Preparing for Halloween!

Once again we carved our pumpkins. It’s always a fun event and I look forward to it every year. Check out the kiddos’ works in progress:)


Atticus loved drawing in where to put the eyes and mouth for me to carve. Then I let him unleash the paint…


CaiQun really got coverage on her pumpkin!!


Finally, Miranda got hers underway with some intense primary colors, then some spray paint.

The girls did most of the gutting of the pumpkins themselves – a first for us! We also used LED lights in our pumpkins this year, which is also new. They look pretty epic:)

My Little Brother Started College This Semester

destin4Destin, striking a pose…

I’m proud of the guy. He’s strong, smart, and pretty thoughtful (although it’s hard to find a picture of him that’s not a selfie taken in the bathroom). I know pursuing higher education is going to make him an even better thinker and doer in this world. His matriculation this semester is not only about his abilities and drive, but also about the vision that our mom had many years ago, as well as the guidance and mentoring our older sister provided. I think Destin would thank everyone – Walt, Stacey, and Denya, our Mom and Pastor Dan – for their efforts. I know he’ll make us even more proud.

destin2Stacey and Destin on a walk back in the day…

One of my favorite memories of Destin’s early years was when I’d come home from college to spend a few days with family and sometimes things would devolve into sword fighting…

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destin3That’s some glory right there!

Destin, I hope your first semester is rolling along amazingly well. When things get weird, strike a pose with a plastic sword like the old days.

It’ll help, brother.

~

A Eulogy I Never Got To Give

On February 14, 2016, my sister Denya died at age 47. After my mother’s tearful call, we went into robot mode and made plans to get back to central NY for the funeral. It’s always a trial to get packed, organized in the van, and on the road. It was more trying this time, though, thinking about the reasons for our trip. Part of what I was trying to work out was just what to think about losing Denya.

I was asked to speak a eulogy and I had been thinking about it during the drive – I had a good chunk of it formulated in my mind. So after the calling hours on the 17th of February, we went back up to our hotel room and I began writing down what I’d say.  At least that’s what I have been informed happened, because I had a heart attack in the hotel room fairly soon after arriving there that evening. I forgot much of what happened over the previous few days, with only brief snippets remaining.

Providentially, my wife was right there, as were the many EMTs, nurses, and healthcare professionals who were in our family or friends with my sister. Within minutes I was being worked on and transported to hospital. Though I am nowhere near 100%, every day feels like a bit more has returned.

So now I want to share the eulogy that I never got to give.

**

Denya was the definition of determination, clarity of vision, and kindness of heart. At 16, seeing that our stepfather was abusive, Denya decided to leave home and make her own way. She stayed with friends. She got herself to school and work. She did not allow this provisional stage to define her; she aimed toward college. She didn’t let herself get tripped up by small thinking. She didn’t fall into a spiral of foolish actions and relationships; she was wise. Continuing to work and support herself, Denya went to nursing school, eventually rising through the EMT ranks and working in the intense world of Emergency Room trauma.

imageDenya, age 4.

She grew in faith. She grew in family. She had seen her way through difficult situations at home. She worked toward a vision of education and work and made it happen. She found love in the stability and thoughtfulness of a strong, gentle, honorable man – a man who shared her vision for work and family, for faith and clarity of purpose. In marrying Timmy, Denya truly became an iconic example in my life.

imageDenya and Tim on their wedding day in 1993.

She had already been a great example of hard work and applied education, but now she was living out the sort of teamwork marriage to which I could aspire. Together, Denya and Tim built a home that was hospitable, secure, fun, and a stage for dreams. When I think back on Denya, that’s what I see: faith, family, and fun.

I also see someone who persevered through periods of intense physical and emotional pain – losing Cassandra; struggling with the effects of lupus constantly; and nearly dying when Cassilyn and Elisabeth were young. It was not merely going through these and other things that were important. It’s that she went through them with grace, strength, acceptance, and transformation. These qualities were already in her, and they were focused and made more potent through her experiences.

She – along with Tim – modeled long-suffering of physical pain like no one else I’ve known. She – along with Tim – showed us what good parenting could be: parenting with grace, fun, and high expectations. She – along with Tim – demonstrated gentle guidance, constant availability, and true enjoyment of their girls. She – along with Tim – lived life with joy and thoughtfulness. She – along with Tim – crafted a home life that nurtured not only their own family but also the families that touched theirs.

imageDenya with her girls.

So while her death is horrible and sad, and we wish we could have had many more years with her, in a very real way – at least to me – her death is not tragic. What I mean here is that nothing was wasted. She had no dead years, no years of lost potential. She redeemed the time. She made the most of what was given to her. There were no excuses in her life, no regrets. She didn’t live in anger or sorrow about what might have been. That is a triumphant life – a life full of meaning. It’s a life we can be thankful to have witnessed and been a part of.

Denya’s death is a huge loss. Yet each of us has been allowed to bear witness to her example, to her grace, and to her laughter in some way. Seeing her working at the Super Duper. Seeing her pursue her nursing education and succeed at it. Seeing her Camaro with the airbrushed roses on the sides. Hearing her infectious laugh. Watching her play the Red Queen in a high school production of Alice in Wonderland. Maybe you’re even one of the lucky ones who experienced her jumping out of the twilight shouting “I’M DA BREATHER!!!” at you, scaring you half to death.

imageAn airbrushed rose from the side of Denya’s Camaro.

I will miss you, Denya. I’ll miss your love and faith. I’ll miss your sense of humor and your grace. But I know that these things clearly live on in those who knew you, loved you, and built lives with you. We are so thankful to have had you with us for this time, and we know that you carry on.

imageA recent note from Denya.

**

So a Spider and Alien Went to the Hospital

Photo Jul 14, 7 24 03 PMThe hospital. Why is it a massive cow? I don’t know.

Photo Jul 14, 7 25 29 PM“This is a sew-er. It’s not for sewing up shirts or anything like that. It’s for it’s for sewing up skin. I call it a Dragon’s Tooth.” – Miranda Grace

Photo Jul 14, 7 26 32 PMThe tools used to perform surgery on the Spider and Alien. “Alien’s nose needs to be sewed. Its nose is too big. Its nose holes are too big so the Tylenol drops into them. We don’t need Tylenol slurping in there…. This thing speeds the spider around and makes the animals very upset when the doctor takes it off.” – Real dialog from my kiddos.

Photo Jul 14, 7 23 53 PMThe two Doctors in action.

Atticus Arrives

967896_10104965202870509_452403013_n My son arrived about 36 hours ago. He is healthy, beautiful, and strong. I’m thankful and awed. A few hours after he came, I posted the following image and words: 10454386_10104960823950899_6612423471633883460_n “I nominate Atticus Garrett Ballou to eventually take awesome color pictures, or paint wonders, or write down glories, or sing high praises, or dream strange dreams, or tread with golden feet on far flung vistas, or wheel through the galaxy on spatiotemporal-controlling power… Or at the very least to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. 11/29/14, 3:01am”

My friend Frank (a great educator and thoughtful dad himself) commented, “With a name like Atticus, how can he help it?”

Well, here’s hoping that when my son reads about his namesake he will feel empowered. That we, as his parents, will believe that we’ve done something to impart the thread of grace and understanding that makes Atticus a worthy name to hold.

With a name like Atticus, how can we help it?

~

In the hours that have passed, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the epic person my wife is. I’ve now watched her through two pregnancies and one adoption (processes that are surprisingly equivalent and strenuous, believe me). She is someone who exudes a quality of character and force of will I’ve never had the chance to really know in anyone else. When Miranda was born, I got to see Alison’s movement through labor and delivery with eyes of terror and amazement. This weekend, however, I got to be a calmer, more aware viewer. I was much more keyed into what she needed and what she was doing. Seeing her come into full alignment with her body and her second-by-second progression through the final hours of pregnancy was inspirational. Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.52.29 PMAbove Left: Alison just toward the end of heavy labor, around 2am, less than an hour before Atticus was born. I was putting counter-pressure on her lower back and calling out the peaks and troughs of each contraction. Above Right: Alison, exhausted but calm, less than 5 minutes after giving birth. Often during labor she looked like this; totally within herself and focused on the event.

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 …and just a minute or so later, Atticus got that precious skin-to-skin contact with his momma.

~

I was pleased to get some wonderful down time with the two of them after the delivery. We were, I think, able to enjoy that first day in a way we were too blown away to when we had Miranda or came home with CaiQun. Something tells me that ease will be a hallmark of our experience of Atticus. He’s such a relaxed yet alert baby. I think those qualities are something we are all hoping to manifest.

~

I got to draw a portrait of him in the early hours today. I love this first little document of looking at my boy. I hope you do, too.

~

Last, but not least, here are those new big sisters. They’re enjoying (and being generally confused by) their new baby brother. Glory. Thanksgiving.

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Light Study

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Above are two studies of light effects I made last week while traveling to visit family. Left is from sunlight glare through a window onto a wall/ceiling in the Fine Arts Building. Right is from a tableau of multiple light beams through an empty PBR case. Click the image for a large version.

I almost always carry a special art-making case of paper, gouache, collage material, and colored pencils with me on vacations to visit family. Got some good stuff this time.

More later.

Remembering the Shapes and Textures of China

In just a few hours we’ll be leaving the People’s Republic of China. We are ready; home and friends and family call to us.

Right now, though, CaiQun sleeps nearby. She has no way of realizing how much her life will change. We don’t either. As I looked into her eyes tonight, giving her a final bed-time bottle in her native land, I thought about how rich and beautiful and strange and amazing her country of  birth is. We leave it, and hope to return. She is beginning an amazing journey. I’m priveledged to go on it with her, for at least this part.

As we depart China, I again make a post that features some (for me) lasting images of this Land. Two and a half weeks is certainly not enough time to really know much of anything about a country, but we will be forever changed by what we’ve seen, heard, felt, and known here. These images are just part of the rememberance I’ll take with me.

Enjoy. Click to enlarge. Visit China. Hear her sounds and see her sights. Love her people and acknowledge her history.

We’re a part of this world.

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The Dragon Suit

She came to us in a dragon suit. I think we’ll keep this coat forever. Yeah, maybe Keith would say it’s a dinosaur suit, but this is China and thus dragon is more appropriate. Either way it’s awesome.

Note: the red dot on CaiQun’s forehead is a gesture wishing good luck to her in her new family. A touch for hope and peace.

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First Firsts

First bottle as a Ballou, first nap as a Ballou. First totality as a Ballou. Much more to come later on – from how she came to us dressed like a dragon to how new sisters shared snacks. All in time. We are napping now. :)

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