Tag Archives: change

Just One

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When I was young, the expectation was that there’d be a singular answer: doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, policeman or fireman.  Pick one.  No Career Day speaker ever told us little tykes that we might have a first career that would pay off the student loans and build the down payment for the starter home, before transitioning to work that we find ourselves more suited for as we age and change – to say nothing of a possible third gig that supplements the social security in retirement years.  That would have been too much information for little kiddies at Career Day.  That scenario also may not have been as common in the 1970s and 80s as it is in this new millennium.  So it’s no surprise we were conditioned to believe that one is supposed to do one something with his or her life not many.  But I knew before I hit middle school that such would not be the case for me.

At five, I had a role in my school’s performance of The Little Prince.  So in first grade, I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.  Several years later, I sat down at the plastic typewriter my mother gave me and banged out what I thought was a tortured but eloquent memoir.  It was five sentences long.  Suddenly I wanted to be a writer.  Somewhere along the line, struggling working class parents made clear in not-so-subtle ways that the two things I wanted to be might make paying the bills harder than it had to be.  So I added a licensed profession to the list of future jobs.

Flash forward several decades, and here I sit, having enjoyed a successful and fulfilling first career in journalism, a short stint in the law that made me miserable, and several soul-smiling years (and counting) teaching Kung Fu, awaiting news of whether a potential investor in my food company will become an actual one.   While weighing the possibility the investment will fall by the wayside, I’ve been forced to envision a return to career number one or two.  The first thing that came to mind was: “I can’t switch again; that’ll make me look crazy, like a person who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up!”  Gratefully, it took only a moment to toss that thought into the mental trash can.

My problem, for those who would call it one, has never been career confusion.  It’s been sincerely wanting to do them all – and not caring that I was expected to pick just one.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Little did I know at age five, eight, 12 or 17 that the singular answer wasn’t a career at all.  The answer was and is that I want to be master of a destiny as full as my interests, skills and time will allow, with a minimal fear of being broke and a maximum disregard for the scoffing of others.

On most days, for more than a decade now, I’ve been exactly what I wanted to be.  That makes gratitude easy, even in tough times.  It also makes me glad I never thought to stick with just one!

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…Right in the Jungle

“I gotta hurry back upstairs to the television!” I told my son as the screen door closed behind him.  “It’s the final fight scene in Kill Bill.”

“Omigod!  It’s so cool you have it on, too!” Aaron yelled, jogging behind me.  “That’s why I’m late.  I was watching it at Chris’s house!”

“Did you lock the front door?” I asked rounding the corner to the stairway.

“Shit!  No!” he answered, frozen in his tracks for a moment, weighing whether the lock could wait for the end of the movie.

I could launch into a diatribe about the themes of Kill Bill Vol. II and how much this martial arts mom relates to them.  I could present a laundry list of the traits my son and I have in common and how similar our tastes are in art and music.  In fact, I could fill pages with both subjects.

But as my first born and I sang the soundtrack tune “Goodnight Moon,” watching Beatrix Kiddo drive off into the sunset, my mind centered on a collection of facts that had strongly shaped the moment and that are more important than commonalities with my child or my love of a movie:

  • I had to become a mother to care about my character.
  • I had to quit living like a frat boy to learn what character really is.
  • When my son started living like a frat boy in my house, the character that motherhood made me care about compelled me to show him the door.
  • Showing him the door now brings him back through it with a level of respect and love that I’ve wanted us to have from the day he was born.

The rest of the afternoon’s visit consisted of chowing down on hard shell crabs that Aaron brought with him, chatting about his job, friends and flirtations, and waxing philosophical about the best first career choice for a talented young man who’s bound to have more than one.  It was an afternoon that made the week, if not the season.

“The lioness has rejoined her cub and all is right in the jungle.”  That’s the final statement in Kill Bill… and it’s the truth.


Gratitude and Grief

“I guess I better stop bragging,” he said. “You were a big shot, and now you just work retail.”

“I’m still a big shot,” I responded between gritted teeth to the man who’s supposed to love me more than any other.  But in 46 years, he’s never gotten the memo.

Ironically, the apparent loss of bragging rights, from the realization that his talented multitasker of a daughter couldn’t quite pull off a full-time job in television production while running a business that operates seven days a week until 11 p.m., happened in the middle of the most euphoric period of the shop thus far.  From mid-January through the Valentine’s Day/Presidents Day weekend, business was booming more than a two-month-old endeavor probably has the right to enjoy.  Then came the blizzard and restaurant week.

Those who aren’t hunkered down in their layers of sweatpants and sweaters saving up to properly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for the entire month of March (at least that’s how it goes in Baltimore) are braving the cold and ice right now to go out to dinners that they can only afford one week out of the year. Either way, the end of February has brought with it my winter doldrums.

I’ve now spent a week wondering if the previous month was a figment of my imagination.  It doesn’t help that Lent has started.  I don’t even want to think about the number of folks in Charm City that have given up sugar for the next six weeks!  Calmly navigating the rollercoaster of retail may be a greater mental challenge than surviving black sash training.

Speaking of kung fu, I miss my kids – those who aren’t mine and the two who are, as well.  This unwanted hiatus from the adrenaline rush of being busy comes while I’m in between teaching sessions at the gym.  I awarded four sashes at the end of last session – one white, one yellow and two green. My first green sashes mark a transition for me as well: I’ll be teaching my first intermediate-level class, starting this Sunday.  That will include intro instruction in staff work, the very thing that has attracted students to me in the first place and the part of kung fu I love the most.  I can’t wait!

I can however wait for my daughter, who is days away from the fourth of her six black sash tests, to finish growing up.  Leaving a training session at the gym last week, I had the horrifying experience of watching my little girl get checked out for the first time.  The guy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her after saying hello twice (she didn’t know he was talking to her the first time) was wearing a college lacrosse shirt.

Even if you’re only a freshman, you’ve got five years on this girl, which makes you a virtual pedophile! So move it along!!

That’s what I wanted to scream at the perfectly normal looking, red-blooded, athletic man waiting, like us, for an elevator to the parking lot.  But I managed to simply step between him and Ava, silently.  And so it’s in the winter doldrums of 2015 that I’ve first come to miss that little girl of mine who couldn’t possibly have been mistaken for a woman.

As for the child who’s already wearing black around his waist, I can’t remember the last time we were in a kung fu class together, and that used to be our quality time.  We don’t know when they’re getting on our last nerve complaining about eating the broccoli or brushing their teeth that we’ll wind up wishing those days were on a loop.  My son dropped his gym membership (which was the second place we spent the most time together) and has a new-found social life that, frankly, fills me with dread.  I’m being well-prepared for his departure from my daily life at summer’s end, if not sooner, and I’m caught between gratitude and grief.

For seven years, I knew with certainty the bulk of what the day would bring.  I had obligations to fulfill as a producer, a mother, a kung fu student and a spouse, and most of those obligations had predetermined, expected outcomes.  Now, I wake up with a head full of questions on the day.  How much will I make? Can I get her to train harder? What will he realize? How much can she help? Almost everything feels out of my hands – at least until I create a new recipe, hit the gym with my staff or both.

I can control the quality of my food and my kung fu, and I don’t yet have to miss either.  Those facts will always make me feel big – hold the shot – even in winter doldrums.


Meal After Midnight

The clock reads 12:30 a.m., and I’m in the middle of my fifth straight hour on my feet.  The extra work for the lower extremities usually follows either a high-powered, double-timed training session in the gym or a regularly-paced self-training session at the guan with my two favorite females.

Merle and Ava just finished their second of six tests for the black belt and are very much in touch with my pain of two and half years ago.  As I continue to watch my better half give the young’uns a run for their money and my daughter shed the last vestiges of her baby fat doing crescent kicks that make me envious of both her youth and long legs, I’m momentarily shaken by how fast time flies and how dramatically things change – even when doing nothing to facilitate it.  Neither of the family’s other females have ever loved kung fu the way my son and I do.  To watch them work so hard for something neither imagined working for at all can sometimes be surreal.

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Equally ethereal is the fact that my overworked knees have never felt better or held deeper stances in forms than they do now that I’m either cooking or selling food all day with minimal benefit of a chair.  It really is true that sitting for long periods with arthritis in lower joints is more painful and difficult to work with than constant use of the joints.  Quite a few people have looked at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that my knees feel best while doing kung fu. I can now add that they feel better when I stand all day.  Who knew?

But it ain’t all sunshine and roses by a long shot.  I take my meal (yes, just one!) after midnight, daily.  There simply isn’t an opportunity to feed myself while baking for the store.  Eating has to wait until I’m home, and that need mentally arm wrestles the desire to shower.  The shower always wins, pushing the meal even later.

As clear and convincing evidence of the search for time in my daily existence, I’m beginning this paragraph of my post three days after beginning the first.  ‘Nuff said.  Time to wrap this up or it’ll be President’s Day and irrelevant when I finally publish it.

I had my first taste of entrepreneurial anxiety this holiday week with the departure of my neighborhood regulars to hometowns of origin and not enough tourists taking their place.  The flip side, however, is that a popular pizza joint in Fells Point and a landmark deli in Canton are now carrying my desserts.  Folks are also taking pictures of my place from the other side of the street and selfies right below my sign.  The name alone appears to be popular, which, along with having long-standing food business pros loving my desserts enough to toss their Restaurant Depot ones in the garbage, keeps this sleep-deprived baker smiling.

Almond Joy Cap'n Crunch(Current favorites: “Almond Joy” and “Cap’n Crunch.”)

Happy New Year, WordPress family!  Thanks for being a part of my crazy story.  Gotta go back to work now….


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. 🙂


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.


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?

 


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.