Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Time out

Dear blogging friends,

I am well, but my computer and camera are not so well. I am not sure if they are suffering from age-related issues or are just using their age as an excuse to be cantankerous.

Whatever the cause, I am using my difficulties posting as an excuse to be MIA while I enjoy travel with Hubby and time with grandchildren. You have all assured me in the past that such pursuits are worthy and that no one will expel me from the blogging community for this time out.

I still savor visiting even though my visits are sporadic, and I don't always comment. I look forward to ending neglect of Retirement Daze and blogging friends once the technology frustrations resolve and we slow down a bit on the travel.


Monday, October 20, 2014

An old acquaintance

Euonymus americanus

Last month I met a leafy acquaintance from my past at our Elkmont campsite in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

There was little fall color on display during our September visit. The spindly little bush pictured above offered a colorful exception.

I first met Euonymus americanus with its bright red seeds and seedpods in my late mother’s yard. It is commonly called strawberry plant or Hearts-a-Bustin’.

Hearts-a-bustin’ seed pod

Mother had transplanted it from Pascagoula River swamp to a black plastic, gallon-sized nursery pot. We didn’t know its identity at the time.

A cousin with a green thumb and an active sense of humor adopted the unusual mystery shrub. She identified it as a "Sidaroada," as in found on the “side of the road.”

Since then Google has informed me that, although deer may snack on the leaves and stems, humans should take the seedpods’ vibrant color as a red flag of warning. Pods and seeds are a potent laxative and cause severe diarrhea.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Life as a stroke survivor: Relief

Hallelujah! I am getting some relief from recent frustration with my Bioness L300 foot-drop system.

Oldest son Walt and me, March 30, 2013. (Photo by Walter Skupien)
  The electronic fashion accessory hanging around my neck in the photo above is the control unit for my Bioness.

Transmitter signals that my heel has struck the surface I am walking on.
The system electronically stimulates nerves and muscles that help my stroke-affected left leg walk better. A sensor in the heel of my shoe is wired to the transmitter shown above. The transmitter alerts the control unit when my heel strikes.

The control unit tells the receiver on the cuff around my calf to zap the appropriate muscles and nerves to lift my foot.

During a September trip to camp in the Smoky Mountains, the Bioness electrodes suddenly started stinging my leg like riled up wasps.

My cuff holds the electrodes in place. 
There were no wasps, though. I discovered a slight rash on my upper left calf where the e-stim system’s cuff fits just below my knee and snugs partially around the calf.

Since then I have been using my heavy plastic brace instead. It inserts into my shoe and fits from calf downward and under my foot. Unlike the electrical stimulation that lifts my toes up as I step forward, the brace is rigid and holds my foot in a fixed position.

Walking with the brace takes more energy, tires me more quickly and doesn’t contribute to my balance as much as the e-stim system does.

The rash has taken more than a month to heal, and today I wore my Bioness for the third time since the attack of the electrical wasps. It is exhilarating to be able to step out with more confidence and speed.

I removed the cuff after three hours. After an hour I put it back on for another three hours.

Skin eruptions under the electrodes are not uncommon among users of the e-stim system, but until now I have never had problems. I had forgotten, though, that when I first acquired the Bioness system, I had to build up my wearing time gradually.

I hope that easing back into longer sessions of wearing it will prevent return of the rash. So far, no wasps today.

Regardless of what comes next, those hours with my Bioness working properly helped me to stride right out of the funk I had spiraled into!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Happy Birthday, Jeremy!

June 2014

Our youngest son celebrates birthday #35 today. His entry  into our family was a gift that keeps on giving. And his growing up years were never boring for us, often hilarious and occasionally terrifying.

I appreciate the adult son, husband and father he is and the joy, laughter and thoughtfulness he continues to bring to our family. Happy birthday, Son, with all our love.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I will never again post about a book I haven’t read, even if I did enjoy previous books by the author and Amazon offers the Kindle version for free. Since my previous post here, I have started reading Snow on Magnolias, and I am disappointed with the multitude of grammatical errors and poorly developed plot and characters.

The first book that I read in the same author's Bon Amie series was Under the Sassafras. I liked it. It engaged me with the story and the characters; but even so, I don’t think I could have been oblivious to such errors as I have encountered in Snow on Magnolias. Could an unedited draft have been accidentally published? I apologize to anyone who ordered it based on my post.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What I’m Reading Lately—Snow on Magnolias

I just found and “bought” the Amazon free Kindle book edition of Snow on Magnolias, the second book in the Bon Amie series by Hattie Mae. Bon Amie is the small Louisiana bayou town that is the setting of Hattie Mae’s two novels.

I recently reviewed the first book, Under the Sassafras, here. I enjoyed that book, now at $3.99 in the Kindle edition. I don’t know how long the free offer for Snow will last, but if the characters are as strong and endearing as in the first book, my “investment” will be worthwhile. Now I am off to check if the latest Bon Amie book has shown up on my Kindle.

What I am reading lately

In Under the Sassafras by Hattie Mae, Joelette Benoit, a widowed mom of two engaging little boys, is eking out a living for her family by tapping the unique resources of the Louisiana bayous and swamps surrounding the quiet town of Bon Amie.

She and her boys live outside of town with her mother-in-law, a healer of bayou inhabitants whether human, feathered or four-legged. 

After an abusive married life with her late husband, Jolette is determined to shield her heart, her independence and her boys. Then the boys discover an unconscious man partially submerged at the swamp’s edge.

As he heals and struggles with memory loss, his wonder and appreciation of the bayou environment and the people who live there grows and earns him acceptance. Jolette finds it difficult to keep the barriers of her heart intact.

The author creates strong characters and a story line that made it hard for me to turn out the light at night. I will read more by this author. I recommend Under the Sassafras if you like romance fiction. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Revolutionary lunch

Colonial Williamsburg eatery
Lunch at Chowning’s Tavern closed a brief visit to Colonial Williamsburg during our June trip to Virginia for a niece’s wedding. The d├ęcor, costumes, entertainment and menu provided a glimpse of life in those early days that led to the birth of the United States.

Server in a costume of the period
Our lunch stop served up a mix of modern amenities and historical accuracy. I was thankful for the mix. We had explored the historic district on foot. 

Temperatures had risen with the approach of noon, and the cool in the tavern was welcomed evidence of air conditioning. We were comfortable enough to  indulge in coffee for Husband Walter and hot tea for me.

Non-colonial sweeteners
The hot drinks arrived in china, not paper or Styrofoam hot cups. And there were also artificial sweeteners, another modern element that we appreciated.

Chowning’s Tavern was definitely not the fast food place of yesteryear, either. Patrons were taking in the surroundings, studying menus at a leisurely pace, and savoring the courses and banter with servers.

Stew with cornbread muffin and butter
The Brunswick stew hit the spot for me in flavor and serving size. Hubby ordered a beef trencher with caramelized onions and aged cheddar. All was well except the horseradish sour cream that accompanied the entree. He is not a fan of horseradish.

Colonial serenade
We also enjoyed the entertainment served with our lunch.

More tunes
A sweet finale to our meal gave me a walk down memory lane. For years I have been on the prowl for pecan pie that tastes like the delicious dessert my mother used to make. Until now every piece of pecan pie I have tried was cloyingly sweet.

Pecan tart
In the interest of personal family history, I have persevered in my search. Success at last! 

The Chowning’s honey-glazed pecan tart could have come straight out of my mother’s kitchen. Ahhhhhh, the sweet taste of history.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New word

I love words, and fellow bloggers are continually serving up words that are new to me and that serve up fun, laughter or satisfaction over a new discovery.

“Lexophile” is my latest new word, thanks to a recent post here by Troutbirder. Lexophiles love words and are likely to enjoy word play. "Lexophile" may prove a handy term to apply to my passion for puns. Certainly it could earn a bit more respect than the cruelly accurate “corny punster.”

In addition to the puns on Troutbirder’s post, MadSnapper celebrated Labor Day with the punning observations below. She credited them to GuySports, but I couldn’t find them on that site. Here they are compliments of MadSnapper:

I took a job at UPS, but I couldn't express myself.
I tried being a fireman, but I suffered burnout.
I became a banker, but I lacked interest and maturity, and finally withdrew from the job.
I was a professional fisherman, but I couldn't live on my net income.
I next worked in a shoe factory, but I just didn't fit in. They thought I was a loafer, and I got the boot.
I worked at Starbucks, but I had to quit because it was always the same old grind.

I took a job as an upholsterer, but I never recovered.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Free Kindle-book alert

The Language of Sparrows, a novel by Rachel Phifer, is free in the Kindle edition today. The book is a feel-good read with teenaged Sierra as the protagonist and an interesting cast of supporting characters. I enjoyed it. My April 10, 2014, review is here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stroke survivor travel--Williamsburg

Doris Bixler, a traveler’s guardian angel
Retired teacher Doris Bixler, a volunteer at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center, deserves much credit for this stroke survivor’s delightful day at the Williamsburg historic attraction in June.

Prior to a trip to Virginia for my niece’s wedding, Husband Walter turned planning over to me for a day trip to Colonial Williamsburg. My early efforts online, however, left me overwhelmed and frustrated.

There was so much to see and do, but I had no success ferreting out information that would help me plan for dealing with post-stroke issues of balance and fatigue. 

And visiting many of the historic buildings came with a hefty price tag. That, too, raised more questions as we never know when my energy will evaporate and require us to cut short our day’s activities.   

We eventually decided we would just wing it. Several weeks later we encountered volunteer Doris at the visitor center, our first stop at Williamsburg, Virginia. Doris beat Google to pieces.
Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center

She quickly grasped what we needed. Her knowledge of Colonial Williamsburg and of people translated into practical options about how to enjoy exploring on our own and at our own pace in our limited time in the historic district.

Doris marked up a map and equipped us with precise information about walking distances and recommendations about shuttle bus strategies, sites we could visit free, and one of her favorite restaurants that was open and serving “authentic” colonial food.

The food recommendation was particularly timely. It can be picnic, fast food, more upscale or “historic,” but three meals a day are a must for us.

We had a great time. And I still had energy for my niece’s bachlorette party that evening.  

Now we are back home again. But 17 days on the road in June and the recent 11 days in July camping in the Smoky Mountains seriously derailed my blogging, especially camping with no electricity or WiFi.

We will head out again in September to meet up with Son #1 and his family for another Smoky Mountain camping experience. Before that trip I hope to be back to posting and visiting blogs on a more regular basis.

But we are learning that we both seem to require more time to get back in gear after travel than we did in our younger days. As a stroke survivor I have to use more energy to accomplish what once was automatic.

And Hubby’s efforts have increased exponentially. He still does all he used to do when we traveled, whether camping or otherwise. But now he spends more effort and energy keeping me safe and helping me cope post-stroke.

We brought home good memories, though, thanks to Doris in Williamsburg and other helpful volunteers and staff serving in parks and businesses from Virginia to Mississippi. I was also blessed with a cast of caring family members who made it possible for me to join wholeheartedly in the wedding festivities in Virginia.

Experiencing wonderful people, whether family or strangers, is one of my favorite aspects of travel that neither stroke nor age has changed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Historical garden

Blooming history

Our trip to Virginia for a wedding included a morning visit to Colonial Williamsburg. In a walk through the historical area, a lush flower and vegetable garden lured us in for a closer look.

The relatively small area was the Colonial Nursery, an interpretive and sales site that featured 18th-century garden plantings, botanical histories, historically accurate plants and practices. For sale were reproduction gardening tools and seeds for plants that would have been found in a cross section of 18th century colonial gardens.

Caught reading
One of the volunteers plied me with information, including the observation that she would like to have a gardener working in her garden the same work week of the gifted gardening expert working in the nursery eight hours a day, five days a week.
Wesley Greene and Don McKelvey, garden historians (Photo from Colonial Williamsburg history here)
The nursery is the first historical garden I have ever visited. I look forward to more.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Colonoscopy time

Linda in lovely pre-op attire
Tuesday, June 8, I finally had the colonoscopy that had been previously scheduled for June 2011. My April 11, 2011, hemorrhagic stroke canceled that and any other appointments for more than a month.

But early last Tuesday Husband Walter and I walked out of the waiting room, following the nurse who would be in charge of the pre-op routine for my colonoscopy.

Pooh--colonoscopy mascot?
“Your bed is right over here,” Nurse Pam said. 

The cartoon characters adorning the wall startled me. “Winnie the POOH and friends. That’s appropriate,” I blurted. After the prep I had endured the day and night before, my emphasis on “Pooh” was definitely warranted.

Pooh and pals

Winnie the Pooh and friends frolicked at my bedside. Then I was out. The next thing I knew Hubby was leaning over me in recovery, assuring me that all was well with my gastro plumbing.

All wasn’t okay, though. My next conscious action was an attempt to clear my throat. Swallowing, hacking, coughing—all futile; all causing throat pain. Attempting to talk hurt and my voice was almost non-existent.

I had gone in that morning fine. I woke up with unusually copious sinus drainage and a sore aching throat. I was sure someone had crammed hoses down my throat after I was “relaxed,” medical speak for knocked out. But no, the anesthesia had been administered via the IV.

I spent several days limiting myself to liquids and soft foods, starting a round of antibiotics and decongestants, and limiting contact with most of humankind. Friday, however, I abandoned caution and returned to eating salad and Hubby’s homemade pizza. It was an almost pain-free gustatory delight. I’m on the way back!

And hats off to my personal Pizza Man!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Turtle time

"Hello!" (Photo by Walter Skupien)
Husband Walter discovered this not-quite-grown box turtle in our yard recently. It was about three and a half inches long, a lot smaller than a couple other turtles sharing our address.

Resident box turtle (Photo by Walter Skupien)
Hubby thought the youngster might be offspring of two turtles doing a turtle tango outside our kitchen window one spring morning in late April.
Spring romance (Photo by Walter Skupien)

A Georgia Museum of Natural History article on box turtle natural history here said that mating can occur anytime between March and November. Mom usually lays 4-5 eggs in a flask-shaped nest in a sandy or loamy location that is open and elevated.

The article also said that eggs hatch in about 70-80 days, usually September through October. The hatchlings may overwinter in the nest.

Those facts eliminate the theory that Junior was the result of the amorous turtles’ 2014 spring fling. He still could be their offspring from an earlier season.

Junior: “Ewwww. I’m out of here!” (Photo by Walter Skupien)

What we do know for sure is that Junior is a survivor. Hatchlings are usually 1 inch to 1.3 inches long, just the size to make a tasty snack for raccoons, snakes and all sorts of other predators that have adapted to small-town living in our neighborhood.

And, according to the museum’s Internet article, it will be 5 to 10 years before Junior becomes interested in reptilian romance.

Best wishes on continued survival, Junior. 

Thank you to Husband Walter for photos.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Leisurely travel . . . to the extreme

Husband Walter and I left our Georgia tribe Sunday morning, June 1. We would meet up with them again in Hampton, Virginia, for niece Becky’s and fiance Josh's wedding and festivities.

We had allowed extra days for a leisurely drive to Hampton and some sightseeing on the way. The next morning we departed our east Ashville motel for an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway about a mile away.

By mid-afternoon the realization struck that we were only 60 miles from Ashville, our starting point. At an average 10 miles per hour, we set a new record low—or make that a record slow—for our personal travels.

Our first stop
But I did enjoy the chance to take a few photos of spring flowers and mountain scenery that our slow pace offered. And I especiaaly savored our first stop for the day, the Folk Art Center. The center features exhibitions, library and craft shop, all focused on fine crafts handmade in the Southern Appalachians.

On a stop there several years ago, I was awed by a quilt exhibit. From intricate traditional patterns to modern fabric “paintings,” I felt I was in the presence of masterpieces. 

On this visit one of the exhibitions was the work of recent graduates from a regional community college’s professional crafts department. Wood, metal, fabric, clay and other materials were the media for furniture, sculpture, pottery, screens, jewelry and more. The unique creations were beautifully presented.

The urge was strong to document what I saw with photos. I opted, however, simply to enjoy and to work on keeping my ever-precarious balance. I definitely did not want to be remembered as that stroke survivor who crashed the exhibit—literally, and ruined someone’s labor of love.

Hubby posted photos of the spacious facility here. I, however, spent my time in the exhibit space and craft shop. I couldn't resist buying a tiny wooden bride and groom. They were just two among a variety of “sunfolk,” Christmas ornaments handcrafted from wood, painted and dressed in tiny fabric apparel.

I love Christmas ornaments. but my official excuse was to have a “happy” for our real-life prospective bride and groom, Becky and Josh.

Mountain laurel on the grounds of the Folk Art Center

A bee’s eye view of a single laurel blossom.

We usually see rosebay (white) rhododendron on our treks to the Smoky Mountains and other areas of the Appalachians. But on this drive the Catawba (purple) rhododendron was putting on a show. 

The purple-pink blooms looked like the color and structure of the Formosa azaleas of our region.  Our azaleas cover the entire shrub but are single blooms. 

In contrast, the rhododendron blooms are a display in pom pom balls of clusters made up of multiple blooms.

A single Catawba rhododendron bloom

Catawba rhododendron blooms offer spheres of botanical color.

Plus we saw a bear. That always spices up my day. And even better, he was not eating people food. He was lounging on the side of the road scarfing down some type of large-leafed green plant. It was much healthier for him than the scavenged pizza and other people food that I have seen bears eating in previous mountain trips.

View from parking for trail to Mt. Mitchell summit.

One of our final stops before making our way to the interstate was a parking area at the entrance for the trail to the Mt. Mitchell peak and observation tower. We were at 6,578 feet elevation at the edge of the parking lot. The western mountains of our nation are spectacular, but I love the spring and summer green of these older mountains.

In 2006, prior to my 2011 stroke, we had hiked to the top of Mt. Mitchell, at 6684 feet, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

It was cold in the parking lot, just as it was on our 2006 visit. And I remembered how much colder it had been at the peak. I was content to take a few photos and climb back into our cozy van. 
Three minutes after the first image from the parking lot, clouds move in over distant peaks.

Hubby’s post on the day’s jaunt is here.