Thursday to Thursday

A week ago Thursday, I stood at the counter in the health department’s environmental protection division with ten minutes to spare before closing time.  I had the proof of workmen’s compensation in my folder of regulatory documentation, and my heart was racing at the prospect of finally being finished with the city’s hoops and ladders.  Ms. Owens flipped through my folder of goodies and said: “Now, I just need a copy of your lease.” I dropped my head so hard, I thought my chin would hit my chest.  I could see myself putting the lease down on my desk with one hand as I picked up the workmen’s compensation plan with the other.  I’d gone from having an incomplete folder to having … an incomplete folder.   She looked at my face and said: “We open tomorrow at 8:30a.”

I knew that, of course, but I also knew I had to be in D.C. the next day – and that I might hurt someone if I had to wait another day to be approved to open.  Apparently, it was written all over my face.  All I had to say in a practical whisper was: “I have to be in D.C. tomorrow.”  Ms. Owens then made me an offer I could’ve kissed her for, and after a comedy of technical errors and slow cell towers, Ms. Owens had in her inbox emailed photographs of each page of my lease (my better half is the woman to have in a pinch!), and I had the little yellow card that said I could sell food with the approval of the City of Baltimore!

Since then, days and times have completely run together, kinda like this:

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Alone on Sunday in the programming department on what was likely my last day of producing a live television program.  It was the longest job of my life, and at times, I was remarkably fulfilled in this building.  It remains nice work if you can get it; I’ve just gone as far with it as I’ll ever be allowed to go – and life’s too short to go through the motions.

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Monday brought the window vinyls and more elbow grease.  Tuesday brought an aborted store sign installation.   (I may never understand why it’s so hard to get a good sign in two weeks’ time).

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Wednesday brought a grease fire in an oven at the commercial kitchen where I cook that started  ten seconds after I turned it on to preheat.  By 3 p.m. I was scrambling to safely finish the goods for the opening I was determined wouldn’t wait another day.   Thursday morning, 3 a.m.: about twenty dozen cupcakes, pie cups and cookies later, I fell into bed.

IMG_20141209_110924And on the first snow day of 2014 in Charm City, the doors of Stupid Delicious! sputtered open for business at a pace designed to work out the kinks.

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The so called grand opening will be Saturday – the first time in years I’ll miss kung fu class without being at a tournament or on a business trip.  Then again, this is a business trip – all day every day, minus time out for the martial arts addiction that keeps me from flipping out.  The last seven days of blurred sunrises and sunsets have driven that message home, if nothing else.

Now time to catch up on sleep… while I can. :-)


Tomorrow’s Target

From elated to deflated.  That’s the succinct description of my holiday week, raging against the machine of regulatory madness.  I should have known it was too good to be true when the health inspector squeezed me in for my final review just two days before Thanksgiving.  She made a beeline to the bathroom to inspect the all-important “open” toilet seat, ignoring the painstaking time I’d spent affixing the soap and paper towel dispensers to the awkward corner wall nearest the sink, to say nothing of the arthritis aggravating purgatory I inflicted on my knees to caulk every crevice along the baseboards.  But at least the work was done.  It was there, as it was ordered, irrespective of being acknowledged.  And with it, I passed the health inspection – with a particular note to how cozy I’d made the place since she was last on the premises a month earlier.  I was bouncing off the walls on the way to the Restaurant Store for added supplies.

First thing Wednesday morning, I phoned the building inspector’s office to set up that inspection – the third and final city-inflicted hurdle before opening.  He could come out first thing Friday morning, while the rest of the country recovered from turkey overload.  Seriously?  I could actually wrap everything up and open my doors any time after Friday?   After all the plumber and carpenter craziness, could the grand opening really be that drama free?

No.  Decidedly not.

“Did you have a fire inspection?” the building inspector asked when he called to tell me the time window for his arrival at the store.  “It’s not in the computer.”

You mean the three-minute inspection that cost me three figures that the nonchalant inspector told me would be in the system that afternoon?  The inspection that took place two weeks ago?  That one?! I thought.

The building inspector was exceedingly gracious when he arrived to tell me that everything looked in order for my use and occupancy permit.  He didn’t even have to go through with the inspection without proof that the fire department had already been there.  I lucked out on that, at least.  I did not, however, luck out on reaching the fire guy to have him correct his oversight.  I had the man’s cell phone number, but he wasn’t answering!

Monday morning and three phone messages later, the desk-bound fireman was still not in the office!  It was time to go over his head.  His supervisor said he would take care of my approval within thirty minutes.  Twenty-four hours later, I discovered he had not.

By 10a Tuesday morning, I was closer to tears than I had been at any time through this challenging experience.  I had already missed my intended opening week.  How much longer were these guys going to keep the next phase of my life on hold?

Not minutes after asking myself that self-pitying question, I received back to back phone calls.  The fire inspector had been on medical leave and apologized profusely for the two-week delay in my approval.  I thanked him and told him to get well soon.  Immediately following that surprising expression of good will, the building inspector called to tell me that with the fire inspection approval in the system, I could pick up my permit downtown. I will be there when the doors open about eight hours from now.

Who’s left to torture me before I ring the register for the first time?  The sign guy, that’s who.  That’s tomorrow’s target, before teaching two classes of kung fu.  My students are going to think I’m on something if I don’t get my signs before I get to the gym.  Good thing tomorrow’s classes are in the boxing room….

 


Karma Calling

I rarely use the word fair.  It’s a concept that bothers me.  I’ve never personally experienced or witnessed something that was equitable or just to one person or group that wasn’t undesirable to another.  So I tend to think that there’s usually somebody catching the short end of the stick whenever something is allegedly “fair.”

My discomfort with the concept has served me well as a middle-aged, arthritic martial artist who loves teaching the activity as much as doing it.  It especially comes in handy when, at the start of a Saturday class, just half a day after hitting pay dirt with my newest students and seeing beautiful horse stances for the first time in half a dozen classes, there’s a pop beneath my knee during a routine roundhouse drill.  Moments later, it happens again on the front kick.  And by half time, my left leg is buckling each time I put weight on it.

Damnit! I scream in my head.  When class is over, and it’s just Merle and me collecting our gear to leave, I curse aloud.  I’m so tired of injuries!  I have weak knees, surrounded by muscles that become more pronounced with every good set of low cat stances.   I also have all of last session’s students and three new ones, with interest already being expressed for next session.  It’s not a good time to be out for surgery.  Management would cancel my class.  AND it would be twenty times more challenging to bake desserts and manage a store!

And so I’ve spent the last three days stretching, rubbing, slathering with ointment, freezing in ice, and heating in microwavable heat pads a leg that I must will into continued production. In fact, several hours after the injury, I hobbled over to a carpenter’s wood shop to pick up the furniture for my store.  It was painful and perfect at the same time.

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Two or three times since the weekend, I’ve stopped in mid limp to ask why I have to go through another major leg injury.  I immediately follow the question with the answer: Because that’s just how it goes for someone my age with my physical history who does kung fu for no less than ninety minutes a day, six days a week.

There’s such excitement going on for me right now, the monkey wrench had to come in some form.  I certainly can’t say it’s not fair.


Comedy of Errors

The toilet seat arrived today.  It took two weeks, two different companies and a mis-delivery to a city halfway across the state, but it came.  Now, the fun of putting the damned thing on to satisfy the State of Maryland, which requires that toilet seats in a food establishments be “open.”  The closed circle currently on the commode in the shop won’t do.  Both the floor and the sink in the backroom were objectionable, as was the positioning of the soap and paper towel dispenser.  Nothing, it seems, is as obsessive compulsive as health department regulations – which, perhaps, is as it should be.

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Then, there’s the fire department. Three minutes in and out for three figures out of my bank account.  Now, if I were cooking on the premises, it would certainly have been more extensive; there would have been more to check.  Still, the brevity coupled with the expense left me with a touch of whiplash.

Then, there was the misunderstanding with the carpenter.  I know I said four feet for the shelf.  I have no idea what he heard, but I was handed something that I could sit on a desk, not on the floor.

Then, there was the lost credit card machine that sat in a Fed Ex warehouse fifteen miles away from my house without any notification that someone tried to deliver it.  The door tag must have blown away in the wind, one might think. But no; the recent college graduate who opened my merchant account sent it to the wrong address.  With the most major delivery of all still to come (the long refrigerator with the worktop), I’ll be holding my breath all day tomorrow waiting for the truck to actually pull up to the storefront door – on the actual day it’s scheduled to, for a change.

It’s been a comedy of errors already and the doors haven’t opened yet. The good news: very few of those errors have been mine… and I’ve been able to laugh through most of them.

God willing, the opening is less than two weeks away.  Stay tuned!


No Longer Fine

I could hear it in her voice.  It was more than fatigue.  So I asked again if anything happened during her school day that was out of the ordinary.

“I messed up my math and got upset with Mr. White.”  I asked what she meant by “got upset.”  There was a time in her life when an emotional outburst at school was an almost daily occurrence that prompted phone call and email notification.  There was a time when everyone in the neighborhood knew when she was upset because they could hear it through the stone-covered walls of our house or the bricks of the school.

“Well, I had to take a moment to go to the bathroom and calm down,” she answered, sounding chagrined.  It was a strange sound that brought me up short.  I paused for a moment and asked if she and Mr. White were okay with each other.  It was my way of trying to find out if she’d been disrespectful in her outburst.

As a child on the spectrum, she’s been through all sorts of techniques and suggestions, from parents and professionals alike, to control her emotions better, and she’s made continued progress over the years.  Though I’ve been notified multiple times this school year about mandatory study hall assignments because her homework wasn’t as done as she said it was, the last in-school outburst I heard about was a year ago.  Did I now need to expect an email from Mr. White about my daughter being rude?  I wondered.

“Yeah.  We were fine after I calmed down,” she answered.  There it was again – the sound of something totally new in my thirteen-year-old, emotionally and socially-challenged girl.  It sounded like embarrassment, perhaps even shame.  I had a sudden confusing twinge of completely contradictory emotions.  I hurt for her and was elated at the same time.

Through a lifetime of being told and taught to better control her reactions to situations and information she dislikes, Ava’s always acted as if the people upon whom she inflicted her outbursts were the ones with the problem.  As she saw it, we just needed to let her flip out and happily live with the completely inappropriate behavior.  But as she told me about this incident during her daily afterschool phone call, it was clear  that she was the one who was bothered by her own lack of control.  She’d gotten used to reacting well, and she was disappointed in herself for going backwards.

I was so proud of her I had to keep from crying, as I sat in the cubicle I’ll be leaving in less than a month.  I told her not to feel bad, that it sounded like she got it together pretty quickly and was still on good terms with Mr. White, so there was nothing to worry about it.  I told her I love her and gave her what my family calls a psychic hug.

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Ava started testing for her black belt a couple of weeks ago.  She’ll be getting her braces off a couple of weeks from now.  The application process for public high school selection (a unique ritual in Baltimore, as far as I know) begins next month.  In short, my girl’s going through a lot of changes this season, but none more significant than being disappointed in herself for behavior she once thought was fine.


Old Times and New

It felt like old times.  Sifu was cracking jokes.  The audience was standing room only and so was the head table.  A dozen black sashes were on hand to evaluate those testing.  Half of the promotion candidates must have been nervous enough to wet their pants when looking at a table full of teachers, all sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities, decked out in red from neck to ankles, waiting to rate their performances.  The other half was composed of three red sashes anxious to wear black themselves.  Two of those were my family.

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Ava had the best sparring match of her life, fearlessly battling a faster, more strategic opponent, but one much shorter and lighter than she is.  She knocked him down twice with her roundhouse kicks, and she wasn’t even trying.

Then, it was Merle’s turn.  Her opponent was almost a foot taller and almost 40 years younger, but neither of those facts seemed to matter.  The “old lady” put the kid to shame.

The black sash demonstration – the real main event of a day geared toward trying to attract more students – was one of the most entertaining in months.  Aaron gave a near flawless exhibition of 12 Kicks, and I performed White Eyebrow in public for the very first time.  Nerves slowed my pace, but I made no errors.  Both Aaron and I received words of approval from Sifu.

October testing day was the first time ever that all four members of the family performed at the guan on the same day.  We all had a reason to be proud and happy.  It felt like old times… only better.


Family Trait

The landlord for my storefront encroached upon my personal space and time every single day for a week.  I finally had to send a gentle email requesting that he give me space.  Perhaps I should have shelled out for the more expensive property on the other side of the park….

Middle-aged, longtime plumbers can be incredibly insulting and condescending when one is simply trying to obtain an estimate for the installation of a sink.  My life experience forces me to wonder if being both African-American and female didn’t fuel his lack of manners and professionalism….

One hundred pounds worth of flooring is showing up at my house today for carting down the street to the store, and it’s a complete toss-up as to whether someone will be home when it arrives.  Being forced to trek to some far out postal facility looking for the floor to my backroom two days before the health inspection is not my idea of a good time.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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Meanwhile, on the kung fu front, my boss at the gym is on her way out the door to another job, and her boss doesn’t care enough about the kung fu program to properly promote the next session.  The new flier is great.  The problem is getting it out of the company computers and in view of the gym members!  Call me crazy, but I’m fairly certain that’s the best way to attract students.

Last night, my son was intentionally mauled by a Siheng who outranks him for having the audacity to land a good punch in Sanshou class.  Now, there’s a new measure of bad blood in the family relationship with the guan.  I’m just glad I wasn’t upstairs to see the fight.  My mother bear alter ego (or is that my primary ego?) might have turned it into an all-out brawl.

I have to admit I was happy to hear that Aaron recovered from the beating to ultimately win a fight that was only supposed to be a sparring match.  That’s kind of how I felt going through my whole week of remodeling and regulatory madness.  It must be a family trait.


Sunday Rites

Back in the blogosphere, if only for an hour or so!  I haven’t had time to write or read (outside of work material) for a week, which has been disturbing.  I thought about pouring out all that I can about the week’s adventures in store making, but my thoughts keep coming back to the warmth of my favorite day.

Sunday is great.  It’s almost as busy as any other in the week; so its greatness doesn’t lie in being a day of rest.  What makes Sunday so wonderful to me is that it’s the day I get to do everything I most enjoy.

I get up and indulge the journalist in me by watching the news talk shows.  After twenty years of covering the federal government and the people in it, it’s a task as automatic as brushing my teeth.  It’s also an unspoken job requirement (for just a little while longer), since I’m supposed to know what the big stories and sound bites of the day are.  I watch while eating, stretching and warming up for the beginner kung fu class I teach at noon.  Then, I’m off to my students.

I teach the kids for an hour, doing my best to keep a straight face when the front kick instruction suddenly turns into a conversation about peanut butter and birthday parties.  Today was a particularly special day, as it was the last class of the session.  I taught everyone the final moves of the white sash form, and my star students perfected what they already knew as I worked with the younger attention spans in the group.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taught a set of students an entire form – and the only time I’ve done it alone!   I look forward to awarding yellow sashes in a couple of weeks.

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After my kids and their moms left me alone in the yoga room, I continued my Sunday ritual.  I always spend a second hour in the gym trying to lower my stances, speed up my spins and quicken the pace of my performance of the White Eyebrow staff form.   I use Sunday to practice the corrections Sifu gives me in Saturday class.

For several months now, the day’s routine has ended with me replenishing the carbs I burn off in training as I watch a baseball or football game.  Then, I cook dinner for the family and work on recipes for the sweets shop.  This Sunday, I ended the afternoon by meeting one of the better handymen I’ve ever known at the site of my future store and going over all I need to hire him to do to get it ready for a grand opening.

And so, the ritual has changed.  Going forward, Sunday’s greatness will likely always include time at the store.  Soon, that will be true of all days.  How great is that?

 


In the Corner of My Eye

Sunday was a great day to be a Sijeh.  My seven-year-old social butterfly, who’d rather chat with me about friends and fashion, gave her most focused effort yet.  I had to have her practice alone for a bit as I worked with the five year old who missed class last week, and I was stunned by what I saw out of the corner of my eye.

She did one repetition after another without prompting and even self-corrected after watching me with her classmate.  I didn’t know she had it in her – the inclination to keep her mind and body on kung fu for more than three minutes at a time.  I was so proud of her (and the classmate who finally earned his white sash) that I felt high for hours afterward.  A second grader’s concentration made my favorite day of the week even better than it normally is.  It’s still the little things, always and forever, that make the biggest difference.


Fever and Frenzy

It’s baseball fever in Baltimore, but for me, it’s bakery fever.  And as the temperature rises , so does the level of craziness in my days.  The last forty-eight hours have looked something like this:

-Emails with publicists, authors, journalists and politicos (the day job) interspersed with emails and calls with the staff of the property manager who hasn’t spoken to me directly since calling to tell me the lease is mine; requesting and receiving an emailed confirmation of being approved for the lease.

-Learning from the city’s chief health inspector the brands of ovens that eliminate the need to change the ventilation system in the building; learning more about plumbing building codes than I ever wanted to know; finding out that even my frequently generous plumber has limits to his generosity when tearing out a floor is likely (the three compartment sink might cost more than the specialized oven).

-Sending out the promotional announcements for the next live show, sorting by copyright my guest author’s books and cracking the cover on the first.

-Searching for a place to get passport photos taken for my food manager’s license and having it take much too long, when I needed to keep my lunch hour to 30 minutes.  Having a little birdie whisper in my ear “don’t mail that” right before I walked into a training session for the company’s new edit software and later being glad that it did; calling during training break to find out that the new procedure, just days old, is to deliver the application in person and have the pictures taken onsite.

-After two hours of software training, making a mad dash to the train to get picked up by my family for kung fu class.

-Two hours of sparring and long staff work later, taking the whole family with me on a brief, unimpressive tour of a commercial kitchen I can rent, if sink issues delay opening the store.

-After shower and food, shopping online for the best equipment prices and comparison shopping on business insurance policies; being forced by my better half to shut it down and grab some sleep as the clock sped past 1:30.

-Waking 20 minutes later than normal, needing more sleep and anxious to get into the future store again.  Meeting up with property manager’s assistant to get measurements in the shop and make notes; taking my food manager’s application downtown on the way to the morning train, only to be told it needed to be accompanied by another larger application – and a larger check.

Another dash to another train.  Another day of emails and calls on the current life and the future one.  Another afternoon of training on software I won’t be using for long.  Another day of acting like it was just another day… and loving that it wasn’t.


Short…and Sweet!

Starting a business, while slowly extricating myself from a full-time job that requires a three-hour round-trip commute and continuing to train in and teach a discipline that requires abundant energy, may prove to be the unreasonable endeavor of my middle age.  It certainly leaves me with a fraction of my former blogging time.  In short, I have to keep this short; so I’ll get straight to the point.

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Just when I thought that the highlight of Sunday was teaching my most reluctant student to do a pretty decent long arm swing, I got the call…

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The store is mine!!

May the battle of licensing bureaucracy begin….  Stay tuned. :-)


Cosmic Caffeine Boost

I’ve gotten a total of nine hours sleep over the last two days – not counting the snippets of time spent inadvertently snoring or drooling on the commuter train.  Surprisingly, I awoke the last two mornings feeling more refreshed than I have on the rare occasions that my nightly sleep reaches or exceeds seven hours.  Anticipation is the reason.  I think it may be life’s cosmic caffeine boost.  There’s been no difference in my training regimen, eating habits, nightly routine.  Hope is the only reason I’m rested without rest.

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This storefront – five blocks down the street from my house, a block up the street from one of the city’s high foot traffic restaurant areas – may soon be mine.  They’ve had my financials for more than twenty-four hours; they told me it would take no more than forty-eight to know whether my person and my vision are things they want to gamble on by granting a commercial lease.

I’m one giant step closer to adding baker-by-day to my life of Sijeh-by-night!  It’s going to be a long weekend if I don’t hear anything today.  But I suspect it’ll be the most exciting sleepless weekend of my life… however the crumbs may fall.


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