Sunday, November 29, 2009

Going Underground

Perhaps some of you who have tried to visit in the past twenty-four hours have met with the notice that this blog is now private and you have not been added as a reader. I'm coming up for air one more time just in case there is anyone out there who would like to be invited to continue to read after I take "Coming to Terms..." private for good. I know many of you come here from "Desert Year" but have not become official "followers" of the blog, so I can't find you to ask you if you'd like to continue to visit.

This blogging road has been a long and strange one. "Coming to Terms..." was born in 2003. It came to be as part of AOL's "journals" experiment. We neophyte bloggers grew, networked, made friends and built a community. Which, as everyone knows, AOL razed last October in favor of...I'm not sure what.

I've seen many people come and go. Had many friends who I no longer "see." I suppose that is something that happens in "real life," too. But it has been painful for me, because this Land of Blog is where I did a great deal of healing after several terrible years. I know it still is, and can be, a place of great healing and sharing. But, apparently, not for me.

The thing is, for all those six plus years, I could never get any of the people I care about in my real life to read my blog. Unfortunately, since this past summer when I inadvertently invited some people associated with the cafe to read (not taking into account that some of what I have posted here is not consistently flattering to the people I work with) I have acquired some new readers. Readers with local ISP’s who visit several times a day—almost obsessively. I can only assume these readers have a not altogether kosher agenda, since they don’t choose to leave comments or interact in any way. I have no idea what kind of harm they might mean to cause me, or could cause me, but I can’t afford to ignore them and wait to see what happens.

Hence the need to take “Coming to Terms…” private. It’s a move I hate to make; though I’ve given up the idea of acquiring NEW readers, every once in awhile, an old j-land friend I haven’t seen or heard from in ages will stop by and leave a comment. I’ll have to hope they can find me some other way…

Anyway, as of…sometime later this week, “Coming to Terms…” will close its doors to the public and be open by invitation only. So…if you would like an invite, please leave your contact information (I'll need your email address and I promise I won't spam you or even email you, except an invitation to the blog...) in a comment.

Otherwise, goodbye… And thanks for reading.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Eight? Seven? Six? Whatever...

I’m back-ordered a couple of days on “thankfulness…”

No great excuse, here, that everyone (or no one, evidedently...) hasn’t already heard. I got caught up in café issues, worked twenty-four hours in two days, and was too worn out yesterday to even pick up the lap-top.

As I mentioned, business has been good this month. Good for any month, but especially spectacular for November. I thought, “Wow, maybe we are finally starting to get it, and people are starting to get us.” That would have been a great feeling. But, as has been the case almost every other time in my life when I thought I might actually be responsible for my own success, I discovered that it is more a case of things over which I personally have no control, causing our good run.

Two local eating/drinking establishments have closed their doors since October 30, which has had the effect of leaving bigger slices of the same dining-out-dollar pie for those of us who remain. So while I’m thankful that our numbers are good this month, I know better than to go into paroxysms of joy about how we’re finally on our way and there’s nowhere to go but up.

We need to carpe diem. We need to take advantage of this little windfall the Universe has provided for us, try to impress those folks coming through our doors who perhaps have never been here before, or who perhaps have been here but had a bad experience and didn’t come back, and are going to give us another go. I hope we can do that.

So, while I’m grateful for the chance, I won’t say that I’m thankful for somebody else’s misfortune. I KNOW that “There but for the grace of the Universe go I…” We’ll just keep our noses to the grindstone and try to maximize the opportunity.

That was going to be the extent of my essay on gratitude for today, until I logged on and looked at my email. There was an email from an old J-land friend, one who just recently “found” me again. He is one of these people who used to post very rarely, but when he did post, his insights into his life used to just blow me away. I thought I had lost him forever when AOL dumped us all over the side.

The email I got from him today was very much like his old blog posts. It was an essay about his dad, who he just found out is very ill. Truthfully, I don’t know if I was meant to receive the email. It’s possible that I just got added to his “reply all” list by mistake. Either way, I felt so fortunate to receive that “letter.” His writing was, once again, simple and forthright and powerful, and brought tears to my eyes.

And it reminded me, all over again, of the friends—many now lost in the ether—that I made and cherished in the days of AOL-J. This simple, powerful letter, that I may have received by mistake, was what the journal community was all about back then. So much more intimate, so much more meaningful, than the games, quizzes, and superficial “status updates” of Facebook and Twitter.

It reminded me of why, in spite of all the changes and losses and disappearances, I’m still here.

I can’t give up this place. Lonely and forsaken as it sometimes feels, now, I cannot leave. The memories alone are enough to hold me. And there are always the friends who are still out there, somewhere.

Thank you, Thomas. It was good to remember.

And I wish the best for your Dad…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nine: Thanks to You...

Today was my first day off in three weeks. I’ve been working hard, stressing out, spending a lot of money on labor and not figuring out why that cannot equal my actually being able to take a day off now and then.

But today, I did…almost nothing. I had my nails done. I threw some laundry into the washer. I wiped down my vanity and the inside of my shower in anticipation of the cleaning lady’s visit (I don’t mind leaving some dirt for her to deal with, but I have a real problem with anyone seeing how slovenly I’ve really become.)

And I sat for hours with the computer in my lap, playing solitaire and flitting back and forth between Facebook and reading blogs. It was just like old times…except for the Facebook part.

I realized that the thing I’m grateful for today is…


“Coming to Terms…” My blog. And the community I found, quite by accident, when I cast my line into the AOL journal pond six years ago. Six. I can scarcely believe it.

I have friends that I would not have had it not been for this amazing, frustrating, challenging, blessed medium.

I know there are not many of you left who come here and check up on my drivel. I sort of screwed the pooch on that one, “closing” my journal, as I did this past spring, and then opening it up again almost immediately. I found I couldn’t let it go…couldn’t let it die. But I pretty much shed myself of most of the readers I had left…

I know there are some of you out there who stop by and don’t comment (“Feedjit” never lies…) Could you do me a favor? If you have a blog, and I don’t go there, could you say hi and leave a link? I hate one-sided conversations, you see…

Anyway, to those who knew me when, and to those who know me now, and to those few of you in both camps…

Thank you.

You light up my life.

Ten: My Parents' Last Gift

It’s November. Here in the Pacific Northwest, that means autumn is hanging on for all it’s worth while winter stomps on its fingers. Warm wet storms spiral up from the south, icy arctic air blows down from the north, and somewhere around my back door, they duke it out.

As of November 2007, the blustery, schizophrenic weather will forever remind me of my mother’s last months. I always believed that it took the winds of a powerful Oregon storm—in fact, it’s gone down in history as the December 3rd Hurricane—to carry her recalcitrant soul into the light. Much as circumstances had dictated an unwelcome distance between me and Mom in her final years, her passing nevertheless left a jagged hole in the fabric of my life.

My parents—mundane, predictable people that they might have been—broke that mold with the manner of their passing. Dad had always been fairly meticulous about his health, consulted physicians on a regular basis, followed doctor’s orders and lived a pretty damn clean life—didn’t smoke, rarely drank, stayed mentally engaged, preferred spending time in his workshop, garden or fishing boat to sitting in front of the boob tube. Mom, on the other hand, smoked, drank, never went anywhere near doctors and watched television religiously. In 1991, Mom fell and broke her leg, refused the surgery that might have properly mended it, and ended up dependent upon a walker for the rest of her life. At that point, Dad became her primary caregiver as well as her mate. Not a one of us children had ever thought in a million years that Dad would die before Mom. It was simply an inconceivable scenario, not just because of the differences in their lifestyles, but because Mom would not survive without my dad.

But Dad did go first. When he died in 1999, he left behind his handicapped, utterly dependent and, at the time, extremely ill wife of 54 years; a small nest egg, a couple of negligible life insurance policies, and a house with no mortgage. Evidently, even he had never considered being the first to go; because, lifelong bean-counter that he was, he had never formulated a plan for how Mom should go on, financially, without him. We four bereft, shell-shocked daughters were left to figure out how to make what Dad left behind provide for my mother for however long she needed it. I remember saying at the time, “Who knows, she’s a tough old bird. She just might live another ten years.” Which, given the delicate state of her health when Dad died, none of us really believed. But, by damn, she was tough. She didn’t live another ten years; she came up just a little over a year short. And we were grateful that The Universe, or my Dad’s spirit—or kismet or karma or her guardian angel—stretched her resources enough to keep her comfortable for that last almost decade of her life.

In true “loaves and fishes” fashion, there was even a modest amount of cash left over to be distributed among the family when Mom left us. And so we found ourselves, in the manner of countless generations of finally orphaned fifty-somethings, sadly looking down at our little fistfuls of money and wondering what to do with it. Sure, it’s nice to have that extra ten grand…but when you think of where it came from, there’s no joy in it. And no real desire to run right out blow it on something outlandish.

Also, in our case, the money came with an unspoken commission. My parents had always been thrifty, saved more than they spent, did without things they couldn’t afford for years while they raised their brood, used credit wisely… The money that we held in our hands after their passing had been acquired and nurtured through a practice of fiscal conservativeness for which we have neither the understanding nor the patience, in today’s world. I felt a responsibility to spend—or not spend—their money in a way that would honor the two who had worked so hard for it and stretched it so far.

So it sat in the bank, that money, for almost two years. Because I couldn’t think of anything important enough—anything worthy enough—to use it for.

Eventually, I realized I wanted a car. A used car, slightly better than a beater, that was not a giant, noisy, smelly white pickup truck that consumed mass quantities of the most expensive fuel available. And I knew Dad would approve of paying cash for my little silver van that I picked up for $2000 below Blue Book.

And then, as I anticipated the arrival of the very weather that whisked my mother’s soul to eternity, I decided on a second purchase. Something that I have wanted for a long time, but never quite had the extra resources to justify the splurge. I realized that now I did have the money; and though the thing I wanted did not fall into the category of “necessity,” I could justify the purchase by the fact that it would still leave me with nearly half my parents’ money safely squirreled away.

So now, in my bedroom—the place I tend to crash and burn after long hours toiling away at the restaurant—where once was an empty firebox and a forest of candles assembled to approximate a cheery blaze, there now resides a genuine gas-log fireplace. Outside, the wind howls, the branches whip, the rain swirls, and I am warm and safe and mellow in front of my instant fire.

I am enchanted. And grateful.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I miss you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eleven: Help...!

I don’t know why, but the past month I’ve felt completely overwhelmed. Things have been a little crazy at the restaurant. I have been used to—and perhaps even anticipated—business settling into a somewhat subdued late year pattern after the end of September. It gave me time to think about the holidays with my family, to play around with decorating the restaurant…to just slow down and remember I had a life outside the business.

Fortunately or un-, that is not happening this year. We are on track to do a record November, lord willing and the creek don’t rise. On the heels of a record October. I should be stoked, relieved, grateful…and I am. Still, I don’t much care for the corollary feeling that the rest of my life is getting the short end of the stick.

Due to the sooner-than-anticipated return of one of my flu-stricken employees, I was able to steal a few hours away from the restaurant this afternoon. I went home with the idea of accomplishing something in the way of catching up with the mountain of housework that has been left undone for months. And it was utterly intimidating. Everywhere I turned, there was something that was a complete disaster, had been a disaster for, I realized, months, and was likely to continue to be a disaster because I was not able to put more than about two hours of conscious, productive time together to direct at any task.

My bedroom is an earthquake, my bathroom is toxic and my closet is an explosion waiting to happen. Upon my kitchen counters are stacks of things that have literally been there since last Christmas. I don’t have to look too hard for the Christmas CD’s and movies I want to play…they never got put away from last year. And we won’t talk about the giant animal-hair-bunnies that are starting to look like the Bumble Snowman, or the dust so thick it resembles fire extinguisher residue.

I tried to distract myself from the completely out-of-hand household situation by looking outside at the yard, but that was no good. The patio furniture is scattered all over the lawn, there is a half-built greenhouse taunting me from behind the shed, all my potted plants are looking puny and pleading for me to put them away somewhere and not let them die in the cold, and the stuff that DID die in the cold last winter is still waiting to be cut back. There are tools and trash and empty wine bottles still lying around from pleasant summer evenings on the deck. (August was, what… yesterday?)

Everywhere I turned, I thought: “Oh, god, I can’t look at that…it will drive me crazy. I can’t think that (whatever it is) has been lying there for (however many) months.” MONTHS. And in some cases—like that of the half-built greenhouse—YEARS. Augh!

But, today…today, I DID round up my winter/holiday bed linens and get them installed in the bedroom. And I DID apply myself to the mountains of junk mail—both this year’s and last year’s (which had been relegated to a plastic basket stuffed under the china cabinet); got it sorted, trashed what needed to be trashed, and filed what needed to be saved.

So, for that, I am thankful.

AND for the local franchise of “Butler and Maid Service.” Who will be sending out a rescue party next Tuesday at precisely 1:00 pm. To dig me out from under this pile of...over-commitment.

A (wo)man’s got to know (her) limitations…

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twelve: Loving the Lights

I have mentioned my landlord in the past, haven’t I? The guy who used to own the café, and sometimes drives me a little crazy? After three years, he is still having a bit of a hard time letting go… Keeps coming to me with advice about how to increase sales, how to advertise; and he takes pride in being the source of all the juicy local business gossip (most of which I already know by the time he sidles up to me and reports, sotto voce and with great relish, what he has “heard on the grapevine.”)

When he owned the café, Mr. Landlord/Former Owner often made decisions based on the political correctness of any given action, opting not to risk offending by appearing to show favoritism to any belief system. So—no holiday decorations of any kind. In fact, he developed a reputation of being somewhat of a Scrooge.

And of course, his attitude toward holiday decorating could not be more polar opposite of mine. I love Christmas, love Christmas decorations, and it’s my restaurant now; so I WILL deck the halls. Which, of course, Mr. Landlord/Former Owner has never let come to pass without some kind of not quite jokey comment.

So I gave up long ago trying to get him to decorate the building for Christmas. Not so my neighbor, this year—the Intrepid Jeweler occupying the space next to ours. He has been lobbying for Christmas lights since, I think, last spring. Not letting up for a minute, as far as I can tell. I’m sure he regaled Mr. LL/FO with all the reasons hanging holiday lights made good business sense and gave him a higher stature in the community.

And, lo and behold, the Jeweler’s persistence has paid off. Our building now sparkles with many strings of LED icicle lights hanging…well, not from the eaves, as there aren’t any eaves on our utilitarian square box of a building. The lights look like…um…kind of a high-waisted sequined belt encircling the building somewhere just below the armpits. But they are pretty and they are festive, and I neither had to fight for them nor install them.

So I thank Mr. Landlord/Former Owner and the Intrepid Jeweler for making our holidays a little brighter.

Thirteen: Down But Not Out

I never had any problems with Friday the Thirteenth. I didn’t even realize there was going to be one this month until about Wednesday. But even after I figured it out, it didn’t bother me overmuch. Thursday the Twelfth has always been my bugaboo. And I figured having my day off cancelled by (everyone else’s) illness had satisfied the bad-luck requirement for this go-round. I went to bed Thursday night thinking that Friday would probably be gravy after that. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Friday was every bit the day from hell. First thing in the morning, the café was overrun by a group of people who started arriving about 8:30 and eventually set up a presentation for a pyramid marketing scheme… in my dining room. Without calling for a reservation, or even coming up to the counter when they arrived to ask if it would be okay for them to do so. They just walked in and took over the place. So I had this noisy, not particularly well-mannered crowd of anywhere from twelve to thirty “local business people” swarming all over the restaurant for 2 ½ hours. They spent thirty dollars.

I asked them to leave at 11 am, explaining that we would be getting busy for lunch and we would need the table space (for real customers who wanted to buy a meal, but I didn't say that.) Without actually saying the words, I did make it very clear that they were not welcome to walk in and take over my restaurant unannounced whenever they felt like it. They, in turn, made it very clear--loudly and not very politely (surprise)--that they would not be back. Fine. Good riddance to your sorry “It’s-all-about-me” asses and your gargantuan sense of entitlement.

The stress of that ridiculous confrontation nearly sent me over the edge. After a lunch that started out slow and finally got busy (I strongly suspect that the presence of the crowd spilling around and out the doors of my restaurant served as a deterrent for our regular lunch patrons) I was SO ready to get out of there. Had to. Needed to be somewhere, by myself, just to get my head reassembled. California Chef had emailed me the night before and said he was feeling much better and wanted to return to work on Friday. I literally counted the minutes to 2:00, when Chef would arrive and I could run out the door, get in my van and burst into tears.

One fifty-five rolls around, no Chef. Two o’clock, still no Chef. I start to get a really bad feeling. Squeeze myself into my “cloffice” to check my email. Come to find that chef has emailed (somewhere around 9:30 that morning) that he has decided against returning to work today, if it’s okay with me. Of course it’s okay with me, if you’re still sick…but the way to communicate that on the morning of is NOT by email. Like I have time to run to the computer every five minutes when half the kitchen staff is out sick. I’m sure he was thinking that, like any normal 21st century techno-junkie, I am always connected to the internet and my email via cel phone (the phone I recharge about once every three weeks and do not carry on my person as a matter of principle.) Yet another of those generational brain-farts that make it so easy for me to manage my staff…

And so, I end up working thirteen straight hours. Finally get to sit down and take my one meal break of the day around hour twelve. And we were busy. Which is the one saving grace of the whole thing, because I think it would have been the ultimate bitch to work that hard and grind through that much emotional stress without at least the reward of decent numbers on the till.

I hate days like that. I haven’t had one in a long time; in fact, I truly think that, after three years, I shouldn’t have them at all. SHOULD NOT have those days when I feel like I’m carrying the whole thing uphill tied to my back with a shoelace. I do not want to have those days when I email to my spouse and business partner: I have had it. I want to sell this place and move to St. Thomas.

Truthfully, it did cross my mind that it might be time to cry “Uncle.” And not because of my staffing problems, or having to work thirteen hour days, or feeling like I’m dragging the cafe up a mountain by the hair. It’s because of the people. The “customers.”

Yes, I’m a serious introvert. And getting out there among the people is the most challenging part of this thing for me. Twenty years ago, when I pushed myself to do that as a manager working for somebody else, I always felt rewarded for the effort. I always came away with the sense that the people really could be the fun part of the job at times. But not anymore.

Times have SO changed. The tenor of this century is rudeness, false entitlement, get whatever you can get. It’s perfectly okay to say or do anything. If you get away with it, fine. It’s up to the other guy to call you on it, if the other guy can screw up the courage to do so. Because he knows you’re not going to back down without a row. People just do…whatever, and dare the world to tell them they can’t. Courtesy? Consideration for others? Even the slightest notion that there’s someone else in the world besides you? Not a chance. And it just isn’t fun, fulfilling, or even vaguely appealing to run a service business when one has to deal with that over and over, every day.

Maybe I am a hopelessly outdated old relic. But I am consistently flabbergasted by the things people will say and do these days. If I give it up, if I hand over my keys and hang the “for sale” sign in the window, that will be the thing that drove me to it.

So, this post is supposed to be about thanks. What am I thankful for, here on day thirteen?

Maybe that I came this close, but I’m not going to quit. Not today.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fifteen and Fourteen...Not So Much

Many years ago, we had a cat who, during a year of particular stress, expressed his impotent rage over his inability to control his environment by pulling every hair he could reach out of his body. For months, he was completely bald, except for his head.

My parents had a dog who experienced a similar reaction to stress. She would sit in the corner on her pillow and chew on her own front paw…for hours. Chew until it bled. Leaving a chronic raw, oozing wound.

After a few days like the last two, I come home and sit and literally do not know what to do with myself. There is no thought process, no re-planning and re-working, no letting it go, no figuring it out…nothing. There is nothing. Except the urgent need to do something, and no idea what it is.

It finally occurred to me last night…

That I just need to go sit in the corner and chew on my arm.

Until it bleeds.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sixteen: Thanks For (and to) My Ladies

For all my whining about them, I DO have some employees that are worth their weight in…prime beef?

I rolled up my sleeves, slapped a smile on my face and sallied forth to the café this morning, even though I really, REALLY didn’t want to. But I kept in mind the thing about my attitude setting the tone, and we had a good day. Even fun at times. Luckily it wasn’t too busy. After the last three days, I was ready for a bit of a respite. The good and faithful “D” has set herself to the task of selling dessert to our dinner crowd; and even though our “crowd” consisted of about three tables and a carry-out tonight, she managed to inflict flan upon at least 50% of them. (Actually, the flan is very good, and I had California Chef prepare a cranberry-orange rum sauce to drizzle over the top… Voila! “Holiday Flan.”)

So, tonight I am thankful for my ladies, who rise to the occasion when I need them. And, in particular, for the Good and Faithful “D”, whom I will greatly miss when she finally does leave us. Sooner than I can really bear to think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seventeen...More Days Like This?

Try…just try to make a plan. Any plan at all will take a beating from unforeseen excrement contacting the metaphorical oscillator. I can hardly plan to go to the bathroom without being interrupted, sidetracked, hair-on-fired and just-one-more-thinged until I nearly wet my pants.

Yeah, I need to lighten up. And, yeah, this “gratitude” thing seemed like just the ticket to help me get there. So, how many days did I get through? Three? Before the Universe grabbed me by the hair and growled, “So, you want to be grateful, huh? Well let’s make this a real test! Let's see you handle this. And this. And this…!

Yesterday, arriving home from a nice day at work, a day for which I was just about to be… grateful, I open the garage door. Orangie limps in, hasn’t touched his breakfast, looks pretty ill, in fact. Looks like another trip to the vet might be in order.

To take my mind off that, I decide to browse through some mail. And I happen upon an envelope in a pile of “filed” mail (that would be mail shoved into one of several random piles by the person—who shall remain nameless—who can get the mail but cannot deal with the mail.) An envelope containing a letter from the state Employment Department. A letter dated October 26th (two weeks ago.) A letter stating that they intend to audit our books from the past two and a half years. And they want to see everything—except, perhaps, our used toilet paper. And they will be showing up at our front door on November 13 (two days from now.) Oh, thank you!

After losing thirty percent of what little sleep I normally get, worrying about this thorny problem, I climbed out of bed still determined to cultivate gratitude. But the only thing I could think of to be thankful for was that I have tomorrow off. So I can rest, possibly stay in bed with a pillow over my head for the entire day, or maybe emerge just long enough to drag out and decorate the first of my Christmas trees, as that indulgence could not fail to improve my mood.

Not two hours after posting that little tidbit on Facebook, I get a call from the restaurant. Flaky Cook has brought in a doctor’s note stating that she has tested positive for h1n1 (this is the third time in five weeks she has had the flu…) and will not be able to return to work for at least three days. My cherished and happily anticipated day off is now in jeopardy. In fact, I’m looking at no day off (and I’ve just worked ten days in a row) followed by the possibility of five or six double shifts until Flaky Cook can return to work.

I’m glad I hadn’t yet mentioned I was grateful for my husband. I’d probably be watching him being loaded into an ambulance. I think I’ll keep that little bit of gratitude to myself, for the time being…

Thankfully, a little tap-dancing and schedule-juggling has re-secured my precious day off. So I still can be—and AM (you have no idea)—grateful for that. For now. I hope.

...or NOT. Chef called in sick today, too. So no day off for me today.

That's okay. I love my little cafe, and I'll keep it going if I'm the last (wo)man standing. Which it looks like I might be...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eighteen: He Once Was Lost...

Today, I'm thankful for this:

Not a very good picture... But it is the Orange Avenger curled up on my bedroom floor resting his head on the kiva ladder.

This boy has been the bright spot of my summer. A year ago, when I saw him outside and tried to talk to him, he would hunker down and run away. No matter how sweetly I would try to cajole, he wanted nothing to do with me.

And then he had his magical change of heart--the day I scooped a couple of spoonfuls of canned cat food into his outside dish. Evidently, he decided right then and there that I was an acceptable sort.

And the rest is history...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nineteen Days of Thanks

I read over at Flamingo Feathers about an idea that makes some sense to me right now. The idea is to post—every day between now and Thanksgiving—something you are thankful for. The plan was actually to post on “Facebook,” but I would just as soon post here, where I can go into a little more detail. I’ll work up some kind of edited version for FB.

This exercise will serve a dual purpose for me. It will get me posting daily again, at least for awhile. And it will get me out of the “poor me” funk I’ve fallen into once again.

Being the melancholy, inside-my-head sort of person I am, I have always had to work at being happy and positive, and work even harder to project those things to others. There was quite a space of years, there, where I didn’t apply myself too diligently to that work My husband and my family knew I was a complicated, introspective person, and since they were the only people with whom I had much contact for several of my “worst” years, I wasn’t inspired to make the effort. Why should I try to channel Pollyanna just to make other people more comfortable with who I…wasn’t?

Recently, though, it has come to my attention that I need to step up my efforts in that direction. I’ve noticed (finally…duh!) that my own attitude really does set the tone for the rest of the crew at the restaurant. I am there A LOT, and if all I can think about (and verbalize) is how much I don’t want to be there, how can I expect the people who work for/with me to do otherwise? So, no matter if I’m there open to close and beyond seven days a week, I cannot let it slip through my lips how much I want or need to take a day, an hour or a minute OFF. I need to love every minute of being at the café, and if I can’t love every minute, I have to look like I do. Not an easy task; but not, I think, a task without the potential for great reward.

So it behooves me to reach down deep and drag up things that make me happy, lighten my mood, give me positive energy. Hence the efficacy of an exercise that forces me to focus on things in my life for which I am grateful.

Yesterday was actually the first day that I put my new theory into practice. And lo and behold, I saw instant results. I had been ready to fire just about every single cantankerous butt in the place only a few days ago. But yesterday, everyone seemed to be able to share our tiny sandbox amicably. There were no frowns, no temper tantrums, no sullen silences. I almost had to go outside and read the name on the door, I was that convinced I must be in the wrong restaurant. It does a body good when the Universe grants an immediate reward for extra effort.

So what am I grateful for today? Actually, this is kind of a carry-over from yesterday. I decided to dig out my Christmas CD’s. (Yes, I still listen to CD’s. With a collection of at least 50 Christmas CD’s alone, I’d be an idiot to renounce that technology.) I basically just threw the first 6 I found lying around into the changer, and they turned out to be some of the best. My Christmas music collection—mostly instrumental “space music” stuff—has been my antidote to stress since my days of working in the high-speed world of Fourth Quarter Retail. From the first few notes of the first tune, I can almost feel myself exuding a mellow, feet-up-in-front-of-the-fire holiday glow.

My music. That’s what I’m giving thanks for today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Enter The "Y" Chromosome

I grew up in Estrogen Central. Our family of seven consisted of six females…and my dad.

Still, when it came time to choose a career, I ended up in the world of the commercial kitchen—dominated by sharp knives, gigantic appliances, acres of stainless steel, and MEN. (Come to think of it, what career field was NOT male-dominated back in the seventies?)

Working with men is really pretty simple. They are selfish and competitive. They try to dominate all aspects of a project; their idea of teamwork is to hog every opportunity to shine and let someone else have the ball only when they drop it; “delegation” is the handing off of unglamorous scutwork to lesser minions. Men tend to establish a clear pecking order in a kitchen, dishing out verbal and even physical abuse to new-comers. If you prove you can “take it”—for an unspecified period of time—then you earn the right to be treated like a human being.

But I could be a hard guy. I gave as good as I got. I busted my butt, worked hard and didn’t challenge anybody (much) so I got respect. After awhile, I had myself convinced that I worked much better with men than with women. Women were wimpy, over-emotional, passive/aggressive pains in the ass. Since there were not too many girls there in the back of the house rubbing elbows with me, what did I know? It served me, for many years, to make believe I was just one of the guys.

Eventually, after more years stuck in middle management than any man would have had to endure, I finally attained Hefe status. And I found that managing men gradually lost its appeal. I was the boss. I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody (at least not to anyone with whom I shared a prep table.) The “hazing” mentality so prevalent in the industry was loathsome, and I was not going to tolerate it in my kitchen. I knew management-sanctioned abuse was no way to attract and retain quality employees. And, let’s face it—five foot three inch dynamo that I was, I nevertheless found that getting any male to do my bidding was more trouble than it was worth. So I discovered, wonder of wonders, that I preferred managing my own kind.

Women, in addition to being passive/aggressive pains in the ass, are much more collaborative and team-oriented than men. Women are motivated by being needed; they want to feel helpful and necessary. And, oddly enough, I’ve found that women are much more adept than men at multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s because men are always at least partly engaged in plotting how much farther up the ladder successful completion of a given assignment is going to take them. It takes away from their ability to focus on multiple tasks.

And, of course, one cannot discount the fact that women don’t usually find it impossible to take orders from another woman. So, over time, I’ve become somewhat of a master at managing the Estrogen-Powered Workplace. Not that this skill has become simple or formulaic…but at least it’s a matter of dealing with the Devil I Know.

Enter my newest hire—California Chef.

Even the selection process that brought him on board was a painstaking exercise in looking beyond stereotypes and prejudices built upon thirty-plus years in this business. The final decision was between California Chef and a female candidate with plenty of experience and ties to the community. The choice became clear when California Chef brought ideas and research to the final interview, and Local Chef brought…herself. I could not see myself opting for the lesser candidate based on what amounted to reverse discrimination. Still, I had to physically put aside my trepidation about introducing a male into our female-infested kitchen—especially in a supervisory capacity. California Chef got the job.

Would that I could say that all my worry was for naught. But we know better than that, don’t we? It has indeed been a challenge to optimize my male chef’s effectiveness, surrounded as he is by our rag-tag crew of ladies—including myself—with less-than-gourmet-dinner-house experience. He is frustrated that we don’t know anything, which makes us feel more than slightly disrespected. It’s not that we “don’t know anything;” we may not have some of his skills and experience, but that doesn’t mean we don’t respect his expertise and aren’t willing to acquire those skills. But we want to feel respected in the process. It’s been a difficult and particularly thread-like tightrope for us all to walk.

California Chef is talented, he’s smart, his work ethic is a throwback to my own generation, or even my parents’. And he is really a genuinely nice person. Yet he’s having the devil’s own time figuring out how to communicate with and motivate his staff. I can’t teach him how to cook, but I sure as hell have a store of knowledge about management and the maintenance of inter-personal relationships involved that he would do well to acquire if he aspires to an effective career as head of his own kitchen. If only I can figure out how to make him understand this.

He seems to think that he has but to come up with recipes and methods, write them down or show someone once how they are done, and that should be that. There’s no room for error or mistakes or personalities. If someone fails it’s because she is lazy or stupid or insubordinate. It’s not incumbent upon him to evaluate each member of his staff as an individual, identify her strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to play to her strong side. No...he should be able to bark “Jump!” and her only input should be to ask, “How high?”

So. Typically. Male.

Yet I don’t think he even really believes this nonsense himself. It’s just that he’s been indoctrinated into this way of thinking. Poisoned, if you will, by the environments in which he has, up ‘til now, developed his talent. Male-dominated kitchens, all, where testosterone dictated the pecking order and “my way or the highway” was a legitimate management technique. He’s young…this is all he knows. But he seems to think it’s all there is.

My job is to open his mind to other possibilities, alternate methods. The methods that are going to work on a kitchen full of women. The things he needs to know and I need to teach him if our association is going to go anywhere besides up in spectacular flames. What a learning and growth experience this could be—for both of us—if we can make it happen.