Holidays a time to celebrate, give back

Each year as I get out the tubs of extension cords and Christmas lights I think of Clark Griswold in the “Lampoon Christmas Vacation” movie. I love everything about the Christmas holiday season, and look forward to it every year. Like Clark, I have been known to stand on the top step of a ladder and reach precariously to hang a light on a bough that is just slightly out of reach.

I thought about skipping the lights this year, but the warm sunny weather last week inspired me to get out the ladder and get to work. The colorful lights highlighting the branches and shimmering in the breeze creates a sense of magic.

Another favorite tradition is making a family trip to a local Christmas tree farm to find and cut down the perfect family Christmas tree – at least perfect in our eyes.  We have been doing this since the kids were toddlers, and the trip is associated with fond memories.  Speaking of memories, I can’t remember a year when we have strolled the hills in shirt sleeves and sneakers instead of snow boots.

Fort Calhoun Christms Tree lighting
Fort Calhoun choir members sing around the lighted Christmas tree in the Market Square gazebo.

On Saturday I joined the revelers that crowded around the gazebo in Market Square in Fort Calhoun for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  The Fort Calhoun choir performed a number of Christmas carols before and after the tree lighting.  In addition to lots of hot chocolate and cookies, some of the children and adults walked away with some nice prizes.   

Sugar Plum festival
From left, Kinzlie Johnson puts money in the Salvation Army bucket with Kaylie Johnson, Andyn Ruwe & Kaiya Johnson.

In Blair, the Sugar Plum Festival kicks off the Christmas season.   It is always fun to see the streets filled with families.  The decorative lights, the Downtown Brass ensemble, the Country Bible Church carolers and hay racks rolling up and down Washington Street were just some of the sights and sounds that gave the city center the appearance of a Hallmark Christmas movie set. As families walked along the streets picking up trinkets and treats at local businesses, many  dropped coins and bills in the Salvation Army red kettle and contributed to other worthwhile causes.

 

Sugar Plum festival
A hay rack pulled by Jenson Shires gave free rides along Washington Street Thursday evening during the Sugarplum festival

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year are filled holiday concerts, social events and religious services that inspire a sense of wonder, joy and community. When we feel good about ourselves and our community, more than likely we also want to share and give back.

Otte School pig kissing
Dressed as a strip of bacon, Blair Otte history teacher Terry Bellamy kisses a pig held by Sarah Lambrecht.

Schools throughout the county do their part to encourage sharing.  Before Thanksgiving break I stopped by Joseph’s Coat to take pictures of Blair FBLA members unloading around 4,500 food items collected in the Blair schools. Blair students, staff and teachers also contributed nearly $5,000 in cash to the Blair Area Food Bank.  I also photographed Otte Middle School teachers Terry Bellamy and Kristi Baker puckering up and kissing a pig after the students raised nearly $400 for the Food Bank.  Maybe some of the kids donated just because they like Mr. Bellamy but still they experienced the joy of giving.

BHS Food drive
From left, Sydney Andreasen, Alec Tapp, Dustin Hovanec, Mitsy Dasa, Ben Brunick-Clark relay boxes filled with canned and packaged food items at the Blair Area Food Pantry. BHS Food drive

On Thanksgiving Day I attended the Community Thanksgiving dinner. While it is held at St Francis Borgia Catholic Church, it is a community event for all. What a fantastic opportunity for neighbors to come together to prepare and share a festive dinner with friends and multiple generations of family members. In addition to a satisfying meal, you could not come away from that dinner without feeling a sense of gratitude and good will.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Michele Dean ladles the gravey on a plate heaped full of turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing. Community Thanksgiving Dinner

A new opportunity to show gratitude and goodwill is to participate in the first ever  “Giving Tuesday” in Washington County which is November 28 -the day this newspaper is published.  The Blair Area Community Foundation and the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce have combined forces to create awareness and inspire people to be generous to Washington County nonprofits.  Donations may be made online at wcnegives.org  or in person at the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce office and other drop-off locations throughout the county.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Blair residents Beverly and Martin Homes enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with family members at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Francis Borgia Church Thursday. Bev and Martin live at Carter House.

Another opportunity to give and get a good breakfast is the seventh annual Christmas for the Coat to be held at Fernando’s Café and Cantina on Dec. 6 from 6:30 to 9 a.m.  Last year the event raised over $43,000 for the Washington County Food Pantry.

Breakfast for the Coat
Ellie Schrad with mother Angie thanks Santa for the sucker at Christmas for the Coat Wednesday at Fernando’s Cafe and Cantina.

With this column, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.  I hope that we all will take advantage of the many opportunities to celebrate and find our own best ways to give back to our community.

Blair area Band and Choir Concert
Blair Area Community Choir performed five numbers during the Sunday afternoon combined community and and choir concert held in the auditorium at Blair High School.

In the next few weeks I plan to show up at many of the concerts and events throughout the county. Making photographs is my job, but also my way of giving back – of showing appreciation for the generosity and sense of community that has been shared with me.

 

 

Dinner is served

Volunteers prepare 850 meals at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Blair

Following the same recipes they have been using for the past 50 or 60 years, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church volunteers served up around 850 turkey dinners to guests from throughout the area and beyond. The dinner featured a tasty and popular home made cranberry and fruit salad and giblet dressing that some say is better than grandma used to make.
St Mary's Church Turkey dinner
From left, Jon Hutchson, Jason Cloudt, Josh Dick, Travis Will, and Bruce Will carved 44 turkeys for the annual St Mary’s Church Turkey dinner. 
Pat Steinke who helps organize the event said many of the volunteers have been doing the same jobs for years, and pretty much everyone knows what they are doing.  Steinke makes sure the veteran cooks have what they need and stays out of their way.
Preparation for the meal began on Wednesday before the dinner with breaking of 145 loaves of bread for the dressing. The work continued Thursday with grinding and cooking up the giblets for the dressing, and cooking up the cranberries for the salad.
St Mary's Church Turkey dinner
Kim Morse mixes cranberry and fruit salad with a canoe paddle. St Mary’s Church Turkey dinner.
On Saturday the cooking crew prepared the dressing, and by Saturday evening the 44 turkeys were stuffed with dressing and ready for the roasters.  Longtime turkey cookers Bill Smutko and Paul Kolbe roasted the turkeys through the night and allowed  them to cool so they were ready for carving early Sunday morning while other volunteers prepared the trimmings and cut and plated the desserts.
Steinke said almost everyone remembers a story about things going wrong, but it always seems to work out.
St Mary's Church Turkey dinner
Rhonda Dick cuts and plates desserts St Mary’s Church Turkey dinner

 

‘Salad Days’ are the sweetest

Do Moore Be  Moore
Sandy Moore stands between “Do Moore, Be Moore recipients Alec and Evan Wick.

The phrase “salad days” describes a season when the taste of life, like the spring garden harvest, is fresh and sweet.   My first years of teaching were salad days.  I was young and enjoying the moment, living the life and learning my craft. There was the reality of hard work and some heartache and frustration, but I had few cares or responsibilities other than myself. Life was good – or at least fresh and fun.

Shakespeare coined the phrase “salad days” in the tragedy Cleopatra to mean “green in judgement,” and certainly that could be said of me at that time.  More broadly the term evokes the light heartedness, vitality and optimism of youth.   I think of late spring like that –  an idyllic time of freshness, novelty and fun – and I have tried to capture that spirit in my photos.

Memorial Day is one of those salad days.  From my youth, I associate the holiday with blue skies and sunny days.  My memories are of pleasant walks with family along cemetery lawns filled with colorful displays of flags and fragrant flowers. The cemetery visits were a significant family ritual and history lesson.  This year I attended and photographed ceremonies in Herman, Fort Calhoun and Kennard as well as visited and placed flowers on graves of my own relatives in Omaha.  I still prefer and often use the old term “Decoration Day.”

The last weekend in May now has added significance because my daughter Erin is now Erin McElroy.  She and her husband Declan were married on the Saturday before Memorial Day in a beautiful ceremony in the Fontenelle Park Pavillion in Omaha. While I had absolutely nothing to do with selecting the venue, I grew up on Ames Avenue in Omaha, and the park brings back many childhood memories.

Nothing evokes images of youth and summer more than swimming at outdoor pools.  No matter the temperature, kids dive, splash and play. The weather and the water temp was near perfect the week that the Blair pool opened. Unfortunately, a few days later the pool was shut down while a maintenance crew removed shattered glass particles imbedded in paint at the bottom of the pool.

Gateway to The West events and similar summer festivals bring out the kid in many of us.  Blair Otte Middle School was the new venue for Taste of Blair and the Blair Area Community Band Summer Concert. Holding the concert in the Otte commons area seemed to be an excellent fit and everyone enjoyed the performance.

While June Jam was again held at The Depot in Lions Park, the revamped park layout is a significant improvement. Kids swarmed the new and relocated playground.  Concert goers could see and hear the band while families picnicked and watched their kids swing, slide and climb on the new playground equipment.  The park will be even more family friendly when the modern all-season restrooms are completed.

Despite the toasty weather, families filled the sidewalks along the Gateway to the West parade route.  Fire trucks spraying water, and parade participants throwing frozen treats to parade watchers proved to be particularly popular for the kids.  After the parade, I stopped at the Blair Volunteer Fire Department beer garden for a refreshing beer and bratwurst before watching the kids and fire fighters water fight contests.

I can think of no better example of youthful vitality and celebration than the Kids Triathlon which took place this past Saturday.   I have no interest in stats – I have no idea who won or even how many kids took part.  I do know that for over an hour I watched kids ages 5 to 15 of all ability levels take part in the challenge and have a great time doing it.  I watched a host of volunteers organize, monitor and keep kids safe while family members cheered the kids on.

I also applaud Kids Triathlon organizers for instituting the “Do Moore, Be Moore” award.   which was presented to BHS graduates Alec and Evan Wick.  The two outstanding and record setting  cross country and track athletes have assisted with the triathlon each year since the event was first organized.

“Do Moore, Be Moore” honors recently retired PE teacher and Kids Tri co-founder Sandy Moore.  Physical education teacher Kim Leggott said, “The award is based on all things ‘Sandy’, – hard work, kindness, compassion and dedication!”

Spring is at an end, and summer officially begins this Tuesday at 11: 24 PM.  I am looking forward to the vacations and summer activities ahead, but I will miss the soft green salad days of spring.

 

Blair Balloonist Jaworski inducted into Hall of Fame

Jaworski Hot Air Balloon
Over hill and dale. Rich Jaworski pilots his passengers above the hills north of Blair in March, 2016.

We all look up to Blair balloonist Rich Jaworski when we see his brilliant red and white striped balloon float through the skies over Washington County on a calm morning or evening. Following his induction into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame Enterprise on-line editor and reporter  Leeana Elis interviewed Jaworski, and I searched through my archive for photos I have taken over the years to accompany the article.

I have watched Jaworski and his crew prepare for take off many times, but the most memorable for me was standing in the parking lot of St.Francis Borgia  in the wee hours of a frigid morning in 2007 as the balloonist prepared for a long distance flight.

Congratulations to Rich, and thanks for the joy you provide as we view your balloon floating over the countryside. – Joe Burns

Saturday  Heritge Days
Rich Jaworski greets guests as they climb aboard for a bird’s eye view of Fort Atkinson during Heritage Days in Fort Calhoun.

Pretty icy

The House is a Rockin’, don’t bother knockin’at the Blair Show Choir Workshop