I kissed minnie

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Last year, I worked the ticket table for the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” show to benefit the American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

For you out-of-towners, this is a Bedford County tradition going back to the mid-1970s: a revue done in the style of the “Hee Haw” TV show, featuring corny humor and some surprisingly-good local musical performers.

Anyway, in recent years the local Relay For Life organizing committee, of which I am a member, had been responsible for “Hee Haw & Howdy”; this year, it’s being done by one of our individual Relay teams, Strength In Numbers, which was basically formed for that purpose. So the committee didn’t actually have to work the show.

I wanted to go, however, because a) it’s a great show and b) I knew this year’s show would honor Harriett Stewart, our former American Cancer Society staff partner, recently retired. (Harriett has been playing Lulu Roman in the show for several years, and did so again this year.) Judi Burton, Relay’s grand poobah, got me a ticket.

I went and thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the show – but it had been a long week, and I was kind of restless. During intermission, cast members mingled with the audience, and I got to speak to Harriett. But I decided to slip out, quietly, rather than going back into the theater for the second act. Let me be clear – it wasn’t the show; I was just restless.

I was at home, wearing pajama bottoms, when Harriett (who had no idea I’d left early) messaged me to say some of the cast was at Casa Mexicana, and did I want to come join them?

Yes, I did, if for no other reason than to see Harriett, who lives in Lebanon and who we won’t get to see as often now. So I got dressed and headed over to the restaurant. I had a wonderful time. I slipped out again, just after midnight. Letha Marlow, who plays Minnie Pearl in the show and was still in costume at the restaurant, said something, and I responded by posing for a photo planting a kiss on her cheek. It’s probably on Facebook by now.

Harriett did not know the show this year would be in her honor, and I was delighted to be there at the beginning of the show when Judi made that announcement and Harriett teared up. They had to keep her from seeing the programs before the show, since they featured her prominently (including a photo of me and Harriett from one of her retirement celebrations a few weeks ago).

Anyway, it was a nice evening, and I’m glad I decided to get back out and join the others at the restaurant.

a place of hope

I had a wonderful evening with some of my fellow American Cancer Society Relay For Life volunteers serving dinner and handing out gift bags at the Hope Lodge in Nashville.

Hope Lodge 1ACS operates a network of Hope Lodge facilities throughout the country. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, and live more than an hour’s drive away, you and a caregiver can stay at Hope Lodge for free. For a city like Nashville with a lot of hospitals and university research, drawing in patients from a wide geographic area, that can be a godsend for those families, who are already stressed out physically, financially and emotionally. Officially, residents are responsible for their own meals, and there’s a roomy community kitchen on the ground floor with designated storage spaces for each room. (You can’t have food in the rooms, because of the sanitation and insect issues that would cause.) But community groups can volunteer to come in and cook dinner for the residents as a ministry, which is what we did tonight.

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I say “we” as if I had a hand in the cooking. Mostly I was just underfoot, posting photos to Facebook and chatting with some of the patients and caregivers as if I was somebody.

A lot of the money raised by ACS goes to research; that’s as it should be. The more we can do to reduce mortality rates and improve quality of life, the better for everyone. But it means you’re sending your money off to something that’s kind of, well, impersonal. So I was excited when the Relay committee first started talking about a trip to Hope Lodge. I first saw it in 2011, when I came up to Nashville to write a story about it for the Times-Gazette. It’s a way for our volunteers to put faces to the money they’re raising.

This was a fun evening, and a moving one. The patients – and the caregivers, who are under a lot of stress themselves – were wonderful, and all were appreciative, even those who couldn’t or didn’t eat for one reason or another.

One man had driven up on short notice, with little chance to make arrangements, from south Mississippi for his treatment. He used his Android tablet to make a panoramic photo of all of our volunteers working at their various tasks, and was tickled to be able to share it to the Bedford County Relay For Life Facebook page.

We handed out gift bags with items that had been recommended by the ACS staff as potentially helpful or comforting – a sport water bottle, a crossword puzzle book, and so on. There were plenty of gift bags left over, and we left them to be given to any residents who we missed seeing or who check in in the coming days.

If your club or Sunday School class is looking for a project, you might want to look into going up and serving dinner at Hope Lodge.

A great Relay

Well, Relay For Life was a huge success. We had raised $118,000 before Relay night, and by noon on Saturday our total was $146,000, well past our $133,000 goal. And there are one or two teams that still have post-Relay fund-raisers planned, so that total will rise a little bit more before the official end of the Relay For Life year on Aug. 31.

We had a huge crowd Friday night. At the end of the luminaria ceremony, when everyone took the track, it was packed.

I think the first-ever T-G team enjoyed themselves, and both the snow-cones and pony rides appeared to be successful.

So it was a great time. I had a good time personally, but it was physically demanding. My Fitbit Ultra reports that I walked a total of 12.5 miles on Friday and 4.5 on Saturday.  I got to the site at about 11:30 a.m. Friday, not having slept as well or as long as I had intended the night before because of the stupid hair color experiment. (I still have scratched-up places on my forehead and especially behind my right earlobe.)

When I did Relay as a team member in 2011, and as a committee member last year, I got really sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then got a second wind before daybreak. That didn’t really happen this time. I was still sleepy, and if I sat down Saturday morning, even at 8 or 9 or 10, I would start to nod off. My legs hurt and I felt miserable. I’m not sure what happened – other than the fact that I’m 51. I really thought I was in marginally better shape this year than last, and I’d made a point during the three-day Memorial Day weekend to walk farther and longer in hopes of building up my stamina.

We ended a little early on Saturday because of the threat of rain (which turned out to be only a brief shower). I tried to help with teardown but probably left sooner than I should have. I turned to Dawn Simmons and asked, “Would I be a terrible person if I left right now?” She said I wouldn’t, but I felt guilty about it anyway. The other people who were tearing down had been there longer than I had.

I have lots of video. I toyed with going by the paper after church today and editing it, but I ended up getting groceries instead. If I don’t edit the video tonight, I’ll do so tomorrow.

Only my hairdresser knows for sure

My hair … was supposed … to be purple.

It isn’t, and all I have to show for my efforts are some raw places on my forehead and under my ears.

It started a year ago, at last year’s Relay For Life. There was a gaudy purple wig that we were clowning around with; everyone was so amused when I put it on that I immediately came up with the idea of actually coloring my hair purple for the 2013 Relay. At one time, I even thought I’d do it a few days before Relay, in order to serve as a conversation starter beforehand.

About the time of Hee Haw and Howdy a couple months back, I asked Relay board member Judi Burton, who is a hair stylist by trade, for her advice. She suggested I go to Sally Beauty Supply and buy something. But when I went there a couple of weeks ago, they only had one temporary product, and it was so pale in color that the woman from the shop didn’t think it would show up very well. I later messaged a friend of mine who I thought might know. (I didn’t want to post a public request, because I wanted to surprise everyone by showing up at Relay with my purple hair.)

I went online and found the directions for the old punk solution – unsweetened Kool-Aid powder, combined with conditioner to help it soak into the hair follicles. I bought some disposable plastic cafeteria-lady caps at Walmart which were supposedly intended for use with conditioner, hair color, etc. I figured I’d wear my purple hair to Relay, then wash it out as best I could afterward and cut my hair short (I usually keep it a lot shorter than it is now during the summer).

I got home from work yesterday, got some dinner in the oven, and went upstairs to do the deed. Three packets of grape Kool-Aid, plus a small hotel-sized tube of conditioner which I had saved, coincidentally enough, from the Relay For Life summit last fall. I worked it all through my hair, put on the cap, and eventually secured the cap with a headband of sorts made from plastic wrap. It was sloppy, and I was sweaty, and I even got a little of it on the armrest of my sofa which I had to work out with a sponge.

Because, I suppose, of the acidic nature of the Kool-Aid, it stung when it got in my eyes. The scratchy plastic surrounding the elastic band of the cheap cap rubbed raw places on my forehead and under my earlobes.

The instructions had been to leave the mess in overnight. When bedtime came, I’d already had the stuff in my hair for six hours, but I wanted to let it set as long as possible – I knew the purple would have to compete with my brown hair. I covered my pillow with a trash bag and laid a flimsy old windbreaker over that, and I hoped I didn’t dislodge the cap with tossing and turning.

I woke up about 3:30, and just couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking about that stupid cap and how irritating it was. I figured that by that time, the stuff had been in my hair for more than 10 hours. I got up, rinsed it out thoroughly, and toweled my hair dry. It didn’t look purple at all. The directions said, however, that the color showed up better when your hair was dry, and so I thought maybe there might be a little touch of purple once my hair was completely dry. I went back to bed.

I got up this morning, and my hair is not purple in the slightest, just a tiny little bit darker than normal. Even the normally-white hair at my temples is just gray.

I intended to sleep later than 7 a.m., and I’ll probably nap on the couch at some point after breakfast. I have a call to make on some Relay business a little later this morning, and then I hope to get to the ag center some time between 11 and noon. I plan to be there for the duration, until noon Saturday (and whatever teardown we have to do immediately afterward).

I so wanted to show up with my blazing purple hair.

Dough re mi

As I posted a few months back, I have become a big fan of a bread recipe that lets you make up a big batch of wet and sticky dough, without kneading. You let it stand at room temperature for a couple of hours then store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. Whenever you want to make a loaf of bread, you guesstimate and take out about a pound of dough, shape it with floured hands into a ball, let it sit on the counter for 40 minutes up to an hour, and then slash a few vents in the top and bake it on a pizza stone. It yields a nice round lens-shaped loaf.

When the Times-Gazette’s “Press Power” Relay For Life team held a bake sale a couple of weeks back, I made two loaves of bread – but neither sold to the general public. My fellow RFL committee member Judi Burton told me to hold one for her before the sale even started, and my T-G co-worker Mary Cook bought the other.

Well, Judi and Mary, I didn’t say this at the time, but I was kind of disappointed in the way those loaves turned out. All three of the loaves from my next batch after that were much better – they rose more and looked more attractive.

The T-G is having another bake sale this Friday, and I made up a fresh batch of the dough tonight. (You don’t want to let the dough go longer than two weeks, but the yeasty flavor and aroma improves over the first week, week-and-a-half.) The dough is going through its initial rise right now; I’ll put it in the fridge at 10 tonight and leave it there until Thursday night. Last time, I had somewhere to be Thursday night and had to wait until I got home to make my two loaves (and my pizza stone isn’t big enough to bake both at the same time). So far, I don’t have any commitments Thursday night, and so I think I’ll save all of this batch and make three loaves for the bake sale. Hopefully, they’ll turn out well.

No running required

We’re getting into Relay For Life season, depending on what part of the country you live in.

Here in Bedford County, the Relay will be held May 31 into June 1. In some warmer parts of the country, Relay events are already being held.

Please, PLEASE, note that we need ANYONE, not just registered participants, to attend and support their local Relay events. It’s not too late to start a team, or to find an existing team and join one, and I’d love you to do that – but even if you don’t do that, find out your local Relay event’s schedule and drop by. Spend some money at the concession stands run by the various teams. Try to be there for the luminaria ceremony, a deeply-moving tribute to those who have been touched by cancer.

A lot of people – and three years ago, I was one of them – don’t really understand what Relay is or how it works.

Relay is both an event and a year-round grass-roots fund-raising campaign funneled into that event.

People form and join Relay teams, often based at a particular employer, church, club or school. They don’t have to be connected to an organization, though; for example, if someone in your family or circle of friends is struggling with cancer, or has been lost to cancer, you can just put together a team based on your friends and family.

Most teams do some sort of fund-raising prior to Relay. You can raise funds as a team and/or individually. Your team members sign up through the Relay For Life web site, and once they’re signed up there are tools to help them send fund-raising e-mails (and “thank you” e-mails after the fact) to friends and family. You can also post Facebook or Twitter messages. Donors can give money online and it gets credited to the proper participant and the proper team. Or if someone wants to hand you cash or a check, you can turn it in and make note of it online.

The Relay organizing committee may also have its own community-wide advance fund-raisers, such as the “Hee Haw & Howdy” revue which was held this weekend.

Then, on Relay night, several different things happen.

* The Relay venue is built around some sort of track. Each team must have at least one walker on the track at any given time during the entire Relay. (Different communities have Relay events of different lengths, usually 12, 18 or 24 hours. Bedford County is 18.) Teams may be of any size and can divide up the responsibility of walking any way they wish. No one individual, especially at 18-hour or 24-hour relays, is expected or required to be on site the entire time. But the teams must have someone on the track at all times. This is a walking event, and  it’s not a race. If it’s your turn on the track and you want to run or jog, you can do so, as long as there’s room to do so safely, without running into walkers or people standing in line to get sno-cones.

* Each team has a “camp site” or base of operations, with the team members bringing some sort of small party tent or canopy for this purpose. The camp site serves two functions. It is a hangout for walkers when they aren’t on the track, but it also serves as a concession stand. Teams raise money during the Relay event by selling food, or souvenirs, or operating a bouncy house, or karaoke, or a carnival game, or what have you. The organizers of the Relay may have a theme and ask that the camp sites be decorated to match it. For example, in Bedford County, this year’s theme is “Dreaming In Color,” and each team has the signature color of a particular form of cancer and has been asked to decorate its camp site using that color. Last year, we had a board game theme, and so on.

The concession aspect of the camp sites is one reason why we want members of the general public – not just registered walkers – to attend, at least during “prime time” hours. (We don’t expect the general public to be there at two or three in the morning, although if you want to come and cheer people on, that’s great.)

* There are often special fun activities, geared at increasing public attendance, such as live entertainment, an auction, or what have you. We hold our Relay events at the county fairgrounds, and one of our teams holds a tractor pull to coincide with Relay night, giving the tractor pull audience the chance to wander over and get their concessions from the Relay.

* There are traditional ceremonies and moments observed at every Relay, and these can be tremendously moving for registered participants and the public alike. The Relay begins with a “survivors lap.” Before the team walkers take the track, all of the cancer survivors who are present are asked to take a lap of the track so that we can honor them for their perseverance and celebrate their survival. After the survivor lap comes the caregiver lap, where anyone who has taken care of a cancer patient is honored. Then, at least at our Relay, the teams are introduced one by one, not unlike the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and march around carrying an identifying sign or banner.

At some time after dark, as I mentioned earlier, comes the luminaria ceremony. The luminary – a candle in a paper bag – has become the symbol of Relay. Donors purchase luminaria, on which are written messages of tribute (“In memory of Carrie Carney”), support (“Keep up the fight, Don”) or what have you. When it’s time for the luminaria ceremony, all of the normal lights are turned off and the track is lit only by the luminaria (and related items, such as torches, LED balloons or sky lanterns, which some Relay events may use). There’s a special recitation or ceremony in honor of cancer victims. Balloons or sky lanterns may be released in tribute.

Another Relay tradition, held at different times depending on a Relay’s schedule, is the “fight back” ceremony, in which participants pledge to make lifestyle changes, support cancer research, and so on.

A Relay, even the 12-hour kind, is always held overnight, for symbolic reasons – it symbolizes the dark night of a cancer patient’s experience, and the procession from darkness into light (hopefully remission, or at least an end to pain).

In practical terms, the wee hours of the morning are often punctuated with fun activities to try to keep walkers’ spirits and energy up. In Bedford County, one such activity is an enormous game of musical chairs, all around the perimeter of the track.

At the end of the Relay, there may be awards given, for the team that raised the most money, or had the best camp site decorations, or the most team spirit or what have you. Our Relay gives each team a pedometer, which is to be worn by whomever is the team’s official on-track walker at any given moment. We give an award for the team that records the most steps on their pedometer. Sometimes, overall fund-raising awards may wait until the fall, because technically the Relay For Life year runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 regardless of when a community’s Relay event is held, and some teams hold fund-raisers even after the Relay event.

If you live here in Bedford County, you can find out more about our event right here. If you’re from elsewhere, follow this link and look up the closest Relay event to your area.

I know that you’ve been touched by cancer. Someone in your family, your church, your circle of friends, or your workplace – and maybe someone from each of those places – has either survives or been lost to cancer. The American Cancer Society helps fund life-saving research, and provides or supports programs like Hope Lodge and Look Good, Feel Better to address the needs of cancer patients. It’s a worthy cause, deserving of your support. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun, as you can see here:

Finish the fight

I don’t know how many lives cancer took today.

I only know about two of them.

Obviously, I never met Roger Ebert. But I admired him greatly as a writer. Most people knew him from TV, but he was a newspaperman first and foremost, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a living symbol of the Chicago Sun-Times. When cancer took his voice and reshaped his face, he kept on going, both in print and on television.

In recent years, his online presence allowed him to write, in thoughtful and brilliantly-expressed views, about a wide range of subjects unrelated to movies. He policed the comment sections under his blog posts, and they consistently drew a high level of spirited but respectful discussion. I often agreed with him and always respected him.

The other life lost to cancer today was Mary Margaret Willems. Her, I knew. We’d been halfway across the globe together as members of a LEAMIS International Ministries mission team. I saw the love in her eyes and the cellophane gloves on her hands as she handed peanut butter sandwiches to special needs kids from Grundy County as part of Mountain T.O.P.’s Kaleidoscope program. How many hours did she spend in the dining hall kitchen at Cumberland Pines, feeding kids, teenagers or adults? There’s no way of telling. I’ve stayed with Bob and Mary Margaret on several occasions when LEAMIS was holding a training event or a board meeting in Monteagle.

Mary Margaret and my mother were both breast cancer survivors. The pancreatic cancer that claimed my mother was, we were told, completely unrelated to her breast cancer. But I believe the cancer that took Mary Margaret was a holdover, an enemy thought vanquished but only lying in wait.

Damn, I hate cancer.

I had a long day of work today, but tonight I’m doing the work of Relay. Bob knows, and Mary Margaret knew, about the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. They were participants, there in Grundy County. They donated to me the first time I did Relay.

On my way back from working for our sister paper in Marshall County, I stopped by House of Prayer Ministries here in Shelbyville to take photos of the dress rehearsal for the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” revue, a cancer society benefit here in Bedford County since the 1970s. Opening night for this year’s “Hee Haw & Howdy” will be April 12. That was the birthday of another cancer victim: my mother.

After leaving the Hee Haw cast to their hilarity, I had to drop by my father’s house to pick up the strawberry cake he has baked for the Times-Gazette’s Relay For Life bake sale tomorrow. Now, I have the first of two loaves of home-baked bread proofing on my kitchen table, ready to go into the oven in a few minutes. Those loaves will also go into the same bake sale.

Even if you didn’t know Mary Margaret, or my mother, and even if you weren’t a Roger Ebert fan, you have lost someone to cancer. You also know someone who has beaten cancer, almost certainly with the help of advances derived from American Cancer Society-funded research.

The Relay For Life motto is “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.” As we celebrate cancer survivors, and remember those we’ve lost, let’s not forget the third part of that equation. Get a colonoscopy. Use sunscreen. Exercise. It’s not too late to form a Relay For Life team, wherever you are, but if that’s not in the cards you can donate to a team or individual. Drop by your local Relay; it’s not just for the registered participants. There will be concessions, and fun activities, and a moving luminaria ceremony.

He’s right. Let’s make some noise; let’s finish this fight.

Balloon launch

The other night, at an American Cancer Society Relay For Life team captain’s meeting, we were talking to some of our new team captains about selling luminaria, torches and balloons for the luminaria ceremony.

The luminary, which is sort of the symbol of Relay, is a small, white paper bag with a candle inside (as well as some sand to keep it from tipping over). For a donation to ACS, you can personalize the luminary to pay some sort of cancer-related tribute – remembering someone you’ve lost to cancer, rejoicing with a cancer survivor, encouraging someone who is currently in treatment, or thanking your caregivers.

During the luminaria ceremony – a part of every Relay event worldwide – the electric lights are turned off and the relay track is lit only by the luminaria (and related tributes, about which I’ll tell you in a second). A recitation remembers those whose lives have been touched, or taken, by cancer. It’s indescribable and incredibly moving. Even if you are not a member of a Relay team, you should make a point of going to your local Relay, patronizing the various concession tents, and sticking around for the luminaria ceremony. I guarantee you will be moved.

Anyway, at our Relay, in addition to the luminaria, we have tiki-like torches with engraved nameplates. Last year, we had intended to launch “sky lanterns” – paper hot-air balloons which are lit by small candles, sort of like floating luminaria. The sky lanterns are used by Relays in other places and were checked out and approved by our local fire department. But, just a few days before Relay, we discovered that they’re technically illegal in Tennessee. So, we replaced them at the last minute with LED-lit balloons. The LED balloons were beautiful – I think they were even better than the sky lanterns would have been.

I had included a shot of the balloon launch as part of my complete Relay video from last year, but after our discussion the other night I agreed to make a video with just the balloon launch which could be used to show potential donors what it looks like. Here is that video:

If you’re interested in purchasing a luminary, you can go to my Relay page and do it online. If you’re interested in purchasing a torch or an LED balloon, contact me and I’ll get you the details.

And nothing but the tooth

Well, I had a ringside seat for a major life event this morning. I was doing my weekly reading at Learning Way Elementary, reading to a small group of first graders from a book about Alexander Graham Bell. One of my group mentioned that his tooth was loose, but probably not loose enough to come out, and his mother would take a closer look at it that evening. Well, he kept playing with it, and sure enough it came out, right there at the table in front of me. The teacher sent him to the school nurse, and he returned with the tooth in a little blue plastic container, apparently supplied by, and bearing the name of, a local dental practice.

In my second half hour, at the other class, I read to the whole class – something I hadn’t gotten to do yet – about George Washington, which was fun.

I am enjoying this.

After work, I went to the monthly American Cancer Society Relay For Life committee meeting. We’re still thrilled about the results from the recent dance and live auction, but we aren’t resting on our laurels. We need more teams to participate in the Relay, and we’re making plans for both our upcoming celebrity waiter luncheon and the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” benefit show. This year’s “Hee Haw” will be dedicated to the memory of Mary Jo Reynolds, a woman who did an awful lot for ACS and who was a staple of past “Hee Haw” productions, playing Nurse Goodbody.

I was surprised and touched when committee member Judi Burton, who had apparently been talking to ACS staffer Harriett Stewart, challenged the members of the committee to contribute money to something completely unrelated to ACS: my mission trip to Sierra Leone.

I love my Relay teammates.

Anyway, please consider organizing a Relay team at your church, workplace, club or school. If you’re reading this out of town, go to the Relay For Life web site to find the event and contact information for your area.