Sunday, December 31, 2006

Here's To It...

New Year’s Eve. Tradition has one posting either a thoughtful retrospective on the past year or a hopeful prophecy for the next twelve months. Am I too tired, too strung out, to bow to tradition?

First of all, like almost all of us who have attained the half-century mark or more, I am once again flabbergasted at how quickly the year has whizzed by. Especially the second half—since we signed the papers to become genuine, bona-fide members of the ranks of small business owners. Silly me! I thought that coming out of "retirement" and becoming an entrepreneur would somehow impede the march of time. As if filling the days with the myriad responsibilities of the corporate executive would weigh them down sufficiently to slow them, at least a little.

In fact, the opposite has happened. July First was…yesterday. Or at best, last week. Even though I’ve spent more than the recommended percentage of the last 4416 hours awake, frazzled, running my butt off, stuffing my brain with facts and figures, pulling old, moldy management techniques out of my ass, polishing them off and trying to see if they still work (the jury is still out on that…) You would think all that…all that insanity would have put some drag on the rush of time. But no. If anything, all those things have slammed their considerable bulk against the back bumper of the year and sent it bolting past more quickly than ever.

There have been years—1995…1999… and maybe all the years between and a couple beyond—when the best I could say for a year was that I had survived. I survived. December 31 came along and I was still breathing; sometimes, it seemed, unmercifully. But this year…this year has been hard. A real test. A bona fide, in your face, do or die challenge. And I…HAVE…SURVIVED.

Not merely survived, but learned. And grown. And I’m not done yet.

This fifty-something matron, who as lately as twelve months ago, motivated by a sudden unnerving perception of her proximity to the great beyond, had embarked upon a search for spiritual reality… A superficial search that ended in frustration… This fifty-something matron can sit in her recliner, with circles under her eyes, feeling a bit like a helium balloon on the fourth or fifth day post-fill; defiantly typing in her New Years Eve 2006 blog entry: I’m not done yet.

Isn’t that a gift?

Happy New Year, my friends.

Lisa :-]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

...So Far This Week Part 2

And here is the rest of the story…

In an anti-climactic sort of way, 5:00 girl showed up (five minutes late) on Tuesday night. I’m not sure whether I dodged a bullet or just delayed the inevitable. It was kind of awkward, actually. I was fully prepared for the husband and me to close the restaurant alone. And, truth be told, we could have done so with no problems. It was actually an inconvenience and a waste of labor dollars for Ms. "I’m-Going-To-Quit-Any-Time-Now" to show up. Sigh!

We got out of there about ten seconds after pulling the chain on the "OPEN" sign. I went home and felt…nothing. Shell-shocked, maybe. Or perhaps I’m just getting used to having the crap beat out of me. I really wanted to be pissed…to be worried…to be something. But I was just too tired.

I went to bed and slept remarkably well. Which is an accomplishment in itself. Time was, employee debacles of this magnitude would have me up ‘til all hours fretting, rehashing and second-guessing myself. But somehow the sheer ridiculousness of this situation has led me to conclude that the problem can’t possibly be with me or anything I have done (except, perhaps, that my "panic hiring," of my first few months at the café was coming back to bite me in the ass…) So, knowing that I had two reliable employees opening in the morning, I slumbered like a baby. An exhausted, menopausal, hot-flashing baby… J

All I knew was that I didn’t have to open on Wednesday. That I didn’t have to work a fourteen-hour day. I felt like a sailor on liberty. I didn’t set the alarm. Woke up at my leisure. Had a couple cups of coffee and interacted with my poor neglected animals for a few hours before hauling myself to work (notice that I didn’t say I cleaned house…) I arrived at the café shortly before noon. Everything was ship-shape, prep had been finished, breaks had been taken, the place looked great. Wouldn’t have looked better if I had been there myself.

To condense a long-winded yarn, Wednesday was as good as Tuesday was bad. Business picked up to an almost-acceptable level. I set up interviews with three girls who had applied, returned, and dutifully checked up on their aps in the past week. And, unbelievably, a former employee—one who had quit in pique not too long into my tenure as owner (but had at least given notice…!)—came in and asked for her job back. A funny conversation, that. She: "This is humbling…but, I need a job." Me: "Are you kidding? Can you start, like, tomorrow?" And so she did.

A good friend of mine wrote in her blog the other day that her life was a game of "Chutes and Ladders." And I felt like I was right there with her.

At the moment, I’m at the top of one of those ladders…

Cafe Christmas

I'm sure I remember someone asking for pictures...

My Week So Far

I know you want to know the juicy details Or maybe not, but I’m going to write about it anyway…

Monday—the best that can be said for it was that it was a day I didn’t have to work, and didn’t have to worry about what was going on at the café without me there. We shuttered the place and hied us hither to Eugene to spend the holiday with my family. Without nagging café issues to keep my mind spinning and my stomach churning, I was mostly comatose. The life of the party, I was not.

What I remember about the day is that I ate way too much, generally had some kind of alcoholic libation at my elbow, and didn’t engage in a whole lot of physical activity. Basically, I just sat and let the party(s) go on around me. But I didn’t fight with sister C, and I didn’t spend most of the day in tears…which puts Christmas 2006 head and shoulders above 2005’s version.

Tuesday—Back to the grind. And the grind mangled me pretty good. The day started crappy and just kept getting crappier. Cook no-showed, I had to drag myself out of bed two hours earlier than scheduled to subject myself to one of those infamous fourteen-hour days. Which turned out to be like watching paint dry, because business was terrible. If I have to be there from open to close, I at least need it to be busy enough to keep me awake. It wasn’t.

What kept me awake was the drama surrounding the second employee no-show of the day. I manage to get a fourth person to come in to cover lunch (to make up for missing cook)—the good and faithful "D." Lunch sucks…it becomes obvious that I didn’t really need to pull "D" in on her day off. But my one other decent employee—"T"-- is feeling under the weather, so I send her home and "D" stays to finish out the lunch shift. To be relieved at 2:00 by "T2," who we know is going to be there because she just called a little bit ago to check on when she was supposed to work.

Two o’clock comes and goes…no "T2." "D" calls her house…no answer. Leaves a message on the machine. We wait, and twiddle our thumbs, and business is still abominable, so all there is for us to do is make up theories as to what has happened to "T2."Maybe she had to walk to work. Maybe she’s having a fight with her boyfriend. Maybe she got hit by a truck and is lying dead by the side of the road somewhere… At 2:45, I decide to call "T2" again.

This time, someone picks up the phone…and hangs up. I call back, and the line is busy. I assume the phone has now been taken off the hook to prevent further attempts to call or leave messages. I further assume that this indicates that "T2" has given her notice. Or not.

Business is so terrible that I send "D" home at 3:00, even though I will be alone until somebody else shows up. I know the husband will arrive some time before 5:00, and judging by the rest of the day, I don’t seem to be in danger of being swamped. And I will be spending the time on pins and needles anyway, because my 5:00 girl (who, by the way, called earlier to find out what time she worked) is also hanging by a thread. She has another job, I know she has another job, but she doesn’t know I know. Rumor has it that she is trying to decide whether to "just quit" or wait until the new job actually starts. So it would not be out of the realm of possibility for her to become the third no-show of the day. In fact, I am fully expecting it.

I spend the next two hours trying to figure out how I am going to fill a 180-hour-per week schedule with just myself and my two decent employees.

And I have run out of time for writing this morning, so I’ll have to finish this later...


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Was it Merry?

Unbelievably, Christmas 2006 has passed into the annals. It came and went so fast that I didn’t even have a chance to eat its dust.

Things are going abominably at the café again. Last week was almost passable. We had a great little Christmas party (which I planned and provisioned in the space of about six hours…) and the week’s business was much better than I expected. Things seemed to be looking downright satisfactory as I locked the doors Sunday afternoon and prepared to take off for Eugene.

I should have known it couldn’t last. Not only was business in the crapper today, but I had two, count them—two employees no show/no call on me today. One of these I was fully expecting…and I was feeling pretty smug about calling it right. But the other one completely blindsided me.

I feel like a flat tire.

I’m going to sit down now and try to make up a new schedule that primarily consists of me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What's That Sign Mean?

Did you not guess what

was all about?  I first saw this sort of sign in a neighbor's yard.  And I thought it was a symbol for some mytic brotherhood or something.   "What the hell does that mean?"  I asked my husband as we cruised by.  " mean the "no el" thing?

So, for those of you who, like me, were is the international "no" sign through an "l"...  No el.

This particular one was mounted on one of Portland's famous Christmas Ships.  We camped out on the dike on a cold winter's night to watch them navigate up Multnomah Channel past Scappoose back to Portland.  Our own private parade.  Here are some pix of the other ships...    

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hiding Out

Tarnishing The Mountain

In my sidebar self-introduction, I boast of being able to see the "ring of fire from my front yard (almost)." "Almost," because there is a rather large church preventing me from calling my lot a "view" property. But if I go out my front door and travel one block south and two blocks east, I can treat myself to a view of three snow-capped peaks from the luxurious expanse of the McDonald’s parking lot. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. That last bears the fond moniker of "THE Mountain," so dubbed by those of us who conduct our lives in the hem of its skirts.

Seen from our perspective in the western Columbia Valley, The Mountain is the perfect incarnation of every pre-schooler’s drawing: its wide base narrows gracefully to a pointy peak iced with white even in midsummer. And in winter it is breathtakingly robed almost completely in snow. There are mountains galore in the continental US that exceed Mt. Hood’s mere 11,249 feet. The Cascade Range itself boasts three higher peaks. Nevertheless, we Oregonians dote on our Mountain. We photograph it, ski on it, fly over it, quaff pricey drinks in luxury hotel lounges perched on its shoulders, and fork over serious money for properties, however distant from it, from which you can catch a glimpse of it. It is our mascot; the stately silent guardian that watches over everything we do. We can be sitting in a cubicle performing the most unglamorous of office jobs, but all we have to do is look up and scan the eastern horizon for that reminder of exactly why it is we live in Oregon.

This past week, our Mountain has found itself at the center of a cyclone. Three climbers, veteran outdoorsman all, were lost during a pre-Christmas trek to the summit. One body has finally been recovered. The other two will have to wait until Spring…or might never be located, if the likely scenario pieced together by rescue crews—that the pair were blown off the sheer face of the summit by 100-mph storm winds—was indeed their fate.

I have to admit, I have been angry with these men for the tumult they have caused. Sobbing family members suffering the intrusion of nosey cameras. Hundreds of thousands of dollars squandered on a rescue mission which, in the end, will yield approximately six hundred pounds of frozen human flesh. If that. A taint of fear and menace attached to our beautiful mountain in the middle of the season in which it is meant to really shine. All because three careless men thought cresting a "minor" peak in winter might be a worthwhile Sunday afternoon pastime.

But two things seemed to put the affair in perspective for me. The first was a quote from an interview with the dead climber’s wife.

"I married a man so full of passion and love of life," she told the Dallas Morning News. "How do you take that away from someone? How do you take away what makes them tick?"

I guess you don’t. She was well aware of the risky nature of what he chose to do for recreation. And she accepted that risk. So, though I was at first angry with Kelly James for putting his family through this nightmare, I believe I see now that he had their permission to put his life on the line for the thing for which he had a burning passion. Do I understand choosing to risk one’s life for something as superfluous as reaching the highest point on some mountain? No, I do not. But I acknowledge that there are people who feel they need to do that, and people in their lives who make a conscious choice to allow them to do so.

The second revelation I had was this: There are worse ways to die than to fall asleep in an ice cave—literally enveloped by the majesty, beauty and fury of The Mountain—and never wake up. Certainly it’s preferable to being blown to bits by a car bomb in Baghdad, or fighting a years-long losing battle against cancer or Alzheimer’s. I’ve wondered lately whether man isn’t a little bit crazy, being the only animal that knows it’s going to die. These guys who choose to walk up and spit in death’s eye—for recreation…maybe they’ve got it right. Maybe the sense of power they get from exerting even a smidgen of control over the fact of our lives over which we traditionally have the least control—where and when we will die—is the high that keeps them climbing dangerous mountains in winter. The thought that they may choose the possible platform from which they step off into the great beyond, must be heady stuff indeed. Headier yet if they walk past the platform, smile and bow. Knowing they will come back again and again, until the last time, when death will no longer be cheated.

But dancing with death should be a private thing, played out in the quiet depths of the soul of the man or woman so engaged. The jarring headlines and tabloid-like tear-jerking mock the solemn challenge. Our culture has crossed some kind of line that was better left uncrossed, when it comes to the exploitation of death and its surrounding whirlwind of emotions. We eat that stuff up like bratwurst at a tailgater. Perhaps that is the ugly thing about this whole affair. Perhaps that is what has hung that pall of macabre menace—that twinge of sadness and fear that we all feel now when we look to the east for what was once an awesome, comforting presence—over our beloved Mountain. I know that will fade with time. But right now, it just feels…wrong.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

We haven't reached the solstice yet, but I'd swear the days are getting longer...

This morning, as I tried to stuff a load of aprons into the dryer at home, my sister pointed out my laundry room window and said, "Hey…look! Quick!" And lo and behold, there was a bald eagle flying right over my back yard. I thought, "Great! That must be a good omen for the day."


It has, unfortunately, been another one of those "one step forward, six steps back" kind of days.

I am the too-exhausted-to-fall asleep kind of tired. All I can do is sit here and type nonsense on this damn machine. And feel the waves of tears washing up against the levee in my head. If that levee gets breached, I am in all kinds of trouble.

Time to take a hit of bendryl to paralyze my brain just enough to sleep.  Or maybe I don’t need the benadryl…

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Listen to the Music

I brought Judy Collins to work with me today. I heard this song again, for the first time this Christmas season. And between the cream cheese and the burgers and the omelets and the fries, I was touched once again by her words…and  my eyes filled with the tears that come every time I hear this song. I am haunted by it…

The children of Sarajevo may now be living in peace. But what about the children of Baghdad? Or Darfur? Or the next place on the planet where human beings contrive to exert power over other human beings by visiting death and destruction upon the innocent? In those places, death may not scream out of the sky as it did in Sarajevo… Maybe it waits around the corner in a mini-van piloted by a suicide bomber. Or it storms out of the cover of darkness in the person of Janjaweed "militia", carrying guns and torches, and unzipping their pants…

The cyber-gods have denied me the ability to provide a link to this song. Can’t find it anywhere on the internet. But it’s in my heart and my mind. And if you find it and listen to it, it will be in yours, too. And you will cry with me.

Blood in all the streets
Running like a flood
There's nowhere to hide, nowhere I can go
I reach out my hand
touching death itself
Just another holy day in Sarajevo

I can hear my heart
pounding like a clock
Hiding from the planes and from the bombing
Fire from the sky
burning down my life
There is no more love, no more longing

But when I close my eyes
I dream of peace
I dream of flowers on the hill
I dream I see my mother smiling
When I close my eyes I dream of peace

Once I had a home
Once my life was good
Once my mother sang to me and held me
Then the fire came
falling from the sky
There is no one left who can protect me

War's a wicked bird that never comes to rest
Feeding on the dreams of all the children
War's an evil bird flying in the dark
Every holy promise has been broken

But when I close my eyes
I dream of peace
I dream of flowers on the hill
I dream I see my mother smiling
When I close my eyes I dream of peace

Can't you stop the war
Bring it to a close
You are tall and strong and I am just a child.
Can't we live in peace
Stop the flowing blood
Make a blessed world where I can be a child...

When you close your eyes
Do you dream of peace?
Do you dream of flowers on the hill?
Do you dream you see your mother smiling?
When you close your eyes do you dream of peace?

Song for Sarajevo (Revised 9/97)Words by Judy CollinsMusic by Judy Collins
Universal Music Corp. (ASCAP)/ The Wildflowers Company (ASCAP)(Administered by Universal Music Corp.)

Girl Power?

Yesterday, Andrea posted her thoughts about a young co-ed’s (haven’t heard that term in a long time, have you? Once again, I prove I am older than dirt) choice of work-out attire. It seems this young woman sported a t-shirt that proclaimed, "I went to college to find my bridesmaids." And Andrea pondered the message the girl meant to impart. I suppose we can all hope that our buff blond was attempting satire…

Still, it is to be assumed that this girl actually was a college student. Somehow managed to wade through the bewildering challenge of applying, being accepted, registering for classes and financial aid, and then attending at least some of those classes. Which is, in and of itself, an accomplishment that far exceeds even the wildest dreams of the class of "0-whatever" grads I have encountered lately. Especially the female ones.

I currently have six young ladies under the age of twenty-five working for me. "S-1" is shacked up with a guy more than ten years her senior who has children more of an age to be her siblings than her step-kids. "T" is pregnant and moved in with her boyfriend when she found out about the baby; but they aren't planning a wedding yet because "they don’t want this to be the reason they get married." (Good plan; could be that marriage to a guy who knocks down Christmas trees and punches inanimate objects might not be the wisest choice…) "D" is hooked up with a guy with whom she has had an on-again, off-again relationship since high school…which became "on-again" just long enough for her to support him for the last five months while he lived it up before going into the military (he left yesterday…she is devastated.) And "S-2" is living with some guy who won’t have anything to do with her family or friends, and puts enough pressure on her about her appearance that she constantly pops diet pills, eats almost nothing, and downs "Red Bull" by the six-pack.

Certainly each of these girls has brains and talent equivalent to those of Andrea’s t-shirted bridesmaid-recruiter. So, what do they lack that has sentenced them to working part-time in what could only be called dead-end jobs? And, for the most part, involved in dead-end relationships with really icky men? What has caused them to set the bar so low for themselves? Why don’t they have the pride and self-respect to dream big dreams? Or even little ones?

I hate to use college as the yardstick by which to measure anyone’s moxie. Considering the product turned out by our higher education system—teachers who can’t spell, athletes who can’t read, health care professionals who don’t care—I often wonder whether a "BS" isn’t precisely that. Obviously there are legions of university students who share Ms. T-Shirt’s philosophy about attending college; sometimes their timetables go awry and they end up actually getting diplomas.

However, going to college could at least be construed as understanding that adulthood is about to happen and it might be good to make some plans, or acquire some tools, or spend four more years in a more or less sheltered environment, fending off the inevitable. These young women who work for me, and so many others I’ve encountered lately, just get out of high school (if they make it that far) and throw themselves to the wolves. They don’t know what to do, so they just do whatever. And they seem to think that having a man, any man, is the greatest goal to which they can aspire.

I’m not even sure why they want men. Apparently, they don’t know what to do with a man once they have him (besides procreate…) They don’t seem to want them for financial support, since most of these girls are hooked up with deadbeats who are un- or under-employed. It’s not for security; a hallmark of these relationships seems to be that the man is allowed to do anything he wants, and is not necessarily obligated to inform his significant other of his plans or whereabouts. And it’s not with the idea in mind of having a home and a family of one’s own…so many of these girls are living in squalor and toting around babies from several different relationships. So what’s the attraction? What has our society done to this generation of young women to rob them of the will to achieve?

So, Andrea…don’t be too hard on Ms. T-Shirt. Her logo at least hints that she has some kind of plan in mind for her life. She is way ahead of so many girls of her generation.

How sad is that?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Another Long Week

Yet another week has gone steadily downhill since the early hours of Monday last. Remember those "Ten Good Things" lists I was posting earlier this year? I feel so far from those lists… Even though I sometimes had a hard time coming up with those ten things every week, I don’t think I could come up with one for this week. Well, maybe one. I’m still alive. And my husband is still safely ensconced in his comfy chair to my left…that’s two. And there’s still a roof over my head, heat coming out of the vents, lights that spring to life when I turn a switch, food…well, certainly not here in the fridge. But I do have access to plenty of food, approximately 1.1 miles from my recliner.

Look at that…I’ve come up with six good things without even trying. But that wasn’t the point of this post. I wanted to whine J .

So, am I after coming up with a "Ten Bad Things" list? No, I guess not. But it does still seem, at times, as if life is out to get me.

Yesterday was the capper. I mashed my finger between a 75-pound meat slicer and the wall. Third finger, left hand. What saved my finger from being busted was my ring. My ring. Which is now hopelessly mangled.

I had to cut it off my swollen digit with a wire cutters. I worked the cutters between the back of my throbbing finger and the band of my ruined ring, squeezed and twisted until the chink of the blades meeting signaled the deed was done… And then I sobbed like a five-year-old.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

'Tis the Season For...Home Improvement

My friend Robin is a tad nonplussed that her DH chose now to tear a hole in the wall of the dining room of her ninety-year-old house. Her saga has brought back memories for me…and, after all, that’s what the season is all about, isn’t it? Much as I love Christmas, the fond memories that are floating to the surface today are of…home improvement projects.

I don’t know where I got the home improvement gene. My parents weren’t big on remodeling. Dad was an accountant, who took tools in hand in order to save himself the cost of a professional. He painted and puttered and worked on a few rudimentary plumbing and electrical projects, like updated lighting or new sinks or faucets. With mixed results–his wiring sometimes smoked and his plumbing often leaked. In fact, when I was thirteen, and the house we lived in was beginning to need major work…we moved.

But for some reason, after I married and started feathering my own nests, I caught the home improvement bug. Husband and I signed our lives away on our first mortgage contract in 1978. I was 23 years old, husband was 22.  I have always thought of that as a remarkable achievement. Is home ownership some kind of yardstick of maturity or respectability? I guess not…but having been born and raised in suburbia in the fifties and sixties, it represented some kind of a right of passage. It was just what you did. How many 23-year-olds do you know today who are card-carrying, mortgage-laden homeowners, or even aspire to be? To be fair, home ownership is a much bigger stretch now than it was thirty years ago—what with barely habitable homes tipping the scales at nearly $200,000 in some markets. That figure alone blows me away. Our first home cost us $43,000.

That house was a tiny (less than 1,000 square feet) ranch in the distant northern suburbs of Chicago. No garage and a 4000 square foot lot. The one saving grace of the place was that it had a full basement, which contained a laundry room…and a pool table (which came with the house when we bought it and went with it when we sold it.) We lived there for a little over five years. And, young as we were, we managed to completely remodel the kitchen, update the bathroom and redecorate (complete with wallpaper and new carpeting) the master bedroom. I was so proud of that bedroom remodel. It was the first decorating project I had ever designed and implemented, and it turned out amazing, in a seventies sort of way.

And the kitchen… We tore out cabinets and re-arranged them. We replaced the kitchen carpeting with different kitchen carpeting. Remember kitchen carpeting? It was such a bad idea…but, like leisure suits, so chic, and so…late mid-century? The new carpeting of which we were so proud was a low-napped indoor/outdoor sort of affair with a fake woodgrain pattern. Just the thought of it now, nearly thirty years later, sets my teeth on edge. But it was definitely cutting edge in those days.

Our first home was also where we got our first taste of the endless home improvement project. The one where you have gotten in so far over your head that you have absolutely no idea how to finish what you’ve started. Very early on, we realized that we were much better at talking about projects than at actually accomplishing them. Every undertaking looked so huge in the design phase that we were, more often than not, totally intimidated by the job; so much so that we never got into it. So, somewhere along the line, we developed our signature method of home improvement that persists to this day: Tear it apart, then figure out how to put it back together the way you want it.

In 1980 (I think) it was the wall between our miniscule living room and barely adequate kitchen/dining room that became the object of our first foray into "rip into it and then puzzle out what to do with it." The two rooms were downright claustrophobic, and we knew that if we opened them up to each other it would give the house a much more open feel. Trouble is, we didn’t know how to go about figuring out if the wall between the two was load-bearing, or if we would have to build a header (I’m not sure we even knew what a header was, back then) to keep the roof from falling in on us. Nevertheless, we ripped off the wallboard on both sides, down to the bare studs. And then we froze. So we lived with that half-torn-apart wall for, as far as I can remember, almost a year before husband just got out a saw and said, "Here goes…!" and sheared those studs out of there. Of course, the roof didn’t fall down; and he proceeded to create a magnificent set of display shelves between the two rooms. It really did look great. A few months later, we sold the house and moved to Oregon.

Which became rule number two of our home improvement philosophy: Put the finishing touches on a beautiful, endless project, admire itfor about five minutes…and then move.

Oh...I have more home improvement stories.  At least one for every house we have lived in. I'll write more as time and wits permit...

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Have Yourself A...

Okay…roller coaster is on the uphill track now.

I’m sorry. There are times when my naturally pessimistic nature and a lull in the action combine to drag me to the depths…

I’m coming up for air now. And not in a frantic, desperate, gasping rush to the surface, either. I’ve just filled my lungs, held my breath, and am waiting for the laws of nature to send me bobbing up into the realm of life and air and restoration. Those good ole laws of nature. Those unbreakable ordinances that keep us in our places.

I realized I wasn’t a salmon, and I had to quit trying to make like one. Quit struggling upstream…just stretch out and ride the current. Maybe even float backwards a little, because sometimes there’s no other way to go if you want to stay alive. You slow down, plan your next move and carry it out deliberately, instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink out there in a frantic search for something that will work.

Yesterday I took a minute to think. And the thought that came to me was this: It’s Christmas, Mr. Scrooge. My favorite time of the year…which, with only the slightest of wounded sniffs, I was prepared to sacrifice to the Entrepreneurial gods. Well, the gods rejected my sacrifice. Blew the smoke right back in my face. So I guess I’m free to take my Christmas back. What kind of a stupid, ungrateful idiot would I be not to do exactly that?

So I ordered tickets to a performance of Handel’s Messiah (highlights, anyway…through which I will presumably be able to stay awake.) I printed up a "Secret Santa" sign-up sheet for my crew at the café. Between bizarre rushes at work, I’ve been stringing beads and snowflakes on fishing line to hang in the windows. And I cut my own hours (why was I trying to put in seventy hours a week during the holidays…?) so that I might actually be in possession of one or two of my wits by the time That Day arrives.

A Merry Christmas… Let’s have one, shall we?


Monday, November 27, 2006

Holiday Story--Conclusion

I got a temporary reprieve from the bullshit onslaught on Saturday. Oh, wait…maybe not. When I arrived at work Saturday morning, I noted the absence of new cook, late of Monday morning hospital visit, but returned to work Friday, "good as new." "Where’s P?" I asked. "She had an issue…" I am told. About an hour into her shift Saturday morning, she clutched her side, turned white, and said she had to leave. Why was I not surprised? In fact, I was downright blasé about the whole thing. Business was slow, and I would have had to send someone home anyway. I figured her illness had done me a favor, in a backhanded sort of way…

Saturday was, fortunately enough, the day my family headed home…fortified by yet another meal at the café. (Hey…I own a restaurant. Why not take advantage of it?) The weather was clear, if a tad cold. With a gleam in my eye, I talked one of my crew into finishing my shift (I was supposed to close the kitchen) and dragged the husband home to help me hang our outside Christmas lights. Considering the way the weekend had been going, the thought crossed my mind that this was probably a risky move. Yet, unbelievably, we got those lights hung without either of us falling off a ladder or electrocuting ourselves. We suffered nothing worse than a few half-frozen fingers and toes. And the lights, though not as elaborate as in years past, are at least up. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we would get even that much of our personal holiday stuff done this year.

Sunday…was the icing on the cake. I was scheduled to work open to close. Minus new cook, whose ongoing medical issues have taken her out of the picture for at least the next week, I was now the only cook. Not a good situation on a Sunday morning if it should get busy. On top of this, my eight o’clock counter person arrived complaining that she was so sick that she didn’t know if she would make it through her shift. Sigh! I sent her home. Down two people now. So I prevailed upon the husband to come in and lend a hand. He can’t cook, but he can help out front, freeing my counter person to help out in the kitchen. Counter person who was begging me to let her leave early so that she could attend her family’s Thanksgiving celebration. Same counter person who had dropped the ball on Friday morning. And yet, I stand on my head to allow her to get out of there early. I am such a sweet, thoughtful boss. Or a horrible sap.

Exhausted, disheartened and a little shell-shocked, I struggle through the day on Sunday. And if something could go wrong, it did. The grill mysteriously extinguished itself…twice. My biscuits inexplicably cooked up raw in the middle. And husband and I have a major falling out over, of all things, banana bread. I get home Sunday night, husband and I are not speaking to each other, I am tripping over the fallout left behind by the invasion of my kin. Husband retreats to the family room to watch his "previously recorded" football game (da Bears lost…) and I literally throw myself on my bedroom floor and sob. Actually, not so much sobs as wordless cries of frustration and fatigue. And then I scrape myself up, regroup, and apply myself to making some sense out of the mess. Nothing like an endless "to do" list to cut short even the most self-indulgent pity party.

And what about today? Are things better? Do I have an adequate number of employees left to allow me to open the doors? Do I have enough business to keep my employees from leaning against the counters with their thumbs up their…you-know-whats?

Well, all I can say is--it’s snowing…

Sunday, November 26, 2006


The day itself—Thanksgiving Day—was the one thing about the week that wasn’t a disaster. Assorted family arrived in good order, though they had to drive through some pretty soupy weather. Husband took over the cooking tasks; I gladly relinquished that responsibility. It was the most I could do to set up a wine bar and munchies in strategic places around the dining room. We had a tv to keep the men happy, a video game to keep the kids happy, and plenty of wine to keep us sisters happy.

Dinner was a delight. And holding that private family celebration at the restaurant seemed to seal the deal. A new, strong sense of ownership washed over me. At last it has become real: For better or for worse, this is MY restaurant. It felt amazing. For about twenty-four hours.

Determined to catch a breather from my 24/7 focus on the café, I scheduled myself to have Friday off. Judging from last year’s numbers, it was NOT going to be a busy day, so I figured I could trust my crew to hold the place together for a day while I indulged in our annual Day-After-Thanksgiving trip to what is billed as "The World’s Largest Christmas Bazaar" in North Portland. Every year, we spend five or six hours trundling Mom around in her wheelchair, oohing and aahing over the various sparklies and doo-dads, and spending more money than we should on things we don’t really need. A good time is had by all.

So, Friday morning, I get up at about 8:30 (unforgivably letting my houseful of guests fend for themselves until I am damned good and ready to roll out of bed.) I pour myself some coffee, watch a few minutes of tv… By 9:30, everyone is awake and hungry, and of course I have no food in the house, being as how I had not had time to actually shop for this event. I decide I will call in an order to the café and go pick it up…voila—a good free breakfast that I do not have to cook. Kind of a no-brainer, no?

I whip out the phone and call the restaurant. After two and a half rings, I get sent to voice mail. Ah, someone must be taking a phone order. I’ll call back.

Ten minutes elapse, I dial again…same result. Wait another five minutes. No change. I’m a little irritated now. I am still in my pajamas, so I ask the husband if he will please drive over to the café and see if someone has left the phone off the hook (or is having a long personal conversation on the business line…)

Five minutes later, the phone rings. It is the husband. "I just let myself into the restaurant. The place is dark and there’s no one here." It is 10:00 am. We are supposed to open at 8:00. "You have got to be kidding me!!!!!"

Seems my best, most trustworthy employee didn’t actually read the schedule…she simply assumed she was supposed to work at 2:00 pm, which is when she usually (but by no means always) is scheduled to work on Fridays. And she is the one with the key.

A heart attack, an ulcer, and a nervous breakdown later, the restaurant is open, customers are being served, and my family and I are sitting down to the meal that we had planned to bring home and enjoy in a leisurely manner seated around the fire in my family room. Except we are all at the restaurant…and I am exhausted. I am, however, now able to leave the place in the hastily reassembled hands of my not-so-capable crew and resume my previously planned holiday activities with my family. We will go to that Christmas Bazaar. And we will have fun, goddammit.

I'll finish this tomorrow...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Holiday Story

This past seven days have been the very definition of the week from hell. Sales are plummeting, and I am clueless (apparently) how to stop the skid. We tried a holiday open house last Saturday, which we advertised lightly with signs and posters at the café, and an ad in the local paper. NOBODY came. In fact, even our few remaining regulars stayed aggressively away from our doomed little effort. Not only did we not experience even the slightest spike in sales for the day…sales actually dipped. I had wines that nobody tasted, hot cider that nobody quaffed, and Cookie Lee jewelry that nobody looked at. The poor Cookie Lee rep came all the way from Beaverton for the event. And, of course, I was so sorry for her that I dropped nearly two hundred bucks on jewelry…

I was mortified. All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and pull the top in after me.

Then came Monday. A beautiful day. I had scheduled my new cook to open the kitchen, freeing my morning for, oh…let’s see…a walk on the dike with the dog. Luckily, I decided to jump into the shower before the walk. I’m getting dressed, the phone rings. It’s my opening counter girl. New cook has called in with some story about being in the hospital (does this sound at all familiar???) and can I come in to work now? Poor neglected dog gets rammed again and Mom rushes into work. New cook’s condition degenerates from burst ovarian cyst to bloody urine to passed kidney stone in the space of 36 hours.

My entire family is due up from Eugene for Thanksgiving. I have already decided to have the meal at the restaurant, thereby saving me the trouble of cleaning and destroying my kitchen several times over before the end of the holiday. However, since I am now pulling double shifts on Monday and Tuesday, and working open ‘til almost close on Wednesday, I’m trying to figure out exactly when I’m supposed to prepare sleeping accommodations for imminent family invasion. I talk husband into closing the restaurant for me, rush home after only twelve hours of work and attempt to speed-clean the guest bedrooms.

I am lucky…I managed a fairly thorough cleaning about a week and a half ago, and since we don’t actually live in the house anymore, it is a relatively simple matter to kick it back into shape. But I’m so tired that it takes me three times as long as it should; and I decide to have a couple of glasses of wine on an empty stomach and end up getting waaaay loopy. When I finally give up and try to go to bed, I am so tipsy I cannot lie down without setting off major room spins. So, though I have to be at work at 7:30 the next day, I am up until after 2 am, waiting for the effects of the alcohol to dissipate to the point where I can lay my head on my pillow.

Thanksgiving dawns blustery, cold and rainy…but I manage to get my vacuuming done, and set things to rights in the house before going out to the restaurant to begin preparations for the meal…

I wanted to fit this all in one post, but I’m so tired, I’m falling asleep at the keyboard. I’ll write the rest tomorrow…

Saturday, November 18, 2006


One afternoon last week, I found myself with my laptop set up on the prep table in the kitchen. By the miracle of the wi-fi connection I had installed at the café (it has finally decided to work!) I was scoping out election results on the internet. And suddenly, I was immersed in crafting a politically slanted journal entry, right there between the toaster and the meat slicer, about the rapture attributable to the demise of Donald Rumsfeld. It felt like the two distinct parts of my life—B.C. (Before Café) and A.D. (After life-altering Decision) had finally begun to fuse into something recognizable—an existence I could countenance, without feeling that I had given up something I loved to get…something I loved.

I knew the time would come when I would be at ease in my own skin again. When "Entrepreneur Lisa" would begin to bear a comfortable resemblance to my past personae: Writer, Wife, Animal Mom, Birder, Traveler, Gardener, Home Decorator par excellence. Because in actual fact, these are not "past personae" at all, but part of the ever-more-complicated puzzle that is me.

This, at last, is the reward for growing older...for attaining this "mid-life" with which, sometimes, I have such difficulty "coming to terms": That a life which starts out as a stick-figure pencil drawing eventually takes on the beauty and intricacy of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

I’m not there yet…but I’m getting there.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Of Seasons and Fleeting Time

This has been an interesting week. All hell broke loose, weather-wise, here in the Pacific Northwest. With just a few little rainy hiccups, our summer lasted well into October, with warm breezes and inconceivably sunny skies. I have to admit, I was beginning to wish summer would move on, already, and give way to my favorite season. And so it has. After a couple of downright freezing nights—with temperatures low enough to doom every tender annual—we have been awash in record rainfall for the past ten days. Cows are floating away down swollen rivers in our beloved Tillamook, hillsides are sliding onto freeways, and trees are uprooting from the rain-soaked earth and toppling onto houses. There will be no pleasant November afternoons to stroll through the neighborhood taking pictures of our fall colors at their peak. There’s no sun to ignite the colors of what leaves haven’t been pummeled by sideways rain or savaged off the trees by high winds. Even so, on these blustery dark days where full daylight is never quite achieved, the bright colors are cheerful and warm. They almost look lit from within.

The latest news on the Café front is that I lost TWO cooks in less than a week. One disappeared mid-shift last Wednesday night, and another just stopped showing up, as of last Sunday. I still haven’t heard from kid #2. I have to assume he decided he couldn’t handle two jobs… I should have known better than to hire him, but he seemed SO eager during the interview. I had a feeling right away that he wasn’t going to work out. Still…I didn’t expect things to transpire in exactly this way.

I don’t know why, but I’m not panicked about the whole thing. The lousy weather has severely curtailed our business, and I know in my heart that I am fully capable of being the only cook, should it come to that. And it has been a good thing for me to finally take control of my kitchen; if only to give over that control when I finally hire someone capable and trustworthy. Maybe the one I hired today will turn out to be that. Or maybe not. In the end, all I can do is keep trying to move forward and trust that in due time the Universe will provide what I need.

At least this person I hired today is only thirteen years my junior. Presently, my oldest employees are in their early twenties. And I have to admit, working with all these young people makes me feel older than dirt. Being childless, Husband and I do not have that connection to the younger generation that other folks our age have. I remember my own mom and dad going through a sort of "second youth" in the seventies, when we kids were all crazy teenagers. We were their link to the pop culture of the time, and they chose the bits and pieces of it that they were able to embrace (For dad, it was long sideburns, "flared" pants, and leisure suits… My mother, on the other hand, discovered pantsuits, and, well…wine.)

Fifteen years ago, when I was managing my little bakery, I had a crew full of college students (and JackieJ .) I felt pretty hip...I felt like I could hold my own in a conversation with them. Then again, I was only in my mid-thirties myself. I wasn’t quite old enough to be their mother. It had been less than a decade since I had fallen off the edge of the earth, pop-culture wise. The music of the eighties seemed new to me; the girls could at least remember the songs, though they were in middle school when those tunes hit the charts.

So, today, I’m in the kitchen with my last remaining cook. We have settled on a radio station called "Charlie FM," whose motto is "We Play Everything." And so they do. Today we heard everything from Dean Martin’s "That’s Amore" to…well, whatever it is they listen to these days. Damned if I can name one current band.

Anyhow, they come up with stuff that you haven’t heard in a million years. This morning, "Our Lips Are Sealed" came on, and I said, "Wow, now here’s one you haven’t heard in forever." For some reason, I assumed my twenty-year-old cook would be familiar with this song… This song that I think of as not that old. This song that came out roughly five years before he was born. Augh! Yep. I am indeed older than dirt.

I recently got the first haircut NOT from hell that I have had in, like, the last three years. And I had a weave done, so I have this nice blonde highlight thing going on. By all rights, I should be able to take stock of my reflection and be pleased that I don’t look half bad for a broad of fifty-one. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m forced to consort with a gaggle of cute, firm, nubile, WAY young girls every day. For the first time in my life, I kid you not, I look in the mirror and see a middle-aged woman staring back at me. And I think, "Who the hell is that?"

So, will this new enterprise prove a vehicle by which I prove that I am as capable as any sprout less than half my age? Or will it show me once and for all that I am, indeed, well and finally over that fabled Hill? Time—that commodity of which I feel myself increasingly losing control—will tell.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Rummy Quits!!?!!?!

You all thought my political fire had been smothered under the worries and woes of my newly chosen lifestyle, didn't you... 

Honestly, I didn’t let myself get too excited one way or the other about this election. I filled out my ballot, dropped it into the slot at City Hall, dusted off my hands and forgot about it. I figured things were going to go however they were going to go, and I have neither the time nor the energy to obsess about it.

I kept half an eye on the election results last night. “Dems take the House…” No particular surprise there, hard as they have tried NOT to take advantage of Republican vulnerability. “Senate Too Close to Call…” Hmmm…a little more interesting, but still not earth-shaking. What with recounts and such, I imagine we can expect not to know the final tally for at least a couple of months.

And then I logged on to the internet to pay a bill and…lo and behold! I saw it! THE news. (Possibly the only news that could induce me to do a wild happy dance today, burdened as I am with the trials and tribulations of the fledgling entrepreneur helplessly watching her customers queue up at the doors of the newest restaurant in our small town.)


Finally… FINALLY, I feel as if the blight of tremendous evil is lifting from this land.

So here I am, popping up from the fogs of political “hiatus” to add my voice to the chorus:

Hallelujah and holy s**t!

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Friday, November 3, 2006

I AM Happy... Really!

I knew that if I kept whining about how tired I was and how my new enterprise seems to be getting the better of me, my readership would turn their backs on me.

I’m sorry, my friends. My foray into major entrepreneurship has proven to be a challenge of the highest order. But, you know, day by day by day, I see myself making progress, if only incrementally. Having victory, if only over minutiae.

A few months ago, I was drowning.  I began to seriously question my abilities as a cook, a manager…a human being. Today, four months into the challenge, I have regrouped somewhat. I realize now what I hadn’t the patience to figure out back then: that I had to learn the routine first, before I could fix it. I had to put in several hundred hours of "just doing it" before I could make it mine and take it to the next level. These days, I find myself alternately awash in the old doubts, and recognizing that these tiny baby steps I take each day really are moving me forward.

This morning, I sat in an inconspicuous place in the restaurant, watching it fill up with breakfasters and lingering morning coffee drinkers. The noise level rose, a cheerful sound to me, regardless of what any of the myriad conversations might actually have been about. I couldn’t stifle my smile…couldn’t help thinking, "What a nice, comfy, welcoming place to be, here on this nasty November Oregon morning. And it’s mine." It hardly bears believing.

So, lest you all think me ungrateful for this marvelous opportunity I have been given, lest you think I am such a hopelessly negative person that not even the fulfillment of this lifelong dream could make me happy… Just know that I am grateful. And happy. And desperately tired, and a trifle overmatched. Maybe not completely loving it yet…but definitely getting there.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I had my hand on the front door knob this morning, about to launch myself into another day at the café…when I realized I had forgotten to turn the clocks back, and it was really an hour too early to go to work. Crap! I squandered a golden opportunity to recover an hour of the five hundred hours of sleep I’ve lost in the last four months. That’s just the way things are going lately…

So, I decided to pack up the ‘puter, take it to work with me and spend and hour ensconced on my lovely new leather sofa catching up with the blog world. When life hands you a lemon…

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Late this afternoon, I took Ms. Dog over to the park and threw the frisbee for her. She has been so absolutely forlorn since I started working seventy hours a week. It’s funny…all those first five years of her life when I was home almost all the time, she didn’t seem overly interested in me. Most days, she’d spend the hours dozing in her bed at the top of the stairs, and I wouldn’t see hide nor hair of her unless she had to go out. I had no reason to believe she made any particular note of my presence or absence. Now, when I do make my rare conscious appearances about the household, she sticks to me like glue. Ball or other toy in her mouth, big sad eyes beseeching.

Truth be told, her issue probably isn’t me; I imagine it has more to do with the fact that the normal fabric of her existence has been…wrinkled. Animals are creatures of habit. They have a hard time dealing with change. I can relate…

Change. In the space of four months—less than one percent of my life (and this late in my life)—everything has changed. The way I live…the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the people I know, the motivations behind my every move. Standing in the park this evening, with the light of the sinking autumn sun painting the orange and red leaves oranger and redder… it seemed like only a short time since I took my camera out about the neighborhood to celebrate the bonfire of fall, 2005. Yesterday. But an entirely different reality.

A cognitive dissonance bordering on vertigo buzzed in my head. This person who throws the frisbee for the dog in the late evening sun, smiles and sighs at the woodsmoke and the colors and the mist and the crisp air, this is me. No…this was me. Now I’m…someone else. Something else. I don’t know who I am anymore. I feel like my poor dog…like I want to glue myself to some piece of my past, with my ball in my mouth and my big sad eyes beseeching.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Favorite Bumper Sticker

I was just browsing through my photo archives, and came across this.  It never fails to crack me up.  And as a restaurateur, it's a philosophy I wholeheartedly endorse....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Anybody Got Some Bread And Cheese....?

The bed is calling. A siren song increasing in pitch…until I am hardly aware of anything else. But the keyboard calls, too. A lower, softer, but more insistent call. It’s calling me to…whine.

What a day. What a week…what a last several months, in fact.

Days like today make me despair of ever finding my stride as an entrepreneur. There is a list  as long as my driveway of things that need to be addressed. That have needed to be addressed ever since I walked through the doors of that café as the prospective owner four months ago. Some things that seemed ever-so-important three months ago—things like trying to keep my house in order, or making sure the dog gets exercised every day, or keeping up with the Weight Watchers program—have become such unimaginable fantasies that they have fallen right off the forty-foot list. Only to be replaced by ten or twenty items needing more urgent attention. My world is completely out of control. And for someone like me, to whom some might refer as a control freak, this is anything but okay.

When I walked through the door of the restaurant this morning, I was immediately sprayed in the face with shit that was already hitting the fan; and for the next seven hours, without so much as a potty break, I soldiered on, head bent, into the teeth of that excrement-laden gale. All my plans for a productive day, for a day where I would have the chance to address at least one of the items on the forty-foot "to-do" list, bit the big one once again. Even the healthy food I had packed into my satchel before I left the house this morning never made it to its intended target. Breakfast was a piece of cheese bread made by mistake, thrown down my gullet instead of into the trash can. Lunch was half an apple—the half that was approximately a cup more than I needed for my curry salad.

Every night, I swear that I cannot continue to run this business by the seat of my pants. So I plan a productive, serene, in-control day for the morrow. Then reality hits me square in the face when I roll out of bed the next day. And there I am, swinging around by my back-pocket seams once again.

One step forward, two steps back would feel like amazing progress. I can’t buy a step forward; every time I lift my foot, I get blown back a half a mile.

Done griping now. Time for sleep.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Robin Was Here...

Yesterday, Robin and her husband drove all the way out to the back of beyond to stop by the café for a visit. They flew in to Portland for a trip down to Salem to see their daughter at Willamette University. Scappoose is NOT on the way…  It was a lovely visit, at a time when I really needed to know that my ethereal "friends" are indeed real people.

It’s funny, isn’t it, when you finally get to see someone you know but have never met. Did you ever experience that? Like when you get a glimpse of a favorite radio personality on TV or in person; you have a picture in your mind formed purely from the sound of the voice. And then you see them, and you think, "Well, that person doesn’t look at all the way they sound."

I have to say, I had that experience with Robin yesterday. She has (as far as I can recall) never graced us with a picture of herself in her journals. And on first sight, she didn’t look at all the way I had pictured her in my mind. And yet, after sitting down and talking with her for about thirty seconds, I realized she looked exactly how she should look.  Exactly like a scholar, and a writer, and a teacher, and an aspring divinity student.  Does that make any sense? I’m sorry…I don’t make a lot of sense these days….

Anyhow, thank you for visiting, my dear. And for choking down that quesadilla which I suspect wasn’t what it should have been. And I hope to see you again someday when we can spend more time, and I am more coherent. :-]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Not a Good Day For Housework

Today I managed to wangle a morning free from the café. I’m sure I meant to schedule myself administrative time—time for bookkeeping and other sundry tasks that don’t involve searing animal pieces or sweat-hogging through built-up grease and towers of dirty dishes. Instead, I took the morning "off." Which meant making a vain attempt to find my house under three month’s accumulation of…you name it.

For years, when I worked fifty or more hours a week as a restaurant manager, I subscribed to the "desperation" method of housekeeping. If I was planning to entertain (which I did once a year) I would take two days off and just plunge in with both feet. I got an amazing amount of work done in two days. But it took all forty-eight of those hours to reach bottom…to find the bones of the house under all the crap.

During my semi-retirement of the last decade, I had a hard time applying myself to intense housework. But I didn’t really need to. The house always looked neat, and was generally clean, because I finally learned all the little tricks you can do to keep the place looking decent. I remember thinking smugly, "Why did I never do these things before? It’s really so simple." Yeah. Simple. When you have the time. And the energy.

Today, I found myself literally overwhelmed by the job. I had no idea where to start. And I didn’t really accomplish one complete task. I just kept bouncing from emergency to emergency… Fold these socks that have been sitting here for a week! Scrub this floor! Clean up this cat puke that’s been here for three days! Wash these guest towels that have been in the laundry since June! One job led to another to another to another, with no end or sense of accomplishment in sight. And I’m still utterly exhausted. It didn’t help that I woke up in the middle of the night again and was awake for two hours before I benadryl-ed myself back into oblivion.

After an hour an a half of bouncing around the house like a pinball, I was literally staggering, trying to get a last few things out of the way before I just fell down from exhaustion. Not the way to live. That’s why I’m sitting here right now, clackety-clacking away at a totally inappropriate time, when I should be doing a million other things. The simple truth is, I can’t do anything else right now. And I felt I had better acknowledge and honor that fact before I woke up on the floor…


One of my old j-land friends used to insist that people who read her journal had absolutely no idea who she was in real life. That you could never really know someone by reading what they write.

I thought she was full of crap. Because the things I write are the essence of my soul. Generally, I write without holding much back, regardless of audience…or whether, indeed, there is any audience at all.

Now that I am back out in the world, I better understand my old friend’s assertion. Because I’m absolutely certain that if anyone who knows me here, through my writing, experienced who I am in my real life, they would not be able to connect that person to the one who pours out her soul without much provocation, and without a great deal of censorship, here on these "pages."

Here in my journal, I write…whatever. If it pops into my mind, I blurt it out onto the page. I don’t much consider who might read what I write, and what they might think about me when they read. I don’t seem to have any sense of "TMI" when I’m on a literary roll. If something matters to me, if it moves me, if it bothers me, if it makes me laugh…I write about it. I think, sometimes, that I am the compositional incarnation of a compulsive talker. The term "diarrhea of the pen" seems an apt description of my literary style…

Who would guess that in my "real" life, I’m downright taciturn? My mind simply does not supply my mouth with the easy bullshit that is the substance of human interaction. "Small talk"—that meaningless, convivial rambling that seems to act as both tranquilizer and adhesive in polite society—has always been as foreign to me as the remotest African dialect. Especially at work, where I subscribe to a nose to the grindstone, work-now-talk-later philosophy. My staff sees me as moody, and my clientele thinks I am distant. My husband, when I asked him to come up with one word that describes me, came up with "driven." To an employer and small-town business owner, this is not an asset.

I really wish that my crew and my customers, and even my husband (who isn’t interested in reading my journal) could get a glimpse of the "real" me that I display here…where people can’t see me. Or that I could peel that "me" off the page and stick her to myself when I deal with people outside the ethereal world.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Last night, for some reason that only my errant hormones understand, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. You have no idea what a tragedy sleeplessness is to someone who is working seventy hours a week under an unaccustomed load of stress. Or maybe you do…especially if you are a woman around, say, fifty-ish…

So I dragged myself out of my unwelcoming bed and turned on my computer. Thinking that reading over some of my old journal entries might be just the narcotic I needed to push me back into the Land of Nod. I lit on my old private journal, "Brainsurfing." I closed it down after the AOL Exile. Haven’t written a thing in it since January. But I can’t seem to bring myself to delete it. Now, I’m thinking of reviving it, and getting rid of "Better Terms," the blogspot journal I created for my own intended exodus from journal land. Which I never quite got around to doing.

"Brainsurfing" was intended to be the repository for my more "artsy" endeavors, both literary and graphic. I started out declaring that I didn’t want an audience, that "Brainsurfing" was going to be just for me, just for the pure joy of creating good stuff. But, in the end, I couldn’t help leaving a trail of breadcrumbs (as big as basketballs) for my "Coming to Terms" readers to follow to my new place. And from there, it morphed into my "bitch and moan" journal. Which is something I have always needed. But I just felt, after a time, that it didn’t need to be public anymore. After the j-land blow-up, I felt that the stuff I needed to write would be too maudlin for readers. And, considering some of the stuff I HAD written there for other eyes besides my own, "too maudlin" would have been difficult to achieve…

Anyway, as I was saying, I delved backwards into the "Brainsurfing" archives last night. And found that many of the entries had to do with my deteriorated relationship with my dysfunctional family.

And how I needed to "get a life" so that I could be free of the need to keep going back for the kicks in the head I always got from them, sooner or later.

This is what I wrote on New Year’s Day, 2006…a week after another particularly painful interaction with the clan:

In 2006, I want…more. More of something. Anything. I want to load up my life with so many things that, by the time the holiday season rolls around in 2006, I may or may not have room to squeeze in those people who have let me know plainly that I have not the importance in their lives that they have in mine. It only makes sense… You can only knock on a locked door for so long before you realize it’s never going to open.

At the dawn of each of the last six new years, I’ve made the same sad decision to walk away from that door. But the world has turned, changed, gone forward without me. I’m out of phase. I’m a twentieth-century seeker in a twenty-first century reality. My skills are rusty; my contacts outdated. Still, each year, I get a little further down the road before the brick wall of pure aloneness rises in front of me. Blocks the road and sends me creeping back to that same old familiar doorstep.

May this be the year that I finally break through that wall. Reach through the hole and grasp a new reality. One with warm bodies to welcome and enfold me. Or at least hold me back from turning back toward that old, locked door.


Looks like I got what I wanted, doesn’t it? :-P

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I just realized that I have passed the three-year mark on "Coming to Terms." And what a long strange trip it’s been…

Could it possibly be only three years that I have been chained to this love/hate relationship with the world of the blog?

Surely it is longer that three years…decades, perhaps…that I have known and cherished my "friends of the ether" out in journal land.

Mary. Christina. Cynthia. Robin. Robbie. Gigi. Jackie.  Meredith.  Oh my god...and I forgot Kat!   You've been with me from almost the beginning!  Augh!!!  My brain is indeed fried.     

Thanks for being there, my "old" friends.

And to the rest of you…my "new" friends:

Thanks for reading.

Lisa :-]

A few more moments stolen from the always full-to-brimming schedule. At some point, you just can’t care about that anymore. You have to say "enough." Make relaxation a priority, rather than letting it be the thing you do when everything else is done. Because everything else will never be done.

Right now, I’m sitting in my "al fresco" seating at the café. It’s quarter to seven, and it’s obvious that there won’t be more than about twenty minutes of workable light left in this day..and we don’t have lighting for our sidewalk seating. Mostly because once it’s too dark to sit outside, it’s also generally too wet. But, after a week of near-winter conditions, we’ve broken out in Indian Summer around here, and it must be almost eighty degrees at the moment. Lovely evening to sit on the sidewalk, watch the late-evening commuters chug past, and clickety-clack away. I should rush home, feed the herd, and take the dog for a walk and a frisbee throw while there’s still light enough for it. But fukkit. She’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Or chase frisbee in the dark. Which she is perfectly capable of doing, by the way.

Once again, business has been scary slow…but I’m told by both my wine rep and my provisions salesman that this is normal for this time of year. That everyone has pretty much shot their wad getting the kids back into school, so all restaurants are feeling the pinch. I’m content to take their word for it. But we need to get butts in the seats around here pretty soon, or I’m going to be using up that "safety net" of funds I left sitting in the bank way sooner than I planned.

I have, in fact, spent most of the day staring at the computer screen. At this point, it beats the hell out of spending the entire day in front of the stove and grill. Almost seemed like a vacation. I formatted a fresh version of our menu, with which I am inordinately pleased. Didn’t get rid of anywhere near the amount of dead weight that I wanted to, but these things have to be done delicately. Every single thing on the menu has one or two regulars that come in just for that… And, honestly, right now I can’t afford to chase off anyone. So I’ll bide my time and make mental notes of what needs to go, and drop them off slowly, one by one. It is to be hoped that by this time next year, we will have a menu that is lean, mean, and speaks more of me than of the former ownership.

*****Big sigh****** I’ve changed my mind about turning in my "entrepreneur" credentials. Two and a half glasses of wine, a lovely evening, and a day spent working on things the owner of a business should be working on have served to improve my outlook about 1000%. Don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but at this particular moment…life is decent.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This morning, my front counter girl poked her head into the kitchen to relay a question put to her by a customer:

"How do you spell ‘dirt?’"

Which is more pathetic? The fact that this guy--on his cel phone--had to consult my counter person for this, or that she had to then ask me?

A little scary, this proof positive that there are at least three adults loose in the world who are slightly fuzzy about a first-grade vocabulary word.

…and so, the first thing that popped into my mind was, "You mean, as in ‘dumber than…?’"

Monday, September 25, 2006


I really wanted to take my own advice to heart. I wanted to start out the week in control, on top of things, slightly more rested than I have been (we got the hell out of Dodge yesterday…packed some bags and went down to Eugene for the day…) I was ready…really ready…for today to be something like the first day of the rest of my life.

So, I wake up at 5:45 to the beginnings of a beautiful day. I roll up to the side door of the café at 6:58. I decided last week when I made the schedule that I could save a half-hour of employee labor by opening both the kitchen and the front counter. So I make the coffee, start the bacon and sausage, set up the kitchen for breakfast, take down all the chairs from on top of the tables, and cheerfully wait for my first customers—and my 8:00 counter person—to arrive.

8:00 comes and goes…I have customers, but no counter person. 8:05….8:10…counter person is still a no-show. I am trying to wait on customers, make espressos, and cook breakfasts, and I need to dodge into my "office" to grab the phone number of this missing employee. Round about 8:15, I manage to make the phone call.

"Hello, is Counter Girl there?"

"Counter Girl is unavailable."

"Ummm….this is her work calling. She’s supposed to be here…"

"Counter Girl is in the hospital."

"Oh. And someone was going to let me know this…when?"

"I was unaware that she had to work today…"

"Okay…well, could someone please call me and let me know what’s going to be happening in the next few days….?"

Jesus H. Christ. What the fuck else could happen? This girl is one of my first batch of new hires, which as of this writing appears to be going down in spectacular flames. Here are the stunning results of my first hiring wave: one promises to call me back and I never hear from her again. One accepts the job (and a uniform shirt) but calls me before her first day of work to say she’s accepted another position. I never see her, or my shirt, again. Of the two that actually did show up to work, one is now out for God knows how long, and the other has been hijacked by one of her other part-time jobs so that she’s only available to me five hours a week. Net gain: less than zero. Time and energy invested in training completely wasted.

I know I must look like a total bitch, looking at another person’s misfortune only from the aspect of how it is about me. I mean, I like this girl, and I feel bad that she has run into this complicated web of health crises in the last two weeks. But she’s in the hospital getting the treatment she needs. On the other hand, the immediate fallout from her health crisis for me is that all that wonderful "administrative time" I lavished upon myself on this week’s schedule has gone utterly up in smoke. Today was another grueling fourteen-hour-day, which found me running the store with one other person—a girl who is now in her third week of employment with me. And then I also had the pesky former owner hanging around wanting attention. And flames shooting out of the back of the deep fryer. Thank god it wasn’t busy, or we would have been SO completely screwed. As it is, I’m just sitting here physically and emotionally strung out once again. You would think I would be getting used to it.

I don’t know. It just seems like things are determined not to come together for me here. I can NOT catch any kind of a break. Tonight as I was driving home, almost in tears from the frustration of busting my ass for yet another day and getting absolutely nowhere, for the first time, the words, "I want out…" tried to form themselves into a real seed of capitulation. I won’t let myself go there… I know things will eventually get better. But right now, it seems like I’m destined to spin my wheels for an unspecified length of time. And what I really need is to get some traction under me and make some forward progress before I get totally mired in the muck.

It’s gotten so that I can hardly look forward to going to work every day, because I don’t know what new crisis is going to hit me right between the eyes this time. Speaking of which, I had better climb in bed and try to prepare myself for the next wave…

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pausing to Refresh

I decided to compose another whiney entry about the hardships of a fledgling entrepreneur. Sat down at the computer and found that my hands hurt so much, I can barely type. The arthritis is bad enough…but since I’ve tried TWICE in the past week to sever various pieces of my poor, swollen arthritic digits, they are really giving me a raft of shit. Does anyone know of a good palliative treatment for arthritic hands? Seriously… Is there such a thing as a "Hand Fixer?" I could also use some Playtex Chain-mail Gloves ("so flexible you can pick up a dime...")

What a week at the little café! Business was SOOO terrible early on, I wondered exactly why it was we were bothering to open the doors. By Friday, I had just about written off the week. Then my cook called in sick, and I ended up being THE cook for the entire day. Chained to the kitchen for fourteen hours. And of course, it was the busiest day we had all week. Honestly, I was so exhausted by the time I left there last night, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Exhaustion. It is my constant state of existence these days. And it is NOT a good thing. I know better than to let myself get into this condition. I know that I am no good to anybody or anything when I’m so tired that just remaining vertical feels like a feat worthy of a standing ovation. How can I achieve anything, make plans, take the restaurant forward, when it’s all I can do to drag myself through t a fourteen-hour day of the sweat-hog labor it takes to run the place?

I’m all for rolling up my sleeves and getting in there, shoulder to shoulder with the employees. If that were what I was doing—demonstrating my personal philosophy of not asking anyone to do something I’m not willing or able to do myself—it would be fine. But in reality, what I’m doing is trying to wear every hat in the place at once. And that is not getting me anywhere. Lesson number one is just about in the can: A successful entrepreneur must get an adequate staff, train them properly, and then turn them loose to do what they were hired to do. Okay…my first move has to be "get an adequate staff." And believe it or not, I’m actually working on that. I wrote next week’s schedule with an eye to giving me enough administrative time to accomplish that feat—interview and hire more staff.

That’s the first thing on the list…that "to do" list I have yet to actually write. I’m afraid to write it, really…afraid it will be so hugethat I will be overwhelmed. On the other hand, without a physical list, in my current state of exhaustion, I’m having all kinds of difficulty organizing my time and getting focused on what really needs to be done. I barely eek out the time to write payroll checks and pay the bills. (And, by the way, I realized I need to fire my accountant. That’s a story for a different day…)

I know, now, exactly what it means to be "too tired to sleep." Funny how I’ve always scoffed at that cliché… For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing the combination of mental, physical, and emotional overload that creates exactly that state. And it is SOOO strange. I tried to describe it in an earlier post…that feeling of running on depleted batteries. It’s as if my connection to reality is dimmed. Stuff comes at me, but it takes a tick and a half longer than normal to penetrate the fog. I’m used to thinking and reacting quickly in any given situation. I’m used to prioritizing on the fly and organizing my day in such a way as to maximize my progress toward a goal. Always on the right path, always making progress up the mountain. These days, I feel like I’m trying to scrabble up the hill on talus. One step forward, slide back two. I’m using twice as much energy as I should be just staying in the same place. What’s wrong with this picture?

What I have to figure out now is how to refresh myself without taking a month’s vacation. Or even a day off. There must be a way…

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Random thoughts...

If I yawn any wider, I think my face will split wide open.

But I just thought I would check in.

I almost got my fingers cut off today by a falling knife. That was the highlight of my day. The "almost" part. Luckily, all I ended up with are a couple of nasty little cuts very inconveniently located right across the tops my fingers in the spots most likely to be smashed, squished, soaked, greased, and generally abused. Should prove annoying for the next couple of days…

Yesterday, I discovered that going on a "date" to a wine tasting with a partner who doesn’t drink is really no fun at all. We ditched the wine tasting in favor of a quick meal at one of our favorite downtown Portland haunts—the Heathman Hotel. Ahhhh….that was very nice. I had a ginger mango martini. Very nice. Wish I could have stayed awake long enough to have savored the memory of the evening. I fell asleep in the car on the way home… I’m a pretty lame date, these days.

New employees are a mixed bag. Old employees are about 50% gone now. I expect to lose most of the rest of them before Christmas. But it’s amazing how much more mine the café becomes with the exit of each bit of old dead wood…

Okay…I have drained my last brain cell for the evening. ‘Night…

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I’m having a really piss-poor week. I’m completely burned out from working so many hours…but beyond that, business has gone into the crapper once again (after a week or two of things appearing to be improving.) That’s when it’s hardest for me. I can work my butt off if I feel like I’m getting somewhere…anywhere. And at this stage of my life, I am having a hard time seeing the point in working myself beyond exhaustion for nothing.

Trying to "make the café mine" has not, shall we say, produced the kind of results I had hoped. I feel like I’m making all the wrong decisions. I’m so tired, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m asleep at the wheel and I’m driving this bus right over a cliff.

For the first time, the "escape clause" that was written into our lease is starting to look awfully attractive.

Somebody tell me to quit whining, get back up, and keep going…

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Café Stories: #1. How NOT to Land a Job with an Utterly Desperate Employer

I’ve owned a restaurant for 71 days. An indescribable roller-coaster ride. If you had a couple of spare hours, and I could reconstitute the trillion brain cells I’ve shorted out in the process, I’d endeavor to tell you about it. But as things begin to settle into a routine, and I regain some of my equilibrium, stories do float to the surface. Stories that my writer’s heart can’t not share, when conscious time permits…

As I knew would happen, the crew I inherited from the previous regime has begun to exit, one by one. Since returning triumphant from our record performance at the Scandinavian Festival, I have lost three employees. One of them actually gave notice. The other two…not so much. Let’s see…one left a message on the café’s voicemail at midnight, saying he wouldn’t be coming in the next day because he quit. And the most recent—a "woman" of thirty-four whom one would assume should know better—told me on Thursday that Friday would be her last day. Annoying, frustrating, and inconvenient…but not unanticipated. What can I do but roll with the punches?

What has been unanticipated, however, are the dynamics of running a small business in a small town. And the incredibly tiny labor pool available into which to tap to supplement my dwindling crew. Three weeks ago, I interviewed and "hired" four…two of whom actually reported for their first day of work. And one of those has, in the interim, acquired two more part-time jobs, making her availability to me limited and unreliable.

Which is how it came to pass that on Thursday, in the aftermath of Ms. X apprising me of her one-day notice, I sat down with the telephone and the pathetic pile of applications I had stockpiled through the auspices of two newspaper ads and a sign in the window. From a field of six acceptable applications, I managed to wangle three interviews. Since losing one of my three remaining cooks (Mr. Midnight Voicemail), I have been working seventy hours a week. (The café is only open 74 hours a week, or I’m sure that total would be higher…) On Saturdays, we close at 3; it is one of the few times I can conduct job interviews while I’m still at least partially cognizant. So, today was designated "Half-conscious Interview Day."

Interview Number One: Applicant arrives fifteen minutes early. Applicant speaks English. Applicant is dressed (relatively) conservatively. Has thought to insert an almost invisible "plug" in her pierced lip. Applicant is hired on the spot. Shake hands. See ya on Wednesday.

I report back to my two counter girls that I have hired this applicant. Joke with them that my interview questions are, "Are you breathing? Do you have a pulse?" They laugh. Not all that amusing, really. Too true to be funny…

Interview Number Two. Applicant is breathing. Has a pulse. She, too, is hired on the spot.

In the back of my mind, I am wondering if I have become an "employee whore." If I am so desperate for help that I will hire anyone. To be fair, I did draw the line at the homeless man who submitted a barely legible application. Although I’m not entirely convinced that I wouldn’t have set up an interview with him had he supplied an address or a phone number…

And then along comes Interview Number Three.

She is dressed…not all that objectionably. A strange coral—colored matching top and capris. With a rather deep décolletage, about which she is obviously not the least self-conscious. I’m willing to ignore the tendency for my focus to shift from her cleavage to the huge dark circles under her eyes to her unkempt, peroxided hair. When she opens her mouth to speak, I cringe inwardly…her voice has that sort of ignorant, quasi-southern, not quite cowboy cadence cultivated to sound optimally redneck. Acknowledging that I have a tendency to be somewhat of a dialect snob, and prompted by the urgency of my present need, I club my aging hippie soul to insensibility, and wade into the interview with what I hope is an open mind.

Unfortunately, having dealt with the sound of her voice, I now have to digest what she is actually saying. And I can’t really believe she is regaling me with stories about the messy divorce she is currently in the middle of. And that her soon-to-be-ex is sleeping with her ex-roommate. And that the reason she needs the job is that she needs to move out of "his" house and get her own apartment. She and her two kids, of whom she is about to become a single mom. Out of the corner of her mouth she wisecracks, "wouldn’t it be funny if you were also interviewing my husband’s new girlfriend for this job?"

The flags appearing before my eyes are getting redder and redder, but I am so desperate, I decide to ask her about her customer service experience. The first story that pops into her mind, to demonstrate her ability "to handle all types of customers" is about the time at the Winn Dixie when she chased a "colored man" out the front door of the store, steaks flying out of his baggy shirt and pants…but by golly, she stopped ‘im, and got that meat back. And got her tires slashed by his girlfriend for her trouble.

I look at my watch. Surely this interrogation has gone on for hours. It’s 4:10. We have been "interviewing" for an interminable ten minutes. (And I have already learned so very much about her…!) My depleted brain is chugging on its last fumes, but I am desperately looking for a way out of this conversation. She has been filling out applications for months, she tells me. She is mystified as to why she can’t find a job. I am not. Mystified.

Eventually, it occurs to me that I can tell her I’m going to be interviewing a few more people, and then making calls for second interviews in a week or so. This will keep me from having to tell her to her face that I can’t possibly hire her (which I’m convinced I could not do without somehow telegraphing what a horrifying prospect she is…) In the blurry recesses of my exhausted mind, I’m already planning how I can "lose" her application and just never bother to call her back. Not a week from now, or any other time. I’m sorry I can’t be more mature, more professional, more considerate of the applicant’s feelings. But I have only just enough presence of mind to look out for my own survival. And this girl might as well have come into the interview with "Do not hire me under any circumstances" tattooed on her forehead.

So, on the one hand, I am bummed. I really, really, really need the help. But, on the other hand, I’m gratified to learn that desperation has not blown my standards completely out of the water.

Just another day on the roller coaster…

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Checking In

Please, not another entry about how busy I am and how I never get anything done….how my house, my yard, my car, my everything is a mess. I know I’m in a period of great transition. I know that there will come a time when order is restored, albeit an order much altered from what it was before. I will learn to make little half-hours worth of housework really count…and I will learn to, shall we say, set my standards for orderliness a little lower? Part of the process is to take to heart my mother’s most famous words of wisdom: "If you don’t make a mess, you won’t have to clean it up." For the past several years, we’ve been able to let that advice fall by the wayside a little, since I was always around to DO the cleaning up. Now…well, we’re going to have to adopt a few minor changes of habit. Like not hanging our clothes on the bedroom floor at the end of the day. Stuff like that…

Today is my "day off." Of course, I have already been to the café, spent some time baking, eating breakfast, in general letting the staff know that they are never really on their own. At some point, I will have a staff that I can trust to run the place when I’m not there. And it’s not that they steal, or particularly goof off, or don’t wait on the customers when I’m absent. It’s just that it’s been like pulling teeth to get them to do certain things MY way. I haven’t made any huge changes, but the things I have changed have been important. Unfortunately, the staff would have preferred not to change at all. So as soon as I leave, they start doing things their own way again. Without batting an eyelash. Certain that "their" way is the right way, and I have no idea what I’m taking about. Annoying in the extreme.

But, like a lot of other little annoyances, I’m learning to live with them, and choose my battles. I settle for no less than complete victory on the battles I choose…though admittedly, it may take several skirmishes to make the victory stick. Progress is being made. When I start feeling overwhelmed, awash in the challenges and responsibilities, I look back two months, or even two weeks. And I see that things have changed…that I have grown and accomplished much. And that there is a lot more yet to accomplish. But it gives me hope when I look at where I was, and compare it to where I am now.

Currently, I’msitting out on my deck, trying to squeeze in a few moments of enjoyment of my flowers and plants before the cold weather sets in. It’s about ninety degrees, so that eventuality seems particularly remote today. But, as the calendar has flipped over to month number nine, I know the cold weather will be making its appearance, rather sooner than later. So I have stuffed the seed sock, and I am sitting here ticky-ticketying away to the accompaniment of the soft chatter of the goldfinches jockeying for prime position on the feed bag. I could watch them for hours…

But, as usual, I only have a few minutes. In a short time, I’ll be meeting the husband at his real job, from where we will strike out on a purchasing odyssey for the restaurant. And, hopefully, sneak in a bite at one of our old haunts. The places we used to go when we used to have…oh, never mind. You don’t want to hear it. Anyway, that’s what passes for a night out around here, these days.

As I look at the monitor on my laptop, it looks slightly faded…a result of the fact that the battery is down to about 62%. And I realize that it is very much a metaphor for myself. I’m most definitely running on about 62% power…maybe less. And the view through my eyes looks a lot like that slightly fading LCD monitor. I wonder…will I ever get back to 100% charged? Where IS my power cord… ?