Sunday, April 28, 2013

Katrina recovery

Museum pre-Katrina (Wikipedia)
Hurricane Katrina’s 30-foot tidal surge destroyed Biloxi’s Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum on August 29, 2005. The cupola was a distinctive architectural feature on the top of the old Coast Guard station that housed the museum on Point Cadet in Biloxi, Mississippi.

In the years since, whenever our destination has taken us over the new Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge, that cupola, resting not far from the empty site once occupied by the museum, has stirred my hopes for continued Mississippi Gulf Coast recovery.

Construction began early this year on a new home for the museum at its pre-Katrina site on Point Cadet. Construction is progressing at the same time for a public park on the surrounding grounds and the adjacent area formerly referred to as Point Cadet Plaza.
Museum site now (Walter Skupien)

The surge that swept the museum away also destroyed the bridge that spanned Biloxi Bay and connected Biloxi with our town, Ocean Springs. Our mayor fought for the bridge design to offer more than an industrial multi-lane raceway.

An attractive divider separates a wide pedestrian-cyclist lane from vehicle traffic. The art that adorns the bridge and the people-friendly pathway has made the bridge an integral part of community life since the first traffic lanes opened in November 2007.

More than five years later, it is still the “new” bridge. Hopefully, another hurricane won’t require another “new” bridge to take its place.

View from Biloxi side of new bridge (Walter Skupien)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Surprise, surprise!

Huh? These aren’t round!
I planted four tomato varieties this year, carefully selected from the online offerings of Mobile Botanical Gardens. All the varieties in the online catalog were from commercial growers in the coastal Alabama area, ready for early planting. 

The botanical gardens crew had coordinated with the growers on the seedlings' early availability and the selection of varieties compatible with the climate of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, specifically the Mobile, Ala. area on the shores of Mobile Bay.

We are about 48 miles west, but I figured those tomato plants would be more likely to thrive than the big box stores’ plants that are often the same for, say, Pennsylvania as for coastal Mississippi.

I chose three grape and cherry varieties and one with medium-sized fruit—I thought. But yesterday when I got a little weeding in, I was surprised to discover a number of clusters already on the “Juliet” bush, the variety with medium-sized fruit. But an even bigger surprise was the shape of those green tomatoes.

Arghhh! Not only are they not round, they are also about as big as they are going to get. You can see husband Walter’s fingers behind the ones at the top of this post for an idea of size. A quick hop over to Google, and sure enough, somehow I had looked at one picture and description but ordered a different kind. It is just another of my Internet shopping missteps.

I am not that disappointed, though. I really like to use the cherry and grape tomato varieties for salads and to reserve the larger tomato varieties for sandwiches. But I have cut down on sandwiches with their requisite breads. Bread contains lots of salt. Instead I am eating more salads with salt-free homemade dressing, enjoying them and staying closer to the 1,500 mg daily sodium intake mandated by my doctor.

And I also like to pop tiny cherry tomatoes and even smaller grape tomatoes just like candy. We should be able to sample ripe ones from our own modest patch by early May. I am hoping all four varieties match the glowing descriptions of their flavor.

I am definitely a happy, hopeful, wannabe gardener!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

While waiting for beignets in NOLA

Saturday Husband Walter and I were waiting for our order of beignets at a packed CafĂ© du Monde in New Orleans’ French Quarter. I was busy people watching when it registered that couples and groups all around us were snapping photos, all with heads close together.

Couples, groups of girlfriends, parents and kids, all enjoying a festive, perfect day. I caught the photo frenzy.

“Walter, I want a picture of us.” He took several shots with my camera.
Where’s Hubby?

His attempts caught me but missed himself.

He handed me the camera for me to try. I got both of us in the frame but a wobbly hold created fuzzy results. Hubby tried teamwork, me aiming and snapping with his hand steadying my forearm.


And that is our record of a happy day, just in time to stash the camera and enjoy the beignets that arrived hot and piled with powdered sugar.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Stroke recovery: First post-stroke drive

Amy, my occupational therapist, put me behind the "wheel" Wednesday for the first time since my April 22, 2011, stroke. Although the experience was scary, my driving posed no danger to myself or anyone else.

I was on a simulated drive. Once I was in the driver’s seat, there was a steering wheel I held with one hand. There was also a gear shift, a rudimentary dashboard, and three screens in front of me.

The YouTube video above was the one I found that was most similar to the version I used. My first attempt was a practice drive down a fictitious highway with two or three lanes all in the direction my vehicle was pointed. There were no other vehicles and mostly straight-aways with a few gentle curves and rolling hills.

I was definitely in the “little old lady” category as I crept along barely accelerating up to 10 mph. When I increased speed above 30, I nearly fell out of the seat. And the dizziness was even worse in my first “for real” sessions of simulated driving in the city on busy interstates and urban streets with heavy traffic. 

The dizziness was most severe on the extreme curves throughout the exercise. I continued to feel like I was going to tumble off the seat, especially on curves to the left.

With Amy’s advice I began conquering the dizziness by the second exercise by focusing on a far object. But working on that strategy left little attention for working on two other big problems I encountered: acceleration and braking.

That was never a problem pre-stroke; but during my two five-minute simulated drives, I invariably stopped too far from intersections and too far behind cars in front of me. I would start and stop several times before making it to the appropriate position.

I never did move beyond my antagonistic relationship with the gas pedal and brakes. There may have been some deficiency in depth perception in play, too.

When time was up, my score was 0%. I was exhausted and certain that driving is not in my immediate future. At least I didn’t run into stuff like super-brain Sheldon did in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”

And my big fat 0 was still better than the lowest score I ever received on a test. In my sophomore year of high school, I ignored warnings to avoid guessing on a national math test. I had no inkling about the problems on the test. I figured what could be worse than a score of 0. A minus 19, that’s what.

Happy driving!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monday maneuvers

Lilies grace the front of Wendy’s, our Monday lunch stop.

Monday was a busy day for the residents of the Skupien household. Our number has increased to three as of March 23. My mother-in-law, Grandma Sugar, is recuperating with us. She had some setbacks several weeks after installation of a new heart valve in early March.

After home therapy for her and occupational therapy at Ocean Springs Hospital Neuro Rehab Center for me, Husband Walter loaded us into our van. Our destination was Wendy’s, one of Grandma Sugar’s favorite fast-food chains.

I was pleased with the choice, too. Wendy’s is one of the few fast food stops that offer something that easily falls within my low-salt regimen. A Wendy’s baked potato with a bit of butter and sour cream, while not exactly at an elegant venue, is tasty. It satisfies my appetite and the urge for an away-from-home experience.

A plus was the landscaping in an area where I could safely entertain myself with photographic attempts while Hubby and Mother made their way inside.

A close up of a blossom I enjoyed
It amazes me how much pleasure resulted from a brief encounter with the rich green of the lily’s lance-shaped foliage and the colors accenting the pristine white blooms of about four inches diameter.

A marketing mannequin
Our ride home took us past a bar and grill with a fair weather marketing device.

When I first spotted her several months ago in front of the eatery beside U.S. 90, I was startled.  A few moments passed before reality dawned. “She” was an “it,” not a real person. U.S. 90 is the main east-west roadway for most of our coming and going. I now watch for that figure.

She only appears on clear days, waving an orange flag. Upcoming holidays are always reflected in the mannequin’s attire. The clothing changes regularly even in the days and weeks between holidays.

 When I told Hubby I wanted to snap some photos of the weird addition to the landscape, I thought he had forgotten. He hadn’t. He had snapped a bunch of images for me.

The photos alerted me that she was minus one arm. I don’t know if her arm was missing the whole time she has been on advertising duty or if it was a recent condition.  

Either way, even a mannequin can apparently stir my sympathy for other survivors who have lost the use of some parts or lost those useful parts altogether.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stroke recovery: Gardening is therapeutic

Mexico Midget
Gardening is therapeutic, whether I am thinking about it, reading about it, planning for it, shopping for it, or visiting the gardens of others, especially through the miracle of posts by blogging friends.

But best of all is getting outside and grubbing in a garden. It is great mental and physical exercise for this stroke survivor.

This year Husband Walter and I are experimenting with new-to-us varieties of tomatoes, thanks to recommendations and on-line ordering available through the Mobile Botanical Gardens.

And thanks to Hubby’s taking measures to protect our tomatoes from occasional low temperatures in March, we already have about six little tomatoes on the “Mexico Midget” plant.

The tomato above is about the diameter of a dime and probably won’t get much bigger. The on-line catalog description said when ripe the Mexico Midget tomatoes will be about half the size of a regular cherry tomato.

We should be picking ripe tomatoes from all four varieties around May 4. Three of the four varieties we planted are cherry-tomato sized or smaller. One is medium sized. 

I chose varieties that were touted as flavorful, indeterminate, highly productive and requiring  fewer than 70 days from transplanting to harvest.

Today we are having thunderstorms and high winds. Although rain usually drains from our driveway rapidly, the deluges dumped so much water so fast that the accompanying wind gusts made white caps. That is only a little exaggerated, and I am wondering how our tomato plants are faring in the turbulence.
Tomato blooms promise tasty delights

Yesterday was a sunny, mild day perfect for weeding and snapping a few photos. Maneuvering my body and camera into position to snap these pictures of baby tomatoes and blooms was a challenge, although admittedly a welcomed challenge.

I am not quite sure why on the macro setting my point and shoot camera focused on the plant’s hairy branches instead of the little tomato and the blossoms I was aiming for. Focusing is definitely another challenge of my stroke recovery, both photographically and mentally. That reality contributes to the fact that life is often a hoot around our household.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

More on myopic childhood

I started to type a quick comment in response to blogging friends who commented on my previous post on my nearsighted childhood. But my response kept expanding. So here is a follow up post.

The episodes of terror or embarrassment that I chronicled about my childhood were not typical memories for me. In my own home, neighborhood and school, I am sure I never exhibited fear that would alert my parents to my vision deficiencies.

There was no squinting, the clue that alerted an observant teacher to the vision problem’s of Daniel, the son of blogger friend Sandra. No low grades, either. I rode my bike; I walked to school by myself. I had cousins and aunts and uncles galore and all their homes and grounds were familiar and non-threatening to me.

I didn't like sports. I rarely intentionally interacted with balls. The only way I stopped balls, whatever the size or shape, was when they hit me. But some of my friends didn’t like sports either, and their eye tests showed they had great vision.

Early on I developed a love of words. Sitting at the table or as a little kid even under the table, I listened raptly to the after-dinner adult conversation. My cousins and I would hear the family stories told and retold to laughter and sometimes tears.

Those stories and my parents’ reading to me ensured that I loved to read. Now when I read I take off my glasses and hold the words close. Because my nearsightedness gradually became worse over the years, especially in those early years of wearing glasses, my reading during those years before glasses may not have offered a clue about my inability to see well.

Even if it had, my parents probably had little chance to notice. I developed sneaky skills for finding spots where no one would intrude on the worlds where my reading transported me. It was in my reading that I became the courageous, self-confident, physically adept protagonist, the savvy world-traveler or the central character in fairy tales and fantasies.

When I started telling my mother about those memories that, as an adult, I could recognize as the result of my nearsightedness, she said she had been shocked and dismayed to learn the results of that first eye test. She added that she had always felt guilty that she hadn't recognized my problem earlier.

But I was a happy, active child. Yes, I was shy and lacked self-confidence. And even though the negative thought patterns that I had developed remained after I got glasses, and much later, contact lenses, the influence of those patterns began to diminish.  

For that I have to credit being surrounded by love: parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, wonderful public school teachers, and adult leaders of children’s and youth classes, organizations and activities in church and community.

There were also childhood friends and their parents. As unaware as I had been of my need for corrective lenses, I had always been aware of that love and was thankful for it.

Those positives continued in marriage, parenthood, interesting work and growing spiritual maturity.  

After the comments on the previous post, I am now also more aware that I need to insert disclaimers so that dear readers will garner an accurate picture. My tidbit in pursuit of accuracy: With all that love surrounding me, I could still be a selfish, insensitive little twerp more often than I want to admit or remember.

That fact makes me appreciate those patient, caring adults and peers even more--and more recently my husband, children, daughters-in-law, other relatives and friends. And yes, regrettably I can still be a twerp, only now a big one.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stroke recovery: Happy ending beats myopia blues

I have finally made an appointment for an eye exam. Vision has been on my mind a lot lately as I am experiencing some vision changes and challenges with tasks and balance.

An account at “The Elder Story Telling Place" of another elder’s childhood experience started me down memory lane and a reexamination of my own experience with myopia. 

I was oblivious to my extreme nearsightedness until I was in the fifth grade, about 1958. By that time the vision problems had done a number on my perception of my abilities.

The fall of 1958 was the first time my elementary school tested for vision. Our class was summoned to the auditorium. We filed in and sat in the first few rows of folding chairs.

Mr. Dennis, the physical education teacher who usually came to our school once every week or two, sat to our left, between students and the stage. Another adult ushered my classmates one by one to the right and positioned them directly across the auditorium from Mr. Dennis. 

The adult assistant made sure each one followed directions correctly, positioning a card over one and then the other eye as Mr. Dennis pointed to a line of letters on an eye chart.

I remember the intensity that filled the room as we waited for the “test.” I don’t remember exactly what happened when it was my turn. I just remember my turn ended when Mr. Dennis boomed out in his resounding PE-teacher voice, “My goodness, this child is blind.”

I cringed with embarrassment and shame. I worked hard to keep from crying. By the time a few days passed, however, my parents had taken me to a local eye doctor, and I was in possession of new glasses with blue frames. I was no longer embarrassed.

In fact I was in a state of ecstasy about all I could now see: crisp details of an amazing world instead of a soft smear of colors; individual leaves on trees instead of a green blur; the features of my Daddy’s face across the breakfast table instead of an oval with dark smudges that I knew were eyes, hair and mouth.

From that day to this I have taken my glasses off only to bathe, sleep, read fine print and sometimes to accommodate a hair stylist’s ministrations. Two years of wearing contacts was the only time I didn’t wear glasses, but that is another story.

As an adult, childhood memories have bubbled up and helped me recognize the marks left by my nearsightedness in those pre-glasses days of childhood. Away from familiar surroundings and routines, my experiences evidently hammered home negative childhood assumptions. I am thankful for the early vision and hearing tests that are available for children these days.

Some of those childhood assumptions:

Assumption #1“I am stupid.”
Assumption #2 “New places are scary.”
Assumption #3 “Crowds are scary.”

I was delivered to the huge (to me) classroom for four-year-olds at our church for the first time. I was skinny, shy and anxious about pottying.

The space was a confusing crowd of bodies, movement, color and sound. A couple of wooden blocks flew by my face. Then I realized I needed to go to the bathroom. I finally saw a big person, got her attention and shared my dilemma.

“The bathroom is right over there,” she said and pointed. I went in the direction she pointed but I couldn’t find the door. I must have survived without accident. My only memory was feeling scared and stupid for not being able to find the bathroom door.

As I became familiar with that classroom, it was a source of order and joy, not fear. I learned there were different activity areas in the room and where they were located.

I knew that we always had a group time where we sat on our little wooden chairs in a semi-circle around the piano and sang, sang, sang. We had a thrilling Bible story told by a kind, loving and animated teacher. The dedicated adults helped us with fun arts and crafts that reinforced our Bible lesson and that we could take home.

I treasured the little leaflets with bright pictures and the Bible story that we took with us when our parents came to take us with them to the church service. If progress had continued that way, the negative recordings in my head would probably not have gained such an enduring niche in my mind. I may have realized earlier that every individual faces challenges, fears or disappointments of one kind or another.

But patterns reinforcing those mental recordings continued--from my ineptitude at sports (I could rarely catch, hit, kick, or dodge a ball) to my inability to master how to tie a fishhook on a line.

Elementary school reinforced my earlier assumption that everyone was smarter than me. I can remember sitting in the second row from the front in Miss Johnson’s second grade classroom, panic-stricken.

She would explain something, writing on the blackboard, and it would make no sense to me. I was too shy and too panicked to say anything. I assumed I was the only one who had no clue.

Later, when she handed out workbooks or a worksheet, I would see what she had been talking about. I would understand the lesson. Panic would subside.

I imagine that scenario replayed throughout the second grade. I have no idea why I never questioned what I was experiencing. I guess I was just relieved that I grasped the concept, and successfully completing the assignment probably became the immediate priority.

My third and fourth grade teachers seldom used the blackboard, and early in the fifth grade, I had those new glasses. Memories of those earlier terror-stricken moments must have receded until something bubbled them up in my adult mind.

Assumption #4 “I am really, really weird.”

My second-grade year also included a visit to the city fire station with my Brownie troop. The outing evidently created another mental recording that at some point became one more thing I believed about myself. The gentleman guiding our tour evidently decided to set one of the visiting Brownies up on the firetruck.

Since I was unable to see the details he was pointing out on the truck, I had drifted off into a world of my own, oblivious to everything and everybody around me. Zoning out via imagination was a frequent occurrence for me.

Unfortunately the city public relations guy chose me for the firetruck-sitting honors, probably because I was a featherweight. As soon as he started lifting me up, I went berserk. Under the impression someone was “getting me,” I turned into a myopic tiger, scratching, clawing and writhing to escape capture. He retreated with his hand leaking blood from sizeable scratches.

When I recall the incident as an adult, I don’t remember being scolded or punished. I do remember how I felt that day. When I learned about the damage I had inflicted on him, I felt mortified that I had reacted like an insane person and inflicted bodily harm on a well-meaning city employee. 

As these childhood memories continued to surface in adulthood I became successful at replacing the negative recordings in my thoughts with accurate, positive truths. But those childhood assumptions must still lurk deep inside. Sometimes, in stressful situations they play again, until I consciously call a halt and embrace truth.

Assumption #5 “Unhappy beginnings can have happy endings.”
My experiences with childhood nearsightedness have left me with a better understanding that children cannot always identify or articulate what is distressing them.

Their distress and even terror is real and may manifest in ways that can appall and embarrass parents and other adults. Neither do a child’s actions always provide adults with a hint as to the real reason for inappropriate behavior.

My mother was finishing up her teaching degree the year I got glasses. My experience also made a difference in her teaching. She alerted more than one set of parents that their child may have vision issues not identified by the school’s yearly vision check. 

She found tremendous satisfaction when a student received help that bolstered the young scholar’s ability to function in the classroom and in daily life.

Assumption #6 “Vision, whether natural or corrected, is a miraculous gift. I will be thankful for it every day.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Weird but wonderful

Nate sports a new head.
Easter weekend took on new dimensions with the imaginations of our grandchildren at work. Saturday morning Grandson Nate appeared with his little cousin Walker’s riding toy on his head.
Luke dons a Halloween leftover.
Oldest Grandson Luke added to the horror show with a gruesome monster mask from Baboo’s Halloween fun of years past. The youthful monsters enjoyed my exaggerated horror and their sister’s shrieks.

Art trumps horror
The girls’ terror was evidence that they were just being good sisters. They quickly returned to their artistic efforts.

 Monsters unmasked

Precious moments indeed!