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

 

Woman of No Mystery 

I'm a woman of very little mystery.

Everyone knows exactly how I'm doing.   I sigh audibly when I'm relieved.  I bawl when I feel sad. I squeal when I'm happy, and I hug way too long when I'm in love.

In short, my feelings are irrepressible.

And for a long time, I felt like transparency was a strong suit of mine.  It seemed to me that being bold enough to express myself was a feather in my cap, particularly as a songwriter.  (We're expected to be a touchy-feely bunch of people, right?)

But this week, I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn't at least get a handle on one damaging emotion: 

Anger.

On Tuesday, a particularly miserable customer came into my restaurant.  He struck up a conversation with a friend at the bar, where they began insulting me while I was right behind them.  I listened to them talk about me for a few minutes, growing increasingly enraged.  Finally, I snapped.  I yelled out to them. They were taken aback, so they changed positions in the restaurant.  At which point, I followed them, and continued barking at them.  Unsurprisingly, they left shortly after.

I felt invigorated by my righteous indignation for about an hour.  But then, I became exhausted by it.  Unlike my other emotions--joy, sadness, relief--anger had deflated me, and also distracted me.  I was uninspired to work for the rest of the night.  I was not plugged into my kids. I was unable to write music.  And I was hardly able to sleep.

In short, it was a complete misuse of time and energy.

Reader, anger--as good as it feels in the moment--is a giant waste of our lives.  I know I've had this revelation before, and I'm sure I'll have it again.  But I feel like the more I acknowledge how terrible of an emotion it is, the less likely I'll succumb to it in the future.  Besides, there are far more beautiful emotions for a woman to succumb to...like this beautiful, midwestern overcast sky.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Take It All Home 

Man, some weeks are just perfect on the home front. This was one of them. I wrote several songs, cooked up a storm, spent some time with friends, took my kids to a county fair, and even got to walk my dog a bit.  My restaurant had a few hiccups, but nothing we couldn't handle.  My husband and I even got to enjoy a bourbon together.

Swoon.

On the world front, this week was terrifying.  In one day, our country had two mass shootings, and the NRA is still trying to protect Second Amendment rights over the lives of citizens. The city of Hong Kong has plunged into epic chaos. Thousands of human and animals are dying daily across Africa due to weather catastrophes brought about by climate change, change that half of our country still disavows as a true occurrence. 

Unswoon.

As a person who takes everything home with her, I try to keep the two worlds separate.  Every day it gets harder.  It wasn't until this weekend that I made a conscious decision:

I'm not separating the two anymore.

On Sunday, I told my kids how sad I was about the state of the world.  I let them feel sad about it, too.  We talked.  A lot.  We made plans for how we could make things a little better.  We picked up trash outside our restaurant for a bit.  We spent time talking to neighbors. Then we went out for ice cream.  And even though it didn't make any big change, it felt better to have let the outside world into our home, and then to have let pieces of our home into the outside world.

Reader, worlds bleed into each other.  And that's ok.  There's no hiding one from the other.  And why should we?  Sometimes the best way to influence the big world is through small changes at home. 

I'm off to spend a little more time with my kids. Maybe some goodness on the home front will seep into the world at large.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

 

What Goes Unrecognized 

On Thursday morning, I was driving the kids to daycare.  My son said to me: "Mom, don't you think you need to see us more often?"  My heart broke; I felt my face get red and my throat get dry.  I wasn't about to let my kids' desires go unrecognized. So I took a few hours on Friday to spend time with them.  We played with reptiles, ate donuts, and bought a Batman piñata.

On Friday night, a local band played my restaurant.  Their soundcheck was great, and I made a point of telling them. I wasn't about to let their talent go unrecognized. The musicians were so grateful that I had taken the time to listen, and their music brought joy to a lot of people that night.

On Saturday afternoon, my restaurant participated in Bite Nite in downtown Rockford.  I've never been a part of a food competition before, and I didn't care about winning. I was proud of the delicious, eco-friendly food that we prepared.  Later in the evening, we ended up winning an award; the judges weren't about to let our food go unrecognized.  We spent the rest of the night with an extra spring in our step.

Reader, of course none of us should NEED recognition.  But that doesn't mean it isn't nice to get it.  It's so important to notice the little cues from the people (and animals) that could use a little extra attention.  When we recognize another thing for their accomplishments, their pain, their joy, their struggles--it generates empathy, fosters a spirit of awareness and responsibility, and makes the world a lot smaller.  As we go through our week, let's not forget to give a bit of attention to the ones that could use it.  We could all use an extra spring in our step.

See you next Monday. -Em

Make Things While You Get Destroyed 

Lately, my life feels like the running of the bulls.

And I am the streets of Pamplona.

I can't remember ever feeling so trampled.  I'm struggling to keep up with everything that hits me.  Running a restaurant, running a venue, and running kids all over the place is running me ragged. There is a temptation at the end of the day to collapse on the couch in front of a screen and turn off my brain.

I'm resisting it.

Reader, when we are getting annihilated, I'm convinced there is nothing better for our hearts and our minds than to make things. Make music.  Make food.  Make art.  Make anything. Creating while I'm getting destroyed helps me process the destruction.  I've been amazed to see what comes out of my fingers on the tough days.  The art I paint helps me understand how the tough day looks.  The songs I write help me understand how the tough day sounds. 

(And I'd say that the food I make helps me understand how the tough day tastes, but actually, the food tastes more like rebellion and usually winds up damned sugary).

With that, this maker is off to fight the havoc by playing a little ukulele.  As long as I'm alive and able to produce new things, I feel pretty capable to handle the trampling. I'll leave you with this picture of some cakes I made this week: take that, bullish days. 

See you next Monday. -Em

Rest Night 

No blog tonight. I spent the morning foraging for elderflowers, the afternoon turning the flowers into cordial, and now the evening has gone to the kids.  I need to give it a rest tonight. I have a lot to say, though, and I'll tell you all about it next Monday. -Em

Adaptation 

Darwin famously wrote: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Smart guy, that Charlie Darwin.

This week, I felt flung about.  On Wednesday night, we hosted a crawfish boil at my restaurant.  I thought I was going to spend the night greeting guests, but instead, the crowd wanted so much infused vodka that I spent the whole night in the kitchen pouring akvavit into ice cube shot glasses.

On Thursday, it was the Fourth of July, and I anticipated a slow day at the restaurant.  I thought I would spend the day getting paperwork done. Instead, the restaurant was absolutely slammed, and I spent the day running food, bussing tables, and making coffee.

On Friday, I thought my family and I were going to spend the day in Wisconsin.  Instead, my family went to Wisconsin, and I stayed back home to work through all the backed-up paperwork.

Reader, life changes.  A lot.  I used to think the strongest virtue a person could possess was the ability to dream big.  And while I still think it's a great virtue, I can think of a stronger one: the ability to adapt to what happens instead. If you're feeling flung about this week, don't forget how resilient you are.  Life changes, and we can too.

With that, I'm off to work.  I think I'll be planning out our next crawfish boil.  We'll just see what happens instead.  See you next Monday. -Em

Better Than Perfect 

I played a gig on Wednesday night in the South Loop of Chicago with my old friend Gregg Ostrom.  The venue was outside; we played in the courtyard of The Glessner House Museum. Conditions were perfect for a show.  The sun was perfect.  The cool breeze was perfect.  Our soundcheck was perfect.  The lawn was full of people drinking wine and tapping their feet, and as we launched into our first set, everything felt as you might expect:

Perfect.

At the first set break, all hell broke loose.

The storm clouds rolled in out of nowhere.  The rain poured down on us and our instruments.  We quickly dragged them into the carriage house of the museum.  The audience followed us.  The interior of the carriage house was made of bricks and cement, and we all piled into it and flopped onto the cold floor like piles of wet laundry.

I knew there was no point to setting up our amps, PA system, and microphones.  So instead, Gregg and I just sang and played--unamplified--in a dank dark carriage house.  I belted out songs acapella. The natural reverberance wasn't perfect.  The lighting wasn't perfect.  And the poor audience would tell you that the seating wasn't perfect.

But I argue it was better than perfect: it was a night none of us will forget.

Reader, perfect isn't the best that things can be.  Imperfections are the stuff of life.  As we go through our weeks, it's nice to think that--when all hell breaks loose--we can wind up with a more memorable outcome than we ever planned for.  With that, this songwriting cook is off to embrace the punches this week.  Have a safe and happy Fourth of July, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

 

Life as Pinball 

The summer of 2008, I lived in a small but tidy apartment in Chicago.  In addition to being a songwriter, I was working for the City of Evanston as an event coordinator. I paid my limited bills on time, took my dog for long walks on the Lake Michigan beach, and even had time to spare for parties, concerts, and small vacations.

Fast forward to the summer of 2019.  My two toddlers have left my house a shambles. I'm typing with notes to myself written on my hand like a kid in middle school.  My dog gets walked about 5 minutes a day. I wait to pay my bills until the second they're due, and I can't remember the last time I've been to a party or concert.  Vacations are going to the grocery story and the community pool.

Sometimes I wonder: am I going backwards?

In the States, we seem to have an idea that there is one clear life trajectory: that we are born, choose a direction, go to school, amass wealth, retire, and die.  There is a start point, and an end point, and the movement in between should be a straight shot.  And while that may make sense on paper and in our minds, I have to imagine that--more likely than not--most of us will change courses, direction, and our definition of success several times throughout our lives.  We veer.  We ricochet. We stall. We redirect. We hit walls and bounce back.

Life is a game of pinball.

Reader, there is no such thing as a straight shot.  If you too feel a bit knocked about, take heart in knowing this songwriter feels the same.  Weeks never look the same. Goals change.  Circumstances force us to pivot.  This week, I plan on letting go of the expectation that life should be anything less than all-over-the-place.  

And with that, I'm off to who-knows-where this week.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

For What It's Worth 

When I was a kid, I used to hate money.  I remember wishing we could just go back to the barter system.

As an adult, I still hate money, and I wish we could just go back to the barter system.

This week, I did.

As a new business owner, a musician, and a mom of young kids with medical bills, it hit me hard this week: I'm not going to be able to make it through the month of June financially.  My property taxes are just too high this year, and I don't have any savings; all of my income is wrapped up in my hometown restaurant.  I'm faced with either closing down my business and selling my building, or finding another way to pay my taxes.

So I found another way.  The way kid Emily would have wanted.

I bartered my wedding ring for my taxes.  

My husband and I talked it over, and we decided it was the right decision.  It dawned on me this week that life boils down to prioritizing what matters, and using our resources for all that they're worth to achieve what we know is important.  

So what's important to me? Family, friends, music, and this restaurant.  If a ring can be bartered for one of the most important things in my life, then it's worth a lot more than just the money my husband spent on it 5 years ago; it's worth another year of happiness as we pursue our small business dreams.

Reader, if you're facing any tough choices this week, I hope you too are able to be guided by your priorities.  It's not easy, but it's empowering.  I hope you have a wonderful week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em