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When Grands Visit

One of the greatest joys of being a grandparent is when Grands visit, especially without their parents.  That’s when we grandparents can spoil, and our children can’t tell us that they never got to do the things the grandchildren are doing. 

            Husband and I invited five Grands, ages 5-14, to spend a few days with us while Daughter and Son 2 took a mini-vacation.  We see these Grands often and one spends the night with us each week so we know their likes, dislikes, and personalities.  We also know their energy levels and melt-down points.

            Our Grands took over the second floor.  Beds and blow-up mattresses were claimed or assigned.  Honestly, when one Grand spends the night, everything is packed in a small backpack. For four nights, they brought backpacks, duffle bags, armloads of stuffed animals, books, iPads, reading lights, four scooters, a basketball, and a bicycle.  

            Husband and I had a plan: divide and enjoy.  (Yes, divide and conquer came to mind, but joy was our goal.)  Husband took three to the gym to play basketball; I took two shopping at a store where $1 buys a treat.  Some played UNO and Qwirkle.  Three made flour and salt play dough and one spent thirty minutes adding food coloring to get the perfect purple, which eventually became the perfect chocolate brown.  And each had a thirty-minute Wii (video games) playing time. Day 1 was a success.

            Day 2 we took a field trip to the Chattanooga Creative Discovery Museum. Early morning, I packed breakfasts and snacks while older Grands helped the youngers dress and get out the door into the van.  As we traveled all were quiet, listening to an audio book and munching on biscuits and grapes and drinking juice.

            The museum was packed with activities for all ages and people of all ages.  Again, Husband’s and my plan to divide and enjoy worked.  Across the way I held up two fingers; he’d held up three.  Everyone within sight.  Another good day ended when we arrived home and our Grands piled out of the van and grabbed scooters to ride and balls to throw for outside burn off energy time.

            I planned Day 3 to relax:  play games, read, make peanut butter play dough, and maybe cookies.  I realized it’d be a long day when our Grands energy levels registered at the top of the chart and mine was barely above 0.  The Grands chose candy as Bingo prizes; that was fine with me.  The day ended with pizza and a movie. I was the first one asleep.

            By 9:00 a.m. on Day 4, one Grand had her belongings packed and asked, “When will Mom and Dad be home?”  This last day passed quickly.  After suppertime we loaded my van to take our Grands and all their stuff home to their parents.  As I backed out of our driveway, Micah, the youngest yelled, “Gran!”  and then in the sweetest voice he said, “Gran, I love you.” 

            Suddenly, I wasn’t so tired.  So harried.  Like I said, it’s a joy to have Grands visit.

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Porch Sitting

“What are you going to do this afternoon, Gran?”  Annabel asked.

            “Write the first draft of next week’s column.  What do you think I should write about?” I answered.

            “Fall. That it finally feels like fall,” my 10-year-old Grand said.  She laid her head back in one of our front porch rocking chairs and smiled smugly as she rocked back and forth.

            My Grand was almost on target of what I had in mind.  Finally, the weather has cooled enough that Husband and I can once again enjoy our front porch.  One of the things I immediately liked about our house when we were house hunting as few years ago was its covered wide front porch.  “That’s big enough for rocking chairs,” I told Husband.  He agreed and before we even closed on our hew home, we began shopping for front porch chairs, white wicker rockers.

            Say white wicker rockers three times and you’ll probably say what I said the first time we went shopping.  Whi-te ricker wockers stuck in my head and even now, three years later, I concentrate to say wicker rockers and not add an extra syllable to white.  On moving day, our two rocking chairs were the first furniture placed.  They were inviting, but we worked.  At the end of that stressful, physically exhausting day, Husband and I drank a cool drink and rocked.  And we talked.  About the day.  About what we needed to do next.  About the fact that most of the leaves were off the trees on this mid-November day.  About the leaves that hung high on an oak tree.

            Since that day, when either of us say, “I’m going to the front porch,” that’s short for “I’m taking a rest or I need a break.  I’m going to rock for a bit and you are welcome to join me.”   

            A wide covered front porch was common years ago. One of my favorite pictures of my maternal grandparents was taken on my grandfather’s parents’ porch.  I’ve been told it was a gathering place, a place to settle the world’s problems.  When guests came, the men went to the porch after supper and leaned back in straight back, caned bottom chairs.  My paternal grandmother had an old wooden church pew on her front porch and it was my favorite place at her home.  We waved at every passing car and I’d tell Granny everything that happened at school that day and complain that Mom expected me to keep my room clean.  We broke green beans and shelled black-eyed peas and cracked black walnuts.

            Cooler temperatures welcome front-porch sitting. After weeks of hot weather, I’m glad to wrap up in a sweater and even cover up with a blanket and rock. Husband and I wave and greet neighbors who walk their dogs.  Neighborhood children ride bikes and scooters.  We watch the sunset, although we don’t have an unobstructed view, and see the moon rise in the East and all seems right with the world. 

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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.

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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