Problem Solvers 

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.  I'm really missing mine tonight.  For a lot of reasons.  He was tirelessly thoughtful.  He was hardworking.  He looked out for the little guy. 

And he looked out for me.

But the quality that I really miss in him?  He knew how to solve a damn problem.

I'll keep it short because it's been a hell of a week.  I'm having a hard time hiring and keeping staff at my restaurant.  It feels like no matter how much money or how many perks I offer, no matter how much I try to make people feel valued, no matter how much I give of my own time: no one wants to work through discomfort anymore.  Folks have a bad day or two, and they quit. Lately, it feels like people talk about preserving their mental health as though every day needs to be fulfilling, and they don't know how to deal with difficult moments.

Not like my dad.  He looked at every hardship as an opportunity.  

Reader, working through problems teaches us conflict resolution.  Before it becomes a lost art, let's not forget that problems are a chance to grow, to come up with new ideas, to help us evolve.  As we go through our week, let's not forget: there is no such thing as a perfect set of circumstances.  We can only try to make our circumstances better through leaning into discomfort and meeting it head on with resilience and grit.  With that, this daughter of a problem solver is off to bed so I can continue to meet tomorrow's challenges.  I'll see you next week. -Em 

Exercise 

I thought I was in pretty good shape.  

As a songwriter, I do a lot of exercise.  I play the piano in the wee hours of the morning.  I write tunes everywhere from the car to the kitchen.  I read poetry for lyrical inspiration, and I even try to work out new beats for songs while I'm walking with my kids.

My songwriting muscles are JACKED.

But my performing muscles?  Well let's just say they could stand to hit the gym and lay off the twinkies.

I played a show this week.  And even though I had a great time, I wasn't prepared.  This gig was the first one that I've played in months, and I felt like a fish out of water.  I couldn't remember how to play the piano standing up.  I couldn't get my monitor set up just right.  And I definitely couldn't quite get the hang of singing into the microphone.

Reader, just like muscles in our body: the skills that we exercise get in good shape, and the ones we neglect tend to slip.  This week taught me that I should have dedicated a little more of my attention to performance. Bottom line, we get better at things that we do over and over.  If there are things in your life you'd like to be good at, just exercise.  (Well in advance of having to do them in front of others.)

It's a good thing my sense of humor is alive and well these days so I can laugh off how awkward I was on stage. If anything, I'm more eager than ever to practice and get back out there.  Thanks to all of you who showed up to the concert.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Loving Your Cringe-Worthiness 

I've got a show this week!  With a real band on a real stage and a real audience (if anybody shows up...please show up!).  It feels too good to be true; seems like it's been years since I've played like this. 

Probably because it has. 

So I got the band together this week for a quick practice to run through the set list.  More than half the songs are brand new, and then the rest are from previous albums.  It was shocking for me to realize that some of my older tunes are almost 20 years old now. 

My song babies are all grown up.  And apparently, so am I. 

Playing songs from the old days feels bizarre. Singing those old lyrics feels like trying on clothes that I wouldn't really wear today.  And don't get me wrong: I used to love my platform shoes and skorts, but they aren't really my style anymore.  Similarly, playing 20 year-old tunes makes me cringe. 

But sometimes, you gotta embrace it. 

Reader, we aren't born finished.  We go through stages.  We continue to progress.  And there's nothing wrong with where we've been, or where we're going.  It's all part of our story.  (Besides, the phase we're in today will probably feel awkward when we look back to it in 20 years). So best to celebrate all of it, even the parts that feel cringeworthy: those parts got you where you are today. 

I hope you have a great week. Please come see me on Thursday! -Em

Letting Others Have An Impact 

I'm still flying high after a great time recording in Chicago last week.  I almost forgot how much I love playing with a band. It's great to be a part of a group. 

And I'm not just talking about music. 

I'm not certain why it's taken me decades to figure out how to let others into my life.  For the longest time, I thought I needed to have strong boundaries.  (Boundaries are the battlecry of my generation: we don't want to give anybody the power to hurt us.) 

But I think that--in my effort to have boundaries--I may have missed the joy of being impacted by others. 

Reader, letting other people into my creative processes has been transformative for me this week. Truly magical. The music that we made as a group in the studio was so much more interesting than what I would have made alone.  The events that were thrown at my restaurant were so much more inventive than anything I would have created on my own.  And the garden bed that my kids and I made at home was so much more whimsical than anything my stubborn mind would have made without them. 

With that, I hope you and your band have a great week.  Remember not to let people bring you down, but don't forget to let them bring you up, too.  I leave you with this picture of an event my staff and I threw on Wednesday (another great idea made better by involving others). I'm so grateful to be a part of several squads these days. See you next Monday. -Em

Branding Ain't For People 

I just had my first day off work from my restaurant in more than two months.  And I used the time off to start recording another album with an incredibly talented crew of musicians in Chicago. 

I've written a few dozen songs since my last album.  But putting tunes together into a cohesive record has always been a challenge for me.  In this latest batch of songs, some of the tunes are sort of doo-wop and lovey dovey.  Some are driving angry dad rock, and kind of angry.  Some feel like forlorn blues, and a few feel like tragic pop songs for the working woman.  So what do I choose? 

Any or all of them. 

Reader, I'm not sure how we get so very trapped into the notion that we are just one style of person.  We are people, not brands.  If we're being authentic, why should we be bothered with whether or not it all hangs together?  (Even if we're not being authentic: who really gives a damn?) We are an amalgam of different thoughts and feelings and interests and affinities and aversions. And you know what ties it all together? 

You.  You tie it together. 

Wishing you an off-brand kind of week.  Keep being you.  I leave you with this picture of a gorgeous sunset I saw this past week, just because.  See you next Monday. -Em

Unlimited 

I've always been unable to write music when other people were listening.  I'm just too self-conscious. I feel like I can't get into the zone when someone can hear me, because songwriting and I have always had a private relationship. 

Until we didn't. 

One morning last week, I was desperate to play the piano, but I was home with the kids. My children were loud and busy that day, and I knew I wasn't going to get a chance to sit down and write music.  So throughout the day, resentment built up.  My kids could feel how frustrated I was.  Finally, I blurted out "Mommy needs to play the piano RIGHT NOW!!  You two are going to sit and paint pictures while I play." 

And to my surprise, they did just that. 

For a full hour, I wrote songs next to my kids.  They mostly sat there quietly, once in a while cheering me on or telling me they liked what I was playing.  It was honestly the most shocking (and damned nice) thing that's happened to me in a long time. 

Reader, as adults, we think we know ourselves pretty well, which makes us set in our ways.  We rarely consider the possibility that what we know about ourselves might have changed.  I was so pleasantly surprised to learn I could write songs in front of my kids; it made me question how many more of the things I'm always certain of that might be different, and how many more of my limitations aren't really limitations at all. 

Wishing you a limitless week ahead.  I leave you with this picture of a barred owl that's also been watching me write music from outside the window lately.  It's nice to know there are still good surprises out there.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

Human Handkerchief 

After I got home from work yesterday, I went outside to plant a few herb plants.  While I was bent over a bunch of basil, my 5 year-old son came over to me and blew his nose on my pants.  When I asked him why, he said: 

"I didn't feel good, and I needed a tissue." 

That's what I am these days.  A walking tissue. 

Reader, I'll keep it brief because this human handkerchief has had a long week.  If you're a kindred spirit that's always there in someone's time of need, let me tell you something: your devotion to that person makes you the recipient of something great. 

(And no, it's not a pocket full of snot). 

The connection that comes from being there for someone when they're vulnerable is so powerful.  I think as adults, we tend to forget how natural it is to be weak, to need support from someone else.  Developing trust in friendships comes not only from times we're strong together, but also from times we choose to prop each other up when we're low. 

Even if all we have to offer is pants. 

I leave you with this goof-ball picture of my son later on in the night.  Because when the tense feelings pass, all that remains is the memory of who your friends are.  See you next Monday. -Em

Comfort Her 

Mother's Day is this Sunday. I'm one of the few mothers on staff at my restaurant.  Last week, the kitchen crew was brainstorming what sort of food specials they should make for Mother's Day.  At the top of their list? 

Salad.  Lots of ideas about salad. 

I laughed in their faces. 

As a mother who hasn't had a day off in weeks, let me tell you something: on a list of things I want to eat on a day dedicated to moms, salad comes in dead last.  What I want is a stiff drink, french fries, something cheesy, and a bowl full of chocolate.  Why? 

Because I spend every day of my life ensuring others feel comforted, usually at the expense of my own happiness and comfort.  So for just one day out of the year, I'd like to make time to have people (myself included) give me that same level of care. 

Reader, whether you're celebrating Mother's Day as a mom, or if you're celebrating a special person in your life, remember that motherhood is about care.  The second we mothers become caretakers, we begin putting ourselves second.  If you want to give back to a mom this year, the best way to do that is to acknowledge her efforts, ask her about her creature comforts, then give them to her.  If you follow those guidelines, I guarantee you: she'll be thrilled. 

(And if you're a mom that doesn't have someone to give these things to you, please take the day to care for yourself.  The truth is, we shouldn't need just a day to honor mothers and their ongoing sacrifice, but as long as there is such a day, it's a nice excuse to indulge). 

I leave you this picture of my mom and dad when they first started dating.  I marvel at how effortlessly joyful my mom looked before I came along.  Children may make our life worthwhile, but it's good to keep in mind that we were always worthy of self love and appreciation, long before we took on the job of caring for another. 

See you next Monday. -Em

Punishers 

No blog tonight.  I'm teaching my kids a lesson.  They've been real punks this week, and I took away all their toys and screens. Then they asked "Well what are we going to do now?!" So I'm marching them out to the corn field to watch the sunset.  

May the force be with all of you who have dealt with the parenting of children.  What a trip.  See you next Monday. -Em 

How To Be Good 

In my perfect world, there would be instructions on "how to be good."  The instructions would be wrapped up in an easy-to-understand e-book. The book would give definitive ways to act that would ensure the most good was being done at all times, and no harm would befall others in the making of those choices.

An impossible book, I know. But a girl can dream.

I had an emotional breakdown in a Valli supermarket on Thursday.  I actually had to put down my shopping basket and walk outside to catch my breath.  The cause of this emotional breakdown?

Feta cheese.

That's right.  Cheese.  Cheese reduced me to tears (more rightly, an exhausting week at work reduced me to tears, but the cheese was the last straw apparently).  You see, my restaurant needed feta mid-week, so I ran out quickly in the middle of service. The supermarket offered a variety of feta; I narrowed down my choices to three.  

There was the cheapest one, which would surely be the best for my business and my staff. I know saving money is so important for the future of the restaurant.

There was the local one, which would surely be the best for reducing my carbon footprint.  I know it's so important not to waste unnecessary fuel on products.

And there was the organic one from Europe, which would surely be the best for the soils of our planet.  I know it's so important to support companies committed to protecting our earth.

In the end, I went with organic.  I don't know if it was a good choice.  Hell, it might have done the most harm in the long run. But on Friday, my love of soil won out, and I've had to make peace with my decision.

Reader, achieving inner peace is getting harder and harder the more we learn.  I'm a white woman, likely the descendant of Europeans who displaced Native Americans to be here. I built my restaurant with materials from places where I'm not certain how they treat their employees.  I opened a restaurant in a largely black community, and I don't know how to be an ally here without looking like a white savior.  I clean dishes with chemicals that will harm waterways, wrap foods in plastic that will never break down, and make mountains of trash every week, despite paying for recycling services.

So how can I be good?

I've come to the decision that I can't.  I cannot exist causing zero harm.  The only thing I can do is continue to try to make informed and responsible decisions.  That's all I can control: whether or not I will ceaselessly try to make good decisions.

After my supermarket meltdown, I walked back into my restaurant and took this picture. Staff was happy.  Diners were happy.  And the place felt peaceful.  I took a few deep breaths, put my cheese in the cooler, and got back to work.  Sometimes, I think that's all we can do.  Get back to work.

I'll see you next Monday. -Em