Grow Forth 

I was at the restaurant slicing green onions this week.  After I finished the job, I went to throw away the unusable parts at the bottom of the onion. 

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

One of the chefs was storming through the kitchen to stop me from throwing out the small roots.  He explained that those roots could be planted to create new another round of onions.  I was amazed.  How have I lived so long without knowing such a simple fact?

I took them home.  Five short days later of letting them sit in a little water, I have an entirely new batch of green onions.

Reader, it's been another doozy of a week, probably for you too.  Something in the air lately has made everybody a bit more frustrated and eager to give up on others.  I'm guilty of it too.  

But just a gentle reminder this week: let's try not to give up on the people and things that we assume are without use.  They may surprise you.  And those surprises are worth fighting for. As the year becomes more volatile, the more important it will be to provide new room for growth, both for ourselves and others. 

Grow forth.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

On Dogs 

I’ve never had a dog before my dog, Hank.  So I’ve never been through the loss of a dog either.  This week, I had to put down my friend of 14 years.  And it was every bit as hard as they say it is. 

Not just because he was a loyal dog.  But also because of the kinship we've had after living together for so long.  I’ve felt haunted by his absence all week, still hearing the sounds of his feet on the stairs, still feeling him sleeping next to the bed. And I still wake up ready to take our morning walk. 

Guess I’m gonna need to find a new reason to exercise. 

But the most striking observation in a grief-riddled week is that—somewhere along the way—he and I changed roles.  I remember when he was a puppy, I felt like I was taking care of him.  I taught him commands. I socialized him at dog parks. I made sure he was brought up with as much love as I could give. 

What I’m learning since he’s been gone is that he figured out how to take care of me, too.  He nuzzled me when I had a hard time waking up.  He encouraged me to play fetch with him when I was feeling down.  He sat at my feet while I practiced the piano, as if he knew I needed an audience. 

I tear up just writing it. 

Reader, it's been a hard week in the country, and a hard week at home.  If you’re lucky enough to have the love of an animal in your life, give them a little extra love in return.  That animal is doing more for you than you know.  See you next Monday. -Em

Exploration 

Another week, another series of losses.

Between work and home, I've lost many people and things that were fixtures in my life.  A few close colleagues at the restaurant left to take other jobs.  My outdoor patio at the restaurant was torn apart by teenage vandals.  And at home, we lost several old trees in the storms that pushed through the midwest last week.  I could go on.

But today, I'm reflecting on it all, and realizing that none of it was constant in the first place.

Sometimes I think about why we crave stability.  For me, it's fear of the unknown.  There is security (albeit false) in having unwavering elements in our lives.  And when those elements go, it can make us wonder who and where we are, and what we're living for.

The more this crazy year goes on, the more I know that nothing is stable. Nothing is fixed, and nothing is really owned.  We are just borrowing things and having experiences while we're here.

We're nothing but a bunch of explorers.

Reader, bleak as I sound, I actually feel calmer than I've been all week.  I've been working on giving up my self-preserving tendencies and surrendering to my explorer's heart, just taking in everything as it comes.  The more I do this, the deeper I can breathe.

I leave you with this picture of my son exploring a creek near our house. Whatever you're up to this week, I wish you clarity as constants crumble and strength as we explore all this uncharted territory.  I'll see you next week. -Em

Continuing Education 

In all my life, I’ve never felt so uncertain.   

With COVID-19 cases spiking all around us, I have no idea how much longer my restaurant will be serving customers indoors.  Once that happens, I don’t know if we’ll make enough money to stay open.  And I don’t know the best way to protect my staff when that happens.

And I don’t know if schools will be open in the fall, or if I’ll have to quit working to stay home with the kids.  I don’t know how to teach them to read or write, and I don’t know how to engage them like a teacher without losing my connection as their mom.

And I don’t know if my upcoming album will sell enough to pay the bills or if anyone will even like the new batch of tunes.  And also, my health hasn’t been too great lately, and I don’t know how to make it better without spending more money that we don’t have. And I don’t know how to make the world and the environment any better with everybody so angry at everybody else these days. 

The year of 2020 is one big mystery. 

I have just a few options that I can use to handle it. 

First, I can panic.  Which has never gotten me far in the past, though I still admittedly go that route. Second, I can punch back at the uncertainty with every ounce of savage optimism that I have coursing through my veins.  Which would feel good, but ultimately wouldn't do any good.

The third route is the hardest: I can admit that I never really have known much, nor was I ever really in control, and this is just another opportunity to continue my education. 

Damn you, hard route.  Back to school I go.

Reader, the less we know, the more opportunity we have to learn.  As unpleasant as it is, I'm choosing to get comfortable with uncertainty for the foreseeable future, and to see all these questions as an opportunity to seek solutions.  I've been reading a lot, including a few self-help books about how to get used to being out of control, and I find myself breathing a bit deeper.  If your days are also feeling shakier, don't forget how much power there is in just learning to be better in the new climate.

With that, I'm off to keep reading.  I've made a lot of mistakes today, and I'll be learning from them too.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

For The Birds 

My Grandma Ruth spent the final years of her life sitting by her kitchen window, looking at the birds.  She lived to be 96, and she was the kindest person I knew.  She ate a lot of coffeecake, swam the river, and loved a strong CC & soda.

Apparently, that's the recipe for longevity.

Also, she had no idea what the internet was.  A few months before she died, she asked us: "What does 'dot com' mean?"  We all thought it was just adorable how behind the times she was.

Today, I think she was onto something.

This was a stressful week for me. We've been under-staffed at the restaurant, so I've been over-worked.  When I get home at night, I'm exhausted.  I'm usually just looking for something to read or watch to take my mind off things, like Instagram or Twitter.

Which does the opposite of take my mind off things.

Reader, I've had enough of the sanctimonious 280-character rants.  Anymore, it seems like social media is for finding articles, information, and memes that fit a person's pre-existing thoughts, opinions, and inner narratives.  We're not on-line to learn, observe, or better understand; we're on-line to validate our feelings with as few words as possible.  We get madder about the things we're already mad about, and more righteous about the things we already feel righteous about.

My time is worth more than that.

Last Friday, I made a promise to myself to spend less time on-line and more time like my Grandma Ruth, peacefully taking in what's around me, caring for others, and only fighting when it's necessary (because sometimes, it is).  The summer is beautiful. The elderflower is really popping, the cardinals are on the feeder, and my kids are getting bigger everyday.  And I'm not gonna miss it.  Whatever you're up to this week, I hope it brings you peace and understanding. Don't forget how precious the time is.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

 

Forced Perspective 

I was all thumbs this week.

We reopened my restaurant.  By the time the weekend was over, my staff and I had completed a litany of mortifying mistakes, including burning dozens of cinnamon rolls, breaking an espresso machine, and serving meat to a vegetarian.  After 3 months of quarantine, our once seamless dining room dance around each other had turned into a series of accidental body checks and spilled mimosa flights.  But the strangest part?

None of it was mortifying.

In fact, it was the opposite.  We laughed a lot.   We shook off what went wrong.  Customers were (for the most part) understanding.

And we owe it all to a deadly virus.

Reader, as tragic as tragedy is, it certainly does have a way of forcing us to have perspective.  After all: in a world that's hot with racial tension, political fury, and a raging pandemic, what's a few burned pastries here and there?  Overall, I'm counting our restaurant reopening as a resounding success.  Nobody got hurt, physically or mentally, and our outdoor seating area was a hit.  Looking forward to a week of more of the same.  Wishing you this same forced perspective; see you next Monday. -Em

A Different Kind of Discipline 

It's been a hard, hot couple of weeks.  Not even coffee is reviving me lately.  

Between building our outdoor patio at the restaurant, finishing up new album prep work, and being a mom, I'm zapped.  I've tried to combat the fatigue with my usual will power and self-discipline.

I am the Yoda of self-discipline.

Give me a diet, I'll follow it.  Give me an assignment, I'll move mountains to complete it.  Anything you throw at me, I'll knock it out of the park eventually.

But apparently, I'm not very disciplined at being kind to myself.

Reader, I wonder why it is that we can work our bodies til they're sore, work our minds until they're foggy, work our hearts until they're empty, but we can't work to carve out time to care for ourselves?  I just worked seven 10-hour days in a row, but I don't know how to take an hour to read a book.  What on earth is wrong with me?! (Besides the fact that I'm a self-punishing maniac). I'm honestly not sure.  But I do know one thing:

I'm so ready to be just as regimented about taking a break as I am about working.

And with that, I'm off to bed.  I just got a new book that I can't wait to dive into, and I've got a song I'd like to finish. I look forward to opening my restaurant this week with planned breaks every now and then.  

If quarantine taught me anything, it's that life is too short to do nothing but work and pay bills.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

 

Mom First 

No blog for me tonight.  The kids needed a little extra time with their mom.  No apologies.  I'll see you next Monday.  Have an incredible week. -Em


 

Big Dreams, Small Skills 

We just spent the weekend at my restaurant building an outdoor seating pavilion.  Our staff is sunburned, bruised, and gassed.  I can barely lift my arms today.

Feels great.

I don't know if it's everybody or just me, but I've always found myself pushing past personal limits.  Not just physically (because who doesn't love a good endorphin rush) but mentally too.  I've had nights of songwriting that were almost painful. The morning after, my apartment would look like a writer's crime scene: balled-up paper everywhere, cracked pencils, pillows on floors, instruments all over couches.

The tell-tale signs of a person past the edge.

I've been reflecting on it today, wondering why I'm not good at letting enough be enough.  First and foremost, I know I'm just a neurotic weirdo. Plain and simple.  But more deeply, I think there's something that happens within a person when their vision exceeds their abilities.

In my head, I can feel perfectly crafted songs.  I see whimsical buildings and paintings.  I can taste well-balanced food.  Unfortunately, my skills don't usually know how to get me to the vision.  And that's when I work like a feverish maniac.

So what's to be done when our vision is beyond our skillset?

Keep. At. It.

Reader, if you too find yourself with a dream in your head that your talents can't match, it would be a shame to diminish the dream.  Instead, I think we have to generate a lot of shoddy versions of the masterpiece in our minds until our skills improve, and we can achieve it.  Write the weak songs.  Build the imperfect furniture. Paint the lame paintings.  Just keep going.

With that, I'm off to keep building.  It's not going to be as good as what I planned, but it's the work I need to do to get better at woodworking.  Hopefully, it'll be done by next week.  I'll see ya then. -Em

 

Out of Quarantine 

As of today, our state has entered into Phase 3 of reopening.  Our daycare is still closed per DCFS, so I'm still home with our kids. My restaurant is allowed to open for outdoor seating, which would be wonderful.

If we had outdoor seating. 

So in the coming weeks, I'll be simultaneously building outdoor seating, parenting, cleaning the restaurant, and trying to make another album.  Sounds like a lot.  I'm sure I'll be worked to the bone, dog tired, and collapse into bed each night.

But all I feel is gratitude (and a bit of guilt) that these are my only daily trials.

Reader, the state of the world bowled me over this week.  Seeing the video of George Floyd calling for his mother in heaven while a police officer put his knee on his neck brought me to tears, over and over.  How miserable is it that--if that video hadn't surfaced--we white people wouldn't get such a firsthand feeling of how Black Americans feel, everyday. 

Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Brenda Russell famously wrote "None of Us Are Free (if one of us is chained)."  The first version of the song I heard was sung by Solomon Burke. I listened to it again today.  Today, every word hits hard.  And it should.

When will it hit us that we are the same? The man under a knee is me and my kids and my family and my friends.  When we live in a world where black people are so clearly hurt (economically, socially, mentally, physically) everyday, then we are a part of a world that condones the treatment of all humans this way.  I can't help thinking: what if it had been you or your children under that knee, or jogging down that street, or selling those CDs, or any of the other instances where black humans were killed?

Empathy and understanding and active planning and then changing.  That's how we start making it better.  Protest, yes.  Loot local businesses, no.  I'm ready to listen and work.  I'm ready to work to the bone, dog tired, and collapse into bed each night (I've got a lot of practice).   Out of quarantine, into the fray I go.  -Em