Dinner at The Ramsey Diner+Drive-in

Growing Up Austin
As Blue Eyes, Noel, Sparkles and Buttercup walked in the front door of our house, I said, “Hello. Welcome to The Ramsey Diner. How many in your party?”

They hesitated and looked around.

“Party of four?” I said, “Come this way.”

I sat them at the first booth, well, the only booth. I had moved our kitchen table into the living room, with the couch serving as part of the booth and chairs on the other side. Silverware was wrapped in napkins at each place setting. Then, to compliment the diner theme, I added a bit of a drive-in, with the TV on and ready-to-go. The movie was Grease, a family favorite.

As everyone sat down, I pulled out my waitress pad and a pen. “What would y’all like to drink?”

This was the first ever night at The Ramsey Diner + Drive-in. We needed a win, as a family. We had more challenges than usual, more worries, more lost sleep. We needed to have fun.

I brought out the drinks on a round pizza tray, a risky move for any waitress, especially for an inexperienced and clumsy one.

Then I took orders for plain, traditional or blue cheese and bacon burgers. Buttercup was the last one to give her order. Then I asked her, “Would you like fries with that?”

We never make fries at the house. I don’t know why, we just don’t. So I might as well have said, “Would you like a huge bowl of ice cream in instead of green peas,” because all three girls definitely wanted fries with that.

They watched the movie and sang-along while I made the burgers and fries. I carried out their plates, on my arm, like a real waitress, yet another risky move. Then we ate together while we watched Sandy and Danny struggle with their relationship at Rydell High. It might have seemed like we were just watching TV, except we sang along together and we did our own dancing. (I don’t know what to say about the evidence captured in the photo about someone on their iPhone. I’m sure he was answering and emergency text of some kind that I don’t remember. Speaking of technology, would someone please teach me how to use a camera? My cat could take a better picture.)

After we were done eating, I whispered to Blue Eyes if he thought the next surprise would be OK. He doesn’t like sugar or dairy for the girls, especially in the evening. But, how can you have dinner at a diner without milkshakes? He smiled and gave the thumbs up. The strawberry milkshakes were delicious.

(One note – what is up with that movie, Grease, anyway? It looks and feels like so much family fun, with all that super fun singing and dancing. But the message seems to be that everyone should be willing to compromise for their girlfriend/boyfriend, but only the girls really have to and if a girl wants to have fun and please her guy, she had better put out.  And then they sing about, “we stayed up until 10 o’clock,” like that is a big deal, so it leaves me confused. This movie will lead to teaching moments as the girls get older, that is for sure.)

The night didn’t fix anything, but it helped anyway, to relax and have fun. Now maybe we’ll be more ready for all the rest, when the morning comes.




Love Letters to my Girls, Courtesy of Hands Free Mama

Growing Up Austin

(If you are visiting looking for SXSW for Kids info, here it is!)

When I first read the idea from Hands Free Mama, I knew I had to do it – write love letters to my kids.

I didn’t want it to be a project that I added on my list of things to do later, so I wrote the letters that same night. I wrote what came to mind right away, without over-thinking or over-editing. I printed them on the prettiest paper I already had in the house. I didn’t worry when the ink printed in alternating colors for no reason. I shared them the next day.

Her idea was so simple, to give examples, to put it in writing and to include an ‘i’m sorry’ for when you have made mistakes. Then, have a sit-down conversation, longer than an every-day-i-love-you, one that might sink in a little deeper and might be remembered a little more.

I thought to include my letter to Sparkles, as an example, but I copied the idea and the format and much of the last few paragraphs from Hands Free Mama, so you should read hers instead.

When I read Buttercup’s letter to her, she smiled a lot and we shared hugs and kisses. Sparkles understood more, she snuggled her head in my shoulder and put her arm around me. With my teenage step-daughter, it has been more complicated. I left her letter on her pillow.

Sometimes Mom Blogs help me understand and sometimes they make me laugh, but this post helped me be a better Mom. These won’t be my only love letters to my kids. Thank you, Hands Free Mama. Thank you, Two Cannoli, for introducing me to Hands Free Mama. And thanks most of all to Buttercup, Sparkles and Noel. I love y’all very much.



A Gift for Santa

Growing Up Austin - A Gift From Santa

(For a thoughtful post about the Sandy Hook tragedy, with links on how you can help, read You are Not Alone in This from Genie in a Blog. This is the post I planned before Friday’s event. It’s a personal story I told at the Cactus Cafe‘s storytelling performance last week, with some edits.)

A Gift For Santa

I was the most gloomy Christmas Elf in Santa Land. I had graduated college, but I couldn’t find a job. I was taking more college classes, but not showing up very often. I hadn’t made friends at the new college and I spent a lot of time alone in my cheap apartment that I shared with a large number of giant Texas roaches.

And, I had recently been hit by a car while riding a bike. According to the police report, I flew 28 feet in the air then landed on my head, without a helmet. According to my lawyer, the accident that involved multiple cars was my fault, since I had been riding after dark without a light. The pain in my heart from the guilt was even more powerful than the pain in my body.

So there I was, an honors college graduate working for minimum wage as a Christmas Elf in Santa Land, knowing I was supposed to smile, but just trying my best to not cry.

This Santa Land was part of Holiday in the Park at Astroworld, Houston’s smaller and not-as-magical version of Disney Land. Park guests could enjoy the holiday decorations, hot chocolate, ice skating shows set to Christmas music and red, green and gold fireworks to end the night. But, some guests were disappointed because the roller coasters weren’t open and the holiday spirit was a little harder to find on cold nights when park employees worked outside in company-provided, light-weight costumes that left them shivering.

I worked inside, in Santa Land, where kids sat on Santa’s lap and got their picture taken. My job was to separate the kids as they arrived, sending the kids with parents who were buying pictures to the shorter line. The kids in the longer line got to see the other kids move ahead of them. My other job was to do the hard sell, pushing overpriced key chains and picture frames on the parents.

One night, when I was feeling especially alone in a park full of thousands of people, a little girl came to the entrance of Santa Land. She was about six and blond and shy. She hesitated, holding up the line a bit.

I knelt down and met her eyes and asked, “Do you want to sit on Santa’s lap?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” I said.

There was an arts and crafts area nearby where kids could make paper snowflakes and glitter pictures.

I said, “Maybe you could make a picture, then come see Santa if you feel like it when you’re done.”

She smiled at this idea. Her Mom smiled too and they walked away, holding hands.

A while later, the little girl came back. I knelt down again to talk to her. She said she didn’t want to sit on Santa’s lap, but she had made a picture for him and could I give it to him?

A GIFT for SANTA? She didn’t want to ASK for ANYTHING and she wanted to GIVE SANTA a PRESENT? No one gives Santa a present. It is possible that this has never happened in the history of all time. How sweet for her to think of that. In my gloomy world, I sensed a tiny hint of light.

Then she handed me a second picture and said, “I made this picture for you.”

She handed me a red-and-green glitter picture that had started out as a snowflake, you could see the creases in the paper. The glitter made a mostly random shape, except it might be a dancer.

This little girl had given me more than a picture. She had given me sweet and simple kindness. She had given me a real human connection. She had given me hope. She melted my cold, sad heart, just a little.

I framed her picture and hung it in my cheap apartment. It reminded me of simple kindness and human connection and hope, as I slowly recovered, in heart and body.

I still have this picture, more than twenty years later. Now that I have my own little girls, I tell them this story.  I want them to know how the holidays are about giving, not just receiving, how the most important presents don’t come from a store and how this world has so much kindness, connection and hope to offer them.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

(It somehow seems full circle that Elf is my favorite holiday movie. I identify with Jovie’s weak smile and I recognize the hope that Buddy brings to her. If you like Elf too, check out my free, home-made, customizable family game here.)