Where I Write

Where I Write
A room of My Own

October 16, 2014

My inner hippie

I had the opportunity to embrace my inner hippie recently at a retreat center in Oregon. Many moons ago, before I discovered sequins, rhinestones and the color pink, I lived like a hippie in the mountains of Colorado. My Hippie 101 curriculum included living with people who drove old cars, never cut their hair, didn't having a savings account. We shared a funky house high in the mountains, rocky mountain high hippie style.

Surrounded by men and women in pony tails, I learned about tofu and chamomile tea and hanging out on some old couch and partying.  I could never embrace, though, hairy arm pits on women though I did stop dying my hair, for awhile at least, until Clairol called me back into the fold. Those days have long past. I'm older and live in the city and if my toe nails aren't painted I feel wrong, but in each of us may still remain that person we once were.  For me it was the carefree girl who wore blue jeans, had brown hair, and didn't worry about having a 401k that was performing well.

At the retreat center I visited last weekend, three friends and I stayed in cabins without Internet or cell phone access. No Facebook or texting. It was as if I was back in 1977. The cabins lacked television. Forty years ago, before HBO, we felt lucky in the mountains to get three fuzzy channels. I'd forgotten what we used to do without all the technological gadgets. How does one find out information without Google? Then I remembered in Oregon.  When we ate together at the lodge, vegetarian food of course, people had conversations. Not one person took out their phone. They were useless. At first, this was almost scary to communicate only in person.
The trees in Oregon made me feel small which made me want to slow down and think about what is really important. Living in a big city, as I do, with so much rushing around and busy busy I can get self absorbed and anxious.  Nowadays if I sit on the couch too long I feel guilty for not being more productive. I hoped to remember my hippie days where I just let life flow without worrying I was wasting time and would end up living in a trailer the rest of my life.

There were plenty of reminders of my hippie days at the retreat center. The guitar player on the left never wore shoes. I saw him wandering shoeless around the grounds with his curls bouncing not a bit worried about his feet. After we ate dinner one night, we listened to him play and he made us sing with him. Well in a nice hippie sort of way.

 I never sit around singing after dinner. I have better things to do. Don't ask me what because I really can't tell you all the great important things I do. I watch a lot of House Hunters International. Does that count?

 Anyway, he convinced us to sing and as we did old hippies with white long beards and red hankies on their heads strolled by. Well one did. Talk about a flashback. I sunk into the big couch in the lodge. So calm. So carefree. Why work? I wanted to quit my job, and stare  up at trees, and maybe even throw away my glittery purse and never ever wear mascara again. I didn't wash my hair the entire time I was at the retreat center because they won't let you use hair dryers there. Ugh. After awhile, it was freeing and I thought I could be that hippie girl again.

The hot springs was my wake up call. Actually the naked people at the hot springs. I will leave that to your imagination.  Being naked in the natural hot water was allowed. Embraced. Encouraged. I wore a bathing suit. Yes I was that prude in the bathing suit surrounded by naked men and women.

My friend Amity on the left said "do as the Romans do" and she was able to be naked.  Karen on the right bared her lovely self. Not me. I felt, gasp,  like a conservative person. I know. That is no way for a freedom loving hippie to talk. I just couldn't do it. I'm the woman  who likes to wear clothes decorated with sequins and apply the red lipstick. I need my hair color to survive.  And I think that's the secret to life. Allowing ourselves to incorporate who we once were with who we are now, remembering the good stuff, but also allowing ourselves to change maybe that's the true ticket to inner peace. And a glass of wine now and then.

Why spend a lot of time looking backwards, when there is so much beauty ahead? As a writer, if not a woman running naked in the woods, what I found the most heart warming was the library at the center.

Not that they had so many great books, a lot were self help and about achieving a healthy diet...not much juicy romance stuff  or mysteries. Yet what I loved was that when people weren't walking down the woodsy trails, or letting it all hang it out in the hot springs, or attending yoga classes, they were reading. Which was the best thing of all to see, better than seeing all the wrinkled rear ends. People reading with an actual book with paper pages in their hands. Books are still alive and are even appreciated without an IPhone nearby. I get it. Just don't take away my nail polish.

October 2, 2014

Resturant as A Second Language

    At work the other night I told the young server assistant that a coworker was "in the weeds." The server assistant looked at me with a blank expression. He's a sweet young college kid. He hasn't worked in the restaurant business for the past 40 years as I have. Gasp. Rather not admit that, and I don't to my coworkers or the might start calling me grandma.

     I explained that the term "in the weeds" meant that the server had too many tables and was going to need help. My server assistant might have thought I was referring to marijuana because when I googled the word weed I got mostly photos of that green, leafy stuff that gives you the munchies. Not that I know about such a thing first hand. I can hear my friends laughing now.

     I started to think about restaurant verbiage. I'm not sure of the origin. I just know certain ones have been around forever. Whether working in a diner or a fancy restaurant, they are used.
       To 86 an item on the menu means the restaurant has no more to sell. This means someone screwed up, and didn't order enough of that item, though you'd be hard pressed to get a chef to admit that. They never overcook a steak, or put in too much seasoning in the sauce, or forget to leave out the mushrooms in the pasta even though you explained the customer is allergic.  In case you didn't know, chefs are perfect. Now you can hear me laughing.

     Besides 86 meaning a restaurant is out of the pork chops, to 86 a person means to kick them out of the restaurant usually because they are drunk. The term "cut him/her off" also means to no longer serve that person any more alcohol because they have been "over served." Over serving is a very bad thing, but it still happens all the time. Speaking of getting drunk, another term repeated to servers by management is upsell.

     Instead of just ordering a plain old beer or glass of house wine, servers want to sell you something that will increase the price of your check. So they will push, upsell, the more expensive liquor, the better wine, and so on. I don't begrudge a business to make money, but I will tell you a secret. Don't bother to pay for the more expensive vodka or gin in a mixed drink. Ask for the house liqour...the cheaper stuff.

    You really can't tell the difference in a mixed drink.. Trust me. As I said, I've been doing this a long time. Marketing people might have convinced you differently, and if you like to spend money, well then go ahead and order Chopin Vodka with tonic. But don't say I didn't tell you. However, if you are having a drink that is just alcohol, minus a mixer, and up, without ice, or on the rocks (ice), than it's okay to splurge and buy the higher shelf (more expensive) brand of alcohol. The headache is the same in the morning, either way.

      Also, if you ask servers what is the best thing on the menu, they aren't going to direct you to the grilled cheese for $6.99, but to the steak for $26.99.  But you knew that. You are being upselled.
      When a server tells a chef, or cook, to "fire something" that means he or she may start to prepare the food. There is even a  "fire line" on the computer and when we press the button, the message to fire, to begin to cook, is sent to the kitchen. Only then should the food be prepared. In a perfect restaurant world. Sometimes the kitchen decides to start making the food any old time and then you have entrees coming out before people are done with appetizers. Let the drama begin as servers will groan and complain about their tip being messed up by their kitchen coworkers who just doesn't care and on and on and on.

     We have in the business what we call a "verbal tip". This is when the people you have been waiting on say, "you are the most amazing server in the whole wide world". Something like that. Servers cringe knowing they are getting the verbal tip. I'd rather have people not say one nice thing about me and leave a twenty percent tip. No need to shower me with empty compliments. Usually when people are effusive with their praise, they are cheap with their wallets.

Another kiss of death for a decent tip is when someone says, "I'm a great tipper." That's like when someone has told you they are great a great lover. People that are, don't talk about it.

      Finally, there has been some new verbiage introduced into the restaurant world. One is sequence of service. Corporations print thick manuals, using up our forests, outlining what is meant by sequence of service. I've read the manuals, and I can summarize sequence of service.

      Go to table. Smile and be nice. Describe menu items and answer questions while smiling and being nice. Push the more expensive stuff. Upsell nicely. Take drink and food order. Come back often to table for any needs and requests. Smile. Offer desert nicely. Smile and hand over check.

      In other words waitressing. That's the same sequence it's been for decades, whether it was a winsome wench serving a Cornish hen in a roadhouse in 1882 or a good looking man serving in a fine dining establishment in 2014. Servers provide food and drink to patrons, and the order remains the same.

September 16, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

My friend Goldie lived in this house for more than 45 years with her husband, Tony, on Umatilla Street in Denver. They lived with his parents for half of those years, and Tony's mother didn't like Goldie. That's another story for another day, but talk about marrying someone for better or worse.

A  few years after Tony died, she sold the house and moved to Texas to be close to her brother only to realize she wanted to live the rest of her life in Denver. So she packed up and moved back to Colorado. By then her house was owned by a young couple with a golden retriever. We even met them.

Each time I visited Goldie in Denver, and I mean each time, we would drive by her former house on Umatilla Street. As I said, we even met the new owners. We would stroll by the house reminiscing, and once we took a photo of Goldie in front of her beloved home. Always Goldie would say what a big mistake she had made letting go of the house. She wished she had never sold the brick bungalow with the wood floors, high ceilings, located in a neighborhood she loved. There was a lifetime of memories for Goldie behind that front door, even if it wasn't her front door anymore.

When I was back in Colorado visiting Goldie this summer, of course we drove by the house again. Lo and behold the house was gone. Poof! The entire house had been torn down and something new was being constructed in its place. The land was there, but no brick bungalow. Goldie and I just stood and stared. I was so surprised and bummed, I forgot to take a photo.
 In the movie Frozen (okay it's a kids movie but it was fun) one of the songs is about letting go. The message in the song is more about being true to oneself, but I think it can be applied to holding on to stuff, or old ideas, or anything that keeps us from moving forward. Proceeding as my friend Sandy says.

 Yet letting go is easier sung than done.  That song came to mind when I found this slip of paper stuck to the  bottom of a table I purchased at a thrift store last week. Apparently, the table was once the property of William and Alice. I felt as if I was stealing when I removed the tag though there's a good chance William and Alice are dead. Or not. Either way somebody said this table has got to go. Even if we slap a "property of" tag on something we possess, eventually it won't belong to us. I don't think heaven has storage units. Maybe hell, but everything would just burn up, anyway.
The city where William and Alice lived is known as a retirement community here in Arizona. Maybe their kids donated the table. Do you wonder if your kids are going to cherish, and keep, all your possessions as much as you have? Or maybe your stuff will end up at an estate sale or thrift store. Alice and William could have been downsizing. Doesn't matter. For now this solid wood, tiled table is mine all mine. Ten dollars. Score! Actually, I'm hoping heaven is just one big thrift store with sparkly shoes that fit my big feet  and look new.

There's a little bit of hoarder in all of us, even if look with pity, or even contempt  at the hoarders on reality television. We all have stuff we like to keep.  We might not keep furniture, but we might old photos. We might not stay in the same house, but we might cling to an old dream.

So now I don't really need, or have room for this other table. But still I hesitated to let it go. When I was young, and seemed always to be moving, I lived that let it go song all the time.  Now even the thought of moving exhausts me. I grow fond of stuff so easily. Recently, I was challenged to ask myself three times a day this question. What am I holding on to? At first I thought I wouldn't be holding on to much each day, but surprise surprise. So now it's my turn to let go of a table.

Below is the messiest thing in my house. Well, I have some drawers that would make people cringe, but oh well. I let go of trying to be perfect a long time ago, as my friends will attest.
This is the image board for my novel. My goal was to not take down this assortment of collected images, which symbolize characters, settings or ideas in my novel, until I was finished with the darn book. It's hard to let go of that goal, or dream some may say, but I'm renovating my office. Time for me to belt out that song about letting go. Doesn't mean I'll quit the novel, but it's time to let go of all this stuff hanging up on my wall, to get it out of the way for the workers to work on making my office look beautiful. I won't die if it is gone, in fact I might even feel lighter.

So after Goldie and I stared at her house that day, we got back into the car and drove away. I worried Goldie would be sad, maybe even cry. But not a tear. We ate lunch at the Country Buffet and gossiped and giggled  as we always do. Then we returned to her apartment which is just so sweet and shiny, safe and new. She picked some squash she had grown in the community garden and showed me her tomatoes and lettuce, too.

Without having to say so, I knew Goldie had finally let the house go. If we can release the old to let in the new, who knows how our gardens will flourish and grow.

September 2, 2014

Giant Heads


My journey into the land of giant heads began this spring in Panama when I came across this art work.  I found the heads interesting and odd. Were they the children of the amazing Easter Island sculptures? There's something mystical and intriguing about heads minus bodies. Floating heads, unencumbered by  torsos, seem to have great knowledge and wisdom.  I kept waiting for them to speak to me, but they were fussy and uncommunicative.

I have so many questions I need answered about life.  Number one.. why  have people become so odd about food these days? Tell me that head.  I actually had a lady at the restaurant the other day announce she must eat soy free, gluten,  dairy and sugar free. The chef just shook his head when I told him. Poor chef. The woman ate a dry salad and drank water. Why bother. Is that really living? Why oh why has this happened in 2014? The heads must know. Another one..why do mean people live forever and ever and good people die young? Tell me that, would you, big head.

Anyway, I didn't think much more about heads until this summer when I was in Chicago's  Millennium Park and met his man, or perhaps woman. Not sure. Hard to tell without a body.
I thought of the smaller heads I'd seen in Panama and wondered maybe if this was from where all the little heads sprang. I wanted to ask this head a question,  but it wouldn't open its eyes up and appeared to be in an endless sleep. Dreaming big thoughts I bet. I left it alone because in the distance I saw an even larger, white, head. You can glimpse it between the two buildings. I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the head, sure it had answers to my profound questions, but we were running late for the train and my friends weren't all that interested in giant heads. They have no imaginations or maybe they just wanted to get back in time for happy hour. I will have to wait to find out why I haven't finished my novel yet. Oh wait. I know why. I keep procrastinating.  I don't need a head to tell me THAT.

I didn't think much more about massive heads until I was in Tucson this weekend and stumbled across another big guy or girl.
Inside this head is a cocktail lounge. Finally a place I could find answers to questions such as why does the skin under my arms flap when I wave. Okay I know that's fat and age, but maybe it knows the winning lottery numbers.

Unfortunately it was morning, and the head wasn't accepting any visitors. So I went thrift store shopping instead with friends.  I might make another journey to Tucson, if nothing else but to ask the head to tell me a joke or two. If the head won't chat, then the tipsy patrons surely will. Skeptical that a head that is a bar would know the answer to the cure for cancer. Maybe.

Speaking of a joke, I saw this sculpture in front of a hip new hotel and let's just say I'm glad it wasn't talking to me, either. I don't even want to know it's backward view of life.