Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The End of an Era......A Tribute to Mrs. Renata and Mr. Allen

As summer draws to a close and it is time to prepare for a new school year, my heart and thoughts are on two people that have been my teaching partners for many years, but I will not have to lean on, complain to, plan with, laugh with, or share ideas (and bacon cheddar fries) with. They are my friends, my partners in crime, and two of the best teachers and people I have ever known. This post is in loving memory of Mr. Danny Allen and retirement wishes to Mrs. Renata Henson,

Since I have been a 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Renata has been there by my side. We nicknamed ourselves Lucy and Ethel from the beginning as we labored, rather clumsily, to move my belongings up to the 3rd floor. We crashed the shopping cart crammed full of  books and supplies and made a basic mess of things. Always ready with a song, we started singing the Diamond Rio classic "What a Beautiful Mess" and the best years of my teaching and a beautiful friendship had begun.

As I reflect on my years of working with Renata there are many stories, laughs, and events that make me smile and cry and miss her so much. Here are a few classic "Renata-isms" and words that describe her so well.

1. Smile and nod: Whenever lesson plan formats changed for the millionth time, when certain administrators ruffled our feathers,  the work load was about to overwhelm us, or we were told to try techniques we knew were not practical, her wise words- Smile and Nod- kept us grounded.

2. Take a Deep Breath: This phrase was used by Renata many times when kids were overly excited or rowdy, and on teachers as well when we needed to be settled down. She will need to call me and say these words as I face my first school year without her.

3. Chocolate milk during planning: A great start to the day. Not to mention bacon cheddar fries, honey mustard pringles, and various chocolate bars that never lasted very long in our teacher lunch bucket.

4. High heels: as most teachers wear flats and tennis shoes so we can be comfortable on our feet all day, Mrs. Renata never gave in to this fashion faux-pas. She wore her pretty high-heeled shoes or sandals and I can't tell you how much I will miss the sound of those heels clicking down our hallway and coming into my classroom.

5. The number 75: Whenever there was a quantity that needed to be expressed, it was 75. "I have told you 75 times, we have been doing this for 75 years, you're going to write that 75 times."

6. High Octane: Renata has enough energy to fuel 75 cities. Most days I feel like a sloth, slug, or various other slow animals when I am in her presence. She is always on the go, ready to face any challenge, and is never still for one second.

7. Dedication: a hard-working professional who loves kids, expects great things from them, has a calm, steady classroom, and one that former students always remember so fondly. Her retirement is well-deserved. My mind is so happy for her, but my heart needs her to be next door to me.

The Renata memories could go on and on, but as I reflect on them, the stories intersect fun times and laughs we shared with Mr. Danny Allen. With his passing on the last day of school, there is a void at CCES and in the hearts of many that will never be filled. I think of him every time I step onto our 3rd floor hallway and pass his room, when I have a snarky comment to share that only he would get, and whenever I have to make a schedule and it takes me forever to figure it out. (Danny could fix a schedule in 1 minute flat). I was so blessed to teach across the hallway from this wonderful person and friend. Mr. Allen was such a positive male figure for many kids who had none of their own. Every 5th grader wanted to be in his class, parents wanted their child to have him, and teachers wanted to be in his presence.

1. Smack my Hand: Mr. Allen very seldom had a negative comment to make about others, but on the rare occasion when he did, he would hold his hand out for Renata and I to smack it. The three of us worked together long enough where we could read each others' minds and would hold our hands out to be smacked without saying a word. One arch of Danny's eyebrow said it all.

2. A piece of paper. When students would ask him for a piece of paper, he would smile, say "Sure!" and tear a tiny piece of paper from a full sheet and hand it to them. His eyes would twinkle and sparkle each time a student fell for this.

3. Can I go to the Bathroom? When 5th graders asked this question, his reply was always, "I don't know? Can you?" It didn't take too many times before the kids learned to ask, "May I?" All of these phrases were used jokingly. He never belittled or was sarcastic with the students and they loved him for it.

4. Seinfeld moments: I can't tell you the number of times we have experienced Seinfeld moments with Mr. Allen. From delicate geniuses, loud talkers, close talkers, I'm out baby, etc. If you're not a fan of the show, these phrases won't make sense to you. (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

5. Long-suffering: As one of only 2 male teachers at our school, Mr. Allen had to suffer through many girlie  conversations where he would laughingly plug his ears. He had to endure the strong smell of perfume, and the ever-changing moods of his female coworkers. Not many men could withstand this, but there aren't many men like Danny Allen.

6. Toe-Touches: Mr. Allen was a jack of many trades, but what impressed 5th graders the most was the awesome toe-touch he would perform when students achieved certain milestones. They would BEG him to do this and squeal with delight as he did a toe-touch that most cheerleaders would kill for!

7. Again...dedication: Mr. Allen was not only a teacher but a coach, chess club sponsor, bus driver, mentor, and so much more. He was the calm in mine and Renata's storm. The level headed voice among our rants. How he will be missed, there are no words to express. RIP Spirit in the Sky.

So the 2013-2014 school year begins with my  not so new partners in crime- Ms. Kacey and Mrs. Karen whom I adore and will share more special moments and memories in the very near future. Ms. Kacey is  Mutt to my Jeff and Mrs. Karen and I randomly break out in song at any given moment. What a blessing to have such wonderful people to share my days, triumphs, ups, and downs and make new memories, while I hear Mr. Allen's laughter and Mrs. Renata's wedge sandals clicking down the hallway.

I hope everyone has an awesome school year....Where Dreams Begin!

These videos are in honor and memory of my dear friends Renata Henson and Danny Allen.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Truth is......Summer-time Version

Ahhh....It's the most wonderful time of the year-summer. A time to rest, relax, unwind, and enjoy a slower pace. Time for one to master the art of "piddling" and waste away many hours doing things that ordinarily, there would be no time for. I have spent many leisure mornings with my two friends-my computer and my cup of caffeine while my daughters sleep peacefully until 9:30. (Can I hear an amen?!) Recently, as I was stalking my daughter's Facebook wall on the look out for inappropriate material, I couldn't help but notice all the "truth is" posts from Hannah and many of her other friends. I read them all and chuckled at the comments (trying unsuccessfully to ignore the many grammar and spelling mistakes) and wondered what the 12 year old Becky would have said. To shake that scary thought away, I decided upon a summer-time version of "truth is" from a 42 year old wife/mother/teacher's perspective.

Truth is- Ice-cream is one of the best parts of summer. Home-made, store-bought, Bruster's, Blue Bell, Blue Bunny, Tastee Foods- I do not discriminate.

Truth is-Every time I consume this summer-time (but really anytime) treat, or my children open the freezer drawer and ask "We got any ice-cream?" I can hear the voice of Forrest Gump saying, "Lieutenant Dan...ice-cream!"

Truth is- I have spent way too much time this summer on Pinterest pinning fitness activities, holiday crafts, DIY projects and recipes.

Truth is- I need to repin most of these things under the board "Never Gonna Happen!"

Truth is- Cherry tomatoes are really good for you, and I have several plants producing well in my garden.

Truth is- Eating them by the bucket-not a good idea.

Truth is-The lyrics in the song that say "Girl you make my speakers go boom-boom" is really stupid.

Truth is- I can't stop singing it! No matter how hard I try!

Truth is- My daughters are awesome, beautiful, smart, and the best things in my life. I am thankful to have summers, breaks, and snow days to spend quality time with them.

Truth is- They are L-O-U-D!

Truth is- So is their mama. Yes, I own it.

Truth is- I was really excited about the new Dallas TV series and hearing the opening music made me a little nostalgic for my childhood days.

Truth is- JR is super-creepy and Sue Ellen's botoxed face looks 25 but her hands and neck belong to a 90 year old. (Bobby on the other hand.....well he was always the best looking Ewing brother.)

Truth is- I really wanted to read some literary classics that I somehow was never required to read in high school. Each summer I read at least one book just because I feel like I have missed out and because I am a teacher, well, I just should.

Truth is- Mr. Christian Gray and his three books had other plans and took up A LOT of my summer reading time.

Truth is-some of you are judging me right now. I know you are, but you better not roll your eyes ;)

Truth is-I am too old for a pony-tail.

Truth is-My hair looks dumb when it's short and I'm too lazy to take the time and tremendous effort to style it in the summer heat and humidity.

Truth is-Every summer I love watching QVC's Christmas in July week long sale!

Truth is- It also signals the almost closure of summer break. Bah-humbug.

Truth is-It must be a requirement for all Disney Channel actors to be really loud and really obnoxious.

Truth is-I guess it is better for my children to watch the family-friendly programs on Disney than some of the programs I watched as a child. (Hello? The Duke boys were cute, but actually they were boot-leggers with really tight jeans.)

Truth is-If I were to be abducted by aliens, the toilet paper roll would always be empty in my bathrooms.

Truth is-I shouldn't make such a dramatic scene when I refill it in both bathrooms, everyday, every week, all of the time. Seriously, am I the only person qualified for this task?

Truth is-I L-O-V-E Good Morning America and can't wait to watch that show each morning.

Truth is-Robin Roberts and I could be BFF's, I have a slight crush on George. However: Sam-you need to dial your enthusiasm for the weather back a notch or 20.

Truth is- I don't have very many items checked off my summer break "to-do" list, so sometimes I write things on there that I have already accomplished, just so I can mark them off. 

Truth is-It can wait until fall break.Maybe I should start a new list???

Truth is- Every time the Ballard family goes on a road trip, I hear the "Holiday Road" song from "National Lampoon's Vacation" in my head.

Truth is-Usually before we are 15 miles into the trip I have ordered both girls to put in their I pods to keep them from previously mentioned loudness and never-ending arguments.

Truth is- Sometimes I am really afraid my children will be "warped" from my parenting techniques.

Truth is- Now, as adults, my sister and I laugh about our childhood dramatics and beatings we received. Maybe Hannah and Micah will as well. 
Truth is- All my status updates are about my daughter's softball team, UK basketball (yes even in the summer), pool parties, and coffee.

Truth is- Those are pretty darn important things! 

Truth is-you're probably tired of reading this by now, and you're probably thinking my mind has turned to mush over the summer. Truth is you might be right. However, everyone needs a little down-time, maybe a guilty pleasure or 2 to enjoy the simple things in life.

The real truth is....I really enjoy writing this blog, and although I usually have nothing profound to say, I hope the readers find something in each post that helps them in some way. (Did not plan that rhyme at all!)

Here is a recipe from Pinterest that I have actually made-twice!

Peanut Butter Cup Dessert
20 0reos, crushed. (Save a small portion to sprinkle on top of dessert.)
2T butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, divided
16 oz cool whip, divided
15 miniature peanut butter cups, chopped
1 cup cold milk
1 (3.9 oz) instant chocolate pudding mix

1. Crush the Oreos. Toss with butter. Press into ungreased 9 inch square dish. Set aside. 
2. In large bowl, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and 1 cup confectioner's sugar until smooth.
3. Fold in half of whipped topping and spread over crust. Sprinkle with chopped peanut butter cups.
4. In another large bowl, beat the milk, pudding mix, and remaining confectioner's sugar on low speed for 2 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes. Fold in remaining whipped topping.
5. Spread over previous layer and top with remaining crushed cookies. (I also used extra chopped peanut butter cups because Reece's Cups are heavenly.) Cover and chill at least 3 hours before serving.

This is an actual "craft" I completed from Pinterest. The pin said to buy peel off sticker numbers. Place onto a rock, and spray paint. When paint is dry, peel numbers away. Simple huh? The example used their house number and looked really cool.Keeping in mind that I have always been artistically-challenged, it took me forever. I had gold spray paint everywhere. I bought stickers where the numbers had to be cut out and the numbers were gold-the same color of my paint. Truth is-I have an incredible knack for finding the hard way to do everything. Truth is-the struggle makes the end result more rewarding.

Happy summer,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


                   My sister Beth, my daddy Edward Lee Bryant, and myself. One of the many memories I treasure.

Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they're also what tear you apart.”
-- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

It's been a few months since I have written a post. In my head, the excuse has been: I am too busy-school, work, ball games and practices, and the day-to-day grind that consumes every hour of every day. But the truth is, my heart has not been ready for the post that I wanted and needed to compose, but was not emotionally ready to begin. As the quote above implies, I knew this piece about my father would be a tribute to him, but would also reopen a wound that I foolishly pretend has healed. I allow myself only short segments of time to miss my daddy, to tell quick stories about him to my girls, place flowers on his grave and then depart, and not  wallow in the sadness that his absence brings to our family. I don't know what stage of grief this is and sometimes I feel guilty that I limit the amount of time I spend thinking of him to keep the loneliness and floodgates of tears closed. So taking the time to plan exactly what I want to share about him, look for pictures, and choose songs to honor the best father a girl could ever ask for is like therapy. In the end I know I will feel better, hopefully the people who read this will be touched,  my father will be remembered, but the process will be painful. Like most little girls, I adored my daddy, thought he was perfect, and admired so many things about him. I could fill pages about the good and special memories I have of him, but I have narrowed it down to the ones that stand out the most.

1. His love for Family: Growing up, daddy showed my sister Beth and me that family was the most important thing in many ways. He did this by taking time to check in with his parents each day, even though it usually led to an argument with his dad, he either visited or called to make sure they were ok. Daddy worked hard to provide for our family and would never take credit when I tried to thank him. He would always smile and quote Conway Twitty and say "That's My Job You See". No matter how small the deed-changing the oil in my car, or enormous-paying my way through college, the response was always the same. He never crowed about these things or ever showed resentment or frustration because of the sacrifices he made for us. He was genuinely proud to be able to help us and never minded putting himself at the bottom of the totem pole. This love was multiplied towards his grandchildren. I do believe my daddy would have gladly gone without food, water, and shelter for his grandchildren. Nothing was more important to him. On Hannah's 2nd birthday, her party was poorly planned to occur in the middle of the UK/IU basketball game. He jokingly said to her, "Little girl, I'd only miss that game for you." But the reality was, he'd miss out on any event to be there when his grand kids blew out their birthday candles.

                                                                         Daddy with Brandon and Kelsey

                                                                       Daddy with Hannah and Micah

2. His Love for Fun: Anyone that knew Edward Lee Bryant will tell you that when his laughter could fill a room. Daddy was quick-witted (Papa John would use the word "smart-Alec" or something worse), loved to tell jokes, and the only thing better than his laugh was the twinkle in his blue eyes as he told his stories. I can't tell you the number of times while living at home I would be in another room and start to chuckle because he was cackling at something. Curiosity would get the best of me and I would have to go see what was so funny. He loved to laugh and make others laugh. A year before his death, we had planned a family vacation to Gulf Shores. When people asked him where we were going he would answer, "L.A." Not missing a beat, with a sly grin, he would add "Lower Alabama." Daddy also loved to play jokes. One of his favorite things to do on Saturday mornings was wake up my sister and me. Knowing that we loved to sleep late, he would wait as long as he could and then storm into our room jumping on the bed and shrieking "Wake-up! Wake-up!" We pretended to hate it, but were so glad he was home from a week of being on the road that we really looked forward to it. Another weekend ritual was to crank up the volume during episodes of Hee-Haw. At the time, Beth and I HATED country music, so he would wait until the "twangiest" song came on and turn the volume up as loud as it would go. Daddy was quick with comments and had a way of saying things that was so unique and spot on. For example, later in life my sister and I decided country music wasn't so bad after all and had fallen in love with Vince Gill. As Vince performed on the CMA Awards, daddy stated, "He sings like someone is standing on his toes." I still love Vince, but I laugh and hear daddy's slur about him every time I hear one of his songs, especially when he hits the high notes. What I would give to hear his laugh, listen to one of his long-winded trucking stories, or laugh with him over a witty remark again.
                                                          Daddy and Micah in Gulf Shores, Alabama, or LA, Lower Alabama.
3.His Llove of the Land: Daddy loved gardening, would pick, break, and shell beans as he watched NBA games on tv. I loved the time spent with him as we broke beans and talked during the commercials and shared stories from our week. I can see him running the tiller through the huge garden and aggravate mama about her crooked rows, with that sneaky grin that let us know he was really joking. When the first ripe tomato was ready, daddy would take the salt shaker to the garden and eat it right there. Now that he is gone when the first ripe tomato is ready, I always think and sometimes say aloud, "This one's for you Pa." Another special time we spent together in the outdoors was going to cut wood with daddy. I am sure we hindered him, much more than we helped him, but he always seemed grateful to have us tag along. I can remember the sound and smell of the chainsaw and how he'd say, "Let's go see what's for lunch." when he realized our patience was gone and we were bored/cold/tired/had to potty/thirsty/etc. Nanny always had warm soup waiting for us, and we'd eat lunch together. The soup and the comfort of being home with him and thinking of how the wood we had helped pack in for cold winter nights was magical. Daddy also loved the fireplace and I can still see him wearing his old faded Levi's and flannel shirt, back up to the fire to get warm. Daddy always loved flowers, but irises were his favorite. A few years before his death, he started an iris bed, and it grew and grew. He tended to them, weeded, and transplanted them with such care. He, along with mama, took great pride in keeping the yard, flowerbeds and gardens up to par. When I pull a weed or plant a seed the memory of my daddy is always there.
                                  Daddy, known as Pa to the grand kids, and Hannah working on flowerbeds.
4. His Love for Learning: Daddy was one of the smartest people I have ever known. Even though his father, would call the house and jokingly ask Beth or myself if the "dummy" was there, even Papa John knew that his son was a bright and intelligent man. (Despite his claim that daddy's "head wasn't on right" with the same gleam and twinkle of mischief in his eyes.) Daddy loved history and would remember dates, battles, and stayed up-to-date on current events. Much to mama's dismay, he spent hours watching Fox and Friends, History Channel, and countless other news programs. I remember always being so intimidated when he helped me with math homework because he could calculate numbers in his head so quickly and as a child would marvel at how much "stuff" he knew. He always pushed Beth and myself to get an education and find something to do in life that we would enjoy. Despite having an associate's degree, he retired early from the banking/desk job that was not for him, and started his own trucking company. Although it was not a glamorous career, it was what he loved to do and driving a truck made him happy. I wish I had told him how much I admire that decision to go for his dreams and not be afraid to fail or disappoint others. That took more guts and bravery than I will ever have. When I wanted to get a part time job in college he said to me, "Baby girl, you've got the rest of your life to work. Just focus on your studies." Shown below is one of several notes he left for me over the years. I am so glad I kept one.
5. His Love for Animals: My earliest memories of childhood contain lots of dogs and cats, and how much my daddy loved them. Our dog Boots, and my many, many cats named "Reddy", and how he interacted and cared for them is still with me today. Daddy would bring home strays for us to care for, and then aggravate mama by telling her she had a cat farm. When our beloved dog Boots died, we were heartbroken. Shortly afterwards, daddy had delivered a load of chickens to a farm in Michigan which had German Shepard puppies. Guess what he brought home for us? Yep, our new family pet. I can recall times when he would be working on cars and our twin cats Buffy and Jody would sit on his shoulders as he piddled away, stopping now and again to pet them. After we were neighbors, he even loved our sometimes worrisome Kramer who loved to bark at the mower's tires as daddy tried to mow the grass, and chased his cats up trees and into the lofts of the chicken house. He was always tender, kind, and loving-even to animals, and I can remember his eyes tearing up as Beth and I cried over the pets that we lost throughout the years.
                                                           Daddy sharing the couch and a snooze with Chase.
6. His Love for Sports: My love of sports is another gift from my father. Although I was never a "stand-out" player in basketball or softball, I loved playing them and have many fond memories of shooting hoops and tossing a softball around with him. I remember him giving me advice such as "You can't score if you don't shoot!" to encourage me to be more aggressive. Just this weekend as my daughter played in a softball tournament, I found myself echoing his words when I told Hannah "You can't get a hit if you don't swing." I don't want her to be like her mama and be afraid she'll miss. Daddy was a great baseball player as well. In high school and in mixed leagues he was an excellent 3rd baseman. This weekend Hannah was given the chance to play 3rd and I couldn't help but smile, and yet be sad that he wasn't there to see her. He would be bursting with pride and I am sure have some good pointers and words of wisdom for her. Many good times at the Bryant house were had watching sports, especially UK basketball. Another event that is not the same without him, but we carry on in his memory.
                                            Crowning Nanny as Football Homecoming Queen.

7. His Love for Food: Unfortunately, I did not inherit my daddy's metabolism. That man loved his soul food and could put it away by the truck loads and never gain weight. He loved all types of food from cornbread and milk, pintos, and big country breakfasts, to homemade pizza, pimento cheese, peanuts, and celery with mayonnaise. All of these are my favorites as well. No matter what kind of meal had been prepared, even a sandwich, daddy would always take his plate to the counter and say, "Thank you Nanny, that was good." Every time, without fail. Last year during the holidays, I rushed into IGA to grab a few ingredients for a Christmas dinner and stopped cold in my tracks at the Archer cookie display. I saw the Christmas cookies daddy loved so much and embarrassed myself by breaking down and bawling in the middle of the crowded store. Just the sight of those cookies was a painful reminder of another Christmas without my father. And every time I make cornbread, I crumble a piece into a glass of milk and think of him.

8. His Love for People: Always known for his manners and how he treated people with respect, daddy impressed upon my sister and me that how you treat people matters- all people from all classes, races, and walks of life. I can hear him saying, "You're just as good as anybody. But you're not better than anyone." I can recall stories when he was a young adult and traveling with his friend "Sweetnin" who is an African American, but like a brother to daddy. They stopped for lunch and sat down out the counter where he was told he could be served there but his friend could not. Being a kind gentleman, "Sweetnin" said it was fine and stood to walk to the back of the restaurant, but daddy stopped him and said "Cmon, let's go somewhere better." As he told this story, the emphasis was not to bring himself glory, but to teach us a lesson on compassion and respect and I have never forgotten that. I remember feeling proud of my daddy for taking a stand against an injustice and being thankful he was a good friend to "Sweetnin", who insisted on coming to the funeral home when daddy passed away, using his walker to make it to the front. As I looked up at the man I had admired for so many years who, in bad health, came to honor an old friend, I remembered this story. "Sweetnin" is still our neighbor and family friend.
There are many more special things I could share about my daddy, but I feel I have rambled on enough. On this memorial day as we remember and decorate tombstones, it is also mama and daddy's wedding anniversary. They would have been married 46 years today. As I spoke to mama earlier I could hear the pain and lonesomeness in her voice. They shared a special bond that can never be broken and it is so hard for her to go on with life without him. I admire her bravery and how she tries to carry on family traditions with a smile on her face, how she honors my daddy by keeping his memory alive for his grandchildren and his new great-granddaughter Madison.

                                                          Nanny and Pa on their wedding day. May 28th, 1966

 The saddest thing about death and losing a loved one is that life moves on without them. Daddy would love to spoil and play games with Madison as he did with Brandon, Kelsey, Hannah, and Micah. I struggle with feelings of anger and resentment at times that he is not here for my kids and Beth's family, because they are missing out on knowing a wonderful man. I think that's why the need to write about him has weighed so heavily on my heart-I don't want them to forget him and I want Micah, who was only 2 when he died, and Madison who will be one in June, to know what kind of grandfather, father, husband, and friend Edward Lee Bryant was-the best!

                                                                    The name he loved to be called: Pa Clay
                                                                     Pa and Brandon sporting their trucker hats.

                                                           Playing "possum" with Kelsey Jo.

                                 Daddy and his girls-Beth in the back looking like Hannah. Me in front-looking like Micah
                                                                        Family vacation in the Smokies

                                                           My wedding day-looking handsome in a tux. 

“Sharing tales of those we've lost is how we keep from really losing them.”
-- Mitch Albom, For One More Day    

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Avoiding Pity Parties 101

Happiness is.........
I love Saturdays-adore them as a matter of fact. Saturday is the one day a week I can sleep late, which for me is 7:30. Usually I spend it piddlin' around the house cooking, cleaning, reading, relaxing, facebooking, and pinteresting. (Probably not an actual word). Doing things I enjoy. I look forward to this day all week and through the trials, stresses, exhaustion, and exasperation each weekday brings, I know I can make it because of Saturdays.

So, you know it's going to be a rough day when the family cat awakens you at 6:25 AM on Saturday morning using the rug beside your bed as a litter box. Yep. What a way to start the day. (In Thomas the cat's defense, he is used to me letting him out at 5:00 when I get up during the week. Plus, he is getting older and things sometimes don't work as well with age.) As I clean the mess and walk through the house, which is still dark because it is raining and as I mentioned 6:25 AM. I glare at my messy house. Kitchen counter tops and table are stacked with clutter, books, backpacks, and papers from the busy week. Both sides of kitchen sink are filled with supper dishes from last night that I was too tired (and sick) to clean and put away. (Insert mumbling here.) The living room, bedrooms, and bathrooms are in disarray as well, with laundry piled up. (Add muttering of not so nice words here.)  Assessments to grade are spilling out of my school bag. And my throat feels like I have swallowed a handful of tacks. (Insert eyeroll and deep sigh here.) And it's raining. And it's 6:25 AM. On a Saturday. Full-out pity party is about to begin.

Then I can hear my Grandma Bryant's words in my head-"There is always someone that will trade troubles with you." This is not a tragedy. Annoyances-yes. Catastrophy-no. So I put on some coffee, select a starting point and snap out of feeling sorry for myself. The kitchen is a mess because we had food- a warm, filling meal for supper. Many people went to bed last night hungry. The laundry is piled because I am blessed with a family and good clothes to wear and a washing machine/dryer that will clean them for me. Some do not have this luxury. The papers to grade are there because I have a job that I love (most of the time) and students who are learning (most of the time). My family who contributed to the mess are healthy, happy, and resting comfortably in warm, dry beds. I immediately feel so humbled and guilty that I stop what I am doing and thank God for the outpouring of goodness and joy He has so richly blessed me with. Pity party go away! Don't come back another day.

I guess we all fall into this pattern of focusing on the problems in our lives and losing sight of the joy. What are some ways we can avoid this so our lives can be full and happy ones? Simple things. I have written an earlier post similar to this one a few months ago, but evidently I need to be reminded and refreshed on this topic.
Happiness is.....surrounding yourself with people and things that bring you joy, make you laugh, and remind you of happy times. Here are a few things that are pity-repellents for me, and I'd love to hear what yours are.

1. Things that remind you of those you love: My house is filled with snapshots and photographs of my family. I have too many sitting around and I am reminded of this when I dust. But I love seeing them in every room, the smiles, special moments. A picture is worth a thousand words, but the feelings and emotions tied to them are unmeasurable. Pictured below are some of my favorites. They help me feel close to my daddy on days that I miss him so much I ache, and yet remind me to be thankful of the years we had together and the wonderful memories I will always treasure. These snapshots remind me how blessed I am to still have such a great mom and 2 beautiful girls that decorate my life. (I have a pretty terrific husband as well that I will mention later.)

2. Things to do with Family/those you love: This strategy doesn't have to be an expensive one, although I do love a girls' day out. One weekly, FREE event that the girls and I look forward to each Friday is wedding night on TLC. We love lounging in our pjs and watching "Say Yes to the Dress" and "Four Weddings". After a long week of school, busy activities, and bickering with each other, it is a good way to relax and enjoy each others' company. Some nights I look over at Micah who is usually snuggled up with one of her beloved stuffed animals and my pre-teen Hannah and picture myself shopping for their wedding gowns. Sometimes it's all I can do to hold back tears. Usually one of them will make a snide comment about one of the brides and I snap out of it. Another event that makes me happy is the monthly "Faux Bunco" sessions with my friends. We call it "faux" bunco because we don't actually play the game anymore. We decided that the game was getting in the way of what we most enjoyed: sitting around laughing like fools, telling stories that we've heard before but get funnier with time, eating some good soul food, while watching Grey's Anatomy, American Idol, etc, depending on what night it is.

3. Things that make you happy: I know we shouldn't rely on things to make us happy, but we are human after all, and I think it is okay to enjoy some "things" in life, as long as we don't get too wrapped up in them. For example, I look forward to getting Southern Living Magazine in the mail each month. Weather permitting I usually sit in my backyard swing and lazily turn the pages as the girls play outside. During colder months I curl up in my "Archie Bunker" chair with a cup of coffee and select recipes I want to try, although they never look like they do in the magazine.Other "things" that make me happy is reality tv. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a HUGE Real Housewife of any city shown on Bravo. I dvr each episode and laugh and cry with these funny, dysfunctional, absurdly rich women I know I could be good friends with. Phaedra from Atlanta, Caroline from New Jersey, and Lisa from Beverly Hills are my reality BFFs.

4. Things that make you laugh: All of the items previously mentioned involve laughter at some level. In addition to those, I love to read funny posts on facebook, read Far Side comics and surround my self with people who bring a chuckle. The phrase "Live, Laugh, Love" has been very much overused, but it is so true. You're not really living, if you're not laughing. My husband, Michael makes me laugh. Although we bicker and argue at times, he is a hoot to be around. In a crowd he will have the entire group in tears. I know that life with 3 strong-willed argumentative females isn't always fun for him, we do appreciate his dry humor. Here are some hilarious Ballard family photos that aren't framed and sitting on end tables or shelves in my home, but are classics, non the less. I don't know whose expression is the funniest in this photo. It may be a tie.

Hopefully, you have laughed, at least a little bit after reading this post and the pity parties will be few and far between :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Chaos.....Making Memories

"Keep Christmas with you all through the year. When Christmas is over, you can keep it near." - lyrics from the movie Elmo Saves Christmas. The movie that my girls and I have watched over and over every holiday season that no one would watch with me last year. Me....heartbroken. That moment stopped me in my tracks. I knew what their refusal meant, but did not want to face it. Yes Virginia, my daughters are growing up. Way too fast, and hard as I may try to slow the process down, time presses on, and I wonder if I am creating enough happy memories to outweigh the chaos of our busy lives and what seems to be constant bickering in the Ballard house.
As I look back upon my childhood in general, especially the Christmases, it just seemed more magical and special than it appears to be for kids today. Maybe I have romanticized the past and made it better than it was but I still have that nagging feeling that my girls are missing something. I remember the excitement my sister Beth and I felt when the Toy land was opened upstairs at Ruth's Variety Store. All year we would shop for supplies on the first floor and  knowing the toy land was just one floor above me was so intriguing. Perhaps our kids are constantly exposed to toys 24/7 via Toys R Us and Wal Mart and they don't experience the anticipation we had from waiting all year. I can also recall doing most of our shopping in the big city of Burkesville such as the year mom, Beth, and I drove Papa John's old white Ford pickup to J's Discount and sneaked home the cabinet stereo for daddy. In the years that passed mama would play Elvis' Blue Christmas from that stereo as we decorated the tree that daddy had cut down from Papa John's farm and the aroma of cedar filled our little home in Waterview. I can visualize the special decorations mama would place throughout the house-many she still uses. Among my favorites were the big Santa candle that sat on the kitchen table, the white sleigh and reindeer placed upon the desk, and the silver bells she would hang in the hallways. Magic. After the house was fully decorated and lit up, we would pile into the Oldsmobile and drive up and down highway 90 to see what it looked like from the road. I need to do that with my girls, minus the Oldsmobile, of course.
Times were much different then and I realize I sound 100 years old as I type those words. I remember there being time to attend family gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on both sides of our family. Now my daughters have cousins they don't even know and the last family reunion I attended I was ashamed of myself for knowing so few people, their names, and who their parents were. My own sister and I see very little of each other due to hectic work schedules and the activities of our kids. I do wish we could put time in a bottle just to slow it down a little. To go back to simpler ways and a slower pace. That's my grown-up Christmas wish. Yet another reason I am thankful for my job that allows me 15 days of time to bake, cook, visit, and enjoy the holidays as I think they were meant to be. Time to reflect and plan and see what really matters in life.
Here are a few traditions I have started and/or carried on from my childhood to try to recapture the magic for my girls. Nothing radical here. Just my way of trying to hang on to the past and creating special times so my girls can say more than "Boy we sure did argue a lot!" when they reminisce upon their childhood.
Baking Cookies. As most ladies and moms, I cook and bake a lot over the holidays, but not like mama did. Mom made everything from scratch and everything she baked looked so much prettier and tasted better than mine, but I am trying to improve each year until maybe I get it right. A special time the girls look forward to is making Santa's cookies fresh on Christmas Eve each year, always picking out the best ones for his plate of cookies. Which by the way, Santa always makes a mess and Micah concludes he must be in a hurry to deliver presents and we shouldn't be mad.

Leaving Reindeer Food, carrots, and water for the reindeer. Before bedtime on Christmas Eve Hannah and Micah scatter reindeer food in the front yard and place the carrots and water by the front door. The next morning they look to see if the supplies are gone, and usually they find one of the reindeer's sleigh bells where they stop for a snack. That brings almost as much excitement as the presents under the tree. Notice, I said-almost ;)

New Christmas Pajamas/Pictures Around the Tree. Looking back at my mom's Christmas photos, there are more dorky pictures of Beth and myself than I care to admit, but I have decided that tradition must be carried on. Every year, before Christmas Hannah and Micah get a new pair of jammies or gowns to wear on Christmas Eve. Hey, we must look our best for the man in the red suit! And why not make it a Kodak moment as well?

New Ornaments each year.  Each holiday season the girls pick out an ornament they like with their names and the year written on it. Those are the ones they want to hang first each year, and each Christmas Hannah has to explain (brag) to Micah about how she has more. I know eventually I will have to part with these precious items but for now I will enjoy looking at them on my tree. One of my favorites shown below was from last Christmas and came from Avon. The girls wrote their own name and date on it. The ball opens up and they write their Christmas wish (not toys/gifts) and place inside. We also purchase an ornament if we can find one wherever we vacation.

Sometimes trying to build those picture perfect memories can be frustrating and well, stressful, to say the least. We put so much pressure on ourselves that we can easily get lost in the moment and miss some of the magic. I stumbled across this website last month that will help with this issue: http://www.scarymommy.com/. It is a hilarious site where real moms post (anonomysly thank goodness) their frustrations with families, children, jobs etc. If your tinsel starts to get tangled, it's worth checking out to reassure all of us that Norman Rockwell paintings were just that-snapshots. Not real life.
Again, these are simple things, but they make me happy and hopefully do the same for my daughters. What are some of your family Christmas traditions? I'd love to read them and maybe introduce them to my crew. As we prepare for this special time of year, I want to thank you for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts with me. I hope I have brought some laughter into your life and wish each and everyone of you the very Merriest of Christmases.
Much love,