Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Squash Watch

Every year, come hell or high water, I plant flowers in containers to adorn my outdoor living spaces. I’ve been doing it since we bought our first house in Oregon twenty-six years ago, when I fell in love with fuchsias and begonias and all the lovely plants that did not thrive in the Midwest. I remember coming home from late shifts at the bakery and watering hanging baskets in the dark. The neighbors would stop and exclaim, “Your flowers always look so beautiful!” Though I didn’t necessarily do it for the neighbors, it was always nice to know I had one of the more remarkable gardens on the block.

Even in the midst of all the fourteen–hour “Café Days,” when I barely had the time or energy to enjoy my outdoor spaces, much less decorate them—I carried on with that tradition. It was probably even more important during those frazzled years, to carve out the time to do something calming and joyful. And then sit back and watch the show until the November frosts or rains did their damage.

This spring, I was more eager than ever to get my hands in the dirt and plants in the ground. As it happened, neither the weather nor my energy level was particularly conducive to that undertaking. Spring weather actually arrived about three weeks ago. And though I wasn’t working those fourteen-hour days after May 8, my remaining commitments took up more of my time and depleted life-force than I had foreseen. Early season buying sprees—my eyes were definitely bigger than my oomph—had resulted in dozens of plants that had to go somewhere; they couldn’t spend the season moldering away in cardboard boxes on the deck (though many a plant had suffered that exact fate during the Café Days.) Despite the crummy weather and other challenges, I managed to get most of the plants properly situated by the time the County Fair came along.

One of the things I envisioned in this year’s early spring pipe dream was a vegetable garden. After all, I was going to have nothing but time, I reasoned as, in a fit of addle-brained impulse buying, I plunked three beautiful little squash plants into my wagon at the nursery. Butternut squash. Calling to mind the astonishing vigor of the only member of the squash family I had ever cultivated—zucchini—I figured that these guys should be a no-brainer. They would grow like crazy with little or no help from me; and, unlike zucchini, they would store well into the winter, so I wouldn’t have to worry about what to do with them immediately upon harvest. Perfect!

But, oh…the trials those poor little guys have been through! First, they lived in the greenhouse for awhile, because as of the end of May, we had not yet stopped having frost. After about three weeks in there, they had to be summarily relocated, as they were getting cooked when the sun did come out, and I was afraid I would forget about them and that would be the end of them.

I repositioned the planting box I had in mind for them. I bought dirt and weed fabric to go in it. Around that time, I lost my momentum. The poor little squash plants sat on the deck, surrounded by a parade of annuals that came and went as I found and arranged pots. I continued to water and fret over the little squashes, but they started to dwindle. They grew spindly. They got mildew. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get the mojo to assemble that planting box.

Finally, last week, I looked at them and said, “Now or never.” Realizing that I was never going to get that box together, I took my poor, sad looking little squash plants and hollowed out places for them in an empty strip along the fence, where I had planned (for about the last six years) to extend my shrub border.

They’ve been in the ground for about a week, now. I have been very solicitous about watering them. Even gave them a shot of Miracle Grow. And let me just say, they…haven’t died, which is probably saying a lot considering the condition they were in when I planted them. But they haven’t grown much, either.

So, here’s my plan, dear readers: Once a week, I’ll post a picture of them. We’ll watch them grow (or not) together. Any good thoughts or positive energy you can send their way will be appreciated.

Anyone want to take bets on whether we’ll actually get a harvest out of this?

Picture The First—July 27, 2011

Squash Watch

Monday, July 25, 2011

Looking Backward, Going Forward

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time that I posted twice in the same day. Most likely it was pre-café. Or possibly when my mother was ill back in 2007. Over the past five years, there have been months when I didn’t post two blog entries. The “Blog Archive” on my sidebar tells a story, doesn’t it?

From a high of over two hundred entries in 2004—the heyday of AOL J-land, evening out to an average of 120 or so per year for the next four years. Ten posts a month; continuing right on, I might add, into “café days.” Until 2009—when I took the restaurant to “the next level.” Forty-two entries in a whole year. Followed by 2010, when the bottom fell out. Another 42-entry year. True, I was writing for two blogs by then—“Terms…” and “Women On.” Still, the work was taking its toll.

I well remember the times I would come home from the restaurant utterly used up, wanting to write about it; I would sit in my chair, turn on my laptop…and play solitaire. So many nights I just didn’t have a creative atom left in my body; I could hardly pick out which pajamas to wear, much less string more than a dozen words together to form a coherent thought. It just added to my feeling that my life was slipping away from me…that I was being taken over by a force that was neither healthy nor nurturing. But I DID write. I never completely abandoned it. And what I wrote was, for the most part, passably decent. Even good, at times.

Because writing is, you know, my thing. Years ago—and I was looking for this in my archives, but I couldn’t find it—I wrote that restaurant was my work, but writing was my passion. I could do the restaurant thing; I was good at it (or so I believed); so I chose it as my career. Because putting it out there, even if the unthinkable happened and I failed at it, would not be as devastating as if I tried to live off my real passion—my writing—and failed. I didn’t know if I could handle it if I put everything into my writing and ended up getting chewed up and spit out by the world. What would I have left?

Well, the unthinkable has happened. As a restaurateur, I fell flat on my face. The culinary world did indeed chew me up and spit me out. It was…a great learning experience, if nothing else. I will feel blessed if “learning” is the most lasting damage I take away from the experience. But I have to wonder…did I set myself up to fail? I freely admitted that the restaurant was not my passion. How did I expect to work so hard for so long if the work itself was not feeding some deep need? In the end…I didn’t have what it took to grab greatness out of the jaws of mediocrity. We did “okay.” But okay wasn’t good enough.

So now I am left with a part-time concession business and (it is to be hoped) the continued good fortune of my husband keeping his job, which we thought was going away, to keep the wolves from the door.

And a Power which seems bent on making sure that I find no joy in any restaurant-related pursuits. And regularly sends me spiders…that animal spirit which signifies the gift for writing and the uniquely feminine perspective.

If I add all these things together, what answer should I be coming up with?


Seems like I still need to write about my transition from frazzled business owner to woman of semi-leisure. That is, after all, what I know right now…and one of the rules imparted early on to neophyte writers is “Write what you know.” I shall, however, endeavor not to whine…

Three weeks ago, 99.9% of the physical baggage of the café was trundled out the door by a Portland restaurant supply house. I sorted out about half a pick-up load to be taken home—some frozen foods and dry goods that did not get used, selected pieces of equipment and smallwares that I guessed would be useful going forward with the concession business. It looked like a pitifully small collection, next to what we sent away. But integrating it into my kitchen and/or the storage space in our garage has proven tediously challenging.

I’ll admit that part of the challenge has been that I just don’t want to look at this stuff right now. I want to set it aside long enough for the bad feelings associated with it to lose their sting, and deal with it when I get around to it. But, you know, you can’t just leave it crammed in the back of the truck and the trailer. Especially when those two vehicles will be needed for our event coming up next month. So I had to once more snuff my burning desire to get away from all things café related, suck it up and get to work. But I wasn’t happy or nice about it. And, of course, we picked the hottest day of the year to mess with it. (I understand that our “hot” would be laughable to the rest of the country this year. Still, it was stuffy and muggy and would have been a day much better spent at the beach or in the woods or anywhere else doing anything else. And I am supposed to be ON VACATION!)

The thing that has been problematic about stowing these things is their sheer size. When one works in a commercial kitchen with gigantic appliances, fifty linear feet of shelving, under-counter storage galore, plus an 80 square foot dry storage closet, one doesn’t worry too much about where to put a 2 ½ gallon stock pot or a twenty quart mixer. The pot doesn’t fit in any of my kitchen cabinets; the mixer weighs about 200 lbs. and rides on a rolling dolly. The pot is currently taking up half my kitchen stovetop; the mixer was shoe-horned into the garage alongside the two ovens, eight freezers, two heated display cases, two hotboxes, three pan racks, folding tables, rolling carts, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum already stored there for the concession business.

I spent about an hour yesterday afternoon trading out my years-past-dated, household-sized jars of spices for the ones I salvaged from the café. Most of these will be used in production for the events we still do. But some—for instance, a 14 oz. container of fennel seed, nine inches tall and three inches wide—would last me and six other home cooks until the next millennium. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it. But I physically could not throw it away. Guess I’ll have to research great fennel seed recipes.

Which brings up another problem: Cooking.

I am used to BIG—pots, utensils, containers, appliances, sinks. Now, let me just say that we didn’t buy our house ten years ago based on the merits of the kitchen. It is tiny and awkward, but we didn’t cook or entertain that much, so kitchen size was a non-issue for us. After five years preparing lots of meals for lots of people in a commercial cooking space, I find my little kitchen woefully inadequate. There is no counter space for prep, the task lighting is atrocious, my fridge (which seems to be the only design that will fit in the awkward space allotted it) can hardly hold a gallon of milk, much less a seven-quart container of…anything. When I try to cook or bake using my home-sized appliances and utensils, I feel like I’m playing Suzy Homemaker with my Easy-Bake Oven. It’s frustrating to the point where I literally cannot cook.

And I want to cook. I actually enjoy it, when I don’t have a gun to my head and a million other things to worry about. So I’m desperate for a space to indulge that passion. I can’t see us having the money to re-configure our current space. Maybe I should apply to one of those shows on HGTV, like The Ugliest Kitchen In America. “Dear HGTV: I am a retired restaurateur in dire need of a kitchen makeover…” Problem is, my kitchen isn’t really ugly. It just…sucks.

Those life lessons just keep streaming, don’t they? This week, I’ve learned that you never simply walk away from anything in life. You take it with you, it becomes part of you. Some things are assimilated more readily, more joyfully than others. It’s not always easy. Still, you have to make room in your “new” life for pieces of the “old” life; the ones you want to keep, and the ones that will go with you whether you want them or not. Those bits—wanted or otherwise—are what make a life. We would be so much less without them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Stats Don't Lie

Here at blogger, we all have been given a little “stats” view upon which we can click from our dashboards. We can use it to check hits (by the hour) on our blogs, where the hits are coming from, what “google” searches are bringing us readers, that kind of thing. I admit, I’ve become mildly addicted to the “stats” page, just as I was to my hit counter at the old AOL J-land. These days, almost no one comments…seems like it just isn’t done anymore. So the only way to know if people are still interested is to check with the stats. (I should follow this with a declaration that I really don’t care if anyone reads…I write for myself—and blah, blah, blah. But y’all know that’s kind of a crock, so why waste the “ink?”)

The past few days, my stats page has been telling me a story, one I should have known without being told. Many of my recent posts have been, basically, vents—rants, whines, bitchfests, call them what you will. And my stats have been in the toilet. Then I cough up a post with a picture AND a cat, and suddenly I have readers again!

I get it. Everybody is tired of hearing me whine about my life. Even I am tired of whining about my life. I’ll admit, when I am feeling particularly lost, writing about my hurt and frustration helps me…what? Purge the demons? But, today at least, I’m feeling like it’s probably time to quit beating that dead horse for awhile.

I’m not quite up to mounting my political soapbox, yet (to the immense relief of most of my readers…) So it’s time to concentrate on something else.

Okay. Clean slate. Here I go.


Give me a minute to change gears, would ya? I’ll get back to you!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tired Old Cat, Tired Old Camera

Those of you who have been with me awhile may remember "The Boys of Summer 2009." That was the year my mother's spirit sent me cats to protect, to worry over, and, I suspect, to take my mind off my own troubles.

Two of those boys are still with us. The picture below is of Orangie, who of course we do not call by that name anymore. His name has morphed from Orangie to O.J. to O-Ja-Moje to Mojay to Mojito... Nowadays, I just call him "Mo."

We have no idea how old Mo is... The vet told us it's difficult to tell with cats. He could be five or six...he could be ten or twelve. My feeling is that he's not a terribly old cat...probably the same age as "the boys" (Alvin and Theodore, whom we took in back in 2004 when they were but tiny weanlings...) But Mr. Mo lived by his wits for two years, fending for himself in the neighborhood, with no real home until he came to live with us. That can age a body he has his issues.

This afternoon, I caught him dozing on the dining room table, using my old Minolta as a chin rest. Note the strapping tape on the camera--a couple of bounces off the concrete floor at the cafe broke the hatch to the battery compartment. It seems like all my favorite old cameras, at some point, end up held together with tape. My Mamiya--my very first SLR, which I bought with my tax refund back in 1975--looks very much the same.

Tired Old Cat, Tired Old Camera:

framed mo camera

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

The County Fair commitment is completed, and we’re still standing. That’s a good thing; because the way it looked a couple of weeks ago, not only might we not be still standing at the end of the fair, but we might not even be married. Long-term relationships…they are anything but easy. Sometimes it’s hard to say whether we love each other or hate each other. The line between the two gets to be so thin it’s almost invisible through bifocals…

Two weeks ago, I was so done with the battling. I need peace and comfort right now, and my own home was not providing that for me. Quite the opposite. Strife—spoken and unspoken—has haunted us since months before we closed the restaurant. It was in fact one of the reasons we closed the restaurant. But, as it turned out, closing the restaurant did not instantaneously make things all better between us…surprise! When preparing for the County Fair stirred up all the bad juju that swirled around us in the last few months at the café, I knew I simply could not do it anymore. I told the husband that, after our August event, I was going to need to get away for awhile.

That was a desperate move. But I felt like I was in the same place with him as I had been with my sisters after my dad died. There was so much sadness, so much hurt; we couldn’t talk about it, couldn’t work it out, and couldn’t ignore it. The only thing I could do was to take myself out of it; because being in the middle of it and trying to fight my way out wasn’t solving anything. We moved away; eventually, time and distance did the healing work of which our own clumsy hands were making such a mess.

So it has been with the husband and me. Since trying to talk about our issues always degraded into accusations and bitterness, I did the only thing I could think of to do: I wrote him a letter. It said a lot of things, but ended with:

“We…chose every day, for many years, to be the one upon
whom the other could always depend. But right now, we are not choosing that.
We’re choosing to hurt each other, to chafe at the bonds of our relationship, to
concentrate on the bad and forget the good. And talking about it, working it
out, does not appear to be an option. Perhaps we need some distance. Perhaps
time away from each other will help us see what there is to come back to. I
think it may be our only option. Because what we have going on right now is not
the way I would choose to spend the rest of my life. Would you?”

Which brought about the actual conversation. Wherein I told him that I had not been kidding when, in the weeks just before we closed the café, I mortally offended him by talking about going on a retreat or going to Europe without him. Because, as our most recent behavior indicated, I really did need to get away. And he was one of the things I needed to get away from.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know. Not to live with my sisters. I’m not dragging them into this. And I don’t have any money…”

“So what are your other options?”

“Maybe I can get a seasonal job somewhere that offers room and board. Or I can look into a volunteer opportunity. But I just need to…go.”

The conversation mostly ended there. He went to bed. And I stayed up and cried for a few hours.

But going forward, there were some noticeable changes. Subtle, but definite. During the fair, I was an exhausted, stressed-out mess. The husband, to his credit, did his best to support and relieve me. (Had he done otherwise, I’m sure we would be headed for divorce court. But I appreciate it, nonetheless.)

And then came my birthday. Upon which he completely stunned me by taking the day off to spend doing whatever I wanted to do. You have no idea what a concession this was for Mr. “My-Job-Always-Comes-First.” I woke up yesterday morning at 5:45 (the time he’s usually heading out the door) and there he was, snoring at my side. I gave him a shot with my elbow and said, “Hey…aren’t you supposed to be going to work?”

He said, “No. I took the day off. I’m your present!”

Wait. What’s that sound? Is that a flock of pigs flying overhead?

We didn’t do anything extraordinary. He didn’t take me to the symphony and then wine and dine me at an expensive restaurant. He didn’t pop a box of diamonds out of his pocket. We just…hung out. With my sister and her husband, no less, since they were passing through Portland on their way back from a trip to the Midwest.

It was special, though. Special that he knew this was the one thing he could do—the one gift he could give me—to let me know he got it.

I still may be striking out on my own for a couple of days, weeks, or months after our event in August. But…I think there may be hope for us yet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Broken Record?

I know this blog is starting to read like a one-note symphony. My head seems to be stuffed with end-of-café issues. I suspect it’s because, immediately after the fact, I set all that aside and concentrated on resting and recovering. Unfortunately, no amount of rest seems to be enough. That became obvious last week, when my venture at the County Fair turned into an eight-day post-traumatic flashback.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows anything about trauma: part of the recovery process is bringing the underlying issues to the surface and dealing with them. I thought that I had worked through those issues enough to get away with it. I had intentionally set the negative emotions aside and constructed a laundry list of all the reasons the cafe had not succeeded—from the economic climate to the scarcity of cooperative vendors. Things over which I had no control, and about which I had no clue going in; and proved to be more of a challenge than I could face alone. I thought I had constructed an iron-clad case against labeling the demise of my business venture a personal failure. Good and logical reasons, all. Very rational. But, apparently, rationalization is not the same as dealing.

Today, I feel as if I am right back at square one when it comes to the ignominious end of “living the dream.” Exhausted, sad, and desperate for something that will provide me with some personal validation. If the last eight days were a test, I failed. Miserably. I fell right back into the same destructive patterns I had developed over five frustrating years of being over-challenged and under-helped. So it’s time to stop wondering why everything I do turns to shit, and start owning my role in the excrement metamorphosis process. I’m sure it’s considerable.

And tomorrow is my birthday.

I so want it to be a day of celebration of where I’m going; rather than a tear-sodden reflection of where I’ve been. I don’t want to spend the day feeling sorry about where I have been the last five years. I want to see it as a learning experience; pack up the lessons and move on. If only it could be that simple.

Considering the call to balance I’m feeling on my life these days, I suspect that tomorrow will be—needs to be—a combination of joy and sorrow; anticipation and regret. Giving one more emphasis than the other will not move me in the direction I need to go.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Universe Intervenes

After what I've done to myself this week, I think I have a better understanding of the dilemma of a schizophrenic. When the treatment makes you believe you're cured, you go off the meds and fall back into the snake pit. Or maybe I'm an addict; the kind who convinces herself that one tiny little tumble off the wagon will not land her back in the gutter.

Maybe I was just too tired, too strung out, in the days immediately after we decided not to renew our lease, to understand the pure rightness of that course. As the days went by and the reality of the choice set in, I should have seen exactly why I was not unhappy about leaving it all behind. I didn't understand the peace I felt. I appreciated it…but I didn't get it. Why wasn't I looking back at even one moment of the experience with a nostalgic tear in my eye?

It was because I was done. Not just exhausted, frustrated, and not getting any richer. DONE.

The one thing I understand now, after resurrecting the whole restaurant owner experience on a small, temporary basis (evidently WAAAY too soon after euthanizing it) is that I hate it. I hate the work, I hate the dining public, I hate having to deal with employees, I hate what the stress does to me. I hate the constant problem solving; the incessant worrying about how to put more butts in the seats. All these things that were once exhilarating challenges--dragons begging to be slain, victories waiting to be won--have become nothing but assault and battery. I throw my hands up, duck and wait for the next blow.

I. H.A.T.E. I. T.

This is not something that a few days, months, years of R & R is going to cure.

It is absolutely time—and then some—to put my restaurant career behind me. I sincerely believe that is what the Universe wants me to understand. I am being told to stop and wait—patiently—for guidance. The Universe will be faithful, if I open myself to It.

Unfortunately, patience has never been my virtue; and the combination of my inbred Old World Catholic guilt and Protestant work ethic are struggling tooth and nail for dominance of my time and psyche.

Work is part of my identity. Which is a large part of the problem, I suspect. I don't know who I am if I'm not working. I do know who I don't want to be. I don't want to be a burden, financial or otherwise, on any other person—family, husband, whoever. I don't want to be useless, and I don't want to take advantage. I don't want to depend on anybody.

But truly…I think the frustrating non-success of my little County Fair venture has been the voice of the Universe telling me to sit down, shut up and pay attention. To appreciate the living I receive—through the auspices of a partner who loves to be employed, needs to be employed, and will be employed whether he has me to support or not—and start stretching into the realm beyond the material.

I am being told—none too subtly—to move beyond "I need to make a living," to "I need to live."

So, 'round about next Monday morning, I'm going to get right on that. With immeasurable pleasure.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When It Comes Right Down To It...

Standing in the kitchen at the fairgrounds today, about midway through my second of four fourteen-hour shifts, I looked at my sister and I said:

"Well, I think doing this event has taught me one thing once and for all."

"What's that?"

"I really don't want to do this anymore."

Yep. That's it. I think the Old Town Cafe might have completely purged the food service bug right out of my system.

I have got to find another line of work...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Retirementis Interruptus

Seven weeks do not a retirement make.

In fact, I haven’t even really had the seven weeks. Yes, it’s been that long since I said goodbye to the café. And, darn it; I was looking forward to a rest. Long days of doing just exactly what I wanted and nothing more. Sleeping in, playing in my garden, writing Important Essays. Cooking for just myself and the hubs. Long walks with dog in tow. Finally learning how to use my camera.

But no… I’ve had a damned “to-do” list strapped to my back that I just can’t get out from under. Production for the concession business. Cleaning out and cleaning up the restaurant space. An event in Astoria. Juggling final payments out of the dwindling café funds. The only thing in the past two months that has even vaguely resembled “retirement”—and the rest and solitude for which I am so desperate—was my stolen week in Seaside.

Why I accepted the offer of a concession space at the County Fair this week, I have no idea. The proposal came at a time when I was feeling poor and wondering exactly how the bills were going to get paid, so I jumped on it; though, in the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t really want to do it. Partially because, rather than the completely different fare our concession business normally offers, what we are doing at the fair is basically creating a smaller, short term-version of the Old Town Café. Chosen favorites from the OTC menu and fresh baked goods. Lots of groceries, lots of labor intensity. I even enlisted the aid of three of my former employees to help me run the place.

And the husband. THAT was a can of worms that didn’t need cracking.

When we first started “our” business back in 2002, we assumed a lot, based on our relatively harmonious long-term relationship. We assumed we would be partners. We assumed we could work together amiably. I assumed that, since I would be the one with more hours to invest, I would take the lead in organization and planning, and he would step in and help when needed. Well, you know what happens when you assume. The reality is, if he can’t own it completely, he’s really not interested in committing to it. He wants to be involved only when he wants to be involved. This was a recurring source of irritation to me in the concession business. When it came to the restaurant, it was deadly. Literally. That lack of consistent commitment on his part was one of the major factors in the demise of the Old Town Café.

I have no idea why I “assumed” his commitment and cooperation with this venture at the fair. Honestly, if nine years of running up against the same brick wall doesn’t teach you anything, what’s it going to take? So it wasn’t enough that I had to reluctantly drag myself out of my so-far non-retirement to do this thing I wished I’d never promised to do. I didn’t even get a chance to straighten my shoulders, paste a smile on my face and sally forth with at least the pretense of a positive attitude. Because before we knew it, the husband and I were at each other’s throats, just like in the darkest days of our restaurant tenure. A flashback like that I SO didn’t need. Like a giant ugly hand appearing from out of nowhere, it squashed me like a bug.

As always, we endured two or three really rocky days, patched things up, and are now able to at least be civil to one another. But I SO don’t want to do this anymore. Ten years ago, I made a decision to get out of the workplace because I was always so miserable working for other people. I believed he supported me in that. But the strife between him and me has made it so that I am every bit as miserable trying to work for myself. It might not be possible, within the context of our relationship, for me to be self-employed—doing anything, even if it has nothing to do with him and doesn’t require him to help me in any way—without stirring up that pot of anger and resentment. And even if I accomplished that, even if I created something that was completely my own and he had no part in, the fact that I HAD to would very likely take all the joy out of it. But there it is.

Oh, well. Seven more days to get through at the fair, and then I can get on with my retirement. Oops…no, we have our big event coming up in mid-August. No retirement in the offing between then and now, I’m afraid.

But September. Ah, September. I can hardly wait…

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Caution: High, Narrow & Slippery

A warning about the balance beam that is life:

One false step, and you’re face-planting into the mat.

Guess I didn’t use enough chalk…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Importance of Balance

What the world needs now…is not love sweet love. What we need is balance.

“Balance: 3.) harmony; a state in which various parts form a satisfying and harmonious whole and nothing is out of proportion or unduly emphasized at the expense of the rest.”

I am probably ultra-sensitive to this fact since I let my own life get so out of balance. What started out as the exhilarating challenge of realizing a dream quickly descended into an all-consuming obsession with the work and the worries and the insanity.

I remember trying—for about the first three weeks, it seems—to maintain something that resembled my “old life.” But as I became inundated by the pure magnitude of what I had gotten myself into, I became convinced that “total immersion” was probably the only way I was going to get control of the café. I watched my old life and its priorities disappear like a diamond ring down a shower drain. Keeping my house clean, my lawn mowed, my flowers watered? Tracking what I ate and when? Walking the dog, petting the cats, feeding the birds? Being with family, being with my husband? All these things that made up the fabric of what I had thought was a non-life became expendable; fluff for which I had no time or energy. All of my focus, all of my resources, swung ‘round to be centered on one thing: the restaurant. One of my sisters called the cafe “the job that ate your life.” Indeed. It took about 48 months of sloughing off part after part of my old self and penetrating deeper and deeper into a maze that I ultimately realized I was never going to solve, to make me understand that I had had a life, once. And I wanted it back.

Now, I’ve chucked the café and thrown myself into the work of reclaiming my life. I revel in getting out of bed whenever I feel like it; I happily grab hold of some project that has needed doing for, say, five years or so, and bang away at it until it’s done, even if it means staying up half the night or missing a couple of meals. Or I sit and do nothing. Because I can. I’ve utterly thrown over self-discipline for a kind of bohemian schizophrenia. I do whatever I feel like whenever I feel like it. Truthfully, it was kind of nice for awhile, but I’m beginning to realize that this is not right either. I’ve swung too far in the opposite direction from the unrelenting barrage of challenges that comprised my life for five years. It’s hard to feel like you’ve accomplished something when you really don’t have to do anything. And I’m still out of balance.

So it’s easy for me to see what’s going on in my life as a microcosm of the rapidly degrading culture of the United States of America. Everything is “Extreme.” There is no balance.

The halls of Congress have become a 21st-century Coliseum; an arena which hosts spectacle after spectacle in the Clash of Ideological Titans. Not a moment’s thought is wasted on the efficacy of forming a “satisfying and harmonious whole.” It’s just two enemies hammering away at each other, neither willing to settle for anything less than all the marbles. Government? Legislation? Providing for the common good? Meaningless. It’s all about winning. Though I’m not sure either side has any idea what the prize is supposed to be.

And every two years, the hapless voting public, convinced by the puppet media that they have been duped, abused and led to the brink of disaster by whichever party has laid claim to a tenuous upper hand, mindlessly stampedes as far as it can cringe in the opposite direction. The scales tip way too far the other way, never pausing at anything approaching the middle. Balance loses out again. And, thus, so do we all.

Balance. How do you sell it? It’s not a sexy concept. It’s not excessive enough for today’s American consumer. In fact, it’s entirely the opposite. How do you sell calm, reason, harmony—these things for which our society is so desperate—in a world where “extremeness” has become everything?

I wish I had the answer. I’m having a hard enough time finding balance in my own life, surrounded as I am by a society constantly pushing toward too much. I can only hope that the world will tire of “extreme everything.” History proves that the pendulum will swing the other way. Slowly and steadily, I hope, as tough as it will be to wait it out. If only we could get that pendulum to stay in the middle once it gets there. Or at least restrain its tendency, of late, to swing about quite so wildly.

Cross-posted at "Women On..."