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6 posts from September 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Pride Runneth Over


My baby girl isn't a baby anymore.  She is growing up so fast, and I am so proud of her I could burst.  She started 10th grade this year and she is doing so well - beyond my expectations, but not beyond her own. 


So many 15 year old's lack the focus and commitment for their education and future.  Not Sarah.  She is totally committed to her future and her education.  She has high goals for herself.   We have always encouraged her to pursue her passions and reach for those dreams that are important to her, but I must admit I am surprised and inspired by her goals.  Well, maybe I'm not really all that surprised.  Sarah has always been a "winner."  From the time she was little, she viewed competition as a way to grow to have fun, to make new friends, and that is what I tried to teach her - that competition can be healthy and fun, it all depends on how you look at it.


Today in school, she was given a document to fill out about her college goals and when she got home she proceeded to tell me what she wrote...

Harvard Medical
Yale Law
Georgetown Medical or Law
University of North Carolina

I knew that she was investigating colleges online in her spare time, but - well - I had no idea she was aiming so high.  Thing is, though, is that I know she can do it.  There is nothing holding her back except maybe finances.  She has a healthy brain and a healthy body.  She is smart and articulate - and I think I've earned bragging rights here.  I mean, she's my baby girl - and so grown up. 


Sarah has been researching colleges since she was in 8th grade, but this list blew me away.  She is an "A" student with the occasional "B."  She takes Honors and Advanced Placement classes.  This semester she is taking Honors Biology, Honors Algebra II, French I, and Civics.  She has the highest grade in her class in Honors Biology with an average score of "97."  Now do you understand why I'm so proud?  Why "we" are so proud?


I homeschooled Sarah from the beginning until she started her high school years, and I am doing the same for our other 2 children.  Matthew and Glen are now in 7th and 4th grades, respectively, and doing very well.  But Sarah has validated, for me anyway, that her years of homeschooling were successful, and that she understands how important her high school years and her grades are in being able to pursue her college education.  For her, high school is not a game - it's her future.  It's her job.  We tell her to "Stay focused and keep her eye on the goal."  And, you know somethin'? - she is doing just that.


I have a strange way of explaining things sometimes, but I have told all of our children since 7th grade that they need to hone their study skills "now" and get into the mind-set of aiming for those "As."  They need to understand that as soon as they enter high school, they are in competition with every other student to garner the attention of the college they want to go to.  If they have a dream, nobody is going to hand it to them.  They have to earn it, earn it well, and work for it - every single day. They need to stay focused and before they can blink an eye, they will be living their dream.


We're talkin' scholarship money here, baby!  I've told our children that once they're in high school that every "A" is like being handed a check for a 1,000 dollars.  If you get a "B" that's like a check for one hundred dollars.  A "C" - you won't get anything.  If you get a "D" you have to give back 10,000 dollars. And if you fail, you have to give back everything you've earned thus far.  In other words, you might be going into some deep debt if you have poor grades. 

So, think about it - if you want to go to Harvard, for instance, and the annual tuition is, let's say, 100,000.  We've told Sarah she had better well have earned all, if not nearly all, "As" in her high school career.  Anything less, and they won't be interested in giving her squat, and we sure as heck can't afford to send her there otherwise, so she has to earn it on her own merits.  And thankfully, she takes that seriously.


Sarah understands this - clearly, too.  And she is busting her backside and her brain to earn those "As" and she bites her bottom lip every time she gets a "B."  I've never seen a teenager so committed to her future like Sarah and I am so proud of her for this.  When she sets her mind on something she does it - 102%.  Yep, 102%.  Why 102%?  Well, this is a funny story, but just last week she had a Biology test, and she came home and said "Mom, guess what I got on my Biology test?"  I responded "Uh, 90?"  (I always do that to her), she said "Nope."  Bob made a face and said "68?"  She looked at her dad and said "Dad! Good Grief!"  He smiled.  I said "Okay, what did you get?"  She said "102%."  "So how did you do that?"  "Well" Sarah said, "I got 100 on the test and an additional 2% on the extra credit question and I was the first one done in the class too." 

Funny thing is, is that this isn't the first time Sarah has earned additional points towards her grade over and above her already good grades.  It's like she is storing up for the winter just in case.  Just in case what? 


So, if my calculations are correct, she just earned 1,020 bucks towards the college of her choice.  I'm talking scholarship money here.  We want the colleges to be banging down her door.


And if this last year-and-a-half is any indication, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and UNC just might be banging down her door - and after her concert and performance of her composition "Waterfall" at Queen's University on November 21st, Juilliard just might be banging down her door too.

Then she can join Mensa like her Mom ...  to be continued semester by semester.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sometimes You Just Gotta Get Comfortable


Our doggies have their favorite chairs, and I'm convinced that there is psychology to the chosen chair.  Take Hannah for instance - I am convinced that she prefers this chair just so that she can keep an eye on me when I'm working on my laptop.  She'll jump up into the recliner and keep an eye out on all the activity in the family room.


Of course, if one of the children walk by, she'll pop her head up to see what's goin' on.


Then there is the occasional boredom.  Nothing to do, nobody to watch, nobody to play with, no feet to lick.


Poor Hannah.  Not even Adolf is playing with her at the moment.  Sarah's at school, the boys are doing their homework.  I'm painting, Dad's working on his computer, and Grandma is sleeping. 


What's a doggie to do?


Adolf has other ideas.  This is his favorite chair.  The big green chair in the music room, right by the window looking out onto the driveway and the front of the house.


You see, Adolf knows he is our guard dog, so he has to keep watch.  Of course, keeping watch is work, so he has to be comfortable at the same time.


Until he gets bored, and then he just hangs out and goes to sleep, and drools all over the chair.


And dreams about all the cats he can chase and bad guys he can intimidate.  And he drools all over the chair some more.


I suppose it isn't anything that upholstery cleaner won't cure.  And besides, he doesn't intimidate Mom... nope.  "Not Mom - naah - Mom's not intimidated at all.  She just wants me to make eyes at her and then come and lick her face." 

Now if only Adolf would learn not to bark at all the squirrels, we'd have a quieter household.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Accomplishments Feel So Grand


We are very proud of our girl!
Sarah has been invited to
Queen's University
to perform her "Waterfall" composition
in a winter concert at the University
on November 21st.  

The second half of the concert will include
a performance by
Jazz pianist and recording artist Claire Ritter
Boston Percussionist Takaaki Masuko

How exciting! 

More information about the time and location on
the University campus will be forthcoming.
Cost will be $10.00 at the door. 
Hope you can make it to this
wonderful performance in
beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina!

And, more good news ...

I received an email from the author of
"TypePad for Dummies"
which is being published in
February 2010
that my blog "Raisin Toast"
will be pictured and mentioned in her chapter
"Top 10 TypePad blogs!"

How great is that!

In the event you haven't heard Sarah's
beautiful composition ...


Monday, September 07, 2009

What Not To Do - Or...


This year has been so discouraging that I have been thinking seriously about what options and resources are available for opening a small business.  Having been a small business owner in the past, I carry with me a bungalow of optimism when it comes to starting a business, however, I know how much energy, time, and effort goes into the building, creating, and financing of a business as well.  It's a lot of work - and that's an understatement.

When I was in my early 20s and a single mother with 2 little girls, I started "Real Estate Services of South Florida."  I had worked as a legal secretary for a number of years and found myself specializing in Real Estate settlements.  I did such a great job of preparing documents, making calls, and organizing the process that other attorneys in the area who came to the law firm that I worked for asked me if I would help them with their settlements or train their legal secretary to do what I was doing.  And so, to make a little extra cash on the side, that is what I did for about 2 years, and then my life moved on to other things and in a completely different direction, but it was a great experience.

I was a dreamer in my 20s - in a big way.  My mind was always giving me new ideas and creative ways to change and grow, sometimes to my detriment, and other times to my success.  I flipped-flopped around a lot.  Not necessarily a good thing. 

While I had my real estate services business, and was raising 2 baby girls, I was also going to college.  And every other week I was getting my nails done, and back in the 80s that was a new and exciting business.  Nail salons were not something you find on every street corner like today, and incredibly, it cost more to get your nails done in the 80s than it does now!  Still, I was getting my nails done and thought "This sure would be a fun business." And, so, I started to ask questions and I got to know the owner of the salon I went to every other week. 

I moved back to Maryland (where I am from) from South Florida where I had been living for 5 years with my girls.  I love Maryland, although it is more expensive to live there than South Florida.  Still, I moved back to be with someone I had loved and dated back when I was in high school and to start a new life with my girls.  When I got there, the first thing I noticed was that there were no nail salons - anywhere.  So, you can imagine what big ideas started to circle through my brain.

So, with money from my guy (who is still a dear friend), my piddly savings, and a small bank loan, we, together, opened a nail salon in Olney, Maryland.  We called it "Armonds Nail Salon."  It was our first attempt at a brick & mortar retail / services business.  It was exhausting, but - and this is a big "but" - it was profitable, and in a very short time.  That is because as I said earlier, there were no nail salons.  My salon was the first nail salon in Montgomery County, Maryland and I had business coming out of the woodwork.  It wasn't long before we were turning a profit, so much so that Mike, my Naval Academy guy and Kathleen's daddy, quit his job and joined me in growing the business.  That turned out to be the death of our relationship.


We worked 14-16 hour days 6 days a week, and on our day off we cleaned the salon.  It became all consuming to the point that it affected the lives of my girls, my health, and our relationship.  Women were constantly flirting with Mike and I was upset.  Actually, I was an emotional, hormonal basketcase back then.  It wasn't fun.  Our salon was gorgeous, and Mike and I were both very proud of it, but it destroyed "us" and nearly buried me.  Was it worth it?  Well, no.  Not really.  Hindsight is 20/20.  There was no "balance" and I have learned over the years that we all need "balance" in everything we do.  Without balance, something is bound to suffer - whether it be the laundry or something more important like family - something will suffer.  I still struggle with finding the right balance in my life for all the things I do, and many days I fail at it miserably, but I try.  Back in the 80s I didn't have a clue what balance was all about and pretty much lived each day by the seat of my pants.  Let's just say I was "wingin it" most of the time.

Without getting into the ugly details, I will tell you this - I left Maryland, left Mike, and took the salon with me lock, stock, and barrell - to Florida, where I then promptly opened a new salon "Altesse Nails" (Altesse I think is French for a strong woman or something like that). Anyway,  I opened my new salon, with the help of my mother, in Boca Raton, Florida.  To decorate the walls, and instead of purchasing ridiculously expensive framed prints from Ethan Allen which is what Mike and I had done in Maryland, I purchased some large canvas, oil paints, medium, brushes, and an easel, and whipped me up some paintings to cover my walls.

Altesse Nails was beautiful (of course it was, because I have good taste), but although I must admit I ran a better business, was more balanced, and was better able to get a grip on reality and on the basics of business management, I still struggled.  By the time I opened Altesse Nails I was 29 years old with a 10 year old daughter and an 8 year old daughter.  I had painted about 20 canvases in 2 months and sold every one of them for profit.  So, somewhere in South Florida, my oil paintings are floating around.  Or maybe not.  Although they sold quickly, I tend to think they must have been crappy.  I knew nothing about oil painting and whipped up abstract stuff that complimented the colors in the salon.  No rhyme or reason to my paintings.  I didn't photograph them (wish I had) but I did sign them (Susan Smith).  Anybody out there have an abstract oil painting from Susan Smith? It is probably mine. I kept having to paint to keep my walls covered.

What killed that business was a nasty custody battle that ensued for the next 3 years.  As a result, I sold my business to pay my attorney's fees, and returned to college, majoring in International business and law.  See how my life came full circle?


Let's see if I can sum it up - up to that point anyway ...

Art (childhood stuff)
Child (Kathleen) - that's what you call putting the cart before the horse.
Child (Kim)
The Big "D"
Law (legal secretary)
Small Business (Real Estate Services of South Florida)
College (Law studies) (cart before the horse again)
Small Business (Armond's Nail Salon)
The Big "D"
Small Business (Altesse Nails)
College (Law studies)

It's amazing I still had my wits about me (I think I did anyway) although I was ready to kick someone's ass back then I did manage to maintain a 4.0 gpa with a full college load of courses and was accepted into Mensa.  That was my way of convincing myself that I was smart I think.  I'm still a proud member of Mensa and still trying to convince myself that there really is something to IQ.  I am 142 thank you very much.  Whatever that means.  What does that really mean anyway? 

Still, I sold Altesse Nails, Mike moved the Maryland salon to bigger and better things (and location) and we spent a couple of years getting past the mess we had made of our lives and our relationship. 

Things were looking up - finally - and believe it or not, that is when I decided to concentrate fully on finishing my college career and becoming a lawyer.  I was living with my mother and doing well.  Not settled mind you, but doing better anyway - between wrestling matches with my first husband and custody battles.

I continued to paint while going to college and even sold a few more paintings.  Somewhere in-between all the chaos, I bought a Harley (Oh, I remember now, that was after I sold my salon in Florida), and that became my main transportation back and forth from college.  I think it was at that time that I had an epiphany - that my harley made me feel strong, sexy, crazy, and in control - all at the same time.  No wonder I enjoyed that machine.  I was also over "men" and decided that I would rather throw my leg over that bike than over a man any day.  - I know, bad humor.  Bear with me.  My life does get better believe it or not.

This reminiscing is kinda fun! ha - - - ho - - - hum.

Mike and I decided to give it the ol' college try again.  He had changed (or so he said) and I had grown (or so I thought).  So, I transferred to Georgetown University and moved back to Maryland, got a job at a law firm as a paralegal, and worked in our old salon with Mike - again.  Kathleen was a teenager and wanted to stay in Florida with all her friends.  Kimberly was back and forth with her father and me.

You'd think I would have learned the first time wouldn't ya?

Anyway, I worked and went to school and things began to deteriorate again from there.  So, I moved to my own place, continued to go to school, and got a job in another salon across town.  Mike and I were still friends though - somehow - someway - we survived another carnage.

8 months later I get notification of my 15 yr. high school reunion.  Mike didn't want to go so I went with a girlfriend and her husband.  Upon entering I run head long into Bobby Vaughn who was an acquaintance in high school.  Friendly (as always) he asked me a few "lead" questions:

Are you living here now? (Yes)

Are you still married? (No)

You want to go to dinner? (Uh .... Sure, why not)

We had a blast, and 6 weeks later, in another "Susan style" we got married.  Only, this time, it has lasted 17 years and will last a lifetime.  He's my Big Bear! 

We had 2 wonderful children whom you know about here in all their glory and then my mother moved in with us.  Then we inherited the joys of our grandson too when he was just 2 weeks old.  Then Bob's parents moved in with us for 4 years.  Then a lot happened in between and we moved to North Carolina and believe it or not, MIke and I are still friends.  I think. 

Somewhere in that time I finished college, became an artist, ticked off my 2 oldest daughters, and went very gray. 

Here I sit. 

So, I'm thinkin' (sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes that's a bad thing) and I'm-a-sittin' and I'm-a-thinkin' that I'd like to open an art gallery.  One that would have a player baby grand piano and beautiful artwork (to start mine and Alison's), and a working studio on the side with lots of windows, that member artists could rent and use for workshops or just for painting.  Oh, and a little cafe too with pastries and coffee and tea and soda and hot cocoa too.  And there'd be music and fine art and artists and friends and relaxation and all the world would be good.

Or not.

But I'm thinkin' here and the last year has been terribly discouraging economically and, well, unemployment doesn't last forever.

So, should I start a new brick & mortar business?  Do I dare? I think it would be different this time.  A lot different.  And, I think it would be successful too.  But then again, I'm an optimist and a dreamer.  Most artists are to some degree.  And that's why I started writing this dang post in the first place - to be a discussion of opening a small business.  How on earth did I end up here?  Hell if I know.

Now that you've read my life story, you can leave now.  Probably never come back.  This has probably been more than you bargained for.  I'm chronicling these things so that in the event I keel over - for good - that at least I wrote it down somewhere so my children will know what "not" to do in their lifetime.

And, if I can find the pictures that chronicle this 50 year roller coaster, I'll add them to this post - bit by bit.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Time for the Festival


Just want you all to know that I am busting my butt at the Matthews Alive Festival through Monday evening.  They'll have to peel me off the ground before the weekend is out.  I have to say, I really hate doing these festivals.  The last time I did this 2 years ago I swore I would never do it again and here I am.  I must be crazy.

So, this will be the last post until Tuesday if I'm not laid up in a hospital somewhere.  Festivals are exhausting.  Tonight we have to set up the tent, the tables, the paintings, the guestbook, the chairs, the cooler, the easels, yada yada yada.  Then I will come home and cry till I have to get up early and be at the Festival before 9am on Sat. Sun, and Monday to open my tent.  


Fortunately, Alison is selling her artwork with me so I won't be alone in my misery.  We can both complain for exactly 29 hours of brutal heat, no air conditioning, no fan, and ... well, you get the picture.  I'll have pictures of our misery to post next week though.  I'll bet you can't wait.

Here is a link to all the Arts & Crafts booths at this year's festival:


I'm #96.


No, this is not me.

Here is the schedule of events:

Festival Hours:

Friday, Sep 4th - 6:30 PM - 10:30 PM (AC and Kid's Connection closed Friday)
All you can ride Arm Band night!! - $15

Saturday, Sep 5th - 9 AM - 9:00 PM
Labor Day Parade: 10 AM (Trade Street)
Parade Order | Parade Route | Parade Staging | Parade Closings
Arts & Crafts: 9 AM - 7:30 PM - Coming soon. Arts and Craft Map
Kid's Connection: 9 AM - 7:00 PM
Quilt Show & Artists of Matthews display: 12 PM - 6 PM – Community Center

Sunday, Sep 6th - 12 PM – 9:00 PM
Arts & Crafts: 12 PM - 7:30 PM
Kid's Connection: 12 PM - 7:00 PM
Quilt Show & Artists of Matthews display: 1 PM - 6 PM – Community Center

Monday, Sept. 7th - 10 AM - 5 PM
Kiwanis Race: 8 AM
Arts & Crafts: 10 AM - 5 PM
Kid's Connection: 10 AM - 4 PM
Quilt Show & Artists of Matthews display: 10 AM - 4 PM . Community Center

If you are in the Charlotte, North Carolina area of Matthews, stop by the tent at #96 in front of the school.  I will appreciate the diversion.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What's the One Thing?


To everyone who stops by today ... I have a random question for you ...

What is the one thing you wished for that you are glad you never got? 

This question was posed on TypePad and it got me thinkin.  So, what is the one thing that I wished for that I am glad I never got?  Actually, I think I may have a few things.

I am glad I never moved to New York right out of high school.

I am glad I never moved to California in my 20s.

I am glad I never bought that little rambler on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I am glad I don't look like Christy Brinkley.  I think.

I am glad I don't have more children.  I'm happy with the one's I have.

This is a biggie - I am glad I had a miscarriage in the early part of my pregnancy in February, 1996.  If I had not lost that baby, I would not have gotten pregnant 6 weeks later with my first and only son.  He is the light of my life.  God always has a plan.

I am glad I did not marry ... (let's see, there were a few who asked and I almost said "yes.")

I am glad I did not finish law school and instead married a wonderful man and was able to seek out my dreams and explore my creative goals while raising our children and taking care of our home.

Bottom line, I am happy that I am here today - flaws and all.  The path to get here has sometimes been paved with stones, and sometimes been paved with dirt, and a few times I got stuck in a rut on the side of the dirt road, but the view along the way has been agood one. 

TypePad posed this question today on their site and it stopped me in my tracks.  I sometimes wonder why we are having to struggle for the first time in our life, but we are struggling together and we are healthy - today - right now - we are all healthy and together and we have a home. We have soft, cool pillows to rest our weary heads.  We have orange juice, milk, and bread.  We have clean clothes and we can take a hot shower.  We have these silly computers in which to communicate and do our work. We have 2 of the most adorable dogs ever who lick our feet and nibble on our toes. 

Big Bear may have lost his job almost a year ago (Sept. 15, 2008) no thanks to Avaya's layoff, but we've pulled together, bit the bullet, and managed to survive - together.  I think there is a lesson to be learned here too, because although Bob "wished" he had not been laid off, maybe, just maybe, the best is yet to come.  I believe we all may have learned a difficult lesson in managing our pennies and valuing more the things we normally take for granted.  Like television.  We cut off our satellite television about 3 weeks ago and surprisingly, we haven't missed it all that much.  We've spent more time together as a family, the boys have found new ways to entertain themselves (lincoln logs, board games, and books), and I've gotten more paintings done.

I suppose around every cloud there is a silver lining. 

So tell me, What is the one thing you wished for that you are glad you never got? Or two ...


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