Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blogging lagniappe

When I visit my mother, she and I usually spend time in her apartment looking at the photos and narrative of my blog, daughter-in-law Katie’s blog, The Daily Skup, and Facebook posts by her other grandchildren. Although Mother has no interest in using a computer on her own, with me doing the navigating, she enjoys the glimpses that blogs and Facebook give her into the lives of her loved ones. During our most recent visit, however, maintenance work in her apartment sent us out to a sofa in a second-floor common area. We snuggled up with the computer positioned in our laps where we could both see.

I finished reading a recent “Forebears and Four Bears” post to her. She said with some urgency to go back for another look at the photo of the quilted bears. She was excited that she recognized several quilt pieces on one of the bears. The pieces were scraps from material her mother had used to make dresses for Mother and her sisters more than three quarters of a century ago.

“She sewed dresses for Thelma, Audrey (her younger sisters) and me from that one,” she said, pointing out a patch of vertical hearts and other designs on the bear’s cheek. She identified another patch on the bear’s shoulder, flowers on a black background: “That one she used for dresses for Beatrice and Pearl (her older sisters).”

Those bears had been in her home for a number of years, but it took a photo on a blog for that memory of her younger years to surface. By the time we had finished looking at granddaughter Molly Kate’s newest adventures on The Daily Skup, we discovered another bonus from our blog visits. 

Mother had to leave her sofa behind when she moved to her new living space. Since her move we had missed sitting close together on the sofa -- a cup of coffee for her, tea for me, and quiet conversation. After our computer session outside her apartment, the light bulb finally blinked on over both our heads. We realized we could renew that long-standing mother-daughter tradition. It will just be a different sofa in a different place, and we will be transporting our cups a bit farther than before her move. Recovered memories and renewed habits of the heart – blogging lagniappe indeed.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Signs of spring

First daffodil
Hello, daffodil! I am so happy to see you in the midst of this weather that is unusually cold for our coastal region.

Not-quite-ripe maple seeds
The red maple blooms that I photographed and posted Feb. 4 have finally given way to baby red maple wings. The seeds have some maturing to do before they are ready to ride the wind. According to eHow, the wings are called samaras.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smart Car memory

A stubby but endearing Smart Car
I have a problem with the Smart Car. The first time I saw one, I stood on a busy street corner entranced. Blue with a white stripe, the car looked like a stubby athletic shoe on wheels. Within moments more of the brightly colored athletic shoes zipped in and out of the heavy traffic in front of me. My problem is that I cannot remember where that memorable encounter occurred.

My best guess is Rome during a three-city trip to Italy in 2006. Husband Walter thinks Florence. But we could both be wrong. Unfortunately we couldn’t locate any photos from those trips that jogged our memory.

We saw the little red number pictured above two days ago in a parking lot near a favorite coffee shop in our hometown. Several days earlier another red one was parked at the front entry of the retirement community where my mother resides in Hattiesburg. I asked the owner if he was happy with it.

“Oh yes, it is the second one I’ve bought,” he said. “My wife started driving the first one and took it. I had to buy me another one.”

I can remember when sightings of a Volkswagen beetle were unusual in my hometown, probably around 1959 or 1960. One of my many cousins was a high-school cheerleader and five years my senior. I was so impressed when she added ownership of a VW beetle to her list of characteristics that I admired. I find myself extending that same admiration to the unknown (to me) owners of the occasional Smart Cars that I spot, probably because my own comfort zone is a van high above the street and useful for camping. The novelty factor of Smart Cars may fade for me, but right now they make me smile.

Update: Husband Walter just found the car photo below that he took in Florence. It is not a Smart Car; it is even smaller. The best I can tell from the photo is that it is a Pasquall. My brief Google attempt was not enlightening.
Not a toy!
I can't tell which is bigger, the mini-car or the popular motorcycles and scooters. I like Walter's  photo below. 
Motorcycles in Florence, Italy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oh boy!

A couple of day’s ago I was totally wasting time – and thoroughly enjoying it -- doing the Blogger “next blog” thing. I have found quite a few family blogs that I enjoy that way. I have also run across several whose posts on parenting land them in my personal categories of “What in the world are they thinking?” and “Why burden a child with being the boss of the family?”

Most, whether among the ones I like or the ones that drive this grandmother crazy, are by moms. I recently bookmarked one by a dad, The Sieber Report, touted in the header – quite modestly I thought -- as the Internet’s leading authority on the Sieber Family in Austin. The dad, Chris, wields an articulate and funny pen – oh, excuse me -- keyboard. His posts evoke experiences I had with our sons many years ago.

I think I have to email the link to our son and daughter-in-law, especially the Feb. 16 and 11 posts. Jeremy and Katie are expecting their second child and first boy, Walker Vincent, in May. Maybe the Sieber Report will give them a little preparation for the change from sugar and spice to frogs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Birthday temptations

These few pieces of chocolate are all that remain of two festive party favor bags from two-year-old granddaughter Molly Kate’s Minnie Mouse birthday party Saturday. The “thank you” message from Molly Kate on the bags was among a multitude of happy little touches that daughter-in-law Katie does so well. Technically one bag was for me and one for husband Walter. But I confess: I am guilty of indulging from both. My resistance to temptation -- and ability to share -- diminishes embarrassingly when chocolate or salty snacks are in our house.

Walter and I also feasted the day after the party on scrumptious leftover pastalaya – think jambalaya with spaghetti instead of rice. It was my first encounter with pastalaya but definitely won’t be my last. Katie’s brother Patrick was the chef and supplied enough of the tasty Louisiana dish for the 32 adults to enjoy at Molly Kate’s party and to take home well filled go boxes. We were still celebrating Sunday night. Yum!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Haiti: Hope in a bucket

Right now, Southern Baptists are being asked to fill “Buckets of Hope” that will be sent to Haiti in the coming months. “Buckets of Hope” is not the only help that Southern Baptists are sending, but it is characteristic of the approach that the national and state Baptist mission organizations are taking. They seek to make sure that every single effort is carefully planned to meet real needs and to include a realistic strategy for delivery of help to the people in need. 

I have been reading of various volunteers who arrive in Haiti and become part of the problem through inexperience with disaster situations. There are also the stories about well-intentioned individuals starting drives to collect various items with no footwork done on what items are practical at this stage of recovery and how they will be transported. Money to reputable charities experienced in disaster situations still seems the best bet.

But people want the connection of giving something directly to those in need. The Baptist bucket campaign opens the opportunity for individuals and churches to provide hands-on help. If you are interested you can download at the North American Mission Board site packing directions, a list of specific food items to include and suggestions of some of the businesses that carry the five-gallon bucket and lid. The site even includes an inventory i.d. for the buckets at two chains – Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware. For shopping-challenged individuals like me, the more specific the better.

After Haitians use the supplies, the bucket will serve multiple uses for a family. The web sites I visited said a filled bucket could feed a Haitian family for a week, but I never could find what sized family! The buckets program and other planned short-term and long-term efforts include three facets:
- a spiritual element as well as physical help,
- assuring that volunteers are trained and prepared for both the spiritual and physical challenges of disaster relief, and
- working alongside Haitian Baptists to undergird the Haitian churches’ efforts in long-term recovery and in fulfilling their spiritual mission.

Even assembling a “bucket of hope” includes both spiritual and physical help. Instructions ask that before donors start to pack food in the bucket, they pray for the Haitian family that will receive the bucket. The late Wade Guice, Harrison County, MS, civil defense director when Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, noted in a program I attended many years ago that pastors and counselors were an overlooked resource that disaster-stricken areas needed. He recognized that the internal trauma and the grief following a disaster could be as devastating as experiencing  a brutal war or the death of a loved one. These days some people would have criticized him for making comments about faith while wearing his public official hat. But studies have shown he was right.

Questions about pickup and delivery of buckets should be directed to Southern Baptist churches in your area or your state's Southern Baptist Convention Board. Monetary donations, designated for “Buckets of Hope” on the check, may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Haitian Baptist churches in Florida will use those donations to purchase buckets and fill them with food.

In Jackson County, MS, where I live, Ingalls Avenue Baptist in Pascagoula will serve as a drop-off site, and filled buckets should be delivered to the church March 8 - 10. Philip Price, director of missions for the county’s Baptist Association, said staff from Mississippi’s state convention will pick up and deliver to a national collection site all the buckets collected at Ingalls Avenue Baptist Church.

The Jackson County association is also inviting local Baptists – and anyone else who would be interested – to partner with Haitians to provide support for an orphanage whose building in the Port-au-Prince area was destroyed. Price said in a letter to local churches that Wade Baptist Church has supported the orphanage in the past and has already sent L. C. Drawdy, Wade associate pastor, to Haiti to meet with the Haitian pastor who is directing ministry to the more than 80 children that were cared for at the orphanage. While in Haiti, Drawdy and others helped secure a rental property to house the children. Price’s letter listed these immediate ways to help:
1.    Pray: Continue to pray for the relief efforts being undertaken by the Mississippi Baptist Convention (MBC). Medical teams are in Haiti now. Also, pray that the Lord would guide your church and the Jackson County Baptist Association (JCBA) to respond to the needs of this orphanage according to His will.
2.    Provide:  (a) Finances -- The orphanage needs to purchase beds, kitchen appliances, as well as tables and chairs. If you would like to make a donation toward fulfilling these needs, you may send funds marked “Haiti Missions” to Wade Baptist Church, 20623 Hwy. 63 Moss Point, MS 39562 or you may send the funds to JCBA, P. O. Box 1726, Pascagoula, Mississippi 39568, United States, for use toward fulfilling the association’s partnership commitments to Haiti. (b) Food – Assemble a “Bucket of Hope.”
3.    Prepare: As needs and opportunities are identified, Jackson County Baptists will need to respond as quickly as possible. Consequently, anyone interested in traveling to Haiti should acquire an up-to-date passport, inoculations (Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid Fever and Tetanus) and funding to be self-sustained while on the trip. Individuals planning to go on such a trip should anticipate primitive conditions.
4.    Participate: Make a commitment to partner with JCBA in making a difference in Haiti on some level. If you or your church wants to be part of a Haiti Mission Team, contact our office by phone or email me at You may access the latest updates on the Mississippi Baptist disaster response at the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board site. Also, if your Jackson County church has a pre-existing connection to a church or ministry (orphanage, hospital, etc.) in Haiti, please share that information with the JCBA.

“Jackson County was the recipient of extraordinary relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina,” Price said. “Helping Haiti is a tangible way to express our gratitude to God for the acts of grace we received.” 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another February blessing!

A trip to Prairieville, LA, today was a joyful celebration of the two-year anniversary of granddaughter Molly Kate’s entrance into the world. Molly Kate loves a party, and she was a mix of action and awe at her Minnie Mouse party.

Birthday girl Molly Kate, left, and her cousin Clara go all out in the jumper.

This little girl went non-stop -- climbing, jumping, engaging great-grandparents and grandparents in her antics with balloons, blowing bubbles, chasing treats from the Minnie Mouse piƱata. She was entranced by her birthday cake and was vocally enthusiastic about the crepe paper decorations her dad had draped around the ceiling fan. The plaited crepe paper was pink and black, Minnie Mouse colors, of course. The Minnie Mouse theme was her choice, and mama Katie had carried it out thoroughly.

Molly Kate focuses her considerable concentration on the serious business of opening gifts.

As guests were departing, Molly Kate was still going and going, although more slowly, relishing final moments with other little ones. Many of the adults, including husband Walter and me, had been at the hospital two years ago, waiting for Molly Kate’s arrival. It has been a blessing, watching her grow from infant to a special little girl.  

Friday, February 19, 2010

Forebears and four bears

Recycling quilts into these bears has helped preserve family history.

After a six-month hiatus to focus on my mother’s medical challenges, I am back to dealing with boxes of memories. April 1, 2009, she downsized from a four-bedroom home to a studio apartment in a retirement community. Since then my husband and I have packed our modest home with family photos, mementos and various items from her house that either she or I just could not let go.

I was making progress sorting, organizing and sometimes eliminating until Mother encountered health issues. She is doing better, but our new normal is that her involvement with medical providers may continue to occupy chunks of her life and mine. That said, waiting until things “settle down” is not an option for dealing with the numerous remaining boxes and bags that I stacked in corners and tucked in various nooks and crannies. Yesterday I began a new strategy, devoting just 15 minutes a day to unloading boxes and making decisions. Obviously not much is accomplished, but 15 minutes is better than doing nothing. And I expect that those few minutes will eventually get the job done.

Anyway, yesterday’s quarter hour unearthed photo albums my late father had filled during his semesters at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, MS, in the 1930s. I spent most of my 15 minutes looking at youthful images of my father, my mother, their siblings and friends from the days before my mom and dad wed. How had I missed seeing these albums when my father was alive and I could ask him about them? Or did he try to share them, and I just wasn’t interested? Weepiness threatened.

My mood lightened when I delved into a bag and found two bears that my sister-in-law Lila had crafted for my mother many years ago. The bears stayed on a guestroom bed. Lila made them from quilts my mother’s mother had quilted. I never met my maternal grandmother. She died at age 58 before I was born. The bold colors she chose had survived decades of use, but the quilts themselves had almost disintegrated. Mother recalls that her mother made the quilts from scraps left over from sewing clothes for Mother and her four sisters.

“We bought material for making dresses, skirts and pants to wear in the field,” she said. “Sometimes we used material from fertilizer sacks. Fertilizer came in sacks made out of pretty cotton prints. We also got flour in 100 pound sacks, but those were plain white, and we never used those for anything but making dish towels.”

I am happy that Lila could salvage this tangible little bit of family history. In the photo my mother’s bears are in the center and on the right. For the photo above, I added two bears of my own that Lila made about the same time she made Mother’s bears. Raw material for the dark one on the left was a quilt my late father-in-law received during World War II. He was from Chicago, and women from Midwestern states had made quilts to give to young men entering military service.

Perhaps these bears will be a gateway for regaling my grandchildren with stories of my forebears (arghhh! pun intended). My immediate discovery for the day, however, was that a stuffed bear can be an effective mood-altering substance. My 15 minutes ended with a smile.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two special valentines


Valentines Day is the anniversary of two extra special valentines in our family, niece Amanda, 19, and great-niece Trinity, 7, both with Feb. 14 birthdays. Amanda is the eldest daughter of my brother Mike Carpenter. Trinity’s mom, Melissa Byrd, is married to our nephew Ryan. With their marriage we gained a sixth niece – Melissa, and our only great niece – Trinity.

Our nieces for many years gave us our only brush with the world of princesses-in-training. They have been and still are a continual source of joy, pride and education about girl things. Our Skupien nieces also share responsibility for three “great” blessings: great-nephews, Ashton, 5, whose mom is Stephanie, and Miles, 13 months, whose mom is Sandi; and great-niece Trinity.

God bless Amanda and Trinity as they begin their new year!

Thanks to brother Mike for the photo of Amanda.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Granddaughter Stella -- Happiness is a pink tutu.

Rain, rain, tiny ice spheres,
Snowflakes soft and sparse, gray gray skies.
Children calling; grandkids visiting.
Thank you, God, for a glorious day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mama’s stories: scrambled fish

A sleepover at my mother’s Provisions Living studio apartment in Hattiesburg included shared laughter about family stories. Here is one of my favorites:

The year was around 1945. Mother (actually, she wouldn’t be a mother for another couple years) had just returned from Monterrey, CA, where she and Daddy lived for several months before the U.S. Army shipped him out to fight in the South Pacific. She was living with family, my father’s brother James and his wife Edna. She shared a room with their daughter Nelda. Nelda, Mother and Aunt Edna all had jobs.

“I worked at the USO-YWCA as a secretary,” Mother recalled. “Edna worked at Blue Ribbon Bakery, and I don’t remember where Nelda worked.” Nelda got off work at 4 p.m., Mother at 5, and Aunt Edna at 6. That sequence of quitting times was significant. Aunt Edna was an exceptional cook. Both Nelda and Mother were learning to cook, and shared good-natured teasing about their failures and successes.

On this particular day, Uncle James had gone fishing with friends and invited the man and his wife home for a fish fry featuring their catch of the day.

“When I got home James, the couple and Nelda were already at the table eating,” Mother said. “Edna was teaching us a lot of things about cooking. She had always fried fish just so, crisp. But these were turned over so many times while they were frying that they had come all to pieces. I assumed that Nelda had fried the fish. I sat down and asked ‘What are we eating -- scrambled fish?’

“Nelda kicked me under the table and said ‘I fried the potatoes.’ I knew then that the wife had fried the fish. ‘I like scrambled fish,’ I announced. Nelda giggled. The more I said the worse it got,” Mother continued. “I learned a lesson not to comment on food.”

Even though I wasn’t born when that enlightenment about food commentary occurred, the “I-like-scrambled-fish” statement became standard shorthand in our family. Any time one of us found ourselves digging an embarrassing hole ever deeper trying to correct a conversational misstep, the “digger” or his or her audience would pronounce with dramatic flourish, “I like scrambled fish.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fighting the grumpies

Cabbage after rain
Since weather is still keeping me out of therapeutic grubbing in the dirt, maybe posting veggie pix will help me combat my weather-related grumpiness. The cabbage, one of two plants residing in a pot in a flowerbed, got off to a slow start; but home-grown cabbage was finally on our menu for supper last night.

Mesclun mystery mix
I have no idea what this salad green is. I never realized it would go to seed so quickly. Wikipedia describes mesclun as “a salad mix of assorted small, young salad leaves which originated in Provence, France. The traditional mix includes chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive in equal proportions, but in modern iterations may include an undetermined mix of fresh and available” lettuces and other leafy green vegetables. The tiny patch I planted has supplemented our store-bought Romaine, but I have been negligent about going out and harvesting in rain and cold.

Okay, that worked well. Grumpies are banished for now, and I am thinking of great positives, such as:
- Saints won the Super Bowl!
- A visit from grandkids is in the works this weekend!
- Retirement frees me to spend the night with my mother this week, be with her through tests and a doctor’s appointment, and have time with her!
- My husband’s work schedule gives us wonderful time together!
- The list of blessings is longer than what I could post here!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bicycle blues

This time last year I was biking all over Ocean Springs. Feb. 6, 2009, was a Sunday, and my husband Walter and I biked a few blocks to church. After lunch we biked more than three miles to the Grace Church Gulf Coast property for a look at our church's new buildings under construction. It was a challenging but invigorating ride for this slightly wobbly cyclist. The day was sunny; temperatures were cold but not frigid.

Extreme cold, rain and family matters have limited Skupien family bicycle excursions in 2010. So far this year, my red bike has waited unused on our screened porch, and I visit it on my way out to our compost pile. But I am still hoping!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Going gray

Ari Seth Cohen at Advanced Style has promised upcoming stories about women letting their hair go gray and silver. I can’t wait for his posts. He regularly features photos and essays about the style of older folks, from fashion to vibrant living. In his own words, he says, “I roam the streets looking for New York's most stylish and creative older folks. Respect your elders and let these ladies and gents teach you a thing or two about living life to the fullest.”

My own experience with going gray began shortly after retirement. I retired May 1, 2008, and for two months there was literally no day at home available for an appointment for cut and color. It dawned on me: Hey, I’m retired. This is my chance to see how far the gray has advanced and what it looks like!

As for the cut, I had been on a quest since Hurricane Katrina to find a hairdresser sympathetic to natural curl, more recently referred to as “awful cowlicks.” My regular hairdresser had evacuated for Katrina then relocated afterwards. Since then I found myself often silently saying after a cut, “Well, it will grow out.” So in retirement, I started cutting my own hair. When I goof up, I just repeat, “Well, it will grow out.” I have enjoyed the journey into no-color and self-cut territory. The freedom is one more retirement plus.

My husband Walter took the photo above of me and my gray hair.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ready for spring

Red maple blooms
A quick trip outside before rain started this morning included a check on the progress of red maple blooms. They are a bit more dramatic than they were when I posted a photo in a Jan. 27 post.

Brightwell blueberry buds
One of my two surviving blueberry bushes that I planted last spring also sport tiny red buds on bare twigs. These minute blooms and buds are giving hope that consistent sunshine and an opportunity to start work on our vegetable garden will arrive some day. Not yet though. We have not had enough rain-free weather since Christmas for our backyard swamp to dry, and weather reports predict rain will continue through tonight. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

50 and counting

Jan. 31, 2010, marked my fiftieth post since starting to blog in November 2009. As milestones go, it doesn’t seem that significant. But it does nudge me to reflect on just what this blog is and the road I have traveled with it. Although I seem to be mentioning the word “retirement” less, Retirement Daze is fulfilling my original purpose as the posts record external and internal landscapes of my retirement. Thankfully, I put the word “random thoughts” in the description of the blog. I have yet to develop a defined niche, but I have enjoyed the luxury of posting about anything that piques my interest.

The technology has been a challenge and is still a source of frustration. The challenge could be character building. Or not. Maybe I am just causing heartburn for those within earshot of my moaning and whining.

What I did not anticipate when I started was how much I enjoy being a part of the blogging community. I can sit down with a cup of hot tea, check out a new post by a blogging grandmother near Savannah, GA, and share a chuckle or a tear about the antics of her little ones. Or marvel at images shared by gifted photographers, both pro and amateur, the world over. And the words. I love words, and writers of all ages and walks pour out words in wondrous, wild, funny and unexpected ways.

The other thing that surprises me is my obsession with Sitemeter. Sitemeter provides a thrill when I see that someone on the other side of the globe is looking at my blog. And even more of a thrill is recognizing a return visitor. Thank you, thank you, thank you for visiting!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Deep-south delicacies?

I saw this sign when we made a pit stop at a gas station on our back-roads route to Savannah, GA, in November 2009. I had asked husband Walter to take a photo of it. Two things prompted me to post it now. Several days ago he asked me if I had done anything with it. That was the first prompt. Then Sunday as we were coming home from church, there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken sign advertising tailgate specials. That was the second prompt. My train of thought chugged off to Saints-in-the-Super-Bowl tailgating. Then my train took a sharp turn and derailed at that gas station’s sign. Yum?