Uncle 

Remember when you were a kid, and your older brother used to pin you to the ground and make you say "uncle?"

I feel like 2020 is that older brother. And this week, I finally said it.

With a heavy heart, I temporarily closed my restaurant yesterday.  It was just becoming financially, mentally, and emotionally unsustainable. From February, 2015 until December, 2018, I transformed that old building in Rockford into a Nordic cabin of a dining room, made to transport my customers to a cozy, mountaintop nook where they could meet their neighbors, hear local musicians, and sample great foods from a scratch kitchen.  

There's just no good way to put that experience into a carry-out box.

And so I'm pivoting once again.  The staff and I are turning the space into a holiday Snømarket and fresh food shop. I'm not sure it'll work, but I have to try something new.  I'm out of tricks in the old format.  Time to start fresh.  

Reader, I've worked so hard to have a "never-say-die" attitude.  And that attitude remains.  But that attitude really can't fix absolutely everything.  If you too find yourself banging your head against the same wall, remember: you don't have to give up.

You may just need to find a new wall.

Wish me luck!  See you next Monday. -Em

Replenish 

If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant, you’ve probably partaken in “family meal.”  It’s the meal the entire staff enjoys together at the beginning (or end) of a service.  It’s usually cobbled together by throwing a bunch of errant ingredients in a pan, and even when it doesn’t taste great, it still tastes pretty damn good. 

Family meal is meaningful in the service industry because we spend our entire days serving others. So when we slow down and take the time to serve ourselves and our crew, it feels extra replenishing. 

And holy hell, do we need replenishing these days. 

I don’t know about you, Reader, but for the past week, I’m not even running on fumes anymore.  I’m a walking zombie, scaring small children and even myself. My restaurant is in constant flux that’s out of my control. (We’re open!  We’re closed!  We’re half-way open! Somebody’s got Covid!  5 people have allergies, but what if it’s really Covid??!)  It’s been incredibly draining, and my crew and I are running ourselves into the ground, trying everything to give our restaurant a fighting chance to make it through this pandemic.

Rewind to a few weeks ago. A friend who works at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford reached out to me and asked if I’d play music outside in the garden on October 17th. I never say no to playing gigs outside, so I agreed.  I forgot all about it until this past Saturday, when I realized that I had to leave my restaurant to go sing and play music for koi fish overlooking a pond at a Japanese garden. 

I felt so frustrated as I was driving to the gig.  (Why do I sign up for these things?  What was I thinking?  I don’t have time for this!)  I loaded in through a winding pathway up a hill. (This is insane!  Who lugs an 80 lb keyboard uphill through a rock garden?! Are those tourists taking a picture of me right now?).  I set up everything in a small pagoda, just as a huge gust of wind came by and blew my microphone into the pond. (This wind is crazy! I’m going to freeze out here!  My nose is running!  OMG DO I HAVE COVID??

But then I started to play. Singing has a way of forcing us to breathe.  We take deep breaths in, then we make long, controlled exhales, emptying our diaphragms. The gig was 2 hours long.  By the end of it, I felt absolutely restored. 

And I even got paid for it. 

The moral is: replenish replenish replenish.  Just like family meal, we cannot serve others well while we are zombies.  We must sit and serve ourselves as well.  You’d think I’d learn by now.  If you too are feeling zapped, take two hours to nourish your body.  For me, it happened by accident this week.   

And what a happy accident it was.  Take care of yourself, and I’ll see you next Monday. -Em

Head Clearing 

Our little family is camping up north in the Upper Peninsula, trying to clear our heads.  So much continues to happen daily, and I know you feel it too.   I'm taking a break from blogging tonight, & I'll see you next Monday.  Stay strong, Reader.

Who We Plant It For 

Every year, my mom plants an incredible garden full of flowers, veggies, and herbs.  It's really something to behold. I've coveted her tomatoes and pole beans for years. She works tirelessly on it all, and she used to use a lot of what she grew for dinners for her and Dad.

But the year that Dad died, she had a hard time motivating herself to get it planted.  

I remember her saying, "I just don't know who I'm planting it for."

In that moment, I remember getting on a soapbox and telling her that she should only need to plant the garden for herself.  She shouldn't need Dad to take joy in digging her hands in the earth to create life from seeds.  She shouldn't need Dad to relish in a sunny day outside in her haven.  She shouldn't need Dad to cook it all up for dinner and taste the fruits of her labor.

What a load of shit I dumped on her that day.

Of course she needed somebody to want to plant the garden for.  A large part of what makes us happy is knowing we've made somebody else happy.  Without others to work for, work is simply not as fulfilling.  Period.

That lesson is resonating with me very strongly tonight.

Reader, this week, the governor shut down indoor dining.  I wallowed for about 5 minutes, and then I got to work.  Because I have 17 crew members that I have to fight for now.  And that invigorates me.  It energizes me.  It terrifies me, and it inspires me.  Having people in our lives to work for is absolutely the reason we plant gardens and write music and build restaurants.  Don't forget who we do it for.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Debbie Downer 

I'm rarely a Debbie Downer.  I consider myself more of a Rhonda Realist or a Patty Positivity or an Ursula Upshot. And it's only once in a blue moon that I get  truly blue.

But that blue moon is out tonight. I may soon be a Wendy Wino on my way to being a Hannah Hangover.

Our region of Illinois is very close to being shut down for indoor dining.  Our region's positivity rate for CV-19 is on the rise.  If indoor dining shuts down, my restaurant doesn't stand much of a chance to make it into 2021.  My staff will not be able to survive on unemployment without CARES Act money in place, and many of them will not be able to pay their bills.  And my little-restaurant-that-could will become the little restaurant-that-could-not-damnit-damnit-damnit.

It's enough to bring me to my knees, or at least get good and angry.

I choose the latter.

Reader, I'm a big believer in letting ourselves feel what we need to feel, and then doing something about it.  I've been down all day, but now I'm plain determined.  Debbie had her time.  I'm now Molly Motivated, and I plan on doing everything I can until I can't do anything anymore.  I'll set up more heaters for outdoor dining.  I'll serve coffee in our parking lot on roller skates.  I'll ask staff to knit blankets for our customers.  I'll do anything and everything.  Because we simply cannot go down without a fight.

If you too feel distressed and down this week, allow yourself to roll around in those miserable feelings for awhile. Then let's channel those feelings and use them to get good and ready to fight against it all.  

I leave you with this picture of a tree in our neighborhood.  The leaves are on fire, and I am too.  Let's kick those blues. See you next Monday. -Em

Good news. Bad news. You never can tell. 

The loss of Ruth Bater Ginsburg feels devastating.  I cried on Friday. For many reasons.  But one--in particular--hits close to home.

Right now, a case is pending in the Supreme Court regarding the Affordable Care Act.  If Republicans push through a Supreme Court nominee, within weeks, tens of millions of our citizens could lose their insurance, and rates will soar for those with preexisting conditions.

Which includes my daughter.

And I try so hard to be understanding.  But I'm struggling to understand the lack of empathy and conscience amongst some politicians.

Reader, if you're like me and the news is making you shake your head more and more every day, I'm going to share with you an old parable that my friend Dom shared with me this week.  It calmed me down immeasurably.

'Years ago, there lived a farmer and his son.  They had very little to their name besides their farm and one horse.  One day, the horse ran away.  The farmer's son was distraught.  He said, "Father, our horse ran away, and now we have nothing.  This is such bad news!"

The father replied, "Eh, good news, bad news, you never can tell."

The next day, the horse returned to the farm, and he brought another horse with him.  He had made a friend.  The father and son rejoiced.  The son said to his father, "Father, our horse has brought us a second horse!  This is such good news."

The father replied, "Eh, good news, bad news, you never can tell."

A few weeks later, the father and son were out working the farm, each upon a horse.  The son fell off his horse, and he broke his leg.  He felt scared.  He knew he wouldn't be able to work the farm with a broken leg.  He said, "Father, my leg is broken, and I can't help with the farm.  This is such bad news!"

The father replied, "Eh, good news, bad news, you never can tell."

The next day, the leader of their city made an announcement.  All able-bodied men were drafted to go to war. The son was spared because of his broken leg.'

And such, dear Reader, is life.  We don't know what will come from the bad that occurs today.  And while Ruth's death is indeed tragic, perhaps it will spark a positive change that is yet to unfold. 

I'll see you next Monday. Keep fighting that good fight. -Em

Anger Is An Acid 

One of my family members was almost killed in a carjacking last week.  Against all odds, he will survive.  We feel pretty damn lucky.

And also tired.  There were a lot of tears shed about it this week.  It feels like we just finished an emotional marathon.

To say I'm relieved is a true understatement.  For so many reasons.  But mainly, I'm glad this family member didn't leave the earth before we got to make things right.  Before the carjacking, the last exchange I had with him was a heated debate on social media about Trump and the coronavirus.  And while we didn't walk away angry, we certainly didn't leave things on particularly friendly terms.

Reader, I'm going to keep it short tonight.  Life can go in a blink.  Today in the United States, we are the opposite of united.  We all hate the "others" and seek to blame and shame them with righteous indignation.  But take it from someone who almost lost someone she loves: letting a former reality star sour your personal relationships with those on the other side isn't worth it.  

Mark Twain famously said: "Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured." I'm using this second chance to try not to be corroded by hatred.  This week, find common ground. Seek to understand. I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Happy Labor Day 

Happy Labor Day, Reader.  I'm taking the night off to pick wildflowers with my babies.  

I do have a lot to say, and I'll tell you everything next Monday night.  Wishing you strength and love this week. -Em

Fighting With Dollars 

It's been a long week.  I worked 4 double shifts in a row at my restaurant because we're still down a line cook. At the end of the fourth day, I sat down with a friend, and we drank a tall scotch (actually two).

We started talking about COVID-19 and politics and about how we feel like we're on the brink of civil war in our country.  We talked about how futile it feels to be cooking eggs and pouring coffee during a deadly pandemic and racial injustice and endless suffering.  At the end of the night, I was left wishing that my time was spent fighting for bigger causes instead of just feeding people food and playing music.

I stayed up most of the night thinking about it.  And I've returned to a conclusion I've had before. It's nothing new, but it was nice to remember that one of the best ways to choose sides and fight for a cause right now is to simply spend money wisely.  

Reader, as a restaurant owner, I can tell you that there is a very good chance that many restaurants are not going to survive COVID-19.  As a mother of school-age kids, I can tell you that many teachers will not keep their jobs through COVID-19.  And as a performing songwriter, I can tell you that many musicians, actors, and artists are struggling to make ends meet during COVID-19.  And finally, as a decent human, I can tell you that many human rights and environmental organizations are feeling fearful for their future during COVID-19.  I'm sure you could tell me who's hurting in your life, too.

So there is something to be done while cooking eggs and pouring coffee.  I can make sure the eggs and coffee I'm buying are from farmers who value sustainable practices and working wages for their employees.  I can pay musicians to play on my restaurant patio.  I can eat (and drink tall scotches) at restaurants that employ the people I trust and support.

If you too feel desperate to fight but can't use your fists, don't forget what a couple dollars here and there can do in your community.  Fight for the world you want with your pocketbook.  I leave you with a picture of my daughter on the paddleboat I rented for us yesterday at Rock Cut State Park.  Because right now, that's the best way to fight for the future of state parks. Let's keep the good guys going.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Get Light 

I don't know about you, Reader.  But the madness of the world is palpable lately.  I feel the tense energy infiltrating my restaurant, my family, and even my dreams.  The weight of it all really started to get to me this past week.  To preserve my sanity, I did the only thing I know to do when things get heavy.

I got light.

Over the years, I've learned that finding levity in dark times is my best solution to almost all dire feelings, and so that's what I turned to this week.  On the music front, I've been working up a music video to celebrate the release of my new record, and I hope it turns out as breezy as I want it to be in my head.  At home, we've been letting ourselves get goofy with the kids (read: my husband currently has pink finger and toe nails).  And on the restaurant front, I just spent every night of the week cooking classic state fair foods and trying to figure out how to get three burgers to stand up on a stick.

And I nailed it.

Of course, none of these things are a solution to the world's problems.  And of course we need to face reality.  But we don't need to let it drag us down, either.  Reader, if you too are feeling mired in it all, I invite you to join me in giving your mind and heart a break and trying to find fun.  Remember fun?  It's still out there, and it's still in you.  We just need to keep looking for it.

I'll see you next week.  Let's keep our chins up. -Em