Thursday, June 27, 2013

Howell's balloonfest rises to the occassion

Michigan Challenge Balloonfest photo by Susan Pominville

One day I will rock through the blue skies of Michigan in the basket of a hot air balloon. 

For now I’ll just watch other people do it at the 29th annual Michigan Challenge Balloonfest held at the Howell High School complex June 28-30.

“It’s the end of a big decade, and we’ve grown through the years,” said Michelle Tokan, Michigan Challenge director and the gal handling requests from the media to fly. My opportunity was deflated by the weather and other engagements. “Highlights of our 29th year include the balloon launches, three entertainment venues, four national touring displays and an increased social media presence. I think our guests will agree the committee has planned a spectacular party.”

The party was hatched during a meeting in a restaurant.

Dick Rudlaff, a nationally known hot air balloon pilot, was passing through Howell on his way to Battle Creek when it occurred to him that the area would be the perfect place to stage a state championship. He and other pilots had been looking for a location for some time. So, Rudlaff met with Lee Reeves, the then Howell Area Chamber of Commerce president, at a restaurant and pitched the idea for a championship as a major community event.

His hook? The event could really put Howell on the map.

As the group prepared to leave the diner, a woman sitting in the next booth stopped them saying she had overheard the balloonfest plans. She applauded the idea and told the group they should do it. “Reeves laughingly admitted it was like a good omen, boding well for the success of the event,” Tokan said.

In 1985, not long after the meeting, the board of directors – having secured the cooperation of the Howell Public Schools -- inflated their plans for the balloonfest. Today, Rudlaff remains a part of the event and is competition director for it.

“I love the balloon launches,” Tokan said. “I have seen many of them, yet each one has its own personality and character. At the Michigan Challenge, spectators are very close to the launch field and can see the entire inflation process. It’s amazing to see the crowd’s reaction when the balloons lift off the ground.

The Michigan Challenge Balloonfest succeeded in putting Howell on the map and has grown since that first year, adding many other attractions including a carnival and arts festival. Still, Tokan said the centerpiece and drawing-card of the event remains the beautiful ballooning competition.

“The Michigan Challenge attracts some of the best pilots from around the world. Several are from Howell, many from Michigan and others from out of state,” Tokan said.
However, balloons wait for no man, or woman or child. It’s the sun and the weather that dictates their launches. To see the balloons take off on Friday, June 28, you’ll want to be at the launch field by 5 p.m. The mass balloon launch takes place between 6 and 8 p.m. The following morning between 6 and 8 a.m. is the balloon fly-in and actual competitions. If you missed the mass balloon launch on Friday, there’s a second one on Saturday, also between 6 and 8 p.m. The same goes for Sunday: Balloon fly-in between 6 and 8 a.m. and mass balloon launch between 6 and 8 p.m.

“While guests wait for the balloons, there are many family attractions and activities on site,” Tokan said. “A schedule and more information can be found at Michigan Challenge Balloonfest, updates on Facebook and Twitter @balloonfestMI #balloonfest

No rides going on this weekend but Tokan assured me there will be companies providing information on where/how I can learn more.

Up, up and away I go.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer ushers in another chance for an outdoor bash extraordinaire

Once again I am writing a column about hosting an extraordinary outdoor bash. Not a backyard barbecue -- although you could serve ribs and barbecue chicken - but a small formal dinner for close friends or family.

My editor is rolling her eyes. Every year I do this column and every year summer passes without anyone seeing the cool outdoor chandelier that I made in anticipation of such an event.

My desire to host such a party spawned following a trip to Napa Valley where even a lunch of bologna sandwiches and red wine was a memorable event. Due in part to the California countryside but also the details attended by the vineyard staff: placing a rustic picnic table under an ornamental tree and setting the table with white linens, crystal glasses and votive candles. 

Whether you have a large backyard or an apartment with a small balcony -- the key to this kind of party is to let the natural elements set the mood and then expand upon that.

First, consider where to dine. Under a tree is nice but only if the branches are high and out of harm's way. A picnic table is great but you could also use a round card table. A patio set would also work provided you kept the d├ęcor formal. 

Once you've got a spot pick a theme and run with it - using linens and placemats - as the canvas for whatever picture you hope to create. Whatever you do don't forget the fresh flowers.

"There is something about flowers that instantly makes any gathering feel special," said a spokesperson from Pfaltzgraff. "Place several large sunflowers into a vase for the center of the table - or trim the stems off your favorite blooms and float them in a large serving bowl. For another simple centerpiece, line several glasses or small bowls down the center of the table and place a single blossom in each. No flower arranging skills required."

As the maker of formal and casual tableware - Pfaltzgraff has no shortage of ideas for those of us hoping to host an extraordinary outdoor affair. Their decorating staff also suggests enhancing the mood created by your natural environment with themes like alfresco created with decorations, lighting and tableware. Pfaltzgraff’s Pistoulet dinnerware features colorful renderings of flowers, vines and vegetables set against wide watercolor washes, which for example is reminiscent of the light and colors of Southern France. For an Americana theme consider using a red linen tablecloth with blue linen napkins wrapped with a whimsical cowboy boot napkin ring. You could also gather the napkins with a piece of rope but keep it formal with white china dishes. If you’d rather go country kick it up a notch with a red-checkered tablecloth.

See why I’m keen on such a party? There are all sorts of fun ways to do it. Below are a few more ideas courtesy of the decorating team at Pfaltzgraff:

  • Music plays a big role in setting the mood of any party. Be sure to keep it light and uplifting. However, keep it low enough so that your guests can carry on a conversation without shouting.
  • The problem with having a party outdoor is some elements are beyond your control like the wind for example. A gentle breeze makes it cool but can topple centerpieces and peel off tablecloths. Use small bowls or serving pieces around the table to keep the cloth secure.
  • Another nice touch is to slip in dried flower twig or a long-stemmed rose insides the folds of the napkin along with your cutlery to keep the linens from blowing off the table.
  • Incorporate earth elements such as pebbles, sea shells and fresh flowers in decorative bowls or glass vases.
  • Look around the area and see if you can add lights to bushes, trees or decking. You might also use candles in luminary bags weighted with sand.
  • For place cards use a Sharpie to write the name of each guest on a smooth stone. The stones make for organically chic place cards and memorable party favors.

“The secret to great entertaining is to keep things simple,” according to the experts at Pfaltzgraff. “Parties should be uncomplicated, easy and just as much fun for the hosts as it is for the guests. Start with a simple menu and then get everyone outdoors to enjoy the splendor of Michigan’s warm breezes, lush trees and colorful flowers.”

Gina Joseph is a reporter and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Send comments to gina.joseph@macombdaily.com, follow her on twitter @ginaljoseph and visit her beat blog at macomblife.blogspot.com.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tickets for Lady Antebellum's sold-out concert just released

Fans of Lady Antebellum who do not have tickets for tonight's performance have a second chance.

Promoters of the show at Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights have just released great seats for tonight's sold-out concert featuring the American pop music trio composed of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood.

They can be purchased at Freedom Hill or by calling 1-888-929-7849.

Lady Antebellum’s platinum third CD, “Own The Night” debuted at the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Top 200 in November and earned the trophy for Best Country Album at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. That in addition to the success of songs, “We Owned The Night” and “Just A Kiss.”

The ACM and CMA Vocal Group of the Year also have sold more than 6 million albums worldwide and scored seven Grammys along with more than a dozen other award show trophies.

Freedom Hill concert goers will hear their current hits and other exciting songs released on the trio’s fourth album “Golden”.

“This is a group that could play any of the big concert venues - but they chose to be a part of our opening kickoff,” said Kevin Cassidy, general manager at Freedom Hill.

Tickets are: $35-$12.
Doors open at 6 p.m. Opening act is Stewart Francke.

Freedom Hill is located at 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy, Sterling Heights, MI 48312. For more information visit 
Freedom Hill 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ashton Kutcher's 'Jobs' movie to be released on August 16

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs in the movie "JOBS." (Open Road Films)

It’s official. 

Studio executives have announced that Open Road Films will release JOBS - the highly anticipated film chronicling the story of Steve Jobs' ascension from college dropout to one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century - nationwide on August 16, 2013. 

The new movie gives audiences a detailed look at the major moments and defining characters that influenced Steve Jobs daily business from 1971 through 2001. By plunging into the depths of his character filmmakers hope to create an intense dialogue-driven story that is as much a sweeping epic as it is an immensely personal portrait of Steve Jobs' life.
The film is directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote and Neverwas) and written by Matthew Whiteley. JOBS also features the work of Oscar-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter and was produced by Mark Hulme. 

JOBS stars Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons and Matthew Modine.  

JOBS Facebook