Friday, February 28, 2014

Birthday paint party

Birthday girl with her artwork (Photo by Katie Skupien)

A couple of Saturdays ago, Husband Walter and I traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to join the celebration of Granddaughter Molly Kate’s sixth birthday. It was my first experience with a paint party.

Time for instructions

The studio, Mudpies and Masterpieces, easily accommodated the 14 little girls eager to paint and party. Two experienced preschool teachers guided the young artists through the freehand exercise. They did a great job of fulfilling the slogan of their business enterprise: “Where you are truly a work of heart!”

Fledgling artists prepare to paint.

Easels paraded down both sides of a long table. The two adult instructors led the session. One stood at the end of the table showing the girls how to accomplish each step. The other circulated, offering individual encouragement and guidance as needed.

A work in progress

Before party day the birthday girl or boy visits the studio and chooses which picture the group will paint. Molly Kate chose a Hello Kitty attired in the purple and gold of a Louisiana State University cheerleader. 

Her choice was a winner with her age group.  Baton Rouge is home to LSU. Fan spirit is a family affair in the university’s hometown, and indoctrination into LSU fan status begins before birth with baby gifts in LSU colors and themes.

When the girls finished their creations, there was cake, ice cream and present-opening on the studio’s spacious and inviting porch. While the youngsters and a number of non-painting relatives enjoyed cake and ice cream, the other instructor was inside adding a few embellishments to the completed paintings and blowing them dry with a hair dryer. 

The party closed with one of the instructors painting a Hello Kitty on faces. The girls collected their paintings, now dry, and departed with painted faces, good memories and art for their bedrooms.

It was a fun time, and I was impressed with how well the instructors kept everyone happy, engaged and moving through a well thought out and orchestrated party process.

 Proud and happy painters (Photo by Katie Skupien)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Celebrating with food

Temptations of travel

When Husband Walter and I get together with family, food is usually a major element of the celebration equation. Our most recent celebration was a five-day trip to visit our Georgia tribe.

That was great. What wasn’t so great is we start “celebrating” early. Our first day, for example, we stopped at Priester’s Pecans. 

Hubby was busy shooting photos of the stop that is so popular with travelers, even midweek during February. He tasted a few of the pecan snack samples. His post about the family-owned business is here.

My objective, though, was different. I headed straight for the display that usually includes samples. I tried every sample flavor offered. My top three were honey-glazed pecans, honey-cinnamon-glazed pecans, and lime-flavored pecans.

By the way, I have never heard any fellow southerner except Paula Dean refer to the delicious nuts as “pee cans,”  emphasis on the first syllable. Everyone I know pronounces them as “puh kahns,” emphasis on the second syllable.

Some of us are even guilty of stretching out that last syllable so that the “ahhhhhh” part goes on and on. Just think of it as an emotional but chaste moan of ecstasy at the thought of pecan treats. That other pronunciation sounds clipped and foreign to me. 

As young children my cousins and I were reduced to giggling fits by a Rhode Island cousin's pronunciation of our favorite nut. Of course at that age, we went into whoops at any sound that related in the least to bodily functions, and "pee can" was definitely comedic material to us. 

Our ever vigilant moms did "The Look." We younger girls subsided into quiet admiration of our older cousin's sophisticated wardrobe and glossy chestnut locks. 

But I digress. Our days of visiting and celebratory eating came to an end Monday with our drive home. But Tuesday morning’s preparation for an 8:15 a.m. occupational therapy session made me despair. 

I struggled into a tee-shirt with Hubby’s help. The design was a bit form-fitting but had never been snug and definitely not impossible for me to put on by myself. It was too late to change. 

It didn't seem to be cutting off breathing or blood flow, so out the door we went. When we arrived back home, I discovered I had the shirt on backwards.

Chagrin over that wardrobe oops was tempered by relief that I wasn’t in danger of outgrowing all my clothes, at least not yet!

Saner eating, however, is necessarily still on our agenda this week. Well, maybe starting tomorrow. Today is my birthday #67. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mac attack!

Computing companionship

Son Jeremy took the photo above. The title is his, too. This was his second night with us. The occasion was two days of his job taking him two states beyond his home base.

Jeremy, Husband Walter and I were all three watching winter Olympic dramas interspersed with our separate activities on our MacBook Pro laptops. It may not be old-fashioned togetherness.

But it was satisfying togetherness, shoulder to shoulder on our sofa, sharing exclamations about and critiques of the Olympians’ performances and laughter about funny videos and other items on the Internet.

My cup runneth over!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Time for living well

A recent Facebook post linked to a column here that I found interesting. It was about the value of developing a habit of waking up earlier.

I learned that life-changing lesson when the older of our two sons was a toddler. Getting up half an hour to an hour earlier than everybody else in the house made my day go smoother and happier.

My entire life before that, well, what I remember of it, was marked by my post wakeup discombobulation. (discombobulated -- having self-possession upset; thrown into confusion--from The Free Dictionary.) 

My discombobulation manifested as a slow start, sensitivity to sound and bright light, a general sense of disorientation, grumpiness, and eventual frantic scurrying about.

I can’t remember exactly what prompted the change, but the immediate difference was calmer mornings. Other changes followed without conscious effort on my part, which was good because achieving consciousness upon waking from a deep sleep was, and still is, a daunting proposition.

I found that even though I couldn’t open my eyes all the way when I first stumbled out of bed, with those extra minutes from arising earlier, I could sort laundry and throw a load in the washer without further deterioration of my mental state. In fact, any task that was mindless and required physical movement helped me ease into the day.

Eventually I also discovered that after a cup of hot tea, savored slowly while I enjoyed the quiet, I was more awake. I could read my Bible (without dozing off most of the time), pray, and ponder what I had read. Those final three steps were often exactly what helped me later that day or later in the week when difficult circumstances arose.

Since my stroke, I find those quiet times a little later in the day. I now need about nine hours of sleep and rarely wake up before my spouse. But Husband Walter is well-acquainted with my morning slowness and greets me—quietly—with a hug and a mug of hot tea.

Hot tea in one of our extra special mug gifts starts good thoughts and precious memories percolating for me.

Isn't it wonderful how little things often constitute big, big blessings!

Have a great week.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Stroke recovery: A Walmart valentine

Signs of spring marketed for Valentine gifts

A trip to Walmart Saturday reminded me of a visit to the same store the weekend before Valentine’s Day 2012, 10 months after a hemorrhagic stroke had done a number on the sensory and motor nerves responsible for carrying messages to and from my body's left side. 

At the end of that shopping excursion I was drained and discouraged. After I processed the experience for a couple of days, I posted about it here.

A valentine orchid--blue moth variety, perhaps?

In contrast I ended this Saturday’s Walmart visit with energy left for snapping more posey photos to add to those I shot when we first arrived.

A striped beauty
Come to think of it, the presence of more flowers and fewer valentine balloons may have contributed to my energy. I find flowers calming and renewing.

Another daffodil

Valentine roses

Happy Valentine’s Day 2014!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What I’m reading lately: The Gauguin Connection

In The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan, Genevieve Lenard is autistic and high-functioning. She is also a genius at reading body language and discerning patterns. 

She has carved out a comfortable, satisfying life for herself using her skills to detect fraud for a prestigious insurance company in Europe. 

But Genevieve is thrust out of the controlled environment she has created and into danger when her boss insists she work with an abrasive government investigator on a case. She enters a world of intrigue, priceless art, murder and power.

This was one of the better of the free Kindle books I have read. It was well-plotted, and I kept on reading in spite of the occasional error of the type that usually drives me into a spasm of teeth-grinding aggravation.

The author's narrative engaged me with suspense and the depiction of Genevieve’s gradually increasing ability to cope physically and emotionally with the unfamiliar and the unexpected.

I can’t speak to how accurately the author portrayed Genevieve’s evidences of autism and the strategies she used to survive, but I can affirm that the author's depiction of Genevieve and of an entertaining cast of supporting characters took me on an a thrill ride that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Science for the nonscientist

Yesterday on her blog “Stopping by Woods,” sweffling discussed her efforts to find a tutor or tutors for her grandson, a gifted youngster who had become bored with school.

Her search was based on her recognition, from personal experience as a freshman undergraduate, that children and adults can understand concepts behind scientific research, even without extensive training in the sciences.

Such understanding often depends on the scientist’s ability and willingness to verbally boil their research down to basic concepts. 

A number of the researchers I worked with through my years as a public information officer were natural communicators. Many more had totally different ideas of what constituted “basic” than what was actually effective.

That’s why I enjoyed observing the wake-up moment a group of scientists and university research vice presidents experienced at a marine education center and aquarium that focused on plants, animals and processes of Mississippi coastal waters.

The scientists and administrators were assembled to evaluate proposals for grant awards. On a tour of the center the group paused in the background as a volunteer led a dozen pre-schoolers to one of the tanks that featured living oysters.

She explained in simple terms about the process the oysters go through to cleanse themselves of pollutants when they are moved from polluted to clean waters. One of the research vice presidents turned to me in amazement.

"She's teaching them about oyster depuration!" he said.

And so she was. The children’s responses to the volunteer’s questions, their queries for her and their excitement made it evident that they understood the scientific concepts she presented in language that was scientifically accurate and appropriate for their age.

Oh, and the education center's proposal was approved.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gardening fantasy?

Mexico Midgets, seed from Seed Savers Exchange (Photo from Seed Savers online shop)

I suspected my husband was going to be rather surprised at my online expenditures on seeds for our spring veggie patch. I know I was surprised when I finally added up my total.

Somehow I had forgotten that step. I remembered only after all my purchases had arrived in the mail from the three online retailers where my search for specific seeds was successful.

I had succumbed to fantasies of fresh lettuces, tomatoes, squash and other goodies marching in lush and tasty array from our garden to our dinner plates. The work to start some of the seeds, to sow others, to transplant seedlings, to weed, weed, weed, and to pick and wash the produce was not part of my fantasy.

I also blissfully ignored the reality that our available sunny garden space is miniscule. There is no way that we have the sunny space or the stamina to deal with nearly $40.00 worth of seeds in a single season. 

And only Mexico Midget was a variety we had experienced growing. It was our favorite of four cherry and currant tomato plants we planted last year.

Yesterday after I started this post, I ’fessed up about my online shopping. Husband Walter already knew. I had forgotten that he checks our credit card accounts almost daily.

“What farmer are you going to hire to deal with all those seeds,” he queried.  I presented my case: We would have spent that much on four trips to the movies providing we went for the less expensive matinee.

“But we don’t go to the movies and you didn’t factor in gas, popcorn and Coke,” he fired back.

“Exactly,” I replied. “We don’t go to the movies, so I am counting the seed purchases as entertainment.”

And entertainment it was. I had spent quite a few hours during the recent icy weather salivating over enticing photos of vegetables, reading descriptions full of promise, making selections, and savoring the prospect of getting grubby from working in the garden plot.

Garden fun--The little tomatoes of dime-sized diameter are Mexico Midgets, a favorite from our 2013 summer garden.

Hubby was a good sport. How good was he?

- He engaged in discussion about the veggies he wanted most to see in our garden this spring. I love gardening conversations;
- Later, on a quick shopping stop for other items, I picked up one of those little nine-pack trays of red sails lettuce. He just paid and said not a negative word;
- Then he planted them for me;
- He covered the baby lettuces for two below-freezing nights; AND
Even though he had cautioned me about the unfavorable weather forecast, he hasn’t said “I told you so” a single time. . . yet.

Now that is being a good sport.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dance time

Molly Kate ready to dance in her “Good Ship Lollipop” costume

Husband Walter and I were excited to be present when granddaughter Molly Kate took her first dance trophy. Our 5-year-old dancer won overall for her tap solo in the 4 to 12-year-old category at a regional competition in November.

She danced to child star Shirley Temple’s trademark song “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”

I don’t know who was more excited, Molly Kate, her parents or her grandparents.

Nana and Baboo with Molly Kate and trophy

She is in her second year as a member of her dance studio’s “mini-dancers” competition team. She loves to perform, whether impromptu “stories” acted out for family at home or more formal performances on stage before a crowd.

Thank you to son Jeremy and daughter-in-law Katie for supplying photos. 


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Stroke recovery: Fair progress

Young fairgoers experience centrifugal force.

Husband Walter and I headed to the latest edition of the Jackson County Fair on a beautiful fall day with sunny skies, cool temperatures and low humidity. I hadn’t been to the county fair in years. 

I looked forward to seeing the prize-winning farm animals, sampling the treats at the food booths of local churches and organizations and strolling the midway.

But as with every other time I have done something for the first time since a hemorrhagic stroke several years ago, frustration mixed in with the pleasure.

Youngster awaits flight of the bumblebee.

Ready to ride

Here is my stroke-survivor fair list:

- Seeing the excitement of youngsters on carnival rides and midway and remembering when our own kids were little,
- Viewing prize livestock and chickens,
- Eating homemade pecan pie at the food booth of a local church, and
- Navigating under my own power instead of Hubby’s pushing me in the transporter.

- Balancing in a busy, unfamiliar environment,
- My inability to safely bend close enough and at such an angle that I could read the details I craved about the cattle, goats, rabbits and chickens on display,
- Fatigue, and
- Falling into the dismals upon contrasting my current status with my energy and ease of mobility on pre-stroke trips to the fair.

I am glad to report, though, that my wimpy attitude was dispelled on our way home.

Home for 27 days in 2011

Shortly after we left the fair, we passed the Singing River Hospital. After seven days in the Ocean Springs Hospital ICU following a hemorrhagic stroke, I was transferred to the rehab center on the fourth floor of Singing River. It was my home for 27 days.

A happy memory of that time was our Georgia tribe visiting me in rehab. All four grands and their parents escorted me on my first time outside since I had arrived at the rehab center.

Son Walt pushed my wheelchair down the hospital drive and through a parking lot. He avoided stairs to a wooden bridge that spanned the small lake in front of the hospital. He wheeled me to the other side to join his family on the bridge in an exhilarating outdoor break from my clinical environment.

It’s been more than two years since that wheelchair ride. At that point in rehab I had yet to take a single step, with or without help. 

The deficiencies on my left side remain severe. But now I am mostly walking, sometimes with a hiking stick, often with Hubby lending a hand or arm for me to touch for increased balance.

We often use a lightweight transporter for museums, amusement parks, Mardi Gras parades and other venues that involve crowds and long distances with few or no convenient spots for me to sit and rest.

Yes, there were moments of frustration at the fair. But there were more—many more—reasons to be thankful.  At the end of the day I appreciated that I had made fair progress indeed.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Stroke recovery: Warming up

Icicles on our van’s bumper (Photo by Walter Skupien)

Weather is warming up here in our coastal Mississippi region.

The low 20s don’t qualify as disaster for folks in the states that regularly have extreme winter weather. For us, though, it was an unusual and uncomfortable experience.

Icy yard (Photo by Walter Skupien)

In contrast to the dramatic weather effects captured in photos and video from north of us, Husband Walter’s images document the ice pellets that looked like patchy snow in our yard.

And for this stroke survivor, the cold increased the stroke-induced tone on my left side, delivering more tightly curled fingers and a shortened stride. It also decreased my desire to blog or do much of anything else.

About all I really wanted to do in the last week was wrap up in cuddly apparel and blankets, turn the heat up, and read.  Oh, and drink hot tea and eat. When we did get out, I found that many of the individuals I bumped into had adopted similar strategies.

But the inertia that swamped me is waning with the warmer weather--I  hope. A good sign is that I’m itching to get back to walking outside, especially on the bridge. 

My last good walk was on the paved beach path two days before the icy conditions arrived. I could see the bridge during that stroll, but I was having a wobbly day and needed the extra confidence that the beach’s available seating offered.

 A view of Biloxi Bay Bridge from Ocean Springs’ Front Beach

May your week be filled with confidence and satisfying adventures.