Thursday, May 6, 2010

From Gus's to Crystal's

When I walked into my restaurant this morning (7:30) Rachael was here sweeping and cleaning. I went behind the bar to make a really strong cafe latte and told her "Hey, now would be a great time to water the plants. It's early and you can mist the leaves. They'll love it."

Just then a wave of nostalgia passed over me and I began spewing about my first job in the restaurant business. Rachael, God bless her, tried to look and act interested. She knows from where her checks come. Smart, too, that girl!

Anyhoo I began telling her about Gus' Bar-B-Que in Texas City, Texas. Who knows if I have all the details correct cuz you know I'm older and more tired these days. Where I used to have a coca cola in the morning I now have three cups of very stout coffee!

In the beginning, to the best of my recollection, Mike worked for Gus. Gus started his business in the 60's and his son Neil did most of the cooking. Now, Gus probably started out doing everything, like I did, but when Neil got old enough...well, there's just nothing like child labor when they're your own! Isn’t that why we have children in the first place? Be honest…

One day along came Mike; young, strong, stubborn, independent, hard-working kid. Maybe his first job was bus boy. That's what the voices are telling me. Gus must have really loved Mike a lot or else he was really tired of the restaurant business. Neil loved to cook but had little, if any interest in running the "Family" business. Therefore, it wasn't long before Mike took over. He bought the business from Gus, got a liquor license and kicked the menu up a notch or two. One day Gus's went from a really great Bar-BQ joint to serving Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Piccata, steaks and liquor!

And they came from all over!

And they tipped well too! Later when I had a "Real Job" in marketing at Baker Hughes in Houston I went to some management seminar. The speaker said he made more money per hour waiting tables than almost any other job. If so then why did my parents keep telling me to go get a "Real Job"? And I hear it all the time today in my business, too. I just LOL. My employees have cash on demand! They LOVE it and I loved it! I just never saved it!

It's been years since I've been back to Gus's but I reckon it's still the same; low hung ceilings, dark, busy, loud and an air of.... When you walk in through the industrial glass front door you are immediately greeted by a hostess. Her name used to be Crystal Laramore. There's a pay phone on the wall in case you need to call your wife and tell her your meeting is running late. (No cell phones back then).

If you're a non-smoker and want some privacy you'll be sitting in the front, right quadrant of the building. No telling how many no-tell dates dined in the front room. And, no telling how many business deals have been made in the back room.

If you're looking for a little more excitement and want to see who's dining with whom then you'll follow the hostess pass the "line" to the back room. Now this is where the action is! And the boss. You can always find Mike sitting on a barstool at the left end of the bar (if you're facing it) with a nice light setting his face aglow. His lovely wife, Melissa, is usually by his side. Although when I was there it was Eva...

The wait staff and bus boys have to pass Mike every time they put the dishes in the dish room. Mike sees it all. Mike could write a book. But good restaurant owners never do. It's an unwritten rule to not write. And everyone seems to know it. Just look around any great restaurant and you'll know that the patrons know "What happens at ___________, stays at __________". As it should be.

Between the hours of 4 and 6 (or something like that) Mike would always lock the doors and get ready for the evening. I'm not sure what HE did during those hours but I adopted that trade. However, two hours just didn't seem like enough time to get anything accomplished. And if you're going to do something at all you should do it well. For years we were closed from 2-6pm. My staff and most of my customers knew 2-6pm was nap time and don't even think about...But, we are on a courthouse square and we turned away a lot of business during those hours so we had to adjust.

I've said all that to say this: Gus's must have planted a seed in me that took more than water to grow. Even though I was at Gus's some 20+ years ago I can still recall with great detail and clarity many events. Like when one lady had her 40th Birthday party. 40! Wow! That is soooooo old! How is she still walking upright??? OMG! (Of course OMG wasn't a coined phrase back then.) And there were other moments that we can't write about. Because now I'm a restaurant owner and I'm in on the gig.

Let me tell you the gig is fun, exciting, challenging, raw, fresh, frantic, satisfying, heartbreaking, sliding through home base kind of blood pumping thrilling! There is never a dull moment. It's not for the faint of heart. Several people have told me over the years that it takes a special person to own a restaurant. I say nothing a good Cabernet can't fix! It's edgy and exciting and I'm grateful I'm blessed enough to have worked at Gus's and had a seed planted.

But I recently discovered that the first seed was planted years earlier. Before I knew what even a pay phone was! Several years ago someone in my family said "Hmph. You're just like your Granny Jack. You own a restaurant on a courthouse square." I searched my feeble mind and I could not remember it. (I can barely remember to take my thyroid meds.) Then my sister and I got to chatting and it all came back to me, fuzzy but there. Isn't that something? My grandmother managed a restaurant on the courthouse square in Hills boro!

Thanks Granny Jack and thanks Mike.

Crystal’s Patio & Grille
Courthouse Square
Coldspring, TX

P.S. If all this chatter about Bar-B-Que has left your mouth waterin and your stomach hungry for some, check out

Ring of Fire BBQ
Hwy 150
Across from Frank’s Liquor in front of the Cowboy Church. They cooked all the BBQ for the Coldspring VFD Fundraiser and it was...


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dippity Do’s & Don’ts

by Crystal Laramore Lutz

For as far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to own a salon. My friend since we were babies, Cynthia Thibodeaux, just wanted to cut, color, perm, twist and tie hair; namely mine! We have pictures of ourselves donning some very fetching wigs, dancing a jig atop an early 70’s model Ford. Yes, the fabulous world of making people feel beautiful, pampered and spoiled always attracted us.

Salons are a special place, for women much more so than men, but even men can agree that you do tell your hairdresser things you would never tell …It’s like an unwritten rule that as soon as you sit in that leather and steel chair you just lose control of your senses. The boundaries between right and wrong just get a little hazy when that nice lady is massaging your head like nobody’s business; all the blood just rushes right up there at one time, right along with all your friends’ best-kept secrets.

Why, salons have forevah (say it like a suuuhthanah) been the watering hole for gossip-crazed individuals-and you know who you are (and we do too, because who’s been gossiping is another thing we gossip about)! The local herald has never been as caught up as the local beauty salon on who’s cheatin’ whom, who’s being true and who don’t even care anymore! When we’ve had a hard week we so look forward to dumping all that crazy data and we dump it at the salon. Mostly the chatter is harmless, mindless and is forgotten as soon as the next person sits downs and says “You’ll never guess who…”

We not only trust our stylist with our hair, we trust them with our secrets. And, our friends’ secrets too! They double as our beautician and our therapist. That’s what the tip is for…And if we are talking about Suzie and she’s next, we’ll never know it; discretion is as important as a good pair of scissors for a stylist.

Caution; True Story: Long ago and far away in the early 90’s Mona’s was my salon of choice. Mona, I believe, was from Egypt. Anyhoo, she discovered acrylic was a good thing to put on nails while working in a Dentist’s office. Poof. Rich. (Don’t hold me to the facts as I am a “creative” writer but for the sake of the story and facts and all…) Her first salon may have been in Dallas.

Mona’s beautiful daughter Jackie and her husband Tom owned/ran the salon in Houston. You could sit down, have a glass of champagne and have anything done to your body from washing your hair, having a massage right down to the pedicure. It was a great escape from Baker Hughes just a few blocks down the road! I was young, over-worked, underpaid, but never, ever under-indulged when I stepped thru the doors @ Mona’s Salon. My sanctuary was between Hillcroft and Fountainview for over a decade.

One day I was gladly giving Tom all of my hard-earned money and I noticed Tom had little beads of sweat on his forehead. Hmm. What’s wrong with you? “See that lady sitting in that chair waiting to get her nails done”? Yes. “See that lady sitting in that chair getting her nails done”? Yes. She’s sleeping with her husband and I don’t know WHO booked them back to back”! Snicker. So apparently everyone in the salon knew, kept it on the down-low, and the only two people in the salon who didn’t know (besides the clients) were the two getting pampered. And guess who paid for both pampering sessions…

Another time I was getting my nails all filled-in and the woman in front of me (all the clients faced one direction and all the technicians faced the other direction) was bragging on sleeping with one of the Houston Rockets players (yes, I know who, but in keeping with the discretion theme…) She was “hooking up with him again tonight after the game”. Tee hee hee”. No, she didn’t care he was married. And on and on she went bragging about details she wanted us all to hear. Then, just like that, the woman in front of her got up to leave, paused slightly by the cheater-chick, bent down and whispered, just loud enough for us to hear (she was facing me!), “When you see my husband tonight, please tell him I said hello”. She then gracefully paid her bill with his credit card. Oops. To hear a pin drop in a salon is quite a feat and she accomplished it! And over behind the counter you could see Tom, little beads of sweat…

We each feel like our stylist is our best buddy for 2-3 hours every six weeks. And they are; who else among your friends knows and keeps as many secrets as your stylist? And even though it’s only about every six weeks that we see them, it’s like no time has passed once her hands are producing a rich, thick lather on our scalp! “How’s fluffy? How’s the new job? How’s the new baby”. It’s mostly all about us and isn’t that just the way we like it?

Mostly. I said mostly. Whatever is going on in salons today has to stop! The last few times I’ve been to a salon (3 different ones) all I’ve heard about is their problems! Their economic crisis, their financial portfolio; are you kidding me? My stylist has a financial portfolio???? What is happening?

One stylist was yapping on and on about her husband and how she just didn’t know what to do? Personally, I thought she should shut-up and talk about her woes on her time. After all, I was the one in the chair, not her! The rules clearly state that the one in the chair gets to talk. The one standing up working gets to listen, nod and exclaim on cue, ”Really”. Hello! TIP!!!

This economic fuzzy stuff we are going through is affecting more than we know. The long-term effects could be devastating. If my stylists are turning on me, who’s next? My doctor? My lawyer? My maintenance man? “Why would I care if your blades are dull on your lawnmower??? What? YOU have a financial portfolio too?”

Salons are not like spas where no one speaks for fear of cracking a mask. No, salons are busy and loud, except on those rare occasions when the wrong two women are in the right two chairs... Anyway, salon air is full of a mixture of fragrances ranging from L’Oreal products, perm solution, bleach, and acrylics but, mostly the air is full of secrets. Our secrets. Our friend’s secrets. The salon is like a vault; you don’t get to go in there very often so once you are in, the time is treasured. We hear enough about the economic crisis from our great leader. We study the economy on a daily basis and watch the DOW and read the Wall-Street Journal. We listen to Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC…So, when we sit in your chair please let us go on with our mindless chatter about who’s cheatin’ who, who’s being true and who don’t even care anymore!

After a beautiful daughter and an ugly divorce Cindy decided to make our big dreams come true and has made a big splash in the world of hair. She can be found keeping the best of secrets and cutting the best of hair at Studio 3 on University Blvd. in Houston, Texas. She can also be found NOT talking about her financial portfolio-and yes SHE has one too!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Have a Face. WE Have a Face.

by Crystal Laramore Lutz

Edited by Deborah K. Martin

Thursday night I was in my restaurant behind my bar, craving some hot tea. In the middle of mindlessly opening the refrigerator and pouring the half and half in my tea (the way our forefathers always did), an overwhelming sense of belonging and comfort passed over me.

Here I am, in my very own business with two of my staff members on a slow, cold, Texas winter night; satisfying my whim for English-style tea, decorating the restaurant for Christmas and preparing to make the Christmas holidays merry for all who bless us with their patronage. And by their patronage I mean their greenbacks; their dough; their hard earned money; their cash, their time.

How blessed I am to be able to provide a warm, safe, welcoming atmosphere along with great food and drinks and how blessed “they” are to have it being offered; but how long will the blessings last? Obama and Pelosi and the SEIU and organized labor unions and the IRS and the likes are doing everything they can do to destroy our blessings. Or at least that is how it feels.

Most of you know I was in Baghdad, Iraq for almost two years working with the Department of State and serving my military (that’s right, I said “my” military.) When I finally arrived back on U.S. soil and “settled in” (as if…) I was walking through the restaurant one night in the dark and alone yet felt like I was hanging out with an old friend; it was that safe comfortable feeling. It’s the deep in your heart passionate love feeling that only comes through strife, conflict, blood, sweat, tears, fighting, making up, leaving, coming back, sharing, caring, putting 110% of yourself into it kind of feeling.

When you own a small business or work for a small business this is how you feel and if you don’t you should quit. Every day you put your heart and soul into it and quite frequently you get to see the fruits of your labor instantly. It’s not like a big, cold, steel building in a big city where you work your life away and never see any rewards except for your paycheck; yet people drive to work everyday with little internal reward or peace. They drive to work, I drive my country.

Just in case you don’t know who’s driving your country it’s me, and I have a face. It’s Tabitha Marsden and she has a face. It’s Austin Piwko and he has a face. It’s Rosa Corzine and Laura Kretzchmar and they have a face.

And when Obama speaks I’d like him to look us in the face. I’d like the man driving my country (into the ground) to look at me when he’s talking to me. Instead it’s like watching a tennis match Paula said. Oh and she, Paula Harper, has a face. Maybe he doesn’t look directly into the camera for fear he might see our hearts…breaking. Maybe he knows that we know that he’s a sell-out.

I heard him say that small business owners have learned how to get more from their employees. Well, of course. Isn’t increased productivity a good thing? Isn’t finding better ways to do business a good thing? I guess not because he says they (the small business owners) only did it to wring more profits from their businesses at the expense of their employees. I’m confused and more than a little insulted by that remark.

There is little profit in this small restaurant. We have a LOT of love, a lot of great atmosphere and a load of hospitality. We have a great time here while we work really hard, but there’s not a lot of profit. No, most of that goes right back into the business, which consists of real-live people, to make it better. We make our contribution to the community in a few reliable jobs, a lot of donations and some really good food. We even hold fundraisers here on a regular basis because we actually care about our community. Will it add to our profits? Not likely. But it adds to our hearts.

I wonder what may happen as our country changes. Will I be able to stay in business if I’m forced to raise wages? No, that will only force me to cut jobs. Will I be more profitable when I am forced to buy all my employees insurance? Don’t get me wrong. If I could I would. But if faced with being jobless or insurance-less I bet my employees would rather have a regular paycheck than socialized insurance. Just ask them.

And I often wonder which one of my employees do I let go when the taxes are too much of a burden? Paula; with 4 children to support and no college education? Austin; a college student trying to live on his own? Tabathia; a foster child and college student trying to save enough money to let go of the “System”? Rosa; a foster child in high school trying to save money for a car so she is ready when the time comes to let go of the “System”? Renee; my cleaning woman? Laura; my bartender who is going back to college as an adult to get a teaching certificate and barely making ends meet? You tell me.

Our business is small. Our hearts are big. Our faith is strong. We are the face of small business. We are the ones keeping your community vibrant. I am the owner and they are my employees who always know your name; the ones who asks “How’s yer mama’en them doin’?” Because we care.

I have a face. WE have a face.

Dear Mrs. Woods,

by Crystal Laramore Lutz & Deborah K. Martin

..."Go On Take the Money and Run. Doooot, Doooot."

Sorry, but Deb and I just have to jump right smack dab in the middle of this one! Deb had a list of questions and I, as always, have all the answers. Seriously, Deb and I haven't stopped discussing the reason so many people are discussing Tiger Woods' infidelity. Notice I did not say "alleged". Isn't it clear he's been unfaithful? The only things fuzzy are all the peripherals.

How long has Elin known? Just how many women ARE there? Why oh why are we so obsessed with celebrity mischief? Should he explain himself to the world? Why hasn't the media ever reported his indiscretions before? (Oh PLEASE-this is NOT the first the media has heard of Tiger freaking Woods being unfaithful! Follow the money...)

Why do women sleep with married men? Why on earth would they ADMIT to it in PUBLIC? (pssst. Deny, deny, deny.) Do they think this type of behavior casts them in a POSITIVE light? Hmmmm. Why do men do it? And last but not least why is HE still in their house?

Is it any of our business really? No. Not really. So what he's a celebrity. So what it goes with the territory. Just b/c it goes with the territory does not mean he has to accept it. Nieman Marcus is having a buy one get one half off sale but that doesn't mean I MUST get the other $500.00 platinum toe ring for an additional $250.00. So what Tiger is not accepting the whole "Whatever I do is your business too" celebrity buy-in. Good for him.

Clearly, he's been a bad, bad boy. And I'm good with knowing that even our little Tiger is human and has made some mistakes and is taking ownership and trying to shelter his wife and children from being drug through the proverbial mud. Maybe Elin has some secrets too. Maybe they have an open marriage. Maybe Elin is bi-sexual. Maybe Tiger is gay. Maybe...

How long has Elin known? For sure since last week. Wonder if she found out on Fox News?

Just how many women ARE there? Pick a number; any number.

Why oh why are we so obsessed with celebrity mischief? Because we are all freaks. And we wish WE were doing all that...Heck I don't know! You tell me. I'll tell you WHY we KNOW...cuz it sells to tell (us).

Should he explain himself to the world? Only if he wants to. Remember people-it's THEIR life, not ours; no matter how much money you donated to his lifestyle.

Why hasn't the media ever reported his indiscretions before? Because they are liberal and biased. Usually they are out for blood. YOU tell ME. OR……

Deb has been watching Tiger since just before he turned pro. She recalls that he's never been flashy, always private. “Even WAY before he became a billionaire there was never any controversy over his dating life. Now all of a sudden there are MANY women who've been with him? Personally, I think he screwed up royally (as a woman who has been in Elin's position I can tell you the number doesn't matter. It's the first one that deals the death blow.) and now lots of women are cashing in but most of it just isn't true. And the press smells blood in the water.”

Why do women sleep with married men? Because they are young. Because they have never been married and they don't know what it feels like when your husband has an affair. Because they lack judgment. And when they get older it's because they are lonely, insecure, desperate, stupid, naive, insensitive and sometimes they have been sold a pack lies ranging from "My wife just doesn't understand me" all the way to "No. I'm not married". Then there are some men who play by the "Don't ask Don't Tell" rules of the game. Any which way you spin it-the women are wrong. The men are worse.

Why on earth would they ADMIT to it in PUBLIC? Because they are young, lack judgment, stupid, insecure, lonely, insensitive and when all other excuses fail, "Follow the money. Follow the money."

Why do men do it? Because they are young and they lack judgment. And when they get older it's because they are lonely, insecure, desperate, stupid, naive, insensitive and just plain ole dogs. And sometimes they've been sold a pack of lies ranging from "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" to "What your wife doesn't know won't hurt her". Pssst-she knows. It hurts.

And last but not least why is HE still in their house? (as this goes to press we hear that she has moved to a nearby house) Because she is young and probably lacks judgment. Because she thinks she'd be lonely without him. Maybe she is insecure, desperate, stupid, naive and my personal favorite - In Love. And maybe she's been sold a pack of lies ranging from "I promise I'll never do it again" to "Baby, I only love you-it was just sex with them". And when all else fails "Follow the money. Follow the money." Or “Go on, take the money…”

OK, what Tiger did was wrong. No excuses. But so was what Richard, Harry, David, Mike, et al did. Substitute any name here, including a few Sophia's, Valerie's and Julie's. Even though it seems to happen a LOT, there's really no excuse. If you're having problems in a marriage solve them within the marriage. This may be why Tiger is keeping mum about the situation. It's THEIR problem to solve or not solve. We should all applaud them for that. And if they can work it out more power to them. Hopefully valuable lessons will be taken to heart.

As women, we're pretty passionate about a subject like this, having been in this position ourselves and while we may never know the answers there's one question we can't escape - is it any of our business - really?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bad Parenting 101

By Crystal Laramore

Edited by Deborah Martin

Hope you guys had a great Thanksgiving holiday. I had the week off! And I was thankful. This year I have a lot to be thankful for. I am especially thankful I have a wonderful new family. And I’m most thankful they haven’t left me yet! It’s been an adjustment for me more so than them but they are both patient. My husband is 52. Sometimes he’s not really patient, he’s just tired but the end result is the same-I vent and he sits in the recliner watching HD football and pretends to listen/care. The 6 year old is patient cuz she has to be. I’m mainly in charge of her food, clothing and shelter and “puppy time”.

My husband came complete with two grown children, a daughter-in law, two grandsons and a 6 year old precious little girl that lives with us. And however precious she is, she IS SIX. She has made me laugh, cry and sing with joy. I fell in love with her father first, but I am falling in love with her more and more every day. My heart sometimes skips beats when she hugs me and tells me she loves me. And somewhere in the middle of all the chaos and adjustments-we’ve become a family. This new family has given me a whole different perspective in life and a whole new direction in writing. I could write all day about politics (you know I could) and relationships but for now you will have to endure some “kid” stories. Lord knows I’ve endured enough of them over the years!

Last week's article received a lot of attention for which I was quite surprised! Women from around the country responded with such encouraging words! “Girl, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Just wait till she’s 13! Oh honey, it doesn’t get easier. It gets harder. Good luck. May the force be with you. Wait till she starts driving! Wait till she starts liking boys. You may be new to this but it’s the same with all moms! And my editor/former friend said I’m SOOOOOOOO glad my kids are grown!”

Mostly, I consider myself a worldly, empowered, intelligent woman with a wide range of ways to express myself. I just cried; and wrote some more - to free myself of the sinful thoughts in my heart. Amen.
One of my friends, Sophie, just called me to share one of her experiences raising a child for the first time-yeah, she’s old too! Sophie and her husband adopted an 8 year-old 5 years ago. Yes, 8+5 = 13.

Sophie considers herself a highly intelligent, well-rounded individual. She has a demanding, high-paying job. She calls on the best of the best in her industry. She is consistently wheeling, dealing, dining and drinking (H2O that is)…
So how can such an accomplished woman send her child off to school without lunch money? How can such a capable woman bring her child to the brink of dirty hallway "Coke & Cheetos" deals?

Just the other day she took her child to buy a pair of Fat Baby’s. Right! I had no idea either. Apparently they are all the craze in the child-fashion-apparel-boot dept. There they were! The cammo Fat Baby boots! Too bad they were 2 sizes too big. OR not too bad after all! Seems the child doesn’t CARE if they don’t fit. “I WANT THE BOOTS!" Okay, Okay, Okay….get the damn boots!

Then said child decided she wanted to wear them to a funeral. Mom said no (as well she should have). Seems the child doesn’t CARE if you shouldn’t wear cammo boots to a funeral. “I WANT TO WEAR MY BOOTS.” Okay, Okay, Okay….wear the damn boots.
As soon as they walked into the funeral home some red-neck said “Hey, I like your boots”. And mom got the head-spasm-eyes rolled in the back of the head-I told you so look. We are all sure he was being sarcastic but she’s 13-YOU explain to her…

Speaking of fashion statements, I decided to let our child discover her own form of fashion. So when she shows up with a pink print skirt and a solid orange shirt with monkeys on it-don’t judge me. The cream colored turtleneck and the white cotton skirt-that one you never had to see. Some fashion faux paus are even too devastating for ME to witness much less make my friends (while I still have them) at school suffer through them.

Sometimes her dad comes into her bedroom (after I’ve drunk 2 cups of coffee, wash/dried/folded/put away 2 loads of laundry, fed child a popsicle stick for breakfast-WHAT? Sophie said they’re made with REAL fruit juice from concentrate, fed puppies, painstakingly watched Shaggy and Scooby solve yet another unsolvable mystery, helped child brush teeth, done homework if we forgot the night b4, packed backpack and gotten her dressed) and says “WHY is she wearing THAT”? And I say “Because you were taking a long, hot shower” with the head-spasm-eyes rolled in the back of my head-I told you not to leave us alone look. Any MORE intelligent questions?

Why JUST last Friday I sent her to school wearing her pretty pink skirt, matching top (HUGE step) and pretty high-gloss-glittery-pink shoes. Two outta three ain’t bad! Ain’t bad at all. I did have to do a pre-emptive strike and forewarn her father “Don’t say a word. Just tell her she looks pretty”. Of course this weird behavior from her conservative father confused the child and she immediately pointed out the shoes “But, look at my SHOES Daddy...” He never waivered. He just stayed on track and repeated “I see them. You look pretty.” Confused but happy, she thanked him and skipped out of our bedroom in her magic shoes!

I asked my friends if that was considered bad parenting and one of them replied “No. She can just click her heels twice and say…

‘There’s no place like Neieman ’s!’”

Your Glass Is Half What?

By Deborah K. Martin sitting in for Crystal Laramore Lutz

This is Thanksgiving week, the start of the long holiday season which will encompass Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ashura and I’m sure many others. Being a tried and true American I’m glad this season starts off in the United States with a celebration of abundance, cooperation and gratitude.

Getting together with family and friends over a very large, calorie laden, fragrant meal has always been one of my favorite things but it’s not the only thing I think about at this time in November. Each year I stop for some serious thought about what has happened in my life over the past 12 months. I think about how I could have made it better, about my own mistakes in judgment and wasted opportunities. It’s not a time for beating myself up, just doing an honest self-evaluation.

I also think a lot about the true blessings in my life and try to be consciously grateful for each one. Things like my wonderful children who really aren’t children anymore. My older son has 4 daughters of his own. My younger son has added a beautiful wife to his life this year. I’m grateful for my grandchildren and my siblings. My two brothers are especially precious to me. They are both great men with many talents. I love them dearly.

I’m grateful for wonderful friends who encourage me during the tough times and keep me grounded during the good ones. Especially Miss Crystal, who has been my buddy and soul-mate for many years. What a blessing she is. She makes me laugh, she encourages me, she curses the latest guy who has hurt me and she challenges me to be more. Thank you, honey.

All this thinking got me wondering about attitude. It is everything, isn’t it? Some bad things have happened in my life this year (and last year and the year before and the year before, you get the picture) but I still have the ability to be cheerful, happy and grateful. Now please, don’t think I’m patting myself on the back here. I’m just as human as the rest. There are days when I think my life just plain sucks. But that passes.

Why? Because I CHOOSE to let it pass. I CHOOSE to look on the bright side. I CHOOSE to learn from those sucky days. I think maybe I was born with this bent anyway, but I’ve had many opportunities over the years to keep making the choice to be happy and cheerful. You CAN make that a habit like any other habit.

This brings me to the “glass half full or empty” question. There are two men who, over the years, have been very dear to me, each for different reasons. One I have known for over 13 years. We became instant friends and over the years he has been a buddy, a mentor and spiritual guide for me. He is a very successful businessman who has built quite a nice life for himself and his family. Last week we found out he has a rare, incurable cancer. He may live a year. He may live ten. It’s devastating news for someone who was planning an early retirement in the hill country with his wife and his Harley. He said he has to find different dreams now, short term ones. He has his bad moments but all in all, he is handling this news with grace and dignity. His life will be full for however long he is here.

The other man I have known for about 5 years. He has been a friend, a playmate, a lover, a fiancĂ©. We’re no longer together as a couple but he calls every once in awhile. He also has been diagnosed with cancer. Prostate cancer. It seems to have spread to his kidneys, which is never good news, but still and all there are treatments and cures for his disease.

Like the first man, he is smart. He is also successful in his work. He has a loving family. He can still make me laugh. But none of that matters. He says his life is over. He’s done. He’s thinking seriously of not getting any treatment for his cancer. (Seriously? Give up? I can’t fathom that kind of thinking.) He says he’ll just live until he dies because he hates his life anyway. But would that be living? It’s not the disease that will kill him, but his attitude.

My first friend doesn’t just have a glass half full mentality. His glass is always overflowing, now as much as ever, just in different ways. My former fiancĂ©’s glass apparently has always been empty. (just one of the reasons we’re no longer together) Isn’t that an amazing difference? I draw a complete blank when trying to figure it out.

So what’s my point? It’s not to look at your life and say, “Oh thank God, I don’t have cancer so I’ll be extra grateful! Yippee! Aren’t I lucky?!” No. That doesn’t usually work with me. Sometimes I look at that other person’s life and still say, “Well, my life sucks anyway. What’s your point?!” My point is that even though I may feel that my life sucks in some temporary way, it’s my choice to stay stuck there or to adjust my mind and move on.

It’s a choice. Sometimes a pretty difficult one, I’ll grant you, but a choice nonetheless. Frankly, at my age I no longer dread those challenges because I’ve already been through enough of them to know I’ll not only survive them, I’ll learn something valuable I can pass along to others. Every challenge makes me more grateful. It gives me more hope. More faith. More strength. Not less.

Anyone reading this little article in this little paper is blessed beyond measure. You can read. You have enough income to buy a paper. You have enough brainpower to understand what you’re reading. You live in a country which allows someone like you to read the scribblings of someone like me. Likely you have someone who loves you. Maybe a lot of someones. You have friends. Perhaps you have a career which thrills you every day. Or maybe you’re facing challenges. Physical. Mental. Financial. Emotional.

This is a great week to count your blessings. I dare you. Write them out. One by one. Seriously. Don’t bother with the negative unless you just can’t help yourself. Write out everything you can think of. Not only your job or your health. How about being grateful for how sweet your child looks when he’s asleep. Or how about the smell of a pumpkin pie straight out of the oven? The fact that your dog wiggles all over whether you’ve been out of the room 5 minutes or 5 days? Hugs? Smiles? Double Stuff Oreos? Hearing someone says I love you. Or how about this one – automatic deposit of your paycheck. Cell phones so you’re never out of touch. Or maybe leaving the cell phone at home. Any golf course at 7:30 in the morning. And the perfect tee shot. Take nothing for granted.

Make your list. Then choose. Will you have an attitude of gratitude? Will your glass be half empty or half full?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“Mommy”! Who Said That?

By Crystal Laramore

Edited by Deborah K. Martin

This whole "Bam! you’re the proud new mother of a 6 year old at the age of 45" is taking it’s toll on me and my friends and the school system and last but not least the poor, poor 6 year-old. My husband seems to be taking it well; which should give us all reason to pause…

Does it mean you’re a bad parent if you drop your child off at school on a teacher In-Service day? What about if you get really mad at the “system” cuz the school called you last-minute to tell you that you have 70 lbs of cookie dough to pick up by 7 pm-“That’s it? No notice? No reminder?” and you’re in a business meeting in Houston; then you find the notice/reminder a few days later under your car seat with peanut butter on it? "Honey, can you cancel that appt. we had with LaTonya Goffney on Tuesday?"

How about if you send your child off to school with crooked pig tails? Socks that don’t match? Scratches under her eyes from the puppies-no, I swear!
Isn’t it great that children are resilient and bounce back from most things we do to screw them up as a child??? Maybe that’s why God makes our memory so crappy before the age of about 10. God knows.

Seriously, it’s a good thing that I KNOW the teachers and the administration at my stepdaughter's school. At least they know I don’t MEAN to be a horrible parent. At least they are willing to teach me that I have to help her with her homework when she first comes in from school while it’s still fresh in her mind and she has energy & an attention span farther than 22 seconds or until she hears the puppies barking; not at 6:55 in the morning right before we rush her to get ready and rush her out the door with crooked pig tails to have breakfast at school cuz we’re too crazed to make her breakfast soooo early in the morning and oh! Great Scott! Thank the good Lord they make it at school!

We do allow her to have coffee with us though. What?

Oh good gosh not really, we give her chocolate milk. I swear! Everyone knows sugar is totally better for a child than caffeine"??!!

And about the whole helping her with her homework thing Mrs. Rouswald, we didn't even know she HAD homework for several weeks. We thought kindergartners finger-painted. We didn't realize they were beginning to READ at that age! It's been such a long time since we were in grade K we forgot how to spell it. So, if our child is ever failing, please inform us because it's probably OUR fault! She’s probably told us to do something and we’ve ignored the silly 6 year old.

Like the first 3 times she brought home the copy of the lunch menu for the month I threw it away b/c it wasn’t pretty enough to go on the fridge - like the 6 year old said it should. Well, the 6 year old should have told the 45 year old it had the in-service days on it and the ice cream and slushy days on it and when the cookie dough will be in day marked, and when award day is-we missed award day! But nooooo, we’ve taught her to not argue with our authority. Tsk. We were soooo surprised when she came home with an award. I thought the “Food” calendar just had who was eating what & when on it. New parents don’t realize the global importance of the monthly food menu! To NOT look at one is to NOT want your child to succeed!

Look people, before I met/married my wonderful husband I was a night owl. I stayed up till 2 or 3 am and woke up around 10 or 11 am. I read period pieces, not "I said I see Sam". I may or may not get dressed for work during the week cuz no one can see me doing computer work. I lived on-site and only had to walk 10 paces to work. Now, I’m up between 5:30 & 6:00 and have made and drank 2 cups of coffee by 6:30. By 7:15 I have a lot of chores finished including getting a 6 year old ready for school (did she brush her teeth this morning?) and a 45 year-old (me) ready for work. Each takes the same amount of energy. By the time I get to work, which is 7 miles away now and I do indeed drive, I need a nap.

And is it so bad that we get Spirit day and the other day (see, I don’t even know the names of all the days) mixed up? Wednesdays we know its green t-shirt day and Friday is red-t-shirt day and most of the time we get it right; isn’t that enough? And I think the school system has dealt with parents like us before and that is why they pick our child’s clothes 2 days out of the week FOR US!

Speaking of colors, why didn't someone tell me a blue smiley face was worse than a green one? I thought a smiley face was universally good and all the different colors were pretty.

Here's another thing - why does a 6 year old get “projects” WE have to do??? Don’t WE pay THEM to teach our child? Our child’s parents are old. WE don’t have energy or an attention span after 4:30 pm either. It takes all the energy my husband has to turn off the football game every Monday night.

And if bed-time is 8:30 and the Wizard of Oz doesn't come on until 7:00 and Dorothy hasn’t clicked her freaking heels yet-what then???? Shouldn’t Disney have a policy about what time kids’ shows start? We could barely get her out of bed this morning and she was mad at US! Like we own Disney or something…wait, are they publicly traded?

Sophie’s story: It's not a "good parent" story; it's a "good child" story. Sometimes these things DO happen. It'll give you hope. When her baby boy was about 10 (btw, he's teaches pre-calculus and statistics in high school now so that should give you some clue as to how many cheery brain cells HE has), she and her husband were at a gathering of parents in the home of one of his classmates. The classmate in question wandered through the living room and his dad said something like, "Johnny, don't take too long. You know you've got to finish that big project. It's due tomorrow!"

Sophia and her then husband looked at each other & said “What project”? Their over-achieving child looked quizzically at them and said, "Oh yeah. I turned that in days ago." And so went HIS school years. We should all be so lucky as to get a kid like that. Miracles DO happen in the parenting world.

In the mean-time, this parent will try to remember (after 3 mos of school) to give her child a dollar on Wednesdays and Fridays for a slushy and/or ice cream and be grateful that she has better manners than Kanye and doesn't interrupt when someone is getting an award, even if her parents aren’t there!

p.s. I just found out that slushy day is Tuesday...NOT Wednesday…

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