Postage Stamp Turned Spa

Overall, a downsized home has worked for us. Upon relocation to Houston, Kody and I purchased a fixer upper. We opened the kitchen to the dining and living spaces by knocking down four walls, efficiently adding space for storage and food prep and entertaining. Our newly acquired ability to watch the big screen TV while cooking was amazing…for about four months…until Hurricane Harvey came along and literally rained on our parade. The bathrooms had remained on our makeover list, and let me tell you—it’s so much more fun to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new rather than blowing money on more new to replace the damaged-beyond-repair new. 

The master bathroom, true to the 1960’s, was scarcely larger than a postage stamp. Notice the past tense. Behind the original shower wall stood a hallway closet. Past tense once more. We robbed Peter (our closet) to pay Paul (our shower), and voila, our 30” x 30” shower grew to 42” x 6 ½‘ with a built-in bench. Our vanity space grew a couple of feet as well. In our last few homes, we’ve kept future home owners in mind. We don’t plan to live here forever, but we’ll fix it and love it, and the TLC will show when we eventually sell. No doubt a future owner will appreciate the maximized space, the modernized amenities, and the minimized commute.

As a collector of inspiration and ideas, my favorite hunting grounds for design include restaurants and their restrooms, perfect since I’ve been kitchen-less for more almost eight months, not to mention another six for the original kitchen remodel.

Did you know that subway tile dominates the entire world?  Seriously, look around. Echoing the style of brick, it’s a safe aesthetic bet, inexpensive, too. When I need more specific designs, I search the Googler and Houzz and Pinterest. With ideas in my head and phone, I drive to Floor and Décor, stroll leisurely, and keep my eyes peeled.

The Kitchen Before
This is the old-new kitchen. The new-new kitchen will be nearly identical with different floors. We are currently missing the lower cabinet to the left of the refrigerator. The re-ordering took four weeks. Did you know that you can’t install countertops without cabinets below?

I like a flow from kitchen to bathroom. A little matchy. Not too much matchy. For the kitchen, we chose gray shaker style cabinets, black for the island, with a white 4” x 10” subway tile backsplash and white and gray marble-look, quartzite countertops. We warmed the space with oak floors and open maple shelves to match the structural ceiling beam. Then that pesky Harvey flooded our floors and lower cabinets beyond repair, and then the walls came tumbling down. However, eight months later, walls and cabinets, floors and baseboards, doors and casings are re-appearing, not completely installed or painted, but I see them waiting patiently (which is more than I can say for myself). The soon-to-be-completed house is looking like home again. I often hear, “How soon will you be able to move back in?”

Good question—one that I’ve been answering wrong for a couple of months now. “Hopefully, by the end of March…hopefully, by the end of April…hopefully two more weeks…surely sometime in May.” The hallway bath gray shaker vanity is on backorder (unless my contractor ordered it right after I asked him about the status yesterday). Once installed, the marble-look quartzite will top the vanity with a backsplash to compliment the tub, which is finished (minus the fixtures). 

Hallway Bath
The white subway tile carries on the theme from the kitchen. Horizontal bands of iridescent blues anchor the niche to surrounding walls.

One day while on a Floor and Décor expedition, a new tile spoke to me—an 8” x 20” vintage mint green subway tile with a wavy texture, priced at $1.89 per square foot. This tile evokes the days of my childhood at my grandmother’s 1950’s home—her hallway bathroom, vintage mint green. Kody accompanied me that day. I picked up one tile, cradling it like a baby, remembering my youth, forging forward in search of an accent for a niche and coordinating tile for the shower floor. For the niche, we found a sparkly, diamond-shaped glass mosaic with silvers and baby blues and beiges. For the shower floor, we found a river flat pebble stone mosaic with muted tones of green and grays, off-whites and beiges. I had a vision in my head, inspiration in my phone, and Kody liked it. We agreed. Done deal. You see what we did there? Larger-sized subway, different color, definite flow.

Master Bath
To be grouted and the hanging light, temporary. I’m betting a plumber won’t come out until our sinks are installed. Did I mention we are waiting on vanities?

I can’t say that we never gave the vintage green a second thought. At Floor and Décor and with future buyers in mind, the hue felt a little risky. At home and on the shower walls, the current Byers feel proud of the choice. Postage stamp turned spa. Reflective of the 1960’s. Color and glitter? Yes, please. If only it were grouted, fixtures and shower door installed, ready to go, and me—living there. I remind myself to be grateful and not to wish my life away. The house will be completed in time. I need to start using that line when someone asks, “How soon will you be able to move back in?”

“The house will be completed in time.” See, I’m practicing.

For now, I dream—of living at home once more, new from top to bottom, of starting each day in my favorite shower ever, a fresh and clean beginning in so many ways. Until then, life goes on. Postage stamp, spa, or La Quinta, I’ll still be fresh and clean, and I can choose my attitude wherever I go or wherever I may be.  

the present

Advertisements

Lessons from an Alabama Rain

Langston Hughes Rain
From “April Rain Song” by Langston Hughes

As a soft April rain kisses Houston, I recollect another cloudburst or two, one in particular. An Alabama Rain, singing me a lullaby, eleven years ago.

*****

I stepped off the plane in Mobile with my friend Martha. As we descended the escalator to claim our luggage, our friend Mona waited, waving from where she stood next to the carousel. Through the airport windows, dark clouds covered the Alabama sky, and raindrops fell. With bags in hand, we dashed from the airport to the car, the rain drenching us all, our spirits remaining high and dry. However, the rain was relentless throughout our five-day stay.  The three of us, Martha, Mona, and I, went out to eat in the rain, we shopped in the rain, and just hoping the sun might show its shining face, we drove by the beach in the rain.

One day after shopping in picturesque downtown Fairhope, we hopped back into the car and Mona said, “I wanna take ya’ll to this new little country store between here and home.  The two girls who opened it are too cute, and so is their store.”

At the store, a two-story, clap-board house with wrap-around porch, nestled amid enormous Live Oaks and backing to Mobile Bay, we met the owners and browsed. With a note of Southern charm, one of the ladies said, “We were thinkin’ about havin’ a wine-tastin’.  Would ya’ll like a glass of wine?”  I couldn’t refuse hospitality like that, and neither could my friends. With beverages in hand, we moved outside to the covered front porch to sit a spell and watch the gentle rain.

About that time, a precious, tiny black puppy, pranced up on petite ballerina feet, flipped-up tail wagging, collar connected to a leash held by her foster dad. We admired the cuteness, and the man struck up a conversation. “This little girl was found walking in the rain,” he said, “so we named her Rain. I’ve kept her for the past week, and she’s a good girl, but I have three dogs. These ladies here at the store are going to take her picture and put her up on their bulletin board to help me find her a home.”

Meanwhile, I picked up the eight-pound, eight-month-old Chihuahua/terrier mix, and she licked my face. Martha laughed, “Crystal, I think you need that dog.” She continued, “I think you need to fly her back to Dallas….I’ll dog-sit whenever you need me…”

I grew up with a dog, but my kids had missed out on that experience. Drew would be starting his senior year, Lauren would be a sophomore, and she had been angling for a Yorkie. A dog consideration rested on the table, and this one did need a home. No doubt, she was adorable.  So I took the man’s phone number, thinking, If I wake up tomorrow, thinking about that dog, I’m going to take her home.

Well, not only did I wake up the next morning thinking about the dog, I couldn’t sleep at all that night, the puppy on my mind had wiggled its way into my heart.  Martha was right. I needed that dog.

Like Martha said, I brought the puppy home to Texas from Alabama. Evoking my inner Paris Hilton, I carried Rain in my newly-purchased dog purse right onto the plane and stowed her below the seat in front of me. She was that tiny and that perfect.

Rain 2007
My Rain loves the sunny spots, 2007. Look at that face.

The breeze has blown Rain and me from state to state, city to city. Still an excellent traveler, always up for the next adventure, always ready to “go.” Eleven years later, she has survived the rising waters of a hurricane and homelessness more than once. Rain loves hotels, awaits me with her waggity tail each day, and continues to teach me a lesson or two about being happy anywhere, as long as I have my people.

The Storm before the Calm

About once a year for my entire life, I remember my mother saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” She had a slew of those sayings, and what I wouldn’t give to hear my mom utter one of them once more.

700x411-FiC-LionLamb

I wish I could ask my precious Mama, “How so?” Her memory fails, as do her words, but I wish so hard for another conversation. I wish so hard to have appreciated her company more. As handy as Google is, I wish so hard for my mom’s spin on everything. “Are we talking about the weather or Jesus? Are we talking about internal lions? I’m asking for a friend.” 

You see. I have this friend named Bristol who has been living in a hotel for seven months. Long story. Natural disaster. House destroyed. She’s over the displacement and the interruption. She doesn’t quite know how much longer for the reconstruction of the aforementioned home, she doesn’t care to talk about the progress or the lack of it, she can’t juggle anything more than her own life, so she has gone semi-mute. You see. My friend Bristol is an introvert who enjoys solitude. Being around people or even talking on the phone drains her energy, and as a teacher, she interacts with over 150 people a day. She feels selfish for her “me” time and guilty for neglecting her relationships as daughter and mother, sister and cousin, niece and aunt, friend and teacher. Bristol would want anyone who knew her to understand the nature of an introspective person. She’s rebuilding—not only her house—but also herself, daily. 

My friend Bristol has a lifelong friend named Cam, who once said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Flowers don’t blossom every day. They have their season.” Bristol has huge respect for Cam and good metaphors. I hope you do, too.  

rose of sharon The Rose of Sharon forever reminds me of Mom and Steinbeck.

As March marches to a halt, I remember once more my mother saying, “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.”  

March

So here’s my spin: a storm brews before each beautiful calm.

Storm Count of Monte Cristo
And by “man,” I believe Dumas meant “woman” as well.

 

We Are III Keys

Beyond our day jobs, Kody and I moonlight as managing partners and co-owners of Three Keys Properties, where we invest in and re-design residential fixer uppers, improving neighborhoods one house at a time. We’re not quite Chip and Jo. Less charming. No shiplap experimentation. No aspirations for our own show. However, Kody finds the deals, I have an eye for aesthetics, and together we grow in our experience.

Why Three Keys? One might ask. Bear with me.

Once upon a time, after nineteen years of marriage, I called movers, packed my bags, and left Kody behind. The details no longer matter. Neither one of us could afford to stay in our home without the other, so sadly we lost our most-favorite house…a spacious kitchen, ample storage, oversized master, en suite garden tub, best shower so far, his and her walk-in closets, a sparkling pool, a relaxing spa…so many things to love including my good friend, neighbor, and walking buddy Martha. 

Within a year of the divorce, I missed “the family,” Kody hung in there as my “friend,” and together we vacationed as “friends” with our kids in the Big Apple. I ❤️ NY, and I returned to my rented Plano townhome realizing that I ❤️ Kody, too. Sometimes time and space and amazing food and art museums and Broadway and romantic cities reveal the importance of people and things once taken for granted. Somewhere in that timeframe, Kody purchased a house in foreclosure, a dilapidated structure with beautiful bones and a sordid history. There may or may not have been a prostitution ring living and working in that house, abundantly wired, for surveillance purposes I presume. I swear. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Somehow we both related to taking on a neighborhood‘s dirty secret, giving it new life and a renewed sense of hope.

I remember sitting on the back patio of my townhome on a clear fall day, the sun shining, and Kody asking for my advice on his new renovation. I flipped through the Sherwin Williams paint color fan deck, searching for the perfect exterior trim color, matching the chip to the metal trim of MY patio furniture—Enduring Bronze. Eventually I assisted in decisions on flooring, granite, and interior paint as well. Somewhere along the way, Kody’s house felt like MY house, so I called movers, packed my bags once more, and moved back in with Kody. Together we lived in sin. (I joke—I’m  pretty sure that God approved of my decision to live with my former husband of nineteen years).

During our live-in-lover stage-of-life, my parents looked forward to their 50th wedding anniversary, and my dad planned a family celebration on a Mediterranean cruise for my mother. The family included my sister and brother, their spouses, and me and my boyfriend Kody. I cannot condense this story with justice, but all of my blabbity-blah leads up to the formation of Three Keys Properties. If an extended, kind-of-cute love story interests you, click the link of The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Anyway, while on that cruise, outside of Kuşadası, Turkey, near the ruins of Ephesus, Kody and I drank from three sacred water fountains, which, according to our tour guide, symbolized health, wealth, and love. (As an English teacher, I loves me some good symbolism). After quenching my thirst that day, I kissed Kody before writing a little prayer of gratitude to God for my family’s health, wealth, and love. I stuck the little piece of paper into a prayer wall with a million other prayers. And before the end of the day, June 23, 2011, Kody asked me to re-marry him on the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean, ring and all. Ironic, right? I say, “Name it and  claim it.” 

11.11

Side story: Kody had this thing (and still does) about spotting 11:11, mostly on digital clocks, but anywhere really…addresses…telephone numbers…consecutive 11s continued appearing. “It’s 11:11,” he would say, and with or without him, I began noticing the number coincidence, too. Apparently, many people see it, and theories abound on the 11:11 meaning. Google it. Angels are communicating…make a wish…oneness. Once engaged, we chose November 11, 2011, which seemed the obvious date for wedding #2.

11.11.11
11.11.11

A few years after incorporating as one in holy matrimony, we decided to incorporate for residential redevelopment purposes in an official limited liability company. While brainstorming business names, Kody came across the symbolic meaning of three keys. When worn together, they unlock the doors of health, wealth, and love, which we continue to name and claim, not only for us, but for anyone we work with along the way.

Hackamore The foreclosed home we purchased, remodeled head-to-toe, and sold when we relocated to Houston. For a tour, click https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/3600-Hackamore-Ct-Plano-TX-75023/26602059_zpid/

Searcy The 1940’s bungalow we purchased when the previous owner called our number off of our We Buy Houses sign. We added 1000 square feet, with a living room, three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a new laundry room. The new owners were thrilled to have a move-in ready home. For a tour, click https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2527-Searcy-Dr-Dallas-TX-75211/26735308_zpid/

Upon arriving in Houston, we moved into another fixer upper, a mid-century modern home, built in 1960. We consulted with interior designer Jessica Brown, who drew a new blueprint, and then started from scratch to build a network of home specialists–contractors and painters, flooring and brick and foundation guys, window installers and plumbers–in a new city. We stumbled through finding the right contractor to accomplish the goal, tearing down walls and redesigning an open-concept kitchen, living, and dining space while expanding the existing laundry room. After months of construction, two contractors, and phase one completion, we planned to update the bathrooms and create a new outdoor living space when Hurricane Harvey poured trillions of gallons of rain upon the city of Houston, flooding our investment and, just like the board game Trouble, sending us back to start. Slowly but surely, Three Keys Properties makes a comeback. 6″ x 36″ wood look porcelain tile installation close-to complete, an expanded master bath soon-to-be a reality. Photos and home again…in the not-so-distant future.

Automatic Weapons Suck*

Peace 2

Another mass shooting, and I can’t even…I find myself reading. I want to know the victims. Did you happen to read, “The Names and Faces of the Florida Shooting Victims?” I hope you will. Click the link. They deserve to be remembered. My heart breaks for the parents who lost children, educators who lost students, kids who lost siblings and friends and teachers who took bullets for them. Another school, another mass shooting. I want to know the suspect.  Did you happen to read that Cruz purchased the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223 assault rifle lawfully as an 18-year-old? Why can teenagers legally buy semi-automatic weapons before alcohol? Did you happen to read that authorities had been called to Cruz’s house 39 times between 2011 and 2016 and that he claimed to hear voices in his head telling him to carry out the attack? This information strikes a chord with me, and my heart also breaks for those who suffer from mental health issues. My son Drew also hears voices in his head, and in those years of refusing medication, I made a handful of hard calls to 911. When the police would arrive, they always asked, “Are there any weapons in the house?”

And I would always say, “No.” After talking to Drew, officers would always take him away in handcuffs, never to jail, instead to a psychiatric hospital. The need for help, always obvious. There’s no simple way to tell our story, and maybe one day I’ll publish that book. But this I know—medication helps, and people who care can make a difference.

Instead of my story, let me tell you about Stephanie Escamilla. I know of her through a CNN article titled “’My Son Is Mentally Ill’ So Listen Up,” which sheds light on mental illness through the lens of an average American family and its pursuit of normalcy.  Escamilla’s 14-year-old son “Daniel” has been diagnosed with type 1 bipolar disorder compounded with episodes of psychosis.  He has been hospitalized more than twenty times over a four-year period.  Daniel hears voices telling him to kill his brother, his mother, and himself.  He has seen “bodies lying on the floor” and “demons flying in the sky.”  Daniel sometimes punches walls and cuts his arms to deflect the voices he hears.  He takes five medications to “regulate his mood swings, control his anxiety, and tamp down the episodes of psychosis.”  At times Stephanie has blamed herself for Daniel’s behavior and felt like she “hated” her son, but now she realizes it’s the illness she hates.  In the beginning when she tried to explain Daniel’s diagnosis with friends and family, Stephanie faced reactions of “fear, disbelief, prejudice, and ignorance.”  After Daniel’s suicide attempt, her family no longer ignores “the severity of his illness.”  Now Stephanie realizes that “one person who loves you can make all the difference,” that “people judge,” and that “complete strangers could make a difference if only they understood.”  As a board member of the San Antonio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stephanie actively tells her story to encourage other families living with the illness and to educate the public, especially those lacking understanding or experience with the illness.

mental health statistics

Mental health has been marginalized in the U. S. and the mentally ill ignored.  The statistics show the epidemic proportions of mental illness in our country, and the sorry state of expenditures for mental health where we live in Texas.  From experience I know that there are illnesses of the body and illnesses of the mind. Both are equally real and often unavoidable.  We research cures for cancer, but what about mental illness?  Do you ever hear of anyone walking for a cure?  There must be a brighter future for 75 million Americans.

Since my son’s diagnosis with paranoid schizophrenia in November of 2010, I have been paying closer attention to national tragedies and mass shootings.  Do you remember Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown?  Each time, the shooter’s photo flashed across the television screen, I saw a little of my son, the light missing from their eyes. 

On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot 19 people in Tucson, Arizona, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Gifford. At age 22 with a legally purchased Glock pistol, he fired 31 shots in approximately 30 seconds. Six of his victims died.  I remember seeing his photo on TV, his smug expression and apparent lack of remorse. As I listened to accounts of his bizarre behavior on the news, I said to myself, he has schizophreniaAfter his arrest, the diagnosis was confirmed by doctors. Why had no one understood the severity of Loughner’s illness until it was too late?  Could this tragedy have been prevented?  Loughner was judged competent to stand trial, pled guilty on 19 counts of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.  Gun control dominated the national conversation.

On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes killed 12 and injured 70 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where he set off gas or smoke canisters and then opened fire.  Hearing the story and seeing his photo, I recognized the illness.  He had met with at least three mental health professionals before the massacre, and one psychiatrist reported that Holmes had made homicidal statements. Shouldn’t Holmes have been court ordered into psychiatric treatment at that point?  Instead, he purchased an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 12-gauge shot gun, a .40 caliber Glock handgun, another pistol, and 6000 rounds of ammunition. Holmes was 24-years-old. Could this tragedy have been prevented?  From the beginning of the tragedy until Holmes’s life sentence without parole in 2015, our national conversation centered on gun control.  

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed his mother at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school along with 20 children and 6 educators before committing suicide.  At age 20, Lanza brought three weapons into the school that day: two handguns, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm, along with a semi-automatic Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-16 assault rifle, banned by federal law in 1994, which expired in 2004. Lanza left a fourth weapon, a shot gun, in the car.The weapons belonged to his mother. Again, I remember seeing Adam Lanza’s face on the news and thinking, No one in their right mind shoots innocent children. According to FOX news, Peter Lanza said that his son Adam had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder. Autism advocates campaigned to clarify that autism is a brain-related developmental problem and not a mental illness.  Peter Lanza suspects that his son suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia.  He said that he wished his son had never been born and that you can’t “get any more evil.”  Could one person who loved Adam Lanza have made a difference and prevented another tragedy?  Could complete strangers have made a difference if only they had understood?  Once again the national conversation returned to gun control.  Once again mental illness had been marginalized.  Once again the mentally ill ignored.

The stories of Stephanie Escamilla and Crystal Byers and 75 million more families don’t make the headlines.  Unfortunately, the names of a few generate fear, prejudice, and ignorance, stigmatizing the millions who silently suffer behind closed doors.

Let us now fast forward from 2012. Remember Washington Navy Yard? Fort Hood? Charleston? San Bernardino? Orlando? Las Vegas? Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church? Mass shooting after mass shooting, sometimes connected to mental health issues, not always. But how much longer will we talk about weapons reform before laws change? In recent days, the divisive political rhetoric compounds the heartbreak. The us vs. them. The conservatives vs. the liberals. The Democrats vs. the Republicans. The right vs. the left.

I don’t own a gun, but I grew up with them. My dad kept the gun cabinet locked until hunting season arrived and drove me into the country for shooting practice from time to time. A few of my best girlfriends are licensed carriers, and I’m in no way opposed to the right to bear arms. Yesterday, I clicked into a Brené Brown article, “Gun Reform, Speaking the Truth to Bullshit, Practicing Civility, and Effecting Change,” and while thinking about the gun control debate and my own opinion on another seemingly preventable tragedy, I couldn’t agree with her more. Brown says, “I absolutely do support commonsense gun laws. I believe in rigorous background checks and waiting periods. I don’t believe that it should be legal to sell automatic weapons, large magazines, or armor–piercing bullets. I don’t believe in campus carry.” Let’s practice civility and take action for change. The time is now to make both mental health and gun reform a national priority, not after another national tragedy.

If you are like me, grappling with the weight of another senseless mass shooting, wondering how to make a difference, listen to my friend Heather Haines: “Use your powerful voices. Call your representatives today https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and explain that this current climate of gun violence is unacceptable, so they understand their constituents are a bigger force than the NRA lobby. Join the common sense Every Town for Gun Safety https://everytown.org/ which provides tangible ways to act. Please. Don’t just do it for your own families, but for families in every city, big and small, urban and rural, across the country. Yours is a powerful voice. Please use it.”

*An AR-15 is not an automatic weapon. It is semi-automatic. However, with tiny needle-nosed bullets weighing less than four grams and traveling almost three times as fast as the speed of light, this weapon was designed for “maximum wound effect.” According to Rolling Stone, “As the bullet strikes the body, the payload of kinetic energy rips open a cavity inside the flesh–essentially inert space–which collapses back in on itself, destroying inelastic tissue, including nerves, blood vessels, and vital organs…Gunmakers–emboldened by Congress and cloaked in the second amendment –have elevated the AR-15 into an avatar of civilian manhood, independence, and patriotism…the National Rifle Association now simply calls the AR-15 ‘America’s Rifle.'” Automatic? Semi-automatic? These weapons still suck.

Peace

Q is for Quirk and 5 is for…

I have this quirk. Okay, I’m sure I have more than one, but today I only admit to this—I count. Not as in I matter. Of course, I know I do. We all do. I’m talking numbers here. Sometimes in ascending order. Sometimes descending. Compulsively and obsessively. I find myself counting the number of essays I have left in my grading stack, even when eleven remain, I’ll grade the next, forget the number eleven, and re-count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I find myself counting the stairs to the third-floor room at the La Quinta. Almost daily. Two flights of sixteen equals thirty-two. I find myself counting the stairs to my second-floor room at school. Two flights of eleven equals twenty-two.  When I walk at a brisk pace, I find myself counting off my steps by eights. I attribute that to sixteen years of dance lessons with five life-shaping instructors: Charlene Blackmore, Gayla Smith, Billie Grabeal, Norma Ansley (God rest her beautiful soul), and Claudia Winters. If any of you are reading, when the music is good, I still dance. Anyway, speaking of five…

I passed the five-week mark of second semester and the five-month mark at my beloved La Quinta. I use beloved sincerely. These past five months I’ve learned minimalism and grown content here, where I sit on a king-sized bed, propped up on pillows, with my man and my dog in approximately 300 square feet. These past five months when I call Kody after work each day, I’ve learned to conjure Ricky Ricardo and say, “Hi Honey. I’m home.” Home. It’s where the heart is. And each day Rain, the sweetest eight-pound dog in the world, proves that maxim at the door with her big smile and waggedy tail. And each day, Kody and I try to prove it to each other with understanding of each other’s moods, a caress, and an unexpected kiss when life tries to stand in the way of our good time.

Dad and Rain
So much love in those eyes.

Daily I drive past the homeless stationed by the traffic light near the overpass, not far down the access road from our temporary home: the Hispanic man on crutches with an amputated leg and a smile, selling M and M’s, a tall, thin African-American man who washes windshields for spare cash, an aging white man with John Lennon glasses and a long, grizzly beard, holding his cardboard sign, “Disabled Vietnam Veteran. Anything helps. God Bless.” I give away my cash when I have it, and these people of the street without fail will look into my eyes and say, “God Bless You.” A few dollars for a blessing from God. I wish I could do more. Some will impart their wisdom, and I find the words of a man with a deeply tanned and weathered face echoing in my memory. With his pale blue eyes locked on mine, he said, “Happiness is a choice. You can wake up each day and choose to be happy.” Then he turned to Drew in the car with me on our way to see his doctor. “Stay in school, young man, so this doesn’t happen to you.” I think to myself, he saw right through me, and I ponder his attitude against all odds. I know he’s right. My dad always said the same thing. I think about the tent under the overpass near home and wonder how many of those familiar faces huddle there at night as temperatures drop. No doubt they would be grateful for five months with a roof over their heads, a dry room with a heater, a bed with pillows to spare, a hot shower with soap and shampoo, a complimentary breakfast with hot coffee. I feel fortunate—and grateful.

For anyone new to my blog, Welcome and let me fill you in! And to all of you reading, thank you for your interest in my excerpted life. I’m humbled by over 2300 views since September and readers who have stumbled upon my words from all over the world—Romania, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Russia, China, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Ukraine, Cameroon, Moldova, Vietnam, Indonesia, Canada, and the good ol’ USA. I see you, like the homeless man saw me. And like him, I pass the torch of his message to you in hopes you keep the fire alive and pass it forward. I wish I knew his name. If I see him again, I’ll let him know he is making a difference from the streets of Houston. 

On August 27, we evacuated to the pet-friendly La Quinta when the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey invaded our Houston home, and well, rebuilding takes time. And—so does mold remediation. These past five months, after many-a-bleach treatment, four mold tests, removing all remaining items from the house, including all cabinets, the bathtub, and the shower, knocking out more walls and the ceiling in places, cleaning the air ducts, pouring a new concrete subfloor throughout the house, and painting all studs within the exposed walls with a mold barrierWE PASSED OUR MOLD INSPECTION!!!

In five months’ time, I’ve watched my androgynously short hair grow less androgynous and my over-sized ass shrink in size in the mirror before my eyes. Growing and shrinking takes time, and you know what else takes time? Settling with our insurance company. Soon after the flood, our insurance adjuster had flown in from the east coast to assist with the influx of claims in Houston. He inspected our home when it still had floors and cabinets and bathroom fixtures, all of which ended up curbside in a moldy mass after his visit. Early on our insurance company shot us a ridiculously low-ball number to settle, and we hired Kelly, an experienced public adjuster to help us battle Lloyd’s of London, who holds our flood insurance policy. We compiled a massive itemized list of our losses and tracked down proof of purchases where we could. Lloyd’s countered again with a number twice as high as the first number, but still less than the cost to cover our damages, so we requested to have another adjuster come out to the house. A little over a week ago, that meeting happened with Kody, Kelly, and the new Lloyd’s guy. Kody told me later, “I just kept my mouth shut and let Kelly take care of it, but it went really well. This guy was local, so he knows what people have been through and sees it all the time. He feels it. Our first adjuster mis-diagrammed the house, and this guy found other mistakes and agreed with a lot of what Kelly said. He said they would let us know something as soon as possible.”

Paint Colors
What do you think of St. Bart’s for the front door?.

Meanwhile, we wait and hope and proceed the best we can. Kody and I received an advance from our to-be-determined insurance settlement, and we have taken out an SBA loan for work to progress at home. New electrical—check. New plumbing—check. Insulation and drywall in progress. We selected Sherwin Williams colors and painted the outside of the house: the bricks Neutral Ground, the siding and garage door Dorian Gray, the trim Urbane Bronze, front door to be determined. From the street our home shouts, “Look! My people gave me a makeover, but I’m still mid-mod at heart.”  We plan for new outdoor lighting and landscaping once construction is complete. Photos to come, but don’t hold your breath. Rebuilding takes time. Yet I see the light at the end of the tunnel and much excitement ahead. As I count down the days to our sixth month at the La Quinta and check off the days of the upcoming sixth week of the second semester, I look forward—to cooking in my own kitchen, to sleeping in my brand-new bed, to showering in my brand-new shower, to relaxing in an actual living room, oh, and to Spring Break. 

This kid spoke to me on Facebook. Listen to him for two minutes. From the mouth of a child, “I propose you practice joy.” From the mouth of my dad, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” From the mouth of a homeless man who reminded me again on a dark day, “Happiness is a choice. You can wake up each day and choose to be happy.”

And about that 5? It represents what I would like to call my past tendency to obsess over the things I cannot control and my new intention to stay focused on the following five: Faith, Gratitude, Peace, Hope, and Joy. I choose all five, and I will continue to practice.

“What do you practice?”

Advice from 2017 Crystal: A Top Ten List (With a Bonus)

Returning to school this past week after a rejuvenating holiday, I had an action plan to keep my mind right with a simple formula of God and gratitude. Monday started strong, but by Friday, my positivity was shot to Hell. Ironically, I missed my devotional that day, and I may or may not have been nursing a hangover. I haven’t mastered the art of not allowing people and circumstances to suck the good mojo right out of me.

img_6328
The devotional that would have saved my week.  His name will redirect my thoughts.

Thankfully I had pre-packed my bags and loaded my Mazda for an overnight stay in Dallas with a couple of my forever friends, if you call 38-43 years forever, before driving on to Oklahoma to visit family. With ample time to think while disentangling myself from Houston traffic, I reflected on my own best advice for those times when life fails to go my way:

  1. Talk to God and trust him (That Time When I Met Harvey).
  2. Ask for help when necessary and accept it when people offer (The Most Humbling Part of Harvey).
  3. Wait and hope (Wait and Hope and Other Mantras).
  4. At times you must dismantle to rebuild (And Rebuilding Takes Time).
  5. Seek inspiration (Eyes Open and Seeking).
  6. Surround yourself with positive energy (Flawed but Still Trying and The Power of Positivity).
  7. When God speaks, listen (A Divine Intervention).
  8. Practice gratitude (The Deep Sapphire Blue of the Mediterranean Sea).
  9. Love Liberates (Five Years before I Said, “I Do.” Also, Love Liberates).
  10. True friends nurture the soul (A Life You Want and Eyes Open and Seeking).
  11. Forgiveness and kindness reverse worst case scenarios (How to Deal with a Purse Snatcher).
  12. Through challenges we learn and grow in strength and wisdom (Goodbye, Beef Pot Pie).

Pre-divorce, I needed a psychologist. Mine came highly recommended by two different teacher friends after having a meltdown or two at school. I’m flashing back about fourteen years, which seems a lifetime ago. Through counseling, I became more self-aware and discovered my role in my own life. Each session, Dr. Stevenson probed, I verbally processed, and my eyes malfunctioned with a non-stop leak. Through her questions and my answers, I became conscious of my guarded nature, my inability to speak of heavy things, and my inclination to stuff my feelings. The doctor listened more than she spoke, but I’ll never forget her saying, “Crystal, don’t you have any friends?”

And me sobbing, “No!”

And her saying, “You’ve got to open up to people.”

In the first fourteen years of my marriage, we had lived in three states and moved five times. I had attended one junior college, two universities, and worked at eight different jobs. My friendships and relationships in general were surface level, in part due to continual change. Dr. Stevenson’s advice was pivotal. Slowly and over time, I made meaningful bonds by sharing my truth.  

Denise and I met at age five when I crashed her birthday party. K-12, we shared many teachers, birthday parties, and childhood memories. After high school, our lives diverged, but at our twenty-year high school reunion, we discovered we lived within twenty minutes of each other in the Dallas area. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. Neither one of us judged. I was her vault, and she was mine.

Pamela entered the montage of my life in the fifth grade. From humble beginnings, she put herself through school at Notre Dame, sending me ND baby booties for Drew and letters from India when she studied abroad. Somehow before cell phones, we always maintained our connection even as her life led her from one adventure to the next. We reconnected on Facebook when she lived in NYC, and she flew from her home in Miami to mine in Dallas when I remarried Kody. Now living in the wild west near Waco, Pamela, Denise, and I have formed a trio of Mutual Admiration.

img_6207
11/11/11 wedding celebration with my forever friends.

After my extra-long drive from Houston to Dallas, I beat myself up in front of my friends through the rehashing of my day, and by the end of the night, I felt renewed strength. On Saturday morning, before I departed for OKC, I asked Denise and Pamela, “So what are your take-aways from our time together?”

Pamela responded, “Flowers don’t blossom every day. They have their season. I learned that from Glennon Doyle Melton. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ll be right back.” She returned with gifts, wrapped in gold tissue paper, for both Denise and me.

img_6329
A book from Pamela. Have I mentioned being a Brene Brown fan?

I look back on this weekend and laugh out loud. Pamela observes with a keen eye and knows me well.  Apparently, our journeys are similar, and by ‘our’ I mean, all of us. I don’t know about you, but I seem to need some reminders, so I pass them along, just in case.

Pamela continued, “I’m also reminded of something that Tony Robbins said…” Whatever Tony Robbins said was good, something about being self-consumed, but I didn’t write it down, so I quickly forgot. The three of us said our goodbyes with hugs and vows to see each other again soon.

I trekked on to Oklahoma City to visit my precious mother in memory care, my super hero dad, who makes the ten-hour round trip each weekend, my sort-of cool brother Scott and his awesome wife Gerri, who have quite possibly worn their very own ruts on the road between Stillwater and OKC, and my closest cousin Angie, who would have a guest room, a bottle of wine, and a hot tub waiting for me at the end of the day. Of course, I kid about my bro. From my standpoint, he plays the role of son, husband, father, and brother like a pro. And Angie and I, well, we solved all the world’s problems in our swimsuits in her backyard, oblivious to the 29  ̊of a January night. < span style=”color: #000000; font-family: Calibri”>On Sunday morning, I joined my parents for church, at my mom’s assisted living community. We sang “God Will Take Care of You” and listened to a sermon about three Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego from the book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar had the men bound and thrown into his furnace for refusing to worship an oversized gold statue. The three men told the king that God would deliver them. Sure enough, the king looked into the furnace and saw four men, not three, and then commanded Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego to come out of the furnace. The men were no longer bound, and they were untouched by fire. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar does a 180  ̊turn around and praises the God of the Jews for sending an angel to rescue the men. God took care of Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego, just as I know he will take care of me.

God's card
My dad handed me God’s card when I arrived on Saturday.

My visits with Mom are always too short and too sweet. Especially as her memories fade, I cherish those moments until our time ends abruptly, and I find myself once more behind the wheel. Time and time again, I feel most bolstered by my family and friends only to set myself up for a fall, right back into my pity party. Wah! From the road, I shot Pam and Denise a text: “Remind me what Tony Robbins said, Pamela. Something about thinking about yourself.” She responded, “The fastest way to misery is making everything about you.” The End