Monday, July 22, 2013

Time off from blogging

I am taking a few weeks off from blogging for time with family. I hope to visit your blogs some during this time. Although I won’t be posting, you will all be in my thoughts and prayers. 

My blog list and my cell phone address book serve as my permanent prayer list now. Since my stroke, paper and pen lists never seem to stay where I can find them.

It occurs to me as I type this that my blog list isn't as well organized as the lists I have seen that other bloggers have. Most show up on the left side of my dashboard and the first few lines of current posts in the center with most recent at the top.

For some reason not all the blogs I read regularly show up there. So I have them bookmarked. It works for me. 

I plan to be back to posting sometime before mid-August, and posts will probably as erratic as ever.

Stay cool! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Warning! Whining ahead

I have a narrow foot and extra narrow heel. Right now I am dealing with the consequences of settling instead of persevering until I could locate narrow athletic shoes that 1) meet my physical therapist’s guidelines for footwear that will contribute to regaining my balance and mobility, and 2) fit so that my right foot doesn’t slip forward and keep my toes jammed into the front end of the shoe.

The consequence is the second ingrown toenail on that foot since my stroke. The podiatrist has taken action, and the sore toe is gradually healing.

It has helped to wear a flip flop on my right foot and on my left my usual athletic shoe with the Bioness sensor and transmitter or a well worn black shoe that accommodates a plastic brace for times I can’t wear the Bioness. Either combination is definitely weird-looking and doesn’t help me much in staying balanced. The flip flop does, however, help avoid the pain of a shoe touching the sore area.

Early this year I bought a pair of low-rise boots that met my physical therapist’s approval. The pair works with the heel plate sensor and transmitter for my Bioness foot-drop system.

They are the closest thing I have for dress shoes post-stroke. The occasions that I wear them usually involve challenging environments with crowds of legs, both human and furniture varieties, and for some reason the shoes intensify my uneasiness about keeping my balance in a crowd.

I look forward to the day I can walk in them with the same confidence that I do in my athletic shoes. I also look forward to walking with all my toes healthy, happy and uncomplaining.

Maybe it would help if I adopted Nancy Sinatra’s attitude in the video below.  

Extreme ironing? 
Hubby is watching TV and I just now caught part of a segment about “extreme ironing,” apparently a variation on extreme sports.

I manage to NOT iron by avoiding clothes that require ironing and by strategic timing in removal of laundered clothing from the dryer. And I don’t care to watch other people iron, even if they wield their irons while skydiving or surfing.

I did, however, succumb to perverted fascination and googled. Results numbered “about 2,480,000.” There is even an official Extreme Ironing Bureau (EIB) page. It explained, “Extreme ironing combines the thrill of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.” Of course, Wikipedia has more here.

I can understand the satisfaction of completing a task that creates crisp order in a chaotic world. But it is not for me. I have been known to iron the occasional tablecloth, but I happily and peacefully coexist with most wrinkles, whether in aging skin or in clothing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stroke recovery: Grandkid therapy

Our little pixie Stella
Happy moments, lots of laughter and adults sharing delighted grins above the heads of diminutive philosophers.

A visit from our Georgia grands and our daughter-in-law opened with Sunday evening’s communal gobbling of Baboo’s homemade pizza and ended with Wednesday morning goodbyes before the three oldest departed for adventures at their Sea and Sail day camp. And ever since my cup of good memories is truly running over.

Monday morning was the first day for the three older siblings’ week of day camp. Youngest sibling Stella stayed with Hubby, AKA Baboo, and me while mom delivered the older kids to the camp then met friends for the morning.

One moment during that morning had me tearing up. Baboo had gone out our back door to pick tomatoes. Stella followed. A second later the back door swung back open. Stella popped back in.

“Nana,” she said. “Are you going to be all right if I leave you by yourself?”

All stroke survivors should have such effective therapy!  

Monday, July 15, 2013

At home in the kitchen

Nate the chef (Photo: Walter Skupien)
The sight above greeted me as I was enjoying a morning cup of tea during a recent visit to our Georgia tribe.

Grandson Nate, almost nine years old, had quietly assembled a skillet, mixing bowl, spatula, and egg carton from the refrigerator. I noticed him after he had pulled the family “time-out chair” in front of the stovetop and set to work.

During the family’s June beach vacation, a cousin about two years Nate’s senior had introduced his younger relative to the joys of preparing scrambled eggs.
Culinary confidence in action  (Photo: Walter Skupien)

A male at home in the kitchen is not unusual in our family. Nate is following in the footsteps of his dad Walt; Baboo, his dad’s dad; and his uncle, our younger son Jeremy.

Nate earns spot among our family's male cooking enthusiasts. (Photo: Walter Skupien)   

The camera had no effect on Nate’s poise or progress. He finished cooking, plated the three scrambled eggs and chowed down.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Time flies

Luke, the birthday boy

Luke, our first grandchild, celebrated turning 11-years-old recently. In a few more years we may still choose to call him "the birthday boy” on his special day, but the label won’t be accurate. He is rapidly maturing into a young man.

During a visit today, our son Walt pointed out that in about four more years Luke will be the age that his dad Walt was when he and Sarah, Luke’s mom and our daughter-in-law, first started going together.


The wish

Watching Luke with 11 candles in front of him, I could still feel the overwhelming joy and thankfulness that I experienced when I cuddled our little month-early Luke for the first time.

Time does indeed fly. But some things haven’t changed: Love for this child, no matter what the age, and the love, joy and thankfulness that Luke and our other grandchildren are bringing into our lives.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stroke recovery: Good Samaritans

Mechanic Mike Hadaway and Homer Jones wait with us for our van part to arrive.

Van trouble struck on a recent trip to Georgia. Husband Walter and I were scheduled to stay with grandchildren while their mom was involved in a series of all-day classes.

Fortunately we had started out a day early with plans to spend a night at the mountaintop lodge of an Alabama state park.

But before we began the ascent to the park, something went wrong. The van’s check-engine light came on, the vehicle started running rough and it was losing power. We turned off at New Site, the first little town we came to. We asked about any auto repair shops in the vicinity. There was only one in the community of fewer than 1,000 people.

We pulled up to S & S Discount Tire at 5:02 p.m. Mike Hadaway, the young mechanic/operator of the tire store and repair shop was closing up. He was obviously ready to go home to wife, kids and downtime.

But he never faltered in his courteous, helpful, friendly attitude. He immediately went about the business of hooking up the apparatus for the electronic sleuthing that is evidently the norm for automotive repair these days. 

Hubby pulled out our sturdy and comfortable camping chairs, positioned them in the shade in front of the repair shop, and helped me settle safely for our wait.

Homer Jones, a neighbor of the shop from “back up the hill,” had parked his golf cart near us. He and I swapped chronicles of our strokes, his from 1985 and mine from 2011.

My descent from our van, the way I walk and a curled up left hand leave no doubt about my status as a stroke survivor. It comes with my survivor status that strangers who are fellow stroke survivors or family and friends of survivors are likely to strike up conversations.

That is actually a rewarding side effect of stroke survival. Their stories are always interesting to me, and I usually find encouragement and useful tips through our conversations. And when they keep asking questions, I think maybe my experiences offer something to them, too. 

Before long Mike came out from under the van’s hood, carrying a black object. It didn’t look impressive to me, but it was crucial--the distributor cap. It had cracked. The result was two injectors cross firing or working at cross purposes or some such thing. The precise automotive term escapes me now.

Anyway, we needed a new distributor cap, and Mike didn’t have the part in stock. While he started calling to locate the correct part, Homer offered, if it turned out that the appropriate part was not immediately available, to go back home for his car and ferry us to one of the two available motels in the larger community nearby. Since it was already after hours, that offer was appreciated, but I hoped we wouldn’t have to take him up on it.

When Mike returned, he reported that his boss, owner of the shop and two other shops in the region, should arrive in an hour, maybe a little less.

The sun was easing toward the horizon, and a cool breeze had arrived. Mike settled into the golf cart, and “bonding” continued.

In the south there is always the potential for bonding. My experience has been that the potential in a small rural community ramps up to a certainty unless the newbies are absolutely anti-social.

Hubby, Mike and Homer were soon deep into conversation that ranged from family and work experiences to local natural attractions and topics in between. When they explored their musical preferences, Mike pulled out his smart phone, made a few quick taps. One of our favorite 70s oldies, Dancing Queen by ABBA, poured out of a repair bay.

That was magical to me, but smartphones and bluetooth technology are ordinary conveniences for the young mechanic, his generation and elders less technologically challenged than Hubby and I are.

The shop owner arrived. Within minutes Mike had the distributor cap installed and our van running smoothly again.

Our unintended and unexpected intergenerational gathering was at an end. But those Alabama good Samaritans had banished the threat of a sunshiny, blue-sky day turning dismal.

It was a great day!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Stroke recovery: Going backwards

A terrible truth just now burst upon me as I looked in the mirror of the restroom at Coffee Fusion, one of my favorite blogging and tea-drinking spots. My shirt is on backwards!

We were in a hurry today, and Hubby helped me don the top. At least it wasn’t inside out. I’ve done that since my stroke, too.

Back at the table with Hubby, we laughed at my wardrobe malfunction. Hubby pressed for a decision: Go back to the restroom where he would help me with the required adjustment or wait til we return home.

This particular top is a not my easiest garment to get on and off post-stroke. Plus, we have been here for over an hour, visiting and chatting with other “regulars” and getting an Internet fix. I think if anyone were going to pass out over the shock of seeing my backward attire, they would have already keeled over.

Forgive my lack of interest in fashion correctness, but I just choose to go backwards until we get home.

Have a great weekend and stay safe if you are in the path of bad weather!

Playing with food

Salad day

Our fresh-from-the-garden salad days are just about coming to an end. The cucumber vines dried up as did two of our four tomato plants. But we have enjoyed the bounty while it lasted.

Husband Walter treated me to huge and healthy salads regularly. On the day he assembled the one above, I had to wait for my laughter to subside before I could dig in. Along with the grilled chicken on top of the veggies, he had garnished my salad with several slices of boiled egg, each with one of the tiny “sweet pea” tomatoes right in the center of the yellow yolk.

Hubby hits a bullseye with playful, tasty salad.

This was one time that I was definitely happy about somebody playing with food.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stroke recovery: Mark and Ann’s neighborhood

On the bayou
For more than a year, walking buddy Ann and I have tried to match our family schedules so that my husband and I could accept the invitation to visit her and her husband Mark at their home on a bayou.

We finally made it on a pleasant, mild day in June. Those months of waiting had heightened my anticipation. During those months the slow but real progress in my stroke recovery journey had also equipped me to enjoy our visit even more!

As I navigated their spacious backyard, Ann gave me the tour of their productive “square-foot gardening” veggie patch. Ann and I have been swapping garden triumphs and aggravations during our walks. Visiting Mark and Ann’s veggie garden was a treat.

Is it crazy to get such pleasure out of poking around another enthusiast’s horticultural domain? If so, I’m definitely certifiable.

Then the couple guided us to their comfy boat dock retreat, an open, roofed structure over the water, complete with fish stirring the water and a three-foot alligator keeping an eye on us from the water near the opposite bank.
Can you see the bayou neighbor?

Ann had prepared a sugar-free, gluten free, melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake dessert. She also had a tasty Darjeeling tea for me, the only one of the group who was not a coffee drinker. Lively conversation, laughter, a delightful breeze and taste buds dancing in cheesecake ecstasy, what could be better?
Nature’s therapy

Well, a tour of the bayou neighborhood and adjacent stretch of the Pascagoula River, that’s what. A year ago, boarding the couple’s pontoon boat would have been doable but scary for me. My balance is a lot better now, and everybody helped make sure I didn’t take a tumble and develop a closer relationship with that alligator.

Interstate 10 bridge from the river

Most of our major trips east take us over the Interstate 10 bridge that spans the Pascagoula River and salt marsh. On those drives across that high bridge, I always watch for the bird’s-eye view of the saltmarsh, an iconic estuarine habitat. But I had never seen this particular marsh and bridge from sea level.

I wasn’t confident enough about moving around on the boat to expand my photo options, but that didn’t stop me from snapping wildly in hopes that my camera would capture something of the visual therapy I was experiencing. The mix of manmade and natural had me snapping.

Expanse of water, marsh and bridge capture my fancy.

More lush bayou foliage greets our return from the river.

Thank you, Mark and Ann, for a happy and healing outing!

Mark, our host, boat pilot and tour guide 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Blogging break

Our Georgia grands and our Daughter-in-law Sarah have been with us since Sunday evening. They have one more night at our home before giving their other grandparents a grandchild “fix.”

That means I have been enjoying priorities other than blogging: Luke, Nate, Charlie, Stella and DIL Sarah.

See you soon!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hairy happy ending

Hubby’s handiwork

The lady who had cut my hair for more than a decade evacuated ahead of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and didn’t return to our area. She had worked well with old lady hair, fine hair, hair that had some natural curl and hair with obstinate cowlicks. My hair fit all four categories.

For three years after Katrina, I tried different salons. Unless the cut was totally abominable, and some were, I visited each stylist at least twice before moving on. Booking extra time for them to “get acquainted” with my hair’s strange habits didn’t seem to help. They invariably gave me a cut straight out of one of those magazines with the latest trendy cuts.

And those trendy cuts were definitely not the answer for me, at least not on the hot and humid Gulf of Mexico coast where we live. Humidity made my “naturally wavy” synonymous with “frizzy.” The result was that the higher the humidity the more weird sprigs that would pop up all over my head.

Husband Walter was rightly out of patience with my whining. He regularly admonished me to tell them what I wanted. But doing that was the whole problem. Beauty shops have ever been a foreign environment for me.

And as I am not a native of beauty shops, my failure to master the language doomed me to failure at communicating effectively with the natives. I continued to leave salons muttering to myself, “It will grow out. It will grow out.”

When I retired in 2008, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to spend any more time pursuing a decent haircut. In fact, my preference was to spend not a single minute of my newfound retirement freedom in a salon. Goodbye hair color, goodbye to wasting time and money on cuts that didn’t work.

Bolstered by the conviction that I had nothing to lose, I started cutting my own hair, learning as I went. The process was always accompanied by “It will grow out. It will grow out.”

After the stroke in 2011, I was unable to figure out how to give myself a cut using right hand only. I asked friends and relatives if they knew of any stylists who had success with naturally wavy hair. I tried the only one mentioned.

Her first haircut I liked; Hubby didn’t. Neither of us liked the second cut. Plus, both stylists in the newly opened salon were smokers. 

They didn’t smoke inside, but since my first visit they had established a smoky outdoor gauntlet that clients had to navigate to reach the shop’s entry. Yech!

When I grew desperate for another trim, Hubby balked. I issued an ultimatum: He could come in with me, stay through the whole process and let the stylist know what he wanted. I already knew what he wanted--my 70’s hair inspired by Farah Fawcett’s long billowy locks. That ship had sailed, though.

My hair was thinning and after I turned 45, the few times that I attempted to grow it out resulted in the “dead-squirrel look.” If you have ever seen a road-kill squirrel flattened in the street, you know the look. Short hair became my permanent over-50 look.

Hubby’s other choice?  He could cut my hair himself. He chose the latter.

After every cut he gives me, he moans that it is the worst one yet. Our prompt duet is “It will grow out!” And it does. There have been a few weird gaps along the way, but he is the first “stylist” since Katrina to work with my hair’s quirks.

Ahhhhhhh! A stylist who gives me mostly decent cuts AND  prepares delicious meals that usually fit my post-stroke dietary restrictions. What a deal!

Friday, July 5, 2013

How sweet it is!

A welcomed break from the road

Some folks bemoan receiving gift cards as presents. Not me! Whether it is a gift card, an actual physical gift or a personally crafted item, it means the giver thought about me and cared enough to act on that thought. And giving the gift cards to others on occasion can be a real help to me as I deal with my post-stroke shopping deficiencies.

Our extended family is filled with wonderful givers of tangible gifts as well as gifts of their time and themselves. And our daughters-in-law and sons are right up there among the most thoughtful and creative of gift-givers. Their gifts have covered the spectrum of gift categories, including gift cards. 

Triggering these thoughts was a stop we made during a recent trip. Husband Walter and I exited the interstate to find a Starbucks for a fix of hot beverages and free WIFI, all thanks to a gift card from DIL Sarah. 

As I enjoyed my hot tea, it occurred to me that both gift cards and travel bring me enjoyment. And I enjoyed thinking about the similarities the two share. 

With a gift card I enjoy thinking about what I will "spend" it on, the enjoyment of making the purchase, the enjoyment of whatever I have purchased and the entertainment of remembering the experience.

Similarly, when it comes to travel, I enjoy the process of deciding a destination or destinations, the planning, which Walter handles and peppers me with questions, conversation and hints of surprises. Those conversations all build my anticipation of the trip. Then there is the travel experience itself as well as the memories.

There are obvious differences. Travel is more involved and more intense.

Oh, and there is one more difference that frugal Hubby and I savor: Travel is not without expense. But for our break from the road, Hubby handed over the gift card--no cash or credit card charge. We just sat back, breathed in the aroma, sipped and enjoyed.

Oh, how sweet it is.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stroke recovery update

May 31, 2013 was my final therapy session, maybe for a while, maybe for good. But I hope that I can return to therapy once policy changes are clarified.

In the meantime I have reason to be hopeful that my progress will continue. Improvements are minute and slow in developing but any progress is encouraging.

My creative and inspiring occupational therapist Amy assigned a set of exercises for me. I am convinced that with the help of my husband, friends and a loving God who has been with me throughout this journey, I will continue to do my part to strengthen my stroke-impaired left shoulder, arm and hand.

During my final sessions before discharge, Amy fulfilled my request to “put me through my paces” and correct anything I was doing wrong in the exercises that she assigned me. I do have difficulty remembering the precise routines. Getting them right is important. Every single facet of each exercise she gives me targets a specific limitation or set of deficiencies that I have.

In addition to the exercises, I have three different splints

That doesn’t mean I do every one of the splints and exercises every day. Logistics of activities on the home front can make consistency difficult to maintain.

Life can certainly be distracting.

Travel puts an even greater dent in the time and energy that we devote to exercises and splints. But travel comes with its own benefits for this stroke survivor. Splints and exercises stretch brain, muscles and nerves. Travel stretches my stamina and the abilities to adapt and to find enjoyment in the unexpected. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stroke Survivor Travel: An agricultural adventure

Husband Walter, left, my personal pea picker

Mid-June I was able to check off an item on my local travel wish list—going to a you-pick-it farm.
Welcome to Charlie’s. (Photo: Walter Skupien)

I really hadn’t given the excursion much thought about what planning and adapting might be necessary for a stroke survivor to participate. That is not unusual for me. Until I actually experience something post-stroke that I used to do without a problem, I tend to forget that my capabilities are a whole lot different now.

At this stage in my recovery, I am always at risk for falls, but I soon realized that the challenges of keeping my balance in the you-pick environment left me feeling more at risk than usual.

This trip to Charlie’s U-Pik turned out to be “Y’all pick while I sit on a cooler.”

I accomplished some shots from a standing or stooping-over position, but most were from my perch on our trusty Coleman cooler.

I spent my time taking photos (Photo: Walter Skupien) of . . .

Field pea blossom . . .

Okra bloom . . .

The center of an okra blossom close up . . .

Tomatoes and friends.

Randy and Lila were our partners in grime. Randy had done the footwork about the Charlie’s U-Pik opportunity.

All four of us have ventured into backyard vegetable gardening the last few years, and we were in awe of the acres of lush plants and all the veggies. There were even rows of sunflowers.

You could fill as many 5-gallon buckets as you had brought with you at a cost of $10 per filled bucket. And you could fill them with whatever you chose to pick.

As we headed home our amazement at the 100-acres of summer vegetables turned to speculation about whether commercial fertilizers and pesticides figured prominently in the farm’s operations. 

My goal for our own backyard garden plot is not to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Husband Walter has cooperated by composting plant material from kitchen and yard. But he is also applying Miracle-Gro. No complaints here, though. He is doing most of the work since my stroke.
Pea-picking results

My dear husband had filled one bucket nearly to the top with purple hull peas then threw in some okra and zucchini. He also shelled the peas, cut up the okra and put it in the freezer.

Two days after our excursion we feasted on some of those purple hull peas accompanied by fresh cherry tomatoes from our tiny garden. That was the first time I have enjoyed those fresh-from-the-garden country peas in several years.

Thank you, Hubby! 

He posted his Charlie’s U-Pik account and photos here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A July 1 first

This morning is the first time in our more than 40 years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that we have been able to open our windows and turn off the AC on July 1 without melting.

At this time of year even on cloudy days the weather is usually hot and humid. 

The cool breeze I am enjoying probably won't last long. It is almost noon. The sun is shining, and I don't see a leaf stirring. 

A ceiling fan is keeping me comfortable right now, and I will enjoy while I can. What a surprising and pleasant first on this July 1.