time to make an appointment with the eye doc.

And that is on my list once all of Husband Walter’s follow up visits regarding his hiatal hernia and his gall bladder surgery are completed. In the meantime I may be even more sporadic than usual about posting and visiting other blogs. It doesn’t take many minutes on the computer before a headache arrives, and my eyes feel scratchy and unhappy. On top of that, cool weather has increased the stroke-related tone that tightens the muscles of my left side uncomfortably. Rats.

You wouldn’t know it from the two-paragraph whine above, but all is far from gloom and doom here. Today is the second day of blue, blue skies. Our azalea bush that started blooming early has kept its blooms through two hard rains earlier in the week and continues to display more new blooms.

Sunshine and blooms have definitely chased the dismals away and even executed some eye-care. They have opened my eyes and mind to many other things, seen and unseen, that are around me and that provide abundant doses of joy. Just the prescription I needed.

May you have a wonderful weekend full of blessings.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Today 2/11/2013

A suite of sound effects has become an increasingly noisy element of the aging process for Husband Walter and me. Our most recent discussion about the variety of our unintentional vocalizations occurred this morning as Hubby maneuvered his post-operative torso to help me affix my Bioness cuff beneath my left knee.

A lengthy growl of the “Errrrrrrr” category accompanied his effort. The phenomenon of such involuntary sound effects sneaked into our lives a number of years ago. I first noticed my slide into primitive guttural expressions when I would sit down on or stand up from a low sofa, chair or other surface.

I noticed the other day, as I attacked a sniffling, itchy, runny nose with a tissue, that I was emitting a steady, moderately loud, unbroken hum during the whole process. I am not sure if I sounded like a satisfied, giant cat or a dangerous robot preparing to subdue its masters.

Since it is pollen season for some kinds of trees or plants almost year-round in our northern Gulf of Mexico region, I may have to develop a system so that Hubby can alert me to turn that hum off when we are around “normal” people.

*   *   *   *   *
Calling all bloggers who blog via Blogger. I have a question. For the first time since I started blogging in November 2009, I have been forced to change the way I position photos in my posts. No warning.

Here is what was quick and worked well until a couple of weeks ago: I would block, copy text from Word and place it in the Blogger post editor. Before clicking on the photo icon at the top of the post editor, I would make sure my cursor was in the position where I wanted the first photo to appear in the post.  I would click on the photo icon. Next I would click on the “Choose Files” button and select the images from my hard drive.

Once they all loaded I would click so that the photo I wanted in the first position was the only image with the blue box around it. I would click on the “Add Selected” button. The photo would appear right where I wanted it.

I would move the cursor to where I wanted the next photo, click the photo icon, click the next photo, click “Add Selected” and continue repeating the whole process until all the photos were in position.

Now, no matter where my cursor is in the text, each photo comes into my post at the top and I have to drag it into position. It takes me longer, and I sometimes have difficulty getting photos where I want them. Obviously, there is some simple solution that is eluding me.

I am hoping that solution will appear when I am searching for an answer to some new aggravation, and there always seems to be a new aggravation, probably because a lot of operator error, ignorance or both is involved. As I stumble around in a digital daze hunting the cure for my extreme befuddlement, any words of wisdom will be appreciated!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Today 2/7/2013

Hubby at our post-surgery recovery center
Husband Walter is definitely on the mend from Monday’s laparoscopic gallbladder removal. This morning, however, he was suffering from a severe case of cabin fever.

I convinced him not to drive our van. Our compromise was a walk . . . I thought. It turned out he had in mind a one-mile hike to and from Coffee Fusion, our favorite coffee shop and hangout.

Upon learning the coffee shop was our first outing since the surgery, proprietor Adam quipped he would post on the Coffee Fusion Facebook page:
“Coffee Fusion, post-surgery recovery center.”

We are back home now. Hubby did fine, exhibiting more stamina than I did. After about a week without any of my usual mile-plus walks, I had to take a rest stop at a bench on the way to the coffee shop.  After tea and coffee during our break at the “recovery center,” we both made it all the way home non-stop. But Hubby is snoozing in front of the TV and I am ensconced on the sofa with my laptop.

Azaleas and rain
Rain last night turned some of our azalea blooms into a limp mess. Many beautiful blooms remain, but the billowy cloud of deep pink has lost its billowyness, if that is a word. I hope there are enough unopened buds to restore that facet of the azalea’s appeal.

Gift of cheer
I can still enjoy some indoor flora, though, as my Christmas celebration continues. Our oldest son Walt and his family gave me a pretty pottery vase plus a subscription to a “flower club” that ships fresh flowers periodically.

Our first shipment arrived over a week ago, beautiful yellow roses, snapdragons and a number of other blooms. In addition to the colors and the variety of the flowers, I appreciated the information sheet that identified the species in the bouquet and gave information about their horticultural origins and history.

A week and a half later I have removed the roses and baby’s breath that were done for. Left were specimens of a new variety of lime-green chrysanthemum and most of the pink asters. They looked like a brand new arrangement in that vase. Daughter-in-law Sarah has a talent for pulling together creative combinations for gifts.

A different kind of flowers: daughters-in-law Sarah, left, and Katie; granddaughters Charlie, Stella and Molly Kate

I have a grandmother’s delight in the development, conversation and antics of our grandchildren. Another creative Christmas gift from our youngest son Jeremy’s tribe is fueling that delight. Their gift includes a collection of their recent photos of their family and a 2013 calendar with photos of all six of our grands, their parents and Hubby and me, all products of the online prowess and organizational skills of daughter-in-law Katie plus the photo skills of both Katie and Jeremy.

The images offer bouquets of bright moments daily as I consult the calendar or pass our upright piano where both our Louisiana and Georgia grands join older loved ones on top of the piano. 

The images in the framed and unframed photo gift collection are not accessible right now in digital form. Instead I have included the photo above and below as samples of some Christmas "flowers" I have enjoyed on Katie's blog, The Daily Skup
Walker, left, and Molly Kate

And that is how my Christmas has continued into the new year and merrily through the first week of February.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

West Coast travel: Charging stations

Plug-in for charging electric cars
On Day 7 of the West Coast trip that Husband Walter and I took in October, the charging station above for electric cars caught my eye. That was the first I had encountered. Earlier that morning, we took advantage of the kind of charging station that is more familiar to us.
 Our kind of charging station. Photo by Walter Skupien

We refueled and charged up at the continental breakfast served by The Gables Inn where we had spent the night in Sausalito, California. My selections of abundant fresh fruit, buttered toast and a couple of cups of English breakfast tea provided a delightful start to my day.
Enjoyable and healthy . . . a no-guilt breakfast

The inn offered the breakfast treats in a comfortable and lovely setting that encouraged leisurely enjoyment of conversation and the fare presented there.

An enjoyable spot to start our day

Afterwards the flowering vines festooning the adjoining balcony beckoned.

Balcony flora at The Gables Inn.

More memories, simple but good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

West Coast Travel: Gray-day antidote

A source of California comfort food
After an early morning drive through fog and mountains, Husband Walter and I arrived in Mendocino with dismal skies dimming gingerbread-trimmed structures to dull whites and pastels.

The picturesque coastal town of my memory was at the northern limit of a West Coast trip we made years ago. On that trip, under sunny skies, we strolled all around the business district, the galleries and specialty shops located in structures of a bygone era. I had looked forward to repeating that experience even with my post-stroke walking that would be slower and more tiring.

On this visit Hubby drove around until we spotted a likely coffee shop and bakery. We were ready for our coffee, hot tea and comfort food. We found a parking spot a block or so away. No stroll this time.

We hustled through a light drizzle, avoiding the puddles pooling on the streets. The term “hustle” post-stroke is, of course, applied to indicate faster than my current normal rather than actual speedy foot travel.

The Goodlife Café and Bakery touted itself as an organic espresso and juice bar with homemade food. Our entrance into the café was pure pleasure. Warmth, both physical and emotional, welcomed us.
The inviting Goodlife.

A queue of congenial patrons studied the available food and drink while the enticing scents of freshly baked bread, pastries and breakfast and lunch offerings wafted around us.
Hubby, left, joins the queue in the Goodlife.

A latte for him and hot tea for me had us both warmed up and mellow. We split an empanada, the first we had ever seen, let alone tasted. The egg, cheese and sausage version we shared was delicious. The slaw that came with it was a fantastic combination of sweet, sour and crunch.

No sunshine outdoors, but definitely a sunny day for us inside the Goodlife Café and Bakery.

Today 2/5/2013

Husband Walter is recuperating today, staying ahead of any pain with medication. He is sleeping a lot and exhibiting minimal interest in eating.

His surgery was a success. Thank you, dear blogging friends, for the prayers and positive thoughts on our behalf. If possible, my appreciation is even more heartfelt when I think of the photos and report the surgeon gave us yesterday.

Instead of a 3-centimeter-diameter stone identified via the earlier sonogram, what the surgeon found was a pear-shaped rock about 10 centimeters long and six centimeters diameter. It filled up the whole gallbladder. There was no bile, just stone and the sac surrounding it.

Hubby’s surgeon was still able to remove it through the laparoscopic procedure, although he did have to increase an incision from .5 inch to about 2 inches to accommodate the stone’s unusual size.

I have to say a few other thank yous:

-To walking buddy Ann who arrived at the surgery waiting room to keep vigil with me. She and sister-in-law Lila kept up such light and enlightening conversation going that worries had little chance to intrude;

- To Lila who stayed from start to finish then transported us from hospital to home. She then ferried son Walt back to the hospital to collect our van, returned to our home and stayed with us until Walt returned from picking up the prescription pain medication;

- To our daughters-in-law who encouraged their husbands to come to our aid with physical and emotional support. I admit that our sons and daughters-in-law were far more perceptive than we were about those needs;

- To Hubby’s mother and sister who brought him encouragement; and

- To Hubby’s surgeon, nursing staff and the gracious ladies staffing the surgery waiting room at Ocean Springs Hospital.

Walt is on his way back to Georgia right now. Son Jeremy arrived this morning and has been strapping me into my various splints for some of my “passive” therapy. We all three have been sitting here working on our respective MacBook Pro laptops. Hubby just now abandoned the laptop and is snoozing once again. 

Life is good!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Today 2/3/2013

We haven’t started celebrating Super Bowl Sunday quite yet. We attended a Saturday night worship service so the first part of our Sunday has been a relaxed affair. With Husband Walter’s help, I have completed all but about 30 minutes of my at-home therapy exercises.

There are multiple benefits to having my left arm strapped into high-tech splints. I have three. My splints are designed to combat negative tone, the curling up and shortening of muscles and nerves, a condition caused by the brain and body’s response to my stroke.

I have one for my left shoulder. I lie down in that one. I can read my Kindle for the twice daily, 20-minute sessions. Another straightens my elbow; the third my wrist and fingers. Even though I sit up for the other two splints, walking around is a no no, as the weight would do unwanted stuff to my shoulder.

So 45 minutes of immobility in the elbow splint equals 45 minutes for using my laptop. Then comes 60 minutes in the wrist splint. I break that into two 30-minute sessions. Until a couple of months ago, I slept in the wrist splint. But since my therapist recalibrated it, once again I have been slowly building up the time I am in it. 

I first started using the smaller splints, I think more than a year ago; and it was painful if I tried to use my computer with either of them on. Now, using the laptop, at least in my lap, is not a problem. And these treatments carve out 105 minutes of guilt-free online time.

Afterwards my response to Hubby’s query about what I wanted to do between lunch and game time required no thought.

“You are the one having surgery tomorrow. You choose.”

So here we sit at Coffee Fusion, engrossed in some of our favorite online activities. He is checking news sites. And I’m . . . well, you can see what I’m doing. 

When we leave here, he is treating me to a walk at the Davis Bayou area of the Mississippi District, Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Temperatures are cool but not cold, the sun is shining and the sky is a glorious blue, at least one of our azaleas is bursting into bloom, and I am having an impromptu Thanksgiving for recovery progress, Hubby, friends and relatives, beautiful weather and blogging friends whose responses to life’s unexpected turns remind me to be anxious for nothing.

Here is the whole passage thanks to Bible Gateway via Google.

Philippians 4:6-7
New King James Version
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Just now 
Had a call from youngest son, Jeremy. Unknown to Hubby and me, he and our oldest, Walt, got together and divvied up care of their parents. We had assured them we would do fine with Hubby's procedure and recuperation, but Walt is coming from Georgia to be with us tomorrow and Jeremy will drive in for Tuesday.

As I told Jeremy, what a wonderfully sneaky thing to do. Okay, I have got to go now and get control of happy tears that are threatening.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

West Coast travel: Fog, logs and a winding road

Foggy morning

On Day 6 of our October West Coast trip, Husband Walter and I experienced a thrill ride on Highway 20, the two-lane state roadway we drove from Willits, California, to the rugged Pacific Coast. We departed the valley terrain of Willet and snaked our way over two summits and through the Mendocino Range, all with the added challenges of heavy fog, tight curves and oncoming trucks hauling heavy loads of logs.

Below are photos I took through the windshield of our rental car . . . when I wasn’t gripping the edge of my seat or scrunching my eyes shut.

Fog plus curves

And logs

And more logs

Note the 25 mph speed sign alerting us to the hard right turn that the oncoming truck had just exited. There were a number of those on the 28-mile drive.

Willet trivia, thanks to Wikipedia: The Willits area is the final home of the racehorse Seabiscuit. Ridgewood Ranch, where Seabiscuit trained, recuperated, lived out his retirement and was buried, is located a few miles south of the city.

Friday, February 1, 2013

West Coast travel: Streets of Eureka

I spotted the above on a Eureka, California, street. According to the infoplease thesaurus, these are synonyms for “unitard”:

“leotard, body suit, cat suit, garment.”

Further information offered was “a tight-fitting garment of stretchy material that covers the body from the shoulders to the thighs (and may have long sleeves or legs reaching down to the ankles); worn by ballet dancers and acrobats for practice or performance.”

Those synonyms were familiar, but the only examples of the actual garments I had seen were on dancers and in movies.

I admired the nerve of the individual in the photo, but just seeing such fitted apparel, from neck to wrists and to ankles, made me feel claustrophobic, unable to breathe. 

Not for me, even as a young person before the effects of gravity started appearing.


Preregistration and blood work this morning in preparation for Husband Walter’s upcoming gallbladder laparoscopic surgical procedure was quick, and the lady drawing blood was an expert, no-pain sticker. Expectations are that Hubby will go in Monday at noon and be home recuperating the same day. All prayers and positive thoughts are appreciated.

Our fluctuating weather from warm to chilly has brought temperatures in the 50s and low 60s daytime and low to upper 30s nights. Those low temperatures increase the stroke-induced tone of my left side. As a result, my left shoulder, arm, wrist and fingers become uncomfortably tight much of the time. Even my left leg seems inches shorter and my ankle aches. Later this month I am scheduled for another set of botox injections to relax the tone in my arm, wrist and fingers and that will help a lot.

Even as the tone has intensified and the effect of my previous injections is beginning to wear off, my therapy has continued to produce progress in my elbow and arm movement. The changes are in infinitesimal increments but progress nonetheless.

Hubby and I will shortly head out the door for a walk around our neighborhood. That should loosen things up a little.

*  *  *  *  *
We just returned from our walk. Hubby surprised me. We reached a corner where we have often turned in a direction that expands the distance of our return home. He nixed that option and suggested we go straight, across a busy intersection and after that along a challenging stretch with lots of traffic, no sidewalks and an incline up to a railroad crossing.

I knew immediately what he was up to. We were going to walk all the way to our favorite coffee shop, Coffee Fusion! I laughed out loud. And, oh yes, I can now laugh and walk at the same time without losing my balance. A leisurely session with our hot drinks fortified me for the return trip. Roundtrip was a little more than one mile. Hooray!