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

Astral Week 

On Monday, I set my alarm for 4:45 am.  The kids and I got up early and headed outside to watch the full moon lunar eclipse. We were tired. We were cold.  And we were more than a little afraid of the coyotes in the neighboring field. 

But we were happy.  It was spectacular.

It got me thinking a lot about routines.  As useful as they are, it's sometimes good to break them, especially in the interest of experiencing something like an eclipse.  Lately, I've been mired in music projects, as well as projects at the restaurant.  Looking up into the stars and actually watching the earth pass between the sun and the moon made me remember just how miniscule all of it is. 

Which gives me a lot of comfort. 

I was so inspired by watching the moon that I made a plan to do more sky gazing. This January--with no extra time or money on our hands--my husband and I booked a flight to the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights.  It's been on my bucket list for years.  I can't believe that in less than 2 months, be at the top of the world watching nature's most spectacular light display. I'm excited.

Reader, whatever you're up against this week, don't forget to go outside and look up.  It's a great way to get clarity and perspective on just about anything.  Routines are made to be broken. I'll see you next Monday. -Em

The Low And The Highs 

My daughter's school hosts an annual trunk-or-treat in their parking lot.  And every year, my husband and I dress up as Statler and Waldorf (aka the old guy muppets) and heckle from the back of his truck. 

This year, my husband couldn't make it.  So I grabbed a goat head mask from the basement (don't ask) and a giant plastic pumpkin for passing out candy, and I flew solo. 

On the way to my daughter's school, I stopped at a car wash; my floor mats were sticky, and I thought the interior could use a good vacuum.  So I consolidated all the belongings into the giant plastic pumpkin full of candy and let the car cleaners work their magic.  The wash really helped spiff up my old car, and I drove on to the school. 

When I arrived, I had less than a minute to find parking, get into my trunk, put on the goat mask, and get ready to pass out candy.  And I made it. I love my daughter, and I'd do anything to make her happy. 

I couldn't really pass out candy because it was too hard to see out of the goat's nose.  So I just told all the kids "Take whatever you want! Happy Halloween!"  It was all going smoothly.  Preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade kids filed through, grabbed a piece of candy out of the pumpkin bucket, then walked ahead. 

But when the 4th graders came for candy, my pumpkin full of candy got a lot lighter.  Not just a little bit lighter; at least 5 lbs lighter.  They took all my candy, I thought. So I lifted up my goat mask to see, but the candy was still in the bucket.  What did they take?! 

Then it dawned on me.  When I consolidated all the belongings into the giant plastic pumpkin at the car wash, those belongings included some loose bottles of booze that I was returning to my restaurant.  The 4th graders had walked off with my bottles of Nocino (walnut liqueur). 

What happened next was a real low point for me.  I ran through the school parking lot in a goat head to grab my bottles of alcohol out of the hands of 10 year-olds.  I didn't even explain.  I just took them out of their hands and ran back to my car. As I drove home that day, I felt sheepish, in more ways than one. 

But as I sit here and type about it, I'm smiling.  Reader, the moral of my life lately is that there are a lot of highs and lows.  And sometimes, the lows become the highs.  As we face embarrassment and discomfort this week, let's keep in mind that time has a way of making us see things differently, making us grow, and making us not take ourselves too seriously.  Have a great week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

The Thrill Ain't Gone 

I've fallen back in love with songwriting these past few months.   

Don't get me wrong: I've always liked it.  But I haven't wanted it this much in years.  I crave the piano bench lately.  I crave the creak of the floor when my foot hits the pedal.  I crave the reverberation of the piano, and I even enjoy simply practicing again. 

I've tried to put my finger on why it's happening, but I can't.  I think sometimes things just happen in waves. I'm learning how to ride them. 

I'm also learning that it's best not to give up on something you loved just because it doesn't hold your attention as much as it used to.  Hell, I fall in and out of love with my restaurant all the time, too.  In the end, it's the hard days that make me love the good ones even more.  And I'm happy I stuck it out. 

Reader, humans are distracted, fickle things.  I know I am.  But there's a bit of magic in not quitting.  Even if it takes years, we get a second wind, a third wind, a twentieth wind.  No sense giving up on our passions when they become less passionate.  The thrill returns.  

(Note to self: read this blog post next year when I feel like quitting). 

With that, I'm off to write a little more music and make hay while the sun shines, as they say.  I leave you with this picture of my kids next to our house a couple days ago.  These autumn days are slipping by quickly.  Looking forward to grabbing the last few, and I hope you can too. See you next Monday. -Em



What drives me to write music--besides enjoying the practice of it--is understanding how short life is, and wanting to leave something behind.  It's morbid.  And maybe even a little compulsive. But what I know is: I'm almost done writing my 19th album, and I still don't feel like it's enough. 

I might also just be crazy. 

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately about what we leave behind. Two weeks ago, my friend Bruce passed away. I used to go out to his farm and visit him and his wife Deb.  They let me forage watercress from their creek and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms from their yard every fall.  I'm going to miss him a lot. The way he tended to his family, friends, and land is something I admire. 

They sold their farm shortly before he died, and I had almost forgotten about my yearly excursion out to the farm, but then I got a text from Bruce's wife, Deb. She said that the new owner of the farm would be happy to have me out to harvest the mushrooms. 

As bittersweet as it was to visit the farm without Bruce and Deb, I loved to be back on their stomping grounds, collecting mushrooms. It was a nice reminder that the way we care for things today matters tomorrow. 

Reader, I think sometimes we don't truly see the impact of all the good things we do and make in the moment, but that doesn't mean that it isn't important or that it won't make a difference in the future. I take a lot of comfort in knowing that.  I hope it provides you with some, too. 

Let's do good things this week, and believe they may continue to give to others down the line.  See you next Monday. -Em

Hot On The Trail 

I'm hot on the trail of a song, so I'm not going to write much tonight. 

But I've gotta say: this was a good week.  I've been writing a lot of songs these past few weeks.  And they're the kind of songs that make me want to sing them again and again. I haven't experienced a feeling like that since I was a kid.  It's nice to be back here again, and I don't want to miss it.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Maker Muscles 

A songwriter can learn a lot from running a restaurant 

My restaurant changes its night menu every week.  Every. Single. Week.  We've cooked more than 150 different menus.  So for 150 weeks, we've had to create an entirely new round of dishes for our guests, without much to go on.   

Most moments of most days, we have no idea what we're doing.  Just reading a lot of recipes and figuring them out as we go. 

Sometimes that process makes us tired.  Sometimes we flat-out fail. Sometimes we're just MAD.  But the one thing that it really makes us? 

Fearless.  And in damned good fighting shape. 

Reader, I've learned these past few years at my restaurant that creativity is a muscle that you can exercise until you get good at it, or at least until you're no longer afraid of making something bad. I've been applying the same logic to songwriting for the past few months, and I can feel myself getting better at creating tunes without fear of them not being great.  Just like they always say: in the end, it's not about the finished product, but the process.  

Whatever you're up to this week, I hope your maker muscles are getting a work-out. Wishing you strength and confidence.I leave you with a picture of my restaurant team going zip-lining this week.  I learn more from this team than I ever thought possible.  Truly grateful for all the different aspects of my life lately. -Em

We Coulda Been Great, George 

When I first started my journey with music, I wanted to write songs for other people to sing.  Specifically, old country dudes. I wanted to live in Nashville on music row.  I wanted to create in quiet rooms and pitch songs to George Strait (who would of course become my best friend and frequently invite me over for coffee and porch-sitting).  I'd make my buck on country hits and see the world.

Fast forward 20 years. I've written 19 albums worth of songs that no one else sings but me.  I had a long week doing contract recording, singing the songs that two dear friends wrote. And I spend most days locked to my restaurant, singing in the basement for a crowd of onions and potatoes.

It's not what I wanted.  But it's what happened.  And it's not so bad.

Reader, the older I get, the more it feels like "my way or the highway" is a sure-fire way to end up nowhere.  Starting out with a plan is good.  Letting the world move you where it needs you is better.

I wish you a week of having big, powerful dreams, and then being flexible when they move.  See you next Monday. -Em

No blog 

No blog; I’m spending the night cleaning up the Rock River with my restaurant staff. See you next Monday. - Em