Bob Hope 

The ringing in my ears came back this week.  I haven't heard it much since my dad died.  It's usually a sign that I'm under a lot of stress.  

No joke.

I'm carrying 20 employees through a pandemic at a restaurant with a dining room that is forced closed.  I've never been more afraid and am fighting for every dollar they get.  I'm working about 90 hours a week while getting paid $90 a week, just trying to get the team through this closure. The weekly payroll feels like a weight on my shoulders. This is the scariest time of my life. I've been having nightmares of being eaten alive by snakes and crocodiles.

Such pleasant times.

Anyway, I had what I believe was a panic on Tuesday.  In the middle of it, I found myself physically convulsing, and then doing something I haven't done in years: I asked the heavens for a sign.  Not for a big sign. Not for help, or even to have my load lightened. Just for something to tell me I'm on the right track.

Yesterday, I got it.  And the sign was Bob Hope.

When I was little girl, I grew up just down the street from a house with a very tall and odd-looking statue of Bob Hope.  At the time, I didn't know he was a famous actor and comedian.  I just thought Bob Hope was a made-up character, meant to instill hope in everybody who drove by.

A few weeks ago, I was out by my first house, and I drove by that Bob Hope statue again; I saw that the owners were having an estate sale. The thought crossed my mind that Bob Hope would be getting a new home, and I'd never see him again.

Then on Sunday, I was driving home to my current house.  Just a few doors down, here he was: Bob Hope.  My new neighbors must have bought the statue at that estate sale.  Bob Hope is following me around apparently.  In fact, he's even closer now than he was before.

And that was all I needed.  I burst out laughing, and felt instantly lighter.

Reader, whether you believe in hippie signs or not, I hope you can find something that makes keep going this week, something that reminds you of the bigger picture and of your place in this world.  I believe it's worth looking for.  We all need to know we're on the right track.  It helps keep us light in these very dark times.

With that, I'm off to an early bed. Hoping my unconscious mind doesn't allow me to be consumed by crocodiles tonight. I'll see you next Monday. Keep hope alive. -Em

 

 

Renouncing the Renowned 

As a songwriter, I've spent more time and money than I'd like to admit hunting for publicity.  Most of us independent musicians are looking for a feature in Rolling Stone or No Depression or some renowned source with a lot of followers. We're all vying for ear space in an increasingly noisy world, and we look to those who've had success for at least a little guidance and at most a little ride on their coattails.

A couple years ago--before I was a restaurant owner--I was still chasing that ride.  But today? I've had it with the press.  I've had it with chasing quotes.  And I've definitely had it with believing what anybody else thinks of me.

(Needless to say: it's been a long week).

My local news stations and newspaper ran a false story about my restaurant last week, saying it had closed permanently.  The false story was damaging to our business, our self esteem, and our positivity in an already trying time.  (The State of Illinois issued an Executive Order, closing indoor dining; as far as I can tell, we're one of the few restaurants in town actually following the order, though no one in town is enforcing it).

I had a revelation about it all last week.  The only reason the papers and the news have any clout is because we give it to them.  We follow them and subscribe to them and comment on their posts.  But seeing how little they care about dispensing correct information?  I'm just not subscribing anymore.

Reader, this is a very easy time to feel helpless.  There is a virus that is still out of our control that is posing a major risk to our health, happiness, and livelihoods.  And with so much out of our control, let's remember what we can control.  We can control what we consume.  We can control what we allow to affect us.  We can control what we let into our minds and hearts, and we can control what we choose to release.

And this week, I'm releasing the local media and governing bodies' power over me.  Today, I'm breathing a little deeper and feeling a little more light.  Hopefully that extra energy will carry me through the week, and I hope you've got enough to carry you, too.  I leave you with this picture of my very open restaurant. See you next Monday. -Em

Embracing Our Superpowers 

This week--amidst Biden's victory and bizarre weather from El Niña and more coronavirus explosions in Northern Illinois--my little brunch pub opened an indoor market to make ends meet.  

(As one does, in 2020.)

So we built life-size versions of our favorite holiday decorations.  We brought in coolers and freezers to display pre-packaged products like soups and sauces.  We built a lot of shelving, and we set up 2 model trains and even a couple fog machines for effect.

In short, we leaned into our strengths: building things and getting whimsical.

And as fun as it was, when it all came together, I got nervous.

The voices in my head were running amok. Why am I doing all of this?  Why can't I just figure out how to build a better on-line ordering system like a professional?  Do I honestly think this is the best way to save my business & my staff? The voices continued.  They got louder.  By the time customers started arriving on Thursday, they were deafening.  I found myself apologizing to patrons like an insecure dummy for what I had done, wishing I wasn't always trying to make things magical to fix real-life problems.

And then after about at hour of opening the market--with the negative voices still crystal clear in my mind--my 5 year-old son came running into the restaurant, dressed in his usual Spiderman attire: Spidey sweatshirt, Spidey socks, Spidey t-shirt. He unapologetically ran through the crowd, joyfully pretending to shoot everyone w/ spiderwebs from his wrists.

That's when it hit me: we have to embrace our superpowers.

We all have strengths, and they're not the same as anyone else's. Why do we push back against our own gifts?  My gift is in building whimsy, not creating a professional on-line order system.  And there's absolutely nothing wrong with either talent, just because they don't look the same as each other.

Which is why we have so many superheroes.

Reader if you too feel anxiety as you compare yourself to others, don't forget to revel in what you have that makes you unique.  When times get tough, let's celebrate our strengths and use them to our advantage.  No sense turning our backs on what we've been given, especially these days.

With that, this whimsical woman is off to read her kids a bedtime story.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

 

Surround Yourself 

There's an election tomorrow.  The outcome will have a direct impact on all of us in a number of ways.  And to say I'm anxious about it is an understatement.

As I sit here tonight, I can't help but think of an old boyfriend of mine.  He was abusive.  I don't talk about it much.  And I try not to think about it much.  But tonight, I can't get it off my mind.

The thing about abusive relationships is that they don't start that way.  They start out great with just a few red flags.  Then something 'sort of' bad happens, but you assume it's just an anomaly, and the relationship seems mostly alright.  Then 'sort of' bad becomes 'outright' bad, and then it slowly evolves into 'terrible name-calling and being thrown around a room until you can safely escape to a friend's house, where you're surrounded by good people who remind you what real love and happiness is.'

That's how I feel about the last four years under this administration.

There is nothing normal or 'sort of' bad about what's happening in our country.  The richest and most powerful among us are either too busy bickering or just too disinterested to notice the suffering among the majority of Americans.  The President who started his tenure by calling a few names and making a couple bad calls has now made a mockery of a virus that has killed almost 250,000 people here, cozied up with Putin, lauded supremacist groups, alienated us from our allies, bullied the weak, and done nothing to support the most vulnerable population during this economic disaster.

I want it to stop.

Reader, I hope you vote tomorrow.  And no matter what happens, remember that the current state of affairs is not just a little bad.  It's terrible.  We are now so far beyond any kind of bad behavior that I've ever seen.  Whether or not this administration comes to an end, I was reminded this week that we can still free ourselves from the mental anguish of it all by surrounding ourselves with good people who remind us what real love and happiness is. 

I leave you with a picture of one of my employees and friends.  This past week, my staff and I have been working around the clock to transform my restaurant into a storefront to try to make it through this forced closure.  Clocking so much time with such tremendous humans is what has made me see that--no matter how bad things get in the world--the good people will always shine a light through the chaos. See you next Monday. -Em

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