common sense…business sense

As I was returning home from exercise class this morning, I overheard chef Tom Douglas, a Seattle fixture, speaking on NPR radio. He was in the midst of an interview with the station’s host.

_MG_9096

_MG_9096 (Photo credit: rwoan)

It was no surprise that the main discourse centered upon food, recipes and Douglas’ several restaurants, of which there are many…

Lola
Palace Kitchen
Dahlia Lounge
Dahlia Bakery
Etta’s
Serious Pie Downtown
Seatown
Brave Horse Tavern
Cuoco
Serious Biscuit
Serious Pie Westlake
Ting Momo

Douglas was also promoting his recently published…The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook.

While I did salivate at the mention of…flaky pie crusts piled high with homemade coconut cream filling…made-from-scratch whipped cream…soft, fluffy, buttery biscuits…it was Douglas’ talk about something else that I found most intriguing.

The news has been rife with talk about businesses that are planning to adopt drastic measures with regards to the Affordable Health Care Act, should President Obama win a second term. Among them…firing employees, or cutting hours so that full-time employees are made part-timers without benefits.

Chef Douglas spoke with disdain for a particular restaurant conglomerate that is opting for the part-time solution. The crime in this, as Douglas sees it, is that the conglomerate has just purchased a large chain of restaurants for $567 million…IN CASH!!!

A throwback to the good old days, Douglas places great value upon his employees. He takes pride in providing a workplace environment in which his workers are productive. And for their efforts, Douglas pays them well and provides them with good health insurance.

It was my sense, that how he managed his employees was a…no brainer. Interesting how some businessmen get it…and others haven’t a clue.

When asked how much his labor costs were, Douglas indicated it was 45% of his business. He went on to say that with revenues in the millions, he felt it was a fair price to pay. Douglas admitted to a thin margin of profit, but explained that it was enough for him to live well.

HHHEEELLLOOO???  Could we please clone this man…Chef Tom Douglas???

I’ve been to two of his restaurants, Etta’s and Dahlia. Having been enlightened about Douglas’ management practices, I plan to patronize his establishments more regularly.

Seattle chef Tom Douglas and staff in front of...

Seattle chef Tom Douglas and staff in front of his restaurant, the Dahlia Lounge, on Second Avenue in, Seattle, Washington, doing a sort of pre-Thanksgiving Day stunt of giving away food. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…we can make a difference…one decision at a time…

………hugmamma. 

christmas 2011???

Not quite! More like Christmas 2010 is still liking our “digs,” and has decided to stay put a little longer. Truth be told, it’s not like the holiday decor has had a choice. It’s more that I’ve been slow to pack it away. So here come the excuses.

You know I was ill for awhile. I’m better now. Thank you very much. But as a result we weren’t able to entertain friends who wanted to see our decorations. Now that it’s February I think most of them will have to wait until it really is Christmas 2011, except for my good friend Cindy. She’ll be over Friday for lunch. She so enjoys how I intermix antiques, collectibles and holiday items to create a vintage wonderland. Another reason for her visit is to peruse my Venice travel guides. She’s hoping her family will make the trip there sometime this year.

Speaking of Christmas past, and being ill, my husband and daughter were fabulous to prepare the entire holiday meal, from appetizers to dessert. As one who is totally anal about details, I resisted at first. But while the brain might have been up for the challenge, my body dug in its heels and said “No way! Uh, uh. Can’t do it.” So I sat back, more like laid on the sofa, and let husband and daughter “have at it,” as the Brits like to say. Well, they knocked my gourmet socks off…way off! I had chosen the recipes, but they came up with masterpieces. I decided on the spot, that I wasn’t the only cook allowed in my kitchen. Someday I might even relinquish my chef’s hat altogether. Now when’s my hubby retiring? Hmmm…I’ll gain a cook, a gardener, maybe even a housecleaner…

Since this post is a Christmas hodgepodge of sorts, I wanted to include photos of nearby homes which exploded with holiday spirit. Our family’s favorite is the window that displays the fish-net stockinged, woman’s leg, lamp and shade, from the 60s “The Christmas Story.” Until recently it was only a favorite of my husband’s. In years past I’d grimace whenever he spoke of watching it replayed on TV. This year, however, my daughter and me purchased the DVD as a present for him. I MUST be getting older, and mellower, because I did find the movie endearing. It reminded me of the good days. Old folks are always a sucker for reminiscing about the past. I’m no different it seems.

So now you know my Christmas secrets. We’re still celebrating the holidays. Yes, I still light all 5 trees. However, I refrain from flipping the switch on the outdoor lights. The neighbors might think we’re loony. I didn’t cook the annual holiday meal. And I’ve been won over by a movie I use to think was so corny. But you know what? Extending the season just means we continue to have lots of “good will toward men,” and God knows we on earth could use several mountains worth, especially now.

ho, ho, ho…and a merry christmas to all…and to all a good night…hugmamma. (good morning, actually, since it’s 10:19 a.m. where i am.)

return to venice

During a recent visit to Venice I felt a longing to return someday and spend more time, perhaps a month. Living as a local, I wanted to wander the narrow alleyways as if time were a luxury. Traveling the globe as a tourist is not my idea of experiencing the real face of a country. Doing so seems more like being on this side of the glass in an aquarium, observing underwater creatures swimming blithely through their sea world. With eyes wide, face pressed close, my imagination wanders, piercing the “barrier” separating me from them, be they natives of the sea or of the land. Momentarily, I’m one of them. Excitement lures me in, but fear of the unknown pulls me back into the comfort of my own skin. I envy those who can abandon themselves to what’s new, undeterred by the consequences. Like the “I Love Lucy” episode where she, wanting to “soak up local color” to prepare for a small part in an Italian movie, is drenched in grape juice when she wrestles with a villager in a vat of grapes. I’m up to scheming like Lucy, but lack her bravado in following through. What is it that holds me back? Is it my island mentality, older age, my husband’s antipathy for “dancing on the edge,” or my dysfunctional past? Whatever it is, I am fine living within this “moment.” But life has a way of changing things up, so I never say never.

A Thousand Days in Venice is the author’s story of her life-altering, middle-aged marriage to a Venetian. “He saw her across the Piazza San Marco and fell in love from afar. When he sees her again in a Venice cafe’ a year later, he knows it is fate. He knows little English; she, a divorced American chef, speaks only food-based Italian. Marlena thinks she is incapable of intimacy, that her heart has lost its capacity for romantic love. But within months of their first meeting, she has packed up her house in St. Louis to marry Fernando–“the stranger,” as she calls him–and live in that achingly lovely city in which they met.”

There are revealing moments in their relationship. When Fernando makes his first trip to America to see Marlena in St. Louis, she asks why the hasty visit, since she’d just arrived home a couple of days before. In response he explains that he was “…tired of waiting. I understand now about using up my time. Life is this conto, account,” said the banker in him. ‘It’s an unknown quantity of days from which one is permitted to withdraw only one precious one of them at a time. No deposits accepted. …I’ve used so many of mine to sleep. One by one, I’ve mostly waited for them to pass. It’s common enough for one to simply find a safe place to wait it all out. Every time I would begin to examine things, to think about what I felt, what I wanted, nothing touched, nothing mattered more than anything else. I’ve been lazy. Life rolled itself out and I shambled along sempre due passi indietro, always two steps behind. Fatalita, fate. Easy. No risks. Everything is someone else’s fault or merit. And so now, no more waiting,’ …”

Laughing until she cries at something he said, Fernando asks ‘And about those tears. How many times a day do you cry?’ Later Marlena’s thoughts return to his question, “Much of my crying is for joy and wonder rather than for pain. A trumpet’s waiting, a wind’s warm breath, the chink of a bell on an errant lamb, the smoke from a candle just spent, first light, twilight, firelight. Everyday beauty. I cry for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.”

My daughter has said more than once that my tear ducts are intertwined with my heart-strings. My tears flow easily when she is ecstatic or unhappy, during old films, when listening to sad, or happy, news. I don’t think I cry as much as I laugh, but it probably runs a close second. During Mass yesterday, I braced myself for a hymn that always brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. “Be Not Afraid” had been a favorite of the pastor who presided over our 100-year-old church in Redding. He’d baptized our 5 month-old, walking her proudly down the aisle, showing her off to fellow parishioners.

Father Conlisk was a close family friend who dined with us regularly. During a visit I asked our toddler to go and find her father, in answer to which she readily climbed up onto the priest’s lap. One particular Christmas morning as we sat in the front pew at church, he asked her if she’d been visited by someone special. Without hesitation she showed him Dumbo the elephant, her new stuffed animal. He held it up for all to see; the congregation broke into peels of laughter.

When Father died as a result of lung cancer, I took our daughter to the funeral Mass at our small church and later, to one held in a larger church at a nearby parish. Both times I allowed her to stand just outside the pew, so she would have a better view of the proceedings. In preparation, I explained that Father Conlisk had gone to Heaven where he would be free from pain, and find happiness with God. We  followed others to the gravesite, where I showed our 5-year-old Father’s final resting place. I think she found closure because from then on, she seemed to accept his absence from our lives. Perhaps it also helped that we became good friends with the priest who replaced Father Conlisk.

So like Marlena, I tend to shed tears for “Everyday beauty…for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.” What we may all have in common with the author is “this potentially destructive habit of mental record-keeping that builds, distorts, then breaks up and spreads into even the farthest flung territories of reason and consciousness. What we do is accumulate the pain, collect it like cranberry glass. We display it, stack it up into a pile. Then we stack it up into a mountain so we can climb up onto it, waiting for, demanding sympathy, salvation. ‘Hey, do you see this? Do you see how big my pain is?’ We look across at other people’s piles and measure them, shouting, ‘My pain is bigger than your pain.’ It’s all somehow like the medieval penchant for tower building. Each family demonstrated its power with the height of its own personal tower. One more layer of stone, one more layer of pain, each one a measure of power. I’d always fought to keep dismantling my pile, to sort and reject as much of the clutter as I could. Now, even more, I made myself look back straight into that which was over and done with, and that which would never be. I was determined to go to Fernando, and if there was to be some chance for us to take our story beyond this beginning, I knew I would have to go lightly. I was fairly certain the stranger’s piles would provide enough work for both of us.”

We all seem to emerge from childhood with “baggage.” Perhaps a lucky few escape, body, mind and spirit intact. But spending our adulthood living in the past, wastes what’s left of a good life. As we peel away the layers of yesterday’s disappointments, we make way for tomorrow’s possibilities. Better that we declutter, rather than hoard negative experiences simply to have someone, or something, to blame for our inability to cope or our downward spiral. The process may vary for there are probably as many paths toward resolution, as there are individuals in the world. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. However the common denominator should be compassion and a positive attitude, toward oneself and others. We all deserve to live our best lives, going forward. Maybe when we disavow our mountains of past pain, we’ll be able to abandon our fears of the unknown, and…return to Venice. 

live our todays and tomorrows, never our yesterdays…hugmamma.