Sunday, October 31, 2010


Aliens have invaded! A view of an eye exam from the non-patient side

There have been some spooky moments in my October trips to doctors’ offices this month with our “supreme elders.” The “supreme” is son Jeremy’s tag for his amazing grandmothers with his parents’ generation rating only an unadorned “elder” designation.

It seems like the recent check ups, tests and emergency room visits with our “supremes” have involved darkened rooms and strange-looking instrumentation . . . perfect for the Halloween month!

Happy Halloween!

Related post: Elders and Decision Making

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cherished clichés

Sunrise on Santa Rosa Island at 6:55 a.m.
Sunsets, sunrises, sea oats, beach, waves. . . all create moments of beauty and quiet that touch the spirit. Such moments punctuated our recent camping trip to the Florida section of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Pensacola Bay was on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Capturing images that express those moments and that rise above the cliché is challenging. Clichés or not, the photos I brought home are cherished reminders of special moments.
Sun and sea oats at 7 a.m.

Sixteen minutes later the sun touched the remains of trees that testify to the effects of hurricanes and saltwater.
Skeletons at sunrise

Blue skies and cool breezes helped, but a bike ride along the beach road let me know how out of shape I am. I took a long time trying to get a good photo of the abundant butterflies, especially the Gulf fritillaries. Hey, it was a great excuse to rest for awhile!

On a walk to the bay side, on still wobbly legs, we collected, unintentionally, some familiar hitchhikers on socks and athletic shoes.
Sand spurs

Less than 12 hours after our sunrise safari, we were once again on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island for sunset. I love the graceful lines of those sea oats silhouetted by the setting sun.
Sea oats at 6:21 p.m.

Goodnight to the sun, sinking below the horizon at 6:26 p.m.

After two nights at Fort Pickens Campground, we departed Gulf Islands National Seashore on a sunny Monday morning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Smiling boy and invisible sister

Grandson Walker beams his approval of his first “kitchen sink” bath at Nana and Baboo’s.

Monday ended a five-night stint of little-people watching while daughter-in-law Katie enjoyed a “girls-only” trip with her mom and aunt. It didn’t take long to see that grandson Walker is still smiling boy. He is five months old and at that wonderful stage where his discovery of the world around him is in full swing. Look at him and he bursts out in the biggest grin. Photos don’t phase him.
A tired Walker-in-a-box keeps his smile intact.

Granddaughter Molly Kate, however, prefers to remain invisible where photos are concerned. The rare exceptions occur when she initiates a photo session or when a parent or grandparent is successfully sneaky.
A failed attempt at sneaky is rewarded with “the look” by Molly Kate at the entrance of a 2010 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event.

We were a little more successful at the Saturday walk while we snacked on bananas provided for walkers.
Dancing on the town green.

Banana monkey in action

One snapshot I failed to get was Molly Kate in her Halloween costume. She just had to try on her “Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz” outfit for me. She was enthusiastic about her basket, Toto, and ruby slippers, although she set me straight on a number of points.

“No, Nana, they are red shoes, not slippers,” she corrected. She also insisted that she WOULD NOT wear the bows that came with the costume. Instead she accessorized with her favorite headgear, her “Mickey Mouse helmet.” Alas, a photo was a no no, but below is one taken a couple days after Walker was born in May 2010.
MK and her “helmet”

Monday morning by 8 a.m. our house seemed so empty, except for good memories. Thank you to Katie for trusting us with little ones!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Retirement camping

Campfire replacement?
Camping sure has changed for husband Walter and me since kids are grown and gone and I am retired. We headed out Saturday, Oct. 9, for the Fort Pickens Campground in the Florida section of Gulf Islands National Seashore. When our sons were small, we occasionally packed up on Friday afternoon and made the three-hour drive to the campground on Santa Rosa Island for a weekend of exploring the fort and the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and Pensacola Bay.

Grilling hamburgers or roasting hot dogs was likely to be on the Friday night menu, prepared in the twilight after we set up camp. Not so these days.

A non-camping pleasure
About half way to our destination, we stopped by a favorite chain restaurant for pasta, endless salad and breadsticks, all topped off with a shared dessert.

We didn’t entirely abandon campsite cooking, though. Sunday included two of my high-cholesterol favorites: “scrapple”, a one-pot breakfast meal of sausage, eggs and cheese, and hot dogs for supper. Monday morning we relaxed by the campfire with our hot tea and coffee. After a couple cups each, we looked at each other with the same idea percolating in our brains. We packed up and headed out for a fast-food breakfast burrito on the way home.

Certainly not purist camping, but I am enjoying these changes!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fizzled can still be fun

Pjs and bed head at midday: evidence of fizzled-out grandparents
Baboo and I were a little under the weather during a recent jaunt to Columbus, GA, to keep the Fab Four grandkids while their mom and dad were out-of-town.

The first morning that we had them on our own we did pretty well with making sure they were dressed, hair neat and ready for the day. By Sunday morning, though, our energy had fizzled and house rules slid by the wayside. The sequence of events following an exchange between Baboo and two-year-old Stella left no doubt: The slide was complete.

I heard Baboo tell Stella that putting her feet on the table was not allowed. As I passed by the table a little later, Stella was IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TABLE, laughing at some grandpa-granddaughter game they were playing. When I came back through the room again, the table held the entire Skupien brood. All four were in motion as Baboo induced mock terror and shrieks.

Making Halloween faces
When mom and dad returned home about 1 p.m., kids were still in their sleepwear, hair in disarray. But fizzled or not, grandparents had had a blast. Grandkids had fun, too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hats off to courage

My Katrina hat
During the last few days of August, leading up to the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I struggled to write an anniversary post. Nope. It just wasn’t going to happen. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods; and my words seemed inane and meaningless as I considered the magnitude of loss here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and elsewhere.

Last week, however, while I was looking for sun protection for a grandson’s upcoming peewee football game, I found my Katrina hat. That hat unlocked  post-Katrina images and experiences of the marine lab where I worked. 

More than a fourth of the nearly 200 employees and graduate students I worked with at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory had lost homes as well as their offices and laboratories. With the storm demolishing five of the lab's major buildings and flooding all but one of the remaining structures, scientists and students also lost valuable research collections.

Even so, with few exceptions, everyone showed up for an all-hands meeting scheduled 10 days after the storm. Some had set to work as soon as they could get to the lab after Katrina passed. Others arrived the day of the meeting with the clothes they were wearing representing what was left of their pre-Katrina wardrobes. They clustered around the back of a pickup from which administrators announced the official back-to-work day, discussed safety measures and offered assurances that employees still had jobs although work assignments could differ from pre-storm duties.

Nearly everyone left the outdoor meeting and trooped up the hill to help with removal of debris in and around the remaining buildings. Some departed to wait in line at distribution centers for a chance to search through donated clothing for long pants and closed-toe shoes required for working amid the destruction.

The straw panama came my way a day or two later among bedding, clothes, cleaning supplies and other necessities donated by compassionate strangers for lab employees. I was thankful for its heat-stroke prevention qualities throughout the early days, while I trekked around the lab’s 52-acre campus to buttonhole individuals for media interviews or to gather information for expediting emergency housing or meeting other needs. 

These individuals worked in grueling heat and nasty debris-filled mud to salvage any useable instruments, materials and research collections, to clean up remaining buildings in preparation for restoration and to hasten the return to the business of research.

Their courage in action was evident during the hours, days, months, and even years after Katrina. Whether they were the lab’s on-site leadership, graduate students, staff, researchers or faculty, they were heroes all. The university recognized a few for their efforts; most were not. Hats off, including my Katrina hat, to all the heroes of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Oops! Thanksgiving pizza

Friday is traditionally homemade pizza night at our house, but last night was pizza with a twist. Husband Walter is my pizza man, and I love his simple from-scratch sauce and the thin crust he makes from a mix. I make the big salad.

The cheesy side of Friday night pizza . . . My half is low-cholesterol, no-cheese.
Our boys are grown and gone with children of their own now. They have also graduated to more sophisticated fare in addition to pizza. Mom and Dad, however, are still indulging in teenage junk food such as pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers at least once a week while focusing the rest of the time on a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, broiled, grilled or baked lean meat, poultry and fish.

Pizza man and I continue another part of the tradition, started one rainy night when we “picnicked” with our two sons on the floor in front of the TV. Between setting our “table” and tossing the salads, I sampled the leftover pizza sauce still warm on the stovetop.

Hmmmmm. . . was that difference I was tasting from a weird onion or some new ingredient husband was experimenting with? Seemed like there was a hint of my Thanksgiving cornbread dressing (stuffing to those who didn’t grow up in my area of Mississippi). Then I saw the little red-topped oregano container, except that it was a red-topped container of poultry seasoning.

Pizza man is going to have to start wearing his reading glasses during his culinary endeavors! And, oh yes, I ate every bite, weird but not so bad, especially since husband had served up an alfredo dipping sauce, also from scratch, for the crusts. Yum! So much for low-cholesterol!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Building traditions

A treasured group goodbye
Traditions can transform ordinary moments into memorable events full of meaning. Early on, son Walt and wife Sarah started a “goodbye” routine that helps this grandmother through the looming separation at a visit’s close.

The photo above, taken by husband Walter out his driver’s-side window with my point and shoot, is one of the few photos from our quick overnight trip to Georgia to visit children and grandchildren.

It is a reminder of how thankful I am that both our sons married into strong families with loving traditions and that sons and spouses are creating their own traditions.