Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Two of our little granddaughters, sisters Charlie and Stella, are supplying fun glimpses for their nana into the early stages of sisterhood. Two-year-old Stella is adept at pushing her four-year-old sister to the outer limits of frustration. But Stella also learns from big sister. Examples:

Gardening--Four-year-old Charlie prepares to plant a plastic tree in her dinosaurs’ landscape; Stella adds plastic foliage for her dinosaurs’ enjoyment.

Modeling--If Nana says “lean your heads together for a photo,” Stella watches Charlie then tilts her head the same way that Charlie does.

Dance—Charlie’s at-home practice for her “Mommy and Me” ballet classes reinforces Stella’s penchant for pink tutus and movement in time to music.

Happy times for Nana!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Kentucky photo session

Kentucky fields of flowers
We rounded a curve on a recent sightseeing drive with husband Walter’s Aunt Sue in Bowling Green, KY. Bam! A vision of color, texture and shape exploded into sight. Black-eyed susans – or a close relative – carpeted fields and gentle slopes surrounding a modest brick home.

“Let’s stop for photos on the way home,” I called out from the back seat of Sue’s Toyota Sequoia. We drove on to our destination, and relished shopping at a Mennonite produce stand for wonderfully fresh veggies and at an Amish market that made it hard to leave without purchasing a sample of everything baked, candied or pickled.

On the way back, Sue pulled into a driveway across from the fields of rich yellow. The female contingent--Sue, my mother-in-law and Sue’s granddaughter--opted to stay in the air-conditioned vehicle. Sue’s 10-year-old grandson joined Walter and me as we piled out. We trooped across the road, down a slight incline and into the roadside weeds.

I shot the sea of flowers from several angles then knelt to shoot through a barbed-wire fence. Suddenly I snapped to attention, jerked to my feet and grabbed the right side of my jeans at thigh level. Something was crawling up my leg.

With remarkable courage and lightening reflexes, I squished hard with my right hand. Panic ensued, though, when I realized how limited my options were. If I let go and it—whatever “it” happened to be—was alive, it would continue its exploration of my anatomy and might even sting or bite. If it wasn’t alive, then the even more dire consequence could be critter guts on my leg. Eeyuuuuuu!

I staggered up the incline, paused at the grandson’s warning of an approaching car, then shuffled back across the road to Sue’s vehicle, still clutching my jeans. I opened the Sequoia’s back door, looked around for anybody in the vicinity then proceeded to stand there, fumbling left-handed with the jeans’ button and zipper.

Modesty fled. To the background of my female relatives’ hilarity and offers of help, I worked the jeans down. A grasshopper head, a couple of legs and bright yellow intestines greeted me. I grabbed a tissue and removed all the evidence except a disgusting stain. Getting the jeans back into place unleashed a major icky-bug dance spasm, a fitting end to a memorable Kentucky experience.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Five-year-old grandson Nate has discovered a new challenge--climbing trees. During a recent expedition for snow balls, Nate and his mom were spotting good climbing trees. “The problem,” Nate intoned, “is all the good trees are in somebody else’s yard!”

Nate and mom in a good climbing tree
The playground of a nearby elementary school produced a satisfying session for the young climbing enthusiast—and his mother. “I used to love to climb trees,” she said. “I think it would be great to develop a park that was just trees great for climbing, all natural, all in the outdoors.”

Almost six decades ago I was the youngster scraping knees and hands as I climbed an old water oak across from my home. I can still remember the thrill of perching high and hidden, concocting wild and complex imaginary adventures with my friends. During this visit from grandchildren, however, I left the climbing to Nate and chose the feet-on-the-ground adventure of chasing granddaughters still too young to hear the siren call of a good climbing tree.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hot-air balloon festival minus hot air

Our late afternoon visit yesterday afternoon to the annual Hot-Air Balloon Festival at Foley, AL, lacked one thing—a sky full of the 44 hot-air balloons scheduled to participate. Winds and threatening rain had grounded the colorful balloons. But here are my top five reasons why the 90-mile trip was great:

Jaxson bounces off backs of trainers to snap up a Frisbee.
Reason #5--My mother-in-law and I snagged front-row seats for a free performance by Frisbee dogs, officially the Disc-Connected K9s. I am addicted to puns, but that one even had me groaning. The dogs really strutted their stuff, though. The canine performers chased and caught the plastic discs, showing off a repertoire of leaps, twists and flips over, under and around their trainers. Their acrobatics were surpassed only by their obvious enthusiasm for the complex game of fetch.

Reason #4--Three teams fired up their vivid balloons for display. The increasingly gusty winds soon had them deflating the balloons and packing up for the day, but I appreciated their effort. There is just something so happy about those balloons, even when they are earthbound.

Reason #3--The pace was relaxed and friendly with families tossing Frisbees, toddlers wrestling souvenir “hot-air” balloons almost as big as themselves, and the occasional aromas from the food booths wafting our way.

Reason #2--My thoughtful husband brought out camping chairs, sandwiches, watermelon and fresh strawberries for a delicious picnic in the grassy field reserved for the balloons that would have been on display had weather permitted.

Reason #1--Clouds and a storm front banished the unusually high temperatures that we have been having since May. Ahhhhh, cool, the ultimate outdoor summertime amenity. Well worth the trip!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Again and again

The word “again” figures prominently in my life as nana to two-year-olds Molly Kate and Stella. Anyone associated with toddlers on a regular basis knows exactly what I mean. “Again” greets any activity that captures the interest of these little ones. For this grandmother, the word encompasses both delight and exhaustion.
Granddaughter Molly Kate

Granddaughter Stella

The delight part is multi-faceted. The satisfaction that a toddler’s enthusiastic “again” brings this grandmother has to equal the call for an encore at any major entertainment venue. It is amazing that our homespun playtime calls forth that “again” and sets little faces and bodies vibrating with gleeful anticipation. And then there is the delight of sending them into intense wonder or shrieks of laughter with actions as simple as leaning them backwards for an upside down look at the world, discussing how many noses, ears and eyes each of us has, singing silly songs, or inflicting loud and blubbery belly kisses.

The exhaustion part is inherent in the word “again.” A single “again” is rare. Toddlers seem capable of “again” into infinity and beyond. At this stage in their lives every single thing is brand new, and repetition is one way they become acquainted with their world and how it works.

That newness passes all too soon. I treasure the privilege of sharing it, and both the delight and the exhaustion are blessings. I will miss that toddler experience; but with four grandchildren beyond the toddler age, I know there are wonders galore still to come. And, of course, there is five-week-old grandson Walker. We have at least one more trip through toddlerhood to enjoy!

*Thank you to daughter-in-law Katie's family for photo of Molly Kate. Thanks to my niece Amanda Carpenter for photo of Stella.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

91 and counting

One-month-old Walker Vincent Skupien performs newborn calisthenics for his great-grandmother at her recent ninety-first birthday celebration.

My mother celebrated her ninety-first birthday June 12 at our home. Her physical stamina has diminished, but the love that defines her character burns as brightly as ever, enveloping her family and friends.

She does, on occasion, express regrets about no longer being able to do the things for other people that gave her such satisfaction in the past. But the concern and love that directed her actions in the past still touch the lives of others. Hence the title of this post: She is 91 and her life continues to count in wonderful ways!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Happiness is . . .

My brother Mike and family on a visit to my mother
- A visit to my mother that coincides with a trip to Hattiesburg, MS, by my brother Mike, wife Sonya, and offspring Amanda, Becky and Matthew;

- Anticipating the arrival of grandchildren, assorted parents, and other relatives;

- My mother’s 91st birthday tomorrow;

A gift of glad
 - A neighbor’s sharing vivid gladiolas from her flower bed; and

My office?
- Blogging at Coffee Fusion with husband Walter.

Monday, June 7, 2010

View from down under

Yellow garden spider, I think
A week of rain has drowned my vegetable garden but not the spiders. The determined little survivor above is a yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia, I think. The spider's position in my fig tree limited my access to a view of its underside, and photos I found online are all of a view from the top down. My contortionist attempts for a better angle jiggled the web and sent Mr. or Mrs. Spider into a homo sapiens-induced icky dance, an arthropod version of the spastic jumping around some people (meaning me) do when they run into a spider web.

I have no idea if the spider above is a male or female. The University of Arkansas Arthropod Museum site noted that males do build webs but can be found in females' webs since the guy spiders tool around looking for romance.  

Friday, June 4, 2010

More about teeth: Late-night dental embarrassment

The gross-looking mold above is an artifact of dental work to install a crown on a broken molar decades ago. Once the process was successfully completed, the dentist asked if I wanted to keep the mold.

I did, and in recent years it has proved an element of Halloween d├ęcor fascinating to our grandchildren. They love to open and close the hinged upper and lowers. But most of all they like to pull out the tooth, painted red, that was destined for the crown. The mold never stays in the same place when any of the grands are around during that season of the year; but so far, somehow even the youngest ones always manage to return the red tooth back into its spot among the other teeth.

Memories of a dental embarrassment involving that same crown bubbled into my thoughts recently during my discomfort, and yes, embarrassment, at having teeth and gums magnified digitally and displayed on a huge screen during a visit to the dentist.

On a particularly late Friday night session in the early days of my public relations work at a marine research lab, a co-worker who worked a night shift came by. Our office always had a basket of candy, and the late-night visitor picked out a long-lasting caramel sucker. Thanks to Google, I think I have identified the brand--Sugar Daddy.

Her obvious enjoyment of that candy during our conversation propelled me away from the computer and straight for the candy basket. I relished unwrapping the bright red and yellow paper, something I hadn’t done since I was a child. I popped the narrow rectangle of caramel into my mouth and sucked on it contentedly, absorbing both the caramel taste and the information I needed about my visitor’s research.

The problem came when I opened my mouth to ask a question. I pulled out the sucker. Embedded in the candy was the crown off one of my molars. Yikes! What would Emily Post do? My dentist was embarrassed that the crown had come off and was ready to meet me at his office. But I was experiencing no pain. Maybe Sugar Daddy suckers are also pain inhibitors. We met the following Monday for a superglue-job that has held for a dozen years so far.

Needless to say, Sugar Daddy is no longer one of my approved treats, but I still cling to the memory of that wonderful, slow-release caramel flavor and texture.

*I borrowed the Sugar Daddy image from A Candy Store.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The 'gas-or-happy' debate

Katie’s photo of Walker at three weeks
Almost two weeks have passed since husband Walter and I departed the Louisiana home of our newest grandchild Walker Vincent Skupien. We miss seeing his change from newborn to growing infant, but mom Katie keeps family and friends connected via her blog, The Daily Skup. Her comments about baby smiles and happy looks match memories of Walker’s dad, our youngest son Jeremy.

The layers of awe and delight that such memories create must be typical for grandparents. Along with the joy at Walker’s accomplishments his first few days of life (You know, like yawning, opening his eyes, sleeping!), memories surface of his dad’s first days.

I remember my husband and I sitting together in the hospital room and admiring our new son Jeremy some hours after his arrival. We were talking to him and touching his little chin to trigger a reaction that we had discovered and that delighted us. He would just burst out in the biggest smile. Everyone assured us it was gas. I understand that eight weeks is the timeline for infants to begin smiling on purpose. But we still think those early smiles indicated at the very least an involuntary reaction to something that was pleasurable to our little newborn. Those early smiles sure fit the ability Jeremy exhibited from an early age. He was an expert at pushing our emotional buttons—sending us into fits of laughter or spasms of teeth-grinding.

What a joy that children--and grandchildren--have such distinct, entertaining, and yes, challenging personalities.