For No One 

People are out there doing amazing things. 

This week alone, I witnessed three friends accomplishing incredible feats, for little to no audience.  One stood out. 

A couple weeks ago, a chef at my restaurant said he wanted to make ratatouille for a night menu item.  I said 'great,' and thought little of it. 

On Wednesday, he astounded the hell out of me.  After spending several hours cutting vegetables, he laid them in a color-pattern into a hotel pan (which took a few more hours).  He baked them in his own red pepper sauce.  The end result was even more beautiful than what the rat made in the damn Pixar movie. 

And I'm one of only two people alive who got to see it. 

Reader, if you're a fellow creator, just a reminder: we don't need to impress anyone else to make something of value.  We can do wonderful things, just for ourselves.  Feedback from others shouldn't change how good we feel about our creations. The reward is in the making, not in the praise. 

(Although let's be honest: praise is pretty great too...providing it doesn't define you). 

With that, I'm off to continue writing songs that most people will never hear.   I wish you a week of not giving a rip about what others think or don't think of all that you work for. See you next Monday. -Em

Horizons 

Well if the world's got you down this week, here's a touching story that may give a bit of hope for the future. 

I went up north with my family for 36 relaxing hours this past weekend.  We camped right on Lake Superior, and it was great. On Saturday morning, my son invited me down to the shore for a "presentation." 

Knowing my 6 year-old, I was fully expecting a series of ninja kicks and violent cartwheels. 

Instead, he sat me down on the rocks and started having a conversation with our dead dog, and my dead father (who he never met).  It was startling.  He looked out at the waves and told Dad and my old dog Hank how sorry he was that they couldn't be there with us.  He told them he loved them, and that he'd never abandon them... 

It was adorable, in a creepy "Sixth Sense" kind of way. 

Reader, as much as I wish I could take credit, I have no idea where the kid got it from.  I don't talk like that, and neither does my husband.  He just kept talking and talking to dead folks with an empathy I can't comprehend.  I asked him why he did that, and he said, "Well how would you like it if I didn't talk to you after you die?  You'd be so sad." 

Gulp. 

Sometimes I worry about what's to come.  And then moments like this happen and I feel a bit better.  I believe that the empathy of future generations will truly make the world better than it has ever been before.  I can't get over just how much bigger my kids' heart is at his age than mine has ever been. 

So take heart.  Even when we can't see it amongst our peers, there are good things on the horizon. See you next Monday. -Em

Pickles  

It was a bizarre week that ended with an equally bizarre but important revelation. Here's what happened. 

On Friday afternoon, I found myself sobbing to a triage nurse.  Stabbing pains radiated in my chest.  Pain shot through my left arm.  My face felt like it was on fire, and my lips were tingling. 

I thought I was having a heart attack.  I thought I was dying. 

Turns out, it was a panic attack.  Which should have made me feel better.  But it made me feel worse.  The nurse asked me what I was doing for stress management, to which I replied, "I'm going to work harder so I can stay on top of it all." 

Even as I said the words, I knew they weren't the right ones. 

Anyway, as soon as I was sure I would survive the night, I made a pact with myself.  No more shoving my feelings aside.  No more giving too much of myself.  Most importantly, no more ignoring my needs.  I went to sleep, vowing to make this change. 

The next day, I felt exhausted, but I made it to the grocery store.  As I was walking down an aisle, a jar of pickled cucumbers caught my eye.  And the strangest thing happened. 

I salivated.  The muscles on the side of my neck became tense.  I licked my lips like some cartoon character version of myself.  Normally, I'd just ignore these cravings, but remembering the vow I made after my anxiety attack, I started  throwing several jars into my cart.  I even popped open one jar and began eating pickles before I was in the checkout line.  

One jar didn't make it to the car before I had eaten all the pickles, slammed the juice, and was cracking open another one for the ride home. 

As soon as my savage pickle episode had passed, I found myself much more energized (albeit embarrassed and gluttonous).  I wondered how long my body had been craving salt, sugar, and electrolytes in general while I just ignored the urge and kept fueling it with small scraps of food leftover from my kids' lunchboxes. 

By the time the weekend was over, I felt I had learned a big lesson from pickles and anxiety attacks. 

Reader, we are beings with needs.  Our bodies have needs. Our souls have needs. Even our egos have needs.  There is no sense ignoring what it is that we need to stay energized and healthy.  If you too find yourself with needs this week, listen to them. That need to get outside?  Listen to it.  That need to take a trip? Listen to it.  That need to sing or drink water or paint pictures or WHATEVER it is for you?  Listen to it. For far too long, I didn't listen, and it landed me in a bad spot this week.   Lord knows we can't be good for others if we are ignoring the cries from within. 

(And I'll never again ignore the screams of my heart...or the screams of a pickle.) 

Please take good care of yourself this week, and I'll see you back here next Monday. -Em

Bit Parts 

I spent the bulk of my week preparing my restaurant for the 10th Annual 'Tour De North End:' Rockford's biggest bicycle race.  Each year, hundreds of riders flood Main Street, stopping at businesses and collecting stamps.  At the end of the race, bikers turn in their stamped cards for a chance to win a Fat Tire Cruiser. 

It's insane.  But a hell of a good time. 

The race was set to take place on Saturday, and I was prepared to work a 16-hour shift that day.  Building up to the event, I spent hours making hand-pies for the bicyclists to eat.  The job was important, and I was important by default. 

The morning of the race, we hustled to get the outside bar put together.  Our plan was to serve beer radlers to the riders and make a little money for our business.  Setting up the bar would take a lot of work.  It was an important task, and it was important that I tackle it. 

Finally, we had to create a way to take money outside.  We'd need a way to accept both cash and credit cards from riders so that they could pay for our stickers and other merchandise.  It was such an important system to create, and it was important that I handle it. 

Then I got sick. 

A wave of nausea came over me on Saturday like I haven't had since I was pregnant.  I could barely stand without wanting to vomit.  I began to panic.  "WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO," I thought. "I'M TOO IMPORTANT TO BE SICK RIGHT NOW!" 

Apparently not though. My staff sent me home.  The event went forward without me.  And hundreds of riders stopped into our restaurant.  They ate food, drank beer, and paid for merchandise.  The staff had a good time, and I was hardly missed. 

In the end, I wasn't as important as I thought. 

This week made me check my ego. And it was oddly comforting to realize I'm really not as pivotal as I think I am.  Here I thought I was the leading lady in the whole production.  In the end, I learned that I had a bit part. 

And that's ok. 

In the words of Louis Prima, "life goes on without me."  Reader, as stressed as we can be about the things that are seemingly under our control, none of them are so crucial as to stop the world from turning.  If you too find yourself stressing your role on this earth (and perhaps over-inflating your significance), remember: while we all play a part, the show will always go on.  No need to stress so much. 

With that, I'm off to bed.  If you were a part of Tour De North End this weekend, I hope you had a great time.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

I Am A Mountain Lion 

I've written hundreds of songs now.  Each one comes out a little differently. Some songs write themselves in a matter of minutes.  Some take days.  And then there are those elusive, incredibly wily tunes that take weeks, months, and even years to write. 

I'm currently stuck on the latter. 

There is a song that came to me last year that I just can't get out of my head.  I could have finished it long ago with sub-par lyrics, but the melody is too nice to waste with sub-par lyrics.  Of course, I don't know what the words should be.  All I know is: I'll know them when I hear them. 

Again. Stuck. 

But something changed in me while I was working on the tune this week.  I adjusted my mindset.  I stopped calling myself "stuck." I stopped telling myself my only recourse was to hope. I stopped feeling like I was waiting around for the right words to come. 

Instead, I told myself I was in hot pursuit of them. 

With that subtle shift, I felt excited about the whole song again.  I almost felt an internal transformation. Where I was once passive--like a little bird waiting to be fed inspiration--I became a ravenous mountain lion, chasing down words like they were my last meal. 

Turns out it's more fun to be hungry than to be complacent. 

Reader, if you find yourself stuck this week, I just thought I'd put this out there: try changing the word "stuck" with "searching" and see if it doesn't open you up to more possibilities.  It's just a small trick, but I thought I'd share it, just in case it helps you, too. 

With that, this ferocious predator is heading back to my sunny spot at the piano bench for this evening's hunt.  I'll see you back here next Monday. -Em

Hard Times And All 

I'm a lucky lady.

In the past 9 days, I have: had a world-class harmonica player add tracks to my upcoming album, hosted a wedding for two incredible humans in my tiny hometown restaurant, watched my children head back to school with confidence and grace, and spent days with my coworkers in the North Woods. 

I've taken so many mental snapshots; I could fill a library in my mind.

Particularly meaningful were these past few days with my restaurant staff. We cooked on the beach and jumped in Lake Superior.  We hiked the Porcupine Mountains.  We went whitewater kayaking and climbed up waterfalls. We laid out under the stars, and we talked late into the night around bonfires. 

Under those stars, I thought a lot about my life. 

I want this life. Hard times and all.

I want the scars on my arms from burning them while making pastries at the restaurant. I want the bags under my eyes from staying up late with kids when they're sick. I even want the longing in my heart to play my songs on bigger stages: the desire fuels me in a way that fulfillment never could. 

Reader, somewhere in the North Woods, I realized: I chose this path...every difficult step of it.  Given the chance, I'd choose it again.  The steepest climbs yield the most spectacular views, metaphorically and in real life.  I'm grateful for every painful step that got me to this mindset. 

I truly hope you've had a good week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em 

Wow Yourself  

This week took it out of me.  One of the chefs at my restaurant was out sick, and we all worked a lot of overtime to give him time to recuperate.  Between the extreme heat, the extra hours, and the kids heading back to school, I'm beat.  The sound of my 5 am alarm this morning made me want to curl up into a ball and hide.

But I got myself up and out and on the road early.  Still groggy, I pulled out of our neighborhood and hit the main drag.  Now, I catch the sunrise most mornings, but the sun coming up on my way to work today just bowled me over.

Immediately, I pulled over and took a picture of it.  It just looked so spectacular.  I let myself watch the sun come up for 5 minutes and feel a bit in awe of it.  And then the strangest damned thing happened.

I wasn't tired anymore. Letting that sunrise wow me had the side effect of wiping away all my exhaustion in a matter of minutes. I felt refreshed.  I'd even go so far as to say I was exhilarated.

It dawned on me today just how linked physical and mental fatigue really are.  A tired mind cannot invigorate.  Likewise, a mind that is awake seems to be able to energize the body.  Being mentally inspired in the midst of something as mundane as a drive to work is like caffeine for the soul.  Apparently, all it takes is a small jolt of something new in the middle of our all-too-familiar patterns and trains of thought to put a spring in our step.

Reader, if you too find yourself mentally tired this week, let's look for surprises.  There is an endless source of them if we allow ourselves to be wowed, even in the course of our daily routines.  Let's keep our minds engaged and eager to see all the world has to show us.

On that note: there will be no blog from me next week.  I'm forcing my staff out of their routine and taking most of my restaurant crew to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to allow them to recharge in nature.  I'll be back here in two weeks, hopefully well-rested and with stories of surprises.  See you then. -Em

Professional Animals 

Running a business is tricky on a lot of levels.  One of the hardest parts of running my restaurant is acting professional with my colleagues and customers.

Being dignified was never my forte.

Just the same, I go to work, knowing that I need to comport myself professionally, not only to get jobs done, but also to create a stable environment of respect. Our crew knows we need to take work seriously enough to keep our business viable, as well as keep our jobs secure.

And most days, we pull it off.

Anyway, for the past two weeks, my restaurant team and I have been planning a fundraiser with the staff from a local farm.  This collaborative farm dinner was to be a bit upscale: high ticket prices, rented table linens, the works.

The whole event took place on Saturday night at the farm, and there were very few hitches.  All that professionalism and planning really paid off. The venue was beautiful.  The music was wonderful.  The food was great, and so were the drinks.

In fact, the drinks were a little too great.

After a couple glasses of wine, I was feeling no pain.  The crew and I were sitting on the balcony of a farmhouse reflecting on a good night.  And then the full moon started to rise out of the horizon on the field.  I shouted, "OH!  The MOON!" And my staff and I started to run out to see it.

Then I hesitated.  I thought, "What if the staff from the farm see us being goofballs, sprinting through the brush to see the moon?" Just as I was thinking it, I turned behind me to see the staff from the farm sprinting right behind us.  In fact, they led us to a rickety horse trailer in the middle of the field where we could get a better view.  We sat with them on the trailer for awhile, then they encouraged us to try jumping from hay bale to hay bale in the moonlight.

Which we did with pleasure. We even yipped like coyotes. It was an invigorating and unforgettable night.

Reader, the moral of my week is this: at the end of the day, we are animals.  Nothing more than pack of wild things trying to make sense of the world. Of course it's respectable that we can act professionally and diplomatically: we accomplish great things this way.  But it's also respectable to cut loose: we can find tremendous comradery and solidarity with each other when we give ourselves permission be the simple, vulnerable creatures that we are.  

I hope you have a nice week.  Let's keep remembering that--as important as our routines, parameters, and professionalism all are--it's not wrong to offset them with freewheeling, carefree, animalistic moments.  May you yip like a coyote at least once this week.  See you next Monday. -Em 

Squeezing Out Summer 

No blog tonight; I'm spending some time at a local lake with my kids.  School starts soon, and these last summer nights feel precious.  I have so much to say, but it will have to wait until next Monday.  See you then. -Em

Storms Never Last 

Well, today was a day of storms.  At 6 am this morning we had a huge round of thunderstorms that knocked out power at the restaurant for a few hours. The lightning felt like it was right over our heads. The thunder shook the windows.

Then the sun came out, and after a while, the parking lot was bone dry. Birds chirped as though nothing had happened.

A few hours later, the storms returned with a vengeance.  The rain fell so fast and so hard that the kitchen prep room flooded. My friend Dom and I spent an hour bailing out the first floor roof of my restaurant.  We were drenched, and more than 6 inches of rain were in the parking lot.

Then the sun came out, and the parking lot looked like we had just had a light sprinkle.  The woman across the street went out to walk her dog.

Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter famously sang "Storms never last, do they, baby?"  I got to thinking about that song today while we stood in the deluge and bailed hundreds of gallons of water off my roof.  It made me burst into laughter. What infinite wisdom there is in that one, simple lyric.  

Reader, trouble comes, then goes.  Happiness comes, then goes.  The floods come, and those times are hard.  Then the floods pass, and the birds sing.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Until we're gone.  Probably best to learn to find some joy during the flood, knowing it won't last forever.

So here's to smiling in the rain.  It doesn't always happen for me, but today it did, and it felt like a symbolic day in my life to embrace in the hard times. Wishing you the same this week.  See you next Monday. -Em