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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.

AUDITIONS: The Aftermath

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by erikball123

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Well….the dust has settled.

Who am I kidding. The dust will be whipping thru the air for some time! The aftermath of a high school audition tends to linger and simmer into deep resentment, broken hearts and hurt feelings that snowball into entitlement issues, brazen commentary and yet more hurt feelings. Regardless of the length of the pre-audition pep talk….regardless of the post-cast list “open door”…..It’s high school. It’s gonna happen. Let’s not forget that there is much to celebrate for all. Those that DID get in the cast…congrats! Those that barely missed it….congrats! You did great. But, you can’t really have a dialogue with a piece of paper stapled to a bulletin board, right?

My wife (who is the director of this particular show) and I sat in the drama classroom with 20 hopefuls who were called back for round two. When we left, we were SO very impressed. Without pouring myself into specifics regarding each student, let me just say that I was surprised at the level of dedication that each student achieved. Truly, the cast could have been generated in a dozen different ways. I didn’t envy my wife last night as she toiled away, sitting at the dining room table.

Of course, I chimed in from time to time. I’m pretty sure that’s why she turned up the volume to the Cosby Show episode that we Tivo’d.

I love my wife because of many things…but one of the top ten reasons remains the fact that she’s a stellar director. Far superior to anything I’ve ever offered in many ways. Her philosophies and HOW she executes her vision is VERY different than the way I do things. (But from a creative aspect…that’s a good thing, right?) I think we compliment each other well. Her cast is brilliant. They will flesh out the farcical “CLUE” amazingly, I have no doubt. But I can’t help but thinkg that it is the students that DIDN’T get the role today, that they thought they deserved (who may walk away gritting their teeth) that brings me to my blog today.

Emily and I have the unique privilege of working with very talented students. There is always a forum for dramatic arts: inner city, gold-plated suburbia…and, of course Summerlin….and there is never a short-handed supply of those who WANT to perform. (How many students went to sleep yesterday with visions of Prof. Plums dancing in their heads?? I argue: many.)

What we don’t get is a consistent stream of opportunity for those interested. We chose, with great care, mind you, plays and musicals that will be appealing to patrons as well as performers, something enriching, something fun, something challenging……something borrowed, something blue! We have to think about marketability…who wants to play to an empty house. And on top of all that (and more) we’re the ones to light the fire under those students who are on the fence as to whether or not they even have the confidence to attempt to get a role! (That’s a hard fire to shovel coal into.)

That cast list is posted and the smiles will turn upside-down. The nervous hands will go limp. The tension will release. And emotion will take over. I will have 9th graders scorning 11th grades. Young hopefuls will turn into young hatefuls. And I will have students never return to the stage as a result. I argue that passion is never a bad thing, if it’s about something you care about. (Imagine students having passionate feelings about something they believe in…might be a nice change.) It only when they lose sight of those beliefs do their passions turn into pains. Am I being too dramatic? How dramatic is TOO dramatic, when you’re the drama teacher? I think I’m just being honest.

I want so badly to just…..shake these kids! (Reason #56 why Emily and I don’t have kids yet!) How can someone SO talented….so dedicated….so thoughtful…..be so unbelievably clueless. I’m sorry for the reality check…but the fact remains, students DON’T get roles 90% of the time because they are OUT AUDITIONED….not because we don’t think they’re good enough.

“GOOD”….heh. Funny word, isn’t it? Yet, it’s used all the time in things like auditions. Students tend to think we’re looking for something “good” in them. What they don’t know….is that we already know there is. What we’re looking for is a means by which to compliment the students by fulfilling the demands of the show…all the while, educating them. That’s not as easy to say as “Good.”

Granted…not all students are alike. I’m addressing a few, only. There will be those who sing praises regardless. I’m not even concerned or upset. Merely, I want all of my students to know that I believe in them. Mrs. Ball believes in you. We have Faith that win, lose, or draw….God has a plan for all of you. If that means not being a part of the High School Play “CLUE”….so be it. But, until we meet again onstage or off…you are always in our hearts and prayers, for we want you to succeed.

I love my students. I love my job. I love theatre. But, until the day comes that someone somewhere develops a less human way to cast a show that leaves everyone involved chipper….I will stand by my wife, and stand by the formula that is the audition. It works. It works very well. I hope some of the students who were in the room during auditions will selflessly reflect on what those who DID get cast did what was right in order to garnish that role. Until then….with my door wide open….I will continue to offer a shoulder, an ear and thoughtful consideration to anyone who wants to talk about drama, post-audition.

Counselor, I’m not….but I am a human being with feelings. And when my students are crushed….I’m crushed. I don’t have the constitution to be any less a person.

“We’re actors. We’re the opposite of people.” – Tom Stoppard

My Wife…EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR!

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , on December 1, 2008 by erikball123

My wife Emily, won the EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD at the Pacific Southwest District Lutheran Educator’s Conference and CAPSO convention last week.

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This is a HUGE award and has only been bestowed on a handfulof Faith Lutheran teachers in the past. (Mr. Dunning, Ms. Krafft and Mrs. Youmans I think are the only other winners.)

I cannot reiterate enough how amazing of a teacher she is. She is my inspiration…the reason I can approach with confidence every good day I have at Faith and the reason I can get my tushy out of bed after every bad day. She’s a hard-working, caring, devoted, kind-hearted, fun teacher and her students LOVE HER.

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If I were a fifth the teacher she was…I would be content for the rest of my life. But because I’m not…it was nothing less than an honor to sit next to her as she won the award. She deserves it…she’s amazingly humble about it…and I think she is just the greatest blessing at Faith Lutheran….in every student’s life she touches….and in my life as her husband.

With Faith Lutheran's Executive Director Kevin Dunning.

Emily with Faith Lutheran's Executive Director Kevin Dunning moments after receiving the award.

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Emily and a gaggle of her colleagues and friends after the event.

A Caveman’s View on Women

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2008 by erikball123

I need to write a blog about women. My blog stats are fine, and I’m not necessarily looking for more “reads” via search engines. This isn’t some vain attempt to throw together some shiny words so that the female demographic that happens to stumble upon my blog thinks “awww, what a nice guy.” I’m not even trying to impress my wife with this….well, maybe a little.

Guys…we need to act better toward the opposite sex. My wife and I are approaching our 10-year anniversary. (Which doesn’t really support my point any…but it’s significant to me.) But, my question is, what anniversary are you looking forward to? Are you rounding the 2 year mark? Are you eagerly anticipating a potential proposal? Or are you exchanging petty gifts in Advisory class to celebrate two-weeks of steady bliss? Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter. As I get older and as I spend more and more time around students (and in public) I find that the male demographic has little regard for the immediate and long-term ramifications of what they say and do toward women.

Take me for instance. I’m happily married. I love my wife very much. To some, ten years is a long time. I’m looking forward to the next ten years and beyond. I also know that if I forget to open the car door for my wife in the parking lot of VONS, she won’t walk out on me, or leave me watching old “Full House” episodes on the couch downstairs. So, if I walk to the car, and slip into the driver’s seat without extending that courtesy, I can easily shake it off and move out without fear of the immediate backlash, or the long-term ramifications. Right?

There’s something to be said about consistency. How many of you heard (especially after a spat) “don’t say you love me, show me that you love me?” Well, I’m lucky. I married a caring, forgiving, understanding woman, because, quite simply, I’m a mess. I’m an actor so I’m arrogant…some would say that because I was born in July and therefore labeled a “Cancer”, that must mean I’m sensitive. I don’t think either of those things are excuses. Perhaps I’m just lazy.

I wish a band of trumpeters accompanied my wife, followed by servants spreading roses at her feet. But I stand before you right now to say that despite my inability to effectively demonstrate my affection through the simple gesture of opening a car door for her….I would give my life for her and will always love her. So, what’s the problem then? Why don’t I just OPEN THE STINKIN’ DOOR?

My argument is that women are being negatively influenced by the mainstream media today. They are constantly pelted with images of wafer-thin models with blond hair and big…uh, egos…throwing money and advances around like confetti and hanging out at lavish parties with the “right kind of people”…because, after all, it’s who you know, right?

Just like the high school sophomore who is late to class because she’s throwing up in the bathroom so that she can emulate that picture she saw of that one chick from “The Hills” so that Teddy Nobody in Physics will notice her…….just like every Jewelry commercial featuring a completely satisfied, busty wife and her adoring husband and the shiny bracelet for only $1899….just like the Las Vegas car dealership with the tank-top clad, doe-eyed, walking pep rally announcing that this is your “last chance” to get in on this deal, before leaning over and winking at the camera……ALL OF THESE give women a bad name. It frustrates me…but I can’t help but feel that the whole issue is “glazed over”…and too broad to even approach anymore. Do women even care that a big picture generalization of a “what women ought to be” image is being used as marketing aphrodisiacs? Guys apparently don’t. But you women…I can’ help but think that due to this sea of complacency and the growing number of eating disorders and “ladies join free” gym memberships…you women don’t seems to care either.

You know…if you squint really good….you can see that for men it’s kinda the same way. (Maybe not to that extreme. It’s apples and oranges really, but it’s there.) I’m reminded of that stupid roll-over minutes cell phone commercial where the breakfast table where dad and the kids sit at the table munching away while mommy is at the sink doing dishes. (Because that’s where women still belong. Nobody says it…but that’s what they’re implying, right?) The clumsy dad, spills the milk on the “minutes” and then casually sweeps them into the trash. Mommy nearly takes their heads off for being so stupid. Dad and the boys, like neanderthals, stumble over words to explain…and later get the last laugh at the expense of mom. A 20-second commercial spot (A bad commercial spot, at that) which totally defames the role of mother and wife. It also make dad look stupid.

How many commercials are there out there advertising laundry detergent, or dinner entrees, or vacuum cleaners….that ONLY feature the devout wife with a sparkly grin? A million. In an age where so many people are trying to do away with stereotypes we sure do welcome the everyday advertisement without question.

This all boils down to the fact that we’ve forgotten our roles. I’m watching moms and dads that are my age, grow up raising children in a way that caters to (an accepted, mind you) common disrespect. It’s a fast paced world where if we don’t get that voice mail or text message right away, the world will end. Where is there time for ethics, respect and common courtesies? The convenience of a self-servicing society has all but replaced the small inconvenience of opening a door to a member of the opposite sex.

I tell my students in class to make sure to look the cafeteria worker in the eye and say “thank you” to them directly. I also encourage them to (once a week) say to them, “I really appreciate what you do here.” Contrived? Maybe. Are they doing it only because I asked them to? Perhaps. But does it matter? I argue that, the person behind the counter could have heard it a million times….or maybe they’re contemplated suicide that day, and that one moment will shed light in their world that day, whether good, bad or indifferent. You never know. All you can do is offer.

I also have pulled the jersey-wearing JV football corner back into the hall before for caling a female classmate a “broad.” They’re apologetic…and most of the time I think they’re genuinely sincere. I can’t help but think that small incidents like that is something that is being “bred” in all young men in a bigger picture. A “flex your muscles, and mark your territory” kind of mentality, if you will. I don’t like it. It makes all men look like emotionless brutes.

Men….listen up. I have a challenge for you. (Especially teens and young men.) As you grown up, you will be going through a lot of changes. Who doesn’t want to make friends, right? Go ahead and do your very best to make as many friends as possible. Like the neanderthal, we still need to find that herd to rumble with, right? (Not much has changed.) We ALL want to be accepted. That’s what it comes down to, right? And whether or not you even like the fact that I’m typing in broad generalizations here…you have to admit that at the end of the day, we all just want to be accepted, right?

So, go ahead and “be accepted”….go to many lengths to do so even….but don’t do it at the expense of others. And certainly don’t find reward in overpowering a woman’s frailty for the sake of a high five or an approving look from a fellow male collaborator or co-worker. Why? Because it’s not what we should do.

In a world where we have to make end’s meat….and save face…and bring home the bacon….we have to remember that we can’t do it alone. We’re not almighty. We’re not dominate. We never were. We used to think so. (Like a lion overpowering a gazelle.) Anytime someone grunts or make a disapproving comment about a women, ultimately lowering their respect to boost their machismo, it launches us back in time, and suddenly you are dragging a club with your fellow caveman.

My wife is a gift to me. Someone I don’t deserve and should honor and respect. There’s a song that I like that goes:

“If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she’s my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes”

Without going into why I choose cheesy Barry Manilow tunes to support my points, I will just say that no matter what situation you are in….married, dating, engaged….or maybe you’re still looking for that special someone, whatever, we all need to remember that we’re all coexisting together. We don’t know when life’s fast ball will catch that inside corner, and the game’s over. We need to use this time to give, love, and respect one another.

Valentine’s Day is nice…but flowers wither away. Anniversaries are wonderful reminders….but we shouldn’t have to wait all year to be reminded. I promise you that my selfishness and arrogance and…caveman-like tendencies will certainly motor-boat me down the Nile of testosterone again. But until then, I will continue to do everything to remain respectful to women…and especially my wife.

I think “being a man” means to exemplify what a true human being should be. A Christ-centered, God-fearing, neighbor-loving man. Extend courtesies instead of innuendos, fill your mind with adventurous new ways to express how much you love your significant other…and for crying out loud, take a moment to call your mother and tell her you love her every now and then. It’s what we should do.

I’ll never know why as a people, we stand for ads and multimedia offerings and suggestions that men are all stupid jocks, and women are all mindless bimbos. Maybe someday someone will take a stand. Until then, you have the choice…make it a good one. For now…for today…open that car door.

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