The person delivering your next singing balloon bouquet may be a round lady in a tuxedo.
Mary Lee Keppler, alias Balloon and Tune, delivers airborne plastic posies with a selection of enthusiastic songs. Working from her Hampstead home, she has been on the road throughout the North Carroll area for about four months.
Few know, however, that the queen of balloons is pregnant.
She says she has "the extra large tux" that can expand as needed and that she intends to keep singing as long as the baby -- her second child -- will allow.
Mrs. Keppler has delivered songs with balloons for birthdays, to spark visits to shut-ins and the elderly, and for varied occasion in between.
"I've been singing for years," she says. "Since I was a little girl, I've sung at church, for weddings and funerals."
Her list of songs contains something unusual.
"I'll do your favorite gospel tune, as long as I know it," she says. "I call it the 'gospel-gram.' It's great for hospital and nursing home visits."
Reared in a family of 12, Mrs. Keppler learned early that "if you can find someone who's enthusiastic as all get-out, you've got a good party." Her own enthusiasm is perhaps the best part of her balloon deliveries.
She began Balloon and Tune as a home-based business.
"I've got a little girl at home," she says. "This I can do from home, to work at my own pace."
Children love carnivals. Even better, the Hampstead Elementary School Fall Festival is geared just for children.
The festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 8. The school's PTA staffs the games and tables of baked goods and crafts. There will be face-painting, a color-ball toss, a duck pond, a toilet roll toss, a football toss, basketball, a bean bag toss and a lollipop tree.
"For each game they play, the child gets a prize, regardless of whether they win," says festival organizer Donna Spears. "Games are 25 cents. Anyone in our community can come."
New this year is sand bottle art. Children can pour layers of colored sand into bottles for a rainbow effect. Also new is the sale of secondhand clothing to benefit the school. A country store will sell fresh fruit, vegetables and lemon sticks.
The familiar spin art -- in which the child drips paint onto a spinning surface -- returns. McGruff, the crime-fighting dog, will lumber about to shake hands with children.
This year's auction has been changed slightly. An unlimited number of 10-cent tickets can be purchased and deposited into the hat for each auction item. The auctioneer will draw a ticket from the hat to determine the auction winner. This will replace competitive bidding.
"This way, we figure all the kids have chances" to win a favorite item, Mrs. Spears says. "We are for our kids. That's what our school is about."
Auction tickets can be purchased in advance by students and during the first hour of the carnival Saturday. Auction tickets will be drawn starting at 11:15 a.m.
The auction lists 52 prizes. Each was donated by a teacher or school staff member. Many of them give a student time with a teacher.
Included is a trip with a teacher to Gettysburg, a chance to bake cookies with a teacher, dinner at Pizza Hut, and lunch or dinner with a friend of the student's choice.
Principal Judy Walker offers a catered lunch for two -- at the school cafeteria.
Other items to win include a trip to Discovery Zone, gift certificates to Waldenbooks, games of bowling, art supplies, movie tickets and a book with a puppet.
The Fall Festival is one of Hampstead Elementary's largest fund-raisers.
"This year the funds are going for computers," Mrs. Spears says. "We are automating our library. All new schools have an automated library. We don't, and our projected goal for automation is $15,000. We've already spent $4,000 this year."
Information: Donna Spears, 239-2462.
On Saturday, the Christmas spirit arrives in Hampstead, at St. John's United Methodist Church, 1205 Main St.
Christmas at the Church will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's a chance to purchase fine crafts, bid at a silent auction, have a homemade lunch, and enjoy family entertainment and games for children. Admission is free.