Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Good Day For Running Away

I knew there would have to be a grieving process involved when it came to my separation from the restaurant. I almost don’t like to call it “grieving,” given what I know others—and myself as well—have experienced upon the loss of a beloved person. But grieving seems to be the pop-culture word for it; I can’t think of another off-hand.

Oddly enough, the week I spent with my sister seems to have tipped me down toward the well of grief. Perhaps it’s because I had thought that throwing my efforts into helping someone else do something would be fun. Affirming and somehow cathartic. I didn’t know how badly I needed to experience a little success at something. Now I know. And I didn’t get that at all, last week. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So, since coming home Sunday night, I find myself constantly on the verge of tears. The week of frustration at my sister’s house has amped up the volume on that little voice in the back of my head that constantly taunts, “You can’t do ANYTHING right!” I thought I had been doing a pretty good job telling that little voice to f*** off. But it looks like the only time that voice quiets is when I am actively doing nothing. So maybe it’s true. The only thing I can do right is NOTHING.

I’m going to take today and just…do nothing. I’m going to get in the car and go over the hill to do it…but I have no plan, no objective. Well, that’s I lie. I do have an objective: To run away from the pain.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Home Improvement NFS--Wrap-up

At 9:00 last night, I walked through my own front door. I wanted to kneel down and kiss the tile in the entryway—the tile my husband installed a few years back without pissing, moaning, whining and non-stop know-it-all commentary. Oh my goodness. In future, the closest I will get to gifting someone with help on a home improvement project will be a $50 Home Depot gift card.

I left you on Thursday morning, looking forward to day four of (non)work on The Project (my sister’s downstairs bathroom.) In the previous three days, we had managed to purchase, cut and prime a bunch of beadboard paneling. My personal frustration was mounting, as I am not the kind of person who sidles up to a project and meekly taps away at it for a few hours every day…for weeks on end. I dive into it and do it until it’s done.

I’ll admit, I’ve had some projects sit around unfinished when I reached a point that exceeded my personal expertise. But if I start, I always finish eventually, and usually in less than a year. Sister and her husband…not so much. Particularly on this project. This bathroom remodel has been in the works for easily five years. Many months ago, my sister ripped down all the old wallpaper and some of the fixtures, in preparation for the update.

Then she made the mistake that so many DIY-ers make, fatal to any project—she designed the space to include many projects that totally exceeded her (and her husband’s) personal ability (or desire) to complete. And swore to god that she was not gonna hire somebody to do them. This is DIY, folks… and if “Y” don’t have a clue how to proceed, it shouldn’t be part of the project. Like, if you hate working with electricity, you probably shouldn’t design paneling that will require you to move every electrical box in the room. In fact, if you don’t know how to use the pneumatic nail gun that’s been sitting in your garage for ten years, maybe you shouldn’t plan on installing paneling at all. Ya think?

But, bound and determined that she was going to have it her way or not at all, my sister made plans that had no basis in the reality of what she and her husband could accomplish on their own. And so rather than having it her way, the project had fallen down on the side of “not at all” for years. Finally, as a combined anniversary/birthday gift (for the couple who has everything) husband and I offered to help. I don’t know what we were thinking; but I wasn’t expecting to step onto a passive/aggressive minefield.

We spent five days prepping the beadboard and painting the walls in this tiny bathroom. Excruciating, really…but my sister doesn’t seem to have the stamina for a brisker pace, and I personally could only stand to listen to my BIL’s haranguing for short periods. Besides, it wasn’t MY project, and I was doing my best to reduce myself to a mindless extra pair of hands. Not easy for a person like me, who is used to managing things… I swallowed my own thoughts, opinions and criticisms so much that I literally thought I was going to explode. Wouldn’t have been so hard if we had just done the thing, and gotten it over with in a couple of days. But day after day of inching the thing slowly forward, accompanied by the BIL’s yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda YADDA was a peculiar form of torture for me.

And yet, now that I’m home looking back on it, I believe I conducted myself in an acceptable manner. I kept the promise of helping my sister get a particular aspect of the project completed (we had promised to help her install the beadboard…little knowing exactly what that was going to entail.) And we are still on speaking terms. There was a time—not so long ago—when I would have made it through about a day of this, said something stupid, started a war, and fled home in tears. I have always sucked at situations that required me to hold my tongue, keep my peace, and really think about every word I let out of my mouth. From somewhere, I acquired that ability, last week. I won’t say I was always meek, gracious and amenable; but at least I didn’t say something really offensive or freak out and run away. I consider that a personal victory.

In the end, my husband had to swoop in, like the cavalry, mounted upon the dreaded nail gun. He “helped” the BIL nail up the paneling, which meant BIL mostly fluttered around the edges looking busy while the husband crawled around doing the work. Poor hubs walked like Quasimodo by the time we climbed into the van for the ride home last night. But our contract with the devil had been fulfilled. Hopefully this experience has taught us why the term is DIY (Do It Yourself)—not DIT (Do It Together.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Home Improvement NFS--Installment Two

Today is Thursday. I have been here at my sister's house, attempting to address the task at hand, since Monday. In three days, mostly what we've managed to accomplish is an amassing of more materials that we have yet to employ. There has been a lot of shopping for paint, paneling, trim and peripherals (with side trips to thrift stores, craft stores and other assorted attention diverters, since we can't seem to leave the house without being drawn to our favorite retail therapy haunts like steel to a magnet.)

The first two days, mostly what we did was walk through the target work area umpteen times, discussing designs, plans and methods. Picture three adults (my sister, myself and the intrepid allergic-to-home-improvement husband) packed in to the bathroom like sardines in a can; sister and me mapping out our strategy, and BIL glued to our heels, regaling us with a constant stream of man-around-the-house advice. He had no plan to pick up a hammer or a paint brush, but he felt obliged to tell us exactly how we should proceed. Ad infinitum.

We finally did go out and purchase the wainscot paneling (probably the only major part of the project that has not been lying around my sister's house for years), which we then had to cut and prime. This was the only actual work we accomplished in the first two days; probably an investment of about six hours total. But for the entire time my sister and I were engaged in this labor, her husband yammered on about what we HAD TO do an how we HAD TO do it. Sister has developed a habit of pretending to listen to him while she...doesn't. I have not got that talent. He was driving me c-r-a-z-y. He hovered around us like a yellow jacket at a picnic. I so wanted to hit him with a shoe. But fear of the sting dissuaded me from action--I was in no way desirous of starting up a "family incident" (been there, done that...!)

By Tuesday evening, BIL was getting pissier and pissier, probably because he knew we were not really listening to him, and had no intention of acting on 95% of the advice he was spouting. Finally, even my sister got fed up with him, and then the fireworks went off. I thought about grabbing my shoe and joining in the battle, but on second thought decided that my other method of dealing with yellow jackets at picnics would probably be the wiser choice: Drop the chicken and run like hell!

Looks like it is time to sidle up to the Day Four of the job. Maybe we'll actually get some hammer-amd-nailing done today. Watch this space for the update...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Home Improvement Is Not For Sissies

After finally getting the holidays into boxes in the garage, I was feeling bored and peevish. The weather has turned foul; we are paying now for our pleasant and mostly dry December. There was the flash snow-dump, then three days of rain which effectively erased it; with the side-effect that much of the mid-Willamette Valley was underwater for a few days. Luckily, we (so far) inhabit a relatively flood-free zone. But my little outdoor spaces were sodden and uninviting. I was trapped indoors.

I'm sure that, had I given it some thought, I could have come up with a list of perfectly good projects around the house on which I could have embarked. Handicapped by my lingering allergy to lists, I was reduced to wandering from room to room, straightening a picture here, rearranging some pottery there. Then my sister's birthday came up, and a perfect opportunity to escape my confinement presented itself.

I had promised her on her anniversary last July that, being a free woman now, I would make the trip down to her place, spend a few days and help her on some home-improvement projects she has had pending for...oh, about five years or so. The main one being her second bathroom, which over the past decade has deteriorated to the point where, at one time, she had no sink, no (functional) toilet, no paint on the walls, no towel bars or toilet paper holder (which I guess you don't need if you have no sink or toilet...) They had managed to get the toilet functional again, but that was as far as it went.

My sister, in her peculiar way, long ago designed the re-do (in her head) and amassed most of the materials. Boxes of ceramic tiles, a new vanity, a light fixture, towel bars, even a granite sink are cached away in nooks and crannies all over her property. Year upon year, the pile of materials has grown and nothing, NOTHING else has happened. I can't pretend to know the reasoning behind this. Sister and her husband have been retired for three years, so it's not as if they don't have the TIME to address the thing. Twenty years ago, they performed a major remodel on their house, building an entire family room on to the back and updating their kitchen from seventies earth-tone dark to nineties light oak and tile. One would think that with such a massive project under their belts, a simple bathroom redo would be a no-brainer. The actual fact is, apparently the job so frustrated and overwhelmed my brother-in-law that he becomes nigh unto apoplectic at the thought of taking on another, no matter how small.

So my sister decided that the only way any of this is going to get done is if she does it herself. Or, rather, with help from someone other than her husband. So that is where I come in.

And this is why I find myself in the midst of a tempest. In a teacup, perhaps, but a tempest just the same.

As we have to leave for the Home Center to purchase more materials in a few minutes, I will pause here. More later, if I'm still alive to tell it...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ten Minutes: (Caution: This is a Rant...)

Suddenly I have this urge to pack up and move away from the home we've been in for the past 10 1/2 years. I think it's a manifestation of the repressed feelings I have about closing the restaurant. I'm sometimes dismayed to realize there really aren't any good memories associated with the restaurant, to speak of. It is so odd how I have simply closed the door on that chapter of my life and feel no need to revisit it. There is nothing to revisit but heartache and struggle, so I don't go there.

Most of the time, I don't even notice that I'm "repressing" anything. But there are times when I am out and about in town, when people recognize me from the restaurant and have to go on about how much they miss us and all that...I don't need to hear it. I would like the rest of the world to participate in my closure of that particular experience. Of course, they don't know that. And it is unerringly the people who were the most annoying as "guests" at the cafe who now don't have sense enough to walk away and pretend they don't recognize me when we encounter each other at the grocery store or at another local eatery. I know...this sounds crotchety, bordering on looney tunes. But this is my ten minutes, and I'll use it as I see fit.

The demise of the restaurant isn't the only thing that inspires my desire to abandon my house. I have a "neighbor situation" as well.

Now, I am fully aware that my neighbors, to anyone else, would seem quiet and untroublesome. But I'll admit right here that I am not the neighborly sort. Living on a large, strangely shaped corner lot, we don't really have any true "next-door" neighbors; except the dead ones. If it wasn't for the cemetery, we'd probably have one more set of annoying live neighbors than we now have. I appreciate my dead neighbors more than I can say.

Still, the times are a-changin' in our little neighborhood. "Disneyland" (as I have called the left-hand backyard neighbors) mysteriously vaporized just before Christmas. My poplar trees--the ones shielding their amusement park from my bedroom window view--were late to completely lose their leaves this year. And when they were gone, about mid-December, I happened to glance out my window and notice that the jungle gym, the trampoline, the burning barrel and the chicken coop--unending sources of irritation, all--were gone. And the house was empty. Which you would think would be a good thing, no? But I, ever the optimist, cannot help but worry about the succeeding occupants. Especially since the house appears to be owned/managed by the LDS church, of which our former neighbors were members. I have nothing against the Mormon faith, but its adherents do tend to produce large broods of children as a matter of churchly duty. And, in this day and age, you can just about count on children to be undisciplined, loud, and inconsiderate. Not their fault, but annoying all the same. So I live with some trepidation that the devil I DON'T know might be even less tolerable than the one with which I had previously been forced to cope.

My other neighbors had not really bothered me overmuch until now. Until I began spending my days at home instead of working twelve-hour stints at the restaurant. And it has come to my attention that the hard-working father--who is never home because he works all the time--is the keeper of his son, his son's wife and their children. The son--who looks to be early twenties or so, does not work. Nor does the son's wife. But apparently someone in the household has made enough money to furnish the place with a state-of-the-art home entertainment system. So at any random time of the day or night, I may hear, or rather, feel, the pounding beat of Mexican rap, or Spanish language television, reverberating through my house. With all the windows closed. And these homes are not built all that close together. One pleasant December afternoon just after Christmas, I was sitting out on my side deck when they decided to crank the stereo and open all the doors and windows. I screamed over the fence (not meaning to be rude, really, but I figured screaming was the only method of communication they would hear over the music) for them to turn it down, please. Whereupon they made some derisive-sounding non-English comments and turned it UP.

I really don't want to get into bad-vibe competitions with my neighbors. But me being me, it's bound to happen. I've always been a shy, inward person. I have never been comfortable dealing with other human beings unless it was on my own terms. My experience at the restaurant did nothing to change this. For five years, I had to manage the input of a restaurant full of strangers on a daily basis. It was hard for me. I never got used to it...never got to the point where I could do it easily, much less enjoy it. so now that I'm out of that situation, I'm even thornier than I was before. If I want people around, I'll go looking for them. But if I don't, I don't want them impacting my space in any way, particularly negative ways. Which can all be summed up in three short words. I. Hate. Neighbors.

So my dream right now would be to chuck the house and go find a piece of property where my nearest neighbors are...far enough away that I don't have to see, hear or socialize with them unless I want to. Preferably a place with plenty of birds, animals and ancient trees to keep me company. I think I could be happy there.

I also know that, the real estate market being what it is, and with a $40,000 second mortgage strapped to our backs, leaving this house is an impossible dream. Better come up with an alternate plan...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Real Danger of TMI

"Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other." -- Ann Landers

This quote appeared on my Google home page this morning. I loved Ann Landers. I read her faithfully starting when I was about eleven years old. Eppie Lederer was a no-nonsense gal. Her down-to-earth sensibility and dry humor cut through the inflated drama of her readers’ concerns, re-prioritized their “it’s all about me!” perspectives and pointed them in the direction of common sense solutions to their problems. And I find her pronouncement on the dominant technology of her day succinct and prophetic.

I wonder what she would have thought about today’s technology? The technology that has chained any person under the age of thirty to a smart phone, iPad, laptop and/or MP3 player. Personal electronics have become as necessary as breathing to an entire generation. The obsessive dependence upon these things carries Landers’ assessment to a whole new level. Cel phone/text technology has proved that people would rather communicate with anyone rather than present company. And will slavishly employ these tools to save themselves from what must be a fate worse than death, since they will risk death to avoid it—being alone in the silent company of their own thoughts.

Human beings are complicated animals, prone to mystifying and contradictory behavior. We kill for pleasure while we prohibit “murder” on moral grounds. We enslave others while rigorously defending our own unqualified freedom. We crave community and reject it at the same time; how else to explain a pack of kids walking down the street with their noses glued to their phones instead of talking to each other? How else to explain the drive to accumulate hundreds of social media “friends,” yet not have one other person in the world who KNOWS you? I am stumped. I doubt that I’ll ever understand it.

Over the past hundred years, humans have run wild with the idea of creating technologies that will “shrink” the world. Information that once took weeks to cross the continent now travels in less than the blink of an eye. Images are instantaneous, and they are everywhere, accessible at any time. But I wonder if we’ve really done ourselves any favors. We’ve become media junkies. But I’m afraid our hunger for input has outstripped our ability to process it properly. It’s coming at us so fast that there’s no time to discern truth from lies, fact from fantasy. We select the information we choose to assimilate and construct our own individual versions of reality. As a result, the technology meant to draw the world together is actually pushing it apart.

Each of us has created our own unique sovereignty. The "facts" we adopt, the realities we create serve more to isolate us from one another than to connect us. Instead of 196 countries in the world, there are 7 billion. In many ways, we are infinitely farther from each other than we were before all this technology endeavored to bring us together. It’s true, and getting truer, that thing which Ann Landers identified half a century ago.

We would rather look at anything than each other.

Cross posted at Women On...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day

snow day
So we’ve had a major weather event here. The snow that was supposed to “sock” the Pacific Northwest Tuesday night, sneaked south of Seattle and north of Portland. And landed right in my back yard. At least twelve inches of it.

Lying in bed this morning, I watched it through the little square window above my bedroom fireplace. The one through which I can see the fifty-foot fir tree that stands guard over the cemetery. It was beautiful this morning, heavily frosted in white. I knew it had been snowing all night; knew there was bound to be a heap of it out there. I got up and looked out the front window. Wow! It was gorgeous. And it was wonderful beyond words not to have to worry about it.

I was reminded of our winter from hell three years ago, when the snow kept coming and coming. The year I had to shovel the walks (and the street!) around the restaurant every day for three weeks, because our good ole landlord was vacationing in Arizona. The year the last vestiges of snow didn’t disappear until almost April, and that same good ole landlord gave me a horrendous dressing down for “ruining” his sidewalks by putting rock salt out to melt the ice.

I wonder how long it will be before I stop seeing everything through the filter of what “it” was like when we had the restaurant. I looked out at the pristine, deep white stuff this morning and wondered if this would have been the day that the Old Town Café was closed by the weather. And immediately dismissed the thought. Who cares?

Because this morning there was no restaurant to worry about. No sidewalks to shovel. No employees to call in snowbound. No wondering how long or how much the weather event was going to mess with my sales numbers. No worries at all. I didn’t even have to fret about the husband, because he (wisely) chose to telecommute rather than risk the drive into Portland. Total bitchin’ Snow Day!

So I made soup, I baked cookies, and watched the antics of the weather-challenged birds through my kitchen window. And I allowed the snow to kick my butt around the block when I went out to tackle shoveling the driveway. Husband and I are now both in need of traction, but there are clear paths to the street behind both cars that will be leaving the house in the morning. (Mine is not one of them.) All that work when there’s every chance the snow will mostly melt on its own by morning…

We had been promised 50 degrees and rain by this afternoon—the better to make history of the Big Snow of 2012. Well, not so much. But out on the neighborhood streets tonight, steam is rising from the blanket of snow itself as the slightly rising temperatures slowly dispatch it. It looks for all the world like the Wicked Witch of the West disappearing from beneath her robes... “I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!”

Yes, it is quite a world. And I’m getting to know it all over again.

Monday, January 16, 2012


(In view of the current circumstances, and taking into consideration my obvious lack of interesting things to say in any case, I've decided to take "Coming to Terms" in a different direction for a while. I'm going to fire off ten-to-fifteen minute stream-of-consciosness entries every day (or so) just so I can oil the works a bit. Might as well go back to using my scribbling as personal psycho-therapy, since it doesn't seem to be serving any other purpose these days...)

Woke up this morning in a peculiar state of mind. I’m getting signals from the Universe that rest time is over. Not that I have been lying around the house doing absolutely nothing…but after five years of never having a truly restful moment, that is what it has felt like. Now I have to motivate myself in the direction of earning a living…this month’s financial mini-crisis sealed that fate. I’m petrified, really. The concept of a job search scares the hell out of me on so many levels.

1.) I’m probably too old to get a job. In a job market like this one, someone my age would be fortunate to land ANY job. And I know I don’t want just ANY job. I also know I have no desire whatever to go anywhere near the field I have been in for the past five years.

2.) My resume is crap. It was crap six years ago, actually… One of the reasons I decided I needed to have my own business. I find it kind of ironic. I know I would be a better quality employee than any of the people I managed to scrape together to man my own business. But I also know that there would be no way to convince a potential employer of that. And I am lacking the self-confidence it would take to aggressively sell my skills to someone.

3.) About that self-confidence…hard to muster when your most recent experience was a spectacular, 60-month-long crash and burn at the thing you thought you should have in the bag. A job search without self-confidence is not an endeavor destined for success.

4.) I may actually BE too old to learn NEW tricks.

So I’m starting to try on the idea of getting the concession business up and running again. It’s probably my best bet for bringing in money…or at least creating cash flow. But I have to say, there are things about it that remind me waaaay too much of owning the café. The customer service part, for instance. I SOOOO hate customers. I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that at least they’re not likely to run to the internet and pen scathing reviews of a festival food booth. And even if they did, I don’t know of too many festival-goers who check "yelp" before choosing a place to eat at such events.

It’s been five months since we wrapped up our Scandinavian Festival, and I began my R & R in earnest. Seems like a long time. Or at least an adequate time. But I’m still feeling weak and bruised and timid. Especially when I’m feeling the barrel of that “you need the money” gun pressing at my temple. Kind of a crappy way to start a week.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Unhappy New Year

Just when you think things are on their way up, something happens to snap you back to cold reality.

Two weeks ago, I experienced the best New Years Eve ever, due mostly to our bird-extravaganza trip across the channel to Sauvie Island.

Yesterday, I was rudely awakened to the fact that, given that one can never completely shed the influence of human beings on the natural world, I should have known better than to try to duplicate such an experience.

My sister and brother-in-law and I drove over to the island yesterday, ISO photo ops—particularly focusing on Sandhill cranes and/or tundra swans, both of which winter on the island in abundance. Not only did we not get to see any birds, we got in trouble.

We were smacked in the face with the true reality of Sauvie Island. I don’t know why I thought that land set aside by the state as a “Wildlife Area” would have been established for the benefit of the wildlife. No…this is not the case. It is set aside as a place where the wildlife are “preserved” so they can be blown to bits by people with big loud guns.

A drive around the island in winter—when the birds are in residence—will discover many roadside parking areas designated as wildlife area parking. Of course, you can’t see anything much from the car, so you get out and decide you’re going to hike to some place where you can get a better look. Ten yards in any direction from any parking place, there are big red and yellow warning signs that proclaim that the areas are closed from October to April. “For the protection of the wildlife.” Except if you have a daily hunting pass.

So if you want to hike into the interior to enjoy the wildlife or take pictures, most of the island is off limits to you when the birds are in residence. If you carry a gun and have murderous intent, the red carpet is rolled out for you. This “Wildlife Area” is maintained solely for the benefit of hunters.

I have written before of my disdain for human beings who hunt for sport. A couple of years ago, I posted a piece on “Women On” about this very thing, which drew some interesting and vehement comments from people I had never heard from before. When I get up in the morning during the winter months, and go outside to try to enjoy my outdoor spaces, I am often driven inside by the sound of shotguns popping off all over the island a couple miles away. I try to be open-minded. I try to put myself in a space where I can allow others to do things, to even enjoy doing things, that I would not do. I try to put the hunters in a “live and let live” space in my mind… Come to think of it, why should I apply that philosophy to them? It’s obviously something that never enters THEIR minds…

I was horribly reminded of this yesterday.

Sister and BIL and I pulled off the road at the same place I had taken those gorgeous pictures of the snow geese two weeks ago. We did not find the birds there this time. What we did find was two people in camo and a bunch of wooden ducks. Two people who had driven all the birds away with their murderous intent, then endeavored to lure them back with fake ducks and rubber noise makers. Two people who chose to scream at us rudely when they spotted us with our cameras. As if we were ruining their experience. Chasing away all their potential targets.

I walked in a bit farther than I had two weeks ago. I don’t know why… What did I hope to see when those two idiots had obviously destroyed the magic of the place? What I got for my trouble was the sight of a grown man pointing a huge gun at a small helpless duck, firing at it over and over—loud, thundering, horrid noises—until the poor thing foundered on wounded wings into the cornfield below. Oh my god. I could have gone my whole life without witnessing that cold-blooded murder.

When I got back to my van, some guy from the ODW was waiting for me, demanding to see my id. Apparently, even though there were no signs present identifying this field as state land, and warning non-hunters not to enter, we were in violation of…being non-hunters, I guess. I had thought we were on private land, and would not have got out of the car or walked past any “no admittance” signs. But apparently that doesn’t matter. We will probably be receiving notification of our violation and fine in the mail within a week. Could cost us $250 apiece. To learn that the rights of hunters here are tantamount and interference of any kind by “non-combatants” is not to be tolerated. Live and let live. Of course they can’t. Why would I think they could? If you are not here to kill, it will cost you.

I am sick. I am sad. The places that I believed were sacred and wild are actually shrines to murder and death. Altars designed for man to assert his violent dominion over smaller creatures.

I don’t think I can ever go back.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ten Minute Stream of Thought...No Editing

I have mentioned that what I do not want is a job. And that is still true…though I do want/need something to DO. Sitting around the house dealing with little household things is not really making my life feel worthwhile. Though I have a new appreciation for doing absolutely nothing; inspired, I’m sure, by five years of having no time to do that. I realize that one’s life needs those “do-nothing” periods of refreshment. Time without that is what leads to what we call “burn-out.” And I think I am an expert on that particular phenomenon.

So I’ve been giving some thought about What I Want To Do With My Life. And I’m coming to the conclusion that, while making money is a needful thing (especially since I have so much guilt surrounding the $40000 second mortgage we carried away from the café) it cannot be the only thing. Or even the main thing. I once read (or tried to read) a book called Do What You Love, The Money Will Come. Or something like that. Anyway, the book was full of crap, but I think I’ve finally, though the School of Hard Knocks, learned that the concept is true. But you can even leave out the “money” part. Just…do what you love. Now I have to figure out what that is.

It occurred to me that I should take my love of all things Christmas and run with it. What would be wrong with starting a Christmas shop? The stupid little voice in my head sneers, “you know those kind of things never make any money. You’ll be out of business in a matter of months.” But I’m inclined to ignore the little voice in my head…now moreso than ever. Because I’ve seen what can happen to you when you get involved in something you really don’t love…or it quickly degenerates into something you don’t love…when it’s All About The Money.

I realize now that I never loved food enough to make a go of a restaurant. I KNEW food. It was what I had been doing for most of my life. And I thought I was good enough at it to be successful. That was pretty much all about the money, wasn’t it? And in the end, that wasn’t enough. Because if you don’t love and enjoy something enough to let it BE your life, it shouldn’t BE your life.

Time now for me to start thinking outside the “success” box and gravitate toward the “fulfillment” box. I want to be happy with what I do. I want to be stoked every time I show up to do…whatever it is. The Universe has given me a unique opportunity to do this…I don’t NEED money, even if life will be a little more strapped without it. I could be happy not having the cash but loving what I do. I really could.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Perhaps My Brain Still Works...

I've finally written something of which I feel I can be proud. Please go read, and let me know what you think...

Health Care Wins Another One

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Come Ride the Merry-Go-Round...

So what is today…January 10? The time has really flown since Christmas, hasn’t it?

Disassembling Christmas went so much more easily this year than in the past five. Though taking down the big tree in the living room was a four-hour marathon, the rest of the holiday has been peeled down and stowed away with a fair measure of order and logic. It’s possible I might be able to corral all my Christmas boxes in one area of the garage this year, instead of stowing them in any available nook or cranny from the shed to the office to the nasty crawl space under the stairs. Goodwill will benefit from a couple more boxes of pretty nice stuff that has had its day but needs to move on to another stage.

I have to admit, I feel a little under-challenged—what with putting up and taking down holiday decorations being Job One in my life for the past couple of months. On the other hand, it strikes me that I should take this opportunity to thoroughly enjoy being under-challenged, given the perpetual—and irresolvable—challenge I strapped to my back every day for five years. Counting on my fingers yesterday afternoon, I was shocked to realize it has been eight months, almost to the day, since we closed the doors of the Old Town Café. Has it really been that long? If I take a moment to examine where I am now, versus where I was eight months ago, I understand that I have come a long way—emotionally, physically and spiritually. But I also realize that my experience with restaurant ownership will leave some permanent…well, “damage” is too negative. Let’s just call it “baggage.”

I’d like to say that I have a list of things I’m going to work on in this new year. Hell flippin’ no…there is no such thing. One piece of baggage that seems to be sticking pretty close to my hip is my complete aversion to “to-do” lists. In fact, my self-discipline is in shambles. I have little appetite for making myself do anything. I find I have to set a stage and nudge myself in a direction, rather than come up with a plan complete with bullet points and a deadline. For instance, I’ve brought the treadmill in from the garage, along with all my hand weights and other fitness paraphernalia. It’s sitting right in the corner of the family room where I can see it and use it on a whim. And I’ve stocked the house with food that will give me energy and NOT add to the extra baggage. This way, I should be able to improve my general physical shape sans the Diet To-Do list. This is my current recipe for achievement. I set myself up for success, rather than formulate a concrete plan from which I am guaranteed to run away screaming. Funny how I have to trick myself into forward momentum; but if that’s what works right now, I’m not too proud to do it.

I speak of my lack of self-discipline as if it’s a benign case of the “fuck-its.” And for the most part, it is…but it has affected me in some not-so-benign ways. For example, my writing has suffered a big hit. There was a time, while the dust of the café was still settling, when I thought I was looking at the perfect opportunity to go for it when it came to the thing I’ve always loved to do best—writing. Real, intense, professional writing takes a monstrous dose of self-discipline. Exactly the thing I am currently most lacking. It figures, doesn’t it?
I mean, at the very least, all the time I have on my hands should have manifested itself into some deep and prolific blogging, right? Not so much…obviously.

Some time ago I mentioned that owning a (failing) business had had a deleterious effect on my blogging. I compared the number of posts on “Coming to Terms” during 2009 and 2010 to the years before. I had dwindled down to 42 posts in each of those two years. About a third of what I considered a “healthy” blogging number (not sure where I got that figure, but let’s just go with it.) On June 1 of last year, I looked at the number of posts I had so far for 2011, and saw I had 35. Not great…but certainly better than the previous two years. Now that I was “free,” I took a close look at the goal of 120 posts by the end of the year (that gave me seven months to come up with 85 posts.) I realized that might be pushing it a bit, but surely I could make it to 100!

I also noticed that I had over 900 all-time posts by that time; 928, to be precise. That was when the 1000-post carrot materialized in my half-numb mind. So close! Why, I only needed 72 entries by the end of the year to make it to 1000! Wouldn’t it be great if I could post my 1000th page on New Year’s Eve? Or even New Year’s Day, 2012? I was stoked…or as stoked as I could be in the condition I was in by the end of last May. And, as it turned out, I was seriously delusional. I ended the year with 87 posts. Way short of any goal, real or imagined.

To be fair, my loss of self-discipline hasn’t been the only contributor to my inability to turn my semi-retirement into a blogging extravaganza. A closer look at past years when I regularly published ten to twenty blog entries per month shows that many of those were just pictures, or memes, or other junk pursuant to the AOL journal community. Facebook has taken the place of blogging for purposes of community fluff; and rightly so. I put the good stuff…the real stuff…the creative stuff here. The writing that comes from my head, through my heart and out my keyboard. Perhaps it is asking too much to come up with ten meaningful essays a month. Especially since nothing NEW is going on in my life right now, and I’m pretty sure no one is interested in coming by here to watch me beat dead horses.

But that’s a problem, too: The part about no one coming by. At the apex of my blogging experience, I had, and very much appreciated, maybe a couple dozen regular readers. Many of those had become friends—people I would not have known had it not been for this medium. They meant the world to me. I could have happily continued using my blog as a pen-pal post office box, as well as an outlet for my attempts at more meaningful writing.

But life is about change, isn’t it? Especially life based upon 21st century technology. I don’t like to think of myself as a relic, but it all seems to move just a hair too fast for me to keep up. Ten years ago, folks facing social challenges for a variety of reasons were naturally attracted to a place where one could put one’s thoughts out there and attract the notice of others…others like themselves, ideally. The attraction for me was not necessarily the community, it was the communication. The opportunity to get my thoughts out of my head and put them out there for someone—anyone—else to see. I was instantly addicted to the readership and the communication; the community, as I have often said, came as a side benefit.

Less than five years later, we were spat out of our little place of post and giggle, give and take, challenge and comfort; out into the big, impersonal internet-at-large. While we were paddling around, trying to figure out where we were going to go with our little group, along came Facebook. The end of the community blogging experience as we knew it.

Actually, I take nothing away from Facebook. It has been the perfect place for much of the community to land. For many of those folks, it was not as much about the writing as it was about the socializing. What better place for them to end up than on “Social Media?” Truly, some forward-thinking souls identified that market and came up with the exact thing to fit the bill. My hat is off to them. But the advent of Facebook has altered my blogging experience to the point where...I’m really trying to figure out what my focus IS, anymore.

I consider myself a writer. As my readers and friends have trickled away to social media, I have steadfastly maintained that, no matter what, I will write. And I will continue to write HERE, because there is no reason not to. But I have found this: Writing to little or no audience is extremely difficult. Interspersed with the memes and the fluff in the Good Old Days, I posted some pretty impressive essays. Some of the best I have ever written. People came by, agreed or disagreed, commented in some way. It was an unbelievable high for me, to know that after decades of scribbling letters to myself I was finally COMMUNICATING. Other people were reading and appreciating what I had to say. Many of my best essays started with an idea and the breathless zeal to share that thought with my readers…my friends.

Those days are SO gone. Yes…I have a few faithful friends who come and read whenever I post. And I do appreciate you; don’t think I don’t. But it isn’t the same, is it? People read…but they don’t comment. Certainly it’s possible that my writing has deteriorated to the point where it isn’t interesting enough to inspire comment. I think that’s probably true. If that is the case, I also think it’s probably true that my writing has suffered for lack of comments. When I DO get an idea, it’s more a case, now, of sitting down and making myself write. The kind of process which, in my current condition, is more likely to send me backing away, making the sign of the cross, than buckling down and producing a worthwhile piece of writing.

This is, what, my umpteenth treatise on the positives and negatives of blogging? I’ve been doing this for more than eight years, and I can’t get through more than a couple of months without being inspired to fire off one of these. I suppose that speaks to the relative success of my blogging experience. A normal person would have demanded more satisfaction out of the medium by now…absent that, she would have been long gone. But I continue to hang in; I’m not even sure why, anymore. It’s kind of like walking the halls of an empty school. The memories are pleasant…but the actual experience is pretty lonely.

And talk about lack of self-discipline! This post was intended to be Confessions of a Yule-a-holic…and look where it went! Seems you can’t always mask what’s most on your mind…

Friday, January 6, 2012

Things of the Spirit

Last night, I was inspired to a bit of envy through a friend’s blog entry. She described a vision she had for someone she knew who had experienced a loss. I have another friend who actually journeys with her Spirit Guide. And another who is able to see auras around other people.

I admit I’m envious that these women have a more advanced ability than I to perceive or even walk through The Veil. The extent of my personal contact with the mystical is that I have vaguely precognitive dreams from time to time. I wonder why I haven’t been entrusted with a more advanced gift of spiritual cognition. It’s frustrating to know that “It” is there, all around us, but I personally don’t have the ability to perceive it as other people do.

But that’s life, isn’t it? We are all given different gifts. If we were all the same, perhaps there would be more peace and harmony (or perhaps not); but we would suffer for the loss of the infinite diversity that is the hallmark of Creation.

It’s not my job to be a petulant child and whine to the Universe about the quality of gift I’ve been given. It doesn’t do to covet another person’s diamond when I’m holding a perfect ruby right in my hand. I believe my gift is Understanding. Understanding that even though I don’t personally experience something, this does not mean that other people can’t or don’t. Maybe I’m meant to be a sort of liaison between the mystical and the utterly practical; the person charged with demonstrating that the two points of view are not mutually exclusive.

It’s almost time to crawl out of the little cocoon I spun for myself after closing the restaurant. I’m peeking out with one eye, trying to determine a direction to go once I’m out. Not so easy to do when you’ve reached the (rather unsatisfactory) end of the dream you held for thirty years. But it occurs to me that in order to chose a direction, I have to determine what I want. Up until today, these thoughts have focused on material things. I want to be free of the last of the restaurant debt. I want to redecorate my bedroom. I want a covered deck. I want a beach house (might as well dream big, as long as you’re dreaming…) In the back of my mind, I must believe that kindling a desire for these things will jump-start me in the direction of The Thing I Do Not Want—a job. And the shark under those waters which I’m also reluctant to encounter: Should I decide I want/need a job, there is no guarantee, at my age, with my resume and in this economy, that I will be able to get one. Won’t that be life-affirming?

Possibly the Universe is hiding a little lesson in my sudden covetousness of cognitive abilities beyond what I currently possess. As I pondered how lucky my friend was to be gifted with visions, a thought crept into a corner of my consciousness: How much would you like to have that gift? As much as you want that covered deck or that beach house? Back in my fundamentalist Christian days, we used to call that “being convicted.” Food for thought, certainly.

I realize that I have never actually weighed material things and things of the spirit with the same scale. They have always been separate, and often conflicting, facets of life. You could never really embrace the best that one side offered without cheating the other, somehow. Perhaps the Universe is prompting me to begin integrating the two, and to choose a priority for that One Life. Wow. At my age?

Don’t think I’m not, now, trying to figure out how I can have visions AND a beach house…

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reflections on Christmas 2011: Number Three--And a Happy New Year

Here it is, the second day of 2012. Already.

It’s happening. I’m beginning to brush up against the downside of the aging process. The everyday aches and pains; the capacity for the mere sight of a bowl of pasta to instantaneously expand my waistline; getting on a train of thought only to have it de-rail, mid-ride. Still, I’ve earned my stripes. I don’t believe I would trade these badges of honor for the opportunity to go back twenty years. Except for one thing: Let’s call it the “Time-Compression(ish) Phenomenon.” That quality of advancing age that makes days, weeks, months, years fly by ever faster. What I wouldn’t give to have two weeks seem like more than the wink of an eye; to have a month be long enough to plan, anticipate, execute and savor. ANYTHING.

I’ve figured out that this is why I start shaking out my Christmas spirit in October. Forty years ago…hell, even twenty years ago, the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed long enough to do justice to the season. I could clean, decorate, shop, cook, entertain—and work for a living. There was plenty of time! Time to get all these things done and enjoy the process. While these days, it seems we’re carving pumpkins one day, roasting turkey the next, and popping open the New Year’s bubbly a couple days later. Then we’re filling out tax forms and planning how to spend the refund.

And we squeeze a Christmas in there…somewhere. Somehow. For one who craves the season as much as I do, it just isn’t enough.

So Christmas 2011 has gone from Christmas Present to Christmas Past. And I can’t say it was horrible. Too short, maybe. It was a satisfactory “transitional” Christmas—one for which the circumstances of my life differed sharply from last year’s. The Holidays of 2010 were a series of “lasts” which cast a pall over the entire season. In fact, last Christmas was so bleak that I don’t remember much about it at all.

This year, there was a welcoming of new ideas combined with the resurrection of some good old things that had been in stasis during five years of business ownership craziness. I could have allowed myself to wallow endlessly in what was, what could have been and what will never be, now, in respect to my entrepreneurial enterprise. But I didn’t go there; and for that, I give myself major brownie points. The season has been fun, and I’m ready to take down the decorations and march off into the rest of the year without whining, “Is that all there is?”

Now, on to 2012… What do I expect? What am I going to go after? What am I going to wait to come to me? Do I have a focus? Should I have a focus? What am I going to do?

The short answer: I have no idea.

I do know that after five years of having directions, desires and expectations thrust upon me by my position in a very competitive business, I’m not inclined to “go after” anything. The word “pro-active” (one of those pop-culture buzz words I have never liked in any case) has completely lost its appeal. I spent too many months pro-activating myself into situations that consistently stretched me too far and spread me too thin. I proved myself to be a terrible judge of my personal abilities, and it got me into some awful messes.

No doubt there will come a time—maybe soon, even—when the sting of these past few years will recede enough for me to once again want to go out there and get…something. But right now, I’m inclined to implore the Universe to leave whatever It wants me to do right on my doorstep…or at least at the end of the driveway.

And if my New Years Eve experience is any indication, the Universe is inclined to indulge me, at least for the time being. I was shown places of magic and transcendence not much further away than the end of my driveway.

I’ve lived almost literally a stone’s throw away from Sauvie Island for more than ten years; yet before Saturday I had not fully experienced the “refuge” aspect of it. I have stood on the dike, a hundred yards of water between me and that wild place, and listened to the island countless times. But for whatever reason, I had not gone there—a five minute drive (to get to the bridge; if I had a boat, it would be less than a minute away)—to intentionally seek out the life. The wildlife. Specifically, the birds.

Saturday afternoon, The Universe generously rewarded a timid stretch across the channel by showering me with birds.

Eagles. In fact, by the end of the day, I had seen so many eagles, I was NOT snapping off six shots of every one I came across.

Cranes, swans, ducks, hawks. And snow geese.

I’ve coveted the snow geese ever since I found a video on youtube of waves and waves of them rising up out of a marsh to be photographed by a guy in a duck blind (whose camera I totally covet.) Of all the swarms of birds I’ve personally witnessed coming and going from the island, I had never seen a flock of snow geese. If it hadn’t been for that video, I would have doubted they even wintered here. But once I saw the evidence, I had to have them.

And have them I did. We found a gravel drive that ran up to the side of an old corn field. We parked; I got out and started walking as stealthily as I could toward the crowd of birds feeding among the grasses and tattered old corn stalks. I knew what was going to happen, but I had to try to get close enough to get a decent shot.

And then it happened. The geese gave their alarm call, the ground seemed to rise up in a cloud of wings, long necks, beaks and webbed feet. The sound was incredible--a melee of splashing and wingbeats underscoring a symphony of trumpeting, honking, whistling and quacking. Hundreds of birds swirled up and over my head, and my soul rose to meet them.

I was so geeked out by the experience; I could have happily disappeared into that cloud of birds and never returned. It was glorious.

My New Years gift from the Universe. Which I consider to be a promise of more to come.