Sunday, December 13, 2009


It's not escaped my notice that I tend to head right for the keyboard when I'm stressed, unhappy or overwhelmed. Of course, my life isn't all about negotiating the minefield of small business ownership, and trying to duck pieces of crap flying off the fan blades. I just tend to sort of…bask in the good times, rather than run to the computer and bang out a blog entry. So…in an effort to inject a modicum of balance into this collection of frustration-laced essays, I feel compelled to relate some stories of the past week.

Let's start with last Saturday. Saturday was holiday D-day for me—the day that would either make or kill my entire Christmas season. It was the day my chef, the Husband and the Good and Faithful "D" ventured up the hill to a home that could well have been featured in Sunset magazine, to cater an eight-course meal for a group of six couples. Six couples who had heretofore held their Christmas gathering in the "Wine Room" of the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. Not just a tall order…think Mount Everest.

We had never, ever done anything like this before. And, to the nail-biting frustration of Li'l Ole Control-Freak Me, the success or failure of this little endeavor was almost completely out of my hands. I'd handed the controls to the young man with the knowledge and the creds to carry it off—California Chef.

My input into the catering affair was reduced to making sure if Chef said, "I need…", whatever it was he needed materialized forthwith. I adopted an attitude of almost aggressive indifference to Chef's preparation…knowing I had no basis for useful input, I opted to step as far away from the proceedings as I could. I let Chef fill our fridges to bursting with his prep, put my head down and set myself to the task of running the rest of the business. With a vengeance.

Late Saturday afternoon, I sent the little posse up the hill with my exhortation to "Make us proud." Then I turned around and attacked the work I couldn't get done all day while Chef monopolized every appliance and surface in our tiny kitchen with his last-minute preparations. In chef's absence, it was up to me to handle dinner service for the café. Luckily, we were just busy enough to keep my mind off what might be going on up the hill.

At 8:45, I was putting the finishing touches on my scoured grill and "T", my front-of-the-house girl of the evening, was rinsing and polishing the stainless steel sinks in the kitchen. The back door opened, and the "Conquering Heroes" began dragging empty coolers and assorted dishware down the hall. "Oh, crap," I whined ungraciously to "T". "We just got finished cleaning up and now they're going to come in here and trash the kitchen….!"

"Great to see you, too!" sniped the Husband. Oops.

A few minutes later, after finally swallowing the trepidation that kept rising up in my gullet, I asked:

"So… How'd it go?"

Young Chef, who had up until this time maintained his inscrutable quiet, replied with a one-sided grin,

"Well…we got a standing ovation."


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Going Underground

Perhaps some of you who have tried to visit in the past twenty-four hours have met with the notice that this blog is now private and you have not been added as a reader. I'm coming up for air one more time just in case there is anyone out there who would like to be invited to continue to read after I take "Coming to Terms..." private for good. I know many of you come here from "Desert Year" but have not become official "followers" of the blog, so I can't find you to ask you if you'd like to continue to visit.

This blogging road has been a long and strange one. "Coming to Terms..." was born in 2003. It came to be as part of AOL's "journals" experiment. We neophyte bloggers grew, networked, made friends and built a community. Which, as everyone knows, AOL razed last October in favor of...I'm not sure what.

I've seen many people come and go. Had many friends who I no longer "see." I suppose that is something that happens in "real life," too. But it has been painful for me, because this Land of Blog is where I did a great deal of healing after several terrible years. I know it still is, and can be, a place of great healing and sharing. But, apparently, not for me.

The thing is, for all those six plus years, I could never get any of the people I care about in my real life to read my blog. Unfortunately, since this past summer when I inadvertently invited some people associated with the cafe to read (not taking into account that some of what I have posted here is not consistently flattering to the people I work with) I have acquired some new readers. Readers with local ISP’s who visit several times a day—almost obsessively. I can only assume these readers have a not altogether kosher agenda, since they don’t choose to leave comments or interact in any way. I have no idea what kind of harm they might mean to cause me, or could cause me, but I can’t afford to ignore them and wait to see what happens.

Hence the need to take “Coming to Terms…” private. It’s a move I hate to make; though I’ve given up the idea of acquiring NEW readers, every once in awhile, an old j-land friend I haven’t seen or heard from in ages will stop by and leave a comment. I’ll have to hope they can find me some other way…

Anyway, as of…sometime later this week, “Coming to Terms…” will close its doors to the public and be open by invitation only. So…if you would like an invite, please leave your contact information (I'll need your email address and I promise I won't spam you or even email you, except an invitation to the blog...) in a comment.

Otherwise, goodbye… And thanks for reading.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Eight? Seven? Six? Whatever...

I’m back-ordered a couple of days on “thankfulness…”

No great excuse, here, that everyone (or no one, evidedently...) hasn’t already heard. I got caught up in café issues, worked twenty-four hours in two days, and was too worn out yesterday to even pick up the lap-top.

As I mentioned, business has been good this month. Good for any month, but especially spectacular for November. I thought, “Wow, maybe we are finally starting to get it, and people are starting to get us.” That would have been a great feeling. But, as has been the case almost every other time in my life when I thought I might actually be responsible for my own success, I discovered that it is more a case of things over which I personally have no control, causing our good run.

Two local eating/drinking establishments have closed their doors since October 30, which has had the effect of leaving bigger slices of the same dining-out-dollar pie for those of us who remain. So while I’m thankful that our numbers are good this month, I know better than to go into paroxysms of joy about how we’re finally on our way and there’s nowhere to go but up.

We need to carpe diem. We need to take advantage of this little windfall the Universe has provided for us, try to impress those folks coming through our doors who perhaps have never been here before, or who perhaps have been here but had a bad experience and didn’t come back, and are going to give us another go. I hope we can do that.

So, while I’m grateful for the chance, I won’t say that I’m thankful for somebody else’s misfortune. I KNOW that “There but for the grace of the Universe go I…” We’ll just keep our noses to the grindstone and try to maximize the opportunity.

That was going to be the extent of my essay on gratitude for today, until I logged on and looked at my email. There was an email from an old J-land friend, one who just recently “found” me again. He is one of these people who used to post very rarely, but when he did post, his insights into his life used to just blow me away. I thought I had lost him forever when AOL dumped us all over the side.

The email I got from him today was very much like his old blog posts. It was an essay about his dad, who he just found out is very ill. Truthfully, I don’t know if I was meant to receive the email. It’s possible that I just got added to his “reply all” list by mistake. Either way, I felt so fortunate to receive that “letter.” His writing was, once again, simple and forthright and powerful, and brought tears to my eyes.

And it reminded me, all over again, of the friends—many now lost in the ether—that I made and cherished in the days of AOL-J. This simple, powerful letter, that I may have received by mistake, was what the journal community was all about back then. So much more intimate, so much more meaningful, than the games, quizzes, and superficial “status updates” of Facebook and Twitter.

It reminded me of why, in spite of all the changes and losses and disappearances, I’m still here.

I can’t give up this place. Lonely and forsaken as it sometimes feels, now, I cannot leave. The memories alone are enough to hold me. And there are always the friends who are still out there, somewhere.

Thank you, Thomas. It was good to remember.

And I wish the best for your Dad…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nine: Thanks to You...

Today was my first day off in three weeks. I’ve been working hard, stressing out, spending a lot of money on labor and not figuring out why that cannot equal my actually being able to take a day off now and then.

But today, I did…almost nothing. I had my nails done. I threw some laundry into the washer. I wiped down my vanity and the inside of my shower in anticipation of the cleaning lady’s visit (I don’t mind leaving some dirt for her to deal with, but I have a real problem with anyone seeing how slovenly I’ve really become.)

And I sat for hours with the computer in my lap, playing solitaire and flitting back and forth between Facebook and reading blogs. It was just like old times…except for the Facebook part.

I realized that the thing I’m grateful for today is…


“Coming to Terms…” My blog. And the community I found, quite by accident, when I cast my line into the AOL journal pond six years ago. Six. I can scarcely believe it.

I have friends that I would not have had it not been for this amazing, frustrating, challenging, blessed medium.

I know there are not many of you left who come here and check up on my drivel. I sort of screwed the pooch on that one, “closing” my journal, as I did this past spring, and then opening it up again almost immediately. I found I couldn’t let it go…couldn’t let it die. But I pretty much shed myself of most of the readers I had left…

I know there are some of you out there who stop by and don’t comment (“Feedjit” never lies…) Could you do me a favor? If you have a blog, and I don’t go there, could you say hi and leave a link? I hate one-sided conversations, you see…

Anyway, to those who knew me when, and to those who know me now, and to those few of you in both camps…

Thank you.

You light up my life.

Ten: My Parents' Last Gift

It’s November. Here in the Pacific Northwest, that means autumn is hanging on for all it’s worth while winter stomps on its fingers. Warm wet storms spiral up from the south, icy arctic air blows down from the north, and somewhere around my back door, they duke it out.

As of November 2007, the blustery, schizophrenic weather will forever remind me of my mother’s last months. I always believed that it took the winds of a powerful Oregon storm—in fact, it’s gone down in history as the December 3rd Hurricane—to carry her recalcitrant soul into the light. Much as circumstances had dictated an unwelcome distance between me and Mom in her final years, her passing nevertheless left a jagged hole in the fabric of my life.

My parents—mundane, predictable people that they might have been—broke that mold with the manner of their passing. Dad had always been fairly meticulous about his health, consulted physicians on a regular basis, followed doctor’s orders and lived a pretty damn clean life—didn’t smoke, rarely drank, stayed mentally engaged, preferred spending time in his workshop, garden or fishing boat to sitting in front of the boob tube. Mom, on the other hand, smoked, drank, never went anywhere near doctors and watched television religiously. In 1991, Mom fell and broke her leg, refused the surgery that might have properly mended it, and ended up dependent upon a walker for the rest of her life. At that point, Dad became her primary caregiver as well as her mate. Not a one of us children had ever thought in a million years that Dad would die before Mom. It was simply an inconceivable scenario, not just because of the differences in their lifestyles, but because Mom would not survive without my dad.

But Dad did go first. When he died in 1999, he left behind his handicapped, utterly dependent and, at the time, extremely ill wife of 54 years; a small nest egg, a couple of negligible life insurance policies, and a house with no mortgage. Evidently, even he had never considered being the first to go; because, lifelong bean-counter that he was, he had never formulated a plan for how Mom should go on, financially, without him. We four bereft, shell-shocked daughters were left to figure out how to make what Dad left behind provide for my mother for however long she needed it. I remember saying at the time, “Who knows, she’s a tough old bird. She just might live another ten years.” Which, given the delicate state of her health when Dad died, none of us really believed. But, by damn, she was tough. She didn’t live another ten years; she came up just a little over a year short. And we were grateful that The Universe, or my Dad’s spirit—or kismet or karma or her guardian angel—stretched her resources enough to keep her comfortable for that last almost decade of her life.

In true “loaves and fishes” fashion, there was even a modest amount of cash left over to be distributed among the family when Mom left us. And so we found ourselves, in the manner of countless generations of finally orphaned fifty-somethings, sadly looking down at our little fistfuls of money and wondering what to do with it. Sure, it’s nice to have that extra ten grand…but when you think of where it came from, there’s no joy in it. And no real desire to run right out blow it on something outlandish.

Also, in our case, the money came with an unspoken commission. My parents had always been thrifty, saved more than they spent, did without things they couldn’t afford for years while they raised their brood, used credit wisely… The money that we held in our hands after their passing had been acquired and nurtured through a practice of fiscal conservativeness for which we have neither the understanding nor the patience, in today’s world. I felt a responsibility to spend—or not spend—their money in a way that would honor the two who had worked so hard for it and stretched it so far.

So it sat in the bank, that money, for almost two years. Because I couldn’t think of anything important enough—anything worthy enough—to use it for.

Eventually, I realized I wanted a car. A used car, slightly better than a beater, that was not a giant, noisy, smelly white pickup truck that consumed mass quantities of the most expensive fuel available. And I knew Dad would approve of paying cash for my little silver van that I picked up for $2000 below Blue Book.

And then, as I anticipated the arrival of the very weather that whisked my mother’s soul to eternity, I decided on a second purchase. Something that I have wanted for a long time, but never quite had the extra resources to justify the splurge. I realized that now I did have the money; and though the thing I wanted did not fall into the category of “necessity,” I could justify the purchase by the fact that it would still leave me with nearly half my parents’ money safely squirreled away.

So now, in my bedroom—the place I tend to crash and burn after long hours toiling away at the restaurant—where once was an empty firebox and a forest of candles assembled to approximate a cheery blaze, there now resides a genuine gas-log fireplace. Outside, the wind howls, the branches whip, the rain swirls, and I am warm and safe and mellow in front of my instant fire.

I am enchanted. And grateful.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I miss you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eleven: Help...!

I don’t know why, but the past month I’ve felt completely overwhelmed. Things have been a little crazy at the restaurant. I have been used to—and perhaps even anticipated—business settling into a somewhat subdued late year pattern after the end of September. It gave me time to think about the holidays with my family, to play around with decorating the restaurant…to just slow down and remember I had a life outside the business.

Fortunately or un-, that is not happening this year. We are on track to do a record November, lord willing and the creek don’t rise. On the heels of a record October. I should be stoked, relieved, grateful…and I am. Still, I don’t much care for the corollary feeling that the rest of my life is getting the short end of the stick.

Due to the sooner-than-anticipated return of one of my flu-stricken employees, I was able to steal a few hours away from the restaurant this afternoon. I went home with the idea of accomplishing something in the way of catching up with the mountain of housework that has been left undone for months. And it was utterly intimidating. Everywhere I turned, there was something that was a complete disaster, had been a disaster for, I realized, months, and was likely to continue to be a disaster because I was not able to put more than about two hours of conscious, productive time together to direct at any task.

My bedroom is an earthquake, my bathroom is toxic and my closet is an explosion waiting to happen. Upon my kitchen counters are stacks of things that have literally been there since last Christmas. I don’t have to look too hard for the Christmas CD’s and movies I want to play…they never got put away from last year. And we won’t talk about the giant animal-hair-bunnies that are starting to look like the Bumble Snowman, or the dust so thick it resembles fire extinguisher residue.

I tried to distract myself from the completely out-of-hand household situation by looking outside at the yard, but that was no good. The patio furniture is scattered all over the lawn, there is a half-built greenhouse taunting me from behind the shed, all my potted plants are looking puny and pleading for me to put them away somewhere and not let them die in the cold, and the stuff that DID die in the cold last winter is still waiting to be cut back. There are tools and trash and empty wine bottles still lying around from pleasant summer evenings on the deck. (August was, what… yesterday?)

Everywhere I turned, I thought: “Oh, god, I can’t look at that…it will drive me crazy. I can’t think that (whatever it is) has been lying there for (however many) months.” MONTHS. And in some cases—like that of the half-built greenhouse—YEARS. Augh!

But, today…today, I DID round up my winter/holiday bed linens and get them installed in the bedroom. And I DID apply myself to the mountains of junk mail—both this year’s and last year’s (which had been relegated to a plastic basket stuffed under the china cabinet); got it sorted, trashed what needed to be trashed, and filed what needed to be saved.

So, for that, I am thankful.

AND for the local franchise of “Butler and Maid Service.” Who will be sending out a rescue party next Tuesday at precisely 1:00 pm. To dig me out from under this pile of...over-commitment.

A (wo)man’s got to know (her) limitations…

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twelve: Loving the Lights

I have mentioned my landlord in the past, haven’t I? The guy who used to own the café, and sometimes drives me a little crazy? After three years, he is still having a bit of a hard time letting go… Keeps coming to me with advice about how to increase sales, how to advertise; and he takes pride in being the source of all the juicy local business gossip (most of which I already know by the time he sidles up to me and reports, sotto voce and with great relish, what he has “heard on the grapevine.”)

When he owned the café, Mr. Landlord/Former Owner often made decisions based on the political correctness of any given action, opting not to risk offending by appearing to show favoritism to any belief system. So—no holiday decorations of any kind. In fact, he developed a reputation of being somewhat of a Scrooge.

And of course, his attitude toward holiday decorating could not be more polar opposite of mine. I love Christmas, love Christmas decorations, and it’s my restaurant now; so I WILL deck the halls. Which, of course, Mr. Landlord/Former Owner has never let come to pass without some kind of not quite jokey comment.

So I gave up long ago trying to get him to decorate the building for Christmas. Not so my neighbor, this year—the Intrepid Jeweler occupying the space next to ours. He has been lobbying for Christmas lights since, I think, last spring. Not letting up for a minute, as far as I can tell. I’m sure he regaled Mr. LL/FO with all the reasons hanging holiday lights made good business sense and gave him a higher stature in the community.

And, lo and behold, the Jeweler’s persistence has paid off. Our building now sparkles with many strings of LED icicle lights hanging…well, not from the eaves, as there aren’t any eaves on our utilitarian square box of a building. The lights look like…um…kind of a high-waisted sequined belt encircling the building somewhere just below the armpits. But they are pretty and they are festive, and I neither had to fight for them nor install them.

So I thank Mr. Landlord/Former Owner and the Intrepid Jeweler for making our holidays a little brighter.

Thirteen: Down But Not Out

I never had any problems with Friday the Thirteenth. I didn’t even realize there was going to be one this month until about Wednesday. But even after I figured it out, it didn’t bother me overmuch. Thursday the Twelfth has always been my bugaboo. And I figured having my day off cancelled by (everyone else’s) illness had satisfied the bad-luck requirement for this go-round. I went to bed Thursday night thinking that Friday would probably be gravy after that. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

Friday was every bit the day from hell. First thing in the morning, the café was overrun by a group of people who started arriving about 8:30 and eventually set up a presentation for a pyramid marketing scheme… in my dining room. Without calling for a reservation, or even coming up to the counter when they arrived to ask if it would be okay for them to do so. They just walked in and took over the place. So I had this noisy, not particularly well-mannered crowd of anywhere from twelve to thirty “local business people” swarming all over the restaurant for 2 ½ hours. They spent thirty dollars.

I asked them to leave at 11 am, explaining that we would be getting busy for lunch and we would need the table space (for real customers who wanted to buy a meal, but I didn't say that.) Without actually saying the words, I did make it very clear that they were not welcome to walk in and take over my restaurant unannounced whenever they felt like it. They, in turn, made it very clear--loudly and not very politely (surprise)--that they would not be back. Fine. Good riddance to your sorry “It’s-all-about-me” asses and your gargantuan sense of entitlement.

The stress of that ridiculous confrontation nearly sent me over the edge. After a lunch that started out slow and finally got busy (I strongly suspect that the presence of the crowd spilling around and out the doors of my restaurant served as a deterrent for our regular lunch patrons) I was SO ready to get out of there. Had to. Needed to be somewhere, by myself, just to get my head reassembled. California Chef had emailed me the night before and said he was feeling much better and wanted to return to work on Friday. I literally counted the minutes to 2:00, when Chef would arrive and I could run out the door, get in my van and burst into tears.

One fifty-five rolls around, no Chef. Two o’clock, still no Chef. I start to get a really bad feeling. Squeeze myself into my “cloffice” to check my email. Come to find that chef has emailed (somewhere around 9:30 that morning) that he has decided against returning to work today, if it’s okay with me. Of course it’s okay with me, if you’re still sick…but the way to communicate that on the morning of is NOT by email. Like I have time to run to the computer every five minutes when half the kitchen staff is out sick. I’m sure he was thinking that, like any normal 21st century techno-junkie, I am always connected to the internet and my email via cel phone (the phone I recharge about once every three weeks and do not carry on my person as a matter of principle.) Yet another of those generational brain-farts that make it so easy for me to manage my staff…

And so, I end up working thirteen straight hours. Finally get to sit down and take my one meal break of the day around hour twelve. And we were busy. Which is the one saving grace of the whole thing, because I think it would have been the ultimate bitch to work that hard and grind through that much emotional stress without at least the reward of decent numbers on the till.

I hate days like that. I haven’t had one in a long time; in fact, I truly think that, after three years, I shouldn’t have them at all. SHOULD NOT have those days when I feel like I’m carrying the whole thing uphill tied to my back with a shoelace. I do not want to have those days when I email to my spouse and business partner: I have had it. I want to sell this place and move to St. Thomas.

Truthfully, it did cross my mind that it might be time to cry “Uncle.” And not because of my staffing problems, or having to work thirteen hour days, or feeling like I’m dragging the cafe up a mountain by the hair. It’s because of the people. The “customers.”

Yes, I’m a serious introvert. And getting out there among the people is the most challenging part of this thing for me. Twenty years ago, when I pushed myself to do that as a manager working for somebody else, I always felt rewarded for the effort. I always came away with the sense that the people really could be the fun part of the job at times. But not anymore.

Times have SO changed. The tenor of this century is rudeness, false entitlement, get whatever you can get. It’s perfectly okay to say or do anything. If you get away with it, fine. It’s up to the other guy to call you on it, if the other guy can screw up the courage to do so. Because he knows you’re not going to back down without a row. People just do…whatever, and dare the world to tell them they can’t. Courtesy? Consideration for others? Even the slightest notion that there’s someone else in the world besides you? Not a chance. And it just isn’t fun, fulfilling, or even vaguely appealing to run a service business when one has to deal with that over and over, every day.

Maybe I am a hopelessly outdated old relic. But I am consistently flabbergasted by the things people will say and do these days. If I give it up, if I hand over my keys and hang the “for sale” sign in the window, that will be the thing that drove me to it.

So, this post is supposed to be about thanks. What am I thankful for, here on day thirteen?

Maybe that I came this close, but I’m not going to quit. Not today.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fifteen and Fourteen...Not So Much

Many years ago, we had a cat who, during a year of particular stress, expressed his impotent rage over his inability to control his environment by pulling every hair he could reach out of his body. For months, he was completely bald, except for his head.

My parents had a dog who experienced a similar reaction to stress. She would sit in the corner on her pillow and chew on her own front paw…for hours. Chew until it bled. Leaving a chronic raw, oozing wound.

After a few days like the last two, I come home and sit and literally do not know what to do with myself. There is no thought process, no re-planning and re-working, no letting it go, no figuring it out…nothing. There is nothing. Except the urgent need to do something, and no idea what it is.

It finally occurred to me last night…

That I just need to go sit in the corner and chew on my arm.

Until it bleeds.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sixteen: Thanks For (and to) My Ladies

For all my whining about them, I DO have some employees that are worth their weight in…prime beef?

I rolled up my sleeves, slapped a smile on my face and sallied forth to the café this morning, even though I really, REALLY didn’t want to. But I kept in mind the thing about my attitude setting the tone, and we had a good day. Even fun at times. Luckily it wasn’t too busy. After the last three days, I was ready for a bit of a respite. The good and faithful “D” has set herself to the task of selling dessert to our dinner crowd; and even though our “crowd” consisted of about three tables and a carry-out tonight, she managed to inflict flan upon at least 50% of them. (Actually, the flan is very good, and I had California Chef prepare a cranberry-orange rum sauce to drizzle over the top… Voila! “Holiday Flan.”)

So, tonight I am thankful for my ladies, who rise to the occasion when I need them. And, in particular, for the Good and Faithful “D”, whom I will greatly miss when she finally does leave us. Sooner than I can really bear to think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seventeen...More Days Like This?

Try…just try to make a plan. Any plan at all will take a beating from unforeseen excrement contacting the metaphorical oscillator. I can hardly plan to go to the bathroom without being interrupted, sidetracked, hair-on-fired and just-one-more-thinged until I nearly wet my pants.

Yeah, I need to lighten up. And, yeah, this “gratitude” thing seemed like just the ticket to help me get there. So, how many days did I get through? Three? Before the Universe grabbed me by the hair and growled, “So, you want to be grateful, huh? Well let’s make this a real test! Let's see you handle this. And this. And this…!

Yesterday, arriving home from a nice day at work, a day for which I was just about to be… grateful, I open the garage door. Orangie limps in, hasn’t touched his breakfast, looks pretty ill, in fact. Looks like another trip to the vet might be in order.

To take my mind off that, I decide to browse through some mail. And I happen upon an envelope in a pile of “filed” mail (that would be mail shoved into one of several random piles by the person—who shall remain nameless—who can get the mail but cannot deal with the mail.) An envelope containing a letter from the state Employment Department. A letter dated October 26th (two weeks ago.) A letter stating that they intend to audit our books from the past two and a half years. And they want to see everything—except, perhaps, our used toilet paper. And they will be showing up at our front door on November 13 (two days from now.) Oh, thank you!

After losing thirty percent of what little sleep I normally get, worrying about this thorny problem, I climbed out of bed still determined to cultivate gratitude. But the only thing I could think of to be thankful for was that I have tomorrow off. So I can rest, possibly stay in bed with a pillow over my head for the entire day, or maybe emerge just long enough to drag out and decorate the first of my Christmas trees, as that indulgence could not fail to improve my mood.

Not two hours after posting that little tidbit on Facebook, I get a call from the restaurant. Flaky Cook has brought in a doctor’s note stating that she has tested positive for h1n1 (this is the third time in five weeks she has had the flu…) and will not be able to return to work for at least three days. My cherished and happily anticipated day off is now in jeopardy. In fact, I’m looking at no day off (and I’ve just worked ten days in a row) followed by the possibility of five or six double shifts until Flaky Cook can return to work.

I’m glad I hadn’t yet mentioned I was grateful for my husband. I’d probably be watching him being loaded into an ambulance. I think I’ll keep that little bit of gratitude to myself, for the time being…

Thankfully, a little tap-dancing and schedule-juggling has re-secured my precious day off. So I still can be—and AM (you have no idea)—grateful for that. For now. I hope.

...or NOT. Chef called in sick today, too. So no day off for me today.

That's okay. I love my little cafe, and I'll keep it going if I'm the last (wo)man standing. Which it looks like I might be...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eighteen: He Once Was Lost...

Today, I'm thankful for this:

Not a very good picture... But it is the Orange Avenger curled up on my bedroom floor resting his head on the kiva ladder.

This boy has been the bright spot of my summer. A year ago, when I saw him outside and tried to talk to him, he would hunker down and run away. No matter how sweetly I would try to cajole, he wanted nothing to do with me.

And then he had his magical change of heart--the day I scooped a couple of spoonfuls of canned cat food into his outside dish. Evidently, he decided right then and there that I was an acceptable sort.

And the rest is history...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nineteen Days of Thanks

I read over at Flamingo Feathers about an idea that makes some sense to me right now. The idea is to post—every day between now and Thanksgiving—something you are thankful for. The plan was actually to post on “Facebook,” but I would just as soon post here, where I can go into a little more detail. I’ll work up some kind of edited version for FB.

This exercise will serve a dual purpose for me. It will get me posting daily again, at least for awhile. And it will get me out of the “poor me” funk I’ve fallen into once again.

Being the melancholy, inside-my-head sort of person I am, I have always had to work at being happy and positive, and work even harder to project those things to others. There was quite a space of years, there, where I didn’t apply myself too diligently to that work My husband and my family knew I was a complicated, introspective person, and since they were the only people with whom I had much contact for several of my “worst” years, I wasn’t inspired to make the effort. Why should I try to channel Pollyanna just to make other people more comfortable with who I…wasn’t?

Recently, though, it has come to my attention that I need to step up my efforts in that direction. I’ve noticed (finally…duh!) that my own attitude really does set the tone for the rest of the crew at the restaurant. I am there A LOT, and if all I can think about (and verbalize) is how much I don’t want to be there, how can I expect the people who work for/with me to do otherwise? So, no matter if I’m there open to close and beyond seven days a week, I cannot let it slip through my lips how much I want or need to take a day, an hour or a minute OFF. I need to love every minute of being at the café, and if I can’t love every minute, I have to look like I do. Not an easy task; but not, I think, a task without the potential for great reward.

So it behooves me to reach down deep and drag up things that make me happy, lighten my mood, give me positive energy. Hence the efficacy of an exercise that forces me to focus on things in my life for which I am grateful.

Yesterday was actually the first day that I put my new theory into practice. And lo and behold, I saw instant results. I had been ready to fire just about every single cantankerous butt in the place only a few days ago. But yesterday, everyone seemed to be able to share our tiny sandbox amicably. There were no frowns, no temper tantrums, no sullen silences. I almost had to go outside and read the name on the door, I was that convinced I must be in the wrong restaurant. It does a body good when the Universe grants an immediate reward for extra effort.

So what am I grateful for today? Actually, this is kind of a carry-over from yesterday. I decided to dig out my Christmas CD’s. (Yes, I still listen to CD’s. With a collection of at least 50 Christmas CD’s alone, I’d be an idiot to renounce that technology.) I basically just threw the first 6 I found lying around into the changer, and they turned out to be some of the best. My Christmas music collection—mostly instrumental “space music” stuff—has been my antidote to stress since my days of working in the high-speed world of Fourth Quarter Retail. From the first few notes of the first tune, I can almost feel myself exuding a mellow, feet-up-in-front-of-the-fire holiday glow.

My music. That’s what I’m giving thanks for today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Enter The "Y" Chromosome

I grew up in Estrogen Central. Our family of seven consisted of six females…and my dad.

Still, when it came time to choose a career, I ended up in the world of the commercial kitchen—dominated by sharp knives, gigantic appliances, acres of stainless steel, and MEN. (Come to think of it, what career field was NOT male-dominated back in the seventies?)

Working with men is really pretty simple. They are selfish and competitive. They try to dominate all aspects of a project; their idea of teamwork is to hog every opportunity to shine and let someone else have the ball only when they drop it; “delegation” is the handing off of unglamorous scutwork to lesser minions. Men tend to establish a clear pecking order in a kitchen, dishing out verbal and even physical abuse to new-comers. If you prove you can “take it”—for an unspecified period of time—then you earn the right to be treated like a human being.

But I could be a hard guy. I gave as good as I got. I busted my butt, worked hard and didn’t challenge anybody (much) so I got respect. After awhile, I had myself convinced that I worked much better with men than with women. Women were wimpy, over-emotional, passive/aggressive pains in the ass. Since there were not too many girls there in the back of the house rubbing elbows with me, what did I know? It served me, for many years, to make believe I was just one of the guys.

Eventually, after more years stuck in middle management than any man would have had to endure, I finally attained Hefe status. And I found that managing men gradually lost its appeal. I was the boss. I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody (at least not to anyone with whom I shared a prep table.) The “hazing” mentality so prevalent in the industry was loathsome, and I was not going to tolerate it in my kitchen. I knew management-sanctioned abuse was no way to attract and retain quality employees. And, let’s face it—five foot three inch dynamo that I was, I nevertheless found that getting any male to do my bidding was more trouble than it was worth. So I discovered, wonder of wonders, that I preferred managing my own kind.

Women, in addition to being passive/aggressive pains in the ass, are much more collaborative and team-oriented than men. Women are motivated by being needed; they want to feel helpful and necessary. And, oddly enough, I’ve found that women are much more adept than men at multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s because men are always at least partly engaged in plotting how much farther up the ladder successful completion of a given assignment is going to take them. It takes away from their ability to focus on multiple tasks.

And, of course, one cannot discount the fact that women don’t usually find it impossible to take orders from another woman. So, over time, I’ve become somewhat of a master at managing the Estrogen-Powered Workplace. Not that this skill has become simple or formulaic…but at least it’s a matter of dealing with the Devil I Know.

Enter my newest hire—California Chef.

Even the selection process that brought him on board was a painstaking exercise in looking beyond stereotypes and prejudices built upon thirty-plus years in this business. The final decision was between California Chef and a female candidate with plenty of experience and ties to the community. The choice became clear when California Chef brought ideas and research to the final interview, and Local Chef brought…herself. I could not see myself opting for the lesser candidate based on what amounted to reverse discrimination. Still, I had to physically put aside my trepidation about introducing a male into our female-infested kitchen—especially in a supervisory capacity. California Chef got the job.

Would that I could say that all my worry was for naught. But we know better than that, don’t we? It has indeed been a challenge to optimize my male chef’s effectiveness, surrounded as he is by our rag-tag crew of ladies—including myself—with less-than-gourmet-dinner-house experience. He is frustrated that we don’t know anything, which makes us feel more than slightly disrespected. It’s not that we “don’t know anything;” we may not have some of his skills and experience, but that doesn’t mean we don’t respect his expertise and aren’t willing to acquire those skills. But we want to feel respected in the process. It’s been a difficult and particularly thread-like tightrope for us all to walk.

California Chef is talented, he’s smart, his work ethic is a throwback to my own generation, or even my parents’. And he is really a genuinely nice person. Yet he’s having the devil’s own time figuring out how to communicate with and motivate his staff. I can’t teach him how to cook, but I sure as hell have a store of knowledge about management and the maintenance of inter-personal relationships involved that he would do well to acquire if he aspires to an effective career as head of his own kitchen. If only I can figure out how to make him understand this.

He seems to think that he has but to come up with recipes and methods, write them down or show someone once how they are done, and that should be that. There’s no room for error or mistakes or personalities. If someone fails it’s because she is lazy or stupid or insubordinate. It’s not incumbent upon him to evaluate each member of his staff as an individual, identify her strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to play to her strong side. No...he should be able to bark “Jump!” and her only input should be to ask, “How high?”

So. Typically. Male.

Yet I don’t think he even really believes this nonsense himself. It’s just that he’s been indoctrinated into this way of thinking. Poisoned, if you will, by the environments in which he has, up ‘til now, developed his talent. Male-dominated kitchens, all, where testosterone dictated the pecking order and “my way or the highway” was a legitimate management technique. He’s young…this is all he knows. But he seems to think it’s all there is.

My job is to open his mind to other possibilities, alternate methods. The methods that are going to work on a kitchen full of women. The things he needs to know and I need to teach him if our association is going to go anywhere besides up in spectacular flames. What a learning and growth experience this could be—for both of us—if we can make it happen.


Monday, October 26, 2009

...and Some Days You're The Bug

Conversation at the end of a long, frustrating day on which I spent 11 hours at the restaurant chasing my tail and accomplishing almost nothing:

Husband: Hey…go to “intuit dot com.”

Me: Why?

Husband: So we can get a website.

Me: We have a website.

H: No, we have a “Facebook” page.


H: Since when?

M: (Rolling my eyes so hard that the centrifugal force nearly sends my eyeballs shooting out the top of my skull) …..For awhile.

H: “J” says she can’t find us online!

M: Google Old Town Café Scappoose.

H: …........oh.

We have, in fact, had a website since July. After two weeks chained to my laptop(s) manipulating code, uploading pictures, and posting menus, maps, directions…

While at the same time hiring and orientating a new chef and a new pastry chef; juggling the schedule to accommodate employee traumas; struggling to keep our dining room habitable with no air conditioning in 105 degree heat; planning menu, marketing and dining room arrangements for an upcoming charity event; and coordinating purchasing and production for our $20,000 food concession gig in August. Oh, and maybe I walked on water and cleansed a leper or two.

Is my business partner/love of my life suffering from some kind of early-onset dementia? Hardly. He can quote the most obscure football, basketball and baseball statistics about teams and players—college and pro—that I (and most of the rest of the world) have never heard of. His memory is pure 21st century HD…when it comes to the things he cares about.

I wrote once, awhile back, that my husband is one of those easy-going types who has mastered the art of “tuning out the noise…” He just doesn’t hear what he doesn’t feel the need to hear.

About fifteen years ago, when my life started to turn to shit and he was all I could grab to keep myself from falling irretrievably into my own head, I became…noise.

And, evidently, the fact that we supposedly own a business together has not served to change my status in that regard.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

I’m sure everyone thought the resident Obama fan would have some comment about the President being selected to win the Nobel Peace Prize. So here are my two cents:

Do I think Mr. Obama’s selection for that lofty prize may have been a bit premature? Yes, I do. Do I think President Obama has had an opportunity to implement his world-peace-enhancing policies? No, I do not. Do I believe that our Congress/electorate/national media will even allow him to implement those policies? Hard to say.

But what I think is not important. In fact, what we as a nation think isn’t important. The Nobel Prize is awarded by a committee that represents, arguably, global interests. And that is key.

What we don’t, as a nation, see—what we refused to allow ourselves to believe for eight years—was how far, under the hand of the Bush Administration, the United States of America had fallen from the ideals that had made her the great nation she was. After the September 11th attacks, the US turned cowardly. Fear made her retract the great wings of freedom and protection with which she traditionally attempted to enfold the world. Fear made her stretch her sharp talons in the direction of any threat, real or imagined. Fear made her claw and snap and growl. A world that had depended upon a strong, brave, free and generous America saw the US turn into a very large, very wounded animal, with the Bush Administration continuously chewing upon the sores to keep them open and to keep her fearful and angry and half-crazed with pain. And the world became afraid—of us.

Finally, We the People regained our senses and drove the party responsible for our loss of respect on the world stage out of the White House. Sure, we elected a man who got the job pretty much because he was as far from the person and policies of the previous Administration as you could get. President Obama was elected because he was NOT George W. Bush, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, that (obviously) carries a tremendous amount of weight. Mr. Obama has at the very least talked the talk of a complete about-face from the previous administration’s policies. That was enough to impress the Nobel Committee, to inspire them to award the Peace Prize to the man who personifies the restoration of the United States of America to her rightful place in the world—that of Uniter, not Divider.

I look at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize as having been awarded more to the people of the United States than to the new President. We kicked the bad guys out, and demanded the change that the Obama Administration represents. Let’s just hope that, now, we go forward and implement that change the world so desperately needs to see in us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

If Their Past is Not My Future...What Is?

Since my parents died, I’ve adopted this somewhat morbid habit of recalling what was happening in their lives when they were my age. I look back to see if their fifties, sixties and seventies held anything that I might look forward to in my own life. Perhaps something that bears any resemblance to the dreams I used to have for myself, or, for that matter, anything even vaguely appealing.

In their fifties, my parents saw their first grandchildren born, and their youngest daughter (me) married. Okay, being childless, these are things I will not be anticipating….

Mom and Dad bought a travel trailer, made some little trips around the country, even splurged on a few “flying” vacations. They finally felt “flush” enough to begin their tradition of going out to dinner every Friday night. They were, for the most part, contented empty-nesters, established and comfortable and enjoying the fruits of their labors. But the fact is, they were already winding down in those years. Slowing down and gliding into retirement. My mother was only 59 when my parents retired, for god’s sake.

So why in the hell would I even think I could use my parents’ lives as any kind of template for my own? Could there be a more opposite set of circumstances than where my parents were at my age and where I find myself today? I’m an over-challenged, clueless entrepreneur trying to single-handedly drive to victory the one dream in all my life that I’ve managed to yank out of my head and into reality. Slowing down? I’m still going 100 miles an hour…well, maybe only 80, because that’s as fast as I can go. But my foot is pressed to the floor and I’m calling for every bit of power I can coax out of the old gal. Retirement? What’s that?

But perhaps I’ve figured out why people want to slow down. They want it to last. They want to plant their feet in front of all those years that are tumbling by faster and faster and stop the free-fall. Put out their hands and say, “Wait! Stop! Hold on just a minute! I’M…NOT…DONE…!”

Not so very long ago, my future consisted not of fading dreams of things I hadn’t accomplished, but of all the things I fully intended to do. I would have that a-frame cabin in the woods. I would make that trip to The Continent…spend time…six months, maybe a year. I would rediscover my music and my art; take up piano, and learn to ride, and write for money. I could do these things. I had time.

Now, I look at my life, half-gone…or maybe a little more than half. And I’m so busy and time goes so fast, faster and faster every minute, that I know I’ll never get the chance... Maybe I knew that before…but it still felt good, to dream. To think, yeah...I could do that. Because even if I didn’t have the money or the means or the moxie, I had the time. Which somehow made it all still possible.

What is my future, now? What can I still expect to do…and where am I going to find the time?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Journey of Grief, The Journey of Life

My friend Robin—who is walking a journey of crushing grief caused by the death of her son a little over a year ago—has posted a couple of entries about a conversation she had with a friend over breakfast recently. Wherein the friend seemed to communicate that Robin should be…somewhere else in her journey. Maybe having achieved more distance, more “closure;” thereby making it easier, perhaps, for her friends to begin to relate to her again.

Today, Robin mentioned that her friend had told her, “In the end, the only thing you can do is choose happiness.” Perhaps, if this friend has ever experienced a stunning, incapacitating grief, this is what she believes she did to put it behind her. Personally, I think it’s a flawed concept.

One does not choose happiness, any more than one chooses to grieve. Our emotional states are largely dictated by outside influences over which we have no control. If I witnessed a terrible accident in which hundreds of people died horribly before my eyes, could I then make everything all better by turning around, walking away and choosing to be happy? Hardly.

Still, I know, in my own journey with grief, there were times when I had to choose to step away from the sadness. If only for a few seconds, or a minute, or a couple of hours. At first, it’s almost impossible to do, because you feel the very act of pushing out of the sadness is a betrayal to the memory of the loved one you have lost; a discordant note in a life that now has to be lived without someone too important to lose; a futile exercise in sublimating a pain that will never go away. But, at some point, you realize that you have to walk out of the pain or be totally and forever consumed by it. You want to remember who you were, even though you know you will never be that person again.

And it sticks to you, that a magnetic fog. You may not have a strong grasp on reality outside your grief, but you can be certain of this: that the sadness is always there, it will return and enfold you like a shroud. Days…months…decades after the loss, the sadness is there.

So, no…I’m not living in a place of acute grief any more. Not right now. However, I don’t expect that aspect of life to become anything but more familiar as I move into my own twilight years. I think it would be much harder to face if I hadn’t realized early on that you don’t get over grief. You don’t “recover” from it. Ever. You come to the understanding that the grief—the loss—is now a part of who you are. You embrace it; you pick it up, sling it over your back and keep walking.

In Robin’s post today, she contemplated the purpose of life. Is the purpose of life to be happy? Or is it, as an aspiring Presbyterian minister believes—to know and love God? What’s MY answer?

Certainly life isn’t all about being happy. The pursuit of “happiness” is a somewhat selfish undertaking that can, as often as not, end in disaster, and inflict pain on others. To know and love God? Um…I don’t believe in “God,” at least, not in the sense in which that Power is described and worshipped in our current popular belief systems.

I look at life as a journey. From where and to what, I really have no idea. There is incredible beauty and nearly unendurable sadness to be experienced along the way. There is more love and wonder and worth around the next corner, as surely as there is another tragedy or horror waiting somewhere farther down the road. So you have to keep going. You have to…you have to…pick up the changes and the losses and the tears and the tatters and the heartbreak. Sling them over your back, and keep walking. To do otherwise would cheat yourself, and dishonor this incredible gift—and challenge—that we call “life.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Discontented Rumblings

An amorphous sense of discontent has plagued me lately. An inkling that time is going by much too quickly, and I’m not using it well. A suspicion that no one in my world is happy with me, including me. Small personal goals seem as far outside my reach as lofty universal ones. I can no more keep my bathroom clean than I can achieve world peace. There is not one aspect of my life that I can say is where I think it could be or know it should be.

It’s been more than a year since I emerged from the over-stressed sleep-deprived fog I inhabited for the first two years of running the restaurant. And yet, I feel I’ve accomplished nothing in the past fifteen months. True, I’ve spent most of that recovered energy just keeping the business viable through tough economic times. But I really don’t like the feeling that I’m throwing all my weight into this thing just to keep it from going backward. When do we get to go forward? Ever?

And then there’s Old Age. I don’t feel it creeping up on me. I feel like I’m running full speed away from it, but it’s matching me step for step. And its legs are longer than mine…

When I first began to entertain the notion of buying a business, every "how to" book I read exhorted one to write up a set of goals. Where do you want to be in six months? In a year? In five years? I never took that advice. Something told me that I was stepping off into such alien territory that I couldn’t possibly have a clue where I was going or how long it was going to take me to get there. I guess I looked at my business venture as a "Walkabout." It was all about the journey, not the destination.

As it turns out, that attitude has probably been my salvation, as well as my cross. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t even gone in the same direction I thought I was going when I started out, and it’s a safe bet that I have not achieved anything I would have recognized as "goals" at the outset. "Assemble a crew of workers who will actually show up when they’re scheduled" and "chase down food purveyors who believe Scappoose is forty miles outside of Outer Mongolia" would not have struck me as tasks difficult enough to qualify as goals…and yet, accomplishing just these simple things has been like a quest for the Grail. So if I had said, "I want to have increased sales by 20% and banked 50k in profits after three years," I would be living with failure that was beyond dismal, at this point. If I had not chucked it all months ago, based on my inability to accomplish…anything.

Recently, in the midst of an argument with my grocery rep, he said to me, "You want to be a $1,000,000.00 restaurant, don’t you?" I didn’t have to think very long…I said, "No, Kirk, I just want to make a living. If I wanted to make a million dollars, I sure as hell wouldn’t be running a restaurant in a little bitty town like this."

"I just want to make a living." But I’m not doing that yet. Haven’t taken one dollar out of the damned thing. But the doors are still open, and it’s paying its own bills. Still, I wonder whether I haven’t set my sights too low. Maybe if I had said I wanted to make a million, I would at least be drawing a salary by now. But would that have been enough to motivate me to keep going? Hard to say; but I suspect that if I thought I was going to (or needed to) make any money off this thing in the first five years, I would have been bummed or broke enough to get out by now.

But when people ask me how it’s going, I’m getting a little tired of saying, "Well, we’re not losing money!" as if that was the best I can hope for. At some point, it has to do more than pay for itself.

Doesn’t it?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Left Behind

Back in June, I made some moves that I believed were risky, brave, and eminently forward-looking. I hired myself a chef/kitchen manager, and a pastry chef. With the idea of taking the café to the “next level.” Knowing full well that some of the precious long-term employees I had clung to would not be going to that next level with us. You stop, you think, you swallow your trepidation and you take that big forward step. You know there will be consequences.

Now that I think about it, the fallout was already falling when I made those momentous hiring decisions. It was, in fact, one of the things that pushed me to make the moves I did. One by one, the backbones of my crew were themselves making decisions. To move on. To kiss us goodbye and leave us behind. In truth, I decided to take us to the next level because it was that or…I don’t know what. Run the restaurant by myself, I guess.

In May, the Good and Faithful “D” informed me that she would be going back to school in the fall. And of course, it couldn’t be a normal school, where you could take classes AND work, and get your degree or certificate in, maybe two or three years. No…it had to be one of those “career” schools with the intensive programs that eats up the students’ every waking hour, transforms them and releases them fully accredited and thoroughly exhausted into their chosen field of endeavor after a mere 6 to 8 months.

Time and time again, my “girls” remind me that I am their boss. I am not their friend, or their mentor, or even someone whose feelings matter, or whose opinion they value. I have so utterly failed to make that connection with the girls who work for me. And it feels like shit. What do you say to someone upon whom you have depended heavily—probably much more heavily than was wise—when they up and decide to move on? “Bye, see ya…have a nice life?”

And, yet, I could do that, if it looked like the parting was going to be a smooth and amicable one. But that would not be “D.” Her personality is such that, when she decides to move on, she completely emotionally disassociates from whatever she is moving on from. She's no Audrey Hepburn, but her personality is every bit "Holly Go-lightly." She wants to project the impression that there are no bonds, no chains, no attachments…everyone (meaning SHE) is free to walk away from any relationship at any time, no hard feelings, no regrets. The more serious the entanglement, the more aloof she becomes at the dissolution of it. Untouchable. Unreachable. Gone.

The end result of this is…though she will not actually start school for another two weeks, and she plans to continue to work part-time during the first ten-week term, “D” is already gone. The amazing young woman whose trust I thought I had won, and whose loyalty I believed I had inspired, at least in some small way, has disappeared. In her place is a disrespectful petulant malcontent with a serious case of “short-timer’s disease.” And it just…hurts. Deep in my heart, it hurts.

It will be a sad chapter in the history of the Old Town Café, and in my personal history, if the time comes—as it appears that it will—when I am relieved that “D” has finally walked out the door, never to return. She has been my right hand, my go-to…the Good and Faithful “D.” It will be hard…SO hard…to watch that relationship end in such a sad and ignominious way. But it honestly looks as if I have no choice. I have been pitched out of a taxi into an alley, in the rain.

Unfortunately, I don't anticipate "D" suffering a change of heart and coming back for me...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hello, Journal...

Coming To Terms is coming up on its sixth birthday. Six years. Wow.

I love this little blog. I do. It means so much more to me than anyone could ever imagine. Even sans the readers and the community out of which it sprang (or into which it sprang…) I love it too much to let it go. But I’ve come to realize, without the community, I have a lot less to say here than I used to. Truth to tell, a lot of what I wrote for five years was more playing around than real writing. There were the memes and the getting-to-know-you games (remember “100 Things About Me…?) There were the bitch and moan sessions, and the “poor me” wallowing—all of which had a place and a purpose, because part of the blogging experience consisted of…well, venting. Discovering that there were others out there like me, or who appreciated or sympathized with my trauma du jour.

Now, when I want to vent, this is not the first place I come…it doesn’t seem as satisfying anymore, somehow.

Of course, some of what has been recorded here is real, solid, creditable writing. Writing of which I am inordinately proud. Writing that would never have existed without this place. And that is the thing that keeps me here. Knowing that I have done it. Knowing that I can do it still.

But here’s the thing: I feel like I can only post the ‘real’ stuff now…because there’s no one around to read or appreciate the fluff. And with so much of my life force and creative juices being consumed by the restaurant, I have so little left to invest here. I want to write. I need to write. But I’m so used up that, even when I have the time and an idea, I turn on the laptop, type a few sentences, and then just sit and stare at the screen…so tired…and I save the sentences, close the document, and go play solitaire instead. Good writing simply takes more resources than I have available, most of the time.

I’ll admit I’m in one of those “are-we-having-fun-yet?” places when it comes to the café. It doesn’t seem like we have made as much progress as I would like to see. I’ve spent a fortune overstaffing the place, and I still can hardly get a weekend off, or feel confident that if I shell out a bunch of money for tickets to a show or concert that I will actually be able to get the time off to use them. This is not the place I wanted to be after three years. If I can’t pay myself, the least I should be able to do is take a freaking day off when I want it.

As of this week, Cooks #1 & 2 are back in school, Cook #3 has taken herself out of action for a month by cutting off the tips of two of her fingers (eeewwww!!!); and my chef’s grandmother died, so he’ll be gone to California for the funeral for four days. Overspending on labor by 30%, yet, once again, I am the ONLY cook available to work on a Saturday. What do I have to DO to catch a break??!?!?!

And so…I blow a kiss, with a mist of tears in my eyes, to “Big Red” (my concession trailer) as it goes off to its next adventure with its new owner; and I think that maybe being semi-retired, running my little seasonal concession business, might not have been the worst place I was ever in. I think back to how easy (and exhilarating!) it was to put together great essays when I had the time and the wherewithal. I really, really miss that. And it doesn’t go too far toward making me feel any more satisfied with my present lot in life. Chronically exhausted, challenged often to the limits of my abilities to cope, and completely dried up, creatively. (Do I detect a “poor me” coming on?)

Perhaps one should not endeavor to count the cost of “living the dream”—as I so often find myself doing. It behooves one to just shut up, press on, and spend more time dwelling on the positives. Yes. I’ll do that, now. Can’t promise I won’t fall off the wagon a few miles down the road. But I’m done whining, for the time being.

At any rate...

Happy Birthday, “Coming to Terms….”

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Boys of Summer 2009

I've been writing about the cats my mother's spirit has sent me this summer... Just so you know what (whom) I'm talking about--

boys of summer

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Fair Exchange

I was away from home for an entire week. Normally, this would not bother me overmuch. There were aspects of my life from which I really needed a break. But I have a few new responsibilities that made me feel guilty, and even a bit worried, about being gone so long. As I mentioned in my previous post, my mother has sent me cats—several of them. Three in particular. And each is uncharacteristically needy at this point in his life.

Orangie is still living mostly in my back yard. He spends probably 70% of his time there—sleeping, eating, hanging with his “peeps” when we sit out on the deck in the evening. It’s the other 30% of his time that causes the problems. Every few days, he shows up with a new bite or sore, or he’s limping or just obviously doesn’t feel good. He’s been “cat about the neighborhood” for almost two years. That’s a surprisingly long tenure for any animal dumped here and left to fend for himself. Most of them waste away or disappear after a few months. This guy has hung tough; but it’s obvious he’s used up more than a couple of his nine lives in the interim.

Despite getting two big meals a day—and several snacks, when I’m home—he hasn’t fattened up at all. I noticed the other day that his fur is getting softer, and he keeps himself a little cleaner, which means he is feeling better than he did when he had to scratch for every meal. But I still would kind of like to see him looking more like the “marshmallow cats” that live in the house. And it’s obvious he’s had some kind of injury to his back legs or spine. Maybe he was attacked by a dog, or a human, or had a brush with a car… But he’s stiff and sore and sits awkwardly.

I’ve had September 1st penciled in my mind as the date to round him up and take him to the vet to be neutered and get a good check up. I wanted to wait until he trusted me enough. Still, I’m worried about the process. What if he comes home, I let him out, and he’s so upset with me that he never comes back? I suppose that’s probably a stupid thing to worry about. But I sure don’t want to do anything that forces him back out into the neighborhood to fend for himself.

He’s had a hard life the past couple of years. When I think about what he’s been through, I nearly start bawling. So, I want to do right by him; but I have to balance that, too, against what’s right for the rest of my herd. I don’t know if he’ll make a good transition to “indoor cat,” and I can’t have him going in and out of the house, possibly carrying disease to the indoor population. So he has to be “in” or “out.” We’ve been playing around with the idea of turning the shed into a kitty hut. Making it a warm, cozy place for kitties to get out of the rain and cold during the winter. And a place that we can quietly shut them in at night to keep them out of the way of the harm that lurks around the neighborhood in the dark—like raccoons, coyotes, other cats, dogs, cars, whatever. That might be a good compromise for everyone.

“Everyone” would include yet another denizen of the neighborhood who has taken to hanging around the yard and grabbing chow several times a week. This one is a scrappy little black tom…I can’t think that he is a year old, yet. We dubbed him “Ace,” short for Ace of Spades. Mostly we call him “Acer.”
He’s such a sweetie, likes people, loves to be petted. But if testicle size really was determined by the amount of male hormone coursing through his body, this little guy would be dragging around balls the size of a Brahma bull’s. He just can’t not challenge every male cat in the subdivision. As a result, he gets the crap kicked out of him on a regular basis. Every time he shows up to beg a meal, he’s sporting a new battle wound. Acer is a relatively recent addition to the neighborhood cast of cat characters…I don’t know if he belongs to someone or not. I think not. And even if he does, his owners suck as “cat parents.” I would not feel bad at all about toting him to the vet along with Orangie. Orangie is a mellow old cat; likely he would be happy to share his space amiably with Ace…but Ace has to posture and howl every time they cross paths. Perhaps they could get along once they’ve been, shall we say, re-programmed? And then they could spend yucky fall and winter evenings snuggled into our shed-cum-cathouse. That’s what I would like to see, anyway.

Yes, I go through a lot of work and worry—and expense—to take care of these wanderlings. I feel responsible, being a member of the race that has bound them to itself and then treated them so shabbily. I recognize the human race’s collective sin, so it IS my responsibility to do what I can to atone for it. And it’s not as if I get no benefit from the relationship.

Ask anyone who knows me to describe me in one word, and the words, “Gentle,” “kind,” and “comforting” would not be the first you would hear. Far from it.

But there are creatures in my world —small, helpless creatures suffering for their relationship with humans—for whom I am a source of gentleness, kindness, and comfort. They can’t say the words, but I know I help.

And that’s all the reward I need.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hiding in Plain Sight

Like anyone else who has reached my venerable age, I’ve navigated the dark corridors of grief. My sister…my dad…my mom. Being the agnostic I am (a state partially inspired by my sister’s difficult and untimely death) I do not believe that my departed loved ones have gone to “heaven,” and that I will meet them there at the end of my own life. I remember very distinctly, after my sister’s death, writing that I felt that she had just…gone. I did not—dared not—feel her spirit anywhere. …because her family fell so utterly apart after she left, I could not bear to think of her as being somewhere, looking down on that. I knew it would break her heart. As, I now realize, Dad would have been broken-hearted at the strife between his offspring after he went away.

Yet I am not completely without spiritual awareness. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is a spiritual realm to which we are intrinsically connected. I’ve simply come to the conclusion that our current array of human religions doesn’t even approach an understanding of that realm or our connection to it. (As a race, we have opted to define this thing of which we have no understanding in terms that we can understand. And we have chiseled those erroneous terms into stone; which we then use to pummel “unbelievers” into submission.)

I find that when I set aside the constrictions of the “faith” in which I was raised, I can explore my own connection to the spiritual…which bears little resemblance to conventional belief systems.

I’ve discovered that, after each passing of someone dear to me, I’ve felt that person’s spirit contact me through the natural world.

The summer immediately following my sister’s death, I was visited by hummingbirds. I had always been enchanted by these exquisite little creatures, but my encounters with them had been rare and brief. After Joyce died, I had hummingbirds—everywhere. In my garden, and everywhere I went.

I could never quite decide if she was the hummingbirds, or if she sent them…

In the years after Dad died, I felt him in different ways. When I went to the beach, it seemed that I would encounter one solitary gull, waddling along the edge of the surf, or soaring overhead, who would connect with me. And I would always say, “Hi, Dad…” Because I just knew it was his spirit, come to touch me, come to let me know he was in a place of ultimate freedom and beauty—there on the wild beaches of the Oregon coast.

And then there were the eagles. I truly believe Dad sent them. Sent them to remind me of my strength. At a time in my life during which great decisions needed to be made, a time when his guidance would have meant the world to me—he dispatched those great, noble birds to give me the quiet nod that he could no longer give me as father to daughter.

And Mom? Mom passed away almost two years ago.

My relationship with my mother was complicated. Let’s just say, I thought I was…not her favorite child. And our personalities were polar opposites. Most often, we just didn’t GET one another.

So I was surprised to realize, recently, that even she has contacted me through an animal host.

She has sent me…cats. Those creatures at once maddeningly independent, and yet undeniably dependent (upon someone to look after them while they project that pretense of complete aloofness and self-sufficiency.) SO like my mother…

Mom has sent me Orangie—

And Acer—

And a host of other scraggly strays that slink around the periphery of my yard, hoping to grab a few morsels from the “community” cat dish…

And Bozo—the beautiful runaway who showed up at the restaurant a couple of weeks ago, and is now ensconced in my bedroom, waiting to be integrated into the indoor cat community. (Such a stupid name for a gorgeous and obviously expensive cat...but the hubs started calling him that, and it has, unfortunately, stuck. Maybe I should just spell it "Beauzeau...")

I truly believe— in a way not at all connected to the tired, uninspired spirituality of conventional religion—that our loved ones never really go far away, when they go.

We just need to know where to look for them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tired Somewhere Else

This has been a hard week. It always seems to go that way. I have a space of time where things go well—it looks like we are finally turning the corner, and there's going to be some real progress and change at the café. And then it just…goes away.
Time was that, after some small victory or accomplishment, I would turn my beaming face around just in time to slam into a wall. Like, BLAM! Out of nowhere some really bizarre crappy thing would blindside me. The wheels would come off and spin away in ten different directions. And I'd be sitting there holding my splitting head together with my bare hands wondering what the f**k had happened this time.
So I suppose I've made progress—because that doesn't happen anymore. I've learned to expect the blow, so I don't get blindsided. I don't slam into the wall, I laboriously turn the wheel to swerve around it. Right into a ditch. The wheels don't come off, now; they just grind to a halt in three feet of mud.
Between training and tweaking the new chef, getting the new baker on track, fighting with the non-existent air conditioning in 105 degree weather, organizing a fashion show to be put on by the salon across the street (in my dining room), thinking about the holidays and catering menus and et cetera ad infinitum, NOW would not seem to be a good time to be away from the café for nine days.
But Scandi week waits for no (wo)man, so I am going down to Junction City to do that thing. And, in reality, it seems like exactly the perfect time for me to be getting some time away from the restaurant, because I have HAD IT with employee traumas. This past week, some of the craziness was of my own making…but other ongoing stuff, and new crap cropping up like Wack-a-moles, have put me in a "Get me the hell out of here before I do something I'll regret" frame of mind.
So the restaurant will have to take care of itself for a week, while I work my ass off doing something else. It's unfortunate that I won't be rested and refreshed when I get back. I'll be an entirely different, and with any luck—richer, kind of tired.
That will have to suffice until I can take some real days off…

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How It's Going...

If it seems that I am neglecting my blogging, please forgive me. I have been spending inordinate amounts of time online…but I’ve been attending to other things.

Business-related things.


I finally bought a domain name for the café and am working on a website. If anyone is interested, it’s You’re welcome to go by and see what my hours of clickety-clacking away have produced (thank god for the “starter website builder” tool…)

Oh, and I was talked in to rejoining the world of Facebook as well. Had to start up a page for the café…so, again, if anyone is interested, when you’re on Facebook, just type “Old Town Café & Espresso” into the “Search” field on the top, and you should be able to find us. We are a motley crew… :)

So, you ask, how are things going with the new chef?

Incredible. Wonderful. Doubt if things could be better. SOOOO hard to believe.

But there it is.

I’m fully expecting to be smacked in the face with reality, very soon. In fact, when my young chef called the other day to confirm what time he was supposed to be at work, I honestly thought he was calling to quit. No, there would be no reason to expect that…other than the fact that it is exactly the kind of shit that falls out of the sky and hits me in the face on a regular basis. My whole life is about “once burned, twice shy,” since I became a business owner.

But, today…things are good.

Really good.

On top of everything else, I’m acquiring a new (to me) vehicle. Which I am going to go pick up tomorrow.

A mini-van. No more driving the Great White Rumbling Beast everywhere I have to go. Can’t say I’m going to miss that at all…

And Sunday is my birthday. Okay…maybe that’s not so great.

Don’t get me wrong. I love birthdays. It’s just that ever since my age became a two-digit number starting with “5”…well, I just can’t believe I’m that OLD. Or maybe there are days—maybe EVERY day, for at least the first few minutes after I roll out of bed—that I CAN believe I’m that old. Pretty scary, that.

But it is what it is.

Well…that’s the update. Soon…very soon…I’ll come back here and write something real. And interesting.

I’ll tell you all about my continuing love affair with my new chef. Okay…not a literal love affair.

But…well…Life is damned good.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Next Level

A little over a week ago, I wrote, almost as an aside, that I had gone and hired me a real live dyed-in-the-wool chef. A foodie. Someone who knows how to cook and loves doing it.

And then, yesterday, I realized quite out of the blue that we had reached the third anniversary of our purchase of the restaurant.

So, there it is. Three years into the thing, and I’m finally going to make this restaurant MINE. By getting out of the kitchen, handing the sauté pan to someone who really KNOWS how to operate it, and using his skills to advance my vision.

No more pushing someone else’s dream up the mountain. I’ve proven I can do that. That in itself is a tremendous accomplishment…there have been oh-so-many times in the past thirty-six months when I’ve nearly conceded that, indeed, I could not. Do. It.

The time has come to bleed and sweat and ache, and laugh and celebrate and high-five, not just for something I “can do,” but for something I can love and be proud of. This young man, this twenty-five-year-old in the early years of what I’m sure will be a fine career, is going to help me get there. If we’re lucky, we can have a long, mutually beneficial association. If we’re lucky.

Tonight, sitting in the restaurant, on a beastly hot evening when I was pretty convinced that people would rather walk over burning coals than sit in our poorly air-conditioned dining room and consume pasta, I watched group after group come in, sit down, enjoy a meal. I lent a hand here and there, answered the phone, opened a bottle of wine, seated some folks, schmoozed a little…

And then I went home and left the clean up to the people I pay to do that.

For the first time in three years…


in three years

I felt like I OWNED a restaurant.

And it felt


Wednesday, July 1, 2009


…Birthday to the hubs. Fifty-three years old today.
How old is dirt, exactly?

…Anniversary to the Old Town Café… Three years ago we embarked upon this wild ride of restaurant ownership.

Still haven’t taken a dime out of the place.


The doors are still open…
The bills get paid…
The paychecks don’t bounce….

So we must be doing something right.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Life Renewing Itself

Over at “Women On” last month, I pondered what spiritual gift had been conferred upon me by the Universe. I wondered if maybe I wasn’t a prophet, given my propensity for concocting political admonitions… It may be so.

But who says a person can have only one gift? Because, prophet or no, I do know that there has been only one time in my life when I felt I had received communication directly from the Almighty. I was driving home from work one evening—must be thirty years ago, now—and a vee of geese flew low over my car, barking and honking, silhouetted against the autumn sunset. I was enchanted; and, as this was during my “born again” period, I bubbled up with a little prayer of praise and thanks for the geese and their wild beauty.

And a thought came to me, clearly, not really in words, but definitely a directive: “This is what you are here to love.” I knew it was somehow my purpose to see and appreciate the wonder of the world and the other creatures the Universe has put here to share it with us. My gift. My duty.

I can and do talk to animals all the time. It feels perfectly natural to me. And though I can’t say they talk back, I know, I just know, there is an understanding, a connection that transcends language.

From time to time over the years, I’ve felt a particular connection to one kind of animal—usually birds. I called 2005 my “year of the eagle,” because it just seemed I encountered them at every turn. Eventually, I chose to believe that the eagle was my “spirit guide.” I continued to see eagles during a time of great progress and emotional rebirth for me. I came to count on their appearance as affirmations of the paths I was choosing to follow.

Oddly, since last fall, eagles have nearly ceased crossing my path. I started to believe that my spirit guide had abandoned me. Honestly, it freaked me out a little.

But then I noticed that birds had not disappeared from my life. In fact, they have still figured prominently in my journey, even since last fall when the eagles seemed to withdraw. The eagles simply gave way to…different birds. LOTS of birds. And, particularly, lots of birds making lots of little birds.

My backyard has been an avian nursery this spring and summer. Just last week, I counted at least half a dozen different groups of fledglings enjoying the ambience of our al fresco dining facilities. We’ve had baby jays, baby “French fry birds” (house sparrows—the ones that often hang around McDonald’s parking lots filching crumbs from soft-hearted patrons), baby house finches, gold-finches, starlings, song sparrows and siskins. Earlier this spring, we had families of two kinds of grosbeaks. A pair of tree swallows is raising a brood in the rafters of my shed, and they should be out and about in a few more days.

But by far the most entertaining has been a little brood of fledgling hummingbirds. They’ve consumed gallons (or so it seems) of sugar water, and take turns chasing each other away from the hummingbird feeder with great displays of future territorial behavior—chittering and dive-bombing and fanning out their little tails to make themselves look big and fierce. They seem to have little or no fear of the giant beings sitting in lawn chairs beneath their snack station; they think nothing of zooming through airspace largely occupied by human heads, which then duck and cover to avoid the unpleasant prospect of becoming hummingbird dart-boards.

I’ve been feeling so old lately. When I get out of bed, it takes me several steps before I can actually walk like a human being. I look in the mirror, and I look more and more like my mother every day. Technology has left me behind, teen-agers talk in a language I barely comprehend, and the pop culture of the 21st century leaves me cold. I SO feel like that brontosaurus trudging those last few hundred yards to the tar pits…

So, if eagles were my guides to adventure and growth, what does this newest manifestation of bird guides mean? Thinking about all the little ones flying around in my yard, I recalled a line from “Gone With the Wind”: “Babies are life renewing itself.” Maybe this is the Universe’s way of reminding me that there is still so much of life remaining.

And it never gets old.

One of the little guys resting in my Japanese maple...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Case of the On Again, Off Again Blog

Looks like my little corner of the blogging world truly has spread itself to the four winds and disappeared. A couple of months ago, when I "closed" this blog, I felt like I had been abandoned. Like everything else that happens in my life, I interpreted the dissipation of the blogging community as a little too much "about me." The reality is, like any technological fad, blogging communities had their day, and they have given way to the next fad. Facebook. Twitter. And god knows where it will go from there.

Yeah, I'm sad. And though I feel left behind, I don't want to go on with the crowd, either. I love this virtual place—it is still my home. "Coming To Terms…" is still my story, which has not come to a close by any means. I don't know why I thought I could close it up and walk away from it.

I don't have anything overly profound to write today. In terms of the café, today is pretty auspicious. My first official "chef" starts work today. I can hardly quantify what this means, in terms of potential success if this works out; or potential disaster if it doesn't. I'm investing more money in this young man than I have ventured to do for any employee so far, and I am expecting great things from him. We shall see what we shall see. A month from now, I'll either be cracking open the bubbly or crying in my beer.

I have also hired a pastry chef, who will be starting work in July. I expect her to take our bakery case to stunning new heights, and to enhance (I hope) our sales in that direction.

I don't want to say that these two employees are either going to make or break the business. Obviously, I plan to monitor the results of my adventuresome hiring, and pull the plug on this plan if it looks like the business will start circling the drain. To tell the truth, it's kind of scaring the crap out of me to make this leap of faith…but I don't see us getting where I want us to go without some serious help in the kitchen. Part-time, fast-food trained cooks have got us as far as they can take us. It's time to really get serious with this thing, and that means bringing on board some people who are serious—and knowledgeable—about food.

If there's anyone out there in the ether still tuned in…cross your fingers for me. The next couple of months could be quite a ride.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good Things

For whatever reason, I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself, lately.

I went through a period, late last year and the first months of this year, where I slashed the hell out of my labor budget at the café, and basically filled the holes in the schedule with myself. The plan was effective…with the money we saved on payroll, we replenished the reserves in the checkbook to the tune of over ten thousand dollars in four months. Unfortunately, the negative outcome of this brilliant business move is that I am toast.

Even though I know the business is doing well, in view of the current economic situation, I can't help feeling that I've worked really hard for…not a whole lot. I've spent so many hours focusing on the restaurant that I hardly recognize my own home and yard anymore. It strikes me that this drastic lack of balance in my life is not doing any part of my sphere of influence any good. I do not want to turn into the whiney, bitchy, nit-picking malcontent I feel myself becoming.

To that end, I have decided to resurrect (once again) a blog vehicle that I have used with some success in the past.

GOOD THINGS (Maybe not ten this time, but honoring even one good thing is better than bitching…)

1.) Flowers. I'm too tired and too busy to pursue my gardening with the passion and abandon I would like, but thirty years of pottering in the yard have stood me in good stead. I had only to shell out a couple of (hundred) dollars on plants and containers to be able to banish the last memories of the hideous winter of 2008-09. Begonias, impatiens, fuchsias and my ever-expanding collection of fancy-leaf and scented geraniums, with the added punch of grasses and other leafy growing things, have turned my outdoor spaces into the best of secret retreats.

2.) Orangie. Or "OG" as we have taken to calling him. I'm sure he'll acquire more names as we get to know him better. He sleeps on the Adirondack chair just outside my dining room door. He eats his meals and then comes to me to be petted and made much of. This morning, he sat still while I cut the mats out of his fur. Our relationship is…progressing.

3.) Birds. Despite the presence of neighborhood cats, my yard feels like an aviary. The grosbeaks have moved on, but I have goldfinches, hummingbirds, swallows and sparrows to keep me company. Monday afternoon, I was sitting on the deck with my computer in my lap, and a hummer stopped and hovered about eighteen inches from my face. Just looking me over…wondering if she should perch on top of the monitor. Satisfied that I was a benevolent presence, she turned and buzzed up to the feeder. And this evening, I witnessed our resident sparrow being shadowed by a smaller version of herself; from time to time, she would backtrack and poke something into the mini-me's beak. I'd wondered if she had a nest somewhere close by, watching the way she would scold and fuss whenever one of the cats was in the yard. (Luckily, Orangie seems to prefer kibbles to fresh bird meat…)

4.) Lonicera periclymenum . Honeysuckle. Beaten and broken by our ghastly winter, the tattered old vines are nevertheless blooming profusely and broadcasting their indescribable scent all over my yard. I'm not much one for really strong-smelling flowers. I hate star-gazer lilies—too overpowering, and I'm not too keen on jasmine—too sweet. But there's something just right about the scent of honeysuckle. Mmmmmmmm!

5.) Husbands. Yes, I know there are times I feel like I would sell him for a plug nickel. But, in the end…I have no idea what I would do without him.

6.) Silence. Every now and then, there are a few moments when Disneyland is closed down for the day and the Mexican karaoke is on hiatus (I refer, of course, to my lovely(?) neighbors)…and I can sit in my back yard and just…be. Actually, it is anything but silent. But the sounds are sweet and soothing and natural. And without human clamor I can hear and be lulled by them.

7.) Pedicures. What an indulgence! Need I say more?

Okay, seven. Seven good things. And the number seven is said to have mystical, cosmic qualities. So seven is…a good thing.