Monday, April 26, 2010

Fat Monday - somebody say "Voodoo?"

I broke down today and bought a new pair of pants. Big pants. That unfortunately fit me really well right now. I also bought some new shoes, with the new “Revolutionary Memory Foam” footbed.  Hopefully my poor swollen and blistered feet will shrink back down to their normal size soon. I swear, being on my feet for 40 hours last week increased my foot size one full shoe size! Now even my favorite boots are feeling on the snug side. I really wish I wasn’t so fixated on this “getting bigger all the time - Bigger Bigger Bigger!" (sung to the tune of “It’s getting better all the time” by the Beatles), but it isn’t just vanity weighing in here, it is downright uncomfortable. No wonder these poor feet are calling it quits, they don’t want to carry this load around and I’m right there with them. I guess I will go back on that “no/low carb eating plan (the word "diet" is no longer in my vocabulary) starting Saturday, May 1st. Couldn’t start on a better day. Besides, I’m heading up to Portland tomorrow and I will surely indulge my food fantasies while I’m there. There is the noodle house “Oodles of Noodles” that I love, The Tao of Tea for incredible chai, the infamous Voodoo Donuts, and the Original Pancake House where they serve I believe the world’s (or at least Portland’s) largest pancake and omelets. I've been wanting to try that one. I probably should have bought those pants two sizes bigger. Note to self : pack black sweats.

But between all the meals and snacking I will still manage to fit in a meeting with Ken, the owner of the coffee house on Wednesday. I’m trying not to get too excited about it. It is after all, just a coffee house.
When I leave here in the morning I will also leave behind all of my expectations and take with me my Doris Day smile and attitude. Que sera. This might be “it” and it might not. Doesn’t really matter to me. I am looking at this as more of an outsider and from a purely business perspective. I need to be smart about this owning my own business thing. I remember reading once that there is a big difference between owning a business and buying yourself a low paying job. And that is exactly what owning a coffee house can get you. The Barista Blues. So with that said, again, I am going to be smart about any future decisions, head over heart, or at least I will try.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Falling In Love With A Coffee Shop

Quick little blog this morning – nothing too earth shattering or revealing. Going to work this morning at the consignment store and I guess the best thing about this gig is that I am getting my “standing on your feet all day” feet broken in. Nothing has seemed to help thus far. I have tried wearing many different shoes, even my usually unbelievably comfortable Borne boots, but after a long day at the register, shifting the weight of my body from one side to the other, the pain was almost unbearable. I guess of course that would again be my idea of unbearable. If you were speaking with someone who has had some real pain, like let’s say, Chinese torture, they might regard my pain as nothing more uncomfortable than getting a pedicure from a newly licensed pedicurist. “That okay, water okay?” “No, no, way too hot,” I say. She smiles at me and starts speaking Vietnamese to a fellow pedicurist. She doesn’t understand a word I am saying. I smile back. Really, I should be home doing my own toenails.

So as I was saying, the good thing is that by the time I get my coffee house/kiosk/shop, my feet will be so calloused and tough that they will be able to withstand the 12-15 hour workdays! What a blessing. I will be able then to focus on complaining about the many other things I am sure I will find to complain about. Long hours, rude customers, cost of repairs, bad batch of blueberry muffins, and again, not being able to fit into anything but this one pair of jeans that I need to wash and dry each night. You might be thinking, “Why don’t you just go buy a new pair of pants (or two) in a larger size?” Logical, yes. But then again. . .

Even with all of the negatives that I can see in owning a coffee house it hasn’t seemed to deter me. Right now I am working on two coffee house options. The first one is the one here in Napa, the kiosk with the winery, but I am waiting on the owner and the County to give me the green light before I put much more energy into it. And this may or may not surprise you, but next week I am driving up to Portland to look at another coffee house! I am meeting with the owner on Wednesday to go over the financials and all of that “business” stuff. Looks like a great place, in an old house right in the Hawthorne district. Will definitely know more by the end of this month. Pam, this place has room for you!!!!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Passionless Fashion

Something wasn’t sitting right with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. A wee bit of a sick stomach, an unsettling feeling in my bones. I should be rather ecstatic, an opportunity landed in my lap that couldn’t seem more timely or convenient. A thriving business with a lease option. The owner had hand picked me thinking I might be the perfect person to take over for her, now that she was feeling tired and was busy visualizing a life of retirement (gardening) in her head. Ah, a business of my own. But do I really want a business of my own? Would I want to own a Stanley Steemer franchise, or a Kinko’s? I don’t think so. I don’t want just any business. What I am really seeking is passion.

I wanted to like it. I worked the last week with the owner and really tried to like it. Retail. I’m feeling bored already with ladies and clothing, and for the few really sweet women whom were so thankful when I helped them pick out an outfit or two, there were many more of the “I look so fat”, “I’m too old to wear this“, “Oh God, this color washes me out”, blah, blah. Ladies you are boring me. Yes, of course there would be those “fun” shopping trips to L.A. to look forward to, but truthfully the only positive I can see to that would be that I would get to stop in at Pinkberry for my original tart yogurt with strawberries. Clothing. I am not a fashionista. I wear jeans, black turtlenecks and boots. Even in the summer. Well, I lose the turtlenecks (trade them in for a Gap black tee) but still wear the boots. I like jackets. I like shoes. My own. Not other peoples.

So I was home thinking about the situation and wondering how I came to feel that I had initiated this and now felt that somehow I was betraying her or letting her down for not “loving” the business. I have to remember she came to me. She asked me to try. And I said I would. I have tried. And as Jackson Browne said, “Never should have had to try so hard to make a love work out.”  I guess.

So, in a desperate move, before bed last night I got on Craigslist. I sent inquires to every business that I thought I had even a remote interest in. A bagel shop in Hyannis, another coffee house in Portland, a cafe/bakery partnership in Portland, please please please, somebody respond to my emails! As I climbed into my bed, nudged the cat over to one side, and made myself comfortable, I asked the universe for guidance. Give me some clarity please. When I wake up give me a sign, let me know just one thing for sure.

I woke up fuzzy and more confused than ever. No responses to any of my late night emails and I had had a couple of disturbing dreams on top of that. I need my coffee. A shower. More coffee.

Out the door and into my car, we headed off as if on auto pilot for the County Planning Department. I found a parking space right out front and walked in like I owned the place. I stopped in at the Environmental Department and talked with a very helpful woman about my last experience there and how frustrating it was. I asked her about a couple of different approaches I might take and she actually gave me some tips I might be able to use to persuade the Health Department to let me open the “Open air kiosk” at the winery.

Now with a bounce in my step that I haven’t felt in awhile I went up to the 2nd Floor to visit the Planning Department. While waiting my turn for the next available Planner, I was approached by a gentleman who asked if I was waiting to be helped and when I said “yes” he offered to help me. Well, as luck would have it, he was the Director of the Planning Commission. I subjected him to the same rants and complaints I shared with the clerk at the Health Department and he was extremely sympathetic and went out of his way to help me. He spent over an hour with me, loved the whole concept of the “coffee in the warehouse” concept, and said it was the most creative use of that space he had heard of. He said dealing with the county would be difficult, an uphill battle, but told me not to give up. He gave me names of people that could advise me and he offered to help in anyway he could.

I felt excited again. This is how I know it is the right thing. This coffee thing. When I think about it, talk about, dream about, I feel alive. I don’t care what I am wearing. I start visualizing the steam from the frothing milk, the orange poppyseed bread as I thickly slice and wrap it, the French macaroons that will take me several attempts to get right and my sister’s salted caramels in their raffia tied cellophane bags on the counter for sale. These are the wares that inspire me.
Afterwards I was driving (seems I am always driving) and the sky was completely covered with clouds. There was one small opening in the clouds where the sky was a brilliant blue. The opening wasn’t a smooth round circle, it was more jagged and rough around the edges. Another sign. It was an opening, it might scrape me up a bit as I squeeze through, but I can fit. I can get through this time.

I will tell her tomorrow, I am not interested in leasing her store. I have no passion for it. You can’t fake passion. And without passion the business will die.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Geese - from "winged migration"

I have always loved Canadian Geese. I love the sound of their honking as I hear them fly overhead and wonder where they are headed. They fascinate me, the way they fly in their V-formation, with the lead goose like an orchestra conductor, keeping them all in tune. When he tires he retreats to the end of the line and another bird that is stronger will take his place. They support one another. They work together. If one of the birds gets sick or extremely tired, two other geese will fall out of formation and fly with him, to protect him, until he either dies or recovers. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had that kind of support to both give and receive?

These geese have been weighing heavily on my mind for the past few days. I was driving on a quiet back road in Sonoma when suddenly I could see a bird flying directly towards my windshield. As it got closer I saw it was a Canadian goose, he was flying very low and he was alone. I knew something must have gone terribly wrong for him. Today three geese flew by me and they were all out of sync, going this way and that, there was no formation.

I've been feeling a bit like these lost geese lately. I kind of fell out of formation too. Not sure what direction to take, who to listen to (I would listen to myself except I keep saying so many things I can't hear anything at all), trying to decide what choices are the right ones. Or if not the "right" ones, choices that will not totally disappoint me once I am living with them.

Whenever I am in a situation where I have a life changing decision to make my first instinct is to run off to a Buddhist silent retreat and see if I can gain some perspective there. That is all fine and dandy I guess if you have endless days to spare and deep pockets of cash to spend. Right now I have several life changing decisions to make so as you might imagine, I’m thinking that a minor 10 day retreat in Berkeley won’t cut it, this time I’m thinking I might need a full blown pilgrimage to India. Okay, or maybe just to my bedroom. Darkened and quiet, sage incense burning, a few books by my side, Rumi of course and one of the many Dalai Lama books I have bought and still have yet to read on the nightstand. I will sit alone in this room, (probably for all of 10 minutes before I have to get up to eat, drink, shower, work, etc - hence the problem with real life :) alone except for my cat, Ellie. The cat who has stuck with me for the past five years through all of my changes. She really didn’t have a choice to stick by me, I basically put her in the cat carrier and toted her off to my many different places of residence during that time frame. But still, I appreciate her right now. Just for being here. Just for her soft purr and her patience with me.

But back to the geese, I am a big believer in paying attention to the signs that show up for us everyday of our lives. It seems most people need that sign to be in n e o n, but these subtle signs are there if we just make room in our busy minds and open our closed eyes to notice them. This is the message I got from the geese. (Wow, the part about “know when to lead and when to seek guidance and follow”) – Brilliant.

CANADIAN GOOSE - The migration of Canadian Geese marks the passages of the Great Circle of the Year, and reminds us of the sacredness of the cycles of our own life. We can also learn from the cooperative and communal behavior of these birds, who never abandon a sick or wounded member of the flock, and who know when to lead and when to seek guidance and follow. The goose is also about traveling to distant places, it is about breaking free from one place to move on in your life in order to survive. If you are stuck in an old pattern, the goose can help you move forward bringing new patterns in.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Open up my head and let me out

Chalk it up to another restless night last night. I had the hardest time sleeping. Actually I fell asleep easily, could barely keep my eyes open, but staying asleep, well that’s a different story.

I had a lot on my mind when I went to bed last night. I was thinking about what I would wear in the morning to my first day at my “two-week” job trial. I mean, I will be working with clothing so I should look like I have some sense of style. This thought in itself took up way more time than any one person should devote to this subject. Especially when there wasn’t that much to think about since my recently expanding waistline and thighs have limited me to wearing only two pair of pants that I own. This shouldn’t be so hard to figure out. Now, which jacket is light weight enough to be considered “spring wear” and long enough to hide my backside? Okay, again, I spent too much time last night thinking about this and now here I go wasting more time writing about it!

I also went to bed a bit sad because the wonderful house I was hoping to get in St. Helena, I didn’t get. I spoke with the owner yesterday and she informed me that her tenant of three years had decided to stay. And of course, the owner prefers that scenario. Well, “good for you,” I said, “Bad for me.” So the house search now sits in the drivers seat of my brain and I am pretty much consumed by that. Tonight I have another place to look at in Napa but it is going to be pretty hard to view these new properties without comparing them to what I almost had. Bummer.

My mind was also full of coffee shops, kiosks and carts. Newspaper stands and muffins. I need to figure out someway to approach the County of Napa, I need to do a whole lot of research, get my facts and figures straight. I am not giving up on this. Maybe I should hire someone to get this information for me. It would probably prove to be much more cost efficient in the long run. Bring in someone who knows about this stuff. Rules and Regulations. I’ve never been too good with them.

So, trying to empty my mind, about 2:00 am, I decide to meditate. Let’s get this “Om” on.

Tossing thoughts out of my head like a child emptying his toy box, I start to feel a sense of quiet, a deep lightheadedness if that makes any sense. I finally fell back asleep and woke up again at around 4:00 with one of my faithful hot flashes. Lovely.

But today is a new day. As I sit here drinking my coffee that I just made in my French Press and added a small amount of vanilla almond milk, I am thinking, life is good. Even if I feel a little tired, my eyes a little puffy, my hair in bad need of a root touch up, I have a lot to be excited about. I will start working today at the consignment store. I committed to work until the end of this month, and if I like it and think I would be good at this, I will lease it from the owner for one year. At the end of the year I can purchase it if I so desire. That’s not too bad. This could be really fun and I know whatever I gain from this (I’ve never worked retail before) will be one more valuable piece of my puzzle.

So today I may not have my coffee shop and espresso to sell, but I am stopping by Starbucks this morning on my way to work, and I will pick up a coffee for the owner and myself. Somehow coffee will always be an important part of my day. No doubt, it’s the best part of waking up. . .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mud between my toes

Life is messy. It took me all this time to figure that out. Go figure. I don’t think that I am in anyway unique in this, I am sure that the majority of people figure it out eventually too. We assume that our lives will reach a comfortable destination, jigsaw puzzle complete, trouble free and with a high degree of satisfaction. That is what we strive for, isn’t it? All we have to think about now is yearly vacations, our children/grandchildren visiting during the holidays, enjoying friends and family and our most challenging decision of the day will be what recipe from Bon Appetite we will tackle for dinner.

I always assumed that when I reached the ripe old age of my age, I would have the love of my life by my side (and of course, he would have been my high school sweetheart and we were still madly in love with one another. Even though I never had a real high school sweetheart), the white picket-fenced house I always thought I wanted, the amazing career I was destined to have, the guest room of my guests dream (Frette linens and all), in other words, a rather Clorox bleach existence. I didn’t foresee renting a “room” and putting all of my belongings in storage, having to look for a new job or business, relationship issues, and a feeling of “where am I going from here.” Not now. Figured I had been there, done that in my 20’s and 30’s. I shouldn’t be doing this in my 50’s. Should I? It wasn’t what I expected of me. Or what I assumed others expected of me.

These last few months (in reality I am sure it has been years, or my lifetime) I have gained a new insight into life as I know it. I look around and see that so many people are in the very same boat as me and none of us have life jackets on. Most weren’t prepared for this. It makes me feel as if we are running a marathon and we are way way behind. Why even finish? Might as well get off the track, take a short cut back to the car and drive over to Starbucks. Drown my non-victory in a tall non-fat 2 pump mocha, extra hot with whip. Maybe even throw in a maple scone (delicious) if I really want to rub a little salt into the wound.

Why am I thinking about this on this stormy April morning? Because in just the past few days opportunities have been presented to me that weren’t anywhere near my mind even a week ago. Today I will find out if I get to rent this unbelievably charming cottage in St. Helena. Hardwood floors, fireplace, gas stove, plantation shutters, did I mention "charming?" On a pristine street, just off of Main, everything in town within walking distance. Oh, I am keeping my fingers crossed. For a long time now I have wanted to live where I could walk to town in the morning for my coffee (unless of course I was already at my own coffee house at 5:00 am everyday), walk into town in the evening. Just walk. And walk.

I was also asked to join in a business that I do have an interest in, which I will tell you more about later. Once again, don’t want to say too much in case it doesn’t happen, but I am going to work with the owner starting next week and see how I like it. She said, “Work a couple of weeks and you will either love it or hate it." If I do love it, this is an incredible opportunity for me. The coffee house/kiosk/shop is still in the forefront of my mind and tugging at my heartstrings, but with all of the roadblocks I have been facing, I do believe I really need to keep an open mind and possibly take a different road if necessary.

Point of today’s blog; I’m happy that my life’s path isn’t all set in stone. Strangely, I’m kind of thriving in this beautiful mess that I’ve created. It is stimulating and exciting (even if at times nerve wracking) to be presented with both challenges and opportunities. It isn’t about reaching a destination, or win or lose. It is about life. And this is what living is really all about. Taking chances, seeing what makes your heart sing, finding new things to love and everyday putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes those steps take us down lovely garden paths, and every once in a while we step in a mud puddle. Life. Messy. Sloppy. Magnificent.

(Olivia, if you are reading this, I love & miss you like crazy:)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Well, yes and no

Here we go again – another kind of coffee house, actually this one is more like a coffee kiosk. Not my original plan, I mean, where is the music, the art on the walls, the gathering of locals? But, if this could be the beginning, lead to something bigger and better it might be worth a try.

I met with a local vintner a few months ago and we briefly talked about the idea of a coffee bar/house/shop/kiosk on his property up valley. Although I wasn’t that interested at the time, now it seems like a no-brainer. Or it least it did this morning at our second meeting. But then it was off to the county offices to see what might be involved in opening our little 300 sq ft coffee bar that could serve commuters, local residents and tourists alike. Simple. A very simple idea, with a small amount of equipment and product, taking up very little space, leaving a very lightfooted footprint.

Okay, I get that there have to be rules and regulations. I don’t want to eat in a restaurant that isn’t checked on occasion by the health department. I want to believe that the refrigeration is always at the right temperature, the floors, counters and dishes have been cleaned and sanitized, and I do, as recommended to me by others, always check the bathroom to get an idea of what the kitchen is like. Bad bathroom, out the door we go. Thank you Anthony Bourdain.

Our first stop is at the Planning Department where we are told that to modify the Use Permit (which we will have to do) will cost at a minimum of $5,000 and upwards of $8,000. This is just for them to look at our plans, and of course approve them. If they don’t approve the plans, then we have just gifted the very broken, very poor State of California with a hefty chunk of our savings.

The clerk sends us off with a very large manila envelope and handouts and tells us the first thing we should do is prepare a plan to present to the Planning Department. Okay, sounds good, off we go. On our way out we stop by the Health Department downstairs. I only wanted to ask if we would need a bathroom, since there would be no seating in this small coffee establishment. Well, not only do we need a bathroom for us (the employees) but it can’t be further than 200 feet from our kiosk. We wanted to use the restroom at the winery tasting room which is just across the parking lot, but it seems that won’t fly with the Health Department. A few other things we will need, a transaction counter no higher than 3’ to make sure wheelchairs can come up to our counter, have an accessible walkway, a coved and sealed concrete floor, a waste water floor sink, and heaven forbid, it we try and sell any pastries be prepared to show every ingredient, where it was baked, and it can not, I repeat, can not have any trans fats. These are just a few of the items that need to be addressed but there are many many more.

Okay, so at this point I’m not feeling quite as excited as when I drove out of the winery parking lot this morning all giddy, ready to start “getting things in order."  I’m thinking, “I know there are ways to get around this.” Then the clerk drops another bomb. “Oh, and by the way, there is no way the county will approve an “open air” food establishment.” Flies, bugs, and God only knows what other kind of creatures could enter the space. She informs us that we will have to have a screen door (remember, this is a warehouse size door we are talking about, a barn type door). A screen would really defeat the purpose and feel of the place. “So, what about the restaurants in town that are open air restaurants, how are they getting approved?” I ask. “They are doing it illegally”, she informs me. “They are just willing to incur the points against them at inspections.” Hmm. Interesting. To almost every question I asked this woman her reply started with “Well, yes and no. . .”

Do I still want to proceed with this coffee house idea?  Well, yes and no. . .