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,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankfulness.....What do We do With It?????

2 of the greatest blessings of my life- from previous fall activities

As Thanksgiving week comes to an end, I am sure we have all either shared, discussed, posted on face book, or at least thought about what we are thankful for. If you're like me, there have been multiple meals, family gatherings, shopping, decorating, and football watching that has taken place over the past few days. To say I am blessed is an overstatement and a word used many times that we take for granted. Do we really know what being blessed means? This thought occurred to me when I read my sister-in-law's post on face book. Her pastor had asked their members to list things they are thankful for that they feel entitled to. That's when it hit me. Do we feel entitled to blessings? For most of us, the answer is yes. Entitled to blessings, we expect them to fall from the sky on angel wings and rainbows. Somehow in the midst of that thought and the splurges on food and shopping and the excesses that the holidays often bring, I have felt humbled and even a little guilty that I take these for granted.

When I rattle off what I am thankful for the obvious things come to mind: my family, their health, my salvation, church, friends, home, job, security, happiness. Many times when I am either praying or just thinking about these blessings, it is almost like a generic laundry list of things I am happy for in my life. I think if I try to develop a deeper, greater appreciation for these things, then I can say I really get what Thanksgiving should be about and to celebrate it everyday, every moment.

Instead of saying I am thankful for my home and health, I will be more specific- I am thankful for a warm bed, a solid roof over my head. That my children go to bed warm, safe, and fed and are clothed in clean cozy clothes. That we have ample, clean, good food and when we go to sleep at night we are not afraid and feel safe and secure. I will be thankful that my children are in their bed, not a hospital bed. I will be thankful that I am healthy enough to work and supply my family with everything we need and most of what we want. I am thankful for my church but more specifically that I can go there/or not go there without fear of persecution and that there are people there who love me and pray for me in spite of me. I say I am thankful for my Savior, but I need to focus on the fact that He loved me enough to send His Son to die for me-me-rotten, selfish, spoiled, irritable, me. This  was always hard for me to understand , but when I had my own children, the sacrifice became even more difficult to wrap my head around. I would easily die for my kids, but I cannot begin to imagine giving their lives for another person, but that's what God did for us! How can we not be thankful every minute of everyday? Really, truly, deeply thankful? What blessings do you feel entitled to? A tank of gas, a reliable car for transportation, days off, down time, rest, soldiers that defend our country, medicine when we are sick, money to see a doctor, a friend to make us laugh, everyday comforts? There's nothing wrong with having or desiring these things as long as we don't take them for granted, and as long as we remember those who are not as blessed and help them in some way.

Now, the challenge is to do something with our thankfulness. Donate to a food drive, give to a charity, volunteer at a nursing home, school, or hospital, lend a helping hand to an elderly neighbor, purchase something for an angel tree. There are so many avenues to put walk in our talk of how we can help others and be a blessing to them. Give time, money, and prayers to those who are without the basic needs in life that we assume will always be there for us. If anyone has more specific ways of giving or organizations that we can give to, please add to the comment page. One that is near to my heart is St. Jude Children's Hospital. November is their "Thanks for Giving" campaign where they remind us all to be thankful for the healthy children in our lives and to give to those who aren't. It costs approximately one million dollars per day for this facility to operate to care for children with terminal illnesses and research for cures. Patients' families are never billed and the hospital runs on donations. If you visit http://www.stjude.org/ or call 1-800-276-8340 there are Christmas cards and ornaments you may purchase and directions on how to give an online donation.
It is a good life, so let's find a way to share that with others. Happy Thanksgiving-every day.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

She's a Lady

"Grandmothers are just antique little girls."-author unknown. Pictured above is Grandma with her great-great grandaughter Madison Fletcher.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Steel Magnolias. It's one of those films I can watch over and over again and laugh and cry just as hard as I did the first time I saw it. One of the reasons I love it is because the women are strong ladies and are connected across 3 generations, and so many of the characters remind me of women from my family.

Recently we celebrated the 93rd birthday of the "steel magnolia" of the Bryant family, my grandmother Margaret Bryant. As I look back upon the life of this incredible lady, I am amazed at the events she has encountered in her lifetime-the triumphs, tragedies, the changes she has witnessed. This blog post is dedicated to her and the wonderful influence she has had and continues to have on the lives of her family and all who know her.

When I think of people in their 90s, words like elderly, feeble and bedridden come to mind. For those reading this who know Margaret Bryant, none of those labels apply to her. I would use words such as graceful, classy, spry, strong, dignified, and grateful. This is a lady who has a weekly hair appointment, goes to church each Sunday and then out to eat after the service. She watches Fox News, listens to WKYR, and reads the Courier-Journal each day, which allows her to be more up-to-date on current events than most people half her age. Grandma quilts and reads and keeps her mind busy so she can stay sharp. At her worktable in the den you will see pictures of her 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter, along with her quilting supplies, peppermints, and lotion. She insists on cooking food to bring for each family gathering and everyone-grown-ups and kids alike-look forward to eating her green beans that no one else can make that tastes as good as hers. In a nutshell, Grandma is who I want to be when I grow up.

Margaret Shelley was born in Beaumont, KY in 1918. As the oldest girl of 5 children, she learned to cook at an early age. While still a young girl, her mother Pauline became very ill and could not see to her children. I remember grandma telling me of a time when she was trying to slice a ham to prepare for the family and couldn't do it. She carried the ham to her mother's bed and asked her to slice it. Her mother cried as she did so and handed the platter back to her young daughter. Grandma reflects upon this story and said at the time she remembers thinking her mom was crying because she was tired and felt bad. Later, she realized the tears were falling because her mother knew she was dieing and leaving 5 children behind. Grandma's own eyes misted over and said, "Can you imagine the burden she took to her grave?" With tears in my own eyes now, I surely cannot. Having to care and help provide for her siblings at such a young age molded her into the woman we all love and adore. She is strong, honest, hard-working, intelligent, and classy, again-everything I hope to be.

In her life time she has seen 17 US Presidents, lived through World War II, the Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, a man walk on the moon, the Berlin Wall come down, and the 9/11 terror attacks. Inventions such as computers, cell phones, and modern age automobiles. Which brings to mind another one of my favorite stories about how her father used to carry the mail by horse from Glasgow to Burkesville before there was a highway 90. He would travel by creek bed. It is mind-boggling when I think of all she has experienced in 93 years.

Also mind-boggling is her cooking. A few Christmases ago my aunt Sharon put together a cook book of Grandma's recipes. With each page I can see, smell, and taste the food as only she can prepare it. From her classic potato salad, pot roast, homemade angel food cake, to the lemon cake that my daddy loved so much, memories and happy images of family gathered together flood my mind. I can see Papa John settling in his recliner with his belt loosened after one of her feasts, and I can visualize younger versions of her grandchildren Chris, Beth, myself, Spencer, Allison, and Alan sitting around the bar drinking Coca-Cola from the small glass bottles she kept stocked for us, as our mothers reminded us for the millionth time to stop spinning the stools. I remember my daddy and Papa John huddled around the TV watching the game, while Jan, Sharon, Mom ,and Grandma would get the food ready. Good times, great memories that are priceless to me that revolve around her being the heart of the home.

It has been said that behind every strong man is an even stronger woman, and that is very true concerning my grandparents. Papa John and grandma were married for 75 years, which in her own words, is longer than most people live, much less live together. Papa John had the "tough guy" exterior, but we all knew who kept the household together. Growing up I was afraid of the spanking Papa John threatened to give us with the tobacco stick (of course he never did) but I was more afraid of disappointing grandma. Today with each visit to her house, my girls love to sit at the piano and try to bang out a tune. Each time grandma will say that the piano is one of the items she insisted on purchasing that Papa John didn't agree with, but she held her ground and won that battle. I love the sparkle of mischeif she has in her eyes as she remembers that time.

Grandma is the matriarch of our family and we are all so blessed to have her as a role model and example of how to stay strong through adversity. At 93 she has outlived all of her siblings, her husband, most of her friends, and one of her children. She deals with pain each day both physical and emotional, but refuses to feel sorry for herself. She has often said, "There are people out there who have it  a lot worse than me." On days when I feel stressed, am having a pity-party, I think of her and I am instantly humbled and ashamed for feeling sorry for myself. That's one of the many lessons she has taught me. Business woman, mother, grandmother, wife, friend, Christian, quilter, cook, reader, and storyteller. All words that I associate with Margaret Bryant. Never wanting the spotlight on herself, she would never take credit for the great things she has accomplished. Reminding me again of a magnolia, quiet, dignified grace. Not flashy or showy, but beautiful and elegant. That's my grandma. Much love to you and thank you for the gifts you have given and continue to give to your family.

Here are some photos of this wonderful lady:

Here is one of her recipes that yet again, I can never duplicate to where it is as good as hers.

Cherry Delight
9 inch graham crumb crust
1 8 oz. package of cream-cheese, softened
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup of lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can of prepared cherry pie filling

Let cream cheese stand at room temperature until cheese is softened. Beat until fluffy. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk while stirring until thoroughly mixed. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Chill 2-3 hours in refrigerator before garnishing top of pie with cherry pie filling.

Much love,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You......

September 11, 2001. So hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that horrific day. The images, sadness, and heroic efforts of the American people are forever etched in our minds. As I watch the news coverage of the 10 year anniversary, my mind drifts back to that bright and beautiful day that ended in unspeakable tragedy, and my heart goes out to the fallen and their loved ones as life has to go on for those left behind. So much has changed in ten years, yet so much remains the same. 10 years ago young children watched the tragic events unfold. Some of those same children, now adults, are now fighting the war on terror. Bin Laden is dead, but the Taliban remain. The US elected the first African American President, but his administration is fighting the same battle against evil. Our economy has been weakened, but the spirit of America is strong. Where were you?
I can remember my mom and dad discussing where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. How their world felt unsafe and America's future was uncertain. I had never experienced those kinds of feelings until 9/11. On that day, as most people will agree, the morning was beautiful and the sky was an extraordinary bright blue. I had dropped off my daughter Hannah, who was 21 months old, at my parents' house and made my way to CCES. I was teaching my 4th grade science class when Ms. Sherry Riddle came into my classroom. Mr. Rexroat, our principal, had sent her to tell all the teachers that there had been what appeared to be a terrorist attack on New York City and Washington DC. At that time details were unclear and events were still unfolding. Knowing that this was undoubtedly an historic event, we turned on our tvs to get an update. Shortly afterwards, the first tower fell and I with a sick stomach I turned the television off. As I looked upon the sweet innocent faces of my students, one of them said, "I can say I will always remember being in science class when World War Three started." Cold chills ran up and down my spine as I tried to hold it together and I answered their questions that I can still remember: "Mrs. Becky, were there people in those buildings? Do you think any kids were in there? Why would they crash airplanes into buildings? They did it on purpose?" How hard it was, and still is, to explain these questions that I do not understand to this day. As soon as I had a free minute I called my parents. Daddy answered the phone. I cried when I heard his voice. I said "Have you heard about the terror attacks?" "No," he replied, "we're outside". "Get Hannah in the house now and turn on the tv." I said through tears. I stayed on the line until he had time somewhat take in the horrific events. The second tower had just collapsed. "All those people..." he said in a shaking voice. "Keep Hannah safe." was all I managed to say between tears. I heard the fear in my daddy's voice as he tried to reassure me. I wanted to go home and be with my baby but I knew the parents of my students were trusting that I would keep their babies safe. When the school day finally ended I went home and hugged Hannah so hard she tried to wiggle free. I hugged her for every parent that had died that day that would never hug their children again, and for those children who had embraced their mommies for the last time. Like everyone in the nation, there was unmeasured sadness in my heart like I had never felt before. Growing up in a small town, I had always felt safe and secure, but now, with planes crashing into buildings, especially our Pentagon, I was scared to death. I can still remember how odd it was to look at the sky and see no planes or contrails from aircraft. Our little house in Dubre, KY was like a refuge for my little family. That night, I was glued to the tv and prayed like never before for survivors to be found. I cried with Peter Jennings, President Bush, and Rudy Giuliani, as he stated that the losses would be "more than we can bear". I cried for the firemen that had rushed into the second tower on a rescue mission minutes before it fell. I cried when, late that night, the members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang "God Bless America". When we went to bed that night Hannah slept in the bed with us and I awoke many times, thinking for a second that it had all been a dream. But the reality was, America had been attacked on her home soil, and we would come to find that almost 3000 people had died, and for those who were still living, our lives would never be the same.
Hannah is 11 now, and those 4th graders are young adults, having graduated high school a few years ago. The little house were we sought refuge in 2001 has been sold and we are living in another home, next to my parents' house. We have been blessed with another daughter, Micah Hope, and I teach 5th grade at the same school. Michael has a different job and my daddy and Peter Jennings lost their battles with cancer. There are memorials at the Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Despite all these changes in the past ten years the raw emotions of that day remain. The mother whose son was a passenger on flight 175 said that each time she watches the video of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center, it's like witnessing her son's death over and over. I shuddered as she spoke that truth. Another family member stated that it is true that someone will catch you when you fall, as she spoke of the support the survivors give each other. As we watched the news coverage of the ten year anniversary, perhaps the most touching tribute that I witnessed this morning was a montage of the babies born after 9/11/11 whose fathers perished on that bright Tuesday morning. The tribute showed photos of the children on the left side of the screen with their father's picture on the right. Every child had their father's eyes. Yes, life goes on, and as it does may we never forget those who gave all on this day. My heartfelt prayers go out to the families and friends whose lives were torn apart, and for the brave soldiers who wage on in the war against terror. God Bless America, land that I love.
Much Love,

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Perfect Pair....

Love is a flower which turns into fruit at marriage. ~Finnish Proverb
This weekend we gathered to celebrate the marriage of Brandon and Whitney Fletcher, and as I watched the lovely ceremony unfold, I couldn't help but think back to the memories of my nephew as a little boy and wonder how he became a man so quickly. We use the cliche and talk about how quickly time flies, but watching Brandon take his vows to his beautiful bride before family and friends, I kept getting choked up thinking it was just a few years ago when he stood as my ring bearer, wore Batman pajamas, and was obsessed with "big trucks" as he called them.

I was a freshman in high school when Brandon was born, and he has always seemed to be more than a nephew to me. Since he has been on this earth, Brandon has brought this family such joy and continues to do so. For years he was the only grandchild on the Bryant side. Papa John nicknamed all the other grandchildren "Castros" but Brandon earned his own special nickname- "Cowboy" since he was their first great-grandchild.  He has taught me many things such as how to change diapers (cloth ones, I might add), give bottles, draw big trucks, Ninja Turtles, and he even helped me illustrate a children's book I wrote in college. We have watched the movies Ghost busters and Drop Dead Fred until we knew them by heart. And speaking of hearts, he once almost caused me to have a heart attack when he was having a night mare about spiders and woke me up screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. He would bring me his model horses and say "Do horseys!" Which meant I was to hum the tune to Bonanza and bounce the horse up and down. I had all these images in my mind and tears as I witnessed the vows he made to his wife as a grown man.

I write this not to embarrass him, (well maybe a little) but to show him how we had ZERO fun in this family until he came along. Brandon loved animals and I once drove all the way from Bowling Green to Waterview with a kitten crawling all through my car because his precious cat Colby had died and I had picked its replacement at a pet store. We wanted to do all we could to make him happy. Nanny, for example, would make his cinnamon toast have smiley faces on them, and the rest of us ate whatever Brandon's menu choices were, even when he requested the same foods every night for weeks until he grew tired of it and then he would move on to another favorite. Our family had forgotten the joy of Christmas until we had Brandon, Suddenly Christmas Eve and morning was magical and other holidays that had lost their sparkle were now so much more appealing. Where there had been darkness, now there was light, and as he grew we enjoyed many little league basketball games, baseball games, school plays, and birthday parties, and watching him grow into a remarkable young man, a police officer, a husband, a father. I thought it was very fitting that the song "I'll Wait for You" was played at the beginning of the wedding ceremony. I'm sure there was a special meaning for Brandon and Whitney, but how it related to me was remembering how Brandon would wait for his Pa to come in each week from driving the big truck that they both loved so much. Brandon was the star in Daddy's sky and they had a relationship that was beyond grandfather/grandson. I think it is safe to say that they were each others' heroes. As Daddy was in the final hours of his life, the Hsopice nurses were really surprised he was still holding on. What they didn't know was that this time Pa was waiting for Brandon to pull into the driveway. After Brandon arrived, and Daddy gripped his hand, it wasn't very long afterwards that he passed on. He was waiting for him, and I know in my heart he was smiling down on Brandon as he said his vows. And we have SOOO loved the blue/white UK colors!

As time, responsibilities, busy schedules, and life prevent me from seeing him as much as I'd like to I want him to know that I  am so proud of the life he and Whitney are building and I pray that God blesses this union and their sweet family one hundred fold. Here are a few words of wisdom for them from the movie Fireproof, as they face the future as husband and wife. It is very practical that they were married on Labor Day weekend, because marriage is work, but there is a payoff and I know they will very much profit from it.
About a Fireproof Marriage
"Fireproof doesn’t mean that a fire will never come… But that when it comes, you’ll be able to withstand it."

About Hard Times

I know Brandon and Whitney will have a great marriage. They compliment one another so well and the love in their eyes was very evident not just on their wedding day, but other days as well, and while we say goodbye to the little boy that we have so many precious memories of, we celebrate the extraordinary young man he has become. We are so proud of you and look forward to making many more memories with his adorable family.

I close with a recipe for Family Pie. The ingredients are:
1 handful of forgiveness
2 heaping cupfuls of love
3 T wisdom
2 T good spirits
Mix together smoothly with complete faith in God. Sprinkle generously with thoughtfulness and consideration.

Much love,
Aunt Beck

Scenes from the Fletcher ceremony:
I love this picture because it is a portrait of love- a long line of love.
What a beautiful family. So precious.
3 of my favorite people: Nanny, Brandon, and my wonderful sister Beth
Girls just wanna have fun!
Kodak moment-Brandon dancing!

"Never leave your partner behind, especially in a fire."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gratitude is an Attitude

I guess that is a pretty cheesy title, but it is what has really been on my heart lately. Seems like everywhere I turn-Face book, my pastor's sermons, songs on the radio-my attention has been placed on gratitude, being grateful, and thankful for each blessing. Think someone is trying to tell me something???

A few weeks ago as I was scanning status updates on Face book, I read this quote: "If you aren't grateful, you aren't paying attention." Wow, I thought, that's great! So I immediately stole it for my status and said a few quick thank yous, then went about my day-smiling, happy, and full of gratitude, but ended it ill, grouchy, irritated, and bemoaning every inconvenience that had the audacity to cross my path. (I know, I'm not proud, but honest.) Sunday rolls around and my pastor announces he will be preaching a series of sermons from Philippians-the book of joy-he declares. Uh-oh. After listening to his wonderful and heart-felt sermon, I had officially slid my way down the pew in shame, for I had walked into the sanctuary that morning in silent rage. I had spent the morning, cajoling, begging, then yelling at everyone to get ready, hurry up, did you brush you teeth, then asking again, did you brush your teeth? Yes, you ARE going to wear that dress. I don't care if you like it or not. On the ride to church, more yelling, threatening, stay on your side, leave your sister alone. Through Sunday school class, I was making a to do list and getting really stressed over the mountain of school work, laundry, and housework that was already overwhelming me. Not my "one shining moment" I know. Yes, for sure, I need a shot of gratitude! ASAP!

I have so much to be grateful for. The Lord has greatly blessed me in so many ways that I cannot begin to list them all. I SO want to be a calm, peaceful, graceful presence in the lives of those who surround me. Several people who have this trait cross my mind and I want to be like them. I have the desire, but then I turn into Category 5 Hurricane Becky and everyone near me seeks shelter. I let the day-to-day stress, headaches, and problems block that desire to be more grateful and lose the ability to shake off my troubles. Usually, it takes a tragedy or some horrific event to make me snap out of it, and realize how lucky I am. So that's my question-can we be grateful without misfortune?

For example, when am I most thankful for rest? When I am so dog-tired that I collapse. When am I grateful for a clean house? After I have totally cleaned and recovered it from being shut down by the health department. All of us are so happy for a good rain after going through a drought. We appreciate our loved ones more and vow to spend more time together when someone we know loses a family member. I guess it is just human nature, and perhaps these are God's ways of reminding us to be thankful in each moment, not just once per year, over turkey and dressing. I love this quote and think of it around Thanksgiving time- "Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel." Maybe I should post this quote throughout my house, classroom, and in my car, and not save it for a Thursday in November.

After really pondering this, I realized that gratitude, pain, loss, and suffering are all intertwined. We are thankful when a loved one passes on after battling a painful illness. There's a promise of heaven, but a sense of loss as we live out our time on earth without them. Losing the 5 pounds after struggling to diet and exercise. Working for hours to weed a garden, but then looking at the beauty of it and realizing the hard work was worth it. The tough love you must give children as you teach them right from wrong, but seeing them grow into responsible, happy adults. The child who strikes out 100 times, but finally hits the ball on the 101st at bat. It's worth the effort it took to get there. In other words, "Praise the bridge that carried you over." ~George Colman.

One of my favorite picture books is called Fortunately. The book follows a pattern of fortunate, then unfortunate events, such as "Fortunately Ned got a letter that said please come to a surprise party. (Next page) Unfortunately the party was in Florida and he was in New York." Life is just like that. Ups and downs. Hits and misses. Clouds and rainbows. Would we really appreciate one without the other? Oprah says,
"The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now. And the more grateful you are, the more you get." Notice she said what you have, not what you don't have. Keeping in mind that the things we have that really matter, are not things, but the people that move in and out of our lives, and the joy that they bring with them. Many years ago, on an episode of Oprah, she asked her viewers to keep a gratitude journal, listing things they are grateful for, and looking for new things each day. I did that for a few weeks, but stopped, for whatever reason. Maybe I need to try again. I am a die-hard list maker, so this is something that comes naturally to me. Taking the time to write down each day's blessings  and reading over the lists might help me to focus on the rainbow, not the storm that came before it.

Hoping you find joy in each day,

As we get ready for the last holiday of the summer, here's a quick and tasty recipe for a family gathering.

White Castle Sliders:
1/2 cup dried onion flakes
2 lbs ground chuck
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
6 slices cheddar cheese
24 small party rolls
24 dill pickle slices

Evenly spread onion flakes on bottom of 9x13 baking dish. Gently press ground beef on top of onion flakes, pressing evenly to make one giant patty. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, pat the excess grease from top of patty. Top with cheese and return to oven for 2 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes, cut into 24 patties, then serve on rolls.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Farewell to Summer....Sigh.....

The coffee cup lied-summer isn't that long anymore!
As I sit at the computer with my coffee on the last free day of summer break, it seems like a short time ago I was writing the post "School's Out for Summer". I say it every year, but this break has passed faster than any other, and I can't believe it's over. According to my "Things to do before school starts" list, it should be mid-June. School supplies, clothes and new tennis shoes have been purchased. The girls and I have had our back-to-school haircuts, and orientations are over. But today, the fact that vacation is over has hit me like a big yellow school bus. In my first year of teaching, (18 years ago) school started on August 22. Now we begin weeks earlier. There are campaigns to save our summers and petitions to sign, but I think we need to count our blessings that we have any break at all and rejoice in what makes this time so special.

I realize that I am very fortunate to have summer break with my kids. Time to have fun, relax, get projects completed, and enjoy some much needed mental downtime. So instead of complaining that it's over, I will reflect on what has been an awesome break, and be thankful I have a job that allows me the luxury of June and July.

I don't know about you, but the things I enjoy about summer are very simple. As you have probably figured out, I lead a simple life, nothing glamorous or extravagant, but blissful all the same. I love it that this is the first summer my daughters have mastered the art of sleeping late. Although this will come back to bite me in a few days, I have enjoyed quiet mornings with my beloved coffee sitting in the screen porch and in the back yard swing. I have been able to watch Good Morning America instead of Disney Channel, and have had time to finesse the art of "piddling" in my house without interruption. Morning solitude has become my new bff.

Having time to read for pleasure is something I revel in during summer vacation. This summer I have discovered a new favorite author, Elin Hilderbrand, discovered several great chapter books to read to my class this year, and reread a few favorites just because I love them and had the time to do so. Having time to read is a luxury that I have a difficult time completing once school starts. After a long day, when I collapse to read at night, I fall asleep after a few paragraphs. But in the summer months, I can read all night. (Remember, my children are sleeping late now.)

The beautiful and talented Faith Hill swears that the secret to younger looking skin is not wearing makeup. She states that unless she is on stage or at an event she does not put on makeup. I'm not a super star but this is a rule I practice during summer time. Although not a pretty site, I love not having to do hair and makeup unless I am going to be seen in public. To prevent scaring small children I do apply some and attempt to do something with the hair when I leave my house. But most of the time, it's ponytail and a fresh face. I love it. But in a few days, I will be back to hairdryers, mascara, and tons of gel to make myself presentable to my students who are painfully honest if you have a bad hair day or your makeup isn't just right.

To avoid sounding lazy, we have had a lot of activity this summer. Lots of fast-pitch softball, pool parties, go cart rides, bike riding, marshmallow roasting, and gardening to name a few. Again, simple activities that we savor because they only occur during summer vacation. I hope Hannah and Micah have made a lot of summer memories that they will treasure when they are older. Here's a few scenes from the Ballard summer of 2011.

Some of my favorite summer memories are simple ones as well. I remember spending the night with Grandma and Papa John. He'd fix my sister and me vanilla ice-cream topped with Hershey's syrup from the can. I can taste it now. We'd also spend one night with Grandma and Papa in Summer Shade where once they took us to Guntown Mountain. (To this day I hate chairlifts.) I remember swimming in Marrowbone Creek behind our house with Beth, Sandy, Tesia, Jeff, and Derek. Riding bikes through Marrowbone and playing in the makeshift clubhouse Beth and I constructed in the chicken house. Each summer we took a day trip in the big truck with daddy and broke and shelled beans at night. Summer vacation lasted forever and we were always glad to go back to school where there was no air-conditioning but friends you had missed.
What are your summer memories? Have a favorite song or recipe that makes you think of summer?
With the end of summer comes a new school year. Although we will trade the laid back days for busy schedules, the girls and I are excited for a new school year to begin, and a little anxious as well. Hannah is going to Middle School, Micah has a brand new first year teacher, and I have new standards to get used to. Life is about change and learning to deal with it, and what I love about the start of school is starting over. Everyone gets a fresh start. I hope everyone has a great experience going back to school. Just for fun I found this video. Maybe Renata, Valerie, and myself can dance through the halls of CCES like these girls do. Hoping your memories of summer are sweet and happy first day of school!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wishing I Was Knee Deep in the Water Somewhere....

"I hope you always have a shell in your pocket...and sand in your shoes."

Ahhhh.....Instant relaxation when I look at this photograph. What is it about the beach and being at the ocean that allures us? What is it that makes land-locked travelers such as myself drive nine hours for a few days of oceanic bliss? Could it be the salt water smell in the air, the ocean breezes, the sounds as the tides ebb and flow? The endless supply of fresh seafood? My husband Michael and I just returned from a couples only (no kiddos) getaway in Panama City Beach, Florida. I can't describe how being on the beach changes my mind, body, and spirit. (I have been jokingly persuading my students for years that I have an evil twin, but maybe she is right!) I sleep better, can feel my body relax, my mind refresh, and stress goes away. In fact, I hardly recognize myself, and I wonder if the locals that are so lucky to live there appreciate it like I do. Although this trip was without our girls who went camping with Grandma Kathy and Pa Tony (Big shout-out to them!), almost all of my best best memories are with them. Here's my Top Ten Beach Memories.
10. Ft. Lauderdale, FL- My first visit to the beach. I was in 4th grade, had an afro hairdo, and a blue bikini. Yes, I was STYLIN'! Daddy, Mama, Beth, and I along with Aunt Jan, Chris, and Spencer rode in a 15 passenger van and stayed at a house owned by one of Papa John's friends. What I remember most was we had to cross a draw bridge to get to the beach, like Jimmy Buffet, I blew out a flip flop, and no one could understand what we said because of our accents. The sights, sounds, and smells amazed the young girl from Waterview, KY, and my love story with blue water and white sands had just began. This journey must have worn out my parents because it would be years before we returned.
9. College Spring Break Road Trip- My next trip to the beach was my Junior year in college. Melissa, Susie, Toshia and I (names have not been changed to protect the victims) loaded up in Susie's Chevy S10 pickup truck and headed to Panama City Beach. 2 girls rode in front, while the other two rode in the back of the truck bed. Hey, we had a camper top over the truck bed. We felt perfectly safe! Since all of us are now professionals and mothers, the details of this trip will not be elaborated, but I must say it was the most fun I have ever had, and I can still hear the guy hollering after Toshia: "Hey Ky, got any fried chicken??" (Note to Hannah and Micah-NO, you may not go to Florida for Spring Break, unless I go with you).
8. Atlantic Beach, NC- Michael and I were married in 1993 and moved to Wilson, North Carolina, which is about a 2 hour drive to the beach. You would think living this close to the ocean that we would visit more, but he was going to school full time and working at Lowe's part time. I was substitute teacher by day, grocery store clerk by night, and taught a GED class on the side. Yes, it was a glamorous life. We were so busy and consumed with our jobs and figuring out how to get through the first year of marriage, we went to the beach only a few times during that year. My favorite memory here was when Mama and Daddy visited. Daddy sunburned the top of his head and Mama laughed till she cried as they waves knocked us around. If I could go back to that time, I would take the time to make the trip to Atlantic Beach much more often because until I retire, hit the lottery, or run away-that's the closest I will probably ever live to an ocean.
7. 5th Wedding Anniversary Panama City Beach- this trip was so memorable because Michael planned it for us. I was struggling  to finish graduate school, and I knew we couldn't really afford it, but 5 years was a milestone we felt must be celebrated. We didn't have kids yet and I remember worrying about our cat Rhett that Mama was keeping. He was sick the entire time we were gone. Our favorite place to eat was a restaurant called The Sunset which had a fresh seafood buffet, owned and operated by a sweet southern gentlemen who made a point to sit and talk with the patrons at each table. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on tourist attractions, so we enjoyed the beach-it was free.
6. Hannah's first trip to the beach Panama City- Hannah was 18 months old on this trip that we took with Jerry, Tammy, and Michelle. We loaded our car with a ton of Hannah's toys which she never touched. The sound of the ocean scared her and the sand irritated her so she sat in the beach chair with Michelle at the edge of the water and threw shells into the ocean. She had cute dog ears and her pacifier, and still wore diapers. Still a baby. I am wiping tears as I type. I cannot believe this same baby will be starting middle school in a few weeks.
5. Tie- Atlantic Beach, NC/Ft. Walton, FL- The next two years we went to two different beaches with two opposite outcomes. Atlantic Beach was a calm, relaxing trip. Michael swears it was his favorite place to stay-a Ramada Inn on the beach which kept a huge spotlight on the water at night. Hannah saw dolphins, wore out the rides at the amusement park, picked up a million shells, used a flashlight to hunt sandcrabs, and collapsed in deep slumber each night. She was just the right age to really enjoy the ocean. The next year was less memorable. We traveled to Ft. Walton, which was under a tropical storm watch. Tropical Storm Bill. We stayed 2 days and participated in all the indoor activities the area had to offer and then headed home. Folks, if tropical storms are this severe, I want no part of a hurricane. The morning we left, lodged underneath our van was the top of a palm tree. Needless to say, we got outa Dodge!
4.Micah's first beach trip-Gulf Shores, AL- I will always treasure this trip because it was Micah's first time at the ocean and it was the summer Daddy's cancer was in remission. Beth's family and mine made the journey and formed sweet memories that would comfort us a year later as the cancer returned with a vengeance and daddy passed away. When Bro. Todd asked daddy where we were all going for vacation, he replied,  "LA." Confused, Bro Todd asked,  "LA?" With that charming smile and eyes twinkling daddy replied, "Yep, Lower Alabama!" As he watched the kids play on the shore and sat on the deck with his coffee, I wonder if he knew how quickly things would change and what was to come? (Whew, wiping tears again.)
3. Sea grove, FL- Michael would probably say this was his favorite trip. Hannah was seven, and Micah three, old enough to play in the sand and water, and allowing us time to relax and enjoy as well. What he liked most, as well as me, was the company we traveled with: our family of four, Mrs, Jackie, Leigh Ann, and Adrienne, Carolyn and Kimberly, Bruce, Renata, and Jordan, Mama Vickie, and Patricia. We all stayed in a beautiful house, listened to Bruce and Jordan's guitar playing at night, ate at glorious restaurants, but none compared to the home-cooked meal and grilled shrimp we feasted on at our last night there. The food, fellowship, and fun made this trip so relaxing and memorable. Here's a few pics:

2. Myrtle Beach, SC- One of my favorites because it was my 39th birthday. I was holding on for dear life! The girls were finally brave enough to try out boogie-boards, and we discovered the restaurant Crabby Mikes. (Gotta love that name) We met up with Tammy and Jerry's family, which had grown to include Elijah and a now married Michelle and Ben. We were also honored to share a meal with Brenda and Cordell. This was the last time we went to the beach as a family, the girls loved the lazy river at the pool, and drove us completely crazy in the car ride there and back. I put in my Ipod and turned it up as loud as it would go. Hey, I don't want you to think my life is too perfect! But as usual, the good outweighs the bad, and we all came to love Myrtle Beach. These are photos from this trip:
1. Anniversary Getaway- July 2011, Panama City-again. As mentioned earlier, this trip was just Mr. B and me. We felt guilty leaving the kids at home but we knew they were having lots of fun with their grandparents. We anticipated seeing our ocean front view after the long drive.......
This is what we could see from our balcony. Needless to say, we got a different room in a different place where the ocean was actually visible. I laughed and said "Only the Ballards would get this room!" While we enjoyed the solitude and couple time, I missed the girls greatly. Every time a young girl hollered "Mama!" I immediately looked up. As I watched families and kids on the beach I was wishing mine were with me. In the long run, I think it did all of the Ballards some good being away from each other. The girls have played better together, and I have had to fuss at them less. But, all good things must come to an end. (By the end of this post, I have yelled and sent them to their rooms.)
I ordered these ocean excursions chronologically because there is no way I could ever say one was better than the other. All were memorable, special and full of great memories that I wouldn't trade for anything. I'd love to hear about your favorite beach locations and your memories. This blog is a way for me to share my thoughts, memories, and heart with my readers and a way of opening the past for my girls to know me, and how life was from my viewpoint, but I'd also like to hear from you. My posts, like my stories are long-winded at times and for that I apologize, but for those who know me, I could never "cut to the chase" and tell something quickly. I like to give a full account of the events that I share. I hope you enjoy them and laugh, cry, and reminisce with me with each post. This blog is about small town life and what makes it rich and wonderful. Even though this post was about ocean destinations, the best part of any trip is returning home to my simple, but sweet life.
"Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone."

Author: Unknown