A Servant’s Heart: An Homage to the Restaurant Life

For the first time since, let’s say Thanksgiving, I am at home alone, with time and space to jot down a few thoughts. Over the holidays, there was a flurry of travel, merry making, and of course the Christmas Dinner. This year, we hosted my husband’s family at our home for a traditional holiday feast with all of the trimmings.  As I set the table, with my mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote last Spring that I had yet to share on the blog.

I give you…A Servant’s Heart: An Homage to the Restaurant Life

As I prepared a champagne  brunch for a lovely group of neighbors last Spring, the memories of growing up in the restaurant life danced through my mind.
brunch-table
April 2013

Brunch-Fare

I love restaurants. They feel like a second home of sorts, and whenever I entertain, I feel like I am somehow maintaining a legacy of life in the service industry. My parents owned & operated a hotel and restaurant for ten years. I sat my first table at age 2. I was the hostess with the mostess, to be sure.

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Delmarva Hotel: Nasteff Owned from 1978-1988

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Summer 1980 (Age 4)

And, when my father remarried, he and my step-mother, opened a cafe that has been in business, for 23 years. I worked there, starting at age 14, when I visited on the weekends, and then became a permanent fixture at the cafe all the way through college.

Country Cafe & General Store
Country Cafe & General Store, Harpers Ferry WV

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Taking Orders at The Country Cafe 1991 (Age 15)

I have worked in at least 8 restaurants & often entertain in my home. I did so, even when my home was a 300 square ft. 1BR apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

As I was setting my table, and arranging the flowers & fare, I reflected back on the many tables I have set before & the many people whom I have served.

There are countless reasons why people eat in restaurants…some come to celebrate a happy occasion, some come to enjoy a night off from the usual grind, some dine out daily because they just don’t cook, some come for the company & familiarity of their “restaurant family”, some seek solace at a table following the loss of a loved one when the idea of cooking seems like a climb up a mountain, some come to write, some hide in the anonymity of a restaurant to tryst with a secret lover, some dine alone, some bring the whole family out for a bite, some come for the food, others for the ambiance, and the reasons go on and on…

Growing up in service, you learn to gauge each table as a new experience. You learn that people bring their entire selves with them when they come to your table–their upbringing, their manners (or lack thereof), their last conversation, their day up until the point in which they sit down in your chair.

Yes, the order of business is standard: the greeting, the beverage orders, the specials, the order, the presentation, the check-in, the dessert and coffee or tea. It all happens within the same mold. But, the server must take the temperature of each guest, in order to bring the proper experience to each diner. You learn to tune into body language of those at your table. You learn to tune out, the ones who like to treat you like second class citizens to “impress” their hot dates. You learn, who likes to chat & who likes to be left alone–who likes to hear your take on the food and who’d rather take the reins on the menu. And, you always remember the one that tells you that you look just like Princess Grace, when you smile. And, through all of this back & forth, throughout an evening, table after table, party after party, you learn people.

When the money in your pocket comes from the “gratitude” of others and their likelihood to come sit at your table again, it behooves you to learn to tune in quickly to the varying needs of each guest you serve.

Due in huge part, to my life in service, I have the knack for reading the true nature of a person, quite quickly & most of the time, quite accurately, in the very first moments of meeting. It’s a gift that I received from my customers over the years. These lessons and gifts of knowledge continue to surface my current career as a professional actor & voice over artist, as they did in my former career as a yoga teacher, and in daily life in general. I look for cues from the people around me, to adjust the way in which I interact with them, to better suit their needs–sometimes, giving more or less of myself, depending on the temperature or mood of the room.

Learning how to put people at ease, and to help guide them through a dining experience has been a great teacher and a great service to my life.  And although my waitressing days are far behind me, I feel the legacy of service in my veins.   After all, aren’t we all here, to be in service to each other, as we navigate this life? Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you…have a lovely day.

Falling Back: On Change of Season, Mourning, and the Ever Challenging (read: really stupid hard) Practice of Letting Go

Historically speaking, fall has always been my favorite season. As a little girl, growing up in Ocean City, MD, fall was when we got the beach back to ourselves. All of the summer crowds had returned from whence they came, and it was just us and the ocean. I remember the walks that we’d take on the recently vacated boardwalk.  And, I would breathe in the smells of the salt air and the mist of the ocean, all tangled up with the warm buttery sugary smell of Fisher’s Caramel Popcorn, and the malty vinegary smell of the french fries from Thrasher’s wafting up the beach. It was almost as if you could hear the phantom shrieks of kids still playing in the surf. The air still felt full of all those bodies, yet the horizon was clear.  Just sand and sea.

 

October 2009

October 2009

Even after we left the beach, the autumn season in Annapolis held fondness as well. There were Halloween parties and Trick-or-Treat, band competitions held on chilly fall nights, October sailing, bonfire pep rallies, on the back-drop of the comfortable routine of back-to-school.

Throughout my college years, and through my 20s in New York, Autumn meant being at the theater, in preparation for the Fall Production. Ahhh rehearsal, togetherness, the spark of creating something new.

And, of course there’s the weather.  Autumn in the North East makes the rest of the year bearable. The clear skies, the crisp mornings that bleed into warm afternoons, the magical perfection of jeans, a sweater, and a pair of boots.

Fall from our front door 2010

Fall from our front door 2010

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Halloween Jacks 2013

 

Have I mentioned how much I love pumpkin? Well, I just did. I love it. Pumpkin pie, especially–the star of my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. As a kid from a splintered home, Christmas was a weeklong shlep between at least 5 different family gatherings, with different sets of expectations for how to behave at each. What I have always loved about Thanksgiving is the simplicity of the whole thing–one house, a delicious meal, followed by pumpkin pie, a game of touch football, and playing music with the family. No gifts, and very little drama.

You get the picture…fall, for me, has always been where it’s at.

So, in 2004, when my first child was born (the day after Halloween), it felt like the culmination of my love affair with fall. I had a new marker of my favorite season, the birthday of my favorite boy in the world.

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My Baby Boy 1 Day Old
November 2004

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Meeting Grandmommie for the First Time

Two years later, after celebrating his 2nd birthday, along with the closing of the last play I have done to date, my mother started coughing. It was a nagging little cough, that was soon joined by a low-grade fever. At this point, she had already survived three bouts of breast cancer and subsequent treatment. We were more than a little concerned. She called the doctor, but somehow due to a poorly timed vacation, his office would not end up seeing her until the first week of January. By then the cough had deepened, the fever had persisted, and we were given the news that we had been dreading. The cancer was back, had metastasized to her bones, and spots were showing on her liver. It was not good.

She plowed through another round of aggressive chemo which ended in the early summer. In July she joined us at the beach, with her bald head and radiant smile aglow. We were hopeful. But as the summer wore on, and the fall approached, it was clear that we didn’t have much time left.

July 2007

July 2007

During this time, I had joined a women’s bootcamp and taken up running, for the first time, in my adult life. I have never been a natural runner, but it was a challenge to take on a new form of fitness that was so efficient and empowering, especially as a mother of a young child, with limited time to exercise. Upon my mother’s decline, my therapist suggested that I do my best to get physically stronger as my mother became weaker–that I would need a strong body to weather the blow of this loss. So, I ran and I ran.

Whenever the panic would set in, and the bottom would fall out, I would tie up my running shoes and go. With my headphones on, and my body moving forward through space, I was able to run away from my fears, from my pain, from my responsibilities, in little spurts at a time. Often, my eyes would stream with the release of the hard held tears, on these runs, and my body would sweat out some of that heaviness that was always pulling at my heart.

Three weeks following my son’s 3rd birthday, one week after my favorite holiday, on November 29, 2007, my mother Debbie, lost her 18 year battle with breast cancer.

I was undone. But, I had a child to care for, and a life to lead, so I got up out of bed every day, and as often as I could, I ran. It was an active way for me to purge the darkness, a way to file all the emotions into places where they could fit, a time that I could check out on my day and reconnect with my mom, or I could just put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes that was all I could manage.

Another year passed, and I had the great fortune of bringing another child into the world, this time a daughter. Her birth marked a solid turning point in my grieving process, she put me right.  8 weeks after her birth fall descended, and I started running again.

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My Baby Girl Day 1
July 2009

My running practice would continue through the years that followed, through a move to the burbs, and the establishment of new fall traditions (like week-long power outages and super storms). But, after an early morning run,  last January, on a new course, on a frigid day, I would end up in the doctor’s office with severe shin splints and hip pain. The hip pain, I had been managing with chiropractic, for years. But something shifted that day.

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Winter Run January 2013

 

Double Shin Splints

Double Shin Splints
January 2013

Since then I have been in and out of physical therapy. In May, I committed to stop running for 8 weeks to see if the inflammation in the hip socket would resolve.  After that 8 weeks, excitedly, I lit out on my first mile. To my dismay, the symptoms returned. I grappled with the idea of surgery to repair the tear, but in the end, it seems that I must let go of my running practice.

It’s a daily struggle right now.  It’s my season. The season that now holds all of those warm rich memories from my youth, the joyful remembrance of my son’s birth, and the painful life changing loss of my dear Mommy. Everything is all mixed up in Fall–all that goodness and all that pain. I see all of those beautiful leaves, I feel the adding up of all of those moments, all of those Autumns. I want to run, I want to burn it out on the trail, I want to feel the wind on my face and hear the sound of my feet beating the pavement in their own rhythm. But, I must choose to fall back, to honor what my body is telling me–to have gratitude for what running was able to give me, and to be able to let it go. And that’s really stupid hard.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read.
With love and peace,
Stephanie

 

 

 

 

 

Making Space for Grace

I have always been a big dreamer. I am an idea person, a long time planner. When I have a vision, I love to set up the plan and watch the moving parts fall into place. For the most part, this grand planning has served me well. For example that kind of planning brought me to New York City at age 22, having been inspired 10 years before by my first trip to Manhattan. I just knew I had to live here, and I set up and moved the parts until it happened.

But with many of my grand plans and inspired visions, comes a healthy dose of reality and everyday head-banging. In the past weeks, I have found myself banging my head a little harder than I have in a good long while. See, I’m writing this book. And, it’s HARD. I can see it on the shelves, I can see the art direction for the “adapted for screen version”. But, I am having a very hard time sitting in the damn chair and getting the darn thing written.

And during these moments of head-banging, self doubt, and stuckness, I start to examine other long term plans that haven’t necessarily panned out as I had hoped. Now, I have been extremely blessed with a wonderfully vibrant career and an incredible family. I know this. But the demons are loud, and sometimes they have a way of drowning out all that goodness.

So yesterday, after I dropped my kids off at their respective schools, I came home and logged on to Facebook, where I happened to click on this:

And while I watched it, I wept.  I was reminded that the creative practice, like the practice of yoga is meant to happen throughout the noise of life. That it’s about committing to showing up with an open heart, and that inspiration is all around. That sometimes when you’re avoiding writing your book, you remember that you haven’t been plugging into “the Source” on a regular basis.  That you have been letting your expectations do the talking, and forgetting to open yourself to what may be a new way in.

And then, I happened upon this quote, from one of my favorite teachers.
(Yes, all in the same hour!!!)

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And was reminded again, that in order to see these long term goals to fruition, what I really need to do is to show up daily and make space for grace.

And then the demons went quiet, and those stuck parts started moving once again.

 

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog.
With love and Peace,

Stephanie