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.