I Am A Mountain Lion 

I've written hundreds of songs now.  Each one comes out a little differently. Some songs write themselves in a matter of minutes.  Some take days.  And then there are those elusive, incredibly wily tunes that take weeks, months, and even years to write. 

I'm currently stuck on the latter. 

There is a song that came to me last year that I just can't get out of my head.  I could have finished it long ago with sub-par lyrics, but the melody is too nice to waste with sub-par lyrics.  Of course, I don't know what the words should be.  All I know is: I'll know them when I hear them. 

Again. Stuck. 

But something changed in me while I was working on the tune this week.  I adjusted my mindset.  I stopped calling myself "stuck." I stopped telling myself my only recourse was to hope. I stopped feeling like I was waiting around for the right words to come. 

Instead, I told myself I was in hot pursuit of them. 

With that subtle shift, I felt excited about the whole song again.  I almost felt an internal transformation. Where I was once passive--like a little bird waiting to be fed inspiration--I became a ravenous mountain lion, chasing down words like they were my last meal. 

Turns out it's more fun to be hungry than to be complacent. 

Reader, if you find yourself stuck this week, I just thought I'd put this out there: try changing the word "stuck" with "searching" and see if it doesn't open you up to more possibilities.  It's just a small trick, but I thought I'd share it, just in case it helps you, too. 

With that, this ferocious predator is heading back to my sunny spot at the piano bench for this evening's hunt.  I'll see you back here next Monday. -Em

Hard Times And All 

I'm a lucky lady.

In the past 9 days, I have: had a world-class harmonica player add tracks to my upcoming album, hosted a wedding for two incredible humans in my tiny hometown restaurant, watched my children head back to school with confidence and grace, and spent days with my coworkers in the North Woods. 

I've taken so many mental snapshots; I could fill a library in my mind.

Particularly meaningful were these past few days with my restaurant staff. We cooked on the beach and jumped in Lake Superior.  We hiked the Porcupine Mountains.  We went whitewater kayaking and climbed up waterfalls. We laid out under the stars, and we talked late into the night around bonfires. 

Under those stars, I thought a lot about my life. 

I want this life. Hard times and all.

I want the scars on my arms from burning them while making pastries at the restaurant. I want the bags under my eyes from staying up late with kids when they're sick. I even want the longing in my heart to play my songs on bigger stages: the desire fuels me in a way that fulfillment never could. 

Reader, somewhere in the North Woods, I realized: I chose this path...every difficult step of it.  Given the chance, I'd choose it again.  The steepest climbs yield the most spectacular views, metaphorically and in real life.  I'm grateful for every painful step that got me to this mindset. 

I truly hope you've had a good week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em 

Wow Yourself  

This week took it out of me.  One of the chefs at my restaurant was out sick, and we all worked a lot of overtime to give him time to recuperate.  Between the extreme heat, the extra hours, and the kids heading back to school, I'm beat.  The sound of my 5 am alarm this morning made me want to curl up into a ball and hide.

But I got myself up and out and on the road early.  Still groggy, I pulled out of our neighborhood and hit the main drag.  Now, I catch the sunrise most mornings, but the sun coming up on my way to work today just bowled me over.

Immediately, I pulled over and took a picture of it.  It just looked so spectacular.  I let myself watch the sun come up for 5 minutes and feel a bit in awe of it.  And then the strangest damned thing happened.

I wasn't tired anymore. Letting that sunrise wow me had the side effect of wiping away all my exhaustion in a matter of minutes. I felt refreshed.  I'd even go so far as to say I was exhilarated.

It dawned on me today just how linked physical and mental fatigue really are.  A tired mind cannot invigorate.  Likewise, a mind that is awake seems to be able to energize the body.  Being mentally inspired in the midst of something as mundane as a drive to work is like caffeine for the soul.  Apparently, all it takes is a small jolt of something new in the middle of our all-too-familiar patterns and trains of thought to put a spring in our step.

Reader, if you too find yourself mentally tired this week, let's look for surprises.  There is an endless source of them if we allow ourselves to be wowed, even in the course of our daily routines.  Let's keep our minds engaged and eager to see all the world has to show us.

On that note: there will be no blog from me next week.  I'm forcing my staff out of their routine and taking most of my restaurant crew to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to allow them to recharge in nature.  I'll be back here in two weeks, hopefully well-rested and with stories of surprises.  See you then. -Em

Professional Animals 

Running a business is tricky on a lot of levels.  One of the hardest parts of running my restaurant is acting professional with my colleagues and customers.

Being dignified was never my forte.

Just the same, I go to work, knowing that I need to comport myself professionally, not only to get jobs done, but also to create a stable environment of respect. Our crew knows we need to take work seriously enough to keep our business viable, as well as keep our jobs secure.

And most days, we pull it off.

Anyway, for the past two weeks, my restaurant team and I have been planning a fundraiser with the staff from a local farm.  This collaborative farm dinner was to be a bit upscale: high ticket prices, rented table linens, the works.

The whole event took place on Saturday night at the farm, and there were very few hitches.  All that professionalism and planning really paid off. The venue was beautiful.  The music was wonderful.  The food was great, and so were the drinks.

In fact, the drinks were a little too great.

After a couple glasses of wine, I was feeling no pain.  The crew and I were sitting on the balcony of a farmhouse reflecting on a good night.  And then the full moon started to rise out of the horizon on the field.  I shouted, "OH!  The MOON!" And my staff and I started to run out to see it.

Then I hesitated.  I thought, "What if the staff from the farm see us being goofballs, sprinting through the brush to see the moon?" Just as I was thinking it, I turned behind me to see the staff from the farm sprinting right behind us.  In fact, they led us to a rickety horse trailer in the middle of the field where we could get a better view.  We sat with them on the trailer for awhile, then they encouraged us to try jumping from hay bale to hay bale in the moonlight.

Which we did with pleasure. We even yipped like coyotes. It was an invigorating and unforgettable night.

Reader, the moral of my week is this: at the end of the day, we are animals.  Nothing more than pack of wild things trying to make sense of the world. Of course it's respectable that we can act professionally and diplomatically: we accomplish great things this way.  But it's also respectable to cut loose: we can find tremendous comradery and solidarity with each other when we give ourselves permission be the simple, vulnerable creatures that we are.  

I hope you have a nice week.  Let's keep remembering that--as important as our routines, parameters, and professionalism all are--it's not wrong to offset them with freewheeling, carefree, animalistic moments.  May you yip like a coyote at least once this week.  See you next Monday. -Em 

Squeezing Out Summer 

No blog tonight; I'm spending some time at a local lake with my kids.  School starts soon, and these last summer nights feel precious.  I have so much to say, but it will have to wait until next Monday.  See you then. -Em

Storms Never Last 

Well, today was a day of storms.  At 6 am this morning we had a huge round of thunderstorms that knocked out power at the restaurant for a few hours. The lightning felt like it was right over our heads. The thunder shook the windows.

Then the sun came out, and after a while, the parking lot was bone dry. Birds chirped as though nothing had happened.

A few hours later, the storms returned with a vengeance.  The rain fell so fast and so hard that the kitchen prep room flooded. My friend Dom and I spent an hour bailing out the first floor roof of my restaurant.  We were drenched, and more than 6 inches of rain were in the parking lot.

Then the sun came out, and the parking lot looked like we had just had a light sprinkle.  The woman across the street went out to walk her dog.

Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter famously sang "Storms never last, do they, baby?"  I got to thinking about that song today while we stood in the deluge and bailed hundreds of gallons of water off my roof.  It made me burst into laughter. What infinite wisdom there is in that one, simple lyric.  

Reader, trouble comes, then goes.  Happiness comes, then goes.  The floods come, and those times are hard.  Then the floods pass, and the birds sing.  Again.  And again.  And again.  Until we're gone.  Probably best to learn to find some joy during the flood, knowing it won't last forever.

So here's to smiling in the rain.  It doesn't always happen for me, but today it did, and it felt like a symbolic day in my life to embrace in the hard times. Wishing you the same this week.  See you next Monday. -Em

Mistakes Make Masters 

One of our bathroom door locks broke at work this past week.  No problem, I thought. I headed over to my friendly neighborhood hardware store (Nicholson's) and bought a replacement.  I was eager to fix it

(Read: I still get off on repairing things by myself. Norm Abram is an all-time hero of mine.)

Anyway, I headed back to my restaurant, took out the old lock, and replaced it with the new one.  I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself.  That is, until I cross-threaded the screw hole. "You IDIOT," I said to myself. I couldn't repair the lock at that point. So I drove back to Nicholson's, hat-in-hand, feeling dumb.  When I sheepishly told the guys behind the counter what I did, they just chuckled.  One of them said:

"What...you think you're the first person who's ever done that?!"

The guys in the store then proceeded to tell stories of how they used to mess up threading all the time, and that they still do. I couldn't believe it.  The staff at that store is made up of master carpenters and craftsman.  But rather than make a rookie like me feel stupid for my mishap, they just commiserated with me.

I'll be damned.

Reader, the whole lock fiasco made me remember that the only thing that separates rookies and masters is their ability to make mistakes, learn from them, and keep going.  The pros got to be pros after making error after error.  If you find yourself blundering this week, take heart: each mistake you make is getting you that much closer to mastery.

With that, this rookie is headed to bed.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Not Being Best 

My son asked me to throw him a birthday party this week.  He’s turning 6, and so far, I’ve artfully dodged having to make a production out of birthdays.  But he's now been to a few parties, so the jig is up: kids like a bash, and he wanted one too. 

The only trouble is: I don't know a damn thing about throwing kids' parties.  And like most people, I don't like doing things I'm not good at doing.  Plus, I don't have money or time to put anything together, and frankly, having that many small children together in one place gives me the heebie-jeebies in a creepy "Lord Of The Flies" sort of way. 

But I love my son.  So I leaned into the whole thing. 

Apparently, these gatherings include games and activities, probably prizes and themes, and pizza.  Not ours.  Our party involved me putting Aldi snacks, a watermelon, and a few bottles of soda and booze out on a picnic table.  We filled up some water balloons.  Then we put some chairs together for adults and let the kids run around and get soaked.  That was it. 

Was it the best?  I guess not.  But we got it done, and my son was thrilled. 

Reader, the moral of my week is this: while society likes us to believe that overachieving is grand and that we should all hope to end up 'on top' in some self-constructed scale of goodness, that's all just hogwash.  We don't need to attach value to everything we do.  Sometimes, we just complete our tasks.  We don't need to worry whether we did a good or bad job.  We stop comparing what we do to others, and we simply do things the way we know how.

I'm not sure if any of this is helpful for you to read, but I thought I'd share it here, just in case you also have a hard time letting go of trying to get things right all the time.  This week, hold tight to the idea that we don't have to be best.  We just have to be.  See you next Monday. -Em

Magnetism 

I've spent the last month looking for kitchen staff for my restaurant.  It's been a trying search. We haven't found a good fit yet. I'd all but given up hope. Then this past Friday, a chef walked in the door.  He's an eerily perfect fit for us.  And for the first time in weeks, I feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  

Hallelujah. 

I've been thinking a lot about this chef the last week.  He's fun-loving and grounded. Confident and humble.  Eager and sensible.  Passionate and reserved.  Most interestingly, he's into the same kind of cooking and shares a common worldview. So how did such a kindred spirit amble into our corner of the world?  I can only come up with one answer. 

Magnetism. 

Reader, the longer I live, the more I believe in the power of attraction.  We put out into the world what we are, and the right people find us.  If you too are finding yourself looking for kindred spirits, probably the best way to find them is to get in touch with who you really are. Embrace you, quirks and all.  The more you put your true self into the universe, the more likely it will resonate with the same weirdos as you. 

I leave you with this picture of my son, who has no problem being himself.  May we all know ourselves as fully as a 5 year-old Spiderman worshipper enjoying blue ice cream and singing the Banana Boat Song.  Have a great week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Make Good Use of Bad Days 

Last week, one of my friends at work gave me a book: The Art of Living, a collection of thoughts by Epictetus. While a lot of what Epictetus said resonated deeply, one quote stood out above the rest.

"Make the best use of what happens to you."

I get the chills typing it.

Reader, it was another grueling, long week at the restaurant.  We're still short-staffed.  A lot of equipment broke.  We lost track of inventory.  And tensions were high.  I was getting mired in it, and by Saturday afternoon, I felt truly lost.

Until I remembered that quote from Epictetus.

And it dawned on me to ask: what can I use here?  And when I looked at it that way, the day may not have gotten better, but I sure did get a lot out of it. I made plans on how to track inventory. I tried again to find more staff.  I found better equipment solutions.  And I even wrote a few verses of a song about those high tensions.

(Not to mention: I learned a lot about what I didn't want to do next week.)

Anyhow, I'm not sure if it helps you to read this quote as well, but I thought I'd pass it along, just in case. Whether or not you have a good week, I hope you're able to make good use of it all.  See you next Monday. -Em