Monday, September 30, 2013

An evening at the Mary C.

Ghosts at the Mary C.?
Husband Walter treated me to an evening of bluegrass in the auditorium of the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education in our town. Ghosts of the first event I ever attended in the auditorium whispered through my memory.

Oldest son Walt had performed as Bob Cratchit on that stage in a sixth-grade production of The Christmas Carol. That was about three decades ago, and even then the building,  constructed in 1927 and originally known as the Ocean Springs Public School, had long been retired from use as a school.

 No ghosts now

The auditorium has since been refurbished. Now 383 comfortable new cushioned theater seats replaced the battered old wooden seats.

Comfort for Mary C audiences

Scuffed and scarred hardwood floors are refinished and gleaming. Professional lighting, sound systems and acoustic panels join improvements on stage and backstage. And that “school smell” is gone.

The entire facility has been creatively and lovingly renovated and now has new life as a hub for arts and educational activity in Ocean Springs. 

A previous visit to the Mary C. was earlier in my stroke recovery, and I was more focused on staying upright than on noticing the dramatic changes in the building’s interior.

Tiles that adorned walls of the women’s restroom were in the iconic style of block prints by Ocean Springs artist Walter Anderson. The squirrel below was my favorite.

Alas, although my post-stroke ability to balance has improved, it was not quite enough. I photographically amputated the squirrel’s nose.
Victim of accidental amputation

I had better luck capturing several other tiles.



I enjoyed the music, but the real thrill was seeing what had been accomplished through the leadership of a group of individuals dedicated to saving a community landmark from demolition and giving it vibrant new life. With a new name it continues to fulfill its original purpose of enriching minds and spirits.

Photo by Carol Gratto Messer

Saturday, September 28, 2013

It made me cry

You can skip this post if you have already seen the video presented by NYC Ballet as a tribute to their home city and its post-911 future.

Thanks to Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By for cluing her readers in.

I don't know much about ballet, but this New Beginnings video made me tear up.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Walker and the cookie

Walker enjoys cookie break.
It has only been about six days and four posts ago that grandkids appeared in one of my posts.

Blame son Jeremy for another grandkid post so soon. He emailed me these images of our youngest grandchild yesterday. 

Mom Katie had rewarded their youngest offspring with the thoroughly decorated and super-sized cookie as a break from serious shopping at the mall.

Walker exhibits cookie side effects.

I am not sure if Walker’s antics are from the sugar rush or his dad’s DNA.

Like father, like son! 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Insight via Mage

July 2011—Two months, 12 days after my stroke (Photo by Walter Skupien)

Mage is owner of the blog “Postcards.” Her post of a couple days ago rearranged my thinking about blogging and its value to me.

Mage is in the aftermath of recent hip surgery as well as the deaths of a number of special people in her life. She noted in her post here that lately life has been mostly about listening and a little waiting. Another observation she made:

“Life has also been posting pictures and doing the visual things that I do. I always seem to deal with great sadness’s and joys visually.

“Put up a picture.  Think about it.  Maybe shed a tear or two.”

Thanks to Mage, I realize that I too have been processing through the visual. And for me “visual” includes both words and images that I publish on "Retirement Daze."

There are definite benefits I reap from capturing, editing and publishing posts about life’s ups and downs in words and images. Here are a few:

1) Blogging helps me to move through challenges, heartaches and times of joy, living each moment with thoroughness, thoughtfulness and thanksgiving, to paraphrase an Easter message years ago in Yosemite; 

2) Blogging helps me to avoid depression at my perceived failures to overcome physical limitations caused by my stroke.

When I look back at posts from a year or two ago, text and photos remind me of what I was experiencing then and how it compares to my current reality. 

Those older posts help me realize that, although my physical disabilities are still severe, there is increased purposeful movement going on with my left side and increased stamina and improved balance overall;

3) Blogging helps me combat selfishness and practice thankfulness. The verb “blog” encompasses more than recording my own “stuff.” 

Reading of blogging friends’ challenges, joys, adventures and everyday lives engages me. Results are laughter, tears, arm-chair travel, perspective. 

Keeping both cyber friends and face-to-face friends and family in my prayers and offering encouragement is a sure antidote to crippling self-absorption. 

And other bloggers’ comments are gifts of encouragement, kindness, humor, and pithy observations. 

Blogging promotes my memory and emotional balance. And it really does prompt me to practice 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18. English Standard Version (ESV)

So, thank you, Mage, and other fellow bloggers!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In my future . . . maybe

For when I can't make it to the bridge

My late mother-in-law’s treadmill may soon find a home at our house. I just emailed the three pix in this post to my physical therapist. If the treadmill meets her approval, we will add it to my at-home therapy arsenal.

It could be the answer for when rainy days limit my walking.

Therapist Ashley has already written some safety rules: 

- Need Husband Walter to turn it on after I am holding both sides with safety strap in place. 

- Slowly increase to .7 mph.

1. Soft-heel touch right 
2. Shifting weight into right and left heels

-  Walter is also to be available to turn it off. 

In between, though, he can be within yelling distance but otherwise engaged in his own pursuits.

This thing is huge. we are definitely going to have to ramp up our clutter wars activity. Sigh.

Not yet approved for take off

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Flitting flowers


A fairly common sight encountered on our Smoky Mountain summertime excursions are bunches of butterflies sipping moisture from damp sand or damp, bare soil.

Pre-stroke I usually saw them on hikes where butterflies and summer flowers competed for my attention. But this summer, toe problems added to my post-stroke limitations, meant no hikes for me and no flowers except those seen from a vehicle.

But the butterflies generously accommodated my limitations. The one “hike” I made several times each day was to visit the campground restrooms nearest to our campsite.

Within a few yards of the women’s restroom were patches of wet sand. The wet spots were adjacent to a stone water fountain close to the paved sidewalk. 

Clusters of colorful swallowtails were almost always taking advantage of the moisture there.

Under-the-wing colors of a swallowtail butterfly

Our 2013 camping trip was the first time I had seen the butterflies in such close proximity to our campsite or near the restrooms. 

I could balance myself by leaning against the water fountain. From that position I could maneuver fairly safely for photographic stalking of my intended targets. 

Even better, neither my movement nor my camera close to them disturbed the lovely insects. And to top it off, I could get a drink of water from the fountain as needed!

  Cropped version of underwing colors

I may not have had opportunity to photograph Smoky Mountain flowers this summer, but capturing these flying and sipping "flowers" was immensely satisfying.

On my knee--a butterfly moment in our campsite. I think I handed my camera to someone else to capture this visitor.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Aunts and uncles

Happiness instigators Aunt Katie, right corner, and Aunt Sarah, left corner

My parents’ siblings, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law were an important aspect of my childhood. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I realized that not all children grew up with the outflow of love that those aunts and uncles lavished upon me and my cousins.

I am thankful that our grandchildren have the kind of aunts and uncles I had, from both their dad’s and moms’ families. And any time the families of our two sons get together, daughters-in-law Sarah and Katie make it a celebration for our grandchildren.

For our July gathering in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Katie came equipped with art supplies that kept little ones’ excited and engaging each other and the adults about their creative endeavors.

Sarah brought a variety of card games that drew kids and adults together in mutual hilarity.

Charlie, ready to play cards

Note one dad (our youngest son Jeremy, hamming it up in the top photo. The dads brought their unique contribution to the fun. Uncles make an impact on young lives, too.

Family blessings!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Stroke Recovery: therapy moments

Marker welcomes us back to our town during a bridge walk.
Husband Walter and I were out yesterday morning with the sunrise, driving a few miles to the Biloxi Bay Bridge that connects Ocean Springs to Biloxi, our neighbor across the bay.

The bridge is one of my favorite destinations for “walking therapy.” I always carry my little Canon point-and-shoot camera on bridge walks. Attempting to hold my camera steady is a good exercise in balancing. 

But I grow more like my Hubby as the years pass. Our interest in shooting pictures, well, really our interest in any outdoor activity, increases as the temperature decreases.

 Hubby experiments with a new-to-him pocket-sized camera.

This Thursday morning was pleasantly cool. In the early morning light I pulled out my camera to document that my therapeutic walking encompassed two cities and two counties.

I had set a goal for myself to walk the length of the bridge and back by the end of September. When I set that goal, most of 2013 was still in the future. Weather, toe problems, travel and family priorities—our family circumstances as well as those of walking buddies, kept postponing any consistent walking.

Now there are just 10 days left until September 30. On this latest excursion the farthest I walked was a little more than .7 mile, 1.4 miles roundtrip. That is less than half the distance of the round trip from our side of the bridge to the Biloxi end and back.

Whether I accomplish my goal by September 30, 2013, or not, I am just happy to be back walking.

I am also happy to be back in physical therapy for a “tune up” on my walking. Ashley, my physical therapist and director of the Ocean Springs Hospital Neuro Rehab Clinic, finds so many ways to help make my parts work better together and to jump start those that are not working much at all.

One difference in my recent therapy has been inclusion of the adjacent pediatric gym and its connecting hallways in my walking circuit. I have been in there twice now, once when the gym was empty of youngsters and once when little ones were in therapy. I could hear them but only saw blurs. The maneuvers Ashley had me doing required my total attention.

Evidently the pediatric therapists are including the adult gym in the kids’ walking, too. As I was making my way across the gym to exit after my therapy session yesterday, there was a slim little chocolate brown youngster maybe four years old, probably younger. 

My eyes went first to his feet. He wore happy-looking neon, watermelon-red flippers, the kind kids wear swimming.

“Brilliant therapy strategy,” was my first thought. With those flippers on, he had to lift his knees and feet up high with each step to walk. 

The second impression hit me hard. His beautiful eyes, framed by long black lashes, were serious. This struggle is his life. He was dealing. The stoicism of that little one turned me into a blubbering, runny-nosed mess in the few yards it took me to exit to the waiting room.

Thoughts about my reaction and about the future of that little boy and other pediatric rehab patients have now taken up permanent residence in my brain.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

If it sounds like a pig . . .

Husband Walter and I were enjoying an afternoon stroll in Elkmont Campground. The campground is one of our regular and enjoyable destinations on summer trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Our sons and their families plus Hubby’s brother, sister-in-law and their grandson were due to arrive the next day. The addition of seven youngsters ages three to nine would definitely change the pace of our quiet, leisurely activities, and I was looking forward to the excitement they experience in the mountains.

I was startled from those thoughts by a high-pitched squeal. I stopped. Even intent listening takes concentration for some of us stroke survivors, and listening and walking at the same time was beyond my non-existent multi-tasking capabilities.

I stood still and gave undivided attention to listening. There it was again. I wasn’t imagining things.

“That sounded like a pig,” I said. Walter concurred. We peered through campsites. No pigs and no clues appeared.

Four days later I spied a lady carrying what appeared to be a tiny pig. I had met her several days earlier at the restrooms.

She introduced her new pet as a micro-mini pig. She and her husband had picked the diminutive pig up on their way to the mountains.

This little piggy went camping.

“What were we thinking?” she said. “It had not been weaned, and it cried a lot.”

Mystery solved. 

But the tiny porker didn’t seem unhappy now. Once on the ground with a leash attached to its little halter, it trotted around on tiny little hooves with a bossy, take-charge air. I could imagine it saying, “I know where I’m going. If you want to come along, then keep up.”

I asked the new owner the micro-mini’s name. “Micky,” she said.

“With an ‘I’ or a ‘y?’” Once you’ve worked on the news side of a newspaper, nailing the correct spelling of names is an obsession.

She said she had been toying with the two versions but hadn’t yet made a decision.

“Well, is your pig a boy or a girl?”


I could feel the weakening of my resolution to stop jumping in with unsolicited advice. Besides, I had already been thinking of Micky as a male critter.  

“Oh, it has to be a ‘y’ then,” I advised. “Think what a handicap it would be around all the other guys if his name ends in a girly ‘i.’ He would be so embarrassed.”

Guys grandson Nate, left, and great-nephew Ashton meet Micky.

I am not sure which way she went with the name thing. But regardless, I suspect she will realize that the guys now outnumber her. She is the lone gal in her household . . .and in her campsite.

I was left with the urge to adopt my own micro-mini. But no, that is not going to happen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Computer clutter control

Son #2, left, and Son #1 race to beat camera timers for our traditional photo of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park sign.

I have a “blog notes” file on my laptop. There I compose first drafts, revise drafts and record random thoughts for future posts on this blog.

But the file also contains pages and pages of almost finished posts that I failed to complete for one reason or another. In the interest of clearing clutter—from computer, our kitchen table and every room in our house, I started yesterday going through the “blog notes” clutter. I am making no promises about progress on all that other clutter.

I wrote a draft of the post below four days before Christmas 2010 . I suppose holiday deadlines derailed my posting. I finally made a few revisions yesterday.

Procrastination is definitely my middle name. But even for me, almost three years is pretty pitiful. Regardless, the thoughts--and my procrastination--are all part of the landscape of this stage of life, and I want to remember. Photos are from 2013.

So here, from Dec. 21, 2010:

Gray day, great blessings
Yesterday started off gray – gloomy weather and gloomy thoughts. They smothered any inclination to gather my scattered wits and write a post for Retirement Daze. But a call from Son #2 soon had me counting my blessings.

After our conversation, I started thinking about how Son #1 and Son #2 pile on the blessings. I admit I am proud of our two Skupien crews, but I will refrain from bragging. Oh well, if counting blessings is bragging, I am guilty. But Retirement Daze functions as my memory now, and I don’t want to forget this day and my thoughts on this day.

A few of the characteristics that I treasure about our sons:

1) their sense of humor,

2) their placing more importance on relationships, both spiritual and temporal, than on things; 

3) their taking responsibility and avoiding that “me-itis” affliction so common in today’s adults and children. You know the condition, the one that arises from the core belief that “I am the center of the universe, therefore everything is about me”; and

4) their supplying us with grandchildren and grand--as in wonderful--daughters-in-law.

My thoughts turned to a moment a number of years ago when I voiced thoughts about wishing I had done some things better when raising our sons. Our older son took me to task.

“Don’t you think Jeremy and I turned out all right?”

Point taken. Like most parents, we did the best we could at the time. One thing I did do right: I prayed daily for my sons, their future brides, the girls' parents, Husband Walter and myself.

That practice of seeking God’s guidance daily started in earnest when our boys were infants. That doesn’t mean we sailed through with no conflicts and hard times. It does mean that we didn’t have to do everything in our own strength.

God gets the credit for our coming out on the other side of life's rough patches with love and family intact.

Blessings indeed. God is good!

Our traditional Smokies family photo, July 27, 2013 (Photo Walter A. Skupien)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Weedy old enemy: Mystery solved

Old enemy identified

J.D., one of the botanists from my PR days with the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, suggested that the photos I emailed him looked like Phyllanthus urinaria, common name chamber bitter. Thanks, J.D.

Other common names are gripeweed, shatterstone, stonebreaker and leafflower, according to Wikipedia. Here are parts of Wikipedia's description that match what I have observed in our own garden:

The plant, reaching around 2 feet, has small alternate leaves resembling those of the mimosa tree. When touched, the leaves fold in automatically.

A photo that accompanies the Wikipedia entry here boasts reddish fruit that I have not seen before, but then this is the first season I have ever seen the plants get this big and so extensive. I guess my post-stroke mulching discouraged them in the summers of 2011 and 2012.

The characteristic of how the leaves fold up when touched is probably why I retain a vivid memory of my mother's showing me the plant when I was little. I still cannot remember exactly what she called it, but it was something like "sleepy weed."

Of course, when I googled "sleepy weed," only citations  related to marijuana came up. I don't want that weed in the family vegetable patch, either!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pre-stroke photography: A turtle encounter

 A diner at our compost pile

The box turtle above greeted me on a September morning three years ago. In those days I was snapping photos all over the place, darting about, kneeling, squatting, and contorting my body all sorts of ways to get the shot I wanted for posting on my blog.

Turtle assesses me and camera.

My photos rarely matched the composition I saw in my imagination, but I sure was having fun. A stroke on April 22, 2011, changed my strategies for capturing images. There is definitely not so much darting about, kneeling, squatting, and contorting my body.

Mr. Turtle scrambles toward me, maybe to complain about the interruption of his meal?

Like that box turtle I move slowly now; and if I land flat on my back, I, too, would have difficulty righting myself.

When it comes to photography, often I am bracing against some nearby secure, sturdy structure to keep my balance and get closer to target subjects. 

Pre-stroke I rarely took photos through the windows of our van or while I was seated. And I rarely handed my camera to Husband Walter or anyone else with a request to shoot something I was interested in. Now I do all three.

But, hey, I am still taking photos, still having fun and still glad to be here!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An old enemy

From tasty tomatoes to weeds
A long overdue weeding session in our almost spent veggie patch involved dispatching oodles of the weeds below.

Dastardly seeds
These plants are not a new invader. And they carry many, many dastardly seeds. I learned early that I had to weed them out regularly and apply heavy mulch or they would reproduce rapid and turn into an unattractive ground cover, choking out everything else.

At one time I also knew the common name of this gardening enemy. As I snapped photos, though, the realization hit: I no longer remember its name. If my mother was still living, she could tell me. She knew plants, wild and domestic. And she was the one who first introduced the plant to me when I was growing up.

Anybody out there recognize this uninvited guest? I have had no success identifying it. I need to know.

To misquote ancient military strategist Sun Tzu, “Know thy enemy.”

*   *   *   *   *

Childhood logicDIL Sarah posted on Facebook this snippet of a Mother-Daughter moment with 7-year-old Charlie:

Charlie asks me, “Mama, did Cinderella sin a lot? Cause, you know, her name IS ‘SIN’derella.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A no-technology zone

Molly Kate, left, and Stella snatch Nana’s hiking stick for their Smoky Mountain choreography.

One of the great joys of our July Smoky Mountain trip was seeing our grandchildren and one great nephew having fun sans electronics. They reconnected with each other, made up their own versions of chase, played hide and seek, climbed rocks, tubed and waded streams and became acquainted with Smoky Mountain fauna.

 A reunion of granddaughters: Stella, left, Molly Kate and Charlie

Muddy feet, evidence that even a girly girl may succumb to the call of a Smokies’ stream.

Oldest grand Luke corrals cards that had adults and kids in gales of laughter. 

Grandson Nate, 9, is armed with his foam weapon, coveted by both boy and girl siblings and cousins.

Great nephew Ashton, a 9-year-old fledgling entomologist, was as intrigued as I was with the colorful butterflies that shared Elkmont Campground with us in July. 

In spite of Ashton’s help and the butterfly’s cooperation, my faulty balance kept the swallowtail out of focus. But I don’t want to forget Ashton’s and the butterfly’s part in making our July trip a pleasure, so less than perfect images will have a place in this post and in my heart.

 Ashton with campground resident

 Jewel-toned swallowtail wings