Tuesday, December 30, 2008

White-out Christmas

I posted my "Bleak Midwinter" entry both here and at "Women On..."

It seems that those few who read it thought I was creating a quaint little card celebrating the winter wonder of the first White Christmas we've experienced in the twenty-five years we've called Oregon home.

Ummmm…not so much.

A White Christmas is something to love in a place like Chicago, where there are snow plows, road salt, snow blowers, and platoons of technicians trained in the art of confining the sparkly white stuff to front yards and toboggan hills.

But here in the valleys of western Oregon, snow is a freakish meteorological hiccup. We have no more capacity to deal with it than we would a biblical plague. Two inches of snow is a monstrous inconvenience that paralyzes entire towns, cancels school, and causes a noticeable blip on the insurance rate scale, as clueless drivers skid and crash into one another with wild abandon.

Two feet of snow is a bona fide disaster.

Christmas 2008 will go down in history as the Christmas that was literally canceled by snow.

It made its first appearance on December 14th. We should have been warned of its malicious intent by the fact that, rather than turning to rain and dutifully washing away almost immediately—as is the usual habit of snow in these parts—the weather instead turned icy cold and froze us below this first six inches of snow. Four days later, we were still slipping, sliding and crunching around on the stuff when another storm blew in and it snowed some more.

And again the next day. And the next. In fact, it snowed every day for an entire week. Up to and including an additional two inches—adding insult to injury—on Christmas Day.

By the time all was said and done, I had easily twenty inches of white Christmas piled in my front yard. And that same twenty inches had fallen on every street in town—this town which does not own a snow plow.

In 1984, the young hubs and I emigrated to Oregon. Hard as it is to believe now, I worried that I would miss the four distinct seasons we experienced in Illinois. I was sure I would miss snow. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that all we would have to do was drive a couple of hours to the mountains whenever we suffered from acute snow deprivation.

Can I now confess that, in all these 24 ½ years, we have never got so homesick for snow that we jumped in the car and drove up to the mountains to visit it? Especially since it has adopted the habit of blowing down out of the mountains to visit us every couple of years?

Turns out I don't miss snow too much after all. But I would love to be given the opportunity to try…




Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

This is the eighth Christmas we have spent in this house…in this place to which I fled when my family imploded after my dad's death. And, truly, we couldn't have picked a more perfect place. I've come to love my home here, come to think of this town as my town. It's as much as I could possibly have hoped for.

For the first six years of my "new life," I expended all the emotional energy I had on reworking my relationships with the people that were already in my life; re-building from ground zero those ties that were incinerated when my father passed away. I was emotionally battered and bruised…I didn't have anything left with which to seek out new friendships.

And then we bought the café, and the fun really started! All my energy, emotional and otherwise, has gone into that place. I'm only now starting to feel human again…starting to feel like I've got a handle on all this and that I can go forward with a plan and a hope for some kind of success. But friends? Who has had time for that? I have customers…I have employees. I have pleasant relationships with these people; they brighten my life, and I hope I add something positive to theirs. But they are not my friends.

My only friends have been ethereal ones…

In 2003, I began my journey into journal land. And it was always a paradox. Simply by virtue of the depth of emotion I shared with the people I encountered there, they were the best friends I had ever had in my entire life. My personal (skewed) definition of friendship has always included a depth of connection that I have never actually had with any friend in my "real" life. I felt so much closer to this "community" of people I had never met than to anyone I had ever known. So that was the community upon which I came to depend—heavily—as I wallowed through the emotional mine-field of rebuilding my life.

But internet relationships are fraught with strange rules and uncomfortable limitations. The friendships are often too intense to last a long time. They grow quickly, and disappear in a flash. In the end, corporate interests opened the flood gates and poured us out into the internet-at-large; and the community, or what was left of it, flared bright for one last moment…and dispersed into the ether.

This Christmas Day, I'm in a place where everywhere my mind turns for comfort, it finds…nothing. The tenuous long-distance ties I've maintained to my far-away family have been buried under the snow-dump of the century. Along with the new traditions I've tried to build—café Christmas party, holiday concerts, even driving around town to look at Christmas lights; all made impossible by the impossible weather.

We will not be sharing the holiday with loved ones. We will be sitting in our family room, staring at the boob tube, eating food we don't need, crossing our fingers that our roof doesn't suffer the same fate as the ruined patio cover crumbled upon the deck outside my back door. My worries and woes will wrap around me like a damp blanket.

Bah. Humbug.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Craving the Magic

It seems to be a point of honor for bloggers to showcase how well-read they are. We have gadgets like "Shelfari" available to us, where we can show off all the wonderful books with which we are currently enchanted. Me? I'm still wading through The Audacity of Hope (I've committed myself to reading at least a few pages every night until I'm finished…I may be done by the Inauguration…) So, yeah…I guess, in the end, I'm not much of a reader.

Series novels have always been big. Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and now the "Twilight" series. Okay. I can play that game, too. I have a favorite series. The one I have read over and over and over and never tire of. I love it as much today as I did when I first checked the books out of the grade school library a lifetime ago. I can nearly recite the best parts by heart. (And, do you know, I still do not own my own copies of these books?)

My favorites? Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.

Christmas time always brings Wilder's stories to mind. Especially this Christmas—as we watch our consumer economy undergo the trial by fire that will distill it to the essence of necessity. I consider all the things we think of as part and parcel of Christmas… The standing in line outside of whichever store commands the largest supply and lowest price on the latest electronic toy or game without which our child cannot live. The ubiquitous animated reindeer and giant inflatable snowmen appearing on every other lawn the day after Thanksgiving. Twenty-dollar-a-pound chocolates and forty-dollar bottles of champagne; crown rib roasts, caviar, chanterelles, artisan breads and parmegiano reggiano.

And then there are the Little House stories. Stories of a family, one hundred twenty years ago, drawn by the pioneer spirit of its young patriarch out of the Big Woods of Wisconsin, to Indian Territory in Kansas, back to the creeks of Minnesota and then to the Dakota Prairie.

How I love the stories of the Christmas magic in each of those places. Young women crimping their hair and starching their finest lace collars for a holiday dance in Wisconsin. Three little girls heading to bed on a Christmas Eve out on a lonely claim, miles from anyone; thrilled upon discovering one candy stick and a small cake made with real white flour nestled in the toes of their stockings on Christmas morning. Or the year of the Long Winter of blizzards and near-starvation, when Christmas—in the form of barrels of clothing, food, books and newspapers—arrives in April, on the first train able to get through since before Thanksgiving.

Can you imagine? Can you for one moment imagine being twelve years old, enchanted to speechlessness by the sight of the first Christmas tree you had ever seen? To us, that sounds like something from some emerging nation, maybe in Africa or the Far East. But it was here, on our continent, in our own country…not so very long ago.

That wide-eyed wonder…that child-like naiveté.


What has happened to the magic of Christmas? Is it me? Am I just too old, too tired? Have I seen too much, yet not enough?

Have I had too much? Yet…not enough?

No, please don't lecture me about "the Reason for the Season."

And don't point me back to the simpler times of MY life—fir trees, tinsel and big, hot lights; marshmallow Santas, jello, onion dip and cans of whipped cream; vinyl dolls, wooden sleds, Monopoly and Candyland… Yes, those were less complicated times, but they still foreshadowed our great monster of a consumer society.

I crave the truly simple days I never knew. The life that was anything but simple, but which thrilled to plain and humble pleasures.

I am so very aware that my life is not nearly hard enough. So simple pleasures could never be enough to satisfy my craving for the magic.

And that is not a good thing.

Cross-posted at Women On…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small Business in a Small Town

Lately, I've discovered one more…inconvenience?...of being a small town business owner. Ex-employees do not just disappear into the general population. You meet them at the grocery store, they come to the café with their families, they stay in touch with current employees. You hear from them and about them all the time. And that is not always a good thing…

One girl in particular has been a thorn in my side the past few weeks. This is the smart-ass little high school student I fired last spring. Such a smart girl, but circumstances of her seventeen years have molded her into a cocky, brash loser always a breath away from doing the foolish thing that will land her in real hot water. How she has managed to stay out of jail thus far is beyond me.

It became obvious after I hired "S" that she had real problems with authority, and I was, apparently, going to be the authority she chose to have problems with. For whatever reason, she projected all her teen-age rebellion and angst on to her relationship with me. She hated my guts, and was not shy about making that perfectly clear to anyone who would listen. I ignored it for awhile, tried to let it slide by having my shift supervisor deal with her, rather than having any direct interaction with her. But eventually it became obvious that things were never going to change or improve; and I decided that if I had wanted that kind of crap from a seventeen-year-old, I would have had kids of my own. So I terminated her. The circumstances of the actual firing got out of hand, and I ended up losing my temper. It wasn't pretty.

For several weeks afterward, I watched my back. Not that I was afraid she would do violence to me personally, but I did have a nagging fear of coming to work in the morning and finding the front window smashed in and the dining room trashed. Possibly the only thing that saved us from that fate is the fact that the restaurant is right across the street from the police station, and this IS a small town. After a while, I relaxed and let the memory of "S" slide into the past. Only to be rekindled when she began looking for a new job and didn't have enough sense NOT to use the café as a reference. I did not trash her to any prospective employers, but I felt it would be unethical to perpetuate the fantasy that she had quit her job at the café.

Well, she eventually found another job. She works at the little grocery store up the highway from the café. My favorite little "Grocery Outlet." (My default supplier of things like lettuce, fruit, eggs—things we often run short of at the restaurant.) Wonderful. I'm happy for her. Maybe she can be successful there. Would that this could be simply a "let bygones be bygones" situation. But, alas…

A couple of weeks ago, I ran in to the store to pick up something, and saw "S" out of the corner of my eye—she was the only cashier at the only open front register. "Oh, great," I thought. "I really don't want to have this confrontation today…" I was in the back of the store sorting through the bags of romaine when I heard her call for back-up. Score! I rushed through my shopping and attached myself to the end of the back-up cashier's line, which was at the other end of the bank of registers from "S." Made my purchases and left, thinking that the Universe had smiled on me in the matter of dealing with surly ex-employees, at least for that morning.

A week or so later, one of my current employees mentioned that she had seen "S" at the grocery store. And that "S" had regaled her with this story about how I had come into the store, stood in her line but wouldn't speak to her, was extremely rude to her (I'm not sure how I communicated this rudeness if I wouldn't speak to her) and she finally had to call a manager to ring me up. I was ready to believe "P" might be embellishing this story a bit until another employee reported having the very same mystifying conversation with "S" a few days later. Oh, and "S" went out of her way to tell both of them that the only reason she QUIT her job at the café was because she was offered a job as a nanny for $15 per hour, cash. Talk about choosing your own reality!

I'm not so much angry at "S" for making up a story about the confrontation that never happened as I am irritated by the thought that now I have to be aware of what she might say about me every time we meet…or don't meet, as the case may be. I don't have time for that.

I'm utterly mystified that someone would go through the trouble to construct such an elaborate lie for what was, in the end, a non-event. What's the point? Isn't "Get Over It!" the big mantra of the younger generation these days? It bothers me that not only has this girl not gotten past her largely self-inflicted bad experience of working for me, but in her own weak and pathetic way, she's bent on continuing to paint me as the Wicked Witch of the West to anyone who will listen.

In a larger gene pool, like suburban Chicago, or Portland, or even Eugene, she could spread this crap to two hundred of her closest friends, and I would still probably never be aware of it. But out here in this two-horse town, it is right there in my face. Not only do I have to hear about her conversations with my current staff, but I have to worry about how her behavior might influence potential customers. And I don't like to be in the position where I feel like I have to be afraid to do what I need to do when it comes to staffing my business. Ugh!

This concludes today's rant. Now I have to get out of bed and get ready to face another day at that place that is the fulfillment of all my dreams and the source of all my ulcers…

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Dog

Despite the tendency of this season to fly by in fast forward mode, I am making headway in the decorating department. I have to simply ignore that nasty little voice in the back of my head that keeps sneering, "You know, in three weeks you're going to have to take this all down and pack it away again..."

So last night I invaded Lucy's space with the upstairs Christmas tree. I used to put up a tree in my bedroom, but for the past two years I've decided to put it somewhere where everybody could see it (without having to keep my bedroom straightened up enough to be presentable to visitors), so I put it up at the top of the stairs. There's a sizable landing there, and just enough room for a smallish Christmas tree. Right next to the dog's bed.

So here is the dog, looking cute, but a little non-plussed that the item behind her might steal a little of her thunder...

puppy for christmas

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It

This is turning out to be about the fastest Holiday season on record. I'm still trying to figure out what happened to August, and here it is, less than three weeks until Christmas.

Time was, it was the challenge of baking, cooking, decorating and housecleaning, making sure there was a gift for everyone on the list, getting out the Christmas cards, and attending everyone else's Christmas parties that caused one to need the entire month of January just to recuperate. Why is it, then, that even though I don't do any of these things anymore, I'm still running around like a chicken with my head cut off?

Well, let's see. Now, I have a house and a restaurant to decorate for the holidays. I have employees for whom I must organize a party and other fun stuff (this must be worse than having kids…?) I have other people's parties to plan and fuss over (two parties of fifteen last Thursday, and a party for 50 renting the entire café next Saturday night…YAAAH!)

And I have to stress out about the economy and how it is ultimately going to affect my little fledgling business. Every morning I grill myself on whether it looks like we're finally going to take the hit, and what I should do about it when and if we are. Should I sink money I don't really have into marketing just to keep butts in the seats? Will I have to start literally giving food away just to keep butts in the seats? At what point would an empty dining room be costing me less money than trying to keep it full? These questions are banging around in the back of my head like the seeds of the mother of all migraines. Yet I can't seem to dwell too consciously on them ,because I'm almost afraid that giving my secret dread too much credence will bring it that much closer to reality. And I want to keep as far away from that reality as I possibly can.

So, I expend a lot of energy putting a good face on it, exuding positive attitude. Because, in the end, if we do tank as a result of the economic downturn, there's not a whole lot I'll be able to do about it, anyway. And the constant energy drain makes me feel like I've run ten miles by the end of every day.

So today is my "day off," and I have to spend it…doing everything BUT having an actual day off. Come about ten o'clock tonight, I'll flop into my recliner and just…sit. For thirty seconds, before I pass out.

But, ahhh….don't we all love the holidays!