Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Happy Birthday. . .a bit late

Celebrating 70
Monday was Husband Walter’s birthday, the big Seven-0, in fact.

We started celebrating on the Saturday before the big day with a meal at a favorite restaurant and a visit to a local establishment with lush and colorful plants for sale. Hubby loves hibiscus and picked out two that were covered in red blooms and had lots of buds ready to open.

One of Husband Walter’s hibiscus blooms from this date four years ago

Their selection of hibiscus was far superior to what was available at the big box stores in our area. And this family-owned operation doesn’t let plants dry out and languish unhappily.

We continued the birthday treats through his actual birthday with more eating out, a shopping excursion and savoring treats, cards, calls and birthday wishes from kids, grands, friends and family.

I started a birthday post but failed to press on when stymied by slow Internet woes. Hubby persevered, however, and kept to his schedule of publishing every Tuesday on his travel blog with his post here.

I am so blessed to share life with this special guy. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beginning the survivor journey

At the rehab unit, I start a new life as a stroke survivor

Good Friday, April 22, 2011—That was the day three years ago that a blood vessel in my brain sprung a major leak. It was a severe hemorrhagic stroke.

After a seven-day stay in ICU at our local hospital, I was transferred to an inpatient rehab unit at a larger hospital.

The next morning, Day 8, I experienced my first occupational therapy in the rehab unit. Ashley, the occupational therapist, had come in that Saturday specifically to start teaching me to transfer from wheelchair to potty and to shower safely.

It took me all 27 days of my inpatient therapy to master the rudimentary maneuvers she introduced. That morning she coached me and with the help of another woman moved me onto the potty.

Then she left me under the watchful eye of the other woman and disappeared for a while. When she returned, a striking young man accompanied her. Ashley introduced him as an OT tech who would be working with me.

I could feel my eyes bulge and my jaw drop. I gathered the few wits left to me and acknowledged the introduction.

Ever compelled to fill silence, I blurted, "Well, this is the first time I've ever met a good looking guy while I was on the potty."

Several weeks later, having a male tech help with my shower for the first time wasn’t quite as big a shock.

By that time I had learned to appreciate those techs, both male and female. They all worked hard to keep their patients safe while helping them maintain as much modesty and dignity as possible. And some of the most helpful tips came from their wealth of practical experience.

Therapy techs are among the many skilled and caring individuals who have helped me deal with the aftermath of stroke.

Today I am no longer in a wheelchair, and I am getting on and off the potty quite well, thank you very much.

Those folks so instrumental in my first month as a stroke survivor were blessings. I thank God for them and the many individuals who have helped me since then.

And I am thankful to be here on this third anniversary.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Taste of spring

Blueberry blooms. (Photo from March 2011)

Ginny, blogging at Let Your Light Shine, commented on one of my posts recently that she had never seen a blueberry bloom.  I didn’t see any mature ones either this year.

Rain had kept me out of our backyard. When our “swamp” dried a little and I checked on our little blueberry bush, the blooms were already gone and immature BB-sized blueberries had replaced them.

Previously I have been removing the blooms on our baby bush in accord with tips from Google and from one of our coast Cooperative Extension Service experts. Pinching back the blooms in the first two years frees the energy needed for the plant to grow into a strong, healthy bush.

The spring bloom surgery is no more, though. This is the year I hope to be tasting a few blueberries.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reasons to rejoice

A therapeutic bridge (Photo by Walter Skupien)

Ten of today’s blessings (Thursday, 4/10/2014):

- Sunshine;

- Catching up with walking buddy Ann;

- Making it to 0.7-mile marker on the Biloxi Bay Bridge pedestrian path;

- After-walk coffee, tea, conversation and laughter at Coffee Fusion with Ann and my husband Walter;

Bradley (Photo by Walter Skupien)

- Bradley, our excellent roofer and a fledgling author, stopping by to visit us at Coffee Fusion when he didn’t find us at home;

- Our big ole burgundy high-rise van that alerts Bradley (and other friends) of our whereabouts when they are inclined to make an impromptu visit;

- News that Bradley is pursuing his writing while continuing to do well with his carpentry and construction business;

- Re-admission to occupational neuro rehab therapy for another seven or eight sessions;

- Tales, laughter and tasty calories for dinner at McElroy’s Seafood Restaurant with Hubby’s siblings and their spouses; and

- The energy to enjoy the day’s events from good morning to good night! 

Reasons to rejoice always surround me, but I don’t always acknowledge them. When in such an unreceptive condition, it takes a conscious choice to invest effort in recognizing and articulating blessings.

It never fails, though, that once I start the listing exercise, I become aware of more and more things to be happy about and thankful for.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 ESV

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stroke recovery: Bridge joys

Sun fun

The past week’s sunny days have created opportunities for “bridge therapy.” Husband Walter and I arrived at the base of the Biloxi Bay Bridge's pedestrian lane about 10 minutes before sunset.

That meant we had 10 minutes to make it the four- or five-tenths of a mile to the structure’s highest point and best vantage point for a sunset. Our town’s side of the bridge has the shortest—and steepest incline to the top.

Hubby was reluctant to leave me alone walking at my slower pace while sharing the concrete surface with runners, cyclists, and parents pushing baby strollers up and down the steep manmade hill.

During my final months of physical therapy, the therapist had evaluated progress in terms of my increased walking speed.

That thought was good motivation to keep me pushing and puffing up the hill to an internal refrain of “I think I can. I think I can.” A timely and relevant literary allusion also has the power to inspire me.

I made it to the bench that shares the 0.3-mile marker before the sun dipped into the bay. I took a seat on the bench and released Hubby from caregiver mode to continue on to the top without me. 

Catching my breath, I pulled out my little Canon to capture my own version of the sun’s fading rays in the photo above.

Climbing the bridge ladder

The next day walking buddy Ann and I were on the bridge, climbing this ladder to the top. In addition to the release of endorphins that our bridge walking generates, there is always something visual to enjoy on the bridge, whether sun and shadow, birds, frisky marine life, or opportunities for people watching.

The wider view of shadow ladder

May joys small and great fill your week.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A princess tea party

Our son Walt with his two princesses Charlie, left, and Stella

Alert! Granny blog post ahead. 

A February visit to our Georgia tribe included an activity I had never experienced while parenting our boys.

I had the privilege of accompanying our oldest son as he delivered his daughters Charlie, 8, and Stella, 5, to a princess tea. The girly event was a fundraiser organized by Atlanta Ballet Company where the girls take ballet.

Before we departed, the girls modeled their princess attire: Stella in an all-white “snow princess” outfit, evidence of her enthusiasm for the Disney movie “Frozen,” and Charlie in an outfit appropriate for her announced status as a “college princess.”

She had raided her closet to pull together her college princess ensemble. She wore a black knit skirt, knee length in front, longer in back; a white tee topped by a short black sweater that she and our nieces refer to as a “shruggie”; strappy white sandals; and a plaid purse borrowed from her little sister.

Once we assured her that she looked every inch the college princess, she scampered to the kitchen, snatched a piece of notebook paper, and started working furiously with an orange marker to create an item to accessorize her outfit. As we traveled to the tea location, she confided that she had made herself a "college princess" degree.

By the time we had arrived, our college princess’ ebullience had deteriorated into quiet nervousness. She evidently had become aware that the other princesses were probably all going to be of the ready-made Disney variety.

Just outside the entry, one of the older teen ballerinas stood in her ballet finery, greeting arrivals. She and the other students in her group would perform later, but their enthusiasm and skills at welcoming the girls, escorting them and making them feel like real princesses were priceless.

The beautiful ballerina’s effusive chatter and compliments for the snow princess and college princesses' attire soon had both our girls beaming. Charlie regained her sparkle and confided that she had her degree in her purse.

“Do you want to see it?” she offered. A “yes” had Charlie pulling out her notebook paper diploma and handing it over. At the older ballerina’s enthusiastic reaction, Charlie floated through the check-in process. She and Stella, escorted by another ballerina, disappeared through the ballroom doors.

 A doorkeeper ballerina chats with Stella, Charlie and other princesses-in-waiting.

After dinner that night, the four kids were excused to go play, and their mom filled us in on details of the event from an adult volunteer’s perspective. She noted that Charlie was the only princess she had seen without the usual royal jewelry.

But I am certain Charlie was also the only princess to arrive with appropriate credentials--her "college princess" diploma.

It was not the traditional fairy tale, but a memorable happy ending for this grandmother nevertheless.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What I’m reading lately: The Language of Sparrows

In The Language of Sparrows: A Novel by Rachel Phifer, teenaged protagonist Sierra Wright is blessed—or cursed, with a formidable intelligence. Experiencing little guidance for or understanding of her gift, she is misunderstood by both her peers and her teachers.

She has retreated into a world of words and symbols where she teaches herself a multitude of tongues and devours books in their original languages. After the death of Sierra’s father, her mom April Wright struggles with her own grief while trying to reach her increasingly remote daughter. April hopes that relocating to a new city will offer the hurting pair a new start.

In Sierra’s new setting, she experiences acceptance and understanding from a prickly and reclusive elderly man who shares Sierra’s passion for language and books, an insightful teacher of at-risk students, and a determined classmate who appoints himself a protector and is surprisingly astute about Sierra’s gifts and fears.  

The author deftly weaves the characters together as they work through their own challenges and act on their concern for Sierra and one another.

I found The Language of Sparrows a satisfying tale of hurting individuals who connect with each other and in doing so breach walls of secrets, estrangement and pain. In the process they experience healing and transformed lives.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring fever?

Blueberry blooms ready to open

Since we enjoyed a few days of warmer temperatures around March 20, I had been eagerly getting active outside. But I also had little energy to blog or do anything else involving electronics. Was it spring fever?

After a search that landed at Wikipedia here, I concluded "spring fever" could mean renewed energy. Or, it could refer to a decrease in energy. Or even--blush, gasp--heightened sexual urges. But I think my  own fluctuating energy level was because Spring was being a bit flighty, not making up her mind.

Husband Walter and I celebrated sunshine and mild temperatures by planting tomato seedlings and prepping other garden spaces for additional veggie seeds and seedlings. 

Then Spring started fooling around. Temperatures dipped into the 30s, and Hubby scrambled to cover tomato plants for several nights.

The following Monday’s daytime temperatures were definitely not springlike but perfect for a fire in the fireplace, for cozy recuperation from a weekend’s travel and for catching up on my at-home stroke recovery exercises.

We also managed to squeeze in a walk on the bridge at the warmest time of the day. As we were on the return leg of our walk, though, the voracious gnats that are such a nuisance in our area joined us on our trek. I had erroneously assumed the bridge’s height accounted for gnat-free outings on previous bridge walks.

This time I was without the ball cap that I usually wear on walks, and the insects chowed down on my scalp and any uncovered skin. I use the plural, but it could have been a single gnat. 

One bite and I can feel gnat bites all over, whether I have been that thoroughly gnawed on or not. The power of suggestion is a mighty phenomenon. Perhaps Homeland Security should look into gnats as an anti-terrorism measure. 

Temperatures are gradually warming again, and skies have been gorgeous blue. Hubby and I braved the gnats several  days ago at the Gulf Island National Seashore's mainland Mississippi area. We had a pleasant walk then my spouse set up our Coleman stove on a picnic table and prepared coffee for him and hot tea for me. 

The gnats were swarming. But I was well covered, and Hubby handed me my secret weapon--a paper plate that I used to fan them away from my hair and face.

Blue sky and sunshine are spirit-lifters. 

My effort to keep the gnats away was a small price to pay for having a whole picnic area to ourselves with budding trees, a gentle breeze, the scent of new life and my best friend for company. 

Earlier this week, walking buddy Ann treated me to another bridge walk. I need to rebuild stamina after wintery weather had limited my walking excursions. I was hoping to make it to the 0.4 mile marker on the bridge before retracing our steps for a rest stop on the bench at the 0.3 marker. 

Instead, in the midst of our non-stop talking to catch up with each other, we noticed we had made it to the 0.6-mile marker. That meant an invigorating 1.2 miles roundtrip of walking, chatting and laughter. 

I mention the talking because earlier in my stroke recovery, trying to walk and talk or laugh at the same time made me lose my balance. Evidence of progress. Whoo hoo!  

Spring never lasts long here. Whether she has more surprises for us or not, these recent bright days have been mood elevators. 

Spring update. We started a trip to Mobile Wednesday in mild temperatures. When we headed back home from the University of Mobile, temperatures were above 80, and our van's AC was ailing. But since then it's back to chilly and wet.

Now if we could have a few sunny days to dry up the swamp that our backyard has become,I can get back out to grub around in our veggie patch. Playing in the dirt would help me store up some of that "feel good" exhilaration for rainy days ahead.

Our azaleas are now blooming after unusual winter (Photo from my 2013 files).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Special minutes of music and visiting

A pre-concert visit: Niece Amanda, left, me and Husband Walter (Photo from Amanda's iPhone)

My brother’s oldest daughter was in Mobile, Alabama, yesterday on tour with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s choir Doxology. Husband Walter and I were able to make the 70-mile drive to attend the choir’s concert at the University of Mobile.

Amanda is working toward her master’s degree. All 16 Doxology members are graduate students at the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. 

They are spending the first week of their two-week spring break on the concert tour. The mostly a cappella concert was a joyous and moving experience of worship.

The choir gave old, beloved hymns new life. But unlike some praise band variations of familiar hymns I have encountered, the selections we heard yesterday stayed true to the hymns’ messages and melodies. 

Vibrant arrangements and beautiful voices touched heart strings instead of assaulting my ears. That last observation reveals my "elder" status even without the photo.

And, of course, I was especially moved by Amanda’s solo in the choir’s rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Following the concert we lunched with her and friends at the university cafeteria.

Then our visit with Amanda was over. The choir members had to load their two vans and depart for the evening's next concert in Pensacola, Florida. It was a wonderful visit, just too brief.

One of the pluses about getting older is seeing the paths that our siblings’ children are taking. It is a privilege to watch their growing maturity as thoughtful and caring young adults.

Blessings indeed for Uncle Skupie and Aunt Linda. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Friends, food and children's fiction

It was a blue-sky, cool day spiced by lunch with friends Susan and Elihu at a new restaurant in neighboring Biloxi. Lunch was delicious, conversation was lively and the surroundings were welcoming. 

It is nice to see a little life returning to the historic Biloxi business district that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Good times with Susan and Elihu

Visiting with Susan and Elihu, both gifted artists, was a treat. Their family web site features samples of the work of the couple and their son Joel. To visit The Carranza Collective click here.

Susan also delivered the copy of Pierre’s Great Escape that I had ordered. It is a children’s book she wrote, illustrated and self-published. I am enjoying the book until I have a chance to deliver it to its new home in Baton Rouge with our Louisiana grands. 

These two youngsters love New Orleans. They, like Susan, have had many of the same adventures Pierre experiences in the book.

I found the little monkey Pierre endearing. And our family’s connection with the Carranzas and our grandchildren Molly Kate and Walker's connection with New Orleans and the Audubon Zoo made this a purchase I couldn’t pass up.

Susan and Elihu were special influences in the younger years of our son Jeremy, Molly Kate and Walker's dad. When Jeremy and the Carranza's son Joel were growing up, they spent a lot of time together. Joel now works with a West Coast software company, telecommuting from New Orleans.

He alerted his mom to a news item about a monkey escaping its cage at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. That little news item sparked Susan’s imagination, and Pierre’s Great Escape was born.

It was Susan’s first experience with publishing. It was also one of her first experiences using an iPad and software program for her art. I thought her Pierre illustrations had the color and feel of some of her Italian gouaches she brought to our office when we were working together. Those were created with more traditional methods.

Is the “old way” more satisfying than using the iPad for her art? Susan said that she thoroughly enjoyed playing around with the iPad and the program Paper 53 that she used for the book. She said that it was actually easier than drawing and erasing to get exactly what she envisioned. 

Susan has also recently posted some of her digital creations on Facebook. 

“People have contacted me and bought them,” she said. And her on-line sales of her iPad works have outpaced recent sales of her more traditionally created pieces, she noted.

I am not an artist and not at all knowledgeable about art. But I do love how Susan, Elihu and other creative acquaintances are eager to “play around” with new techniques and technology and how they do so with results that I find remarkable.

iPad drawing by Elihu of New Orleans levee in the fog