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Trivial Holidays ‘til Spring

Spring begins Friday, March 20, twenty-nine days from now, and winter drags. So, as I did a few years ago, I’m searching for holidays to celebrate.  Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, and that’s a time to wear green, pinch those who don’t, and drink from a frosty mug.  But there are many unofficial days to celebrate.  What better time than now?

            Did you know anyone can make up a holiday?  Adrienne Koopersmith, the undisputed champ of creating holidays, calls herself “America’s Premier Eventologist.” She’s created more than 1,900 holidays, during the past 30 years.  Timeanddate.com lists fun, wacky, and trivial holidays for every day, and I’m choosing Wednesdays.

            Today is Chocolate Mint Day, as in Girl Scout Chocolate Mint cookies. Or how about a chocolate mint latte? Chocolate pudding flavored with mint would be yummy, and so would a big bowl of chocolate mint ice cream.  Did you know there is a mint chocolate herb whose leaves actually taste like chocolate mint?  Add that to your chocolate cake recipe.

            February 26 is Tell a Fairy Tale Day.  Find a child and tell your favorite childhood fairy tale.  My Grands will hear Goldilocks for the ‘umpthteenth’ time.  Forty years ago, my mother made three stuffed bears, Papa, Mama, and Baby, for my children, and she gave them a Little Golden Book of the story.  The bears sway and bounce their way through the woods and their little home and Goldilocks runs.  Or you might host a fairy tale party.  Guests could dress as their favorite character and bring foods from favorite stories.

            March 11 is Oatmeal Nut Waffle Day. Yum!  These would be more nutritious than regular waffles because oat grain is high in protein, mineral, and fiber.  I’ll eat my oatmeal pecan waffles, topped with blueberries and syrup.  Remember, waffles aren’t just a breakfast food.  The combination of waffles and chicken would be even better with oatmeal nut waffles. 

            March 4 is March Forth and Do Something Day. This day encourages people to do something new to enrich their own or other peoples’ lives.  Its name is a play on the date, March fourth, which sounds like march forth, to move forward or into action.  So, march forth and do something.  Something that helps someone else.  Something that you’ve always wanted to do or said you would.

            March 18 is Awkward Moments Day to celebrate or forget those embarrassing moments that we’d like to forget, but are probably funny.  Laugh about those times with family and friends.  Like the time I thought I looked my best wearing a floor length new summer dress and new white patent shoes at a wedding reception.  While the band took a break, I walked across the empty dance floor to refill my punch cup and right in the middle of floor, I slipped and landed on my bottom. 

            Just four more Wednesdays until spring. That’s time to celebrate many trivial holidays and make up a few of our own.

An Open Letter to Jake Hoot

Dear Jake,

When a tall woman, old enough to be your mother – no, your grandmother – holds her arms out to hug you, that’ll be me.  It will be a hug of gratitude for sharing your singing talent with everyone who watched Season 17 of The Voice and my thanks for your humility, your thoughtfulness, and your appreciation.

             Until this season, I’ve never watched The Voice. A few years ago, a friend encouraged me to watch it.  “Be sure to catch the first show of the season,” she said.  “That’s when the coaches pick teams and there’s lots of outstanding singers.”  I missed your blind audition, but when I heard someone from Cookeville made the cut, I searched online and found a picture of you wearing a black cap and a dark plaid shirt.  I jumped on the Jake Hoot bandwagon when Tennessee Tech hosted a Watch Party at Hooper Eblen.  Out of curiosity, I went, sat with hundreds of your fans, and watched to the very end when you performed.

            I don’t remember what you sang that night.  I do remember that I felt a connection with you, a Cookevillian and a TTU alumnus.  You wore normal everyday clothes and could have sat unnoticed among those of us watching, except for your height and because I’m six feet tall and my son is 6’ 9” I was happy to see a big guy on stage.  You lived, with your missionary family, in the Dominion Republic where I spent a week on a mission trip.

            That Monday night I voted for you and Tuesday, I cheered when you made it through.  Then I watched every Monday and Tuesday and voted 10 votes every way I could. 

            Thank you, Jake, for the excitement you have created in our community.  Your successes were our successes.  We celebrated over coffee with breakfast, sweet tea with lunch, and wine with dinner.  We downloaded your songs.  We talked about people we knew who knew you.  We marveled that someone from Cookeville was in L. A. and doing well.

            Throughout those many weeks, I enjoyed your every performance and I appreciated the little things.  You answered questions with “Yes, mam,” and “Yes, sir.”  On the final night as you four finalists took the stage, you stopped and offered your hand to Rose who walked up the steps behind you. 

            When you were announced as the winner, you bowed.  Bowed. Most winners throw their arms high with a stance of look at me.  Your response was humble thankfulness.  You gave credit to others.  You came home to Cookeville and, with gratitude, offer a free concert.

            In your dress, your manners, your performances, you stayed true to the person you were the very first night of The Voice.  You reminded me that good guys do finish first.

            May your singing career be successful and may you have the courage to not let others define you as continue to be yourself.

Blessings for the very best from a Hoot Fan,

Susan

Where did the Years Go?

I slid the folded letter from its envelope. You are invited  to celebrate Tennessee Technological University Homecoming November 7-9, 2019, and join the Golden Grad Society. Golden Grad! Like a hot potato, I dropped the invitation onto the kitchen counter. I’d seen Golden Grads, people who’d graduated from TTU fifty years earlier. 

During halftime of Tech’s football Homecoming game, an announcement is made: Please welcome today’s honored guests, our Golden Grads!  People walk from the sidelines of Overall Field to the 50- yard line.  Some amble, some lean on canes, some hold another’s arm. Some march and swing their arms. Some take long, intentional steps. Some wear letter sport jackets. Some wear school colors, purple and gold. 

All gather at mid-field and wave to us fans as we stand to honor these individuals who have attended classes, studied, and earned a degree five decades earlier. Most have retired from work.  Some have gray hair, some no hair. Some carry stooped shoulders. Some limp. Many wear glasses. These aren’t young people.  Not even middle age.

And now, I have received an invitation to become a member of their society. But, in my heart, I’m a student wearing a brand new wool three-piece suit that Mom made for my 1965 homecoming outfit. On a rainy Saturday, I’m the co-ed who ruined a $60 pair of new shoes that matched my outfit. 

On a cold snowy Saturday, I’m a newlywed, warm in my ankle-length red coat, who sits on the top bleacher and proudly watches Husband crown the 1969 Homecoming queen; one of his duties as Associated Body President.  Five years later, I’m the mother of three-week old Daughter and I drove two hours to celebrate homecoming with friends.  

After moving back to Cookeville, Husband and I welcome out of town guests and plan the weekend. Friday night gathering with his fraternity brothers and my sorority sisters. Saturday with friends and children: morning parade and afternoon football game. We celebrate Daughter’s birthday when it coincides with homecoming. Sunday morning brunch around the kitchen table.  Pots of black coffee, eggs, bacon, and stories of college days keep on coming. 

I’m the TTU fan who takes in every football and basketball game with Husband and our two teenage children. A fun way to share good wholesome family time. And when Son is a TTU student, I wish for him to make friends and happy memories and graduate. Years later, Husband and I take Grands to Tucker Stadium and explain four downs, extra points, field goals, and we high-five Awesome Eagle. 

Saturday, November 9, we Golden Grads will stand in the middle of TTU’s Overall Field and wave to football fans. And if anyone assumes that because we graduated many, many years ago, we are old and happy just to be able to walk and wave, that’s not exactly who we are. 

Maybe, just maybe, when I’ve watched other Golden Grads they, too, were students, young adults, parents, grandparents who were surprised that fifty years passed so quickly

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….

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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