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If friends or relatives on your Christmas list have ties to Leeds, Alabama, consider buying them a copy of Leeds, a history of this small Alabama city that straddles Jefferson, Shelby and St. Clair counties.

A resident of Leeds for 25 years, I collaborated with Leeds native and City Historian Pat Hall to write the book. The 127-page book includes 200 photographs that tell the story of the people of Leeds, from the first generation to the present one, and their many accomplishments that make the city a pleasant place to live. The first history of Leeds to be published nationally, the book was released by Arcadia Publishing on Oct. 1, 2012.

You can order a copy of Leeds on my website, www.janenewtonhenry.com, or on www.amazon.com.

 

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If this is your first visit to my blog, you may want to know a little more about my situation before you continue reading. I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 1998. And I live in the Deep South. That’s why my blog is named “MS with a Southern accent.” For the past seven years, I have been blogging about my life with MS. 

This multi-part post describes a recent trip my husband, Charles, and I took earlier this year to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. It was a week-long Mediterranean cruise that included day tours in Barcelona, Naples, Rome, Pisa and Florence. I have posted this information because I hope other people who have been diagnosed with MS, or who have a close connection to MS, will read it, and it will help make their life journey easier.

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Charles and I tour Barcelona.

We planned our trip with help from Sage Traveling, a company that provides European travelers with guides for accessible tours. Sage was of great assistance to us last year when we went to Paris for our honeymoon, so we contacted them again.

For this trip, Sage provided accessible transportation to and from airports, hotels and our cruise ship, and provided knowledgable guides for tours along the way.

 

We flew to Barcelona and spent our first night there. On the following morning, we enjoyed an accessible tour of the city on our way to the port to board the cruise ship. Our tour guide picked us up in a van at our hotel. We took my mobility scooter, which I used during the tour because it is difficult for me to walk long distances. Thanks to our guide, we easily navigated the busy sidewalks and streets of Barcelona as he told us about the fabulous city.

The highlight of the tour was seeing Sagrada Familia — the Basilica and Church of the Holy Family. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, this Catholic church is said to have been inspired by nature and faith. I won’t try to describe this one-of-a-kind, as yet unfinished cathedral-sized church. Instead, I hope my photos will provide a glimpse of its magnificence.

 

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Tourists line up to enter Sagrada Familia through the Nativity Facade, which faces East and symbolizes Christ’s birth.

Construction began in 1882. The project was less than one-quarter complete when Gaudi died at age 73 in 1926. Construction is expected to be completed by 2026.

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A portion of the interior of Sagrada Familia, which shows tree-like columns inspired by nature and light streaming in through stained glass windows.

The construction of the church has taken well over a hundred years because it isn’t supported by governmental or official church sources. Initially, it was funded by patrons. Work being done now is paid for by the tickets people buy to tour the church and by private donations.

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The passion facade of Sagrada Familia faces West and symbolizes the death of Christ. This photo shows some of the church’s spires, eight of which were built as of 2010. When all 18 spires are completed, Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building in the world.

Next up: Our cruise ship stops in Italy, and we tour Naples, the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii.

 

 

 

 

If you follow my blog, you might already know I wear a Walkaide device on my right leg to help with foot drop. I started wearing the device about four years ago.

Foot drop — which in my case is caused by the muscle weakness due to multiple sclerosis — is the inability to lift the front part of the foot. It causes my toes to drag when I walk. If I am not careful, I can easily trip over my toes and face-plant. 

As I have said in previous posts, the Walkaide helps me walk better with less effort and a more natural gait. But when I wear it, I have to make sure it’s in the right spot on my leg, or it won’t work. (I have small tattoos on my leg to indicate where to put the device so that it works correctly.) I visit my orthotist at least once a year to fine-tune the Walkaide and make sure it is working well.

About a month ago, I was having a problem with my Walkaide, so my physical therapist and orthotist are working on the problem. Until the Walkaide is fixed, I am wearing a new device my therapist recommended.

IMG_5230 2The SaeboStep is a lightweight foot-drop brace that pulls the front of my foot upward. It works in the same way that a brace does but is smaller than a conventional brace. It doesn’t go inside my shoe, and it’s adjustable.

As you can see in the photo, it consists of an ankle strap secured with velcro and a cord that hooks to your shoe.

The SaeboStep costs less than a Walkaide and is easy to use. However, it keeps my ankle at a 90-degree angle all of the time, so I worry that wearing it for long periods might reduce my ankle’s range of motion.

You can find out more about it at https://saebo.com/shop/saebostep/.

In my opinion, the Walkaide is a better option for long-term use, but the SaeboStep comes in handy when I can’t wear the Walkaide.

 

 

 

My husband and I participated in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Birmingham Walk MS event on April 7 in Homewood Park as members of the Sam’s Super Samwiches team. The team has already raised almost $27,000 and is currently in first place for fundraising at this event.

The team is led by Sue Graphos. Her husband, Sam, owns the Homewood eatery that the team is named for. Their two adult children, Suzanne and Ted, have been diagnosed with MS.

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Each spring, 300,000 people participate in more than 400 Walk MS events in cities and towns across the United States. Donations fund local programs and services for people diagnosed with MS and support essential cutting-edge research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other research institutions around the country to find a cure for this debilitating neurological disease.

Sam’s Super Samwiches, at 2812 18th St. South in Homewood, is a great little place to go for breakfast or lunch. Sam’s hamburgers have been voted the best in Birmingham.

I hope you’ll consider donating to a Walk MS event in your town. To find out more, go to the National MS Society’s website at nmss.org.

 

 

Because I have a disease for which there is no cure, I tend to take a second look at just about any product that might help ease my MS symptoms and my make day-to-day life more bearable.

If you follow my blog, you may know MS has affected my ability to walk. For some years now, I have been using a cane to help me walk better.

And I began wearing a WalkAide device on my right leg about three years ago.A WalkAide is a functional electrical-stimulation device for the treatment of foot drop. I  wear it on my right leg, just below the knee. And it works!

Last year, I purchased a mobility scooter that I use when I travel. Normally, I walk with the aid of a cane. But with a scooter, I can get around in places that require lots of walking without the fatigue that walking causes me.

Around the first of this year, I happened upon something else that helps improve my gait —  Voxx socks. I heard about them from my friend Peggy Bonfield and watched a testimonial about how the socks had helped someone else with MS, so I bought a few pair and tried them out. (I even stopped wearing my WalkAide for almost a month while I tested the socks.)

Having worn them for a month, I feel that they help improve my gait. I feel more stable when I am wearing the socks on than when I walk without them. Earlier this week, I started wearing my WalkAide again, and I continue to see improvement.

As I said earlier, I will try anything within reason that I think might help with my MS symptoms. I’m not saying these socks will help everyone walk better. I’m just saying that they seem to help me.

If you would like to learn more about Voxx socks, you can go to the company’s website at voxxlife.com/peggyb, where you can read about the technology and see testimonials.

 

 

 

fullsizeoutput_c8I am one of at least 400,000 people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with MS, a debilitating disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. This is my story.

I was diagnosed with MS on Aug. 4, 1998 — almost 20 years ago. For most of those years, I had the relapsing/remitting form of the disease and was fortunate to have had few exacerbations. Now, in the early stages of secondary progressive MS, I am told that the disease is progressing very slowly. (Fingers crossed!)

Don’t get me wrong; MS isn’t a walk in the park. I battle its challenges every day. My symptoms include gait, balance and vision problems as well as fatigue. Hot weather and stress worsen my fatigue. And I develop cognitive problems when I let stress get the better of me.

To manage the disease, I take two medications prescribed by my neurologist, who specializes in MS. One drug limits the progression of the disease; the second medication helps me walk better.

I also have made lifestyle changes that help me feel better. I  take supplements, exercise five days a week and eat a gluten-free, low-carb diet. I try to control my exposure to hot weather and humidity (which isn’t always easy in Alabama), and I try to be mindful of stress.

In addition, I get support from the National MS Society, an organization whose vision is a world free of MS. Through annual Walk MS events, the society provides programs and services to people with MS and funds cutting-edge research.

This year’s Birmingham Walk MS will be held on April 7. I urge you donate today to the Birmingham Walk MS to help provide those programs and services for people with MS in Alabama, and to fund research to find a cure for MS in my lifetime.

Donate Now

On Sunday, we took a driving tour of Paris with the tour guide who took us to Versailles in his accessible cab. He drove past the Louvre and down the Champs-Élysées. As we watched nervously from the back seat, he maneuvered effortlessly through the crowded multi-lane traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

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TH at Sacred Coeur Basilica

He showed us historic palaces, churches and other buildings, including Napoleon’s Tomb and the Sacred Coeur Basilica, a Catholic church dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus. Located at the summit of Montmartre — the highest point in Paris, this church was built in the 19th Century and is open to the public for prayer 24 hours a day.

Things got a little tense when our driver stopped the cab in a handicapped parking place near Notre Dame Cathedral. Members of the national police (holding automatic weapons) approached the cab and asked the driver to move on. He argued loudly with them – in true Parisian style — for 10 minutes, and they yelled back at him, until he finally agreed to leave. He later explained that the police wouldn’t allow him to park there because they were taking special precautions; on June 7, a terrorist had attacked a police officer with a hammer outside Notre Dame Cathedral.

Before we returned to the hotel, we asked our driver to make a special stop so we could hang a padlock on a bridge over the Seine. I had read about a tradition in some cities – including San Francisco and Paris, by which sweethearts symbolize their everlasting love by engraving their names on a padlock, or “love-lock,” hanging that lock on a bridge and throwing the key into the river below.

I had planned to leave a lock on a bridge in San Francisco last year but forgot to pack the padlock. But as I packed for Paris, I remembered the lock. I didn’t have access to engraving tools, so I wrote our initials on the lock with a Sharpie permanent marker before I packed it. (While writing our initials with a Sharpie  — instead of engraving them — might not guarantee everlasting love, it was worth a shot.)

We had hoped to hang our lock on Pont des Arts Bridge, as was the tradition in Paris, and add our lock to the hundreds of locks that hung there. But when we asked our driver about it, he explained that the locks on that bridge had been removed because of concerns that their weight would bring down the historic bridge. He did, however, know of one other bridge on the Seine where we could hang our lock, and he took us there. He pulled to the side of the road, and I sat in the car and watched as TH hung the lock on the bridge’s chain link fence and threw the key in the river.

On Monday, our last full day in Paris, we met our knowledgeable tour guide, Marie, who had studied art history and conducted tours in the area for two years. She took us on an extensive walking tour of the Left Bank. (Well, TH walked, and I rode my scooter.) She led us on an accessible route through the area; she knew where all the curb cuts were – and where they weren’t.

She showed us some of the buildings that make up Sorbonne University, as well as the oldest tree in Paris, the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and other sights in that part of the city.

The highlight of the walking tour was a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. As we approached this famous example of French Gothic architecture, Marie pointed out its flying buttresses, gargoyles and detailed carvings on the western wall.

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Rose window in Notre Dame Cathedral

Although lines of tourists filled the courtyard, Marie escorted us through an accessible entrance with no line. Inside, we were awed by the cathedral’s beauty, including its three rose windows that retain much of their 13th Century glass.

Looking back on our trip, I realize its success was due in great part to our using Sage Traveling to plan it. The accessible transportation and tours we located using www.sagetraveling.com made the trip pleasurable as well as successful. I highly recommend this company to anyone who needs help with mobility issues on a European vacation.