Friday, December 31, 2010


Apparently, this little gem by Ogden Nash is well-known by the well-read. Ah, well; I came upon it for the first time this evening in a friend's blog. And I realized it says exactly what I want to say about the prospect of a new year…

Good Riddance, but Now What?

Come, children, gather round my knee;

Something is about to be.

Tonight's December Thirty-First,

Something is about to burst.

The clock is crouching, dark and small,

Like a time bomb in the hall.

Hark! It's midnight, children dear.

Duck! Here comes another year.
--Ogden Nash, 1949

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Coming on Christmas...

This is pure Garrison Keillor...


Saturday, December 11, 2010

…And Then Sent an Angel

Over the years, my landlord and I have developed an unusual sort of love/hate relationship. We respect each other; we each understand that we could have been stuck with a way worse landlord/tenant. We realize that we share a common work ethic, sense of responsibility and a sort of fantasy about fairness and justice in the world.

Be that as it may, he has always just…gotten on my nerves. Since he actually owned and ran the café for a year before we bought it, he hasn't been able to resist putting his two cents in on everything from menu changes to purveyors to personnel issues. And he has been so very present. It is unusual for more than a week to go by without seeing him in the restaurant or around the property. Since he does his own property maintenance and he refused to invest in sprinklers when he built the place, he is around every day in the summer—cutting grass, watering the lawn, fussing with one thing or another. I wonder how many other small business owners could have cheerfully tolerated such a hands-on, ever-present property owner?

Well, I have tolerated him…though not always cheerfully. When I'm tired, frustrated or stressed out (which is most of the time), I'm most likely to duck into the back kitchen when I see him coming; or treat him to surly one-word answers if he does manage to buttonhole me. And, to his credit, he has tolerated (and to some extent, been chastened by) my treatment of him. The result of all this being that we don't like each other, but we really do. Or something.

Since I gave him the news that we would not be renewing our lease, our relationship has actually improved; partly because the decision has relieved me of a lot of the stress, frustration and exhaustion that has made me such a harpy. So, the other day, he was sitting in the café enjoying his cup of milked-down Earl Grey tea while I was trying to close the place, and he pointed this out to me—the part about me not being such a harpy anymore (though not in those exact words…)

I thought about this for a bit, then replied, "You know, that's partly because now I don't have to deal with (the husband's) uncertain commitment to the place. Now I just know he's not interested in doing it, and I can't do it by myself." Probably sharing a bit more than I needed to about my feelings of having been let down by my business/life partner.

"Yeah…I've seen (husband) around the place. And it's obvious the way he walks that he's in a lot of pain…"


Of course he's in a lot of pain. In fact, there are times he can hardly walk. He wears a brace on one leg to try to compensate for 54 years of trying to function with the flattest feet known to man. Between that and the scary blood clot incident a couple of years ago, and his eye problems, and the fact that the stress, irregular hours and bad eating habits that are part and parcel of our business venture have caused him to gain back a fair portion of the sixty pounds he lost before we bought the restaurant… He is simply not equal to the physical demands of running this restaurant.

Me? I'm not exactly a prime physical specimen, either…in fact, I'm direly out of shape, and in pain most of the time from tweaking some part or other of my half-century-old body scaling the equipment to get at the upper level storage or hauling a fifty-pound box of potatoes into the kitchen or some damn thing that I have no business doing at my age. But there's a certain amount of I've been doing this kind of thing all my working life and I'm just used to it. Whereas, for the past sixteen years, the husband has been making his living widening his butt with the seat of a desk chair. If I'm marginally up to the twelve-hours-on-your-feet-without-a-break aspect of owning a restaurant, the husband is utterly…not. And it took Mr. Landlord's casual observation to smack me upside the head with this fact.

So I have him to thank that another layer of resentment and ill-feeling about the less-than-ideal outcome of our business venture has been lifted from my shoulders. The Universe sends help from the most unlikely sources, does it not?

Friday, December 3, 2010

And The Universe Said, "Don't Go There..."

I have to apologize to Robin. I told her I was going to blog on a topic she brought up in her advent blog, Praying Advent Through Darkness. The subject was the concept of being a “person for others,” a sort of commentary on the character of Joseph in the Christmas story.

Unfortunately, when I sat down to write about it, I had to reach to depths of self-examination, and the resultant self-loathing, to which I dare not go right now. I am going to need all the positive mental ions I can corral to get me through the next six months. I cannot afford to indulge in soul-searching and self-reproach, even if it has nothing to do with the restaurant and its demise (though it seems there is little in my life these days that DOESN’T have to do with that…)

Suffice it to say that I understand that I am so NOT “a person for others;” but I can go no further right now than a sort of passing nod to that not being a good thing. And perhaps file it away to work on when I have the time and the luxury to beat myself up over what I am not.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Success is the Absence of Failure

Recently, my days at the café have become a series of "Lasts…"

On Thursday, we toasted The Last Thanksgiving at the Old Town Café.

We've decorated The Last Christmas Tree(s).

And I'm beginning to think about The Last Christmas Party.

In the months ahead, there will be The Last Valentine's Day Dinner; The Last Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day Brunches. No, wait. No Father's Day. We'll be closed by then. Whew.

I look ahead to these things, not sure whether to dab at my misty eyes, or rub my hands together in anticipation. So conflicted. Guiltily happy; frustratingly maudlin. Shoot me now.

But it got me thinking, today, about success, and failure. What they are. Whether they are. Do success and failure even exist, in the context of personal busyness?

Not "business." Busy-ness. The things we do keep ourselves busy. Occupied. Off the streets and out of trouble. Alive and vital. Interested and in touch. Is success measured only by accomplishment, or in simply doing?

Because it's certainly true that we enjoyed a measure of success with the café. During these challenging economic times, our doors have remained open. We are solvent. Going on five years now. That's about as much as one can ask for, these days. But…it doesn't feel like success, really. Not as I imagine the world defines "success."

But, for me, perhaps the success was just in the doing. Coming as I do from a family of devoted non-risk-takers, the kind of people who get a job and stay with it for as long as it will have them, or as long as they can stand it, 'til death or retirement do they part… It feels like a tremendous victory to have stepped out and actually DONE the thing I thought I wanted most in the world.

That it turned out NOT to be the ultimate solution to my life, NOT my highest and greatest destiny, NOT the thing that completed me…doesn't seem to matter.

Because I would never have known that if I hadn't tried. I would always feel as if I had been short-changed by life, or as if I had short-changed life, if I had not at least given it a go.

Am I disappointed, disillusioned, distressed and exhausted as hell?


But I am NOT a failure.

I am left with that. That tiny leg up…to my next adventure.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Season of Letting Go


We cracked open a bottle of fourteen-year-old Dom Perignon (a years-ago gift that I found when I was cleaning out my pantry on Wednesday)

and drank a toast

to the last Thanksgiving at the Old Town Cafe.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Continuing the Journey Part 2

It has felt strange, and at the same time, right…this spiritual path I've chosen. It has helped me to feel grounded, and yet lifted me out of the mire of my ambivalent feelings toward the café. I had consulted a friend who is knowledgeable about these things back in August. It was she who presented me with my "tools;" she who told me how to use them. She spoke for a long time while I listened and didn't say much. Tried to absorb the things she told me, but in the end, only one or two seemed to stick in my brain. She spoke of acquiring an inner peace; and of maintaining and guarding that peace. In negative encounters with other people, she said, "Don't let them steal your peace."

Inner peace. How that concept appealed to me! I've not known too many moments of peace in my life. My brain just moves too fast; my body tries to follow it. It seems I am never at peace, never still, never quiet. And after the last four years of endless toil, apprehension and frustration, I hunger for that peace more than anything else. Still, the tools and the herbs sat unused on my dresser for months, before my craving for peace overcame my timidity about going solo with the smudging ritual. I did not want to disrespect the ritual by doing it wrong or making stupid blunders. Eventually, I made up my mind that the Almighty would look kindly on my intention, even if I did make mistakes. So, one morning, I just…did it. And, honestly, I felt an immediate blessing. As if the Universe was saying, "This is a good start. We will walk together from here, and you will learn."

As my teacher/friend explained to me, the smudging ritual can be done any time, as often as necessary. She said, "I smudge myself all the time; anytime I feel I've lost my peace. And, believe me, you'll know when you've lost it." Oh, yes…you do know.

I have been doing well at maintaining my peace…going longer and longer without losing it or letting it be taken from me. But Saturday, I could feel it getting away. As the day wore on, I became more easily annoyed; frustrated and depressed. It is an unfortunate fact of our convoluted relationship that the husband is quite often the culprit who steals my peace; and therefore suffers the backlash thereof. By the end of the day I was seeing our marriage from that dark despairing place in which I too often find myself. I was peeved with him because it seemed he had spent the entire day running away from me. I went to bed cranky, slept poorly and awoke resentful as hell. And sad and wistful, and wondering what exactly I could give the man I married that would make him happy with me again. It felt like the beginning of another of those "awash" days, and I did not want to go there.

It was obvious that I needed to perform the ritual…but I couldn't do it as I usually do—standing in my bathroom in front of my vanity mirror. I have decided it's best to keep this a private ritual, and the husband—though he knows of it, doesn't really understand. Or approve. Or something. So lighting the sage and appealing to the Powers of the Four Directions with my sleeping husband ten feet away did not seem…a way to invite respect for the ceremony. It occurred to me that I needed to take my tools elsewhere. Where better to connect with the Powers than my favorite place to commune with the natural world—the path on the dike?

As I scrambled out of my pajamas and packed my paraphernalia, husband climbed out of bed and asked where I was going.

Away from YOU. "For a walk."

"Do you want company?"

Are you kidding? "No."

Ugh! I need to get out of here before I start something that won't be pretty. I threw myself and my things in my van and drove away.

Ninety-nine percent of my problems, of the angst with which I live every day, can be traced back to one fact: I think too much. My mind is never still. Confronted by something bad or difficult, my brain will chew on it and worry it and turn it over and over until I either come up with a solution or go slightly nuts. Much of the benefit I derive from the smudging ceremony comes from the act of attempting to turn off my brain and be present IN the moment. Not praying, or listening, or creating a conversation with the Almighty in my head. It's more a willful turning away from my inward-twisting turmoil, allowing myself to spread outward. Outside of my head. Out into what is larger and infinitely greater than my puny personal battles.

Sunday morning, I tried to pry my brain away from the dilemma of my marriage, and how its problems are inextricably tangled with the restaurant and its problems. I was swirling down into that dark place…I knew it, but I couldn't stop it. I parked the car at my destination, and the voices of a small flock of cranes grabbed me and yanked me out of that downward spiral. They were flying low over the dike not far away, fluting their singular calls to one another, off in search of a good field in which to enjoy their communal breakfast. I hurried up the path to get a better look, my woes temporarily forgotten.

So that was the tone for my walk that morning. I would try to empty myself, to disengage from my inner turmoil. I would walk in silence and calm for a few feet, a few yards, let myself become part of the soft, damp air, the pebbles under my feet, the water and the trees and the sky. But then my heavy mood would drag me away from the endlessness…to fall upon a problem or a worry and begin to wrap myself around it again.

But the Universe was having none of that from me. I had gone to Mother Earth, seeking my peace. And I was going to find it if the She had to slap me upside the head with it. As I walked, my eyes on the ground and my step quick and angry, the normally subdued nature of the wetlands called out to me, insisting on my attention. Tiny juncos and sparrows darted across my path and rustled in the underbrush a few feet away. Always enchanted by birds of any kind, I had to stop and talk to them. Further on, a prehistoric croak from the field across the dike road drew my eyes to a heron in full view, stalking awkwardly across a gravel trail, heading for the grassland to hunt for frogs. I paused and watched him for several minutes; I could feel the knot inside me loosen. I could expand, take in, become one with the natural world, which was not going to allow me to ignore it this morning.

I approached the turn-around point of my walk—the old wooden utility scaffold crowned with an osprey nest. I had decided that would be the place that I would draw out my sage and my matches and perform my ceremony. A few yards from my destination, an unusual voice floated across the channel. A melodious, hooting call I had never heard. I thought it must be an owl; but, then, owls don't travel in flocks, and there were several voices hooting. As I scanned the shore for the source, a group of large, light-colored birds emerged from a thicket of trees. The main body of the flock flew east toward the interior of the island, their white wings flickering against the dull gray sky. A small group of a half dozen or so birds broke off and flew toward me, over my head and on to the grazing lands to the west. Fat white birds with long necks and graceful wingbeats.

Swans. Mother Earth had given me swans. I thanked her as I stood at the foot of the osprey tower and prepared my ceremony.

I lit the sage, purified myself, appealed to the powers of the four winds to help me find my peace, to help me protect my peace. I decided this would be a good place to purify my crystals as well. I drew the stone hearts out of my pocket and held them in the smoke. First the amethyst, and then the rose quartz. Rose quartz. The mineral governing the heart and relationships. I held that pink heart in the sacred smoke and the thought sneaked into my mind. What can I give my husband that will show him…show him that I love him? It was just a thought, a question. It passed from my mind as I extinguished the sage and packed my things away, but, I think, it hung in the air just above my head. A few yards down the path, on my journey home, these words formed clearly in my head. Almost as if someone was standing next to me and spoke them aloud.

"If you love him, leave him alone."

Not precisely what I wanted to hear. But I knew exactly what it meant. Quit badgering him. Quit trying to "draw him out" about the things going on in your head, in your lives, in your marriage. That is not his way. Yes. I get it. And it makes perfect sense, actually.

I would finish my walk with a much lighter heart and a new resolve…though a resolve to what, I can't really say. Perhaps a resolve to stop despairing over and trying to "fix" our relationship, and to just let it be what it is. That is the path to greater happiness for us both, I think.

It was good to feel I had come to Mother Earth for refreshment, and I had received it. But She was not done with me yet.

As I neared the end of my trail, I heard loud, piercing screeches echoing over the marina. Not gulls. Louder and deeper. I scanned the sky, searching for the source, and saw four huge, dark birds wheeling and cavorting, chasing each other from the trees, out over the water and back again. As I drew closer, flashes of white, heads and tails, identified the screechers: Eagles. I slid down the shoulder of the dike and stumbled to the water's edge. Two of the birds broke away and flew right to where I stood on the bank. Sailed directly over my head, almost close enough to touch…wheeled and returned to their game above the water. As if they had seen me…ME…and come over to greet me.

I said "hi" back. And thank you. With tears misting my eyes and trickling to the end of my nose.

The spirit guide I thought had deserted me, returned—four-fold—to show me I had not been abandoned. That I would not BE abandoned. Ever. To show me I was SO on the right path, and I would not be walking it alone.

No experience I had ever had in the context of traditional religion had ever left me feeling more known, more cherished, by a Power far beyond myself. And with a knowledge that I had indeed received something great and precious this day from the Almighty.

Fitting, I suppose, that it was a Sunday morning. The first day of the week. A good day to start a journey.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Continuing the Journey

For many years, now, I have been a "seeker." Indeed, maybe I have been so all of my life. There is a hunger inside me for connection to things of the Spirit. An impatience with a life lived amongst and dedicated to material things alone. And an instinctive understanding that mankind doesn't always know what we "know;" that there is so much more to The Almighty—to the author of the Universe—than we even allow ourselves to consider.

That spiritual hunger and intolerance for pretense led me away from the Catholic Church—the church of my birth and the first third of my life; into the web of fundamentalist Christianity (and out again) as a young adult; and finally to face the Big Questions in my own mind and on my own terms. Which, incidentally, has turned into my personal credo: that one's understanding of and connection to the things of the Spirit are fundamentally individual and personal. And should be respected as such.

Human religions have evolved to be as much—maybe more—about community than they are about spirituality. Humans seem to have an instinctive need to gather with others of our own kind. That's all well and good. But when you combine that need with another instinctive need—the need to connect to the Powers that control and direct the Universe, the Earth, and thus, our very selves—things get out of kilter very quickly. A group of like-minded humans assembled to seek, commune with or worship the Power all too quickly becomes a club…a clique…a gathering of the elite. Something that you either embrace or you don't. And if you don't, then you are not with us. If you are not with us, you must be against us. And so it descends into…all the evil that we human beings have the power to inflict upon one another.

I'm willing to concede that there are religious folks out there who do not strap bombs to themselves, or gallop off on Crusades, or believe that they have been charged by the Universe to conscript every person they meet into the ranks of whatever particular brand of "Almighty Worship" they follow. Not every Christian, Muslim, Jew or Hindu is a wild-eyed zealot. And to those folks I tip my hat, bow, and say, "Whatever gets you through the night…who am I to take that away from you?" And request that they do me the same courtesy.

In practice, what this makes me is one of the few people I know who is not afraid that a lightning bolt with my name on it is balanced in the hand of the Almighty, ready to be hurled if I color outside traditional religious lines.

As someone who is drawn to nature and the earth, I've begun to explore Native American spirituality, along with an odd mixture of eastern and vaguely Wiccan rituals. I wish that I had the time to thoroughly research and weigh every belief system. But right now, for me, it's a matter of choosing things, from whatever corner of the world, that speak to my own spirit. So I've acquired an abalone shell, a feather and some dried white sage; and two stone hearts—one carved from amethyst, the other from rose quartz. The amethyst for power, the quartz for love. I light the sage and purify myself and my places with the sacred smoke. I carry the hearts as reminders of my connection to the Power, and of my intention to bless my relationships with others.

I have turned to these sacred objects and these simple rituals to guide me through yet another major life change. And I have found power and comfort in these things. So I have to believe that the Universe honors my desire to connect to and revere the things of the Spirit.

And now I have laid the foundation for the story of my amazing time on the dike this morning. Which I will share in my next post….

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Peace? Have I made peace with the coming major change in my life? It seems as if I have…at least for now. I don't quite know where the peace is coming from. But I won't chase it away…

I have a feeling that it partly comes from knowing that there will be an end to this. A stopping point. A point at which I can sit down, wipe my brow and declare, "Done!" For the past four years, I have not had the luxury of even considering that option.

When you run a business—a business that you have no business running by yourself—you are NEVER done. There is never a time when you can sit back, look at it and say, "I DID it." There is never a sense of achievement. You hardly have enough time to pat one accomplishment into place before turning to confront the Pile of UN-done things that you never seem to be able to get to. Pick one and start hammering away at it. Accomplish it, or not, depending on how many other fires you have to put out in the process. Meanwhile, ten other things have been added to the Pile.

I'm sure there are people out there who can live this way. Maybe there are even people who thrive under the pressure. There was a time when I thought I was one of those. And, truthfully, if I had only had to face that kind of life for one or maybe two years—kinda what I thought it would be when we went into it—I might have made it. But it just went on too long. Too many years of not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Too many years of juggling…always with one or two things popping out of the pile I was trying to juggle and clattering away across the stage. And no lovely assistant to at least pick them up for me and chuck them back.

So now I can at least say, "In six months, I'll be DONE."

I'm finding it's a marvelous thing to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Today, we broke the news to our landlord that we would not be renewing our lease. That's as official as it gets, I guess. And when he asked why, it was a lot easier to answer than I thought it would be.

"Basically, I cannot do this by myself anymore."

I'm surprised at how eagerly I have embraced this…this dissolution of the thing I thought I wanted more than anything else in the world. Mr. Landlord started making noises to the effect of giving us a month-to-month lease if we haven't sold the business by the time the lease is up.

"Absolutely not," I shot back, almost before the words had finished leaving his lips. "As of June 30, I'm done. Period. I'd be done as of today if I could."

We spoke to an agent last night…who basically told us we'd be lucky if we could GIVE away a business in this economic climate. Oddly enough, that didn't bother me. I knew there was a strong possibility that we would end up locking the doors and liquidating rather than turning the keys over to a new owner. In some ways, that is a far more attractive option to me than having to possibly train my replacement. For many reasons—some emotional, some practical—it will be a lot easier to just brush the dust from my hands and ride off into the sunset.

So, yeah…I'm counting the days. In fact, I realized today that it may be a much shorter time than I thought. I was thinking in terms of June 30—the day our lease is up—being my last day of work. Then I realized we will probably be closing the doors more like May 31—since we will only be responsible for paying June's rent, and that money comes out of May's proceeds.

Six months, then. Six months and twenty days, to be precise.

Yeah. I'm all over that.


Saturday, November 6, 2010


The next 237 days promise to be a long slog. It will not be an easy thing to pour the lion's share of my life force into something at which I have come to acknowledge I am not succeeding. I have no more idea how to disengage myself from the café than I had of how to run it, when I started the journey four years ago. It will be, again, a voyage of discovery. Though this time, I'm afraid, it will be a journey fraught with regrets and studded with "coulda, woulda, shoulda's". I am not looking forward to it.

And so I've been giving a lot of thought, lately, to how to coax some lemonade out of this particular lemon. I know I can't spend the next eight months rising in the morning with a heavy heart, dragging it around like a ball and chain through twelve-hour shifts at the restaurant, and having it sit like an anvil on my chest every night in my sleep-deprived bed. I will need to make a conscious effort to lighten the load. It occurred to me that I will need to seek out and cultivate joy in my life.

Joy has seemed so far away to me for too long a time. I had to sit and really think about what brings me joy. Or what brought me joy when I still had the capacity to feel it. But even just taking the time to think about these things brought a tiny smile to my lips and pried a stone or two off my heavy heart.

Here's the list:

My fur-children—seven cats and the dog.

Birds—my "yard pets."

Walks—on the dike, or through the neighborhoods,
or anywhere.

Working in my yard, digging in the dirt.


The ocean.


Playing with my camera.

So, starting today, I'm shucking off the "ant" persona and embracing the "grasshopper." No more work, work, work, without even a stolen moment of respite.

I think I'll just sit on the fence and fiddle for awhile…

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall has alway been my favorite season. It's been slow coming to the Western Valleys of Oregon this year. I guess since we didn't really have a Spring, the Universe allowed us a rather protracted summer.

But it's here now! I have photographic proof:


Friday, October 22, 2010

Hello, World...?

Studying my "Feedjit" gadget lately, I've noticed I've been getting visits, through, from all kinds of weird hairball foreign countries.

What gives? Am I on some Blogger International Hit List or something? Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hail to the Chief

Last night, for about twenty amazing minutes, I got to be in the same room ( was an auditorium. A very BIG room, but a room nonetheless) with the President of the United States.

After standing on the sidewalk for three hours (I SO wore the wrong shoes) then sitting in an ugly auditorium for two more hours, and having to endure a rather childish political pep rally, that man walked out on the stage.

I'm not saying it was worth all the peripheral bullshit to get a glimpse of an obviously tired president who was sniffling from a cold and guzzling water in order to try to retain an audible voice for the duration of his speech. And we were really far away (mostly watched him on the Big Screen.) :(

But I realized I am still very proud that he is President of the United States. I'm proud that I voted for him. I'm proud that he speaks FOR me, and TO me as if I were a rational adult.

I'm proud of what he has achieved so far, in the face of ridiculous opposition. And I'm proud that he hasn't lost heart, and that he's just going to keep on plugging. He has set his sights on accomplishing as much as he possibly can while he holds the highest office in the land. I'm proud that I was in that crowd, among those five thousand people who showed him a degree of excitement, admiration and support that, I'll wager, he doesn't encounter too often these days.

Barack Obama has my greatest respect and loyalty.

Hail to the Chief!

Cross-posted from Women On.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Now Begins the Task…

I should have known, when I almost pulled the plug on my marriage, that something else was really the problem. Yes…there is a plug that definitely needs to be pulled. But it is not my marriage that is going to get the royal flush.

After a perfectly ghastly spring and summer, I have come to the realization that I cannot do this anymore. Partially because it is, in the famous words of someone very close to me, "not what I signed up for."

I was not supposed to be doing this by myself after four years. We had anticipated that the husband's job would be going away within a year…eighteen months at the outside. And that we would then be doing this together. At least that is what I understood was the plan. Fifty-one months later, I am still wearing every hat, juggling every plate, using fingers and toes I don't have to try to hold this thing together.

I am not a person I know anymore. I am not a person I LIKE anymore. I'm not a person ANYONE likes anymore, for that matter. Which, I'm afraid, is part of the reason the husband has retracted his interest in becoming a full and equally functioning partner. Kind of a "chicken/egg" situation, actually. I can't seem to make it clear to him that the reason I am what I am right now is that I am totally overwhelmed, and if he DID come on as we had planned, things would most likely change. For the better. Be that as it may, he's not buying it. And, in the end, I've discovered I am not equal—was never equal—to the task of running this business by myself.

Truth be told, I don't know what task I am equal to anymore.

It seemed I was better off—at least, I wasn't making a public ass of myself—when I was angst-filled, semi-employed, bored and at loose ends, with only my keyboard and the anonymous ether to vent on..or at…or whatever. THAT life—and that oddly comforting little community into which I fell, quite by accident—is gone as well. I won't have that to fall back into. Probably a good thing…I don't know.

But I think…I think what I'd really like to do when all this is over is just go crawl under a rock. And stay there. For some unspecified amount of time. Until I feel human again. If that ever happens.

Now begins the task of disassembling all that I thought I had built in the past four years.

Which shouldn't be too hard, since it has mostly fallen down around my head already.

I'm not sure I'm ready for another crash and burn. But life isn't always about what one is ready for, is it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Since September 25th, 2003

Seven years is a pretty long time to do anything.

HB, "CtT..."


I don't have the statistics here in front of me, but I know (from personal experience) that a huge portion of our living-wage manufacturing jobs have been re-distributed—out of the country. The United States now has what they call a "consumer economy." An economy which can only remain robust when people buy stuff. Not a traditional or even viable economic philosophy, by any means. In fact, it's entirely probable that the concept of a consumer economy was only recognized when it became obvious that was what we have descended into.

Economies are supposed to be based upon making stuff, not buying stuff. We should be making or producing something that we can trade—either for money, goods, or services—on the world market. But here in America, the Fat Cats who are supposed to be concerned with keeping the economy vital, have outsourced all our jobs. And they have charged US with keeping the American economy sound (and keeping THEM rich), by continuing to buy all the stuff they now have made in India or China or Central America, for a fraction of what it would cost them to pay US to make it here. So, they get the money, and we get…what? The incredible honor of serving them in restaurants, hotels, country clubs and casinos…because those are the only jobs left to be had?

Oh, yes…the Service Industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Basically because the poor schlubs whose jobs have gone away get to be employed waiting on the asshats who sold those jobs to the lowest bidders overseas.

Now, I am a card-carrying member of the Service Industry, and I have been for most of my adult life. Since before the entire national economy hung on our every move . For the most part, it was an enjoyable challenge, trying to guess what would be the Next Big Thing, and getting it out there with a smile and a flourish. It was satisfying to make someone happy, gratifying to brighten someone's day. And they would smile, and say, "Thank you!" And everyone would go home and sleep well at night.

Then, four years ago, in the midst of this shift from a real economy to one based on speculation, greed and all kinds of negative abstract concepts, I bought a restaurant. And, boy, have I learned a few things about what it means to own a service business in 21st-century America. Let me just say it has not done anyone any favors to strap the fate of the nation to our aching backs.

The buzz these days from just about everyone you talk to is that we have forgotten how to give good service in this country. Let me stand up in defense of my industry, for a moment. I have to believe that a large part of the problem is that not everyone is suited to a service job. Many of the folks who have been flung into our industry because there's nowhere else to go do not have what it takes to BE good…well, servants. They're doing the job because it's what there is to do, not because they enjoy it or find it satisfying. And that is a terrible problem for our industry. For all that we are the most over-worked, under-paid segment of the working population, there is a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge, and talent required to do what we do WELL. Someone who was perfectly happy to man an assembly line or work alone in a cubicle in front of a computer screen all day, probably won't be very happy, or very good at, chatting up customers while steaming a milk for a latte to 140 degrees.

And speaking of that 140 degree latte, let me also say that, from MY side of the counter, the general American public no longer knows how to GET good service. To encourage, accept and reward it, rather than to demand it as some kind of entitlement.

When some woman I have never seen before walks up to my counter and barely interrupts her cel phone conversation to churlishly demand a half-caf vente macchiato (which is a Starbuck's drink, by the way…and, um, we are not Starbuck's…) at exactly 140 degrees or she WILL bring it back (and I am led to wonder whether she carries a stem thermometer in her purse…), and sighs and rolls her eyes when we try to establish what she would like to order from OUR menu, raps her acrylic nails on the counter and continues her slightly over-loud phone conversation while we make her drink, takes the drink from our hopeful yet fearful hands, tastes it, makes a face, says, "Tsk…it's fine!" and stalks away, pointedly ignoring the tip jar next to the register…

That's when I know I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto. And even those of us who used to enjoy serving and satisfying the public, who used to get a charge out of the grateful smile of a contented customer…look at each other and say, "Why, exactly, DO we do this?"

More and more, we are becoming a nation of the "haves" and the "have-nots." And despite the fact that the have-nots outnumber the haves many times over, our culture, our media, encourage us all to look, act, and aspire to BE the haves. Not being rich is not good enough. It is not noble or admirable or even tolerable to be…modest. To be "comfortable." To be barely making ends meet. Because we all have to act like we have money. We all have to have the newest gadgets, the trendiest clothes, the latest adornments. And we all have to demand to be treated like Mr. and Mrs. Got-rocks by any person charged with the unfortunate task of waiting upon us in any place of business. As a result, the Service Industry—that place where more and more folks find themselves toiling—is becoming a less and less attractive place to work. At our sides are people who don't want to be here and aren't any good at it, and from across the counter, a heretofore unprecedented degree of rudeness and aggressiveness is exploding in our faces.

So maybe THAT'S why good customer service seems to be a thing of the past. Ya think?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Vacation" Pictures

Well, it wasn't much of a vacation...two days of not having to deal with cafe issues.

But here is a picture. I'm posting it mostly because I'm not sure I like what flickr has done to my ability to post my pictures here...

mult falls it worked. Huge. Just like I like them.

BTW, can you guess where this was taken? (no cheating...)

Sunday, September 12, 2010


September again. Already. I swear, I'm still trying to figure out what happened to last Christmas.

This summer has flown by. And it's just as well, because I think it has been one of the most miserable summers on record. Weather-wise, our summer didn't start here until well into July. But the weather has been the least of my problems. Except the part where the ONE heat wave we had all season had to come on the ONE weekend when it would do the most damage—the weekend of our big Scandinavian event down south. Probably cost us a couple thousand dollars in sales. Typical of this particular summer, I guess. If it was bad, it was going to happen, and at the worst possible time.

When California Chef took his leave in the middle of May, he seems to have snagged a thread that caused the whole fabric of the café to unravel. We started to shed crew members like my cats shed their winter coats. Systems deteriorated, equipment broke down or had to be replaced, my marriage nearly ended… It was kind of like the Universe was going to show me every bad consequence that could possibly befall us as a result of last summer's bid to "take us to the next level." This will teach you to be "too tired" to properly appreciate random factors operating in your favor. Because those same random factors turned on us like a snake; and if I thought I was tired last winter, I've learned a whole new definition of the word in the past three and a half months.

We lost California Chef; my long-time morning counter girl; Chef's erstwhile but completely unworthy replacement—Ms. California Chef; the woman I had hired to be front of the house manager to replace the Good and Faithful "D" (who is still with us on a limited basis, and still good and faithful); Ms.Pastry Chef; and a parade—I can't count how many… Six? Nine?—of possible replacement crew members, none of whom lasted more than two weeks. Some as little as a day. And, actually, there are reasons why the exit of each and every one of these players is a good thing. But it would have been ever so much nicer had they not all have crapped out at the same time.

Oh…and two of my three remaining long-ish term employees (they have been with us since 2008) are pregnant.

Talk about snake-bit. I've never seen anything like it.

But I don't want to whine about this anymore. Because I'm too tired. And because I'm officially on vacation. As of about 2:00 this afternoon. Until noon on Friday.

I've been stretching my neck out toward this particular carrot since I made the reservations three weeks ago. And now, by golly, I'm chomping on it as if it were my last meal.

And not a moment too soon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One More Time For All the Old Times

So, it's been 22 days since the meltdown. Not very good of me to broadcast evil tidings and then disappear. Does anyone wonder what's happening? I do. Wonder…

I wonder…is this how other couples fight? It feels so out of the ordinary to be us. We don't have those loud, "he said, she said" arguments. We just seem to suddenly realize how miserable we are. With each other. To each other. And then we try on the idea of being apart. But it just hurts so badly, feels so empty to be so far apart from each other, that we make up our minds to give it one more try. And one more. And one more.

In fact, we had to make it work, at least for a little while. Right in the middle of our biggest event of the year, the one where my whole family is involved, was not a good time for us to come apart. So, as things tend to go, we held it together for the benefit of other people, and found we do indeed still have something we want to hold together. So our fragile truce is holding. Sometimes, the bond between us feels like titanium…other times, like spun glass.

Have I mentioned that I am one of those people who always has music running through her head? Sometimes it's a song that has no meaning…something I've heard on the radio that sticks like glue and plays over and over until I'd happily unload a .44 into my skull just to get rid of it.

But sometimes it's something sent to me…by Someone, from Somewhere. A couple of days ago, I got this song… And I realized it's now Our Song:

Whatever it is, it will keep 'til the morning

Haven't we both got better things to do?

Midnight blue…

Even the simple things become rough;

Haven't we had enough?

And I think we can make it

One more time, if we try

One more time for all the old times…

For all of the times you told me you need me

Needing me now is something I could use

Midnight blue

Wouldn't you give your hand to a friend?

Maybe it's not the end…

And I think we can make it

One more time, if we try…

One more time for all the old times…

Midnight blue

I think we can make it…I think we can make it…

Wouldn't you give your heart to a friend?

Think of me as your friend….

And I think we can make it

One more time…if we try

One more time for all of the old old times….

--Melissa Manchester/Carol Bayer Sager

Monday, August 2, 2010


Yesterday was not a good day.

It took me longer than usual, after the "signing up" discussion, to digest and absorb the information brought to light therein. But, a week and a half into it, I thought I had built a pretty good foundation for a bridge, leading back to a tolerable status quo in my marriage. Turns out the bridge was made of tin foil instead of steel. It was easily brought down by the husband, with one unwarranted accusation.

As luck would have it, my sisters were in town and got to witness the…well, I won't call it a fight, because we actually didn't argue very much. It was basically a meltdown. MY meltdown. MY coming to terms with the fact that my marriage was probably irrevocably damaged, and I couldn't face living out the rest of my days in the context of this crumbled, non-functional relationship.

There has been this issue of "fault" haunting the husband and me for quite a few years. When things go tits up, and we are both miserable, we seem to invest a lot of energy into whose fault it is. And you know, I really hate that. I hate that fault-finding has become a standard of our society, and I particularly hate that it has invaded my marriage to the degree that it has. But there it is, nonetheless.

So Sunday afternoon, with my sisters in tow, I drove…anywhere. Away from the most recent demonstration of my being not much more than the primary irritant in my husband's life. One sister made a stab at trying to play marriage counselor. "I think," she said, "that you both need to stop trying to blame each other. It's clear that he thinks everything is YOUR fault…"

Now, the circumstances of our married life have found me taking the role of instigator most of the time. If I hadn't, I truly believe we would never have gone anywhere, achieved anything, or made any changes at all in our lives. I dragged us out to Oregon to be with my family. I yanked us away from our life in Eugene to follow a job opportunity. I took us back there when the job failed and my life fell apart. I needed a life, so we bought the restaurant. Our entire married life has consisted of me trying to make it work, and him coming along with me, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. So when things go badly for us, it IS more than likely my fault, to some degree. And I have to live with that.

So when my sister declared that we were each trying to blame the other for our problems, I couldn't entirely buy that. "Don't you think," I asked, "that I carry around a ton of guilt about everything that has gone wrong with our lives? I'll always have that. I'm not trying to say everything is his fault. I'm just trying to say it's NOT ALL MY FAULT. It can't be. I can't own the blame for every bad thing that has ever happened to us. If I did, it would kill me."

I don't know why, but this time, the hurt wouldn't go away. I tried hiding it under some "retail therapy," (shopping at the Goodwill with my sisters.) It just got worse. I dropped my bundle of possible purchases on a convenient rack, went out to sit in the van. And just…cried. And thought. And cried some more.

In fact, I spent most of the day in tears. I haven't cried so much in years. But I was thinking, and planning, and, saying goodbye, really. To my life. To my home. To my restaurant. To everything I believed had been poisoned by, or was poisoning, my dying marriage. Because I had decided that if my choice was going to be between continuing in a relationship where I was nothing more than the biggest pain in my husband's ass, or being alone, I would choose "alone."

Life is too short. The idea of spending my remaining days, however many or few they are, with someone to whom I am barely tolerable on a good day…just didn't appeal anymore. If my fate—my burden—was to fuck up everything I touched, then I needed not to be touching anyone else. I could take full responsibility for screwing up my own life. But I could no longer bear the burden of messing up another person's life along with my own.

We've had Serious Arguments in the past. With increasing frequency, in fact. As time has gone on, I've begun to think I've worn out my welcome as a partner… as I always suspected I would, from the very beginning. And I have said to him, "You know, if you would be happier doing something else or with someone else, you need to do that." I have given HIM permission to leave. But of course, husband being husband, he would never do it. This time, I understood that if the hurt was ever going to go away, if the changes that needed to be made to point us toward peace were ever going to be made, I had to make them. I would have to be the one to say, "I give up. This needs to end. I will leave." Things end. People change. Nothing is forever. No one stays. That is the way of life. I get it.

For the first time in my life, I thought about dissolving the union. I made lists of what would need to be done and in what order. I would find a place to live and move out. (Or should I ask him to move out, and pay for an apartment for him closer to work…since one of the things he has recently confessed is that he hates the house and doesn't really care if we live here anymore…) We would sell the restaurant. And as soon as that was done, I would take any money left over from that and find somewhere to live. Somewhere. Far away from here.

And then he could either have the house (since HE pays the mortgage) or not. Whatever he chose. And if he sold the house, I would ask for some small sum of money from the sale, and that would be that. He would probably move back to the Midwest to be with his family. And it would be over.

I planned and I thought and I said goodbye all day yesterday. And I cried. Pitchers and pails and flasks of tears. I couldn't stop.

Last night, after everyone went home, we talked.

Truthfully, I don't remember most of the details of the discussion. Maybe some things were ironed out. Maybe some hurts were apologized for. Maybe some promises to do better were made. All I know is, enough was said that it gave me hope that we might be able to live amicably together for a few more years. Or months. Or weeks. I don't have to leave. Now…

But I also know…that I can. Leave. If it comes to that.

And that is a powerful thing to know.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Signing Up II

"Not what I signed up for…" I couldn't shake those words for days. Brooded about them almost non-stop. I thought I could bury them under work and other concerns, but they kept rising to the surface like a fresh corpse. For me, there is no such concept as, "Ignore it, and it will go away." I can set things aside until they lose their sting, and go back and deal with them later. But I can't just pretend they never existed and go merrily on my way.

The pronouncement that any endeavor, thirty years in, is not what one signed up for is, at best, grossly immature; at worst, blindly narcissistic. Either you went into the thing thinking you had no particular expectations, and now find that any vague picture of fulfillment and happiness you might have had in mind does not resemble what has actually come to pass… Or you had a specific agenda (that did not take into account any other person who might have been involved in the endeavor along with you…say, a life partner, for example…) which you suddenly realize has not been accomplished. And probably never will be. And time is running out.

So, what? Is the husband a hopeless Peter Pan? Or is he an unfeeling taskmaster ruled by schedules, goals, and quantifiable results? I don't think so. I think he's just feeling tired and old and a bit overmatched by his life. To say that we have a lot on our plates right now would be a laughable understatement.

We may have, in fact, "signed up for" a little more than we are actually capable of accomplishing, at this stage in our lives. At an age when most people are backing off the throttle and beginning to coast into retirement, we are working harder than we ever have. There is a physical and emotional cost to all this, which is harder on a couple of semi-centenarians than it would be on a pair of twenty-somethings. But there are two ways to look at it, really. Though it can be said that, after thirty-plus years together, we'd rather be relaxing in our side-by-side recliners than fending off challenges to the emotional well-being of our partnership; it might also be true that if our relationship did not have that thirty-year strong foundation, we may now be chucking everything, turning our backs on each other and on the challenge, and going off in search of something more fun and more immediately gratifying. Isn't that what children DO these days?

Part of the problem with the husband is that he is NOT the type of person to TAKE control of life. He is happy when he has the underpinnings of job, home and family, and then he kind of takes whatever life happens to build upon that foundation. Oh, he's a hard worker. Tireless and obsessive to the point of workaholism, in fact. But he's not particularly creative or idealistic when it comes to what the job is. His credo is that you do whatever your employer demands, and then some. And you never, NEVER ask for a favor, or preferential treatment, or even for some things you might have earned or deserve after a term of dedicated and faithful service. Which would make him anyone's dream employee. But which also makes him suck as an entrepreneur.

Because you have to realize when you work for yourself, you are not only your own employee, you are also your own boss. Which means you work hard, yes. But you are also the person responsible for rewarding that hard work. If you try to do one without the other, you burn out very quickly. Which, unfortunately, is the place where the husband finds himself at this moment. He still has his "day job," where he works very hard and has been consistently under-valued and under-compensated for sixteen years. But now, rather than coming home and going to the gym or puttering around the garage or whatever else he used to do to let off steam from work, he has the café to work at and worry about. To the point of obsession. And he can't put himself into the mindset that HE is the one who has to take control of some aspects of his life, to tweak it so that it doesn't turn him into a smoldering cinder. He just works and works and works, and then gets put out with me because our life is "not what he signed up for."

For my part, I believed him when he told me that he wanted to partner with me in owning the café. I believed we were setting ourselves up for the time when his job would go away. Which looked imminent four years ago, but these things have a way of dragging out way longer than seems possible. So he's still toiling away for the sinking ship AND trying to help me run the restaurant. Of course, this is an impossible situation for him. But it's just as impossible for ME to run the café without a partner. Especially now, when I don't think I could buy a decent employee with a winning lottery ticket.

We are stuck, he and I, in this protracted limbo…responsible for almost more than the two of us can physically handle. I don't think either of us would have signed up for this had we known it was going to play out this way. But it is what it is, and we have to not only work, but THINK our way through it. It's the thinking part, the planning part, the pro-active "I have to fix this so that it can work for me" part that the husband is not so good at. And, truth be told, he gets pissed off at me when I try to do that part for him. Or suggest that he do it. "This is the only part of my life that I have control over!" he whined to me the other night during the discussion that spawned the whole" signing up" remark.

Fine. Then control it, goddammit. If you won't let me help you fix it, then deal with it yourself. But don't whine to me about what you did and did not sign up for.

Fix. It.

Wow. That was amazingly unsupportive, wasn't it? But it felt SO good…!

Whatever. I'm pretty sure we'll ride out this storm, as we have so many over the years. But sometimes, feeling exhausted, partnerless and friendless all at the same time just…sucks. And this, this blog, is the only place I have to go with this stuff. So I won't even apologize for whining.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Signing Up

What does it mean when your partner tells you that your life is "not exactly what I signed up for?" After more than three decades?

What DID we sign up for, exactly?

What did we know, at twenty and twenty-one, about a relationship that would span almost as many years as our combined ages?

I always thought we got married because we were too stupid not to. We were "in love." That's what people did when they were in love. They got married.

Were we signing up for something? I wouldn't have had a clue what to ask for or where to sign for it. And I've always believed that cluelessness, that naiveté, that "What the hell, let's just DO it!" …was mutual.

Evidently not.

After thirty-five years, I find I am not what he signed up for.

I have no idea where to go with that…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Small World

"To the world you may just be somebody....but to somebody, you may just be the world."

I saw this posted on somebody's facebook status today.

It's supposed to be inspirational. Why am I not inspired?

Could it be because I'm pretty sure I am NO ONE's world...?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ups and Downs

It's been a day of good and bad.

Had to work. Bad.

Got a lot accomplished. Good.

It's my birthday. Good.

I'm 55 years old. Aauugghh!

Got lost on the way to where I was supposed to buy my birthday present. Bad.

Went shopping somewhere else instead. Bought two shirts, a pair of pants and a jacket—all on sale. Good.

Argued with (at?) the husband. Sigh! Bad.

Found good pasta and Marie Callenders' pie for dessert. Good.

Drove directly beneath two eagles soaring and wheeling over the highway. My first unambiguous eagle sighting in many moons. Thinking this is an excellent omen for my fifty-sixth year on the planet.

The best.

Double Nickels



Monday, July 12, 2010

The Wrap-up

Monday morning, and I feel like today is the first day of the rest of my life. That giant catering job has been strapped to my back since mid-May when my chef crapped out on me. Now, I wish I hadn't worried about it so much. The facility we worked in was huge and well-stocked, we got all our prep done handily a few days before, and things came together quickly and beautifully (thanks to Chef Hope) the day of the wedding. Not only did we NOT run out of food, we have tons of leftovers. Which, as a business owner, I should be unhappy about…but all I wanted to do was make sure everybody got some and that it was good. And it was!

But of course, the day could not have gone off without some kind of attack by the Bullshit Squad. It would have been too much to ask for my staffing woes—which have gone from annoying to scary to unbelievable to ridiculous—to abate for just this one day. The "experienced breakfast cook" I hired three weeks ago ( pretty much so that I would have someone to run Saturday breakfast while Chef and I concentrated on this catering job) got her nose out of joint when she received her first paycheck on Friday and decided to terminate her employment with us by no-show, no-calling on the day she knew I needed her most—the day of the catering job. Classy. Very classy.

I ended up having to stay at the restaurant through breakfast, and then going out to the catering site. Which, in the end, was just as well, because we were SO well prepped that there was a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on. I had sent Chef and her assistant over to the church kitchen at 8 am, service was at about 3:30, and there were really only a couple of hours of real work to be done. As it turned out, our very capable lady Chef had everything well in hand, and all I had to do was throw a couple of chicken breasts around at the very end, serve the guests at the buffet line, and clean up.

So now, on this gray, yucky, cloudy day that seems to be part and parcel of summer 2010 in northwest Oregon, I'm ready to start MY summer in earnest. I have no idea what that means, really. But I just want to suspend the work and worry and planning and scheming for a couple of weeks, and grab a little gusto out of whatever the rest of this summer has to offer.

How about it?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Learning to Trust

Tomorrow is going to be a big day for us. Another "first" for the café. We'll be catering entrees for a wedding reception. To the tune of 250 guests. Wow.

I made this commitment way back in late winter, when I was counting on the services of the lately departed California Chef. (Who, by the way, bounced back handily from his unfortunate experience with his succeeding position, and is now employed by the restaurant right across the street from his most recent ex-employer. Sigh!) Believe me; when California Chef flew the coop, I was more than a little cowed by the scope of the job. But since CC left us a mere six weeks before the wedding date, I didn't feel comfortable telling the customer (who is also my hairdresser and a friend) that she would have to make other arrangements. So I sucked it up and decided, come hell or high water, we were going to make this happen. And do a good job of it, too.

So, tomorrow is the big day. And, truthfully, I'm feeling (perhaps uncharacteristically) confident. The food is simple—things that I personally know how to make, rather than the slightly off-the-wall hairball haute cuisine that California Chef often came up with. I'll be assisted by the Dear Husband, Chef Hope and an intern from a Portland culinary school. Everything's good. Right now, I'm sitting on my deck enjoying a glass of wine and engaging in my alternate passion. Tomorrow morning, everything will fall into place. And by this time tomorrow evening, it will all be history.

Dear husband, on the other hand, is completely unglued by the enormity of the commitment, and is fussing in every direction possible. He feels like a helium balloon with a defective gyroscope, and I'm trying to keep him from flying off in weird directions, or flying away altogether. Tonight, sitting in the car returning from a short buying trip, he confessed he was really freaking out about this whole thing. (No, duh?) And I said, "What's the big deal? It's easy stuff, we have most of it prepared already, it's not something we can't do. Do you see ME freaking out?" "No," he said. "And that's what freaking me out."

"That's silly," I scoffed. "Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself."

A couple of years ago, I could no more have said that than I could have quoted the Koran in Arabic.

Maybe I have learned something.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not Likin’ Me Much….

Sleep deprivation and stress seem to be turning me into a person I really don't like very much.

Time was, when I hired a new employee, I could observe how that person learned, analyze his/her talents and strengths, ferret out the weaknesses, and—taking all those things into account—almost immediately turn that newbie into a functional member of the team. Not so much anymore. I just do not have the patience.

Three weeks ago, I hired two young men—one twenty-two-years old, and one twenty. Each of these kids possessed a resume that included some months served in some kind of commercial cooking environment; and each had some degree of formal culinary schooling. On paper, they appeared to have what it took to make them successful candidates for a cook's job at the café. Yet it took less than three weeks for both of them to go down in flames.

I'll just say here and now that, after all the staffing hassles I've encountered since buying the restaurant four years ago, I take nothing, and I mean NOTHING, for granted. I no longer bring people on staff with an expectation of success. I find it hard to even stand back and wait to see what happens. My attitude is more like, "I know the highest probability is that you are going to suck, or if you don't suck NOW, you'll suck shortly down the road. Prove me wrong…!"

I hate having that attitude. I hate expecting the worst from people. Negative thinker that I have always been, I have up til now had a way of expecting good from people. Expecting honesty, respect, empathy and a knowledge of some kind of decent work ethic. But somewhere along the line, the things I just took for granted from people have become almost extinct. These qualities are not only not part of prospective employees personalities; the words are hardly in their vocabularies (and they would not be able to spell them if they were…but that's a rant for a different day.)

Recently, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my work. I realize that I have been working myself to death just keeping the doors of the café open. I'm wearing every hat, doing every job, nose to the grindstone, hardly looking up to even see or recognize the faces of the people who inhabit my world. The customers. The staff. I don't know their stories, and I can't care about them. I have too much on my plate to care about the people. And there is something drastically, tragically wrong with that picture.

I feel like, within the next, say, six months to a year, I'm going to have to make a choice. Because just opening the doors and serving food is not what I want my business to be about. I have to be able to disentangle myself from the eternal knot of bullshit that has ensnared me since I took over the café. It seems like it's been drawing me in deeper and deeper, binding me tighter and tighter, until I can't pull far enough away from it to see the Big Picture. To BE the moral business owner I want to be. To care about my staff, the customers, ALL the people I come in contact with every day. And act accordingly.

What I have to figure out is, the way people are these days, CAN I care about them? Because part of the problem is that I have a really hard time caring about people who can't or won't reciprocate in any way. Have people become so self-centered, greedy and rude that I just can't find a way to care? It's not that I expect kudos or gratitude or…really, anything positive when I go out of my way to be kind or fair or respectful of people. I just don't expect to be treated like crap…which, unfortunately, is what happens most of the time these days. It's my misfortune that I tend to treat people as they treat me. Altruistic I am not, apparently.

So what I know is that I don't like this person I have turned into since I bought the restaurant. What I have to figure out is if I can change that, or if I just have to…bail.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Painful Encounters

I'm trying to decide whether I'm just overtired, or if hyper-sensitivity is something I've always had, but is serving to make my current life that much more difficult.

This business of long-term employees leaving "the nest" has been much harder on me than I would have thought.

Because we live in a small town, I can't help but casually encounter just about everyone who ever worked for me. I'd have to never go out and about in my own home town if I wanted to avoid these meetings. (Not very practical...but I have to admit, somewhat attractive, at the moment.)

Saturday afternoon, we had company, and since my own restaurant closes at 3 pm, we decided to try one of the other local eateries. It's good to keep tabs on what the competition is up to, anyway. But this particular place happens to be where one of my lost employees obtained employment (BEFORE giving me her notice...) I hoped against hope that Ms. Former Employee would not be at work that day. But I only had to glance through the glass as we headed for the entrance to understand that was a vain hope.

She saw us immediately. I smiled, waved.

We sat in this nearly empty restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, and Ms. Former Employee did not come any where near us. Avoided us like the plague. Hid in the back room, I think, when possible.

This girl who shared my Thanksgiving table two years ago, will now not even speak to me.

Who knows? It may not be that she hates me. It may not be that I am the total scum of the earth (which is how I felt.)

It may be that she was just so uncomfortable about the way we had parted that she couldn't deal with my presence on any positive level.

I held it together as long as we were at the restaurant. Made believe it didn't bother me. Pretended not to care.

And when we got home, I excused myself to my bedroom sanctuary...threw myself on the bed and sobbed like a toddler. Just for a few minutes...

I told my sister I was happy I had never had kids.

Because if other people's kids could break my heart like this, being rejected by my own children (and they WILL reject their parents, at some's part of their job description) would probably kill me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Take That…

I did something mean today.

I got home from work about 2:30 this afternoon. And, it being the first nice day we've had in, well, forever (the local news says we've suffered through 21 straight days of rain, including rainfall amounts in the last two days equal to the normal rainfall for the entire month of June…), all I wanted to do was flip a couple of cups of sunflower seed into the feeder, sit on my back deck, soak up the sun and watch birdie TV. Quietly. No noise. No music. Just the soft chatter of the avian diners and the buzz of the occasional fly or wasp drifting by. A glass of pinot gris at my elbow and a mindless game of spider solitaire on my lap. Was that too much to ask?

Well, of course it was. Next thing I know, one neighbor's dog is barking, through the fence, at the other neighbors, who evidently have company and have chosen to give the "grand tour" of their back yard. From ten feet away on my left, I'm suddenly hearing:



"ARE THESE MORE STRAWBERRIES? OH, BLACKBERRIES, HUH?" (Like you could confuse the two….?!)

…and so on.

Now, these neighbors have vexed me much. They cut down the trees that screened my yard from theirs. They built Disneyland in their back yard. They send smoke of burning rubbish piles through my open windows. They till their garden at first light on Sunday morning. Most recently, they have acquired a chicken. A chicken, for gods' sake. Do you have any idea how LOUD one upset chicken can be? In a neighborhood where a dozen backyards snug up to one another in the space of about three acres? And this chicken is housed maybe fifty feet from my bedroom window?

So, this afternoon, their noisy stupid garden tour ten feet from my quiet sanctuary sent me over the edge. I stood up, retreated to my family room, opened all the windows and doors, and turned on the stereo. Loud. So that I could hear it clearly from my refuge on my back deck. Wanting only to drown out the unwelcome intrusion from the other side of the fence. Sort of.

The CD that happened to be in the queue was Kenny G. So it's not like I blasted them out with Led Zeppelin or anything.

I assume they were pissed. Almost immediately, they drifted away from the fence. Withdrew to their own deck, which is at least as far away as they can get from ME and still be in their own back yard. And within five minutes, they departed from there into their house.

"Hmmm…" I mused wickedly. "Well done!"

I half expected them to come knocking on my door to complain about how rude I was.

But I had my retort handily prepared:

"Tell that to your CHICKEN at 6:30 on Sunday morning…."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Found Him…

Last night, I chose to rub salt in a wound that had not healed over as much as I had thought.

I had heard on the grapevine (from my manicurist—the resource library for all of the county's juiciest gossip) that one of the major restaurant players in The Next Town Up The Road had recently lost its chef. Using what deductive powers haven't yet been compromised by my chronic state of overwork and undersleep, I put two and two together and guessed that this was where California Chef had landed. So, last night, husband and I made a little "market research" field trip up the road to see what was shaking.

And yes, there was my ex-chef, toiling away in the open kitchen of the pizza restaurant-cum brew pub-cum comedy club-cum whatever else will put butts in the seat, which has also been struggling to add "dinner house" to its list of various personae. And while I am the first to admit that, in our-pint-sized demographic, success is built upon how many market niches an eatery can successfully fill, Pizza Pub Up The Road has enjoyed about as much success in the dinner house category as has the Hot Flash Café.

There are reasons for this; reasons that became more abundantly clear to me during the ten months I personally struggled to morph the Hot Flash Café into something that would optimize California Chef's talents. The truth of the matter is, there is an extremely limited market, out here in the exurbs, for what California Chef does best. He can make beautiful, tasty, trendy food. And that, unfortunately, is not what our customers are looking for in a local restaurant. They want clean, friendly, edible homey stuff. If a restaurant can kind of nudge them toward the 21st century without their knowing it, they're good with that. But they are definitely not looking for nouvelle cuisine out here. If they want trendy, they make a day or night of it and go into "The City." Or they go west to one of the more upscale communities on the beach.

When California Chef took his leave of us, it didn't take me long to realize that he had to leave…that we were never going to be able to make proper use of what he had to offer. I thought, "Okay. Failed experiment. Chalk this one up to experience and move on." But as cantankerous and hard to get along with as the kid had proven to be, I had made a sizeable emotional investment in him. I really believed he had talent and a bright future, even if it wasn't with my restaurant. As much as, in the end, his leaving was obviously best for everyone, it was not painless for me to see him go.

If only he HAD gone on to somewhere that his talents could be nurtured and properly utilized. But, no—he's at a stupid, small-town restaurant of ambiguous identity that is really just a bigger, more ambitious version of the Hot Flash Café. Churning out humdrum food that is NOT his, to keep the unimaginative patrons happy, while straining to attract a market that does not exist with specials like "Halibut Picatta."

My greatest regret with California Chef was that I worked elbow to elbow with him for ten months, and couldn't teach him a damned thing. I knew I had little to offer in the way of teaching him how to cook, but I had hoped I could impart some wisdom about how to run a kitchen, how to assemble and relate to a staff, even what kinds of food might appeal to our demographic. Seeing him last night, ramming his head against the same brick wall he'd encountered (erected?) at the Hot Flash Café, it really brought home to me how utterly deaf and blind he was to anything I had tried to impress upon him during our short and obviously fruitless association.

Within comfortable commuting distance to the city of Portland and its exciting up-and-coming culinary scene, California Chef chooses to go…sideways. Or even backwards.

It was a blow my bruised heart was less ready to absorb than I thought…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May Strikes Again

Just after we bought the café, I was so overwhelmed, yet still so attached to blogging, that I took to making little ten-minute posts just to let everyone know I was still alive.

Well, now there's not really an "everyone" to let know I'm still alive… And, theoretically, I have enough of a handle on this whole thing to be able to carve out some time to create real posts. And I really thought I was past those over-worked, walking around in a sleep-deprived haze days. Unfortunately, we seemed to have back-slid a bit in that…

So here I am with another ten-minute stream of consciousness post, because even though I have no brain left at the end of any given day, I am still attached to this blog.

With Mothers Day out of the way, it might actually be time to lean back and let the café go on auto-pilot for a month or two. NOT! Though I've managed to pull myself together enough to get a few things done in the long-term promotion category, I still have a list of things ten feet long that I want to/need to accomplish. Not the least of which is get the ball rolling on this air-conditioning thing before it gets really hot out. We've had a miserably cold spring (if we were at 3000 feet we would be buried in snow…) that has, up 'til now, saved our bacon air conditioning-wise. But we all know it's going to get warm sometime, and rather sooner than later, I would think. I cannot have my guests trying to choke down a meal with sweat running down into their pasta.

Speaking of Mothers Day, it went rather well. We didn't have any big disasters, reservations were taken and filled promptly, people complimented the hell out of the food, and we had a fairly good sales day. So I'm going to call it a success, though our food cost and labor costs for the week were unfortunately way out of line, so I'm thinking we didn't really make any money on the whole thing. We hope, however, that we did make some friends. And that is what keeps the doors open.

So, yes…Mothers Day went well. As well as can be hoped for a motherless, childless workaholic. These days, Mothers Day just means a day of extra stress and work work work for me. Which is, in the end, probably a good thing. Because May is just a…hard month, if I let myself think about it. Mothers Day and my parents' wedding anniversary were always within days of each other (my folks were married on May 12, 1945). With them both gone, mid-May would be a time of sighing and missing them, if I had ten minutes to rub together to dwell on it. Plus, my sister passed away five days after Mom & Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1995, so that is not a good memory, either. So though spring—May in particular—is a beautiful time of bloom and renewal in the Pacific Northwest, it is not without its barbs, at least for me.

Ten minutes are up. Time to make the donuts…

Wow. I thought Word had freaked out and eaten this post. But I just found it in some obscure "Auto Recovered Files" panel. Wrote this early this morning, before the rest of the ultimately crappy day had unfolded.

My chef quit today. Just up and said he couldn't get along with any of the staff…hasn't tried, really, but that's a story for another day.

So I guess some re-evaluation, reorganization and re-everything else is in the works.