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Some Foods Don’t Go Together

Some foods naturally go together.  Peanut butter and jelly.  Dried beans and cornbread.  Bacon and eggs.  Hamburgers and French fries.  Red beans and rice.  And one of my favorite combos is baked beans and cole slaw.

            But there are some food combinations that create flavors and appearances that aren’t to my liking.  Recently, I was served salty, savory sweet potato fries with a white dipping sauce.  Assuming it was ranch dressing, I dipped a fry into the sauce.  The flavor wasn’t what I had excepted. A second bite confirmed that the sauce tasted like marshmallows.  To be sure my taste buds weren’t tricking me, I asked the waiter, and he said, “We just discovered warm marshmallow cream is the perfect dipping sauce for savory sweet potatoes.  Isn’t it great!” I tell my Grands that they should try a food they don’t like at least ten times, so maybe after nine more times I’ll agree with the waiter.

            Following a recipe for a simple warm fruit casserole, I dumped several cans of drained fruits into a dish, added a dash of cinnamon and thought it would be a delicious side dish for baked ham at a big family meal. If I’d closed my eyes while eating, the fruit might have tasted good, but the cherries colored the sauce and pears pink. The peaches and apricots took on a color that would be beautiful in a sunset, but wasn’t appealing on a plate. 

            Food shouldn’t be pink, except for strawberry fluff, a combination of strawberry gelatin and Cool Whip, and strawberry ice cream and yogurt.  Ketchup belongs on French fries – not stirred into mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs.  Even green eggs as in Dr. Seuss’s book, Green Eggs and Ham, are more appealing than pink eggs.

            Everyone ate unusual food combinations as a child.  My children dipped chips and French fries in orange ketchup, aka French dressing.  A friend said that she and her mother ate a special salad they made by layering lettuce, chopped dill pickles, sliced hot dogs, a serving of cottage cheese and then topped it with Catalina dressing.  I’ve never seen that on a menu. How about hot dog slices in potato soup?  Reddish-pink blobs in white soup doesn’t fire up my appetite.

            Do you remember the first time you were offered pineapple and ham pizza?  I thought, ‘That’s just not right.’  After watching Daughter eat it several times, I tried it and agree it’s good, but I prefer veggies and Canadian ham pizza.

            What’s better than popcorn with melted butter?  Some have tried to convince me to season popcorn with soy sauce or hot pepper sauce or chili sauce, and I expect to hear about mustard or ketchup drizzled on popcorn. 

            Husband and I both like a good peanut butter sandwich.  He makes his with sweet pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a generous slathering of Miracle Whip.  Like I said, some foods naturally go together and topping the list is peanut butter and jelly.  Make my grape jelly.

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Hot Air Balloon Q & A

After writing two columns about riding in a hot air balloon, Husband and I have been asked several questions.  So, this is one more hot air balloon column.

 The three main parts of a hot air balloon are the basket, the envelope, and the burner.  The basket, a.k.a. gondola, is where the pilot and passengers stand during flight and where the propane gas tanks are stored.  The envelope, which most people call the balloon, is usually made of nylon panels which expand at the top and taper at the bottom, and the envelope attaches to the basket.  The burner is attached to the basket and produces hot air.

Now for the questions.   Where did you ride?  We flew with Middle Tennessee Hot Air Adventures in Franklin, Tennessee, and flew south of Franklin. They fly early mornings and late afternoons, weather permitting, from April thru October. 

How far did you go?  Eight miles in an hour.

Did you know where you were going?  That’s similar to the question Husband asked Logan, our pilot, right after we left the ground.  Husband said, “Where are we flying?” Logan answered that he wasn’t sure, but there were two or three possible routes.  It depended on the wind.

Can you steer a hot air balloon?  There isn’t a mechanism for steering.  Logan had information about the direction and speed of the wind at different altitudes and, when needed, he used the burner to put hot air into the envelope so it would rise and catch the wind.  He also controlled vents in the envelope with chords or ropes to release heat to maneuver and land.

 How does the balloon get hot air?  A propane burner provides heat to the envelope.  

So, there was fire?  Were you afraid?  No, close to the burner, the envelope is made of a flame-resistant material, Nomex.  And the flame is in the middle of the envelope – not really close to the fabric.

Were there chairs?  No, we stood in the basket.

How did you get in the basket?  The sides of the basket were about four feet high and had two stepping holes in each side.  We stepped onto a small step stool, then used the stepping holes to climb up and stand or kneel on the top edge of the basket and stepped into it.

Did you fly back to where you started?  No, the wind carried us south.  As we flew, the crewmen talked with the pilot and drove the van to meet us where we landed.

Were you surprised by anything?  Yes, the prayer at the end of the flight.  In keeping with a long-time ballooning tradition, Logan recited the “Balloonist Prayer.”

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

Would you do it again?  Yes!  Anywhere.  Anytime.

Bucket List Adventure – Part 2

Saturday, September 7 was a perfect day to ride in a hot air balloon.  It had been on my bucket list for years. A previous ride was cancelled due to high winds, but this day seemed ideal. No wind and blue sky. Husband and I would be in the air about 6:00 p.m.

I didn’t like the balloon pilot’s 10:30 a.m. text message. Logan wrote, “We’re watching the weather – mainly the wind forecast to be sure we can take off.  Will update you around 1:00.” 

            Husband and I were shopping ten miles from the meeting place in Franklin, Tennessee, and the treetops weren’t moving.  What wind?  Logan’s 1:00 text read, “Sorry we are still watching the evening.  It could go either way. Right now, plan on meeting at 4:45 and if anything changes we will notify you as soon as possible.” 

I told myself we live close to Middle Tennessee Hot Air Adventures and I could reschedule.  Logan’s 2:30 text read, “We will see you at 4:45.”  I shouted, “Yes!” and threw both fists in the air.

            Logan met us in a parking lot, and Husband and I met Ken and his daughter, Katie who would also be flying.  Two crewmen loaded the equipment into Logan’s van, and we travelled to the launching site, a church yard.

            As he drove, Logan gave instructions.  “Stand back and watch while we spread out the envelope – that’s the balloon – and blow it up.  I’ll show you how to climb into the basket.  If we don’t take off immediately, the basket might rock.  That seems unnerving.  Just stay calm and still.”

            The 100-foot-long envelope and basket lay on the ground. Logan turned on an industrial fan to begin blowing up the envelope.  The blue, yellow, green, orange, red, and blue envelope blew up to its 120,000-cubic foot capacity – big enough for 120,000 basketballs.  After the envelope was fully inflated, the attached basket was set upright.  What a beautiful balloon!  What a small basket – only about 4’ x 6’.

Logan climbed into the basket; then we four passengers.  Logan nodded toward a nearby basket and said, “We’ll go up after them.  We’ll rock, but we’re tethered to the van.”  I struggled to be calm when the basket rocked.

“Okay, we’re ready,” Logan said.  He pressed a lever to turn on the propane burners.  Slowly, the untethered basket lifted.

Beautiful.  Exhilarating.  Awesome.  Riding in a hot air balloon was even better than I expected.  Katie and I waved down to children in their backyards.  “I’ve never felt like a celebrity before,” Katie said.  Dogs barked.  Deer ran to the woods.  Adults waved and took pictures.

For an hour, we floated over treetops, subdivisions, highways, open fields, and, as Husband noted, utility lines.  I concentrated to freeze this experience in my memory.  Too soon, Logan pointed and said, “We’ll land in that field.”

            Descending was gradual. The basket set softly on the ground. I felt like a little kid that gets off a roller coaster and asks, “Can I go again?”  Now, riding in a hot air balloon is on my wish list.

Bucket List Adventure

Today is the day. Blue sky and a few white fluffy clouds.  A perfect day for flying, but not on an airplane – in a hot air balloon.

            I’ve wished for this experience for years. Long before Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman made ‘Bucket List’ an everyday phrase in the 2007 movie The Bucket List.  The words on the film poster stuck with me: “One day your life will flash before your eyes.  Make sure it’s worth watching.”  In the movie, a billionaire and a car mechanic are hospital roommates, and against doctor’s orders, they leave the hospital determined to see and do a list of things before they die. 

            January 1999 while in Tempe, Arizona, for the national football championship game, I scheduled a sunrise balloon ride. Remember that game?  The Tennessee Volunteers defeated the Florida State Seminoles in the Fiesta Bowl to win the first Bowl Championship Series.

            The fact that I was going up with five strangers didn’t squelch my enthusiasm; neither Husband nor friends wanted to join me. Imagine floating over the desert at sunrise. I’d ride under a brightly colored balloon like the many I’d seen flying the day before.  Anticipating a cold morning, I laid out layers of clothes, gloves, and wool socks and went to bed early.  My hotel room phone rang about midnight. Due to predicted high winds, the flight was cancelled.  Would I like to reschedule for two days later?  Unfortunately, I’d be home in Tennessee.

            A few years ago, Husband and I travelled to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.  It was the perfect opportunity to go up – amid the excitement of more than 500 hot air balloons and thousands of fans.  But practically kicked in, and I wouldn’t pay the exorbitant price during the event.   So, I stood close as balloonist spread envelopes, the actual balloons, on the ground and filled them with air.  I envied people who waved down from high in the air.  Sometime I’d be the one waving.

            Last Christmas, Husband gave me a surprise gift.  A Flight Voucher for two passengers from the Middle TN Hot Air Adventures!  After wiping a tear or two and hugging Husband’s neck, I asked, “Does this mean you’re going up with me?”   

            “Maybe one of our children would like to,” Husband answered.  Son said that his palms sweated just thinking about a balloon ride.  Daughter said, “Mom, it’s a perfect adventure for you and Dad.” 

            I held onto my gift voucher like the last best piece of candy in a five-pound box of chocolates.  It was wrinkled from the times I folded and unfolded it. Finally, I scheduled a late afternoon flight for Husband and me and then watched the weather forecast.

            On the morning of the flight, I was eager to receive an expected text, confirming time and meeting place, from the pilot. I didn’t like his 10:30 a.m. message: “We’re watching the weather – mainly the wind forecast to be sure we can take off. Will update you around 1:00.”  The treetops weren’t moving.  What wind?

            To be continued….

My Problem with ‘No Problem’

           

The drugstore employee said there wasn’t a prescription on file for a drug I thought my doctor had called in.  “We can contact the doctor or you can,” he said. 

       “I will. Thank you for your help,” I said.

“No problem,” he said in a curt voice and immediately hung up, disconnecting our phone conversation. 

            His last two words hit a raw nerve.  I broke my personal ruleof not complaining on social media and posted on Facebook.

Dear owners and managers of service businesses,
Please teach your employees to respond, “You’re welcome,” when a customer offers appreciation. Every time I hear, “no problem,” I’m offended. When I say, “thank you,” I am expressing gratitude and a curt “no problem” makes me wonder if I unknowingly created an inconvenience or problem for the employee.

Rant done….

            I relished the support of 81 friends who hit the LIKE and LOVE icons and many commented that they wished workers would respond differently. Kathy wrote, “I want to say was there a problem to begin with?  That little phrase has caught on and I’m not a fan either.” But some friends tried to smooth my ruffled feathers.  Sara wrote, “This doesn’t bother me.  I’ll take anything that has a positive vibe. I equate no problem with happy to help.”

            A few young friends, all former students, commented. Trudy wrote, “I’ve read a few articles about it and they mostly say it comes from a standpoint of humility and that what they are trying to say is there no need for praise. To them, saying no problem means they were happy to do it, preform the service, but it seems to get lost in translation between generations maybe?”  I hadn’t thought of these words spoken with humility and appreciated Trudy’s comments. She responded, “This phrase probably doesn’t communicate across generations.” 

            Kristy wrote, “I think it’s a generational gap issue.  I say ‘you’re welcome’ out of habit and assume ‘no problem’ means the same.  But I see what you mean and totally agree that service workers should be trained to communicate better.”

            So maybe I need to accept this phrase and be content that others my age would prefer a different response.  But I learned about a recent presentation entitled “Inclusive and Culturally Sensitive Service” at Michigan State University that advised employers to train employees to avoid saying “no problem” to customers.  The MSU official stated that “no problem” is a trigger that could lead a customer to believe they could be a problem.  It’s more calming, the official said, to say, “You’re welcome.”  And I discovered that a 2015 article in Forbes magazine encouraged managers to train their employees to say “you’re welcome” after a customer offered appreciation.

            Last week, when a young server refilled my water glass, I said, “Thank you.”  He paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re welcome.”  I could’ve hugged his neck. I appreciated his response as much as his service and the good food.  I look forward to eating at that restaurant again. 

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Sign Up Now!

Almost every week, he went to the Putnam County Library.  As an infant in a sling across his mother’s body, then as a toddler he rode in a stroller, and later he walked and held hands.  His older brother and sisters showed their library cards and carried home armloads of books.  His mother helped him choose a few books. 

            And then Micah turned 5.  It was finally his turn to his sign his name and promise to take care of the books checked out on his very own card.  What a celebration!  His name on a plastic card meant he took home 20 books for two weeks.  When he returned them, he could get 20 different books. 

            September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, and the American Library Association and the Putnam County Library remind parents that the most important school supply is a library card.  Because a public library has always been part of my life, I can’t imagine not having access to the many books and resources that fill library shelves.     

            Any child age 5 or older can apply for a card at the Putnam County Library.  The child must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who signs the application and who can show a valid photo ID and proof of residency. There is no charge for library cards to Putnam County residents.  An out-of-county adult pays a $10 fee, but a child who lives out of county can have a free card.

            I’m reminded of a conversation with a retired librarian.  She and I stood opposite each other holding a metal bar, both doing leg lifts as part of physical therapy for knee replacements.  Her whisper voice, her kind eyes, and her short statue helped me immediately place her behind the counter of the Putnam County Library.  She wouldn’t know me, I thought.

            “I remember you from the library when I took my children, many years ago.  Thank you for helping us find books,” I said.

            “I remember you,” she said.  “You had a girl and a boy and they brought their books back on time and they were quiet.”  Oh, I was thankful that’s the way she remembered my children.  We reminisced about the days when a visit to the library was to only check out books.  “There’s much more at the library now.  Computers, magazines, movies, music,” she said.

We talked about the many clubs and special programs available at the library.  “There’s a summer reading program for kids that my grandchildren like.” I said. “And young kids don’t need a library card to go to weekly story time and preschool craft time.”

            “You’ve got to get kids to the library young so it becomes a habit,” she said.  “I wish everybody would take their children to the library.  Then read books to them at home, too.”  I agreed.

            And I wish every child felt the excitement my young Grand did when he held his library card for the first time and his feeling of pride every time he carries home his stack of books. 

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A Dose of Nature

            A research team at the University of Exeter, one of the top 150 worldwide universities and a public research university in England, examined the benefits of spending time in parks and woodlands and at the beach. The results were the same across all demographic groups – men, women, young, old – among the 20,000 people interviewed.  Those who spent at least two hours a week in nature reported better health and more satisfaction with their lives.  The two hours can be spread across the week and several outings.

A recent article headline in The Week magazine caught my eye:  A Weekly Dose of Nature.  The first sentence validates my need to be outdoors:  For an easy and pleasant way to boost your health and well-being, spend a couple of hours a week in nature.

            Last week I took three young Grands to Cane Creek Park.  As we watched the ducks waddle and the geese gliding on the water, I soaked in the beauty.  Greenish-blue water.  Green banks across the lake.  Browns and grays on tree trunks.  Blue-green and lime colored leaves.

            “Look at the reflection of the trees in the water,” I said.  My Grands nodded and one said, “We see it, Gran. You told us that last time.”  And I’ll tell them next time. 

            I really wanted to walk the park path and cut through a few places in the woods, but my Grands had their eyes, their thoughts, on the playground so they jumped, ran, flipped, swung, climbed, and slid.  I stayed close by and watching them, and I watched the clouds and treetops. Big, white cumulus clouds drifted across the clear sky and over the tops of trees.

            Micah, age 5, noticed me looking up and said, “What’d you looking at, Gran?  Are you looking at that tall tree?  What kind is it?”  A giant cedar tree, an evergreen, loomed close.  His older sister said, “It’s EVER GREEN. Get it?  It stays green all the time.” 

            Anyone who knows me, knows I love trees.  Forty years ago Husband and I bought our first home here in Cookeville, and I called my mom.  Later she laughed at my description.  “It’s got a grassy backyard for the kids to play and then trees.  There’s a fallen tree for climbing and we can just go outside and be in the woods,” I had said. Mom said she asked me about the house, but I didn’t describe it with as much enthusiasm. 

            Sometimes I feel exactly as Micah did when he was 4 years old and visited overnight with Husband and me.  The morning was gray, cold, and damp and my Grand played inside.  He had built skyscrapers with blocks, played with cars and Legos.  He stood looking out the back door and I asked, “Micah, do you need a snack?”

            He turned toward me and said, “Gran, I need to play outside!”

            I don’t need a university study to know being outside improves my physical and mental health.  But now I think, “I’m going for a dose of nature.”  It’s good for body and soul.

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