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

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back Where I Come From....Where I'll be When It's Said and Done

In the town where I was raised
Clocks tick and the cattle graze
Time passed with amazing grace
Back where I come from.

I love being from the South. There's something about the way we Southerners talk, cook, and live that is so appealing to me, and living in a small town in the South in the summertime, well, that's just a double bonus. In all fairness to people living above the Mason-Dixon line, I have only lived in two states, Kentucky and North Carolina, and Washington, DC is the farthest north I have ever traveled. I am sure there are many people living in northern states that would like to debate the opinions in this post, and all I can say is, "Bless their hearts." ;)

One of the things that I adore most about the South is southern accents. I love how the twang and southern expressions make conversations and dialogue mesh into song. My dear cousin Allison, born, raised, and life-long resident of Bowling Green, KY, was recently relocated to Michigan with her beautiful family, which includes her young children Kendal and Carter. Allison shared with us at a recent family gathering that she listens closely for the hint of the northern accent to creep into the sweet southern drawl she wants her children to retain. I certainly hope that Kendal and Carter will always pronounce the word "cat" like it was meant to be as shown on the picture above. If you love Southern expressions as much as I do, visit this site for tshirts like the one above with hilarious sayings such as "Slow as Molasses" and "Ah'm bout to Burn Up".

Southerners are also better at cooking. If you don't believe me, you can take it up with Mrs. Paula Deen, ya'll. Dr. Oz may not agree that it is the healthiest way to prepare food, but I'll bet he has never tasted Paula's bread pudding she makes from Krispy Kreme doughnuts! Southern cooking is so glorious that my celebrity friend Justin Timberlake opened a restaurant ...wait for it....on the Upper East Side of NYC called Southern Hospitality, which serves Memphis Style BBQ. There are lots of cooking blogs that contain a gold mine of southern recipes. One of my favorites is written by Christy Jordan, whose humor tickles me to death. As she shares her recipes, you will belly laugh at her clever, sometimes sarcastic expressions. (A woman after my own heart.) Here's her latest cookbook and I encourage ya'll to check her out!
I think I can go on record and say that Southern sports are also far superior. (If I haven't offended anyone yet, I have a feeling I am about to!) All I can say is....SEC Football. Nuff said! There is a passion that comes with Southern sports that no other geographical areas have. Whether it's UK basketball, Crimson Tide football, or Gamecock baseball, the pride and allegiance to our round ball and pigskin is legendary and cannot be beaten. Only in the south are weddings, funerals, and other social events scheduled so game day is uninterrupted. I will never forget in 1998 when UK was playing Duke in the Regional Final of the NCAA to see which team would go to the Final Four. We were gathered at my mom and daddy's house watching. My beloved Wildcats were underdogs in Tubby Smith's first year as coach and were not expected to win. The next weekend I was scheduled to attend the Emmaus Walk on Thurs-Sunday. When UK pulled the upset, the first thing Daddy said (after he threw his pile of peanut shells across the room) was "You can't go!!! You gotta be here to watch our Cats in the Final Four!!!" You see we all had certain spots we sat in for every game and if you changed seats, my daddy swore it brought them bad luck. No one would answer the phone or the door, and Daddy would mute the sound during each commercial to gather his thoughts. (A tradition I still continue)  But I did attend the Emmaus Walk, had faith the Cats would win the first game and I got to see them win the final game and bring the championship back to the Bluegrass State! Yes my friends, unbridled passion!
Then there are authors from the South-William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and while not as literary still on my best author's list-John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks. Musicians? Ahem, Elvis and Dolly!!! No competition there. Movies? Steel Magnolias, Forrest Gump, Fried Green Tomatoes (shout-out to author Ms. Fannie Flagg, whom I adore). I could go on and on about superior southern living, but I think my point has been proven. I am glad to be a Kentucky girl and I am proud of my southern roots, and while I can visit and appreciate life in other places, this is where I call home and life makes sense to me. I'd like to hear your favorite things about living in the South. Let me hear your thoughts, favorite expressions, or recipes.
In honor of an awesome book, movie, and fried food, here's a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes, from her royal highness Mrs. Paula Deen:
Sassy Fried Green Tomatoes
1 cup self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black ground pepper
1/2 tsp Creole seasoning
1 cup whole buttermilk
4 large firm green tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch slices
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying

In a shallow dish, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and seasoning. In separate bowl, place buttermilk, and dip tomato slices. Dredge in cornmeal mixture, shaking off excess. In large skillet, pour oil to depth of 1/2 inch and heat to 375 degrees. Fry in batches, 4-5 min per side or until golden brown. Drain on wire rack over paper towels. YUMMMMY!!!!!
Until next time,

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Life is "Berry" Good!

Growing up in the same small town where I now live as an adult can send waves of nostalgia washing over me. For those who may not know this, I live in a house just across the yard, beside of my mom and my childhood home. My girls walk to the same creek where my sister Beth, neighborhood friends, and myself went swimming in the summer. (I would NEVER let my girls do that now!!!) Hannah and Micah play ball, ride bikes, and explore the same fields and areas that I did as a young girl, but at times I feel like their childhood is not as fun and wholesome as my younger years. In an effort to correct this, I sometimes try to recreate the magic from my formative years by taking outings and doing activities my sister and I did as little girls. (As I type this I can hear the narrator's voice as John Boy on the Waltons.)

A few weeks ago, Michael and I decided we'd love some fresh strawberries, and (one of the pros of living in a small town) there was a strawberry patch just up the road on Feercy Creek. So we loaded up the truck, girls and myself in the truck bed, and traveled up Hwy 90 to John Simpson's farm. As we made our journey, a flood of memories came to my mind. I recalled my sister and me bouncing around in the truck bed of Papa John's old white Ford pickup across the fields where Daddy was cutting wood, riding in my other Grandfather's (Roy Lee) golden Chevy to the cemetery, and as older girls, we rode in the back of Malcolm Willis' white truck as Tesia (the only one with a license) drove us to the city pool in Burkesville. (I still say Marrowbone Creek was more fun.) Such innocent, pure delight that I was so pleased my daughters were getting to experience. It seemed just like one of those golden memories from my childhood, until my smiling Micah, with wind blowing her hair, started singing (yelling) "I whip my hair back-and forth!" As Hannah and I laughed close to crying, I said a silent prayer that my girls will treasure this memory one day of a simple ride in the truck bed as much as the big trips to large cities they have taken. When they are adults and have kids of their own, I hope they will load them up in the back of a truck and let the wind blow a sweet memory their way.

Here's a great recipe for fresh berries. Hope you enjoy and may God send you blessings and simple gifts.
Strawberry Cream Shortcake

1 large Sara Lee Pound cake (frozen food section)
small box instant vanilla pudding
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup sweet condensed milk
12 oz coll whip
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups fresh strawberries

Slice cake very thin and lay half the slices in 13 x 9 dish. In a bowl, combine pudding mix, water, sc milk, and vanilla. Mix. Fold in cool whip. Pour 1/2 over cake and layer 1/2 of berries. Repeat to make another layer. Top with berries. Refrigerate until chilled

The Vows Go Unbroken, and You Still Know I do.

Love, Keep, and Honor. Always true to you. No one says it better than Kenny Rogers. This was one of the songs from our wedding way back on July 3, 1993. As we get ready to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, I've been thinking about that day and the vows and promises we made to each other. If you count the four years we dated before marriage, Michael and I have been together for more than half of your lives, and if the good times and bad times are averaged, I think we have a passing grade. Sure there are ups and downs, arguments from two strong-willed (that sounds better than stubborn) people, financial issues, spats over child-rearing, in-laws, jealousies, and other areas that most married people encounter. But I can't imagine facing these issues, raising my children, or growing old with anyone else. So my question do we make it last? How do marriages make it through the hard times, and come out happy on the other side? I have no idea. Any suggestions are welcomed. Here are some things I have discovered about strong marriages.
As I was looking trough my wedding album I came across a poem that was read at my wedding. It was actually from a card my great-grandfather Hershel Wells gave to my great-grandmother Agnes for a Christmas gift during the depression. It was all he could afford, but I think the words and the actions he put forth behind them is priceless and what led to their long and happy marriage.
It isn't that we talk so much
Sometimes the evening through
You do not say a word to me
I do not talk to you.
I sit beside the reading lamp
You like your easy chair
And it is joy enough for me
To know that you are there.
It isn't that we go so much
Sometimes we like to roam
To concert or to theater
But best of all is home
Our lives are fitted each to each
In all our likes we share
And it is joy enough for me
To know that you are there
It isn't that you tell to me
The things I've come to know
For some things are too deep for words
But love is surely so
You only have to touch my hand
To learn how much I care
And it is joy enough for me
To know that you are there.
For those of you who had the pleasure of knowing Hershel and Agnes, this was their love story. Pepaw, as we called him, loved, cared, and adored her. It may sound out-dated or old-fashioned, but I think that might be one of the things that will keep a husband and wife living happily ever after. According to Dr. Phil McGraw, marriages can be held together when two people are willing to do small, thoughtful gestures for one another. For example, he makes sure he keeps a full tank of gas in his wife's car, and Joy makes sure there's always a pitcher of iced tea waiting for him when he's done taping the show each day. These acts are to be done without fanfare and as the poem states, "to know that you are there." Applying this to my own marriage, occasionally Michael will surprise me by bringing my lunch to work, my favorite grilled chicken salad and a Diet Dew from Capps BBQ (he knows the way to my heart). On the top of the Styrofoam container he'll always write "I love you." And I've followed Joy McGraw's example and keep a full pitcher of lemonade for him when he gets home from work. Small things that can make a big difference.
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. ~Ruth Bell Graham. So true, but so difficult to carry out. I must admit that I like to get in the last word and be right-all the time. But Dr. Phil says
"Forget whether you're right or wrong. The question is: Is what you're doing working or not working?" Ouch. This is an area that I need special help with. After 18 years of marriage I think we have gotten better at this but more work is required. The question is: would you rather be right or happily married? My grandparents, Margaret and "Soup" Bryant were married for 75 years, and as she has said, that's longer than most people live. A few years before his death the two of them were in a car accident and sent to CC Hospital. They insisted on being in the same room, and I was there when they wheeled grandma into Papa John's room and cried as they immediately reached out to each other and held hands. Lots of water under the bridge, heartaches, and ups and downs in their long marriage, but that single act said it all.

Don't marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can't live without. ~James C. Dobson When Michael and I met, dated, got engaged, and married, I couldn't picture my life with anyone else, and I still feel that way. Is our marriage perfect? (Insert belly laugh here) Uh, no. Our first year of marriage we lived in North Carolina, and it was a good thing because we had to tough it out with each other. My mama and daddy were hundreds of miles away-too far for me to run home to. Times were hard, money was short, and we were so immature. 18 years later through all the good and bad, I am so glad we have stuck it out. We are so blessed, have a good life, healthy children and a happy home. I would hate to know how my life would be if we had given up someone along the road.

More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse. ~Doug Larson. Again, this hits the nail on the head. I'm sure if couples were polled, most of them would admit to saying there was a time in their marriage when they were ready to walk out. When they were at a crossroads and decided to weather the storm. In our vows we say "for better" first. But hanging on for the worse to pass is so crucial. Good times will come around, happy days will be here again. One thing that has carried us through 18 years of marriage has been Divine Intervention. We both became Christians as teens, but hadn't been living  Christian lives. After our first year of marriage, we decided we needed God back in the forefront of our lives. We joined Edmonton Worship Center in 1994, recommitted our lives and marriage to God, and developed Godly friendships with other married couples. It is my belief that that saved our marriage. Since then, marriage hasn't always been a bed of roses, but God's Word has kept us together, made the hard times easier, and reminds us that we not only made a vow to each other, but we made vows to God. So as we celebrate our anniversary, I praise God for a Christian husband and home, and pray that each year will bring us closer to each other and to God.

In closing, I'd love to hear from you. What are your tips, suggestions, or ideas on what makes a marriage strong. Please pass these ideas along or post on Facebook.

Happy Fourth of July. I always laugh when I think I gave up my independence on Independence Day weekend. Hope you can spend this time enjoying friends and families, not to mention a good BBQ. Here's a great recipe for a side item for your cookout:

The Deen Brother's Cornbread Casserole
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh corn kernels (I use one can-drained)
15 0z cream style corn
1 cup sour cream
1 8oz corn muffin mix (I use Jiffy)
6 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together the ingredients. Pour into pan and bake for 60-75 minutes. (I add shredded cheddar to top in the last 5 minutes of baking) Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Good served with bakes beans on top. Enjoy!