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… ?

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Stream of Consciousness on the Edge of Exhaustion

What does one write when one has only a few free hours a week? When there are so many other things one should or could be doing, like dealing with a week’s accumulation of animal hair all over the house…or applying oneself to actually creating a home-cooked, home-served meal…or taking the dog out for a few minutes of desperately longed-for one-on-one dog and mom time…or paying the bills…or pulling weeds…or planning and scheming and dreaming the future of the business…?

The café closes at 3 pm on Saturday. I only had to work a nine-hour day. I was not a completely exhausted basket case by the time I got out of there today. I felt like I’d had the day off. Tomorrow, I don’t even have to work open to close. Ahhhh….another almost day off coming up.

The husband is currently ensconced in the only air-conditioned space we own—our travel trailer—trying to redeem a few of the million hours of sleep he has lost in the last two months…

Two months. We’ve been full-fledged entrepreneurs for two months. Since July 1, 2006. Two months have gone by. And, as is the way with time once you have passed the half-century mark, these two months have at once seemed like an eternity and the wink of an eye.

It’s September already, for god’s sake. And I seem to have missed the summer. (I always do the "where has the time gone" thing in September; but this year, moreso than usual.)

I think the problem is that summer is not as long as any of us who live very far north or south of the equator would like it to be. Think about it. Twelve short weeks. And here in Oregon, the first six weeks are wasted trying to shake off the rainy season that lasts half the year or more.

So we have about six weeks of summer. From maybe mid-July to the beginning of September. Before that, or after that, it could be summer…but it could just as easily revert to whichever season—spring or fall—precedes or follows. Which isn’t all bad, come to think of it. Here in the inland valleys of Oregon, spring and autumn are truly the longest and most beautiful seasons.

My drip irrigation-aided garden beds, planted in May before the insanity began, are thriving. The lawn looks like crap (because our sprinkler system gave up the ghost this year) …so the grass is brown and the only green accents are the tall spires of the weeds that haven’t been mowed since July. I can look outside and see the lush, thriving tangles of slightly wild beauty in my raised beds and container gardens. Nothing has been pinched back or deadheaded since d-day (July 1, 2006.) It’s wild and untamed and slightly weedy…but at least it’s green (in places…)

For those of you who remember the saga of the trees (from two years ago…): The volunteer poplars I have encouraged around my deck are now taller than I am. A little while more, and I shall have the tall, green, thriving screen I had when I moved into this house. Only this time, it will be mine…and I won’t have to worry about the neighbor cutting it down again.

I had so much more to write about…but I’ve run out of time. Time. Time to go feed the animals. And walk the dog. And do some laundry. And vacuum the furniture. And…and…and. Sigh!