Saturday, August 31, 2013

Camping stroke-survivor style

In “the rack” for therapy in our camper
Since my discharge from neuro rehab therapy in May, Husband Walter and I have been working hard on keeping up with my stroke-recovery therapy sans professional therapists, and that includes travel days.

As a result Hubby does a lot of extra work when we travel, hauling my DynaSplints out of our van and back again for single night stays. For our July camping in the Great Smokies Mountains National Park, the splints stayed handy in our pop-up camper. I spent more than two hours a day lying down with the therapeutic splints stretching first shoulder, then elbow, and finally wrist and fingers. All the parts subject to the splints are on my left "bad" side that is weakened and curled up from spasticity as a result of my 2011 stroke.

The time spent in the splints could be frustrating, especially as it limits interaction with active grandchildren, but I am learning to give thanks in all circumstances. In this circumstance I was thankful for

- a low bed in our camper that is easy for me to navigate and so-o-o-o comfy;

- the camper windows that are situated just right for watching grandkid action and natural scenery from my bed;
 A window to nature’s décor in the campsite awaiting arrival of our Georgia tribe

Enjoying kids’ and parents’ arrival

- my Kindle, which I can use with one hand and easily read while prone;

- the natural air conditioning of cool mountain breezes;

- a husband who straps me into the splints and gets me out of them then brews me a cup of tea by a comforting campfire when I’ve done my time in the final splint.

Therapy update: I am back in physical therapy for a brief “tune up” on my walking. I really need the tune up. Maybe I will be  back in occupational therapy to work on my left arm and hand in the new year.

Friday, August 30, 2013


The date of my mother-in-law’s funeral, August 26, 2013, fell on Husband Walter’s and my 46th wedding anniversary.

It is not something that troubles me. There was and will be in the future sadness at her absence. But her funeral truly was such a special celebration of her life that on our future anniversaries, I believe I will welcome the reminder to give thanks for the woman who played a major role in making my husband the man he is. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Saying goodbye

Grandma Sugar celebrates her 84th birthday at IHOP January 16, 2010. 

Helen Dorothy Gollott Skupien, my husband Walter’s mother, passed away a little before 6 p.m. Sunday, August 18, after a week in intensive care.

I will miss this strong, outspoken woman who welcomed me into her family almost five decades ago and, by example, taught me much that has made a positive difference in my life.

Her nickname was “Sugar” when she was growing up, and she became  “Grandma Sugar” when her grandchildren started arriving.

A lifelong resident of Biloxi, Mississippi, she was 87 and had survived a multitude of illnesses and surgeries major and minor. Until the last few years, in spite of chronic health conditions, she maintained an active schedule that included volunteering, traveling, visiting, crocheting, ceramics, expert bargain hunting, and enjoying the iconic events that the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers.

Strong-willed and with definite opinions on public issues and personal behaviors, Grandma Sugar was not shy about expressing her views. She was also not much for giving out lots of hugs and kisses.

No, her giving was love in action. She prepared and hosted holiday meals in her home for community police, firemen, friends and family.

She made new friends and engaged them in local activities and travel. She often included in our family holiday events friends who lacked extended family nearby. 

And with her crocheted scarves, afghans and other crafts, she expressed her appreciation of beauticians, nurses, doctors, family and friends who were part of her life.

When she baked her moist and tasty banana bread, she always made a supply of small loaves for assorted relatives and friends, including her grandchildren. Her pralines, gumbo, and red beans and rice became my standard for assessing those regional favorites. Hers were the best.

She worked for 15 years in the cafeteria of a Biloxi elementary school during the days when hot meals were actually prepared from scratch on site. Even when she no longer worked in the cafeteria, her heavenly yeast “school rolls” that she baked were anticipated treats at family gatherings.

She shopped sales all year long for her grandchildren and later her great-grandchildren’s Christmas. She usually had presents wrapped and ready well before the annual family Christmas celebration. Youngsters could expect a mountain of gifts from Grandma Sugar: toys, games, intriguing novelties, shoes and clothes.

By the date of the party, Grandma would already have started on the following Christmas. She kept a detailed mental record of which gifts were intended for which child, and she enjoyed having her daughter and daughters-in-law slip into the bedroom where she stashed the gifts. She would show us her latest purchases with infectious delight at snagging bargains of 75 percent or more off.

And everyone, adults and children, received pajamas. It became such a recurring element of our celebration that one Christmas, all the adults and kids surprised her with our party attire--the PJs she had given us the previous year.

Life was never boring around her. For an always-on-the-go individual like Grandma Sugar, the declining health, energy and independence that she experienced in the last years were a heavy burden for her.

I am comforted that we can know she is once again whole, healthy and energized in her new home in heaven with her Lord and loved ones who have gone before.

Grandma Sugar and great-grandson Miles, January 17, 2011

Grandma Sugar with Walker, her youngest great-grandchild, February 19, 2011 

Lunch with Great-Grandma 

Grandma Sugar and five of her eight great-grandchildren, November 25, 2011 

Grandma prepares her crab au gratin for family, September 30, 2012

Mother and son, beignet aficionados at Café du Monde in New Orleans, February 2011

  Enjoying a beignet, February 2011

 Spring on our screened porch, April 14, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Grandma Sugar

My mother-in-law Helen, AKA Grandma Sugar, passed away about 6 p.m. Sunday, August 18.  I will be away from the computer for awhile, but I will definitely post at a later date about this strong woman who made such a positive impact on my life.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Smoky Mountains: Day One

 Wake-up view from my bed in our popup camper
After our first night camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in July, Husband Walter and I woke up to cool mountain breezes. What a difference from the heat and humidity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast!

Husband Walter stokes our Smokies “entertainment center.”
A focal point was the campfire that hubby kept going. A campfire encourages “just being.” Hubby excels at “just being,” savoring the moment.

Fire watching--mesmerizing and relaxing.

A previous camper had started burning a section of a downed tree that had an impressive diameter. The result was a fascinating collection of straight lines and concentric circles. The blackened and cracked backdrop for our fire also helped direct warmth that countered early morning chill.
A backdrop enhances our fire pit.

Hubby’s coffee pot sits on his “warming rock” in the fire pit.
With a cup of hot tea for me and coffee for Walter, we enjoyed our fire and the birds that filled the morning with their vocals. Hearing birds in our campsite is not unusual, but they usually stay near the tops of the tall trees surrounding us, rarely giving us a glimpse.

This morning was different. They flitted among the branches before us. They took exuberant morning baths in the edge of a quiet pool that a rain-swollen stream had created at the back of our campsite.

There were several species in the avian choir, but my usual drive to identify and learn about each little feathered resident gave way to simple, peaceful and immobile appreciation of life’s abundant gifts.

I am getting better at this “just being” thing. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Supersizing at Walmart

13’x15’ motorized shopping cart

We pulled into a Walmart parking lot in Franklin, North Carolina, with plans to stock up on food and other camping supplies before we made the last leg of our journey to our Smoky Mountain campsite.

Dark clouds started leaking giant plops of rain on our van. But what caught my attention was a giant grocery cart on a trailer. A pickup truck was maneuvering the trailer into position along the sidewalk in front of the store.
Photo snapped from our van

When I exited Walmart later, the 13’x15’ cart was off the trailer and lurking beside the store’s exit. I wanted more photos and the story behind the supersized, motorized shopping cart.

But rain was threatening once again. Husband Walter was ready to roll. And both of us wanted to make it over the mountains in time to set up our popup camper before dark. I only managed to snap the photo at the top of this post.

Got to be NC Big Cart (Photo Source)

But once back home I googled. The Big Cart page of the Got to be NC website described the cart as a promotional vehicle, powered by a Chevrolet 396 V-8 engine and rolling across North Carolina since 2006 as part of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s “Got to Be NC” campaign. The marketing effort promotes the agricultural products produced and processed in North Carolina.

In the photo above, the driver in the "kiddie" seat is NOT my husband, but from the perspective of the image I borrowed off the Big Cart page, the driver does look a lot like my hubby.  

A calendar of the cart’s appearances at businesses and festivals showed a schedule booked solid for August 2013 and busy through the end of 2013. The cart must be a popular novelty.

I learned from the Internet search that individuals and organizations in other states and countries also boast huge motorized shopping carts.

What Google did not reveal, maybe because I haven’t actually searched, is the answer to this question:

When I’m going down the Google highway,why do I become so engrossed in exploring a multitude of ever smaller and more remote pathways then feeling compelled to share every morsel of trivia that I encounter?

I think the answer is in a prayer on aging that my mother had clipped from a newspaper and that I posted here in 2009. I need to take the opening request in that prayer seriously:

“Lord, you know I am growing older. Keep me from becoming talkative and possessed with the idea that I must express myself on every subject." (Emphasis mine)

Amen and amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A grandpa in action

Stella, left, and Charlie take a ride 

In an equine mode, Husband Walter, my favorite grandpa, provides horsey rides that come with sudden dismounts and tickling attacks that elicit shrieks of feigned terror from the Georgia granddaughters’. Then the catapulted riders ask for repeats.

Making memories

But repeats may one day be only through memories as the granddaughters grow bigger and older. Baboo initiated horsey rides when Luke, our oldest grand, was a toddler. Luke is now 11. Eventually three younger siblings joined the family, and for a while all four could perch on Baboo’s back for a ride.

Baboo now handles the two youngest Georgia grands only, granddaughters Charlie, 8, and Stella, 5, but their fun-filled rides are becoming shorter and fewer these days.

Bucked off!

When Baboo puts the girls’ “horsey” out to pasture, who will miss the rides more, Charlie and Stella or their doting grandfather?
Tickle time for unseated riders

Saturday, August 10, 2013

S’mores, campout confections

A S’more (Photo: Wikipedia)

National S'mores Day is celebrated yearly on August 10 in the United States, according to Wikipedia. We didn’t know about National S'mores Day when the Skupien clan gathered in Smoky Mountain National Park at the end of July. But we certainly celebrated the S’mores tradition.

After evening meals the ingredients for s’mores appeared and prompted action around the fire pit among kids and adults. I think every family came supplied, and s’mores were on the dessert menu no matter whose campsite was our dinner venue.
Granddaughter Molly Kate works on her marshmallow-roasting skills.

Wikipedia describes the treat, “A smore (sometimes spelled s’more) is a traditional nighttime campfire treat popular in the United States and Canada and consists of a roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker.”

That description fails to include the delicious reality: a marshmallow roasted to a golden brown on the outside and liquefied on the inside then layered with a slab of chocolate between two graham crackers.

Then there is the entertainment value, competition for the best roasting job and the fascination and delight that youngsters experience as they create "Cajun" marshmallows that flame, are blown out,  blackened beyond an adult's taste tolerance. 

The enthusiastic s'mores fans among our young campers behaved as if the charred marshmallows were the essential ingredient that made their s'mores a true delicacy.

Happy National S'mores Day!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stella’s retail day camp

Granddaughter Stella models result of her personal retail mini-camp.
While granddaughter Stella’s older siblings spent a week in July at Sea and Sail day camp on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, their mom made sure Stella experienced the coast in a week of fun one-on-one mother-daughter time.

Stella’s brothers and sister experienced first hand the coast’s fishing and boat building history. Meanwhile, Stella topped her week off with retail training during a shopping excursion to a favorite store. 

When mom and daughter returned to our house, Stella was eager to show off the new outfit and sparkly shoes she had picked out. And these snapshots show that she has definitely abandoned her aversion to cameras.

A happy shopper

‘See my new shoes!’

I admire the shopping acumen of both my daughters-in-law. My ability in that department is dismal. Fortunately, I had male offspring. 

Even so, I think our grown sons harbor memories of some of my purchases on their behalf that they considered apparel disasters. What can I say; it was character building!

But I'm delighted that my granddaughters' moms give them happy and practical shopping experiences. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Southern vocabulary

An attack of curiosity had me googling the use of the word “mess” to see if definitions of the southern food term matched my experience.

Most definitions I found online referred to a serving, usually of foods not easily measured, such as a “mess of greens.” My parents and friends and relatives who farmed or had a garden created my memories of that phrase. In season, they would share.

We were blessed by their bounty. They would bring by a “mess of greens,” specifically a mess of collards, turnips, or mustard greens. In the summer they would share a mess of field peas, butter beans, corn, tomatoes, okra or squash or invite us to come pick our own. And they would help us pick. The amount was always more than enough for our family of four.

When they shared with a larger family, the amount was still referred to as a “mess” and was more than enough for that larger-sized family, too.

My google search also turned up reviews of a scholarly article on food and women in the south from about the 1870s through the early decades of the1900s. In A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food, the article’s author Elizabeth Sanders Delwiche Engelhard reports on what her research revealed about how food’s journey from garden to plate shaped gender ideals and women’s experiences.

The time frame preceded the early experiences of my mother and her sisters in Mississippi, but a number of phrases and concepts are still part of my vocabulary. The little I read prompted me to try accessing the Google Book, a first for me. Reading on the computer usually tires me and my aging eyes out.

I find that being a 20th century woman faced with 21st century technology is challenging, but I’m so happy to be here with an opportunity to explore another medium for the written word.

So far I have relished this scholar's writing style. 

Here is a sample: "The phrase 'a mess of,' meaning a serving of food, a portion of a dish, especially of vegetables, is surprisingly ancient. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its origins as a phrase to the 1300s, even while acknowledging that its use today is increasingly 'US regional'--OED-speak for southern. In the South in which women of this project used the term, calling a serving 'a mess' worked particularly well for foods that reveled in their disorderliness--leaves of greens going in every direction with their potlikker in the bottom of a big black pot . . ."

The disorderly vegetables alone will keep me reading!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stroke recovery: Cooking skills

Dianne at Schmidley’s Scribblings posted here recently about resurrecting her cooking skills and developing new culinary pleasures and strategies as stages of life require changes in diet.

I have never been the primary cook in my family, so there were few culinary skills to resurrect after my 2011 stroke. But upon our return from a recent trip, hubby had harvested a good mess of pole beans, probably the last for this season.

I couldn’t let those beans languish. Operating one-handed with assistance from my left fist and even my knees, I removed the ends and snapped those beans. I was ready to cook!

Thankfully, a kitchen experience early in my stroke recovery journey had alerted me to potential dangers in the kitchen. My therapists had punctured my excitement when I told them about cooking an egg over easy for my breakfast. My occupational therapist made me promise not to try cooking again until I ordered all sorts of heat-resistant coverings for left arm and hand.

It wasn’t many days later that I stretched to reach something high in a cabinet to the right side of our stovetop. While my right side was engaged, my stroke-affected left arm and hand flopped upon the stovetop.

The burner wasn’t on, but I was horrified at the sight of my left hand lying on the stove’s front burner as I carefully lowered a container of prescription and vitamin bottles to the adjacent counter top with my right.

I had experienced no sensory clues about where my left arm and hand were. Had the burner been on, I may not have felt anything. And even if I did, my stroke-injured brain would not have processed the sensory input accurately enough or quickly enough to prevent injury.

Since that experience I had limited my culinary attempts to oatmeal in the microwave, nuking small baking potatoes and sweet potatoes or toasting bread in our pop-up toaster. 

I never did order those heat resistant mitts and sleeves. From my research I decided they would require assistance to get them on plus reviews were mixed about their effectiveness.

I am happy to report that I completed my first post-stroke bean-cooking effort safely. Cooking them was all I could manage, though. Photos were not a priority. Besides, they were not the prettiest beans I had ever seen.

The next day Husband Walter and I ate them all as a side to the pork chops and corn on the cob he prepared.

Success tasted delicious.