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

The Long Haul 

In the past month, my friend died, my car died, my dog died, and my restaurant shut down again due to an employee with confirmed COVID-19.  

Life is playing out like a mediocre country song. 

And years ago, these would have felt like the end times. Not just because of the hardship of the losses, but also because of how long I knew it would take to feel better. Something about being young makes waiting very hard.  I'm reminded of this fact a lot lately because I'm a mom of young kids, kids who don't even want to take a car ride longer than 15 minutes because "it'll take forever."

What newbies.

My kids would literally rather not start than have to wait for a result. But getting older changes things.  I'm fully aware that the things I begin will take years to come to fruition.  But that sure as hell doesn't stop me from starting.  It took me weeks to build outdoor seating at my restaurant. It took me months to write the songs on my upcoming record.  It took me years to renovate my building, and it will take me decades to raise my kids into adulthood.  

And isn't it so sweet when something that takes that long finally comes to pass?

Reader, it all takes time, and it's all so hard, but it's all so worth it, and it's all worth starting.  Case in point: two years ago, I was given a couple of avocados to eat while working on my construction site. On a lark, I decided to throw the pits in a cup of water.  To my surprise, they sprouted.  I almost threw them out, knowing I wouldn't have the patience to nurture them.  But then I just started making it a daily practice to refill the glasses of water.  Then I put the sprouts in a little soil.  Then I put them in a little more soil. Today, I just noticed that my avocado plants are taller than I am.  I'm guessing it will take several more years before they actually grow avocados, but with 2 years of waiting and nurturing under my belt, what's a few more?

And now this patient lady is off to bed. As tough as things are, I actually had a tremendous act of kindness happen to me this week, and I'm full of gratitude for my present circumstances.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Sheriff Jackass 

I've always prided myself on how I "keep it real" and "tell things like they are." In my Midwest community--where niceties make it hard to know what anyone's saying half the time--my direct nature is one of the qualities I've always liked best about myself. And now as a business owner and performer, I've noticed that I wear the self-applied "straight shooter" badge like some sort of puffed-up sheriff in charge of gunning down all the pleasantries in town.

(I know...I'm a real hoot).

Anyway, this week, I got into it with my kids.  They wouldn't listen to me about some pretty basic concepts and rules.  They tried to talk to me, but I just cut them off.  And when they asked me why, my "keeping it real" response was, "Because I know more than you."

I cringe just typing that. Apparently, somewhere along the way, "straight-shooter" and "pompous jackass" became intertwined.

There's a big difference between being the type of person who speaks to-the-point, and then being the type of person that treats somebody as sub-human because they can't articulate as quickly or reference the same information, or they just haven't lived as long as we have.  I was caught off-guard by how I humiliated my kids, dismissing their views as though they didn't matter.  I'm going to be keeping close tabs on this tendency of mine. Because the last thing I want to do is miss out on all I can learn from the people around me by being a know-it-all.

After I apologized for discarding my kids' ideas, I took them mini-golfing for the first time.  Turns out, they were right about a few things. 

Namely, I do take things too seriously, and I need to have more fun.

Reader, don't forget the value of the people around you this week.  Big, small, old, young, brown, white: they have value.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em




Grow Forth 

I was at the restaurant slicing green onions this week.  After I finished the job, I went to throw away the unusable parts at the bottom of the onion. 


One of the chefs was storming through the kitchen to stop me from throwing out the small roots.  He explained that those roots could be planted to create new another round of onions.  I was amazed.  How have I lived so long without knowing such a simple fact?

I took them home.  Five short days later of letting them sit in a little water, I have an entirely new batch of green onions.

Reader, it's been another doozy of a week, probably for you too.  Something in the air lately has made everybody a bit more frustrated and eager to give up on others.  I'm guilty of it too.  

But just a gentle reminder this week: let's try not to give up on the people and things that we assume are without use.  They may surprise you.  And those surprises are worth fighting for. As the year becomes more volatile, the more important it will be to provide new room for growth, both for ourselves and others. 

Grow forth.  See you next Monday. -Em


On Dogs 

I’ve never had a dog before my dog, Hank.  So I’ve never been through the loss of a dog either.  This week, I had to put down my friend of 14 years.  And it was every bit as hard as they say it is. 

Not just because he was a loyal dog.  But also because of the kinship we've had after living together for so long.  I’ve felt haunted by his absence all week, still hearing the sounds of his feet on the stairs, still feeling him sleeping next to the bed. And I still wake up ready to take our morning walk. 

Guess I’m gonna need to find a new reason to exercise. 

But the most striking observation in a grief-riddled week is that—somewhere along the way—he and I changed roles.  I remember when he was a puppy, I felt like I was taking care of him.  I taught him commands. I socialized him at dog parks. I made sure he was brought up with as much love as I could give. 

What I’m learning since he’s been gone is that he figured out how to take care of me, too.  He nuzzled me when I had a hard time waking up.  He encouraged me to play fetch with him when I was feeling down.  He sat at my feet while I practiced the piano, as if he knew I needed an audience. 

I tear up just writing it. 

Reader, it's been a hard week in the country, and a hard week at home.  If you’re lucky enough to have the love of an animal in your life, give them a little extra love in return.  That animal is doing more for you than you know.  See you next Monday. -Em