Friday, August 22, 2008

Little Gnome Facts--A Restaurant Review

I'm no food critic, but I know a good thing when I find it.

While working late Wednesday night, I received an invitation to take a break and come enjoy a late-night snack at a little eatery that just happened to be located just one flight of stairs from my home office. The proprietors had just closed after a long opening day and graciously extended their hours for their weary mom. Their diner, The Little Gnome Café, had been in the works for well over two days, so they were weary themselves.

At the entrance to The Little Gnome Café is a small chalkboard, listing the establishment's hours (an ambitious 12-hour workday). Beside it sits the restaurant's namesake, a miniature plastic gnome named Billy.

I thought I had lost my way because directions weren't really clear. But good signage is always a plus.
In this case, it led me directly to the restaurant's front door.

I was greeted at the door by my waitress, who was sporting a pink apron and a wide grin. She led me to my table and said something to me, but ZoeGirl was playing at top volume from the CD player on the dresser.

"What is this? A bar? I can't even hear myself think."

"Let me turn this down."

As the music softened, I became more comfortable. The seating was adequate, but taller patrons might have to sit side-saddle, as their legs probably won't fit under the table. I chose to sit about two feet away from my plate so that I wouldn't cramp up.

My waitress brought me a menu, whose pages were not bound, causing mild chaos as they were shuffled out of order. My waitress sort of lost her point of reference. I recommended a staple, or perhaps a simple binder. She rolled her eyes.

I ordered coffee, a bagel with cream cheese and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

There was another clumsy moment, after I placed my order. I asked my waitress, "Do I hand you the menu, or does it go between the napkin dispenser and ketchup bottle, like at Waffle House?"

She rolled her eyes AGAIN and said, "Just give me the menu, Mama."

Snippy attitude. That will cost her when it comes tipping time.

A small fight broke out in the kitchen about whether the bagel was actually a biscuit, and words flew. I asked if this was The Little Gnome Café or Hell's Kitchen.


A simple place setting and an elegant napkin ring go a long way toward spelling h-o-s-p-i-t-a-l-i-t-y. The colorful menu might strain an older pair of eyes, but I found it delightful. A clear report cover would be a fine addition, as it would protect the pages from food splatters. But what do I know.

The coffee cup was unusually small, the bagel was void of cream cheese, and the strawberries were naked. So I registered my complaint with my waitress, who gently explained that I would have to use my imagination. Then she brought me a dirty plastic knife with the imprint of make-believe jelly on the blade.

"There you go ma'am. And please use your imagination."

"I'm imagining I won't catch a virus."

I munched and munched.

"So," I asked. "Have you had many customers this evening?"

"Well, yes, Daddy was in here earlier."

"He was, was he? He sure didn't tell me anything about it. Just gallivants around town, never telling me anything. Did he leave you a tip?"

"He didn't bring his wallet. He didn't even wear pants."

"Didn't wear pants? What kind of place are you running here?"

"He was wearing a t-shirt and underwear."

"I don't like the sound of this at all. You should consider posting one of those 'no shirt, no shoes, no service' signs on the door."

From the Dora kitchen, I heard a faint, "That doesn't say anything about pants."

She may be kitchen help, but she was right. "Well, maybe you should make a sign that says 'no pants, no service.'" I think management is taking it under advisement. And well it should. That sort of thing could really hinder business opportunity and growth. And appetites.

I wiped my mouth, pulled at my waistband and sent my compliments to the chef.

"Here," I said to the waitress. "Take this imaginary $5. Use the extra as a tip to go toward some sort of janitorial service and get this place cleaned up. You've got toys EVERYwhere."

Out of nowhere, I heard a shout from the Dora play kitchen, where the associate was moving plates and bowls around in the plastic sink. "We handwash all our dishes!"

I took a sip of cold coffee and told my waitress, "If I had known that, I would have taken my business elsewhere. Sink water doesn't reach an adequate temperature to kill e coli and salmonella. The health department would have a heyday with this place, you know."

As I stood at the door of The Little Gnome Café, I offered one last gesture of my appreciation to my hard-working hostesses.

"You know, I'll be glad to sign a black-and-white glossy of myself playing the guitar. I could sign it with a Sharpie, if you have one, and then you can hang it on the wall behind your cash register."

Again with the eye-rolling. Good help is so hard to find.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Everybody, Just RELAX

(Part of The Amy Cates Lecture Series;
click here and here and here for other installments)


For many of you, school bells have been ringing for days now. If you have children, I hope that you will find this post informative and inspiring as you continue to get into your fall routine. If you don't have children or if your children have already flown the nest, you're certainly free to sit in. We've brought in extra chairs, and donuts are in the back of the room. Make yourself comfortable.

I would like to take this opportunity to share a story -- a story that will, on one hand, make you say, "oh, how sweet," but on the other hand, will make some of you say, "Ouch." I hope it makes you say "ouch," and I hope a big baseball bat comes out of nowhere and klunks you on the head.

Please bear with me, and don't let the first-person format scare you away as a potential "Lookie what I did" story because that is not the case. This is a very important message to parents, who sometimes need to be klunked on the head. Follow along, please ...

My very good friend Catherine and I met our new crop of fourth-grade Sunday school students last week. This is a very fun day because we can spend the first 10 minutes talking to their parents (our friends) in the hallway, and it looks like we're working the crowd, when all we're really doing is Talking To Our Friends. Then we welcome in their children and get down to business.

The first day's lesson was about worry and how worry is a sin and that you shouldn't worry and that you need to hand that stuff over to God because, really, He needs you to focus on other things and let Him just do His job. You really get on His nerves when you don't do it His way.

And lest you think, "What does a fourth-grader have to worry about?," I will tell you, "PLENTY." These children did not sign any privacy agreements or consent forms of any sort, so I will not divulge any prayer requests or praises here. But I will tell you about our little activity: A Bag of Worries -- a white lunch bag that held several slips of paper with various sources of "worry." War. Hunger. Illness. Etc. Etc. And then the mother lode: School.

Volunteers (because, really, who doesn't love to volunteer to pull something out of a bag?) would march to the front of the room and proudly pull out one of the worry cards and (this is the really cool part) read it aloud. Because nothing is better than having the opportunity to read aloud, even if it is just one word.

After a child would read a worry card, I would ask the class, "Why is this a worry?" War, for example, breeds worry because it's scary; sometimes soldiers die; we don't want the war to happen here. Illness is certainly worrisome because it might strike a friend or relative or you, and nobody likes to throw up.

And then, school. "Why in the world would school worry you?" Oh. My. These sweet 9-year-old children, many of whom have already started the new school year, are STRESSED OUT. And don't fool yourself: This is not self-inflicted stress. Here are a couple of their answers (loosely translated):
* "My parents say I have to make all A's."
* "I get punished if I don't make all A's."
One of them looked like he might have to excuse himself and go to the bathroom with nervous diarrhea just thinking about it. (A disclaimer: Not all children shared these same worries. So don't think that an entire generation of tiny Baptists is popping Tums and seeking counseling for fear of bringing home a B. Just a few. And just enough.)

I would have preferred they had said they worried about bullies taking their lunch money. Or not sitting by their friend on the bus.

I'm no guidance counselor, but I'm pretty sure that making a B or C in fourth grade won't cost them a scholarship or get them kicked off the team.

According to experts at The Amy Cates School of Parenting, if a child brings home a C, D or, heaven forbid, an F, he/she may (or should) suffer a few consequences. Earning all A's just to escape punishment and bring your parents a little pride won't earn you anything but an ulcer. The motivation seems a little ... screwy. Instead, go for straight B's and a happy childhood. If you pull out a few A's along the way, then kudos to you.

If I were not a Sunday school teacher, but just a run-of-the-mill jerk, I would have said to these few kids, "Well, that's stupid. Just do the best you can, and try not to get an eating disorder over it." But at that particular moment, I was a jerk disguised as a Sunday school teacher, so I carried out my role. Although, I don't remember what I said. But I know I didn't run down the hallways telling parents to get their overachieving selves down to my classroom and apologize to their kids, like I wanted to.

All of this to say, as the school year gets cranking, lay off a little. See what they can do without so much ... interference. Buy school supplies, support them along the way, show occasional interest in what they're studying. Go make some A's of your own.

But for heaven's sake, just relax, and don't worry about it so much.