Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Happy Easter

Our Georgia tribe
Our sons and spouses have given us the gift of a joyful jolt of family this Easter weekend. Walt and Sarah spent Friday through mid-morning in town. They and the Fab Four bunked with us and divided their visiting time between us and Sarah’s parents.

Son Jeremy and family spent Easter holidays with wife Katie’s parents on a beach getaway, and I am enjoying the anticipation of a post-Easter visit as they and their two stop by during their drive home tomorrow. Blessings all!

A special thank you goes out to son Walt who orchestrated the photo above and downloaded that and his other images of the weekend from his camera to my laptop. A thank you, too, to Husband Walter who served as photographer for that family portrait and who put his camera to use when he wasn't cooking or playing with grands during the Easter weekend.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Stroke recovery: Good, Good Friday

Our Georgia crew will be arriving about 5:30 p.m. today for Easter weekend. Daughter-in-law Sarah said she will bring everything Easter and for us not to worry. So I’m not worrying. Husband Walter, AKA Baboo and cook in our household, kicked into grandpa mode early this morning, though, restocking pantry and refrigerator with some of his usual kid- and grandkid-pleasing items.

A visit from grown children, their spouses and, of course, grands will pile up even more to be joyful about and thankful for this Easter.

Today is also one of two days that mark the anniversary of my stroke. The burst blood vessel in my brain did a number on sensory receptors and mobility on my left side. The life-changing event occurred on Good Friday almost two years ago. Good Friday in 2011 was on April 22, the other stroke anniversary day.

Although I have to expand on that “life-changing” description of my stroke. The reality is that I have to be thankful that the multitude of life-changing events in my past are a source of joy: meeting my Savoir when I was eight years old, marrying my best friend, the birth of our children, the marriage of our kids AND . . . ta da . . . grandkids!

*   *   *   *   *
Looking back
I am short on computer time lately, so I am cheating on the look back I wanted to post about my stroke recovery. Instead I am cleaning up a draft of impressions I had recorded on September 15, 2012 but never posted. That is, I don’t think I posted this before:

Stroke recovery: 9/15/2012
The last few weeks I have been experiencing days (September 2012) of really low energy. A walk with Husband Walter around our neighborhood yesterday gave me confidence that I will be able to recharge and boost energy levels. Since I passed the one-year anniversary of my April 2011 stroke, I have gained stamina. Usually a brief rest will ready me to go again.

I don’t nap, but I usually follow periods of physical activity by spending a little time with my feet, legs and hips on the same plane, preferably sitting up in bed reading, with my left arm stretched out on a squishy pillow.

Wednesday had included strenuous therapy, a bit of housework, and an evening date with another couple at our favorite coffee shop.  When Hubby and I took a walk the next morning, the rapid evaporation of my energy unnerved me a bit.

By Friday, though, I woke up feeling energized. By the time Hubby returned from running his three early morning school bus routes, I had laundry well under control. That was a significant accomplishment on my personal feel-good scale. We have unruly laundry. Without daily attention it tends to reproduce in the dark and erupt into what affects me as overwhelming, paralyzing proportions.

A neighborhood walk met my goal of walking at least 0.6 miles and pushing a bit beyond. We had measured from our home to a busy intersection as 0.3 miles. Going north across that intersection would take us over railroad tracks and to a shopping center that includes Coffee Fusion, one of our favorite gathering places.

Unfortunately, that route is extremely unfriendly for pedestrians and especially for a stroke survivor with challenges in maintaining balance. There are no sidewalks in that direction and the shoulders on either side slope almost steeply away from the street.

So we stopped at the corner of the intersection where I did a fist pump, celebrating that we made it safely 0.3 miles. Rather than immediately retracing our steps, we turned left onto a sidewalk and the next safest direction. Then I picked out new goals—the next utility pole and after that a decorative streetlight. On the way back no smokers occupied the two benches outside a neighborhood  laundromat. I took advantage of the benches for a brief rest then easily made the trip home.

And that was the way it was September 2012.

*   *   *   *   *
Easter greetings
For those celebrating Easter, may your Easter be filled with meaning and joy. For those of different beliefs, have a glorious weekend.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What a neighbor!

A fellow resident of our town
One mid-morning in early March, Husband Walter and I cruised through the mainland area of Gulf Islands National Park not many blocks from where we live. We spotted this huge occupant of the alligator pond.

Actually the reptiles are not corralled in the pond. They are free to park wherever they choose in the adjacent bayou and salt marsh. Sometimes they even venture onto the road or onto the road or into the picnic area. 

This gator had to be longer than six feet and was probably closer to eight feet. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stroke recovery: Season of change

Since my 2011 stroke, my observations of the signs of spring have been mostly from our vehicle. This year my view through the windshield has been especially memorable thanks to azaleas and red maples.
Formosa azalea
The exuberant, flamboyant pinkish purple of the Formosa variety of Southern Indian azaleas first appeared in my yard at the end of January and they were blooming all around our area in February. 

They look their best when they have room to spread out, the bushes hidden in blooms and shaped like the hoop skirts of antebellum ball gowns.

There were a few ethereal whites, red, hot pinks and pale pinks. But it was those old-time Formosas that created billows of unbroken color along property edges.

A few days before the official first day of spring, most of the azaleas here had already reached their peak. Backyards, front yards or peeking over privacy fences, they start my spirit singing of spring.
Colorful spring wings
I also love the early reawakening of the red maples. It wasn’t far into the new year when I noticed the red winged seeds of a maple along a street we travel regularly.

When Husband Walter and I took a day trip to Louisiana in early March, red maples continued to show off. They graced the edges of pine forests. As we drove the interstate lanes and bridges, I could also see them scattered among the bare, gray branches of deciduous trees that were still sleeping in flood plains.

What struck me was the variety of color, and I spent much of the drive mentally trying to find words to apply to each color and order them into a progression of shades and tints.

I saw pinkish beige, pale coral, salmon, rusty red, scarlet, deep burgundy and more. My vocabulary was totally inadequate. My effort might even cause a groan from the artistically gifted. But it was an enjoyable spring exercise.

My sympathies to all the snowbound. Tonight and several additional nights temperatures are forecast for the 30s, unusual for our northern Gulf of Mexico coast this time of year. 

The temperature started dropping in the afternoon today, and Hubby will be out taking steps once again to protect the four tomato plants that I bought and insisted we plant several weeks ago. 

Wishing you a great week with congenial weather!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stroke recovery: Then and now

Helpful hallway feature
The second anniversary of my April 22, 2013, stroke is almost here. The hemorrhagic stroke zapped the right-hemisphere components of my brain and nervous system that control left-side movement and the reception and processing of sensory input on my left side.

The railings pictured above are in an Ocean Springs Hospital hallway. They are similar to the ones in the Singing River Hospital Comprehensive Rehab Center.

I spent 27 days there after I was discharged from the intensive care unit at the Ocean Springs Hospital. What a difference, though, in the way I used those railings then and how I use them now almost two years later.

In the current stage of my recovery, such features allow me to lengthen my stride and to get moving with more confidence. Just touching them with the fingertips of my right hand gives me an additional sensory reference point. And that helps compensate for the sensory input that I now lack.

My relationship with the railings during my 27-day stint in inpatient rehab didn’t begin until close to the end of my stay. The first priority was to work with me on retraining me in safe self-care such as showering and transferring from one surface to another, as from bed to wheelchair and wheelchair to potty. And all those things were challenging.

When the day came to do more in the movement department, the staff wheeled me into the hallway and positioned my wheelchair where the railing would be next to my right hand once I stood up. I think there were two techs holding on to my gait belt, one behind me and one on my left. Somebody was lurking with the wheelchair. 

The physical therapist was on a low rolling stool where she used one hand to keep my left knee from collapsing and an elbow to shore up some other weak body part against collapse.

My recollections are definitely a little fuzzy. What I remember clearly is the sheer terror. My left-side body parts no longer worked without conscious thought. Neither did they respond to my fierce concentration. Fear of falling and maybe dismay at the total lack of response from my body overwhelmed me.

The therapist assured me they would not let me fall. I accepted that intellectually and finally managed some forward movement, but that didn't diminish my fear. I was slow to trust.

Eventually holding on to the railing became part of several different walking exercises. In those early days “holding on” may have been too mild a phrase. 

Even later when I was in outpatient therapy, any nearby sturdy structure that resembled a railing tempted me to “cheat” on the assigned exercise and latch on with a left-handed death grip.
A confidence boosting rail
The ultimate goal in those early walking attempts was to traverse 20 feet, about the length of the section between the two doors closest to the camera in the photo above. The therapist and techs celebrated every advance toward my reaching that goal. Now I can’t remember if I ever actually reached that 20-foot mark during my stay at the rehab center.

I do remember, though, that the fear was slow to recede. Even though I was committed and determined, that didn’t keep fear from roaring back full force every time the therapists introduced a new walking exercise or environment. And that held true for outpatient rehab many months later.

That terror hasn’t struck for over a year now. Much milder fears do surface in certain circumstances. I usually avoid stores jammed with breakables or extra narrow aisles. Walking in crowds of fast-moving people can also still raise my anxiety level.

That is when my hiking stick comes in handy. When I use it, people see it and are usually careful not to bump me or dart across my path right in front of me. And it is not because I look like I’m going to bop them with that wooden stick. Most people react quickly to give me the space I need to maintain balance.

I am thankful for such simple kindnesses that come my way every day. They help me maintain balance in the emotional and spiritual realm, too.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Signs of the times

Giant paper clip holds seal of the City of Spanish Fort, Alabama.

We pass this paper clip and seal at least once or twice a year on day trips to various locations on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama. I do appreciate the creative human spirit that emerges in weird and, to me, wonderful attention-getting examples of advertising.

Giant paint can in Florence, Mississippi. (Photo by Walter Skupien)
One Sunday when we were returning home from a weekend trip, Husband Walter made a stop to take a photo of a king-sized paint can on U. S. 49 in Florence, Mississippi. I had first seen it as we traveled north on the first day of our weekend jaunt.

It was way taller than Hubby or me, maybe Paul Bunyan sized. Walter remembered my interest in the three-dimensional paint and hardware advertisement and ignored drizzling rain to get the picture for me.

A Marietta, Georgia, landmark
“The big chicken” topping a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Marietta, Georgia, is a well-known landmark of the Atlanta suburb. The seven-story, steel-sided structure at the intersection of Cobb Parkway and Roswell Road was built in 1963 to advertise a chicken restaurant that later became a KFC.

 In 1993, a huge public outcry nixed the proposed demolition of the deteriorating landmark. After all, how would residents give directions without referencing “the big chicken”?  KFC agreed to rebuild the entire structure. A better photo is here published by Marietta's online magazine and city guide. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

West Coast Travel: Bay Area Sampler #2

San Francisco Cityscape viewed from Yerba Buena Island

A friendly welcome
On an October 2012 West Coast trip this friendly smile and a $6 toll welcomed us to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. Husband Walter and I enjoy the mix of old and new experiences on our visits to San Francisco. We have walked the 1.7 miles across the bridge and back several times.

Our most memorable Golden Gate Bridge walk was July 4, 2002, after 9/11. That day there was beautiful weather and a spirit of goodwill and fellowship that broke out into friendly conversations among strangers as we hiked in the sunshine, 220 feet above the water. This trip we didn’t attempt that trek.

We only had Friday afternoon and evening and the entire day Saturday.  Although I have made great strides in my stroke recovery (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist that punny cliche!), I was not quite confident about walking that distance with no benches for resting.

A picturesque challenge for this stroke survivor
But riding the famous San Francisco cable cars was a challenge that I was determined to face.

Every time we visit San Francisco, riding the cable cars – a lot – is at the top of our to do list. No matter how many times we have visited, we still act like first-time tourists in our excitement about the historic mode of transportation.

Except we go first to the Hallidie Plaza that is near the Powell Street terminus at Market Street. The plaza recognizes San Franciscan Andrew Smith Hallidie’s development of the iconic solution for transporting people through the City’s steep streets. The cable car system he developed and tested in 1873 is the same cable-driven system in operation beneath the streets of San Francisco today.

But history is not what prompts our stop at Hallidie Plaza. We buy our 3-day MUNI passports at the Visitor Information Center on the plaza’s lower level. There are other locations that sell the passports, but the visitor center also offers lots of useful information and helpful assistance by real-live human beings.

The three-day passes are about $22 and cover unlimited rides on cable cars, historic streetcars and MUNI buses. We get our money’s worth and more with the passports. There is also a more expensive City Pass that includes admission to selected attractions, but the passport is a better fit for how we like to explore San Francisco.

The cable car operators and conductors were extremely alert and helpful about my physical disabilities, easing the way in my first post-stroke attempts to board and exit a cable car. Using one of the sturdy metal grab bars, I was able to pull myself up onto the steps to board the car.

Disembarking down the steps was a little more difficult, but Hubby Walter is a great “spotter” in situations that push the margins of comfort or safety set by my degree of progress in regaining movement, strength and balance at any given time.

Our ride down Hyde took us past well-known sights:
We passed the top of Lombard Street's famous “crooked section” with Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower visible in the distance.

The crooked, brick-paved, one-way section of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth features tight switchbacks that ease the way for vehicles on the 27% grade.

Hubby also treated me to a night-time photo safari, starting with Coit Tower.

Coit Tower at night

My night view from the sidewalk around Coit Tower

By our last stop at Twin Peaks, I had exhausted my energy reserves. I chose to enjoy the view from the comfort of our rental car. Walter’s photographic efforts were interrupted as we both watched the efforts of an industrious raccoon that was raiding a trash can. Walter posted about our night-time excursion here. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Friko on complaints

Thanks to blogger Friko for her mention on her blog of my 21-day fast from complaining. She included in her recent post a comment she had left on my post then proceeded to share a sparkling take on verbal communication that may or may not qualify as complaining, from moaning to protesting. And that included my favorite, her “complaining-in-advance” strategy.

As usual she articulated her thoughts with precision and with details of behavior that we have all observed in ourselves and in others. I savored her subtle humor even as her words nudged my brain cells and started me pondering the questions her prose raised. Her readers also launched a lively discussion via comments.

In her comment on my post, she said, in part, “I love raving and ranting and complaining. It lets off steam and afterwards I can get back to admiring the sunny side of life.”

I like how she closed her post, “Personally, I am in favour of moaning a little less and doing a bit more of the protesting, and not just for lent.”

I hope she doesn’t give up her rants, though. They are entertaining, thought provoking and often include observations delivered through a prism of self-deprecating humor. If you have not discovered her blog it is Friko’s World here.

Oh, and I am still working on that “complaint-free” status. In the wake of Friko’s post and in the interest of full disclosure, though, I have to say I have three dear friends who provide an outlet for my venting (I am afraid venting is a euphemism for complaining.).

All three are younger than I am, have faced major hurdles of loss and pain and emerged better not bitter, strong women of faith. One is a relative; two are walking buddies.

Our interaction is usually one to one, and the effect that each of these ladies has on me amazes me. If I start a conversation with a grumble, it is usually about something shallow, one of life’s minor irritations. Sometimes they offer practical suggestions. Other times they just listen or join in for a mutual grumble.

The big stuff is a matter of faith and not as likely to be fodder for my complaining. I am usually confident it is being taken care of. They do, however, never discourage me from recounting experiences in the progression of a major challenge, and I regularly tap into the healing comfort of their compassionate listening.

But whether our conversations begin with major or minor topics, they often somehow morph into hilarity. Whole-body laughter is such a blessing, and these ladies definitely deliver blessings. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Happiness Happens

Happy #1. Husband Walter’s mom, AKA Grandma Sugar, is doing well after receiving a new heart valve Tuesday. A team at Oschners Medical Center in New Orleans positioned the new valve and installed it using a minimally invasive procedure that is fairly new in the U.S. Grandma Sugar was back home Thursday.

Today when we visited she was still weak but breathing without the in-home oxygen set up that she was using before the trip to Oschners. I am thankful for answered prayer and modern medical miracles.

Happy #2. Walking buddy Ann and I took to a nearby indoor mall Thursday morning. Cold, wind and rain plus various medical and family events have limited our walking since December. Thanks, Ann, for the energizing physical therapy and the steadying emotional therapy.

Happy #3. Hubby declared another vacation day this morning. Breakfast out and later a latte for him and hot tea for me at Coffee Fusion. Contact with former colleagues, some retired, some not, was a plus.

Happy #4. Phone calls from friends are wonderful visits, even when circumstances limit in-person get-togethers.

Happy #5. Pizza night with hubby's homemade pizza.

West Coast Travel: Bay Area Sampler #1

Overlooking the Golden Gate
A full day in the Bay Area included some favorite sights. On a number of visits to the Marin County area we have enjoyed the view of the Golden Gate strait connecting the Pacific to San Francisco Bay.

On previous visits finding a spot to park was a Wild West experience. Side of the road parking was unpaved, unmarked, untamed. At least that is how I remember it.

New look for an old favorite spot

The whole area—and the experience—has now been thoroughly domesticated. Paved parking, beautiful walkways of level pavers, guardrails and interpretive signage now grace the area.

This stroke survivor appreciated the easy-to-navigate surfaces. I also relished the information about the battery for huge guns, left unfinished when Pearl Harbor rendered obsolete such protective measures for sea coasts.

I do miss the energy of the days when snagging a parking space was an adventure. It was definitely a competitive sport, but surprisingly good spirited.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Today 2/4/2013

Mexico Midgets. Photo from Mobile Botanical Gardens
We are having warmer temperatures for a few days then another dip isforecast for 39 or 40 on Thursday morning. Husband Walter and I are taking a chance that we can protect four tomato plants that he set out for me today.

I am sitting here grinning like an idiot as I think about that planting experience. The male-female communication—or lack thereof—about where and how I wanted them planted would have been hysterical but for the frustration it was causing Hubby. Fortunately I stifled the laughter. His patience was epic and deserved my respect. But I have to admit, even now I am having a hard time quenching the giggles that are threatening.

I limited our purchase to four plants because that is as many as I had prepped space for. If I haven’t prepared a spot, I tend to let plants die before I can get them in a pot or in the ground. And that held true even before my stroke almost two years ago.

February 23 we made the trip to Mobile Botanical Gardens to pick up the plants we had ordered online. The MBG folks had worked with local growers to have about 30 varieties of tomatoes ready early enough for prime time coastal planting.

It has been a bit too cold since then to plant them, but I am sure some of the gardeners who live on Dauphin Island off the Alabama coast experienced warmer days much earlier than today and had their plants in the ground with a good head start.

The varieties I chose take 60 to 66 days from transplanting to harvest. Three are supposed to produce cherry or grape-sized fruit. The fourth variety will be medium-sized fruit, I hope. I purposefully chose only varieties with fewer than 70 days between transplant and the onset of bearing fruit.

That gives us the possibility of enjoying fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes early May through June. By July the nights are so hot that most tomato plants stop pollinating here. My tomatoes that have produced beyond June have had a blah taste, except for the cherry varieties. That may not be true north of the coast.

All four we planted today are touted as heavy producers. I hope that means enough for us AND the birds. I have tried other strategies to no avail. Maybe this year!

*   *   *   *   *

Tightness in my shoulder and arm rearranged my therapist’s plans for today’s 8:15 a.m. session. I left feeling much better than when I arrived, though. Therapist Amy spent most of the session working on massage and manipulating my shoulder blade, arm and elbow to loosen them up.

Thanks Amy.
*   *   *   *   *

Excellent at-home therapy

Flowers from our Georgia loved ones provided at-home therapy. The bouquet that arrived several days ago included iris and stargazer lilies that were not opened fully. I thought they were beautiful when they arrived, but they have gotten bigger and even more flamboyant.

Stargazer up close.

I forgot this one’s name but I like its symmetry and cheerful color.
Yellow flower

One thing I love about cut flowers is that their eventual demise is expected. Even though I can kill flora from shrubs and veggie transplants to silk posies and plastic Christmas trees, the end of cut flowers is not my fault.

Hooray for beautiful, guilt-free flowers! Thank you Sarah, Walt, Luke, Nate, Charlie and Stella.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

West Coast travel: Not a blue tarp

Marin County Civic Center

Several years ago, Husband Walter and I were traveling U.S. 101 in Marin County, California, when I spotted an impressive expanse of blue roof undulating across hilltops and valley.

I doubted I was seeing a huge version of the blue tarpaulins that offer temporary and sometimes effective protection for hurricane-damaged roofs in our coastal Mississippi region. 

Thanks to a free tourist tabloid I picked up during our October 2012 West Coast trip, I learned that the striking blue is the roof of the Marin County Civic Center. Famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the center, and it was constructed after his death.
Another view of Marin County Civic Center's blue roof

We started our Oct. 12 San Francisco Bay Area sightseeing at the civic center. Both photos above of the civic center's blue roof are via Wikipedia Commons. We didn't encounter the rooftop view above. 

After our trek uphill from the parking space we finally found and exploring for a bit in the county administration wing, I was ready to sit and rest, snapping occasional pix through the windshield or cajoling Hubby to grab a shot out his window with my camera as we drove around the complex. 

The ground level arches supported arches in decreasing sizes on subsequent levels.

Our view as we approached one of the drives beneath the building

The arched drive-through intentionally framed a view of Marin County terrain.

Inside, an atrium provided an abundance of natural light. Wright’s interior design had specified transparent panels instead of walls for county offices, representing openness in government. Those panels looked opaque rather than  transparent. What's your idea about the possible symbolism of that opaque white instead of transparent?

Of course, if I were a county employee, I would want no strangers observing my spells of pulling my hair out and ranting about an uncooperative computer. 
Marin County Civic Center Atrium, County Administration, Third Floor

As much as I found the exterior attractive, the interior was interesting but seemed sterile and unwelcoming, even with the wonderful light from the skylight.

From the third floor, a view of one of the drive-throughs

A welcoming public library

A county library served up the only atmosphere of welcome that I experienced. It was located on the third flood of a rotunda that connected the county administrative wing to the larger Hall of Justice courts complex. We didn't visit the Hall of Justice. Perhaps it had more people buzzing about, adding a human element and subtracting the somewhat spooky feeling of the county administration section. 

Lonely newspaper racks, a sign of change (Photo by Walter Skupien)

Interesting and nostalgic for me were the well-crafted built-in newspaper racks near the entrance. I could imagine that when the county wing was completed in 1966, the newspaper area was a busy stop, convenient for arriving employees and citizens to purchase a daily dose of local, national and world news. 

Now they are evidence of the modern move away from traditional newspapers as principal sources of news. Only two of the boxes appeared in use for newspapers sales.

Husband Walter posted about our visit to the civic center here.