The Return Of The Passion 

Last night, with a million other things to do, I drove to Chicago to record some of the songs I've written this year.  I met my old friend John Abbey for a down and dirty recording session, just me and the piano.  I needed to be able to hear myself play in a safe space so I could figure out what kind of album I wanted to make.  

Besides, there are few places I love more than this studio at the top of warehouse.

This year, I want to make something different with my songs.  I want to push myself out of my comfort zone.  To work hard for a sound that feels authentic.  And to have fun doing to it.  My restaurant is running pretty smoothly without me, and the kids are old enough to get through a day or two without me, so I figure this is the time.  Merry early Christmas to me: I'm giving myself another passion project. 

I'm looking forward to a year full of hard work and feeling awkward.  But at least I won't have regrets.  Reader, if you're passionate about something, I hope you're feeding it at every chance you get.  Life is just too short not to.  May we all die knowing that we spent it shooting for our personal stars.  See you next Monday. -Em

The Plunge 

My cousins and I took the plunge into Lake Superior on Friday.  We've been doing this every Thanksgiving weekend for about 35 years. It doesn't get easier, but it's always refreshing when it's over.  Icy cold baths are supposedly good for your health.
My family likes to make the joke that jumping in the lake will make us live forever. But the truth is, we jump into the lake every year because we all know we won't live forever.   And we want to seize the day while we can.
Reader, I'm coming off Thanksgiving week feeling calm, and I owe it largely to the plunge. I lived to the fullest in that moment, and I feel joyful peace because of it.  If there are plunges you can take in your life this week, I recommend it.  Life is just too damn short not to live in the present and dive in.
See you next Monday. -Em

Thanksgiving For Control Freaks 

The family and I are up north in the Upper Peninsula to make repairs on my mom's cabin and to spend Thanksgiving together.  I write this tonight next to a warm hearth with my kids making gingerbread houses behind me, and even though the world at large is on fire, in here it's comically wholesome.

I've been looking forward to this work weekend for a long time. It sounds counterintuitive, but I relax when I have a woodworking project to tackle.  Measuring, cutting, and building with a cup of coffee (gathering sawdust next to me) is nostalgic. I absolutely love the feeling of watching something come together. 
Plus let's be honest: I love the control.
I'm a control freak.  (Shocking). And I've read a few books about how not to be a control freak. But I've made peace with the fact that I'll always be one.  At work, at home, and out in the world, I feel helpless because there are countless moving parts that are out of my control. But when I have a project?  I'm as cool as a cucumber.  There's nothing that brings peace to a control freak like taking a project from start to finish and watching it turn out the way you'd hoped.  
Reader, I  have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.  But mostly just grateful for another year of life.  Getting older is nice.  I've made so much peace with who I am.  At this stage in my life, I realize life is less about becoming better, and more about becoming comfortable with who we are.  
Whether you're a control freak or easy going, an introvert or an extrovert, a lover of white meat, dark meat, or no meat, I wish you a Thanksgiving of peace and acceptance with knowing who you are and loving what you love. See you next Monday. -Em

Mixed Nuts 

I learned how to get brave enough to perform my songs in public by playing open mic nights in Chicago, Boston, and a few other cities.  Lately, I’ve been thinking that we don’t have many opportunities for folks to try playing their songs in Rockford, Illinois, and maybe my restaurant could host an open mic.

I talked to our staff about it.  Logistically we didn’t have what we needed to pull it off.  Our sound system is dated and small. We don’t have many nice instruments. And we wouldn’t be able to offer food from the kitchen.

But I figured I could just put out some mixed nuts and see what happened. 

And that’s what we did. This past Wednesday, 7 brave souls showed up to our open mic.  It felt magical.  A 10 year-old named Georgia closed the night, and she brought the house down. 

And all it took was an open door, an open mind, and mixed nuts.

Reader, I’m reminded of this a lot, and I’ll say it again: there’s no need to wait for things to be perfect to do something.  Conditions will never be just right.  Sometimes you’ve just got to try with what you have.  Start somewhere, then keep growing.  

Just be sure to start.

Wishing you a scrappy week of playing your strengths and filling in the rest. See you next Monday. -Em

Recording Night! 

No blog tonight.  I'm recording at King Size Sound Labs for a dear friend.  More from me next Monday.  Keep fighting the good fight this week, Reader. -Em

Because It's Fun 

Tomorrow is Halloween. I’m going as Elton John.  My daughter is going as Wednesday Addams. And my son is going as a Porsche 964. My husband has been spending the last few months in our garage, using the diode laser cutter and CAD software to make my son’s costume something special. The car fits him like a glove, and it transforms perfectly. It also lights up and plays the Autobots soundtrack.

Our level of nerdery knows no bounds.

When I asked my husband why he was going to all the trouble, he just said, “Because it’s fun.” It was such a sweet and playful response, and it got me thinking about how important it is for adults to create…just because it’s fun.  It reminded me.  Art doesn't need to make sense.  I was inspired enough to pull out my ukulele and write a few completely nonsense songs.

Reader, if it’s been a while since you’ve made something for no other reason than that it’s fun, I highly recommend it.  The lightness I have in my heart this week is a sensation I haven’t felt in a long time. Wishing you a playful heart, and I’ll see you next Monday. -Em

P.S.  If you’re interested in picking up the ukulele, here’s a fun article for beginner ukulele players.  The part I contributed is at the bottom.

Be Not For Everyone 

I just got home from my annual solo songwriting sabbatical. This year, I went up to Wisconsin to write songs in my friends' old boat house.  It has no heat or running water, but it had an electrical outlet for me to plug in my instruments.  I bundled up and planted myself in what is easily the most idyllic place to write I could've ever imagined.  

While I was there, I wrote one song that I'm really proud of because it feels so true, and also several bits and pieces of melodies and lyrics. As I was writing, it struck me how few people will probably enjoy my new music.  It sounds dated, even though I just wrote it.  It's never going to end up on any radio, and it might only resonate with a small handful of people.  But I love it so much, so what does it matter what other people think?

I'm not everyone's cup of tea, nor are they mine.

Reader, I don't know if you need to be reminded of this, but we are not alive to be appealing to everyone.  As a recovering people-pleaser, I struggle with this. But the moral of my week is that--while it's important to be kind and loving to each other--we do not have to be liked.  I'm coming home from this year's sabbatical resolved to be unapologetically myself.

Be true to what calls to you this week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Bloody Keys 

On Saturday night, I played a benefit concert for Habitat for Humanity.  I felt like the show was going pretty well.  About halfway through the set, I looked down and saw that the piano keys were covered with blood: the cuts on my fingers from cooking in my restaurant had opened up while I was playing.

I’ve never felt so rock and roll.

But the rest of my set was pretty bumpy.  I was already having a tough week, and seeing the bloody keys really threw me off my game. Still I held it together as best I could. Despite the circumstances, I kept going.

Reader, the past few weeks have been difficult ones, and the gruesome piano episode really drove home the point that we often have to keep going even when we’re not at our best, when we’re hurting, when we’re scared. There were people at that concert that intimidated me.  I was underdressed.  I was carrying the weight of the week’s problems on my face. And I was bleeding all over the place.

But I made it.  And you can too.

I sometimes think about the expression that it’s always darkest before the dawn, and if that’s true, I’m holding out for one hell of a dawn. If you too are having to push through the odds this week, know that you’re not alone, and that there is a lady with a pair of bloody hands out there that believes you can get through it.  I’ll see you next Monday. -Em


No blog tonight.  Our little family just got home from an annual camping trip on Lake Superior.  I don't say this often, but I could use some love/prayers/vibes sent my way, Reader. We came home to some tough news.  Sending love back to you.  Until next Monday…

Get It Over With 

My whole life, I’ve been a “get it over with” kind of person.  That soggy coleslaw my parents put on the plate? Gulp it down first and get it over with.  That homework that I knew I was gonna fail? Scribble down anything and get it over with. That job of cleaning the toilets?  Breathe through the mouth and get it over with. 

I spend a lot of my days just getting things over with.  Even the days I’m not working. On Sunday, I had a free day with the kids.  They wanted to go to the local pumpkin patch. I don’t mind the pumpkin patch, but there are some parts I historically just want to get over with. Namely, the corn silo: a giant silo with a bunch of feed corn at the bottom for kids to dig in. It’s a madhouse in there, and I always come home with corn in my underpants.

Begrudgingly, I sat down in the corn and prepared myself to hate every minute.  I thought about all the kernels I’d find in my nether regions later in the day. I thought about how annoyed I was at the kid’s parent who let him throw fistfuls of corn at my face. I thought about how unsanitary the whole place was and wondered if it was the same corn I sat in last year.

And then something just changed. 

A pulsing satisfaction coursed through my body. The corn felt like a massage.  I felt like I was being rubbed down, and I felt like stress was being lifted.  I was enjoying every minute of feeling my skin being pushed upon.  It was amazing.  The kids saw the shift in my face and couldn’t get over it.

We stayed in there for almost 30 minutes, reveling in my newfound discovery.  The children had to drag me out.

Reader, not every job can be done with joy.  But this week, I was reminded that not every job needs to be a damn chore.  Some of them may as well be approached with a little more lightness in the heart.  We can enjoy ourselves while we’re in the thick of things.  Being a hard ass isn’t gonna make the job any better anyway. 

Wishing you a week of surprises in the mundane.  See you next Monday. -Em