Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day Off Blues

I took a day off yesterday. I mean, I didn’t just wait for a convenient day to come around; I took one. It was entirely a matter of self-preservation. I’d stretched myself beyond my capacity. For two weeks before the Sauerkraut Festival, I had fretted and worried and tried to plan and organize, to the extent that my chronically depleted brain could plan and organize.

AND I have been sick, with some bug that my young crew members brought back from "Rock Fest"—the local popular music orgy that they had all begged for the day off to attend back in the last week of August. The one lucky break I’ve had since we bought the restaurant is that I have managed NOT to pick up every germ and virus that rampaged through town, and my staff, for the past year. A miracle in itself, considering the cocktail of stress, sleep deprivation and poor diet I’ve lived on for the last fifteen months. Not so lucky with this little virus, though—a particularly nasty one, with fever, sore throat, and head congestion so severe I was deaf for two weeks. I hadn’t felt this crappy, literally, in years. Made exponentially worse by the fact that I couldn’t BE sick.

With my two cooks in training reduced to working evenings and weekends, my schedule has consisted of working every day, including two or three double shifts a week thrown in for good measure. I’ve steadily deteriorated from competent admiral of the fleet to a churlish, oft-flogged swabbie. Last Sunday, I was called out front to deal with a customer complaint…and I handled it SO poorly, I realized that I was rapidly approaching total burn-out. And the last thing that restaurant needs is for me to burn out.

So even though I had already posted a schedule which had me working yet another seven-day week, I sat down Sunday night and re-wrote the thing. A little thinking outside the box (and begging) accomplished what I needed: an entire day with absolutely no contact with the café. I honestly couldn’t remember when my last day off WAS, so I looked back at the old schedules hanging on the wall. August 23rd. Ah, yes! Summer! Back when I still had a complete staff… In fact, I realized I’d only had two days off since our nutsy-busy Scandinavian Festival back in mid-August. That was information I didn’t really need…it only made me feel more desperate to get out of there forat least one day.

The list of things I could do, that I wanted to do, with an entire 24 hours off started to grow: Clean the house. Take the dog to the beach. Do the "Goodwill sort" through my overloaded closets. Go up the river to the outlet mall. Go to Binyons and get new glasses (which I desperately need.) And the husband wanted me to meet him and a business associate for dinner. Sigh! Not only was twenty-four hours not nearly enough time to accomplish all this, but I quickly realized I didn’t have the energy for one-tenth of it. In the end, I chose the closets, the shopping, and the dinner. And the rest of the day, I pretty much sat around and stared at the walls. So I didn’t have a productive day. It was restorative, though.

But of course I couldn’t keep my mind completely away from café issues. And I couldn’t completely banish the nagging guilt for wanting, needing to get away from there. It’s not that I’m a control freak, though I think you need to lean a little in that direction in order to run your own business. I just feel like I wanted this so much, I shouldn’t feel negatively about it, EVER. I should always love being there, always revel in the freedom and the self-determination. Of course, that’s a crock, and I know it. But that doesn’t keep me from carrying the guilt around anyway.

I indulged in a little self-assessment as I puttered around the stores. I realized that I haven’t figured out where my "off" button is. I just keep going full-speed until I run out of gas. That’s the way I’ve always been, no matter what job I’ve had. My work ethic is to go to work, work until the job is done, and then go home. I’ve never done a lot of socializing at work. I’m very much a "nose to the grindstone" kind of person.

The problem is, you really can’t apply that sort of work ethic to your own business, especially when it’s a hospitality business. First of all, the job is NEVER done, so you end up just working and working and working; you do go home, of course, but you’re still working. And working and working. And if you don’t turn yourself off, make yourself STOP working, even for short bits of time, you work too much. And then you start to hate the thing you started out loving and wanting with all your heart.

And this thing about not being social on the job…this has been the biggest problem for me. Not only am I not a normally social person, but the harder I work, the more exhausted I become, and the more I draw into my shell and just want to be left alone. And you cannot do that when you are in charge of a restaurant. You need to set an example for the crew, and you need to be friendly with the guests.

I’ve always known that I was going to have problems in this area. I’ve managed restaurants, and my solution for this particular deficiency of mine was to make sure I hired people who could DO that part of the job for me. For the most part, that has been a successful strategy. But, especially in this tiny café, with no real "back of the house," I’m too visible. Everyone knows I’m there all the time, and everyone knows I’m the owner. The regulars expect ME to greet them, and chat, and treat them like they’re the only customers in the restaurant. And, yes, if I want to be successful, I should do that. And when I’m rested and full of energy (and caffeine) I can almost passably play that role. When I’m exhausted, stressed out and have a million things on my mind—which is all the time—I suck at it.

And now it’s time to get ready and head to the salt mine once again. Let’s see, what’s on my plate today? Write next week’s schedule, see if the new lighting has arrived yet, plan the next promotion, design the new table tents, find out what’s going on with the sign, source a new bread bakery, source a new food purveyor, look through applications, hire two more people, but try to make sure everyone is still getting enough hours… But first I have to make soup and don the apron to cook lunch. Gad…I’m tired already.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Thursday, September 25, 2003
10:25:00 AM PDT


Hello, journal

So, this is my first "blog."  I wonder how this will affect my writing, knowing that someone might actually read it?  I've been writing journals since I was in high school.  Always with the secret hope that someone might read them, and get to know or care about my thoughts, confusions, and yearnings.  But knowing that no one would ever read them, at least not in my lifetime.  In more recent years, I've contented myself with believing that I might be leaving a legacy...that SOMEONE might read the pages upon pages of my life's blood, and think about me when I'm gone.

This wanting to be remembered when I'm gone...this is a relatively new purpose for me.  I guess it's logical for someone my age, who has no children, to start wondering about my legacy.  Not only no children, but no social life.  No church, no job, no volunteer activities.  I sometimes wonder, if I dropped dead today, who would care besides my husband and my sisters?  And how long would THEY even care?  What would I be leaving behind?  As of this exact moment, I have to admit--not a whole lot.

I know I didn't used to be this way.  I've always been sort of a loner, and socially challenged, but I always had at least one or two friends, and some kind of social outlet besides my family.  I've become so isolated since the events that surrounded my sister's and my Dad's deaths.  I don't know if I would still be so affected by their deaths, if they hadn't been the start of this...this time of my life when I've felt expelled from everything I've ever known and loved.  It's been a god-awful struggle just to keep ties with the people who ARE still in my life, and I know they don't understand or care about my struggles.  I spend an awful lot of time wishing I had someone who DID understand.

Happy Birthday,

“Coming to Terms...”

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I just haven’t the time or the energy to indulge in a lot of political debate these days. I don’t suffer as much from those self-righteous hairballs that I used to hack up a couple of times a week, in the form of political rants in this space. However, my sojourn into intense entrepreneurialism has not completely re-directed my focus away from things of more universal import. From time to time, I encounter stories from the outside world that penetrate the fog and insist that I climb, however wearily, atop my soapbox and rail…

The latest story emanates from my own adopted home state of Oregon, where I have resided since 1984— nearly half my life—in a blissful state of magnanimous liberalism, alongside others of my kind. Unfortunately, we liberals are also acutely aware that Oregon is certifiably schizophrenic when it comes to things political. The "Old Guard"—gun-toting, bible-thumping farmers and ranchers—have dug in their heels and heaved as far to the right as humanly possible since the first "dirty hippie" set foot on Oregon soil back in the sixties. The Left has responded with a successful passive-aggressive strategy: we have simply taken over the more densely populated urban areas. Our sheer numbers have been enough to plant Oregon firmly in the column of "Blue States."

Still, we do hemorrhage from time to time. In glorious, unadulterated bright red. The same initiative system that produced our ground-breaking "right-to-die" legislation has puked abominations like the Springfield and Canby anti-gay decrees, and threatens, on the next ballot, to allow Columbia County to declare itself an official "Illegal Immigrant Free Zone." We who bleed blue have learned that we must remain vigilant, and never assume that our conservative neighbors’ most inconceivable perversions of the Constitution to conform to their small-minded prejudices won’t become law (at least temporarily) if we "forget" to vote.

So, what is happening in Oregon today that causes my blue blood to boil? The story comes out of Medford. With a population of over 65,000, it is the largest city in southern Oregon, separated by more than merely hundreds of miles and the Siskiyou Mountains from the liberal bastions of Eugene, Salem, and Portland to the north. Over the years, southern Oregon has remained staunchly agrarian, vigorously resisting economic pressures from perilously nearby northern California and the population centers of Central and Northern Oregon that swing the state to the left. Medford is conservative, Republican, and NRA through and through, and to hell with all them California commies and Bush-bashing Portlanders…

This week, the news broke that a high school teacher in Medford is suing the school district for the right to carry a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol to school. It seems she is a victim of domestic violence, and she fears her ex-husband, against whom she has taken out a restraining order, will confront her and carry out his threats to kill her on school grounds. All together now: W…..T…..F??!?!? This story is absurd, unbelievable and disturbing on SO many levels. Where should I start?

Let’s start with "It’s All About Me." I’m a teacher. I went to school, got a degree, and got a certificate. It’s what I do five days a week, nine months a year. I belong to the union. I’m a state employee, I have state benefits, PERS, and tenure, so it’s damned difficult, if not impossible, to fire me. Why should I care if my very presence in the school could put children in danger, by virtue of the fact that I might be stalked by a violent ex-husband. I have the Constitutional right to defend myself, and if it means plugging a couple of unfortunate kids who get caught in the crossfire while my ex and I are taking potshots at each other in the hallway, we'll just call that "collateral damage."

And then there’s the"Do as I Say, Not as I Do" aspect. "Now, children, you must never think that the key to life is wielding the most powerful weapon. Always control your temper. Always understand that there are alternatives to violence. Talk to each other. Work things out. Empathize with your peers. Violence never solves anything. Oh, this? I just carry it for protection….heh heh…"

This woman is a teacher. A TEACHER. And so, by the by, is the violent ex-husband of whom she lives in fear. Teachers. Of children.

And the religious right screams about gays being allowed to teach.

Truly. I have to wonder if this babe has all her marbles. And I have to seriously question the ethics (and cognitive abilities) of the law firm that took on this case. The first thing that came to my over-worked, semi-delerious mind was, "You have GOT to be kidding."

But they’re not. And that is what causes me to greatly fear for the future of the species. Especially the American breed…

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This and That and the End of Summer

Just a little fly-by in case anyone thinks I’m in divorce court, or the hospital, or the loony bin…

The fight turned out to be a not-so-big deal. I didn’t go off and get all offended because I realized that I had started the whole mess. He felt like an ass, I felt like an ass, and we kissed and made up rather quickly. Being as how we ARE each other’s support network, we can’t let anything blow us apart for too long. All better now!

The event, however, sucked. Based on our sales trends for the entire summer, I was expecting at least a 25% increase over last year. As it turned out, we did almost the same sales for the day as 2006. The first part of this week, I just felt like someone had let all the air out of me. We’d spent a lot of money on advertising, equipment, and food stock that we ended up not using, but that didn’t irritate me half so much as the fact that I had expended so much energy—something of which I am in seriously short supply these days—on a non-event. Well, we learned something, anyway: Yes, the entire community does party right outside our doors at the Sauerkraut Festival, but we have to remember they bring their own food

So, this week, we realized that business is winding down from the summer. Folks have shot their wads getting their kids back into school, and eating out is going to take a lower place on the totem pole for awhile. I’m developing some ideas for enticing the eating public to brave the gloom and the rain to come and join us for a winter meal. And I’m looking forward to the holidays… I was able to get out of town for a rare evening of shopping "over the hill" last night, and found all kinds of goodies at Pier One. Holographic sequined spiders and a black velvet web…

Let the decorating begin! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tough Going

This is one of those nights when it’s really crashing down on me. Our biggest sales day of the year is coming up this weekend—on Saturday, our community festival takes place right outside the doors of the café. Last year’s festival was the busiest day of 2006, with sales for that one day equal to almost half what we were doing in a normal week back then. In an effort to maximize our opportunities (what with having the community block party right outside) we’ve gone out on a limb and advertised a "Wine Garden" for that day. The festival itself has no alcohol venue. So we have chosen to become "it." What am I thinking?????

I have no clue what kind of attendance we should expect. It’s our plan to have wine tasting, wine and beer by the glass, and a munchie bar. Haven’t even completely firmed up the menu, and here it is almost Thursday. Sigh! I know it will all come together in the end, but I just wish I was a little more on top of things. Doesn’t help that I am chronically stressed out by a million little details of the everyday running of the restaurant, and perpetually exhausted as well…

So I have this whole load of worries that I’ve been carrying around since we decided (at the last minute, more or less) to do this thing. And so, tonight, the husband and I proceeded to celebrate our arrival at home after a long and slightly disorganized dinner service at the café by…having a fight. A real knock-down drag-out, by our standards. Doesn’t matter what it was about. I mean, it does, but the story is long and convoluted, and you kind of "had to be there." In other words, it was a stupid fight, and if you tried to explain it to someone outside the relationship, they’d say, "UhhhWhat????"

The thing about it was, I was really taken aback by how mean we were to each other. I mean, the gloves were off from the get-go. And that just isn’t the way we argue. Or at least, it hasn’t been up ‘til now.

Yeah, we’re both totally stressed out. And we’re both weary to a degree that we never thought possible. But…I don’t know. Is that a good excuse for treating each other like crap?

And here’s the really crappy part: I know it’s my fault. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve gone through some insanely stressful days at the restaurant. Like the huge Sunday breakfast I had to cook by myself because my two "cooks in training" were both out of town and my "cook’s helper in training" decided to call in sick. The only one available to help me out was the poor husband, and I was SO freaked out that I was an absolute bitch to him. I can’t believe the things I said to him, the way I treated him, but I was so overwhelmed, I had absolutely no control over the things that were coming out of my mouth.

So, tonight, here we are standing in our kitchen at home, duking it out…and I can’t believe the things he’s saying to me. I can’t believe that he’s calling me names and accusing me of every nasty thing under the sun. And I am absolutely livid…until I realize I’m looking in a mirror. That I am reaping exactly what I have sown. And I just want to cut out my own tongue and strangle myself with it.

I know that if it came to a choice between our marriage and this stupid restaurant, there would be no choice at all. But I really don’t want to have to make that choice…

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Passions Part I

My passion?

As Mary guessed, I have a few. And one of them, I don’t think you who have followed me on my blogging journey have too hard a time guessing at. This is it. You’re looking at it.

In my own words:

"But I look at it this way. I love music...have always loved music. I sing all the time. I even played the guitar in my younger days, sang in the church choir for awhile. But I was not given the talent, the zeal, the passion for music that a true musician must possess. I will sing, and I will play guitar, if I darn well want to. It makes me happy. But it doesn’t make me a musician.

"Writing, however, is something that bubbles up from a well in the depths of my soul. Something I have to do, as much as eating, sleeping, or going to the bathroom. It’s part of who I am, and who I will always be. There have been times in my life when I didn’t write; crazy, busy times when I did not use my God-given talent for anything more than love letters and birthday cards. In retrospect, those turned out to be the times when I was simply playing at being someone, something, that I am not. I may have even thought I was happy, that I had ‘made it.’ But I was not being true to myself. I ignored my talent because it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun. And it didn't put food on the table. Truthfully, if I was still working full-time, I probably would not yet have ‘rediscovered’ myself…"

"And then there are the rest of us. The ones who are neither wholly satisfied with this place of literary masturbation, nor even remotely capable of walking away from it. In the midst of dealing with life issues, we don’t quit writing. Our prose might gain a new dimension from our trials. It might reveal a glimpse of a heart in mourning, or become strident as we rail against challenges to our souls. Or we may murmur peace and understanding as we gain some insight on our journey. But always, the words come. We could no more stop writing than we could stop breathing. The concept of being too busy to write is beyond our ken. Writing is what we DO. Have always done."

"I don’t know why anyone would be upset not to be a writer. Like any other talent, it is often more of a burden than a joy. At best, it’s a roller-coaster existence. You create something satisfying, and you soar to the rooftops. You go through a dry spell, and you fall through a crack in the floor. What is it about right-brained talents that we who possess them always feel we are on the brink of losing them? Why this ever-present fear that the font of words, or notes, or colors, is not bottomless?"

For good or ill, better or worse, writing is my passion.

For a couple hours this evening, I dove back into my archives. Perused some of the old entries.. The ones I wrote when I had the write things that made sense, that used all my god-given tools to communicate the thing that was inside me that needed to get out. And, by damn…one or two of those essays were decent. Really good. Damn, I thought. I can write.

But…make a living at it? Tweak it and pound it and pasteurize it to fit someone else’s idea of what is acceptable, or what would sell; what is worthy or beautiful?

Not a chance.

This…this blog. This is as close as I could possibly come.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Words, Worship, and Passion

I’m not as active in ethereal society as I once was. The newbies—the booming ranks of MySpace, TypePad, yada yada—blog like crazy; like they invented the genre. While those of us who have been around for a really long time have come to terms with the addiction. We swear we’re done, we moan that we’re out of things to write, we crow that we have lives that are ever so much more important than…this. Yet still, we come back. Not as often, not full of quite as much piss and vinegar, but we come back.

Sure, I have a life now. And it’s a life and a half. But it’s not a social life. In fact, with my closest associates being less than half my age, it’s a peculiarly asocial life. So my society is still here. Perhaps I don’t know—will never know—my friends in the blogosphere in a completely real sense. Still, after almost four years, I feel much closer to them than I ever will to the children with whom I spend the lion’s share of my time these days.

I’ve discovered that this is a great place to come when I want to leave my life behind, but not too far. On the heels of a thirteen-hour day at the café, I haven’t the brainpower to sit down and comprehend Shakespeare or Yeats, or even the most recent crotch novel on the best-seller list. The most I can digest of the newspaper is the comics, the advice columns, and quick glances at the editorial pages. But I can crank up my computer, call up my "bloglines" and click into the thoughtful essays written by my fellow slaves of the keyboard. Just deep and entertaining enough to give me something to think about before I lose consciousness.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend wrote a tiny piece that made me think. Jackie has been expanding her horizons in the kitchen lately, and finding great joy and blessings in her efforts. In the prologue of a little report on her latest triumphs—homemade granola and banana muffins—she mentioned feeling as if her kitchen were her sanctuary, and her work there was worship, rather than work.

I know that feeling. That feeling that even the dirtiest, meanest task performed in the place you love, the place you belong, is like an embrace. Just to be where you know you are the perfect fit, is a harmony matched only by the most exquisite, exalted music. Anything you touch there is sacred; anything you do, a masterpiece.

But I DON’T feel that in my kitchen. Far from it. In fact, sometimes I'd swear my kitchen is possessed by the spirit of Gordon Ramsay…  A rather startling admission from someone who has recently been laboring as hard as I have the last thirteen months at my "dream come true"—my very own restaurant.

But working with food was never one of my heart’s desires. In fact, my sisters were all willing students at my dad’s elbow in the kitchen by the time they reached adolescence. Not me. I was a picky kid, and, for the most part, could take food or leave it. At under 100 lbs. until I was twenty, I obviously didn’t have all that much fascination with cuisine of any kind.

For me, the kitchen is my job. It’s my career. It pays the bills, keeps a roof over our heads, and fulfills one of THE most important goals of my life—that I NOT have to work for someone else. Kitchen work is what I know…it’s what I’ve been doing for most of the last thirty-four years. I got into it because it was the first job I had that I liked. And I stayed in it because it was comfortable and I was good at it. The industry speaks to a lot of my natural talents, but it was never my passion.

Let’s face it, few of us end up making careers out of our passions. We can be passionate about our careers, but that’s not the same. Careers are so affected by the whims of others: what sells, what’s "accepted," what conforms to the marketplace’s ideas of good or bad. Who really wants their passion planed and shaved and shimmed to fit into some pigeonhole of public acceptance? It’s safer to expend that grand emotion on something that I can allow to take any shape, any form that strikes my fancy. As it is, if someone hates a meal at my restaurant, it’s a problem, and it’s frustrating, but it’s not a rejection of my very self. I don’t think I could handle that on a day to day basis.

So, what is my passion?

Well, this post has gone on way too long as it is. I’ll write about my passion next time.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

I used to be a sports fan...

After school, while my sisters glued themselves to soap operas on the big color console in the living room, I would hole up in my folks’ bedroom and watch the Cubs on their little black and white portable. Tweak the rabbit ears now and then to clear the snow or squiggly lines from the screen. Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau brought the game to life for me: Ernie Banks, Glen Beckert, Don Kessinger, Ron Santo. I knew their numbers, their positions, their stats.

Summer of ’71 and ’72, a high school girlfriend and I used to ride the Skokie Swift to the Howard Street El, and the El down to the Addison Street station—"1/4 block from Wrigley Field"—to lay out our dollar for a bleacher seat. We braved the scorching mid-summer sun, dodged the sloshing beers and stretched for (or ducked from) home run balls hammered in our direction (an Ernie Banks homer landed two rows behind my head!) No price was too high to show our loyalty to our perennial underdogs.

In the eighties, I discovered football. Actually, I discovered that if I wanted to have any contact at all with my young husband during four months of fall and winter Sundays, I had better learn about football. Not only did I learn, I found I loved the game. Walter Payton and the Monsters of the Midway could make football fanatics out of anyone.

Sports used to be…something. Something to love. Something to admire. Something to cheer for. Something that at least suggested loyalty and sacrifice, teamwork and camaraderie. Gifted young athletes found homes with teams they loved, and fans who doted on them. They would play out their careers in the towns where they were first accepted as talented youngsters and then cheered on as seasoned stars.

All that is like some soppy little fairy story now. Twenty-first century professional sport is about coddled super-stars who act like God’s gift to the game. It’s about meanness and aggression and performance-enhancing drugs and winning at all costs. But mostly, like everything else in American society, it’s All About The Money. Obscene amounts of the stuff are heaped upon grown men who basically make a living playing kids’ games. A professional ballplayer these days can earn the equivalent of my husband’s yearly salary in one at-bat. Thenturn around and use that cash to buy drugs or sex, or bet on killer dogs. And then cop a surly attitude when someone has the gall to suggest a pro athlete is a role model for young fans, and said athlete might possibly consider curbing his salacious behavior in deference thereto.

And so I was chagrined, but not surprised, when I heard about the 21-year-old kid from New York who dove for Barry Bonds’ historic (albeit steroid-tainted) 756th home run ball. Was it the thrill of a lifetime for him? Does he plan to have it mounted, display it with pride on his mantel, treasure it to show off to his kids and their kids and maybe their kids as well?

Hell no. He’s going to auction it off. Online. He figures a cool half-mil ought to compensate him adequately for relinquishing this incredibly important piece of baseball memorabilia.

Oh…and his story is that he can’t afford to keep the ball. Seems "somebody" told him he would have to pay taxes on the value of his historic souvenir if he kept it, and he’s just a poor college student. HE doesn’t have that kind of money! Sniff! He says he hopes whoever buys the ball will donate it to the Hall of Fame…

Okay, kid…so you’re reluctantly parting with your treasure so you won’t have to max out your student VISA to pay the taxes on it. Nice try…great yarn. But, hey…why don’t YOU donate it? If your tax story held any water, you could claim the ultimate charitable deduction on your 1040 come January. Hell, you might not have to pay taxes for the next ten years!

Let’s face it, son. You grew up watching Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens and Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick. You’ve soaked up every valuable life-lesson these anti-role-models have spewed to their adoring fans. You know exactly what it’s all about.

It’s All About The Money.