The Vertigo Album 

It's important to have friends who think differently than you.  A friend's perspective turned my week around. 

Vertigo is having its way with me.  I'm falling over, throwing up, and having a hard time focusing on a single object for longer than a few seconds.  When I sit down at the piano to write, as nice as it feels, it's short lived. I can't spend hours mulling over melodies and lyrics like I'm accustomed to.  Tunes that would normally take me a couple days need to be finished by the time I stand up. 

I was lamenting this situation to a friend.  She said, "I think this is an incredible opportunity!"  I gave her the evil eye, and she continued, "You write a vertigo album." 

I laughed. Then paused. And then I actually considered it. Damn, she's right. How cool would it be to capture this situation in song? I hugged her, and then I went home and got a few songs into the vertigo album. It's honestly a refreshing way to write, without overthinking. 

Reader, as cliché as it is to say, some of our worst times do have an upshot.  Or if not an upshot, at least a chance to shake things up.  I'm grateful to have people around me who show me other points of view. I started this week frustrated and ended it loving all my opportunities.  I'm thanking my stars tonight for friends who see things differently; I hope you have one too.

I leave you with this picture of my kids, doing their impersonation of me as a granny tonight.  Apparently I'm easily parodied these days. See you next Monday. -Em

Will Won't 

I got vertigo two weeks ago.  My doctor thinks it happened because of the recent combination of airplane travel and an ear infection.  I've been miserable, and working through the constant spinning has been hard, but I've been powering through it anyway.  Because that's what I do best. 

Power through. 

Through the years, I've counted will power as my greatest asset.  I've always figured that with a lot of determination and patience, I can accomplish anything.  And for the most part, it's been true.  It's how I've learned how strong I can be. But this week, I learned a lesson the hard way: 

Will power has to be used right. 

After two weeks of getting nowhere, I finally hit an emotional deadend.  I couldn't keep working through vertigo. Today, I redirected my energy. Rather than fight my way through the daily grind, I used will power to call every doctor in the area to find somebody who could help me find relief.  I got into a physical therapist this afternoon, and I made appointments for the rest of the week.  For the first time, I feel like I may be able to see the light at the end of this blurry tunnel. 

Reader, perseverance is an incredible trait. But it can't take you everywhere. The moral of my week is: if you're working hard but you're still just beating your head against the wall, it may be time to change course and try a path without a wall.   

I'm off to movie/junk food night with the family.  Because sometimes, you just need to resolve to have no will power at all.  See you next Monday. -Em

Mistakes Done Well 

Our family decided to give fewer material gifts for the holidays.  For the past couple years, we've been giving each other experiences.  This year, I got my mom tickets to see Judy Collins at the Old Town School of Folk Music. We went to see the show last night, and I was blown away: the woman can hit higher notes at 83 than I could in my 20s. 

Her range wasn't all that blew me away.  I couldn't get over how well she made mistakes. She forgot lyrics and had to start songs over.  During her banter, she forgot people's names mid-story and had to abandon the story and just start singing. She even forgot if she had sung the last verse to a song once, and just sang it twice to make sure she hadn't. 

Her responses were magical.  She smiled, called out her mistakes, and started laughing at herself.  Her laughter was so genuine that the whole audience was laughing along with her.  Judy's mistakes and the way she dealt with them were one of my favorite parts of the concert.  What an inspiration. 

Reader, I don't know about you, but 2023 got off to a bumpy start. I've made big errors in every sphere of my life, and I also have vertigo for the first time. If you find yourself mired in your mistakes too, let's take a lesson from ol' Judy Blue Eyes: own them and laugh.  We all make mistakes.  How we deal with them can be deflating or inspiring. It's our choice. 

Hang in there, and I'll see you next Monday.  Enjoy yet another picture from Norway (I can't stop looking at them). -Em

Arctic Circle 

I spent the last week in the Arctic Circle.  The purpose was to get into the mountains, away from civilization, and see the Northern Lights. Memorable isn’t a big enough word to describe the experience. The sun never rose. And the moon never set; it just made wide looping circles over our heads each day.  I'm writing from an airport in Norway before I forget this adventure.  

My husband and I arrived in Tromsø on a snowy night.  We stayed at a little hotel on the harbor where snowy mountains and flowing fjords ran into each other. We couldn't see the town from sea level, so we took the cable car to the top of the tallest mountain. From up high, the city looked like tangled strings of diamond necklaces.  I wasn’t dressed warmly enough, and I made a vow to spend the rest of the trip in head-to-toe snow gear. 

The next morning, we woke up early and walked around in the 4 hours of glowing sky that constitutes daylight in the winter. We stumbled upon a wooden boat that looked to be at least a hundred years old.  The captain said he was giving tours of the fjord later in the day.  We signed up for one, then killed a few hours drinking at an ice bar and visiting a little polar museum.  

Our time on boats was magical.  We learned about whales, Sami culture, moose, and the Nazi occupation of the area, which was unsettling but felt important to understand.  We saw our first glimpse of the dancing aurora through the clouds. Later, we went to a little floating sauna in the harbor.  When we got too hot, we’d jump into the sea.  After several innings of burning heat and freezing cold, we had a dinner of reindeer donuts, lots of cod, and akvavit. 

We left Tromsø by ferry and headed to a little town called Finnsnes, where we caught a bus to the mountains.  We stayed in a room that was mostly windows.  There were no tvs or radios, and no access to food. So we went back into town for provisions, then camped out in our glass apartment for two days with little besides crackers, a hunk of cheese, and our thoughts.  We spent about 8 hours a day just looking out the window, staring at the sky, sometimes walking around outside to get a clearer view.  There was one night where the Northern Lights were so active that we just stood under them with our jaws dropped. 

The aurora borealis is a faint green (oxygen) and purple (nitrogen) to the naked eye, but through a camera, the color is much brighter.  Still, the picture below doesn’t do it justice.  The dancing of elements miles over my head made everything seem so small, and I felt my stress level drop. My gratitude for the experience can’t be overstated. 

Reader, my biggest takeaway from this trip: we are just so small in the grand scheme of time and space. Best to get outside and look up to be reminded of it. And also to be reminded to enjoy our short time here.  When we headed back to Tromsø on our final night, we found ourselves cheering on the runners who were racing in the Polar Half Marathon, and then later line dancing/exercising in the town square with the rest of the locals.  I felt as happy as I’ve ever been. 

Now it’s back to having my nose to the grindstone, but I’m not going to forget to keep my head in the clouds. See you next Monday. -Em

Keep The Lights On 

I went to a pretty dark headspace on Wednesday.  Between family illnesses, the stress of having kids home from school, and working through the finances of the restaurant, I felt like I was drowning and couldn't see my way out.  I drove through our neighborhood Christmas lights, but peace and joy felt completely out of reach. That night, I stayed up late, shaking with stress. 

The next morning, I woke up with what my husband calls an emotional hangover. I was groggy and exhausted. I poured myself a cup of coffee and checked my phone.  One of the emails in my inbox was from a stranger, telling me how I could collect my audio prizes.  Thinking it was a scam, I deleted it. 

But for some reason, I went into the trash and checked it, just to be sure. 

Turns out, I've been so busy that I missed the message that I was a finalist and honorable mention winner in this year's USA Songwriting Competition. I had almost forgotten that I entered. (On an aside: entering songwriting competitions is the closest I come to gambling. If the grand prize of a competition looks good and I think I might stand a chance, I'll submit a tune.) 

Even though I hadn't won money, being recognized buoyed my spirits in a way no words can describe.  It completely reversed the state of despair I was in just 12 hours earlier. 

Reader, the moral of my week is two-fold. First, if you're suffering and think no good will ever come again, never forget: it does. Second--and more importantly--if someone you know feels like they're drowning and can't see their way out, never forget what a little recognition and positivity can do for someone when they're in that headspace.  With the holidays over, a lot of people go dark.  If you've got light to give, let's give it generously. 

With any luck, a week from today, I'll be in the arctic circle.  I'm not sure I'll be able to blog.  But I hope to have a lot of great stories when I get back.  See you then. -Em

Worth It 

For the past 2 months--in addition to writing songs and raising kids--my husband and I have been working on adding components to our restaurant's annual outdoor winter Snømarket.  Our garage has become a fully operational woodshop.  This year, we built an elevated G-scale train trestle, a giant thatched smoking A-frame hut, and 150 individual A-frame huts that function as incense burners. 

We're tired. But proud. 

Snømarket is over, and I'm reflecting on it all.  We made some money, but definitely not hand-over-fist.  A lot of people came out, but it was still a largely unrecognized event. And it definitely took a lot of time away from the kids.  At the close of the market last night, someone asked me, "Well, was it worth it?" 

I had to pause to think about it. 

What makes something worth doing? If there's no money or fame in it, and it takes time away from what you love most, should you do it?   

I think it depends.   But in this case, it was worth doing, a hundred times over. 

Reader, money goes. Fame dies. Time flies. But the experience of creating something from the heart and putting it out in the world is a priceless exercise, and I'm so grateful to be alive and able to do it.  Whatever you're up to this week, I hope it gives you satisfaction and pride.  And if you came to our market, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.   

See you next Monday, 


Well Enough 

Bit of breakthrough for me last week.  The guys and I hit King Size Sound Labs to make another live record.  I usually like to go into sessions with at least 14 songs.  That way, if I don't like the way 3 or 4 of them turn out, I still have enough for a full record. 

I've been working on writing tunes all year, and I thought I had about 10 pretty good songs.  I also have dozens of rough tunes that are full of place-filler lyrics and weak melodies.  So I brought in 4 of those unfinished tunes, thinking we'd use them to warm up and have fun, since none of them would matter anyway. 

Turns out, those were the best ones of the bunch.   

Reader, I forget: sometimes a piece of art requires a lot of work, and other times, it just needs to be left alone.  There's a difference between fine-tuning and overworking.  There are times when we just need to leave well enough alone and believe that it's more important for art to evoke feelings than it is for art to be good.  

Let's keep it real this week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em 
P.S.  If you're in the Rockford area, come to my restaurant's Snømarket!  All the details are here.

Something To Write About 

My family and I went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for Thanksgiving. It was nice to get out of town.  But I felt frustrated to be away from the piano for so long.  I'm recording a live album a week from today, and I was hoping for more time to finish up a few tunes. 

But I thought, no sense being a damned party pooper. So I enjoyed myself.  We made a couple bonfires. We went to Lake Superior, and a few of us jumped in. We built a snowman, complete with a carrot nose and a carrot ding-a-ling. We played card games.  We cooked and laughed and hiked up mountains and sledded down them. 

And when I came back home to finish up the tunes, it was easy.  Because I had something to write about. 

Reader, I'm an advocate for working hard, especially when it comes to writing.  But sometimes I forget the importance of living life.  If you too are the creative sort, let's not forget to actually experience the life we're trying to capture. No sense toiling away and missing out on the best parts of it all.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em


Burning Furniture Again 

I'm coming up on the 10th anniversary of my dad's death.  It simultaneously feels like it just happened yesterday, and also like it happened 25 years ago.  So much has happened in my life since he died.  Marriage, kids, 10 albums, building and running restaurant.  Extreme joy, depression, hilarity, anxiety, and everything in between. 

I miss him. 

The night dad died, I made a decision that has haunted me ever since.  I was living in Chicago, and my mom called to tell me that dad had a heart attack, and was being taken to the hospital. I asked her if he was alive.  And she said, "no."  I told her I would meet her at home.  I chose not to see dad's body.  I never saw him again. 

I wish I would have gone to the hospital, so I could have had a chance to see him and said goodbye.  But I made a quick choice.  And that was that. 

A couple weeks after dad died--still regretting my choice--I felt compelled to have some sort of ritual.  So I dragged the giant 12 foot wooden hutch that I built my parents when I was 17 out into their woods, and I set it on fire.  It felt good to let go of something that I held so dear for so long.  Just to prove how impermanent everything is, how objects are nothing compared to the life within and around them. 

And holy hell, does my mom still curse me for burning up her furniture.  Rightfully so.  It was an impulsive and crazy move, as satisfying as it was. 

And here I am 10 years later, just as impulsive and crazy.  This past week, I dragged the wooden bar that I made with dad out into the woods, and set it on fire.  It was time.  It was in pretty rough shape.  I had already replaced the wood twice.  But I was holding onto it for posterity because it reminded me of him.  My husband threw on a giant bench that I had an my restaurant for good measure.  It was a giant inferno. 

The fire burned my face even from 20 feet away. And it felt just as good as it did almost 10 years ago. 

Reader, there's no moral here.  Life is hard.  And sad.  And beautiful.  And sometimes we just have to do what we have to do.  For me, it's apparently burning up furniture in the interest of gaining perspective.  Whatever it is for you, I wish you the ability to do it. 

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I'm grateful to you for reading these thoughts, and I'm sending you the best.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em