Saturday, November 29, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I forgot my good dinnerware, serving bowls and platters. So we had to make do with what we had at the restaurant.
And we did...
Last year wasn't much of a holiday for us. We didn't actually have Thanksgiving, and Christmas was small and sad. This year, with distance from the loss, we were ready to give it all we had. Which wasn't all that much...
But it was enough.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
After last year's "bye," we are again playing host to the family Thanksgiving celebration. The party is getting smaller and smaller…only eight of us will be in attendance this year. And in a few more years, the last few of the younger generation will be off into their own lives, and they will also disappear from the family table.
This year, I won't have to replace my living room furniture with a hospital bed and a portable tv, won't have to tear the door off the guest bathroom the better to accommodate a walker. But this is one of those things that is at once a liberation and a burden…
And this morning, I am feeling frustrated with the procedure of readying my house for guests. One of my favorite parts of having company, since I was a young wife working fifty hours a week, was taking one whole day before the event to just…prepare. A day of lonely toil—no help from the husband…puh-leeeze!—to touch, rearrange, primp and preen over all my things that I never much get to enjoy any other time. Twenty-four hours of solitude and sanity to prepare myself for the madness of the party. Unfortunately, in the world of the small restaurant owner, that kind of indulgence is not on the docket. Sigh!
I know. You're all thinking, "Charlie Brown! You're the only person I know that can take a happy season…and turn it into a problem!"
This IS Thanksgiving. And, yes, I am thankful for so many things in my life. Too many things to name, really. But I wish, I just wish I had the luxury of that one day of nesting and grounding before the hubbub begins. I needed that twenty years ago. I need it so much more now.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Unlike the redhead of my previous picture/post, this guy is not the least bit eager to stick around and pose for a portrait. I only had enough time to fire off about five frames before he spooked and flew away, and in two of those he was bending over eating off the back of the feeder, so...he has no head.
So this shot is the best of the lot, and it isn't great. But I do now have pictorial evidence of both woodpeckers of 2008. I can't decide whether our friend here is a "downy" or a "hairy" woodpecker. The two species are almost identical, except one is a little bigger. I thought this must be a downy because he isn't very big, but the call I hear around here when the 'peckers fly overhead is definitely the "kingfisher-like rattle" of the hairy.
I know...this is a little more info than anybody really needs.
But I'm feeling kind of weird about being the kind of person who gets excited about red-headed sapsuckers and hairy woodpeckers in her back yard...
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Ten to fourteen of my waking hours every day are spent in the media vacuum of the café. Actually, it has been kind of refreshing. I probably would have gone completely crazy this election cycle if I had been as plugged into the overload of media hype as I was in 2004.
But the thing is, the AOL j-land expulsion had one unforeseen complication for me. Though I hate to admit it, logging on to the internet through AOL at least gave me a glimpse of news headlines several times a day. Wedged in there among the ten tons of ads, pop culture overload, self-help fluff and general crap, there were usually one or two links to meaningful stories containing real news. Silly as this sounds, I kept informed of current events through AOL's home page.
When AOL booted us, I changed my home page to the Gmail page, thinking that would make sense, since the reason I logged on to the internet several times a day was to check my mail. Unfortunately, I realize now that I don't just want to check my mail. I want to catch up on the news. I want to see my local weather forecast. And I want to see if I have mail. All on one page. Things I had been accustomed to getting on the AOL home page for the past ten years.
I suppose that if I put some time and effort into it, I could find a different home page that will do all these things for me. But I don't have the time, and I don't have the energy to expend the effort. Actually, I don't appreciate that I have been forced to find the time and make the effort. Or languish in a sorry state of news deprivation.
Just one more example of the thanks we got for being loyal, long-term AOL members…
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Thanks to Bernadette--Just a Stirring in my Soul--for appreciating this compilation of sad essays, pictures and rants enough to confer this honor upon humble (but loveable) me. (And if you were at all attentive to sixties cartoon shows you will "get" the reference...)
So...yeah, Bernadette! Thanks!
And now, I'm supposed to nominate five more blogs for the award. This is hard, because most of the blogs I follow are either mostly dormant, in the process of assimilating some huge life changes, or feature me as one of the writers.
So let me think about this for a bit, and I'll get back to you...
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
This is one of the woodpeckers who visited the yard on Sunday…
And to my delight, it seems he is not just a hit-and-run type of guy. When I stepped outside to replenish the food supply this morning, there he was, clinging to the side of the apple tree. He wasn't all that afraid of me…he just flitted over to the side of the plum tree about ten feet away. We spoke for a moment (well, I spoke; he…didn't fly away.)
Welcome to the table, pretty thing!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Back in, I don't know…2005? I began a weekly series I called "Ten Good Things." It was a marginally successful attempt at training myself to recognize good things that were going on in my life, at a time when bad things seemed to outnumber good by a ratio of 100 to 1.
Then we bought the café, and "Ten Good things" went the way of…all good things. In fact, I think I've only posted one or two half-hearted lists in the past twenty-eight months. From July 2006 through about February of this year, I was way too lost in the weeds to think much about good things. I had tumbled headlong into the abyss of stress, fatigue, disillusionment and second guessing that is the world of the neophyte entrepreneur. Now and then I fought my way to the surface and gulped some air. And if I was feeling particularly smug, I might decide that I had turned the corner, and it was time to sit back on my heels and breathe a little. For about five minutes, until the next glob of excrement made contact with the oscillator.
I am no longer suffering from that chronic sleep-deprivation, no longer wrestling that feeling of trying to navigate in an atmosphere the consistency of half-set jello… The rusty capabilities of this old warhorse have finally caught up to her dreams. Running the restaurant has at last become a matter of employing systems, habits and muscle memory, rather than fielding a daily barrage of physical and mental challenges that nearly did me in. It has not escaped my notice that I'm beginning to feel like a bona fide human being again. And now that I'm able to pay attention to something besides the daily grind at the restaurant, I've noticed that quite a few good things have been smacking me upside the head, without my even having to go looking for them.
The last few days, in particular, have presented a veritable feast of delectable occurrences. I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning, being handed package after brightly-wrapped package, each one filled with something chosen by someone who knew exactly what would make me squeal with delight.
Let's open them, shall we?
- Autumn leaves—though the season is drawing to a close, the trees in my own yard continue to burn bright yellows and reds. And my fuchsias, geraniums and begonias are still blooming, since we've had no frost yet to speak of.
- A walk on the dike yesterday seemed to correspond with the nightly sandhill crane flyover. I stood rapt as flock after flock flew low over our heads, punctuating silent wingbeats with calls of Crrroooo-crrroooo! Crrrroooo-crrrrooo!
- Another trip to Oregon wine country yielded a bottle of locally bottled Methode
Champenoise; and this time I remembered to bring a camera.
- Pouring coffee this morning, I looked out my kitchen window and spotted not one but two woodpeckers enjoying birdie buffet. I have never seen a woodpecker at my birdfeeders before, so this was indeed a red-letter day. (In case you're wondering, they were a downy [hairy?] woodpecker, and a red-headed sapsucker….)
- Business has been exceptional this week, with three days up over the magic $1000.00 mark.
- I was able to connect my new ipod to my old cd player at the restaurant, and it played over eight hours of my continuous favorites.
- I was able to return the $150 fancy radio/docking station I had thought I needed, after I found all I really needed was a $15 cable to connect my ipod to my old cd player and be able to hear my music.
- We finally have two lighted signs on the front of the café…so that traffic coming at us from that direction might know who we are and what we do. For the first time.
- I found the 8-dvd "Hornblower" A & E series for $40 at Best Buy, and we have happily immersed ourselves in the adventures of Mr. H and the Indie for the past three nights.
- All this, and President-elect Barack Obama.
So I'm all smiles tonight… J
Thursday, November 13, 2008
In the past week, I've run up against so many reminders of the fleetness of this life.
Last week's stormy weather—the first of the season—took me inevitably, unwillingly, back to a year ago (seems like yesterday)…those dark days when my mother was wrestling against her exit from this earthly plane. In the end, it took the winds of the storm of the century to carry her tenacious soul on to the next world…
Several friends of the café have gone on, as well, in the past few weeks. And there are one or two who look as if they are not far behind…
So, when I have a few moments to collect my thoughts, to hold them up and inspect them from every angle, I see that there has been somewhat of a sea change in my attitude…at least for the present. This person who once tended toward melancholy and depression, toward discontent and unfulfillment, has somehow learned to set her sights higher.
If there is beauty in my world, I reach out and grab it…hold it gently in my hand and gaze at it. I let it sink down into my soul like gold dust to the bottom of a stream.
If there is laughter, I gather it up and store it in my heart.
If there is joy, I let myself feel it down to my toes.
I immerse myself in the deep gratitude—to the Universe, the Creator—that rises up to meet me at the shriek of an eagle, the sparkle of fairy lights, the mysterious white visage of the full moon, the kaleidoscope of the changing seasons, the rhapsodic harmonies of inspired music… If for only a moment or two, I completely give myself over to that joy.
And it gets me through the day. And more.
I found this prayer over at Search the Sea. It immediately struck me as exactly how we must beseech God, or in my case, The Universe, for the tools needed to undo the damage that has been done in our country and to the world in the past eight years.
For our new president, and for ourselves:
May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Cross-posted at Women On...
Monday, November 10, 2008
I recently made the decision to split my grocery order in half and receive two small deliveries a week rather than one large delivery once a week. This works much better for us all around, in terms of making the best use of my limited storage capacities; plus, it controls labor dollars by keeping me from having to bring on an additional staff member just to help put the stock away. My supplier requires a $500 minimum per delivery, and since we are (finally) able to meet that requirement with bi-weekly deliveries, this looked like a no-brainer to me.
But, of course, it can’t be that simple, can it?
Ever since my old grocery company made the misstep that forced me to make the change to a new supplier, I have been very vocal with my new sales rep about how difficult it has been, as a small business in a small town, to get any service from any supplier, much less decent service. Every time I see this poor guy, I beat him up about prices and products I can’t get, just because I’m a small independent restaurateur. The whole system is skewed to favor huge, multi-unit operations. He knows it and I know it. And he knows I know it, and I’m not going to let him forget it.
This supplier’s entire pricing system is based on volume: The more you order, the lower your prices. For instance, if I buy an average of $4000 per month, my price on a case of widget sauce will be $X. If my average purchases are $5000 per month, my price on that same case of sauce will be 95% of $X. If I should be so stupid as to ask them to split that case of widget sauce for me, I will pay 25% more per unit. And, I have discovered, there are products out there that they literally will not sell me because some big chain restaurant has “confined” the stock. If this doesn’t look like a conscious, deliberate effort to put the little guys out of business, I don’t know what it is.
So, poor Mr. Sales Rep has had to sit across the table from me, twice a week for the past four months, and listen to me gripe about the system. He has tried and tried to assure me that The Company values my business, and that my puny little account is as important to them as any other. I want to believe him, but the evidence proves otherwise. In fact, last Monday he showed me something that put another nail in that particular coffin…which happens to be the “moral dilemma” I am trying to deal with now.
When I finished reading him my order last week, Mr. Sales Rep spent a few moments tickety-ticking on his laptop, then he turned the thing around so I could see the screen. It showed the total cost of my order, the total profit margin on my order, and my salesman’s total commission on my order. The cost of the order met the $500 minimum. The profit number I was not particularly interested in, but my sales rep’s commission was ZERO. Zero. He did not make one dime on my $500 food order, and he spent at least an hour just sitting there with me, not to mention the gas it took to get here and etc.
It seems the profit on any given order has to be a minimum of $60 before a salesman can collect commission. And apparently, that $500 minimum order does not necessarily guarantee a $60 profit for the company. So, if I place my orders in the way that makes the most sense for me—dividing it into two smaller orders instead of one big one—my sales rep makes NO MONEY on my account. How very motivational! Tell me that he is going to be just as solicitous of my business as he is of a larger account when he makes no money from me.
What the hell kind of a way is this to do business? Why is business so skewed toward the negative nowadays? Time was when sales people were compensated for any sales—maybe not very much, but if they brought in a dollar for the company, they made something on it. If they were very good, very successful sales people, they would receive bonuses for increasing sales or making large sales. They could make a good living for being good at what they did. In this day and age, however, if you bust your ass and over-achieve, you might be able to make ends meet as a commission sales person.
Why do big companies believe that the only way they can make money is to rip off their employees? The executives and the stockholders get the best of the spoils. The leftovers are thrown to the employees—those people upon whose backs the money is brought in—as if they were the dogs under the banquet table. And if there are no leftovers, the employees get shafted.
So here I am now, looking at one of the few companies willing to do business with a small restaurant in a small town…and their stupid, avaricious business policies just make me sick. I SO want to tell them to go to hell; that I won’t do business with a company that can’t even pay their sales people a fair wage. Of course, I don’t see how I can possibly do that, since there doesn’t seem to be a company available to me that does compensate their sales people fairly. But I’m not entirely okay with simply ignoring the situation. No, I’m not responsible for that company’s crappy compensation package. But I can’t help feeling that as long as we all acquiesce to the daily rip-offs of big businesses, they are not going to go away. And this doesn’t even address the havoc their policies can wreak on ME as a small business owner.
Sometimes I wish I could just keep my head down and NOT think about the more global nature of the things I do every day, or even about how the way I conduct my business affects the other members of the small community of folks that inhabit my immediate world. I wish that I could just worry about getting myself through every day, and let everybody else take care of themselves. Unfortunately, I just don’t work that way. And it’s kind of a pain in the ass...
Thursday, November 6, 2008
And so I rose on the morning after Election 2004--the election that I firmly believed would be the most important of my lifetime--hope warring with dread in the core of my being, looked out the window at the new day and contemplated…
I decided I would let the dawn be the omen. If we had a spectacular
sunrise, no matter who won, things were going to be all right. A rainy, drizzly,
weeping dawn would foretell of dire consequences for our nation. Funny thing…I
knew the forecast was for sun today…knew the rain had stopped and the clouds had
scuttled away before we went to bed last night. I think I was creating a
scenario in my mind where my "good omen" daybreak was more than likely to
But we didn’t have a spectacular sunrise. The day dawned bright and
brittle. The sun just marched up over the horizon, cold and hard in the east.
And it frosted last night…the first frost of the season. The bright hard rays of
the rising sun glittered off the sodden masses of my garden flowers that were
killed by the frost. So, tell me…what kind of omen is that? Coming to Terms… November 3, 2004.
November 5, 2008 dawned grey and drizzly and dark…very much a typical late autumn day in the Pacific Northwest.
Yet I jumped out of bed, bustled into the café and gushed to my staff and any customer within earshot:
“Isn’t it a beautiful day!"
And I wasn’t talking about the weather.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
You can find my “Mr. Hyde” rant at Women On.
Today is election day. The day for which I personally have been earnestly yearning since January 20th, 2001.
The Bush Administration is circling the drain, no matter who comes out on top in today’s election, and that in itself is cause for unfettered celebration.
Still, we must hope for so much more.
We must hope for a leader who will drag us out of the gutter of fear and divisiveness into which the Bush Administration pitched us and held us for eight long years.
We must hope for a leader capable of speaking the words and inspiring the policies that will shepherd us back to the moral high ground we once held.
We must hope for a new administration that will truly join hands across the aisle in Congress, fulfilling the empty promises that George W. Bush—President “Uniter-Not-Divider“—made to the American people, fingers tightly crossed behind his back, at the outset of his presidency eight years ago.
We must hope for a president who will seek the counsel of all the best and the brightest in this great nation, heedless of party politics, rather than make every attempt to fill all the high positions of government with unqualified cronies and “yes-(wo)men.”
We must hope for a president who relies on knowledge, wisdom, sound judgment and wit to carry this nation and the world to a higher plane, rather than one who openly scorns these things in favor of the politics of fear, ignorance and xenophobia that have formed our national policies since 2001.
It’s no secret that I believe Barack Obama is the best choice in this race. And I firmly believe that the majority of Americans believe it, too.
But it’s not enough to believe it. You need to act on it.
VOTE. YOUR VOTE COUNTS.
Do not, under any circumstances, believe that you can spare yourself the ordeal of standing in line for hours, because all the polls say Obama is going to win, and he doesn’t need your vote. I have seen disastrous things happen when people trust the system to carry out their wishes without doing their part. I’ve seen hate measures become law, I’ve seen bad candidates squeak to victory, all because the “good guys” were sure that the bad guys didn't stand a chance, so they…didn’t vote.
Lucky me, I live in a “vote-by-mail” state. I sat at my dining room table a week ago, studied the candidates and the measures, filled out my ballot, stuffed it in the envelope and trundled it over to city hall.
For those of you who are not quite so lucky, I wish you fine weather, short lines, good company, and godspeed.
In a little less than 24 hours it will all be history.
The first page...
Monday, November 3, 2008
I’d like to say that things are perfect at the café, but the place is like a game of “Whack-a-mole.” I whack one issue back into its hole, and another one pokes its head up somewhere else and sticks its tongue out at me. While my employee issues seem to have smoothed out for the time being, now I’m having fits with my vendors. I had to switch grocery companies in August, and that was a nightmare. We’re finally getting to where I’ve found my footing with that situation, and my wine supplier bugs out on me.
I have to wonder whatever happened to the concept of customer service, particularly when it comes to restaurant suppliers. As a small restaurant in a small town, I have come to expect terrible service, or no service at all, from any vendor with whom I try to do business. You would think we were located somewhere in the godforsaken wilderness, rather than on the northern fringe of the largest population area in the state. The vendors who do condescend to deliver to this area act like they are doing us the biggest favor in the world to even consider taking us on as customers.
But maybe that’s the problem. There are plenty of customers to be had in the Portland metro area proper. Vendors don’t need to come “all the way out here” to get business. Why waste the fuel? So while Portland restaurateurs can choose from a half dozen specialty bakeries that will bring marvelous artisan breads right to their back doors every morning, I am stuck with Giant National Bakery’s five varieties of “marshmallow” bread. And have a hard time even getting that.
And then there’s the concept of fresh produce. When I sit down at a higher-end restaurant in Portland and read how “fresh local produce” is featured on today’s menu, I have to laugh (with a wistful tear in my eye.) I have not yet figured out where that commodity is to be had, and I’m pretty sure that if I did find out who provided it, they would not bring it to me. Personally, I’m beginning to think that the produce used even in the upscale restaurants in Portland is no more local or fresh than the stuff I can get my hands on; or if it is fresh and local, it’s a large part of why meals at such places are $30 a plate.
My latest run-in was with my wine vendor. I have been doing business with a little wine supplier out of Northwest Portland. I inherited the account from the previous owner of the restaurant; this particular supplier has provided wines for Old Town Café since the grand opening 3 ½ years ago. The service has always been a little…shall we say, lax, but the salesman was personable enough, and the company didn’t hold me to a minimum purchase. This was important, because we’ve only recently built our dinner business to a point where we sell more than one or two bottles of wine a month.
So my routine has been that I call my sales rep when I need wine, leave my order on his machine, and he shows up with it in a couple of days. Last week, however, when my wine did NOT show up when it was supposed to, I had to open an investigation. Several calls into layers of automated phone system hell finally put me in touch with a live human voice, which told me my wine vendor had been sold, and New Wine Company had taken over all accounts.
I had never heard of New Wine Company. And my wine rep had not so much as whispered that a sale was in the works. And New Wine Company had evidently not heard of me, because old wine rep was doing an intentionally poor job of communicating with everyone involved. Long story short, it took more than two weeks (rather than the expected two days) for me to get wine in the place; and, in fact, last Monday I had to make the thirty-mile drive out to one of the closer wineries in the area to get my own damn wine. (Which wasn’t really a hardship. It was a beautiful drive, the weather was gorgeous, and I got the wine cheaper than I would have from the dealer anyway.)
Now that I am a full-blown business owner, I find I am swiftly being healed of my chronic phone-o-phobia, and I have no qualms about demanding what I want. If I need something, I’ll get on the phone and track it down. And if I get frustrated with poor customer service, I am not shy about letting whoever is on the other end of the phone have it with both barrels. I had to growl and bare my teeth all the way through the process of switching our phone service to digital voice. I’ve “squeaky wheeled” my way through this process of changing grocery vendors. And I blasted Mr. New Wine Company rep when he finally did get in touch with me last Friday. I’m afraid I’m getting somewhat of a reputation as a…demanding customer. I want what I want, and I’m not going to settle for less. I’m sorry I can’t be Ms. Sweetness and Light, but I’ve never been a schemer or a cajoler. I fully expect to be able to ask plainly for decent customer service, and get it. That is what I offer MY customers…I’d be out of business if I didn’t. And I expect no less from the people who call me “customer.”
Did I say this was going to ba a "little" post? Well, the sun is up now…and it’s time to get to it. Another day, another story…