Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Sampler 2013

Colorful welcome to the courtyard of our New Orleans tour guide's Bourbon Street home

A few days before Halloween, Husband Walter and I arrived in New Orleans for a two-night getaway. We saw the street musicians below during an after-dinner walk around Jackson Square. 
New Orleans street musicians 

Masked musician
One of them was already in the Halloween spirit. When I switched to using my camera’s flash, he realized I was focusing on him. He obligingly faced me and kept on playing.

Playing for the camera in NOLA 

Ghost tours, including famous haunted houses and cemeteries, are offered all year in this city of history and mystery. Hubby and I had done self-guided walking tours before, but for this NOLA visit we planned to take a guided history tour the day before Halloween and one of the ghostly walking tours later that night.

After more than two hours on the walking tour of French Quarter history yesterday morning, we had lunch then collapsed in our hotel room for several hours. Abandoning our overly ambitious plan for the ghost walk was a mutual decision.

Scary clown

Instead we took a leisurely walk through the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood just adjacent to the French Quarter. We were a bit early for all the music club action that draws New Orleans and out-of-town music enthusiasts to Frenchmen Street.

As we headed back toward the French Quarter and our hotel, we threaded and bumped our way through oncoming musicians with their instruments. They were on their way to set up for scheduled gigs in the clubs.

Frenchmen Street Halloween art

It was enjoyable being a part of that energetic and vibrant milieu. It was also challenging and exhausting.

Walking is fun and great for my stroke recovery, but so is adequate rest. I was thankful we were close to our hotel instead of on a second two-hour walking tour. 
A Louisiana community keeps eyes on U.S. 90 Halloween travelers.

Halloween 2013 has given me a happy supply of fun.

Hope your Halloween has been happy and fun, too!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Along with pumpkins galore that we have seen in fall decorations, there was a noticeable scarecrow presence in towns Husband Walter and I visited recently.

Most of the scarecrows were mass produced. And even one-of-a-kind were benign creations.

Friendly scarecrow with taffy outside a Gatlinburg, Tennessee, candy kitchen

Creepy creativity

Roswell, Georgia, was the exception. In early October, scarecrows in a Halloween spirit populated Roswell’s historic downtown streets, stores and residential gardens.

A fashion-conscious witch scarecrow

Spooky chapeau

Dainty witch pumps

Sibling scarecrow spooks

The scarecrows enhanced the welcome commercial establishments offered with food, drink, a comfortable environment, and at one store, an invitation to pick herbs from the storefront planter.

Downtown U-Pik-It Planter

Hubby’s take on a Roswell, Georgia, early morning food stop here

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stroke Recovery: An unjoyful noise

Three of us were recently singing Happy Birthday to another family member via cell phone.  Suddenly a raucous off-key sound marred the ending. I was startled then horrified. 

I was the source of that noise!

Under pointed questioning, Husband Walter admitted that my “singing” had been that way ever since my stroke. He explained that he didn’t tell me earlier because he wanted me to enjoy singing as long as I could.

But what about those poor people around me whose ears I assaulted?

There was a sense of loss. But I can join in our church’s songs of worship SILENTLY, and that is still worship.

After that conversation I wondered if I might lose my voice all together as an effect of stroke. I wouldn’t like that, either. I love to talk.

Anna, gifted, gracious and thorough speech therapist

But an evaluation by Anna, a speech therapist at my neuro rehab center, put my fears to rest on that possibility. She said that most likely my pattern of breathing has changed, and I am not pushing adequate air through those vocal cords consistently. At least, I think that is something like what she said.

She gave me breathing exercises to use my “breathing muscles” and give me more control over the strength of my voice.

After I plowed through several Internet articles on the anatomy of breathing and singing, I was amazed at the number of muscles and their complicated interaction involved in breathing. 

Now I better understand. Of course there were breathing changes due to stroke. I assume the stroke zapped those “breathing muscles” on my left side along with all the others that were affected.

The exercises are already making a difference in the strength of my speaking voice. But one other exercise I have added to what Anna assigned is to limit my out-loud singing to times when I am home alone.

That exercise is mandated by the scriptural command to love thy neighbor!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pumpkin season, Part 3

 A larger than life pumpkin 

On our recent 10-day road trip, visits to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were graced with pumpkins, cornshocks, crows and a few scarecrows, all designed to welcome tourists and entice them to stay and spend money.

We rarely spend on attractions or shopping, but I did get a kick out of the decorations and the people-watching opportunities that the pumpkin vignettes produced.

I definitely felt kinship with the enthusiastic photographers below. I wondered if, like me, they fill a blog with grandkid pix. 

Fellow besotted grandparent photographers

The toddler above cooperated fully with the photo session. Earlier I had noticed her toddling around, unfazed by some older children’s rambunctious climbing and jumping around near her at the autumn display.

She carefully picked a bright yellow flower, wobbling around until she found the perfect spot of grass for plopping down and studying her newly acquired artificial botanical specimen. 

The addition of a grandchild, even one I didn’t know, ramped up the fun of my people-watching moments.

So did Husband Walter’s antics in an outhouse a few days earlier on a morning walk in Gatlinburg. 

Hubby poses in replica of historical rural structure.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pumpkin season, Part 2: Painting pumpkins

Our Georgia grands set to work embellishing pumpkins from a pumpkin patch foray earlier that crisp October Sunday afternoon during a visit from Husband Walter and me.


Nate, and 

Stella all worked on small pumpkins. 

Charlie picked a bigger pumpkin to create a larger-than-life feline. 

Granddaughter Charlie had a school assignment to decorate a pumpkin as a literary character. She chose the fairy tale protagonist Puss in Boots.

Before visiting the pumpkin patch, Charlie had found a hat that struck her fancy. She equipped it with an animal print ribbon as a band and a feather leftover from previous family projects. 

She attached the feather with silver duct tape. I thought the duct tape was a clever touch and looked like a sizeable silver clasp perfect for the feline character’s attire. 

I admit my enthusiasm for the duct tape clasp could actually have been the effect of a proud grandma’s predisposition for enthusiastic approval of the entire project.

A proud Charlie poses with Puss in Boots. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pumpkin season, Part 1

Minis at the pumpkin patch

On a recent trip there was no doubt that fall had arrived. We were a little early for widespread leaf color, but even so fall color was present in pumpkins. 

Our Georgia clan supplied an extravagant dose of pumpkin fun when they included Husband Walter and me in their excursion to a pumpkin patch at a nearby church.

Stella searches for the perfect pumpkin (Photo: Walt Skupien).

Charlie cooperates for her dad’s photography (Photo: Walt Skupien).

Baboo and Nana are happy among grandkids, scarecrows and pumpkins (Photo: Walt Skupien)

Those bright memories of the grands’ pumpkin shopping were just the beginning. Pumpkin decorating efforts were evident in every community we visited.

I had never before realized that bright orange pumpkins used in a variety of sizes, numbers and creative ways could trigger such a release of my brain’s happy chemicals and with no bad side effects. Woohoo!

Thanks to son Walt for capturing happy pumpkin memories and sharing with me.

Pumpkin Season, Part 2 here
Pumpkin Season, Part 3 here

Monday, October 21, 2013

Big wheel keep on turning*

For a bird's-eye view

The 200-foot-tall Great Smoky Mountain Wheel is a new attraction that opened this summer in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. 

Glass-sided gondolas
The Smokies wheel is touted for aerial views of the Smoky Mountains from all-glass gondolas that seat up to eight guests.  I prefer to do my viewing of the Smokies from ground level, up close and personal, where I can see, touch, hear, smell and even taste the real Smokies.

Great Smoky Mountain Wheel 

But I did enjoy our drive-by visit to the giant ferris wheel on our way home from a 10-day road trip. My interest was piqued by the wheel’s similarity to the iconic London Eye on the Thames River in that city. The London Eye is 443 feet, more than twice as tall as the Pigeon Forge wheel.

An even smaller wheel crafted from fall vegetation and mountain materials is a mini-version of Pigeon Forge's big wheel. The close up below is cropped from the previous photo.
Cornstalk ferris wheel?

One of the online sites I checked pointed out that the term “ferris wheel” no longer applies to these more technologically advanced, modern “observation wheels.” I grew up loving ferris wheels, roller coasters and all those centrifugal rides that could practically sling your eyeballs out.

Somehow, "observation wheel" sounds more like a school assignment than the carnival fun of riding on the ferris wheel at the annual county fair. Swinging high above the crowds, I savored midway aromas: popcorn, corn dogs, candied apples and cotton candy.

Swept away were the last of the not-unpleasant scents from our visit to the livestock exhibits: the sunshiny smell of hay and the earthy scent of meticulously groomed prize-winning pigs and cows.

The 93rd edition of our county’s fair opened its week-long run yesterday. We haven’t been in decades. The food on the midway isn’t the draw for me. But all those off-midway fund-raising booths selling seafood gumbo, barbecue, fried fish dinners and pies absolutely call to me.

There is even pecan pie on a stick this year. Fairgoers can nibble the sweet treat, crust and all, as they stroll the midway.

The food is prepared by locals who are passionate about their non-profit cause and passionate about their cooking. It’s a winning combination that has folks lining up for tried and true dishes from their favorite cooks and organizations or to sample a new group’s fare.

Maybe its time to talk to Hubby about a trip to the fair this week!

*Hat tip for post title to John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” lyrics

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stroke recovery: Comfort food

Comfort food from Hubby

I was still “recuperating” about four days after Hubby and I had arrived back home from a 10-day trip to visit family and to explore old and new territory.

Hubby’s query about my preference for our evening meal drew a blank. I was too tired and stiff from the previous week’s travel time in our vehicle to care.

But dear Hubby knows me better than I know myself. That can be downright aggravating, irritating and humiliating at times. It can also be endearing, encouraging, helpful and hilarious.

In this case I thoroughly enjoyed the result of his perceptiveness. He whipped up a quick and easy omelet meal. Pre-stroke, an omelet was one of my favorite comfort foods, loaded with Colby or sharp cheddar and liberally topped with Pace’s chunky salsa.

That was then. Now my post-stroke diet eliminates much that is tasty. Even though Hubby has worked to create appetizing edibles that fit the doctor’s mandate, omelets without cheese and salsa just lost their appeal.

For this meal he dressed up my omelet with colorful grape tomatoes and green onions. It was yummy. Notice that he also added smoked sausage, full of salt.

I won’t make a practice of succumbing to my love of salty foods, but I felt no guilt at indulging in comfort via taste buds that night. Even though it was a no-no, that sausage just put the final touch on my omelet meal.

I said “Yes, yes,” and cleaned my plate!

Monday, October 14, 2013

From where I sit: Bridal Veil Falls

We detoured on our way to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to visit a drive-through waterfall. U.S. Highway 64 originally hugged the mountain and ran right under the waterfall about 2.3 miles north of Highlands, North Carolina.

Bridal Veil Falls 

Now a short section of the original roadway offers the opportunity to drive through the falling water, near where a newer section of the highway avoids the falls.

Drive through

Traffic, uneven terrain, and a major attack of being a total fraidy cat kept me seated in our van while Husband Walter moved around capturing the falls and our van from different perspectives.
My under-the-falls view from inside our van

 At a faster shutter speed

My “from-where-I-sit” photos in this post and Hubby’s photos on his blog here all remind me of the happy day we had.

The idea of photos “from-where-I-sit”  originated many moons ago from a post by Sandra at her blog Mad Snapper. Her photos prompted me to look at my surroundings more intently. The idea offered a post-stroke challenge that engaged me in the early days of stroke recovery when I was in a wheelchair. 

It is also an approach to photography that chases away occasional frustration with myself when I don’t feel confident that post-stroke balance is up to my moving around independently to take photos safely.

Thank you, Mad Snapper!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Stroke Recovery: Bugged

There I was, sitting quietly on our sofa, taking a brief rest after some at-home-therapy exercises. Then peripheral vision flashed an alarm: a bug had just skittered on to my chest.

Ack! Frantic brushing and whacking with right hand ensued. My brain registered the attacking creature as gray, fuzzy and about the diameter of a pencil eraser. Also contributing to my panic—and shrieks—was the critter’s persistence. Every time I got it brushed off, it managed to get back on me.

I desperately needed a functioning left arm and hand! Hubby’s calm help finally got me toned down a bit. A more focused look turned my bug aversion to embarrassment.  

The athletic and determined “bug” was a small ball of gray thread tangled in a thin elastic thread, hence the “bug’s” ability to bounce back on to me. I took scissors and separated myself from the elastic and the “bug.”

I didn’t pursue the source of the elastic. But I suspect the culprit was frayed elastic on underwear that wouldn’t pass the mother test of “You can’t wear that! What if you were in a wreck and had to go to the emergency room?”

Well, I didn’t have to go to the emergency room. My only potential need for the ER would have been treatment for maniacal laughter. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

In the Smokies

A view from Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Husband Walter and I are in the Smoky Mountains. Due to the shut down of 17 percent of the United States' government operations, we knew our usual haunts in the park would likely be inaccessible.

U.S. 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road, is a major artery through the park from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. 

As expected, we saw a campground, picnic areas, visitor centers and major trails along U.S. 441 closed with parking blocked on our drive across the mountains. Parking at some overlooks was also barricaded. 

At one of the open overlooks, I hung on to an interpretive sign to snap the photo above. The wind was so strong that Hubby might still be looking for me down the side of the mountain if not for that sign.
Windblown duo
He was my stabilizer for the photos he snapped of us.  And that is not a weird growth sprouting out of my head. It's a tree in the background. We did not linger for do overs. The cold had us both scrambling to get back into our van.   

Even with government closures the Smokies still blow us away!