Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 3, 2013

'Choosing to be happy'

Catlettsburg artist rises from ashes for a better life

The Independent

ASHLAND — Most people wouldn’t be able to see new possibilities in the rubble of a house fire. But Carla Ball has never been like most people.

As an artist, the Catlettsburg resident has always been able to see beauty where others can’t. That was the case when she purchased a rundown bank-repossessed house that even her real estate agent thought she was crazy for buying.

“I saw bare bones,” Ball said. “I saw possibilities as an artist, not the dirt and the filth and the nasty carpet that had to have water and bleach poured on it to shovel it off the floor.”

Life’s rebirth

When that home was destroyed by fire, after Ball was able to beautifully restore it, she once again looked past the dirt and filth to see new possibilities. This time she could see a streamlined life without all “the stuff” she had accumulated and all the stresses of living alone in a large house.

“I had finished my house to the point where it was time to go back and start doing other things and it needed maintenance and it was just really getting too much,” Ball said. “After the fire, it was like a burden had been lifted. I got a fresh start.”

Ball’s mother had some hoarding tendencies and when she passed away in 2008, Ball inherited most of her mother’s belongings, which turned out to be a little overwhelming. The fire gave her the opportunity she needed to start over. “People have too much,” Ball said. “They think, ‘I’ll be happy when I get this.’ No, I’m just happy. The fire just gave me a clean slate. Everything that was in the past was in the past and I just started over again. Overall, it just gave me an easier life.”

New, small start

With her new start, Ball bought a smaller home, a used car and put aside some money for a special purpose — to travel. “My grandmother always told me, ‘Travel,’” Ball said. “‘Don’t tie yourself down. You have to travel.’”

Ball’s first opportunity came in November 2010, when “The Oprah Winfrey Show” had an online contest for tickets to see the show taped in Australia — a contest Ball won. “Had the fire not happened, I would never have been able to do that,” she said.

Continued travel

But Ball did not stop with Australia. She traveled to Atlantic City, Europe and Hawaii, where she ziplined for the first time in her life. Her grandson accompanied her to Atlantic City, but the trips to Europe and Hawaii she made by herself. She admits some of her friends think she’s crazy for traveling on her own.

“If I sat and worried about going over to Germany and Europe and traveling alone and not knowing the language, I would have never stood on top of the Eiffel Tower,” Ball said. “I would have never stood on the Arc de Triomphe. That was incredible. I’ll take that forever with me. I’d rather have that than a brand new car. I’d rather have an experience to take with me,” she said.

“I don’t have anyone to go with me. I’m not going to let that stop me,” Ball said. “I want to live.”

Part of Ball’s zest for life probably comes from the fact that escaping the fire, which she did by jumping out a window, was not her only brush with death.

Favor returned

In 1995, she survived an extremely aggressive cancer. At other times in her life, she was diagnosed with pre-cervical cancer and a rare blood disorder. Doctors saved her life those times, but it was her dog, Twylia, that saved her from the fire — the dog that Ball was able to save when she contracted the usually fatal viral infection, parvo.

“My vet saved her life and then she saved mine,” Ball said. “She’s kind of a miracle dog in both ways.”

Sadly, Ball’s other dog, Missy, did not escape the fire. But now, another dog, Princess, helps Twylia keep watch over Ball as she resumes her painting.

Exploring media

Ball’s first medium was stained glass, but when the fire destroyed most of her work, she turned to what she really wanted to do — painting. Ball has also developed a love of photography and has won photography contests with pictures from her travels.

Some of Ball’s art is featured in the book “Hippos Eat Grass: Busting the Fat Myth,” which focuses on bringing self-esteem to people with weight issues. Ball met the author, Australia native Odyle Knight, when she sat next to her at the “Oprah” taping in Australia. Ball also helped Knight adapt the book for American readers and has been doing publicity for the book.

Many of Ball’s friends wonder when she will write her own book to share some of her insights and inspirations with others. “They really admire me because I do live my life,” she said.

“You just have to choose to be happy and be balanced. To live with the cards that you’re dealt,” Ball said. “You deal with it and you go on. You don’t sit and dwell on that. The past is yesterday, tomorrow’s not there. We have today. We live today as today.”