Til Death 

Morbid as it sounds, I think about death everyday.  

Not for long, and not to be macabre. It just helps me keep everything in perspective.  As contrary as it sounds, nothing snaps me out of a funk faster than remembering we're all going to die.

(Bless my poor parents for dealing with a creepy kid like me.)

Anyway. Three friends of mine died this week.  They weren't related.  It just happened to be their time.  And as much as I think about death, their untimely passings still put me on my heels.

I walked around most of this week in a bit of a daze, contemplating what my friends left behind.  Kids, wives, friends, fans, band members, pets. It felt like a punch to the gut to think of everybody who would miss them.

I thought about all that they had made: art, recordings, movies, music.  I felt the wind go out of my sails, hypothesizing what they would have continued creating if they hadn't gone so soon.

Then last night, I was lying in bed with my kids, taking turns telling spooky stories. (Not surprisingly, my children are naturals at being creeps).  We literally laughed ourselves to sleep.  It was a great night. This morning, I took my son to school.  Hanging in the classroom, there was a sheet of paper with each kids' answer to what they would do under an apple tree (picture below).  My son's answer broke my heart.  And it hit me.

Bodies die. Love does not.

Reader, we will be forgotten. Our words will be forgotten. Our money will be forgotten. Our possessions will be forgotten. But the energy we pass on will continue to be passed.  If we pass along hate, anger, and fear, then that is our legacy.  If we pass along love, encouragement, and compassion, then that is our legacy.  Let's remember this week that--for the people who want to sit with you under an apple tree--your energy matters.  It will be passed from them onto another person.  Let's keep that love going around.

With that, this creep is off to spend some time with her kids. See you next Monday. -Em

Shaken, Not Stirred 

Short blog tonight; the kids need their mama. But I wanted to let you know that I'm going to be a bartender this week.

This Wednesday, I'm guest-bartending from 5 pm to 7 pm at Abreo restaurant in Rockford, and 10% of all the money we earn will go to Gigi's Playhouse, an organization dedicated to changing the way we view people w/ Down syndrome and encouraging general acceptance of all humans. As many of you know, this mission is dear to my heart.  

I spent some time w/ my mixologist buddy Greg Callahan at work yesterday, learning as many bar tricks as I could. Granted, I can't do bar slides. Or twirl bottles. But if you'd like to drink for a cause while chatting about woodworking & single malt scotches, then I'm your lady. Likely there will be spontaneous outbursts of singing. 

I hope you'll let me serve you a mediocre Manhattan for a top-shelf cause this Wednesday at happy hour. (Non-alcoholic drinks are also available.) I'll see you back here next Monday night. -Em

Unapologetic Corn Angels 

All my life, I've spent way too much energy and time caring what people thought about me. 

And feeling sorry. 

As a musician, I figured if people didn't like me (and-by extension-my music), they wouldn't buy my records.  I've apologized to more fans than I care to admit for failing to deliver the sound they wanted.

As a restaurateur, I figured that if people didn't like me (and-by extension-my restaurant), they wouldn't support my business.  I've apologized to more customers than I care to admit for failing to deliver the food they wanted.

The theme is unfortunately clear.

Reader, I'm tired of being sorry all the time. This week, I spent a great afternoon with my kids, doing corn angels in a silo and giving zero rips about what anybody thought of us.  It was liberating.  My mind actually felt lighter.  I felt myself exhale for what seemed like the first time in weeks. 

What a simple concept: stop caring if people like you.  

As an overachieving adult, I know I've looked for ways to control most situations.  But the simple fact is, you really can't control if people like you or not.  And if people do happen to like you, they certainly don't want you to spend your time apologizing to them.  They want you to be yourself, unapologetically.  They want you to create from a place that makes you happy.  And they want you to care about them in this same way.

Everybody else?  Well, you can't please everyone. I'm looking forward to a very un-sorry week ahead.  See you next Monday. -Em


This week, a lot of things turned up, seemingly out of nowhere.  

On the restaurant front, we came into loads of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, watercress, & juniper berries.  I could hardly believe my good luck.  All of these treasures were just beyond the tree-line, waiting for me to collect them.

The next day, I got to play a concert with my old friend Ernie Hendrickson.  I played songs I haven't played in years.  The lyrics and chords still came pouring out, as if they were waiting for me to recall them.

Today, my son was sent home sick from school with a fever.  I curled up with him on the couch.  I started rocking him the way my mom did to me, using instincts that have been latent but still inherently there, waiting for me to use them.

And here I didn't know I was missing anything, until it all turned up.

Reader, it was a beautiful week, and I've got nothing but gratitude. Days like these remind me that there is so much waiting for us, just down the road, just behind our thoughts, just beneath our skin.  How relieving to think that---even in dark times--there's something waiting for us.

This sappy post has been brought to you by a feeling of epic abundance (and a dram of scotch before bed).  I'm off to rock a sick babe. See you next Monday. -Em


A few weeks ago, one of the writers from Umgås--a Scandi magazine I reference all the time at my restaurant--contacted me out of the blue. I was dumb-founded and honored; he wanted to write a story about my journey through music and food. This week, the story was published. (If you feel like checking it out, it's here).

Anyway, I liked the questions that the writer (Sean) asked me.  He was disarming, even over the phone, and I found myself able to talk to him candidly.  I was surprised how naturally I could remember my Grandma Ruth, how readily I could discuss my own life philosophies, and how easily I could express my gratitude.  Reading my own words in the article this week, it hit me:

The path I'm on is the one that suits me.

There are so many paths that used to call me, but they're not for me, and they never were.  That path my parents walked? I'm too hot-headed, too stubborn for it. That full-time singer path I always wanted?  I'm too rooted, too raw to walk it.  That full-time chef path? I'm too much of a writer, too quiet to walk it.  That full-time stay-at-home mom path?  I'm too bold, too dreamy to walk it.  

But the little path I've carved, the one where I wake up in the morning, write at my piano, play with my kids, spend the day running a brunch pub, and come home to my family and our home in the woods?  Well I'm not too much of anything for it.  It's made for me.

Reader, there's a Swedish adjective called "lagom," which translated, means: neither too little or too much...just right."  Sometimes, it's easy to wish we were on somebody else's path, but it's really not for us.  I hope your life path right now is as lagom for you as mine feels to me.  (Truth be told, I'm sure I'll feel out of balance again by next week.  But at least this week, everything feels just right.)

With that, I'm off to bed. I spent the afternoon gathering the last of the elderberries from our woods.  I'll be cooking with them this Thursday night at my restaurant, if you feel like tasting my food.  Then on Friday night, I'll be playing a show with my friend Ernie Hendrickson at Memorial Hall, if you feel like hearing some music.  I'm all over the place, and yet right where I want to be.  See you next week. -Em

Forgetting Fault 

We live in a world that loves to find fault.  

At least I do.  

When I was in undergrad, I took a personality test. The number one adjective that chocked me up? Fault-finding. No joke. I felt embarrassed; I remember hiding my results from my classmates. But on the walk home that day, I decided that the test was unfortunately correct.  I was fault-finding.  I took perverse pleasure in finding errors in my teacher's lesson plans, in typos in newspapers and books.  I reveled in calling out my friends and family members if they were ever hypocritical. And to this day, I can't help myself from sifting through the internet and finding flaws in the logic of writers.

This is probably why I don't have many friends.

Anyway, as much as I've tried to improve since my college days, I'm not much better today.  For the past few weeks, it's dawned on me:

Finding fault is my biggest fault.

Case in point: I've been hosting several events at my restaurant lately.  The event tonight was a fall kick-off party for a club of professional women in my hometown.  As they started arriving in their nice clothes, I felt my old hyper-critical self kick into gear.  I tensed up.  Then the familiar internal dialogue started.  Who do these women think they are?  Oh my God they're all so proper. Are they doing enough to include everybody?  Where are all the women of color?  Wait, is this a racist club?  I can't believe I'm hosting racists!

Irrationality at its finest.

As I sit here reflecting, the truth is staring me in the face.  I'm finding fault because it's easier than finding something in common.  Because I can get a quick jolt of energy from being right.  Because I like to put distance between myself and people that I assume aren't like me.  

But mostly...because I'm constantly finding fault with myself, and I'm jealous that other people aren't doing the same.


Reader, it's easy to find fault.  In fact, it's downright primitive.  I'm on a mission to evolve a bit, loosen up, extend some grace to myself and others, and maybe even find commonalities.  The women tonight could not have been greater kindred spirits, and I'm glad I was able to forget my tendency to look for character flaws so that I could find all of our shared interests.  In the end, it's nicer to be in a group of mutually flawed friends than righteous and alone.

I leave you with this picture of an 18-tiered Scandinavian cake I made this week.  The picture on the left is what my first two cakes looked like.  The picture on the right is the third cake I made.  Hard as we may try, nobody is perfect.  We're all flawed.  And we could all stand to let go of the need to look for how much we're messing up so we can focus more on how to improve.  With that, this flawed restaurant-running songwriter is off to bed.  See you next Monday. -Em




Wee babe 

I'm writing this blog with a 2-month old baby on my shoulder.  (My friends' newborn has colic, and I offered to take him off their hands for the night.)  So no blog from me tonight. I have so much to say, but it'll have to wait until next week when I'm not in such a precarious position.  See you then. -Em

Delicate Ecosystems 

When I was a kid, I was the crazy one.  The dreamer.  The prankster who couldn't stop laughing.  The stay-up-too-late writing music chic w/ a pot of coffee I didn't even like to drink, but man, it made me feel alive.

And it's no wonder, because I was part of a delicate ecosystem.  A family. One where my dad was serious, my mom was organized, and I knew that I needed to be the source of levity.

Now that I'm a restaurant-owning mother, I'm the serious one.  The one who pays bills, keeps tracks of doctors' appointments, makes dinner, and cleans the house.  I do these things not because I want to, but because I'm once again a part of a delicate ecosystem.  A family.  One where my husband is the fun one, my kids are crazy, my employees are the hands on deck, and I know that I need to be the one keeping us organized.  If I don't, there's a good chance we'll fall out of balance.

The trouble is, as much as I love my family, I miss being the stay-up-too-late writing music chic.

And reader, there must be a number of us experiencing this dilemma. So I'll tell you what I think: 

I think we need to belong to more than one ecosystem.  Here's why.

When I'm checked out of being a mom--spending time with my kids, but wishing I was at the piano--then I'm not playing my role in the ecosystem.  I'm not really bringing any balance to my family if I'm not balanced myself. There's no sense existing in that kind of false reality.  

So this week, I'm planning to carve out a little more time for another ecosystem, one where I don't need to be the serious one.  If you find yourself exhausted of the role you're necessarily in, I invite you to do the same.  Let's be better by expanding our worlds. I'll see you next week, hopefully more refreshed. I leave you with this picture of the sunset I drove into on Saturday night, strumming my ukulele, feeling there's more levity ahead. -Em 


Start Small 

The Amazon rainforest is burning.  It's hard to think about anything else.

It makes me feel tiny.  And powerless. I find myself thinking disparate thoughts, simultaneously: first, I would do anything to help, and second, there's nothing I can do.  

It was right in the middle of this futile mindset this week that I stumbled upon a quote by Alice Walker:

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

The right words came at just the right time.

I've reminded myself before, and I'll remind myself again: we do have power.  Maybe not the power to immediately fix the big problems. We can't put out an enormous fire or take down a corrupt government.  But we are far from powerless.  We can drive our car less often to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. We can try not to over-consume. We can support local businesses to minimize our environmental impact.  And we can influence our friends, neighbors, and children through our example.

When I think about the small ways I can make changes in my own life, it makes me realize how much power I wield to influence the world at large.  If you also don't know where to start, just a friendly reminder: start small. Start in your own life, and work outward from there.  Don't let the magnitude of the problem stop you from starting at all.

I leave you with this picture of the barred owl in my woods.  I'm continuing to take care of the woods so it has a place to live.  It's small, but it's a start.  See you next week. -Em

Unethical Ethics 

Growing up, my family worked even when we weren't working.   For fun, we raked leaves.  For laughs, we split wood.  For a real hoot, we cut our brush, made a bonfire out of it, and invited the neighbors over for a weenie roast.

What can I say.  We know how to party.

And I've taken a lot of pride in our work ethic through the years.  But this week, it got a bit out of hand at my restaurant. On Friday night, I missed my husband's high school reunion because I needed to work.  On Saturday night, I missed family dinner because I needed to work.  On Sunday morning, I missed taking my kids to a museum because I needed to work.

This trend is sadly unwavering.

Reader, there comes a time when it's fair to admit that too much of a work ethic is simply not ethical.  It's morally inappropriate to miss so many family events, to not keep my word, to be absent in the lives of those who need me most.  If you too find yourself working hard at all costs, remember that it really does cost something. And sometimes, it's not worth it.  

With that, this songwriting restaurant-running mama is off to take her kids to the park.  I leave you with a picture of beautiful farmer's market foods that I picked up while taking a break from work. I'll be cooking with them this Thursday night at The Norwegian if you'd like to stop by and taste the fruits of my break. -Em