Out From The Shadows 

I wrote a blog last week, but for some reason, it didn't post.  I guess it was gobbled up by the internet.  Alas, those deep thoughts have been lost for good.

Such is life.

Anyhoo, the big news of the week is that a man named Pablo Korona released a documentary about me this week.  The video went live a few days ago, and it already has more than 16,000 views on Facebook.  And while most people would be beaming with pride, I've acted like a human ostrich, sticking my head in the proverbial sand and staying out of sight, avoiding incoming compliments like a grown-up playing dodgeball.

Real mature.

The older I get, the harder it is for me to be in the limelight.  In the past few months, I've turned down countless gigs, class opportunities, and interviews with the media. I still write music.  I still like people.  But for some reason, I haven't wanted to stand out.  All week, I've been trying to assess why this is the case. It finally hit me on Friday:

I'm just not as confident as I used to be. 

I don't know how I lost my confidence.  Maybe it happened slowly overtime.  Whatever the reason, I want it back.  

Reader, life goes too quickly to feel insecure.  If you happen to be at a similar stage in your life, one where your confidence has been rocked, let's make a pact to get it back. We don't want to live with regrets about opportunities we didn't take, or times we didn't allow ourselves to feel excited about our own good fortune.  We absolutely cannot spend a single moment of our precious life slinking into the shadows.

With that, I leave you with this great documentary; Pablo just added it on YouTube moments ago.  It's about me!  And I'm going to force myself not to hide from it!  I hope you enjoy it! (Exclamation points give me confidence!)  I'll see you next Monday. -Em 

Dream Chaser 

When I was single and living in my studio apartment in Chicago, I used to dream of one day owning a place where I could pair food and music.  In this magical place, a musician would play a concert, and then I would either make their favorite meal and serve it to the audience, or come up with a dish that I thought would taste good while listening to that artist.

On Friday, I got the chance to do just that.

My friend and fellow songwriter Clark Kelly played a show at my little hometown venue.  He requested "meat & potatoes."  So the audience got a tasty set of a Americana music whilst taking in some tasty Americana food.  The house was packed; folks were sitting on the floor.  The energy was electric.  The music and voices rang through my old building and into my heart.  And in that moment, I realized.

Dreams coming true is not as much fun as chasing them.

Don't get me wrong: watching a dream come to fruition is truly gratifying.  I felt overjoyed to see it all go down. But the pursuit?  That's what gets my creative juices flowing, my heart beating, and my wheels turning.  I'm already dreaming about the next concert (this Friday!)

Reader, we all need something to shoot for.  Take it from this dream chaser: there is nothing so powerful a human can do than to try for something--anything--that is bigger than themselves.  It's what keeps us going.  It's what makes us feel alive.  It's what energizes us when we're low on hope and optimism.  

(And man is optimism in low supply in the restaurant business).

Anyway, I'm off to keep dreaming.  See you next Monday. -Em

Enough Is Enough 

On Wednesday night, I dreamt that I was sitting at the piano and wrote the most beautiful melody I'd ever heard.   I woke up at 2:37 am with the tune still stuck in my head.  So I snuck downstairs and sung the melody in a recording app on my phone.  Then I crawled back into bed and fell asleep.  

When I got up the next morning, I almost forgot about the tune.  I was a bit nervous to play the recording; I've recorded dream songs before, and when I listened to them the next morning, they were total rubbish.  Listening back to this one, though, I was surprised. 

Not rubbish.  It was still one of the most beautiful melodies I'd ever heard. 

Just one catch: no lyrics.  Not one word. 

Which has been driving me nuts.  The muses finally struck in a big way, and now they won't return.  I've been wracking my brain all week, and nothing has hit me.  Chasing down words like a lunatic lyric hunter has turned me into a crazy person.  I've clocked countless hours writing this week, desperate to be hit with the same stroke of genius. But the more I want the words to come, the more they elude me.  So I've come to a conclusion.

I need to stop wanting more.

Reader, when something great comes--be it love, money, or a random dreamy melody--it's human nature to want more of it.  We get a little taste, and then we want it in excess.  But there is a real wisdom (albeit unnatural) in allowing enough to be enough.  So I wrote a great melody?  Wonderful.  If more will come, then it will come.  But for now, enough is as good as a feast.

And with that, this content writer is off to enjoy a little night cap (this one is called "The Wanderlust," and it's available at my restaurant all spring).  See you next Monday. -Em

 

Wanderlust 

I don't know if it's the longer days, the warmer weather, or just a phase of life, but I've got a wicked case of wanderlust. 

Which is a shame. Because my travel budget consists of a few bucks, a couple coins, and whatever marbles the kids have hidden in my pockets.

Still, my desire to see the world is tugging on my heart, and I can't ignore it.  I've been restless for the past few days, feeling like I've needed to shake up my life and breathe some new air.  I daydream about New Zealand, Bali, and the Canadian Rockies.  I nightdream about flying and sailing.   It's not that I'm not content.  And it's not that I need more out of life.

It's just...I'd like to step away for a little bit.

It wasn't until this past weekend that I realized: I don't need to backpack across New Zealand to truly step away.  Reader, I'm going to keep it short tonight. When wanderlust calls us to roam, we can heed that call without jetting off.  We can get lost in a book.  We can learn an instrument.  We can hike outside our stomping ground.  Hell, we can even just change the kind of food we eat.  Bottom line: there are ways to take a break from reality without physically leaving it (or spending a dime).

And that's killer news for a pauper like me.

And with that, this happy hobo is off to star gaze (the international space station is going to be visible from earth in 5 minutes, and I don't want to miss it).  See you next Monday. -Em

Stress Relief Through Hard Work 

This week was stressful, both financially at the business and at home with the kids.  I still haven't figured out how to turn a profit at my hometown brunch pub.  It's scary.  And to make matters worse, the simple joy of my favorite past time--songwriting--has been robbed from me most mornings by kids who have decided to start waking up before my butt has a chance to hit the piano bench.

Such is the life of a working mother.

Anyway, I had planned to spend the weekend relieving stress by leisurely playing with my kids, taking them to local museums and St. Patrick's Day parades.  Instead, I got a phone call from my Aunt Ruthanne: her house is in jeopardy.  She lives on the Rock River in a flood zone, and--with the snow melting--the river is rising rapidly.  Without an extra 3 foot wall around her home, she was going to lose almost everything. 

So long, leisurely weekend.

Instead, I spent the whole day Saturday filling a couple hundred sandbags in Machesney Park, Illinois.  I drove them 30 at-a-time back to her house and helped build a wall.  The sun was bright.  My hands were freezing.  My lips were chapped.  My back ached at the end of the day.

And I've never felt better. 

Reader, it's easy to be mentally consumed by day-in, day-out stress.  I do it all the time; my head aches at the end of the day.  If it's been awhile since you've lost yourself in a solid day of outdoor work, give it a whirl.  Rake leaves.  Burn sticks.  Wash your car.  Anything.  Turn off your brain and let your body work hard instead. It's amazing how physical labor takes the weight off the mind.

Plus you get a little yard work done to boot.

With that, I'm off to bake cakes for some events I've got cooking this week.  Take great care of your mind this week.  See you next Monday. -Em

Being Hypochondriacal & Living The Good Life 

I had a routine physical this week.  It was fairly regular, until my doctor decided to run an EKG to check on my heart.  I found out that I have left atrial enlargement. The doctor scheduled an echocardiogram and a few more labs.  Until they run more tests, they can’t say for certain what’s wrong. 

But in my mind, I’m about to have my first heart attack. 

Being a hypochondriac and an overreactor, I tend to jump to conclusions a lot when it comes to my health. (I wrote the first version of my Last Will & Testament when I was 19 years-old and had a few kidney stones.) Though fortunately--for me--getting bad medical news is a good thing. 

When mortality hits me, I’m struck by how short and fragile life is, and my life becomes more meaningful. I take time to enjoy a sunrise.  I write more music.  I enjoy my loved ones.  I have richer conversations and don’t waste time on petty issues.  I call up old friends, and be sure to give my dog extra ear scratches. 

You know, the same life I should be living without thinking I’m about to have a heart attack. 

Reader, life goes by in a wink.  Let’s not forget it.  Every minute is a gift that is gone as quickly as it comes.  Let’s get out there this week and make the most of every moment. There’s no need to wait until we get bad news to live our best life. 

Since I got the heart news last week, I’ve written a song, taken long walks with my dog, spent a long night with my husband by the fire, and even managed to take these two knuckleheads and their uncle to the movies.  I’ll be making the most out of the coming week, too. -Em

Identity Crisis Part II: Appearances 

I let my hair hang down on Saturday.  This may sound like a non-event.  (And it is).  But in my life, it meant something.  

I've been a bun-head since the day I bought the building in my hometown.  Between being a construction worker and being a chef, my hair needed to be kept out of my face.  Pulling my hair back every morning has been part of my daily routine for so long, I almost forgot what I looked like with it down. My first impression?

Embarrassment.

When I walked into work, my staff told me they didn't even recognize me.  They told me I looked beautiful.  They told me I looked glamorous.  Which made me feel instantly terrible.  So I put up my hair in a bun and tied on an apron so they'd see me as a hard worker again.

Yikes.

For four years, my self-worth has revolved around physical labor.  As a general contractor, I was proud of the sweat on my brow and the dust on my cheeks and the sawdust in my unmentionables. As a chef, I felt legitimized by the flour on my pants and the burns on my forearms and the callouses on my hands from chopping.  Now that I've hired a new executive chef and I'm no longer in construction-mode, I don't look like a hard worker anymore, and I feel like everyone--including myself--will think I'm lazy.

Which begs the question: what kind of masochist must I be, that I want to look like I've been through hell everyday to prove to everyone that I work hard?

Answer: the very saddest kind.

Reader, to add on to last week's identity revelation: we are not what we look like.  We are not our clothes.  We are not our scars and bruises. We are not what we see in the mirror, and we are not what others see.  There is no real way to show on the outside who we are on the inside.

If you're critical like me, be gracious towards yourself this week. Be glamourous.  Be sloppy.  Be comfortable or constrained.  Shake up how you look, or don't. Just shine shine shine and be confident in who you are on the inside, outside world be damned.  We have nothing to prove with our appearance.

This long-haired lady is off to write a little music.  Have a great week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

 

Identity Crisis 

I used to be a songwriter. 

Every morning, I'd wake up, sit at the piano, and write tunes.  Every evening, I'd pour myself a little scotch, and then write tunes.  Some nights, I'd write tunes in my sleep.  I'd write tunes on airplanes.  I'd write tunes on buses.  Once I even wrote a tune in the berth of a 100 year-old ship. 

Until the sea-sickness kicked in. That tune didn't get far.   

Anyway, these days, I don't have time to write like I used to. And when I do have a bit of time, I feel bad using it to write.  (One night last week, I told my family I needed a long hot shower.  But I actually locked myself in the bathroom with my ukulele, turned on the shower, stuffed my ears with wadded up toilet paper, and strummed quietly for an hour next to the toilet.)  

This is my life now. 

And it's a real struggle for me.  Because if you've done just one trade for so long, your identity gets shaped by it.  You start to measure your self-worth in how successful you are at your trade.  When the trade goes away, it's easy to have an identity crisis.   

I frequently wonder who I am these days.  

But I had a revelation yesterday.  I was having a nice time with a group of friends, and inspiration struck.  I excused myself, ran upstairs, grabbed my ukulele, and wrote a tune in 5 minutes, just the way I used to. It felt tremendous.  It felt natural. And what felt even better was knowing that—not only haven’t I lost my trade--but also I never really needed it to have an identity in the first place. 

Reader, we are more than what we do, what we own, or what we accomplish. Our sense of self is bigger than all that.  If one of your trades has taken a backburner, no need to fret. Adding extra content to your life may mean less time to focus on your trade, but it adds more depth to your days.   

And God knows these knuckleheads give my life extra depth.  I’m off to bed.  Let’s be good to ourselves this week, and I’ll see you next Monday. -Em

The Boxer & The Punching Bag 

This week, I lost my temper with my kids.  I raised my voice.  I hurt their feelings.  But the lowest moment?

Telling them Santa Claus wasn't coming next year.

That's right.  I swore I'd never become 'that kind' of mother, but here I am: Ebenezer Hurd.

After I was done killing Christmas, I apologized.  Sincerely.  I told them why I was wrong, how I'd try not to lose my cool in the future.  Then I asked them if they could forgive me.  They didn't know what that meant, so I had to explain it to them.  In the end, they understood what forgiveness was, and that yes, they did forgive me, and maybe next time I could give them chocolate after I got mad.

(Warning: my toddlers may one day sell you used cars.)

Anyway, it was a rather beautiful moment. Teaching kids to release somebody from feeling bad was truly moving. 

The next day, I went to work, and began getting down on myself.  Which is sadly normal.  Every time I don't meet an arbitrary standard that I've set for myself, I feel guilty.  On Wednesday, I felt bad that I didn't recycle everything I could at the restaurant.  On Thursday, I felt bad that I threw out the ends of loaves of bread that I could've fed to our birds.  On Friday, I felt bad that I didn't get our staffing schedule done on time, and then I felt bad all weekend that I took a little time off work to heal from a sinus infection.

You read right: I am the boxer, and also the punching bad.

Reader, why is it that we ask forgiveness of others, but we never ask it of ourselves?  Why am I so eager to teach my kids how to release somebody from feeling bad, but I won't release my own heart?  I honestly don't know, but I know I'm going to try a hell of a lot harder to forgive myself this week.  Walking around in a constant state of guilt is no way to live.  If you're also beating yourself up, I invite you to join me in acknowledging when you've made a mistake, asking yourself forgiveness, and then letting the damn thing go.  

I'm heading to spend a little time with the family.  Have a happy Valentine's Day this week, all you lovebirds.  See you next Monday. -Em