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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.

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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….

Colorado’s Natural Playground

For a week, Husband and I explored parts of Colorado with Daughter and Son and their families. “First stop tomorrow is the Poudre River,” Son announced and the Grands giggled. 

     “Did Uncle Eric say pooter?” eight year-old Elaine asked, then she put her hand over her mouth and giggled.

            “Actually, it’s the Cache La Poudre (pronounced pooh-der) River and you’ll like it.  It’s a good place to throw rocks.” After breakfast the next day, six adults and eight children, ages 4-14, loaded into three vehicles.  One carried bicycles on top so Son 2 (aka son-in-law) and the four older kids could ride the Poudre trails and the rest of us prepared for a fifteen-minute walk along a dirt path toward the river.

            Carrying water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellant, we adults walked in front and back, and the two youngest cousins, Ann and Jesse, held hands as they walked.  Ann, who has visited the Poudre River many times, said, “We get to walk on the wiggly bridge!”

            Six and eight year-old cousins Neil and Elaine paired up and rocked the wooden suspension bridge from side to side.  “This is more fun than walking!” said Elaine.  She and Neil hopped across the bridge.

            The Poudre ran full and swiftly. Its shoreline was covered with rocks, from small gravels to rocks big enough to sit on.  A large willow tree with exposed roots and low branches grew beside the riverbank.  The Grands immediately threw rocks in the water and challenged each other.  Who could throw the farthest?  Whose rock made the biggest splash? Who could throw five rocks at one time?  And Elaine and Neil often said, “Watch me throw this rock in the Pooter,” and then laughed.

            After a bit, the four kids wandered from each other.  Jesse, age five, found a walking stick and walked the tree roots, nature-made balance beams.  Four-year-old Ann collected the shiniest, tiniest rocks.  Neil and Elaine threw leaves and sticks in the river and then tried to hit them with rocks. 

            Husband and Son skipped rocks and all four Grands counted loudly the number of skips across the water’s surface.  The kids were determined to find perfectly flat rocks and master skipping.  Over and over they slung rocks into the water and when one skipped, even once, all celebrated with applause and cheers.

            Another thirty minutes passed before Daughter and Daughter 2 declared it was time for snacks and water and a second sunscreen rub down.  Afterwards, Jesse used his stick as a shovel to dig softball size rocks from the ground.  The same size rocks lay on top of the ground, but with Ann’s encouragement, Jesse dug several and then together he and Ann made the biggest water splashes or so they claimed.

            A different trail from the river led us through marshland and the Grands stopped and squatted to watch ants scurry around a huge anthill.  Back at the parking lot, we met the bike riders and our eight Grands talked at the same time.  All were sure they’d had the most fun.  They were wrong.  I did, but I didn’t tell them.

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Walk a Mile

My new button says “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” For a few hours, I shadowed Kelsee, a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.  I followed her to the Cath Lab, the Cardiac Catherization Laboratory, where doctors perform tests and procedures to diagnose and treat the heart.

            As Kelsee and I walked the hospital hallway she said, “I’m excited to introduce you to the others on my team.  We’ve got three patients, three procedures this morning.  I’m helping with the first one so my friends will take care of you.” Kelsee’s words foreshadowed the time I spent with her. 

            My preconceived vision of a Cath Lab was a small room with four white bare walls where doctors, nurses, and staff quietly and solemnly do their work. I was wrong.  Supplies for the procedures line three walls.  The other is a bank of windows to an adjoining room where staff members monitor computer screens showing the patient’s vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen saturation.

            Kelsee said, “First, we’re going to replace a pacemaker.  Want to see what one looks like?  Mike can show you.”  Mike is a rep, a representative, for the manufacturer of the small device that helps regulate the heart’s rhythm.  A shiny silver device, the size of a book of matches.   

            Why was Mike wearing a head covering and lab coat to go into the Cath Lab?  “When a device from my company is used, I’m here to make sure the pacemaker is operating properly and make programmed adjustments if needed.”  He explained that the patient’s pacemaker was ten years old and its battery no longer functioned well. 

            Kelsee stood on one side of the operating room bed and Dr. Wathen, a cardiac Electrophysiologist, on the other.  Three Cath Lab staff members and I watched and they explained the procedure, the vital readings, and answered my questions.  Through the headset I wore, I heard Dr. Wathen explain what he was doing and reassure the patient.  “You’ve got a good group here with you today.  We’re doing everything we can to get you feeling better,” he said.

            After connecting the pacemaker to the leads implanted in the patient’s heart, Dr. Wathen said, “Mrs. Ray, look, it’s here in place,” and he looked toward the windows.  Later, we visited briefly. “This is the easiest thing we do. This team works together well.”  We walked down the hallway to the Electrophysiology Laboratory.  “Here’s the E.P Lab. It’s is closed this week to be updated.  Come back again and watch a more complex procedure,” he said.

            Walk A Mile is offered for us laypeople to see what happens at our hospital.  I observed a pacemaker replacement and two cardiac catheterizations to diagnose heart ailments.  But I was most impressed by the enthusiasm and teamwork of the hospital employees who are friends and take pride in their jobs.            

Thank you CRMC for this opportunity.  If I need heart care, I want Kelsee and her friends beside my bed.  I’ll wear my button so they’ll know I’ve watched through a window.

Do You Have Any Pet Peeves?

“What gets under your skin?” Jim Herrin asked in a recent Sunday editorial and I immediately thought of a time during my teaching days.

“My daughter thinks you don’t like her. Ann (not her real name) says you always frown at her and she has to sit in the back row,” said a mother who had requested a parent-teacher conference. I had great respect for this mother, a fellow teacher. I chose my words carefully.

“I’m sorry Ann feels this way and I like her, but not a couple of things she does. Does she sit on her knees and sway from side to side while seated at home? She does here in the classroom and she sits in the back so other students won’t be distracted with her in front of them,” I explained. Her mother said that her daughter’s swaying bothered her at the dinner table. “But what really grades on my nerves is a constant repetitive sound. Like a pencil tapping on a desk. I’m not sure Ann is aware when she does it, like I didn’t know I frown when I look at her.”

Ann’s mom said, “Oh, that’s my pet peeve, too, and my high school students know it so they sometimes make sounds just to annoy me.” For the next few minutes, we two teachers shared our pet peeves, the little things that made us cringe. Thankfully, this conference ended well with a plan to help Ann understand that I liked her.

Other sounds annoy me. Like some people talking. Over the weekend, I watched the Tennessee men’s basketball team play in the SEC tournament and I’m sure I frowned when Dick Vitale, the game announcer, got on a roll. His hyper-pitched and overly-excited voice, non-stop screaming, and repeating the same words annoy me. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Unbelievable! Look at him! Nobody jumps like that! He’s above everyone with that rebound! That’s why he gets more than 10 rebounds a game! Oh, baby!” he screamed.

Another time Vitale screamed, “He hit the floor to get the ball! Hit the floor! Did you see him hit the floor?” In my head I screamed, “I heard you the first time!” Yes, I know I can mute the sound and I’ve done that more than once, but I like hearing the crowd, the explanation of fouls, and everything except Vitale when he’s excessively exuberant and screams.

While discussing pet peeves with Husband, we agreed that rudeness is high on our lists. I’m annoyed when someone is rude to a restaurant waiter or store clerk or anyone whose job it is to serve the public. I worked as a salesperson in a women’s clothing store, and that experience taught me to stand in the shoes of the person on the other side of the counter.

I can’t end without admitting why I rarely chew gum. The sound of popping gum must be a pet peeve to some people. Why else would they frown and move away while I chomp on a stick of Spearmint?

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What’s for Supper?

cutlery-297617__480Who cooks supper meals? Remember meat-and-three-meals? Pork chops, fried chicken, beef roast, or meatloaf and three sides. Vegetables such as potatoes, green beans, corn, peas, cole slaw, and carrots. Mom cooked like that. And sometimes she served homemade soup with hot cornbread or spaghetti topped with her special tomato sauce and meatballs. That’s the suppers I ate as a child and I learned to cook at Mom’s elbow.

When friends reminisce about the first meals they ate as newlyweds, they tell funny stories because the wives didn’t know how to cook. My newlywed story is different. A few months after Husband and I married, I remember him telling me, “We really don’t have to have a big supper with meat and vegetables every night.”  I took him at his word.

I’ve always like cooking – like to chop, dice, bread, measure, mix, knead, sauté, brown and bake. But planning and shopping are chores. If someone would just tell me what to cook and buy the groceries, I’ll cook. I’ve been in a slump and I looked for other meal options.

Anyone else tried mail order meals? I ordered by email and UPS delivered a box of food packed on ice on my doorstep. Inside was everything needed, with directions, for two meals for Husband and me.   Everything for Crispy Rice Chicken Katsu with roasted Chinese broccoli. Everything. Including a liquid egg, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 2 fluid ounces Tonkastu Sauce. The meal was delicious, easy to prepare, and I loved that I didn’t have to buy a large amount of an ingredient that I rarely use. One box included 2 teaspoons of Chicken Demi-Glace and 3 thyme springs and 1 red fresno chili.

To avoid planning and for easy shopping, there are fresh ready-to-cook meals available in the grocery stores. Sweet chili chicken, mild Italian sausage with sweet peppers and onions, flank steak stuffed with spinach and provolone. All ready for the oven or microwave. Even taco soup for my crockpot. And salads are bagged with cut lettuce and carrots, dressing, and croutons. All I have to do is open the plastic bags and dinner is ready.

Frozen meals have come a long way. Remember TV dinners in the 1950s? Meat drowned in bland brown gravy and tasteless mashed potatoes and diced soggy carrots weren’t acceptable on Mom’s table. But oh, the frozen meals choices today. Beef Lo Mein, Alfredo Chicken, Three Cheese Lasagna, Chicken Pai Thai, Chicken Pot Pie. And there are kids’ meals with chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and broccoli.

And delicious prepared meals are available from local caterers. Take the food home, heat it, and serve. Nothing could be easier. Voila! Dinner is served!

I’ve tried mail order meals, meals in a box, meals in plastic bags, catered meals. Some passed the test – as good as Mom’s. Most didn’t. Time to make this week’s menu and shopping list, including what I call ‘find-it, eat-it’ meals. Husband is good with that.