On Becoming June Cleaver 

After work last night, I had good intentions of sitting down to write a blog.  But then a few of my employees asked me to join them for a beer, and the idea of drinking outweighed the idea of writing.

While throwing back a few, one of my staff asked me about my life.  They were intrigued about how I went from being a bad-ass musician to a June Cleaver-esque mom in just a few years.  The question rattled me. I wondered internally.

Sweet Jesus. Have I really become June Cleaver?

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against June, the archetypal suburban parent from the 50's. But my inner touring musician cringed.  At first, I felt defensive.  Then I felt angry.  Finally I felt like jumping on the bar an rock-belting from my gut, just to change their mind (and prove I still could).

In the end, I just slugged back the beer and drove home, stewing.

I kept thinking all night: why do we care so much about our persona? I know who I truly am.  I'm a short-fused, hard-working, entrepreneurial artist with a fierce love of nature and a penchant for flying off the handle.  But the idea that other people see me as a simple house-wife?

It was more than I could bear.

Which is of course ridiculous.  Reader, we cannot change what people think about us.  They will perceive based on what they see.  Only we know who we are.  There's no sense trying to prove ourselves to the outside world. 

And besides, what others see might actually not be so bad.  Episodes of 'Leave It To Beaver' usually had a pretty solid moral and some quality cinematography.

With that, this rock-mom is off to finish making glögg for her venue.  Let's get out there this week and not give a damn what people think of us. See you next Sunday (or Monday, if beers happen again). -Em


Jazz Dream Come True 

Today, one of my lifelong dreams came true. 

Jazz brunch happened at my restaurant.

I walked out of the kitchen at 10 am to a room full of diners listening to the sweet sounds of the Joel Baer Trio.  Glasses were clinking, toes were tapping, and my heart was melting.  I took a mental picture that I'll keep in my mind forever.

Today was worth more to me than all the money in the world.

Reader, I'll keep it short tonight.  The longer I live, the more I believe in the importance of letting ourselves daydream, and then working towards realizing those dreams.  It's easy to lose sight of those deep desires that stir us from within, especially as we age. But I'm here to tell you, those dreams are essential to keeping us going. As we go through our week, let's all remember to keep our hungry hearts young by listening to them and chasing down what moves us. See you next Sunday. -Em

Letting Others Step Up 

Sunday night blog turned into Monday night blog this week.  These things happen. 

Anyhow, as I sit down to type on this New Year’s Eve, my usual state of reflection has been replaced with anticipation.  I’ve done more this year than I ever thought possible, and all of that activity whet my appetite for what’s to come. 

One thing’s for certain: what’s to come won’t involve me as much. 

For the past three years, I was given the opportunity to restore an old building into a restaurant called The Norwegian.  I had no experience.  But the success of the place depended on me, and so I had to step up.  I had to tear out what was there, rebuild and refinish what remained, and transform it into a functioning restaurant. I carried the weight of the project on my shoulders, knowing that without me, the place wouldn’t have made it. 

Except that it did. 

Last week. I got so sick that I couldn’t stand.  I told my husband we’d have to close the restaurant for the day. But then he reminded me. 

I’m not the only one who knows how to step up. 

Reader, sometimes we don’t know how much we’re able to accomplish until we absolutely have to do it.  When I got sick, my fellow chefs at the building blew me away. They carried the weight on their shoulders, and the place ran without a hitch.  

As I enter into 2019, I plan to lean harder on the people around me, allowing them to feel the same rush of responsibility that I did, letting them know how important they are. Not only will I enjoy watching them shine, but maybe I’ll actually get a day off from time to time. 

 Wouldn’t that be nice. See you next Sunday. -Em

She lives 

Well Reader, it's been a hectic month, and I'm finally back.  Over the past 28 days, I've opened a restaurant, lost 6 employees, been the victim of a hit-and-run, released a new album, and come down with the worst stomach virus I've ever had.  I've lived on just a few hours of sleep a night, keeping a toothbrush in our office for the nights I have to sleep at the restaurant.  I've been making meatballs until 2 am every other day, living on coffee and adrenaline.

I'd say I don't know how I'm doing it, but that would be a lie.

I'm doing it because I'm surrounded by the very greatest people.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which is a time of reflection for me.  I'm so incredibly grateful this year for the friends and employees who stood by me through the chaos.  Most nights this month, a friend stopped by to help, making food with me until the wee hours.  Their optimism and enthusiasm carried me through my dark hours. I can't imagine how I would've held up without them.

Reader, as we give gifts in a few days, let's not forget to give our positivity to those who need it most.  It saved my life this year.  We cannot be too generous with our joy.  I'll see you next Sunday! -Em


I just got home from Minneapolis.  My pastry chef-Hailey-and I drove to Norway House for a private lesson on how to make traditional Norwegian lefse, a flatbread that will be a staple on my restaurant menu. It took a little while to get the hang of it, but after an hour or so, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good mastery of it. 

Which is amazing, because at 8 am, I had no idea what I was doing. 

Reader, I’m not going to write much tonight; it’s been a long week.  I’m opening up a place in just 12 days, and I’m terrified. Imposter syndrome has kicked in hard, and I feel like I have no place starting a restaurant without having done it before. 

But just like I learned by making lefse: the only thing separating me from every other restaurateur is a little experience.  Everyone who has ever mastered a trade once had no idea what they were doing. We’re all newbies at some point. Go gentle on yourself this week for what you haven’t mastered yet.  We’re all just learning as we go.   

I’ll see you next Sunday. -Em 

Selling Yourself 

A close friend recently told me, "No matter what job you do, you're in sales."  

I tend to agree.  

As a musician, I sell my art and my performances.  As a general contractor, I sell my ideas and visions to my trades.  As a mom, I sell the notion that reading is better than Youtube and that broccoli is delicious.

(Which is of course the hardest sell of them all).

Anyway, in less than 3 weeks, I'll be selling food and drinks at my new restaurant, The Norwegian.  I'm nervous and completely broke, but I'm also happy it's finally happening.  This week, I began booking company Christmas parties, and I had a sit-down with potential clients.

As we sat together at one of my pub tables, the clients asked me what kind of food I could serve them.  I started my usual excited rant about giant sides of salmon and sea bass, cascading piles of curried lentils, vibrant bowls of chimichurri and homemade pickles, luscious mounds of Nordic cookies and confections...

Crickets. My rant was met with blank stares.

The clients--who were extremely kind--asked if I could make them something less messy, more like bite-sized appetizers.  Which was a perfectly reasonable request.  And so I plunged into an optimistic diatribe about how eager I was to try to make them little tartlets and terrines.  I would make them dainty morsels fit for royals. I would make them anything they could dream up!

As I spoke the words, I hardly recognized my own voice. And inside my head, there was a different internal dialogue:

Dear God I don't want to make little tartlets and terrines. 

Later that night, I was at odds with myself. My mind raced. I'm not even open for business, and already I'm selling something that's not an accurate reflection of who I am.  Granted, I do like challenges, and I do need the money from private events, but how much of myself am I willing to give up to make it happen?

Anxious, I sat down at the computer to write the clients.  In the end, my authenticity won out, and I told them truth: I'm not great at making bite-sized foods.  That's not what I do.  And even though I will try, I really hope they'll let me serve them epic boards of fish and pickles, because that's what I'm good at, and that's what I'll do best.

I breathed deep.  I had made my pitch.  Only instead of selling them what I thought they wanted to hear, I sold them what I believed.  I sold them who I am.  I sold them what I love. And the result?

I don't know.  I still haven't heard back from them. They may have taken their business elsewhere.

But on my end, I feel great.  

Reader, if it's true that we're all selling something, there's really very little point to trying to sell something we aren't.  Life is too short to be inauthentic. That's not to say that we shouldn't take on challenges.  But if those challenges compromise what you are, it's ok to honestly own the fact that you would do something differently.  After all, the biggest part of sales is confidence, and confidence comes from believing in yourself, not from compromising it.

And with that, myself is off to put my 3 year-old to sleep.  Tomorrow I look forward to my new daily breakfast board of fish and pickles, because that's what I love.   So let's all get out there this week and sell ourselves (which of course sounds very prostitute-ish, but you catch the drift).  See you next Sunday. -Em 

Girls on Fire 

I met dozens of strangers this week.  Staring at each of their faces, I thought I was looking into a mirror.

For the past few days, we held "open hiring" at my restaurant in Rockford.  I was in awe of the sheer magnitude of folks interested in applying for a job, but was even more in awe of the sheer magnitude of things we had in common.

For starters, the majority of applicants were women.

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see how many females want to work as line cooks.  When I first went to culinary school, it was rare to find a woman looking for a line cook job, much less the job of a chef or a sous chef.  Fast forward 20 years, and they're coming out of the woodwork.


Because it's 2018 and we're tired of being stuck making salads, that's why.

Listening to these women's stories, I heard so many similarities to my own experiences.  One woman was sexually harassed on the job, and her employer all but fired her for daring to speak out.  Another watched as her less-qualified male colleagues were given raises and bonuses, knowing she could never be promoted beyond a garde manger position.  And one even left the whole industry for awhile because the chef verbally abused her so badly.

It all rang so true. Then it dawned on me.

Twenty years ago, it wasn't that no women were looking for a line cook job; it was that they knew they wouldn't find one even if they tried.

Reader, my reflection this week is dual-fold.  First, no matter how unique we think we are in our suffering, we just aren't.  Others are going through it all too.  Take heart in that fact.  As alone as we feel when we're in the dumps, our situation is far from extraordinary.

Second, being put down my other people can be used to your advantage.  The fire these women had in their eyes is the kind that only comes from being told you aren't enough.  That fire is the kind that makes you want to prove the oppressors wrong.  It makes you want to succeed more.  It makes you push yourself farther than the others thought you could go.  

And it sure as hell makes you the kind of person I want in my kitchen.

With that, this woman is off to hit the hay.  I leave you with a memory of my Halloween this week (I chose to dress up as Captain Planet, because the earth could use some saving these days).  I hope you have a super week. -Em

The Others 

I have a very hard time reflecting on my little life when the world at large feels so very troubled.  The hate crimes in our world this week have rattled me to my bones. 

How on earth--in 75 years--did our country go from a nation that sacrificed its young men to save the world from a Jew-hating demagogue, to a nation that is accustomed to regular acts of anti-semitic terrorizing and partisan death threats on its own soil?  

Open hatred, that's how.

Reader, I'm going to keep this blog very short: I do believe in the First Amendment.  And the Second.  But if we can use the First to rally hostility and the Second to arm ourselves and carry out our anger, the system is broken.  

As a person, I'm distraught.  As a mom, I'm terrified.

In our little household, we are teaching are children: show love to everyone, especially the groups you feel are "the others," those groups that you feel are not like you. Because truly, what two people are the same?  What two churches are the same? What two Democrats or Republicans are the same?  Heck, what two family members are the same? I'm nothing like my husband, and he's nothing like me.  

(And thank heavens for that.)

Differences make the world go around.  On December 1st, I'm opening a restaurant (read: I passed all of my final building inspections this week, and I was granted my occupancy!).  And when I open my doors, I hope to serve as many of "the others" as possible.  Republicans, Democrats, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and every color of skin imaginable--as long as you don't openly hate on people who aren't like you, you've got a seat at my table.

Let's all be kind this week. I'm off to take a walk in the cornfield with my kids. See you next Sunday. -Em

Giving Up Time Travel 

I was supposed to play a show in Chicago tonight with Tommi Zender, but we cancelled it.  Even though the never-ending bronchitis is finally on its way out, I still didn't think anyone would enjoy hearing me cough my way through my catalogue.  

Myself included. 

Anyway, this week, my mom turned 70.  I threw her a little party at my restaurant, The Norwegian (which--fingers crossed--is just 4 final inspections away from being open). I watched mom and her friends laugh and throw back drinks all night, and I couldn't help but think about the passage of time. 

Humans don't seem to love it. 

Myself included. 

Largely because--as time passes--things change.  And things changing doesn't usually feel good.  I crave familiarity and control. I like to walk well-trodden paths and stick to them.  I like getting good at something, and then never deviating from it. 

Which is to say: I like everything to stay the same. 

I remember after dad died, I just wanted to go back in time, before everything changed.  Then a few years later, my daughter was born with a bizarre illness that rocked our world, and I remember thinking that I wished I could go back in time, before everything changed.  Fast forward to day: I've experienced hundreds--if not thousands--of times while building my restaurant that I've felt defeated, and I've wanted nothing more than to go back in time before everything changed. 

You get where I'm going with this. 

Reader, the older I get, the more I realize: there's no going back.  There is just the present, and it is never the same. People come and go from our lives.  We move.  We change schools and jobs. We change the way we look, the way we act, and the way we feel. Imagine trying to stick to the same comfortable path that we cut at 7 and at 70.  

It's comical. 

Change is inevitable.  Every step we take is uncertain.  The scenery is never the same, nor is the company.  Once we gain a bit of wisdom, the rug is pulled out from under us, and we flounder again.  Our only recourse?  For me, it's taking a moment to grieve what has passed, and then plunging head-first into the present moment with the ever-evolving cast of people in my world.  I try to keep adapting and evolving.  I'm not good at it, but still, I keep navigating my latest scenario. 

Which at this moment, is sleepiness.  Everyone in this house is going to bed. 

Myself included. 

I'll see you next Sunday. -Em