Archive for Chihuahua

BEATRICE, my beautiful companion

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2009 by erikball123

I have a student who told me that every time her ears are ringing, it upsets her to the point of nausea. Even so much to make her unfocused or head achy. Hmm. When my ears ring, I just get distracted. Let’s hope a crowd of people doesn’t strike up a conversation about this young lady. While my ears aren’t currently ringing, I am immediately distracted by something that is making me unfocused and head achy. Today I made the not so hard decision to put my dog to sleep.

I have three other dogs that I love very much, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to come home to them today. (Penelope is sitting on my lap as I type.) But, Beatrice, my 13-year old, blind, diabetic, toothless chihuahua…held a special place in my heart, and today I had to say goodbye to a dear companion.

What sparked this posting has to do with my inability to come up with a clever idea for a chapel talk I give to the high school next week. Usually my chapel cup spillith over with high theatrics and a song and dance routine that challenges students to be distracted. My incorporation of crazed costumes, choreographed dance and student participation is legendary. I probably get on peoples nerves with the expectation of a horse and pony show at every turn.  I guess I really don’t mind. I do it for the students, chiefly so that they aren’t falling asleep and honestly because I love to perform and be a firm witness while utilizing the few talents God gave me. It’s always a stuffy affair putting it together and I just simply haven’t had the time to coordinate any additional participation this time…so I’m stuck in my office thinking about the theme: “Thank God for Beauty.”

Easy right? Whip out a song from “Beauty and the Beast”…change a few lyrics and add a wink to the audience. But, I don’t WANT to be big and loud this time. I’m baffled. I’m also deliberately trying to distract myself away from Beatrice, who has been occupying my mind all day.

Then it hit me. Not an idea for the chapel talk…still thinking about that one…but about “Beauty.” In first Peter 3 verses 3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair or the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self. The unfading beauty of a gentle spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Beatrice was a puppy mill doggy. We found this out on our way to PetSmart for a routine shopping venture for a simple container of fish food. They were having the weekly visit from the SPCA. The tents were out and the bandannas were freshly pressed and dangling from every pitbull, terrier and mixed breed in the lot. We walked by and took time to try and make a few tails wag, when I saw this sad-looking, pot-bellied little thing in the top cage, nuzzled in a small heap of newspapers.  She was pathetic looking…and I knew she was coming home with us.

Her belly was black and calloused, and when we took her to the vet we found out that it was a form of yeast infection caused by exposure to an unkept kennel for durations of time. Weeks of medicine and lengthy warm, medicated baths turned her belly fawn and baby soft.

She had two teeth, both infected which were pulled and her tongue poked out the side of her mouth just enough to bring a smile to your face.

She never walked, she shuffled. Her body remained skinny, but she approached her food dish like a tank and ate with passion smacking her watered-down mash with her toothless gums and licking the bowl afterward side-ways with her long tongue. My wife always said that she looked like a wasp after eating, noting her skinny legs and big, full belly.

Beatrice had many problems. She was old, for one. She was not very well taken care of. The reality of a life as a puppy mill dog showed in her weak bladder and loss of muscle tone and low calcium levels. She was tired, and slow moving. She needed a place, soft and warm to retire.

I loved this dog very much. Silly as it sounds, it was kinda like having a grand parent in the house. She was quirky, and predictable…and she let out these wonderful little squeaks when she heard my voice as I walked in the room. That sound would instantly change my mood.

After a while, we noticed a physical change in her, and she was diagnosed with diabetes and we began a routine of insulin shots twice a day. She was a champion and became quite accustomed to the matter, even though her paper-thin skin wasn’t the most receptive of the change.

Over two years this dog shuffled, smacked and squeaked…and made us quite happy. I wouldn’t have changed a moment of these last two years. Slowly, we began noticing a considerable decline in her health in the last week, and upon the urging of our vet, and knowing that she was suffering, we made the decision.

My wife brought her to the vet and held her. I was driving to school for a parent meeting and was listening to a mix playlist on shuffle, when “Waiting for the Light to Shine” from the musical BIG RIVER began to play. I lost it. What a beautiful song. How amazing that it came on right at the time my heart was heavy. And what a wonderful thought that my now blind chihuahua, perhaps is seeing light again.

I refuse to go into it with anyone about pets…and souls…and heaven.

Instead…may I ask a question? One I truly want an answer to. You see, my dog Beatrice had a beautiful spirit…one I cannot explain. She was nothing less than a pathetic-looking, scrappy dog…but inside, and in every move or squeak…I saw that light shine. Why is it we have a hard time finding that light in one another as Christians? I can only imagine it has something to do with indifference, I suppose. To the passer-by, Beatrice looked old…and ratty. But to me…that was a beautiful little dog that brought a pathethic sinner much joy, in a beautiful way, every day.

My students probably don’t want to hear about a dead dog in Chapel.  I’ll remain in search of another idea. But if I could find a way to share that beautiful inside that I know is in all of us…that is hard to find sometimes, but peeks through just enough to make us smile occasionally…then I think I can do away with the song and dance. It’s the little things that bring us closer to God quickly. Miracles happen every day, but I certainly don’t expect a giant flood and an ark in my backyard. But, then again, I didn’t expect a black-bellied chihuahua at the pet store that day either. Instead, I find great joy in life’s surprises and look forward to that light shining in the sallest of places…and then, through us all.

“WAITIN’ FOR THE LIGHT TO SHINE”

I have lived in the darkness for so long
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
Far beyond horizons I have seen
Beyond the things I’ve been
Beyond the dreams I’ve dreamed

I am waitin’ for the light to shine
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
I have lived in the darkness for so long
I’m waitin’ for the light to shine

bea-and-me

MY CHRISTMAS HOPE

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2008 by erikball123

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I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong. There’s something to be said for SUVs. I’m the first to toss off-colored banter around whenever a Junior rolls by in a new Hummer. When one of my favorite senior students proclaimed the arrival of his brand new Escalade (he even jingled his keys at me, like announcing the arrival of Santa Clause or something), sure, I scoffed. But, during my long drive to Michigan from the great state of Nevada…I learned to respect the SUV.

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We rented a Ford Explorer. We didn’t really have much of a choice, but then again I don’t necessarily research exotic fruits before venturing into Albertson’s and test drive a Kiwi either. It was roomey, had a new car smell and a big back area for the dogs. I was surprised and happy. So, we loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh and took off early Friday morning.

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My wife and I drove in shifts. She’d take 6 hours…I’d sleep in the back. I’d drive 6 hours…she’d sleep. I haven’t told her yet…but those books on tape DID in fact keep me up a bit. (But in a good way.) You see, you can drive a bulldozer through the bedroom and NOT wake me up I’m such a heavy sleeper…but getting there….that’s another thing. We stopped twice at Rest Areas and tucked some blankets up into the windows and hunkered down for a few hours before raiding the coffee machines and heading off again. (Indiana has the best coffee machines.)

I can’t say that I was looking forward to the drive. Okay…I totally didn’t want to drive. (I feel better now that I’ve come clean.) But looking back…it wasn’t such a bad drive. I expected to be annoyed by the hulking SUV. It wasn’t so hulking. I expected to tire of the lengthy road trip. It was very engaging and not so tiring. I expected the trip to take FOREVER! We pulled into Jackson, MI after 2 1/2 days of driving. Not bad!

Here are a few things I found interesting during our little trip:

  • Stephen King tends to favor certain names in his short stories. Names like Gage, Vince and Garaby.
  • Never stop at anything called FIESTA MART. Isn’t a fiesta a party? We need to work on redefining some of these gas stations, I’m thinking.
  • Kentucky is brutally honest with their landmark names. Let’s just say the DIRTY RIVER….yeah. Pretty dirty.
  • I found that you cannot truly appreciate cuisines from foreign lands until you’ve actually consumed the stuff. Foods like “CAKESTERS”….(I think they’re French)….yeah, not so good. “BETTER CHEDDARS”….not so bad. “MOONPIES”…..pretty stinkin’ disgusting. And the McRIB SANDWICH. Yeah….that was interesting. First and foremost, I’m STILL finding bar-b-que sauce in the car. (How it got on the ceiling, I’ll never know.) Second…I didn’t know meat could be bouncy. I suppose I should just keep quiet. This is all being brought to you from the guy who has heightened the CHICK-O-STICK to its own food group. Still, all things considered, I’m adding “Colon Flush” on next year’s Santa list.
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Are you jealous of the McRib...or my killer Ear Flap Fleece? Both you can't have.

  • I’ve noticed that public restrooms and restroom etiquette varies greatly from state to state. New Mexico has a LOW cleanliness standard. I suppose the Land of Enchantment wants to keeps things adventerous and mysterious. Arizona is fine. Texas is fine, if you’re wearing a cowboy hat, otherwise you get “looks.” Oklahoma is the “Sooner State” which I didn’t understand right away…but after 7 hours crossing that state….PHEW! I was wishing I had reached that rest area sooner rather than later. My wife felt the brunt of Tennessee when she had to hold the stall door shut for an elderly lady so that she may use the facilities…and then the elderly lady did the same for her. You make fast friends that way…and that’s why Tennessee is the Volunteer State. (This is totally true. I can’t MAKE stuff up like this.)
  • There is a HUGE chain of waffle houses across the southern states. That’s no big deal, I suppose…but what’s funny is that they’re all just called “WAFFLE HOUSE.” That’s like naming a store that sold furniture “FURNITURE STORE.” In hindsight, I suppose this was funnier at 1:00am when I first thought about it!
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So, as Emily and I took turns snuggling down, fully extended in the back of the SUV with our Great Pyrenees, Pug and Chihuahua / Terrier mix, we were able to enjoy many things let alone each others company, which in this VERY busy world, seems to be something we take for granted often. I forgot how much I enjoyed my wife’s company and I’m ashamed I am to have to admit that.

I suppose you could say that we were lucky during the trip. The occasional cluster of dirtied snow on the side of the road outside of the car certainly didn’t compare to the flurry of white dog hair inside the car. My pug served as a surrogate hot-water-bottle sprawling across my lap. Her snoring provided much needed accompaniment to the late night silence. Sometimes I would wander over onto the shoulder’s rumble-stripes to try and fall into sync with her cadence.When we got to Michigan it started to snow hard, and we wound up with three more inches later that night. We just missed the next wave of weather. (That blustery offering turned into the most amazing packing snow in the history of the world. I don’t have my brother’s arm for pitching, but I’m still a dead-eye, it turns out!)

I found that gas prices went down as we got closer to Michigan, and I suppose I’ll trade the more expensive gasoline for three gained hours coming back. It’ll be a wash.

Another thing I found out was that when you are in close proximity with someone, be it your significant other, family or…well, Pug…you wind up complimenting them in some fashion. Not with an everyday verbal gesture, that’s not what I mean…I mean, in character. I think when we were all made, and came into this world…God purposely created us in a way to help others find Him better. Allow me to elaborate. My wife knew I wasn’t keen on the long trip…but she made sure certain aspects that were weighing heavy on my heart, were approached with care and consideration. Her burned CDs featured renditions from Harry Connick, Barry Manilow, Michael Buble and the Muppets. She indulged me to read chapters from “The Princess Bride,” our favorite book. She challenged me to think positively when the two giant Tupperware containers full of gifts in the back of our SUV, kept toppling over in back.  Instead of worrying about tying them up we’ll just “not take right turns anymore,” she said. (She also said that the “change oil” light is merely formality.) I thought she was the crooner and I was the comic!

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My amazing niece Rachel and her crazy Uncle Erik.

In the end, we coasted into the choppy Jackson side roads with a great sense of accomplishment. Our families greeted us and I currently sit across a fire sipping coffee having eaten a chuck of chocolate yule log after Christmas Eve dinner. It’s enough to finally excuse my family for not giving in to my curiosity in allowing me to make some traditional, British plum pudding. (Everyone says it’s nasty…but I HAVE to see for myself!)

You know…I find it super-duper easy sometimes to translate Bible stories and message to my life’s experiences. But occasionally I struggle with notion that we suffer the same types of burdens and feel the same emotions that those who lived long ago did. For example, I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph toiling over grungy breakfast food at a mom-n-pop diner like the HUDDLE HOUSE. I also can’t imagine it was a particularly warm welcome at the Inn that memorable night. I would have been very distraught if I got to my destination and found NO warm welcome. I have it too easy to relate it seems.

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The pastor at the church we went to for the Christmas Eve service talked about Hope. As I sat there in the same church I was married in ten years ago…remembering that day like it was yesterday…looking at the large hand-carved wooden sculptures on the alter (still thinking they look kinda like giant Jesus Jenga pieces waiting to be stacked on top of each other)…I thought to myself as we embarked on our lengthy journey, that the hope my wife and I shared as we looked forward to rolling into Jackson, MI could not compare to the hope Mary and Joseph desired that night. The hope they shared after the baby Jesus was born. I wonder if they were scared about dust storms like I was worried about snow drifts. I wonder if they were worried about Mary arriving to the Inn safely like I was worried about black ice and semi trucks rushing by. They clung to that hope and it helped Mary sleep at night, I’m sure. I’m not sure however that DURING their journey, in such close proximity and against such adversity, Joseph and Mary complimented each other. I don’t know…but I hope.

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How can I even think about that type of hope in Christ? I suppose attempting to connect in any way to the Holy Couple is not realistic. Instead, as I warmed myself in the glow of the candles during the rendition of “Silent Night” at the end of the service…as I look at the same alter that blessed my marriage….as I look at my two beautiful nieces, as I gaze into the bulging eyes of my hot-water-bottle Pug, and as I dote on my amazing wife… I can at least remember that with every mile I put on the SUVs ticker and every Moonpie I conquer …I’m getting closer in my personal journey across my own desert. Everyday…not just Christmas day…I’m growing in my love for the Lord. I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m a paranoid, anxious, ambitious dude who can’t help but hope for the best. It’s what helps me fall asleep in the back of our rented Ford Explorer at night. (It’s no donkey…but it’ll do.)

SUVs have there place in the world I suppose. I know they could use a few more Hummers saddled with snow plows in Jackson, MI! But I can tell you this, just like there is room in this world for the silliest, most impractical SUV you can find…I’m sure there is room in this world for a silly, impractical drama teacher with a hope in the salvation.

Jesus Christ cannot be found at the end of the lengthiest highway in the world…but I bet, that when it is all said and done, and the wrapping paper is out for the garbage and the egg nog has been slurped up….Jesus will still remain steadfast in my heart and I can rest assured that I may continue my journey with a star to lead me.

I don’t need a rest area to settle that into my little brain.

Merry Christmas.

Again…I Say Rejoice!

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2008 by erikball123

Why is it that every time I want to rant about something…every time I find an opportunity to get nasty….every time I need to vent about how badly I was wronged….something swoops down and dissolves the mood? Can you believe I’m complaining that I can’t find an opportunity to be upset. That’s irony folks.

My apologies for not posting in a while. On the heels of a very exciting, very busy week, I find myself sitting in my church clothes on a Sunday afternoon…finally taking a breather. Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once and a while, you could miss it.” True dat. Despite the fact that earlier this school year, at some point, I sneezed and found myself in the middle of October…I’m a week away from opening a musical….and I’m looking forward to the first official week of utilizing the new Chapel / Performing Arts Center as a fully functioning space….I think I should take time to talk about what makes me happy. (I’m about due. I looked at my previous blogs….Surgery, Death, Boo-Berry Cereal….sheesh. I’m one depressing dude!)

First and foremost, in the spirit of spreading joy…. Chick-O-Sticks….ever heard of ’em? I’m finding that alot of people haven’t. This is probably the most under appreciated candy bar ever. (I’d rank it up there right next to Jelly Beans as MOST under appreciated candy of all time. Not Jelly Bellies….darn that stupid buttered popcorn!!!!…..Jelly BEANS.) But, Chick-O-Sticks….I love them. They have a delicious, crumbly crunch and wonderful peanut butter taste, toasted coconut….they’re orange and have nothing to do with Chicken as the name would imply. Stinkin’ awesome. I find that if I keep one of these timeless puppies in my glove compartment…on those days when you just don’t know how to deal with life….a Chick-O-Stick makes life a little bit sweeter. (Figuratively and literally.) I don’t expect you to rush out and grab one, (But if you do, get me one!) but I would ask that the next time you see one….try it.

You know what else makes me happy. Seriously…RAFFI’S “Banana Phone.” It’s a stupid little children’s song that I happened upon when two of my students did a musical number routine to the song in full banana costumes for their Thespian Society inductions. I downloaded it and reserved a corner parking spot for it on my iPod. On shuffle, every now and then, I’ll stumble upon the song, and it instantly puts a smile on my face.

I love my dogs. We have four total. Two are officially Emily’s (because, quite simply, she’s laid claim to them) and two are mine…because they’re not Emily’s. Actually, that’s not totally true. Penelope the Pug is all mine. (A birthday present from 7-years ago.) I love her so much. She’s so…..simple. Like her papa. Everything is always brand new to her. There is never a clever moment for this pooch…and as they say, ignorance is bliss. She’s wild, snugly, noisy…and she’s all mine! My other joy is Beatrice. My 12-year old, blind, toothless, diabetic Chihuahua. She carries on like a headstrong senior citizen and shuffles through her every day with her little tongue sticking out. She’s my gummy bear. Dogs are funny. They’re completely dependent on you, they are loyal to the max, and they bring you such joy…a joy that cannot be described. I’ve actually talked to my dog while snuggling with her on the couch. Have you ever done that? At first you think to yourself…”what am I doing?”….then you figure “who will ever know?…then you realize “she’s actually listening to me.” Dogs are special because they do listen. They don’t know what you’re saying, but they will respond. Try to find another living thing that will immediately respond to you without hesitation or agenda, every time you look them in the eye. I look at my dogs in new ways everyday because of that.

I love performing. Yesterday we had a weekend rehearsal for “Beauty and the Beast” which is opening in a week out at Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center. Click here for more info. (Hope you can make it!) Let me tell you something…trials and tribulations aside, there is something special about theatre. I was sitting next to my friend Kari (she plays Belle) and we were watching a scene onstage, and we talked about how there is nothing like theatre. Where else do you take something REAL, scale it up or down, dress it up really pretty, dissect it, analyze it…and then try it on for size…and then offer it to a willing audience? Where else can you find such raw dedication? (And the funny thing is, the audience accepts it!) There is just something magical about it. When two set piece are put together and suddenly you have castle doors. When a lighting effects stretches the imagination, and suddenly you’re in the woods. When a shift in dynamic accented with music, evokes emotions and suddenly the audience is a part of the “mob scene.” Dang…I love it. It’s hard stinkin’ work putting up a show. Time, effort, money…patience. Sheesh. But, at the end of the day, it’s something that was a part of you…and a part of the audience. You can never take that away. I’ll never be a pirate…but for one night I was Captain Hook. I may never see the Broadway stage, but for one night I was a choreographer in a chorus line. I may never be a gallant suitor…but for one night, I climbed a castle and fought a Beast! As long as I live, theatre will be very, very close to my heart.

I love my students. I have six classes, and I approach each of them VERY differently. Even the two sections of High School Drama…talk about different personalities and atmospheres. I always find it interesting how the time of day plays a huge part in how students approach work in class. Last block before they go home, for instance is very different than second block right before lunch. Teaching has its own rewards…especially in the way that it keeps you on your toes every second of every day. My Advanced Drama class is a unique one this year. It’s kinda hard to explain…allow me to try. Imagine a class of Juniors and Seniors (all of which you know very well…most of which you’ve worked with before onstage) and now put them right next to a group of students who may not have as much experience in performing, but NEED Drama class, because they are wildly creative people with passions that need to be expelled.  (Hey! There’s chocolate in my peanut butter! No, wait! There’s peanut butter in my chocolate!) Anyway…all of these kids I care about very much…but I’m finding myself struggling with them more than any other class. Not because they are bad, mind you. To the contrary…they all want to be a part of something good…and fun. But in heir varied (sometimes impulsive) efforts, the true ensemble effort gets lost in translation and the result is two camps…..ultimately generating two philosophies.

On one hand we have students who desperately want to WORK…..gnash teeth if necessary….to bring their craft to the next level. On the other hand, you have students who want to perform…and have fun doing it. Both groups want to be successful…but neither want the other group to “get in the way” (for lack of better words) of their efforts. A lot of the class/scene work is given a group, “ensemble” grade. Over the last few days, we’ve had to forgo the usual lessons to actually sit down and talk, as class. (Something I think is WAY underdone in classes today.) The results were very good. Everyone was forthcoming, everyone had an opinion…and now we’re working toward a better tomorrow, together.

Will it be perfect? I don’t anticipate that. But I do know this…where else can a teacher go to a “troubled” class and sit down with them…look them eye to eye, collaborate, and together….regroup. Even MENSA meetings wind up in arguments over why the Oreo cookies should be arranged in vertical rows and who owns the second series of NUMBERS. You see…I love my job. I know that, as a class, we’ll get there…and we’ll do it together. If we have to trample on the “routine” of teaching that class, and approach this self-disciple in a weird, awkward way to do it….so be it. I’m ready, and I have the privilege to work with students who WANT to get ready too.

I could go on: Grandmas, my wife’s smile, the smell of freshly cut grass and freshly pumped gasoline (I know, I’m a freak)….and there more! Plenty of stuff I have to be thankful for, and find great joy in. But I would like to end by mentioning something that I presented in a Children’s Chat at church today from Philippians 4:4-13. This scripture, which details the message Paul wrote from prison, reminds me that even in my darkest moment I can find peace in the Lord. I can turn to prayer and know He will hear. I have plenty to be thankful for and a multitude of things in my life that bring me great joy. But, I admit, I have sad moments…I hang my head low and think sad thoughts. During these times it’s a great comfort to me that the Lord is listening and He will help me cope.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”

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