Monday, May 31, 2010

Day of remembrance

A day to honor those who died in service to our country; a day to remember the sacrifice of their loved ones  

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Techie teeth

Happy, fashion-conscious Texas teeth
I snapped the photo above in Quanah, TX, two years ago on the second day of a retirement celebration trip out West. Looking at it now, I can’t believe I asked husband Walter to stop so I could take a picture. Maybe it was the wordplay on the “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” beer commercials, even though the acceptance these days of “less” when “fewer” is called for still makes me want to reach for a red pen and start editing.

I am much more enthusiastic about editing that about dentist visits. After much procrastination I finally made an appointment with the personable young man who has stepped in after the retirement of my dentist of almost three decades. The visit was an encounter with new-to-me high-tech dental paraphernalia.

Once I was actually in THE CHAIR, the first thing I noticed was a nice-sized TV screen on the wall in front of me, perfect for watching a relaxing comedy or travel show. Instead, the featured program was digital images of my teeth and gums, displayed up close, huge and in living color. Not for me the little teeth that are attired in bowties and are brushing happily. Yuck!

My new dentist said the happy news was that my teeth were well-cared for and in relatively good condition. What was alarming was all the bad stuff from the hygienist and dentist about “deep-cleaning” to combat gum disease. It seems that a month of education about proper “home care,” which incidentally is most effective with a supersonic tooth-cleaning appliance, is also in the works. Please bear with me, those of you who have good memories for technical stuff. I will likely not be using dentally approved nomenclature.

My choices are to have a lengthy, expensive procedure occurring over several days and intense home-care training, or—and I am paraphrasing here—to become a toothless hag. Upon reflection it became clear to me that the mean, bitter, fashion-disaster witches of fairy-tale fame were suffering due to the lack of modern technology and education about proper dental home care.

I began to see how a moderately attractive older woman could evolve from a reasonable person to a grumpy, mean creature who stepped onto the slippery slope of the black arts in an effort to keep her teeth. I speak from experience. Contemplating the potential results of my inadequate brushing techniques has already added wrinkles, and I think I feel the beginning of a witch’s wart on the end of my nose.

Right now I’m waiting for a call from the dentist’s office about insurance and the schedule for the procedure. I still have questions: Would my new technologically empowered dentist remove the wart, too? Would my insurance pay for dentally induced wart removal?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pascagoula River Swamp transplant

What is my name?
The flower above is from plants my mother passed along to me more than a decade ago. Mother had found a patch of the striking burgundy and lime-green blossoms in the Pascagoula River Swamp and brought home a plant complete with stem and below-ground tubers. She stuck it into a flowerbed, and before long it had taken over the bed and spread into her yard.

White-edged alstroemeria

The flowers looked a lot like Alstroemeria, blooms I had seen in floral arrangements. The photo on the left is from a list of popular florist flowers pictured on The Flower Expert .  My swamp versions are more trumpet shaped than those from the florist, and they don’t last but a few days as cut flowers in contrast to about two weeks for the florists’ bouquets. A local botanist surmised my plant was likely an escapee from someone’s landscape. Whatever its origins, it continues to escape with colorful results.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Small conversations

Five-year-old grandson and fledgling punster Nate after receiving grandfather’s response that, no, we were not in Florida:
“You know why they call it Floor-i-da, don’t you? It’s cause in Floor-i-da they have really hard floors.”

Two-year-old granddaughter Molly Kate’s delighted exclamation after hearing, in an episode of Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse, that the unusually costumed Goofy was a “knight in shining armor”:
“Goofy! Goofy! He’s a shining ornament!”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thank you, Lowe’s

My newest library
A recent discovery has reinforced my already excessive enjoyment of trips to Lowe’s home improvement center in Gautier, MS. A couple of visits ago I realized there was a bench right next to the selection of home improvement books. If a store has a book or magazine section, that is the spot husband Walter and I arrange to meet when our shopping is done.

With the record high temperatures that have arrived in our area, I have shortened my usual stroll through the abundant and well-maintained vegetable and landscaping plants that this particular Lowe’s has featured this year. One result is that I have spent more time on that bench. That air-conditioned spot is now one of my favorite libraries.

The selection of gardening books is especially tempting. While Walter heads off with a shopping cart, I’m happily immersed in sampling books that are potential gifts for some of my fellow novice gardeners or for my home library.

I just hope Lowe’s doesn’t install a “No Loitering” sign!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grandmother bonuses

Katie's photo of six-day-old Walker
My stint as mommy’s helper with daughter-in-law Katie in Louisiana ended yesterday. Getting acquainted with new grandson Walker was pure joy. I also accumulated a long list of other happy bonuses during Walker’s first few days. Here are a few:

Changing diapers. Yes, I really mean it. I can’t imagine, for example, missing newborn Walker’s reaction to these necessary interruptions in his laidback but full routine of sleeping, eating, looking around, and exercising his plumbing. Laidback Walker disappeared when his diaper was removed. A kicking, screaming, tomato-faced dynamo showed up. By the time I left, the volume and energy of his protests were decreasing. Apparently he was beginning to realize that a clean diaper and comfy swaddling were on the way, even at Nana’s slow speed.

Musical stardom. Big sister Molly Kate demanded encores of songs I made up about everything from flying high in her swing to her consumption of green beans.

Mental gymnastics. Lazy brain cells got a workout when Molly Kate insisted on the same made-up songs we sang the day before. She remembers. I don’t. After a dozen attempts I usually hit a variation that earned the MK stamp of approval.

Family in action. My daughter-in-law’s extended family is an enormous network. Their heritage of love, hard work and commitment to family offers practical and emotional support to the family’s young parents, including Katie and our son Jeremy.

Molly Kate moments. At breakfast Saturday Walker, Molly Kate, parents Jeremy and Katie, and Nana and Baboo gathered at the table. MK announced with that characteristic Molly Kate sparkle of enthusiasm, “We are all Skupiens!”

Reunion with best friend. Husband Walter arrived Friday evening for a short visit with new grandson and family. Saturday we “vacationed” our way back to Ocean Springs with leisurely stops for lunch, cappuccino and hot tea -- a companionable end to a memorable week and a half.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Louisiana memories

Trying out Nana’s shoes
While newborn grandson Walker and his mom Katie engaged in mutual-admiration exercises several days ago, two-year-old Molly Kate took Nana’s shoes out for a test drive around the kitchen. All the Louisiana Skupiens are doing well, and I am back home today. A multitude of mental vignettes accompanied me home: Walker in his first days in his new home, Molly Kate’s adjustment to the new family dynamic, and Katie and Jeremy’s duet of loving care for their little ones. Abundant blessings; priceless memories. Thank you, God.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading fundamentals

Molly Kate grapples with large reading assignment.
Although big books can sometimes be daunting, two-year-old granddaughter Molly Kate is not intimidated. She uses various methods to tackle large tomes.She recently demonstrated two of her favorite strategies:

The single leg extension

The double-knee, single-toe combo

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New baby, new world

Jeremy and Katie connect with the non-hospital world while a laid-back Walker snoozes.
Grandson Walker Vincent Skupien was about 30 hours old Thursday, May 13, when the scene above made me smile. My son Jeremy and his wife Katie are definitely part of a “connected” generation. Jeremy had finished up business with customers via iPhone and was texting friends and relatives who had sent congratulations. Katie, only 30 hours after a Caesarian section, was busy blogging, via wireless Internet, about Walker’s arrival. We had also downloaded onto my laptop the photos that she, Jeremy and relatives had taken with their digital cameras. She was editing the photos and posting them on her blog, again, all within 30 hours.

When Walker’s dad Jeremy was 30 hours old, the only communication media available in the hospital were an in-room telephone, visits, flowers and cards. There were no cell phones or wireless Internet for me. I was extremely sleepy and certainly not coherent enough to chronicle the birthing experience anyway. And we waited and waited and waited for our photos to be processed. I wouldn’t change “the good old days,” but I am certainly appreciating some of the benefits of modern technology.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Grandma heaven

Walker Vincent Skupien
Posting is taking a back seat for a few more days. Walker Vincent Skupien is three days old today and on his way home from the hospital. His grandmothers have been on duty either at the hospital or with big sister Molly Kate or both. Molly Kate’s maternal grandmother Tracey Yarborough, also known as Mimi among her grandchildren, has been a trooper. She has given Molly Kate an emotional haven with a mini-vacation at the Yarborough home, interspersing big sister’s days with visits to the hospital and McDonald’s.

Big sister gets acquainted
I have had the privilege of soaking up all of the Walker cuddling I can get. I will be here in Louisiana for a while longer during these early days of daughter-in-law Katie’s recuperation from her Caesarian section. We grandmother’s are happy, tired and in grandmothers’ heaven. Walker’s closeup photo is thanks to one of the other many family members recording his arrival. For more visit Katie’s blog, The Daily Skup.

Katie and Jeremy with son Walker

My baby with his baby (Sorry Jeremy; couldn't resist!)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Skupien has arrived

Grandson Walker Vincent Skupien was born at 8:11 a.m., Wednesday, May 12, at the Womens' Hospital in Baton Rouge, LA.  Weight  7 lbs. 6 oz.; length  20 and 1/4 inches.  All are well. More to come.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Waiting for Walker

Just a few more hours until grandson Walker Vincent Skupien arrives! We are blessed with a son and daughter-in-law who welcome us into their home during this exciting – and nerve-stretching – time. Can’t wait to meet this new little one. He is scheduled to make his debut tomorrow, May 12, at 8 a.m. via Caesarian section. Husband Walter and I will be on the way to Louisiana this afternoon. His mom Katie is amazing. Her blog, The Daily Skup, has kept us all up-to-date on preparations for Walker, both at home and in hearts. The photo above is borrowed from Katie's recent post. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

High price of whine

Accompanied my mother to her dentist appointment today. A sign at the check-in window: $5 Charge for Whining. I thought free whine in a dentist’s office was a Constitutional right.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

One grumpy gardener

The realization hit yesterday that my gardening efforts reflect my spiritual journey. I have spent a few days spiraling into grumpiness and frustration over the status of this second year of gardening and my general failure to complete a variety of other tasks lately. Last year we were feasting on tomatoes by April 24. This year heavy rains, extended cold weather, some false starts and yes, my own procrastination put me way behind. My tomato plants are just now putting on blooms, and some other veggies that were doing great last year are behaving with less enthusiasm this year. Grumble, grumble, whine, sigh.

After tilling and weeding sessions yesterday, the light dawned that I haven’t entirely broken a habit of focusing on the negative. The light-bulb moment came when weeding took less time than I anticipated thanks to heavy mulching earlier in the year. Oh! Something to be thankful for! That mental hop triggered a look around for other garden blessings to count. Cucumbers and okra were coming up as well as marigolds and zinnias. Mild cherry pepper plants were doing well. A few banana pepper seeds had germinated and the first little double leaves had pushed into sight.

The impact of acknowledging those small positives was amazing. I was on the way to leaving my emotional doldrums behind. The challenge now is to put into practice the lesson reinforced once again: Planting seeds of thanksgiving is a good remedy for an attack of grumpiness over everyday disappointments and setbacks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy birthday, Stella!

Our youngest grandchild, Stella, turns two today. Son Walt and daughter-in-law Sarah had moved their family from Mississippi to Georgia a month prior to Stella’s birth. I had the luxury of arriving several days after Stella joined the family. It was a joy to get acquainted with the newest Skupien and to serve as mommy’s helper with Stella’s three siblings. That little girl was already remarkable. I know, I know - grandmothers are always prejudiced.

But this little one was definitely absorbing her new environment with an intensity that amazed me. She would look for her siblings when she heard their voices, and I was thrilled with her concentration during my one-sided conversations with her. What an audience!

Stella has approximately six more days before the status of youngest Skupien grandchild and great-grandchild passes to Walker Vincent Skupien. I love that these two cousins will have a birthday month in common. Happy birthday, Stella!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Birthday weekend, Day 2

New addition to hometown dining choices

After church Sunday, we closed out husband Walter’s week and a half of birthday celebrating with lunch at a new Ocean Springs pizza place, Leo’s Wood Fired Pizza. The eatery had a laid-back, Hollywood theme with photos of celebrities on the walls. On the menu were items  such as Clint Eastwood and Jane Fonda pizzas that continued the Hollywood theme.

The staff was friendly and competent, and I would return to sample more of their scrumptious salads. The pizza was okay but did not quite measure up to our favorite wood-fired pizza about a decade ago in Carmel, CA. Of course, neither did that same Carmel restaurant’s fare measure up when we returned for a repeat in June 2008. Was it really that great or does the memory of a stellar experience just get better with time?

Anyway, an added element to the Sunday experience was the location. In the early 1970’s the two-story building housing Leo’s had two business spaces on the ground floor and an apartment on the second floor. For awhile the space that is now the east side of Leo’s was home to my husband’s photography business before he built a studio. A shoe repair shop was in the other half. The building was not extremely attractive in those days. Hats off to Ocean Springs merchants who are doing a wonderful job of “recycling” old structures into retail spaces that delight the eye and draw residents and visitors alike to the downtown area.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Birthday weekend, Day 1

Birthdays are usually low-key but stretched-out affairs in our household. Husband Walter’s official birth anniversary was Wednesday, and he and I celebrated at breakfast. A 5:30 a.m. birthday gift prior to a 6 a.m. start to his workday didn’t seem quite enough to me. Saturday, after a bit of dithering back and forth, we agreed that a quick trip to New Orleans for beignets is an appropriate birthday weekend activity.

During a beignet trek to the French Quarter in April, crowds, traffic, no available parking and a tight timeline eroded our determination to acquire the French doughnuts. Our ardor for the treats at Café du Monde had only increased with time. We struck out for New Orleans. Success at last!

Birthday beignets
After we savored every bite of the beignets and remodeled our attire liberally but accidentally with the accompanying powdered sugar, we conducted a little people watching. Cafe du Monde, situated at the end of the French Market and across from a corner of Jackson Square, is perfect for people watching. Then we indulged in another of our simple New Orleans traditions. We strolled the perimeter of Jackson Square, browsing among the artists, palm readers, musicians and visitors. We happened upon an energetic group of street musicians and the crowd they had attracted.

Engrossed in the French Quarter experience

High-energy attention grabbers

Emily Post of street entertainment

My husband took the photo above. For more of his New Orleans photos, go to Outside of Paris.

We continued our stroll and wound up at the Pontalba Café on Jackson Square. We are far from foodies, so I will just list the things I liked most about this café: the floor to ceiling French doors that invite the outside in, a ringside seat to the constant activity outside those doors and the festive, friendly bustle inside.

Love those French doors

On the way to our van for our trip home, I took a few more snapshots of iconic French Quarter scenes. Then it was back to Mississippi.

Carriage ride, lady?

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

Sunday, May 2, 2010

America’s sea threatened

The strong south winds and high tides that pushed water into saltmarshes and flooded local roads roads today add to the oil spill’s threat.

Oil erupting into the Gulf of Mexico - the reports and images tighten my chest as if I were sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill loved one. Facebook friends are already reporting the strong smell of oil in their Ocean Springs, MS, neighborhoods. While not forgetting the loss of life as a result of the oil platform disaster, my thoughts also turn to the researchers who were colleagues during my years at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs.

A number of them pioneered marine biological research in the northern Gulf of Mexico. All are passionate about their scientific investigations of the plants, animals and processes occurring in the Gulf.

I caught up with marine biologist Jim Franks, one of those GCRL pioneers, by phone this afternoon. Along with his research on cobia, Atlantic blue marlin, yellow-fin tuna, wahoo and whale sharks to name a few, Jim and the GCRL team have been examining the role of Sargassum, a floating brown algae, as a nursery area for oceanic pelagic fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Media reports I have heard focused on the estuarine nursery habitats, but I have heard nothing about the open Gulf nursery areas of oceanic pelagic fishes.

“I’m sure the spill will have an effect on those areas,” Jim said. “The high seas and the weather have prevented us from getting near-time samples.” The regret in his voice was evident.

My former boss and another researcher were on local TV last night, reporting on the Lab’s near-time sampling of critical near-shore areas, a necessary step to building a biological picture of conditions just prior to the oil’s arrival here.

An after-lunch drive that husband Walter and I took along Front Beach here today hammered home how Mother Nature is likely to heighten the impact of the oil spill’s arrival. The combination of high tides and strong winds from the south had already pushed water high into areas of saltmarsh and had flooded several local streets. Shades of  Katrina, wondering how our world will have changed by tomorrow.