Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is that flower?

Columbine, a wildflower that is new to me.

On our May travels to attend various family events, we took several days for a leisurely detour into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our first overnight stop was Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

The next morning we paid to go into a venerable tourist attraction that featured the actual blowing rock that gave the mountain town its name. The attraction included a well-maintained garden, pathways, safety railings (important for this stroke survivor’s comfort zone) and observation deck.

The garden afforded cozy and lovely spots to sit and absorb the serenity of the surroundings, protected from the wind. Mid-May was still the off season, and I’m not sure that “serenity” would apply mid-summer. From the observation decks there were beautiful views of the surrounding dramatic terrain.

The name Blowing Rock was well deserved. The rock formation and the air currents from a gorge far below combined to produce an intense wind. I had to concentrate to keep my balance.

But the wildflowers captured my attention the most. There were bluets, old friends I was acquainted with from visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Another was a species of columbine, an exotic-looking wildflower that is a favorite of hummingbirds.


The perennial’s flaming red and yellow blooms hung from slender stalks. I probably never would have learned its identity if not for the Wildflowers of the Smokies by Peter White. This 208-page soft-cover field guide contains beautiful photos of flowers, all arranged by colors.

It fits into purse or daypack and is an easy-to-use starting place for me and other enthusiastic but inexperienced wildflower fans. What surprised me is that the plant ranges from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia and south to Florida and Texas. Apparently that includes my home state of Mississippi.

Regrettably, my contact with wildflowers is mostly limited to vacation travel. I had heard the word columbine but had never before seen a picture or actual plant and blooms. Seeing it was like receiving an unexpected gift.
Hubby’s photo, my hand. Photo: Walter Skupien

My attempts to capture images of my new botanical acquaintance had me hanging over guardrails, poking my camera through the rails and twisting around, all while trying to keep my balance. I am fairly pleased with the results, both for not falling on my face or other body part and for capturing a few fairly useable shots.

Not so much the bluets. Bluets are tiny, a half inch or less diameter with blue petals and yellow center. Individually they might go unnoticed, but they grow close together and create bright patches of blue. I never did successfully capture their color and, well, the endearing way they look. Yes, flowers can be endearing.
Wildflowers of the Smokies by Peter White
The photo above is borrowed from the online store of the Great Smoky Mountains Association here. Even when I am indoors and far from the Smokies, the cover of this little book, the feel of it in my hand and a browse through its pages can fill me with anticipation of, wonder at and thankfulness for the beauty in our world.

 Rhododendron, another familiar mountain favorite, Photo: Walter Skupien

My brief wildflower photo safari had me smiling the rest of the day.

Husband Walter posted more about our Blowing Rock visit here and about another enjoyable stop here that we made on the same day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Our grandchildren Molly Kate and Walker entertain.

Our Louisiana tribe’s recent Saturday visit to our home gave us a welcomed grandkid fix. Louisiana grands Molly Kate and Walker kept things hopping, including music from toys that are more than four decades old and that their daddy played with.

More iPhone photos by DIL Katie

Baboo and Nana were definitely an appreciative audience.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A visit to Baboo and Nana’s garden

Tomato pickers Molly Kate and Nana

During their recent visit to our home, Granddaughter Molly Kate, our son Jeremy and I braved the high heat index for a quick tour of Baboo and Nana’s vegetable garden.

Well, we call it “garden.” It consists of four cherry tomato plants, several cucumber vines, a few pole beans and okra plants, all in our mostly shady backyard.
Molly Kate picks tomatoes for the first time.

Daddy and daughter team up to pick Mountain Magic tomatoes.

Parents Katie and Jeremy are not into gardening, whether the edible or landscaping variety. Molly Kate was up for the experience, though.
Picking Mexico Midgets

She wasn’t fazed by how tiny our tomatoes are. All four are the cherry variety or smaller. But they do produce abundantly. 

They supply enough for us and for involuntary sharing with the birds as well as intentional sharing with a neighbor who likes their size and flavor. Not even one of the four varieties is near slicing size, though, a result of my inept online ordering.

 Molly Kate checks her harvest.

Proud of her tomato-picking results

Back in the air conditioning, our young gardener showed her harvest to her mom Katie. Katie took all the photos above with her iPhone.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cousins create a happy day

From left, cousins Carolyn and Judy, me and Husband Walter

My cousins Carolyn and Judy made a day trip to the coast for a visit earlier this month. These ladies were such a big part of my life when we were children.

I was an only child for my first 13 years prior to the arrival of my brother. During those only-child years, the two sisters gave me glimpses of how close and special the bond between sisters can be.

Along with their parents, our grandmother and eventually a third sister, Judy and Carolyn lived on the family farm where their father and mine grew up. My parents and I visited after church most Sundays. Weekday visits were not unusual either.

They lived in the country. My family lived in town, and every visit to their home was likely to include an adventure, especially in the summertime. Judy and I were born a month apart, but I was always in awe of all the things she and Carolyn could do.

In their company a walk down the dirt road in front of their house was an exciting expedition of discovery. They created outdoor and indoor fun out of whatever was around them and in their heads. They were knowledgeable and confident about sewing, cooking and the chores, tools and animals of farming and country living.

In our adult years I have also recognized their mother’s graciousness and big heart in the way they care for others. My late mother and I have been among those blessed by their giving spirit.

Our visit and lunch were filled with catching up, reminiscing and laughter. Time spent with these remarkable cousins was a joy. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A blog post I enjoyed

Jeremy in the kitchenc
I try to avoid too many posts about our grandchildren and children. Ha! Anyone who has ever visited this blog knows that I must not be trying very hard.

And my record today remains unbroken. Today I am linking to my son Jeremy’s recent blog post because it made me laugh.

So far he posts on his blog The Skupien Experience here about once a year. This mom thinks his post ranks right up there in the humor department with Marcia Mayo’s blog Well Aged with Some Marbling: the art of aging gracelessly. And I consider that good company indeed.

Friday, June 21, 2013

On the road to celebrate life: Granddaughters’ ballet

 Charlie, one of our Georgia ballerinas

Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, were May Milestones #5 and #6. We were able to attend, for the first time, our Georgia granddaughters’ spring ballet performances, seven-year-old Charlie’s on Saturday and five-year-old Stella’s on Sunday.

From ballet slippers to boots, Charlie poses post-performance. 

No photos or videos were allowed during the performance, but I had to satisfy a grandmother’s need to capture memories of the baby ballerinas, so proud and happy in their tights, tutus and traditional ballerina hairdos. Saturday the dancers were waiting for parents outside after the performance.

The crowds and movement had me clutching my hiking stick, trying to keep my balance while absorbing the energy, color and joy of the children involved in the event. Husband Walter captured the photos of the sisters after Charlie’s performance on Saturday. He does such a good job.
Stella releases pent-up energy after an afternoon of watching, not doing, ballet.

Ballet friends

Sarah and daughters end a day of dance.
I liked this back view of our daughter-in-law Sarah, left, and our little bunheads Stella and Charlie. I almost edited out the term “bunhead” after a check of definitions in the Urban Dictionary

Most were far from positive. But the first part of the following definition, not the snobbery part, was definitely my meaning.

Bunhead: term for a ballet dancer, either used affectionately or used to imply a degree of snobbery

Sunday came with rain for Stella’s performance, eliminating the opportunity for photos immediately after the performance. I managed to capture a few snaps of her in her tutu as soon as we all arrived back at their home.
A proud Stella poses in her ballet attire.

I was amazed that ballet had evidently melted her former reluctance to smile for a photo or even look at the camera. After both Charlie’s performance Saturday and Stella’s Sunday event, this formerly camera-shy granddaughter turned a friendly face to the camera.
 Stella smiles.

 Another smile for the camera

I love close-up images, especially of flowers and grandchildren. The images of flowers are so much easier for me to capture than those of active youngsters. But even so, my grandchildren are the favorite images in my emotional flower garden. All the photos except of Stella after her Sunday performance are Hubby’s shots.
 Stella close-up

 Charlie close-up

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My blogging timeliness, or lack thereof

I have moaned and whined on this blog before about getting behind in my posting and in visiting my favorite blogs. Well, I was tempted to fret over my failure to post about Father’s Day on Father’s Day.

Although it does take me longer and is a bit more difficult to post than it was before my stroke two years ago, my pattern of missing self-imposed blogging deadlines has been present ever since I started blogging in November 2009.

Missing those deadlines has caused me more angst than I care to admit, but I think I am on the way to breaking that particular pattern. Oh, I am certain I will continue to set up deadlines for myself and miss them. But I am steadily beginning to conquer the dismals and the blogging paralysis that used to accompany the missed deadlines.

The example of our daughter-in-law Katie and her blog The Daily Skup have been largely responsible for the change. Katie is one super busy wife, mom, daughter, granddaughter and friend. Her circle of extended family and friends is large, close and comes with abundant can’t-miss celebrations and activities.

That means the events and observations she is documenting during her children’s growing up years are pretty much non-stop and accompanied with tons of photos that she and our son take.

There are times when Katie simply has to choose to let her blogging slide while she takes care of responsibilities, sees to the health and well-being of her family or . . . gasp, gets some shut-eye.

She said she makes a few notes in those busiest of times, keeps photo files in chronological order, and eventually finds some blocks of time to post. I have devoured her recent “catch-up” posts of photos and commentary on events from December 2012 to February 2013 as well as the occasional current updates on her little ones.

She slips those prompt reports in for the benefit of me and other out-of-town relatives, friends and fans of Molly Kate and Walker. Her ultimate goal is to turn the blog into a series of hardcover books of memories for her children.

It dawned on me that my purpose for Retirement Daze is similar--to remember impressions and experiences from this stage in my life.

I’m retired, and I have enjoyed the freedom of spontaneity that has come with retirement. That freedom frequently interferes with posting on a schedule that my previous experience had programmed me to think of as the “right” time to publish.

But the reality is that I no longer work for a newspaper with tight deadlines. And I no longer work for an educational and research institution with multiple overlapping deadlines.

I have begun to realize that I also no longer have to be ruled by the idea that old news is no news. In retirement I am now dealing with memories, not news. The shelf life is longer.

After several false starts, I am now following Katie’s example. Tuesday I posted some Father’s Day observations--two days past the day of that observation.

Now if I could just follow the example of one of my other daughter-n-law’s admirable practices. She is the queen of prompt and seemingly painless decluttering.

I am not giving up hope. But regrettably, I would rather blog about fighting clutter on the home front than take action. I know I can change.

But maybe later. There are some blogs I want to visit right now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The rest of the story: the chocolate graduation cap

I have to admit I ate TWO of the graduation caps that were such a hit at the reception described in a previous post here. But I really do have an excuse. Really.

My walking was a little more unsteady than usual, especially in the church’s crowded reception area after Matthew’s graduation. Husband Walter helped me find a perch and volunteered to bring me some of the abundant and delicious food the moms had prepared. After the crowd had thinned, and we had enjoyed visiting and munching, I asked him to snag me a bit more fruit and chips.

I left my seat for a brief and wobbly photo excursion. When I returned, my plate had reappeared on the low table in front of my chair. I didn’t see Hubby anywhere, but he had obviously fulfilled my request with one much appreciated addition, a second chocolate graduation cap. How thoughtful. And it was so-o-o-o-o good!

As I finished it, my dear husband walked up, looked at my plate and asked, “Where is my chocolate graduation cap?”

Uh oh! Making matters worse was the fact that I had unwittingly devoured the last one of the special treats. Maybe I can atone by supplying our kitchen with some of the same kind of chocolates used to create the sumptuous suckers. Nah. I know it would just not be the same.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Late but loving Father’s Day thoughts

Husband Walter on Father’s Day 2013

In our younger days, proud papa Walter and I pose with offspring Walt and new little Jeremy in October 1979.

On our way back from celebrating Father’s Day at Husband Walter’s favorite restaurant for breakfast, I was thinking about how thankful I am for the way he has fathered and grandfathered through the years.

There are many wonderful fathers who are no longer living but whose positive influence continues in my life. But Sunday my thankfulness for my husband triggered mental list-making of additional fathers alive and present who I consider blessings. They are all guys who stick.

They are present with their families physically and emotionally through the mountain highs, the valleys, canyons and everyday stuff. They live their lives with integrity and courage and actively make family a priority. Here are a few:

At the top are our two sons. I am thankful of the men they have become. I am thankful that they chose brides who share their love of family and their commitment to guiding and training their children toward becoming loving, compassionate, responsible adults.

Then there are the fathers of our nieces and nephews. And I am also thankful that I can add both our sons’ fathers-in-law to this list.

I appreciate that our sons are embraced in warm, loving, intact families led by their wives’ fathers. Our sons' fathers-in-law surround our grandchildren and their other grandchildren with love and models for living a life with joy.

Blessings indeed.

“Sleepy” musicians granddaughter Molly Kate and Baboo share silly times and tunes on the floor during a visit to our home Saturday.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On the road to celebrate life, a high school graduation

Nephew Matthew
On Saturday May 11, we celebrated our May Milestone #4, the high school graduation of Matthew, youngest of three and the only son of my brother Mike and his wife Sonya.

Matthew and two of his fellow homeschooled friends comprised the 2013 graduating class. His homeschooling group is an outreach ministry of Restoration Church in Hampton, Virginia. The moms in the homeschooling group orchestrate the graduation and reception each year.

One of their graduation traditions is that each graduate’s mom prepares her son’s or daughter’s food requests for the reception that follows the graduation. 

Sonya commented that Matthew, the last of the three siblings to graduate, had easy-to-fulfill requests: Chick-fil-a nuggets, chips, Rotel cheese dip, fruit and . . . bacon? Yes, bacon. And the reception guests consumed all but about two slices of the six or more pounds Sonya prepared.

A tasty graduation cap
Of course, Sonya is great at adding special treats, in this case chocolate graduation cap suckers and Hoho diplomas. I failed to take a photo, but I did find the photo above and directions on Skip to My Lou craft site here

A caramel-filled chocolate square for the mortarboard, a mini M&M for the button on top, a narrow ribbon of fruit rollup for the tassel and a mini Reeses peanut butter cup for the cap part. Yum!

In addition to festive decorations in the group’s blue and white colors, the homeschooling moms and families had set up individual displays that reflected each graduate’s interests. Photos and memorabilia offered friends and family a chance to browse a sampler of a graduate’s school days and pen congratulatory notes and sign the mat of a framed photo.

Matthew's memories

Music, soccer, faith and friends dominated Matthew’s display. He seems already on the road to a future that fits the role of music and faith in his life. He has been serving for more than a year as worship leader and director of the praise band at Reformation Christian Fellowship, his and his family’s church, and as leader of the youth praise band at Restoration Church for about three years.

This fall he plans to attend Boyce College, a part of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and enter the Boyce worship and music studies program.

Sonya has been Matthew’s principal teacher and has also taught science and algebra for the homeschooling co-op group. The day following graduation was Mother’s Day, and the investment of the homeschooling moms in the lives of all the children in the group added another dimension to my thoughts of special mothers.

Here’s a belated hats off to all those homeschooling moms and to all women everywhere who provide mother hugs and nurturing for their own children and others who are not their biological children.

One of my favorite moms, my brother Mike’s wife, Sonya
Graduation weekend Sonya was the epitome of that kind of mother in action, her heart and home open wide to welcome and nurture her grown and almost grown offspring, their friends, kin and those “grafted-in” kin gathering to celebrate Matthew’s milestone.

We departed Hampton in the rain on Sunday, May 12. But I left with sunshine in my thoughts and abundant memories of happy times with Matthew, his parents, sisters and the special friends who joined the celebration.

Awaiting a flight to begin an after-graduation vacation to Italy are the graduate, his parents Mike and Sonya, and his sisters, Amanda, front center, and Becky.

NOTE: All photos except Matthew's memories are borrowed from my relative's Facebook sites.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the road to celebrate life, another birthday

Birthday girl Stella

Last month’s travel to celebrate family events continued May 9 with a trip to Virginia. Along the way that afternoon we stopped in Marietta, Georgia, for a visit of a couple hours with our oldest son and his family. Our visit included an impromptu celebration of family May Milestone #3.

When we don’t make it to the “official” birthday celebrations of our grandchildren in Georgia and Louisiana, we celebrate birthdays the first time we see them after their birthdays. Husband Walter,  AKA Baboo, came up with a solution for our oldest grand that his siblings now want for their birthdays, too.

We had missed Stella’s 5th birthday by a couple of days, and soon after we arrived for our visit, Stella and her sister Charlie accompanied Baboo on the traditional trip to Walmart. The birthday girl picked out her choice of a birthday cake and ice cream.

When the birthday shoppers returned, the “quickie” celebration began. Mom added candles to Stella’s choice, a pizza-sized chocolate chip cookie embellished with elaborate and colorful icing.

Voices joined in the “Happy Birthday” song. Stella blew out her candles. Mom cut the birthday cookie and served it on festive paper plates. Baboo added Stella’s choice of mint chocolate chip ice cream. We had a card and gift waiting.

We hit the road again shortly after the festivities wound down. We probably ruined appetites for dinner. But hey, that is the prerogative of grandparents.

We left behind happy kids, and we took with us happy memories that sustained us through stop-and-go Atlanta getting-off-from-work traffic and the travel hours to our next stop. 
 Mischief in the making

Friday, June 14, 2013

On the road to celebrate life: a 50th anniversary

A happy time: from the right, my “baby” brother Mike, our cousin Gloria--the anniversary girl, and me

Following the Saturday, May 4, birthday celebration for grandson Walker, we left the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of our youngest son for Milestone #2, a 50th anniversary dinner for our cousin Gloria and her husband Robert.

Husband Walter and I hitched a ride for the two-hour trip from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles, Louisiana, with my brother Mike and sister-in-law Sonya. It was a chance for non-stop visiting.

Gloria and Robert’s three daughters had organized the event for their parents, and we enjoyed the results of their event-planning skills. The private dining room was just the right size, quickly merging the 40 or so guests into a congenial group.

A highlight for me was a conversation with Robert before we were all seated. He has a flair for oral storytelling, and he recounted for us the story of his courtship of Gloria. Gloria is about five years my senior, and I had not been privy to the charming details as they unfolded.

My admiration for Robert grew, both for his skill as a storyteller and as a lifetime mate for the cousin I have loved and admired so much through the years.

The evening was a perfect blend of extended family I hadn’t seen in awhile,  acquaintances new to me among the couple’s circle, shared memories, lots of laughter, some happy tears and exceptionally delicious and memorable food.

My late mother considered Gloria and Robert in her “special people” category. The couple had continued to visit her often as she aged through the years. That meant a lot to her and to me.

I also appreciated the good Samaritans who took the photo at the beginning of this post and the “quick-everybody-line-up” shot below, all on my sister-in-law’s iPhone.

From left, Gloria’s husband Robert, Walter, me, Gloria, my brother Mike and sister-in-law Sonya.