Off Trend 

I always said that--if ever write a book--I'm calling it "Off Trend." And because I'll never have time to write a book, a quick blog will have to do.

I just can't keep up with what's popular. And every time I've tried, I've been disappointed in myself.  Music, fashion, food, you name it: trends change.  Which means you have to continue to change in order to keep up with them.

And change is costly. It costs money.  It costs our environment (how many perfectly good 80's hyper-color shirts are in a landfill somewhere?).  And ultimately, it costs our happiness.

Now I'm not saying that change is a bad thing.  But changing oneself to fit in with the latest means living in a state of constant dissatisfaction.  My whole life, I've been aware of how untrendy I am. Though I've never felt it as much as I have recently.

I'm to the stage of my restaurant build-out where I have to pick light fixtures, furniture, paint, etc.  If you look around on-line or in stores, it's clear that industrial/mid-century modern styles are all the rage.  Edison bulbs, pipe shelving, low back couches: you've seen it.  It looks ok I suppose.  But if I go that route, I'll be out of style in a year or so when the next trend comes around.  What's a woman to do?

Not give a rip.  That's what.

Reader, if you're like me and lack the resources and time to keep up or care about what's en vogue, I invite you to join me in simply loving what you love.  If it happens to be what everybody else loves, great.  If it happens to be what nobody else loves, also great.  Being yourself and doing good things for others is timeless.  

I'm off to work a little more on yet another dorky holiday album, wearing my Salvation Army clothes and drinking my Aldi coffee.  This is me, and I love it.  I leave you with a picture of my friend Carolyn and I, nailing my lumber to the ceiling of my restaurant last week.  It's not conventional and certainly not in style, but I'll be damned if it doesn't make me smile, and we had a hell of a good time making it happen.  Hope you have yourself a great week.  See you next Sunday. -Em


Damn The Dam 

It's Mother's Day.  Which not unlike any other day, except that my kids (aka my husband) got me cards, and I drank champagne for breakfast.  Otherwise, it's the same as usual:

Pure bedlam.

Everyday last week, I thought, "Jesus, I'm barely holding it together."  Neither kid is sleeping through the night.  I'm working 10 hour days and making no money while still trying to keep a clean house, buy groceries, cook food, walk the dog, do the laundry, pay the bills, practice the piano, and somehow keep a smile on face and maintain order in my kids' lives.

Which is to say, I've been teetering on the brink of a breakdown for months.

It happened on Friday night.  

We went out to eat, and the bill ended up being much higher than I anticipated.  Money is so tight, and for whatever reason, I started to cry a little.  Then I started to cry a little harder.   I told my husband to drive us home quickly because I felt like I was going to blow.  After he and the kids went in the house, I got into the driver's seat, put my head on the steering wheel, and let the dam break.

I cried a tsunami of tears.

And even in the midst of bawling, I felt guilty.  I felt guilty that I wasn't able to rein in my emotions.  I felt guilty that I couldn't channel my sense of humor. I felt guilty that I wasn't more grateful for what I had.  I felt guilty that I wasn't home helping my husband with the kids.  

I felt the exact same thing every mother feels, all the time.

So I drove around for about 20 minutes, ugly sobbing.  When I was finally able to collect myself, I drove home.  I walked into the living room, and saw my 1 and 2 year-old running around with diapers on their heads.  It made me start crying again.  Only instead of run away to shield them from my tears, I let myself cry in front of them.  I've never done that before. The result?

They both curled up next to me and tried everything they could to cheer me up.

Reader, behind the scenes of every mother who seems collected is hot mess of a person who is amazingly good at tamping down their emotions.  And while some mothers are better at hiding it than others, suppressing emotions is a habit that no one needs to practice.  For Mother's Day this year, all I want for myself and my fellow mothers (and fathers doing the mom thing) is to know that you aren't alone.  It's ok to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, but when it starts to get to you, it's alright to share it.  The truth is, we're all barely holding it together.  Damn the dam that's holding back the floodwaters; sometimes it's good to let it burst.

And with that, I'm off to enjoy the bedlam.  See you next Sunday. -Em


Cleaning Up 

No blog tonight.  I spent the weekend catering a Cinco de Mayo event, and I've got a mountain of dishes to do before I start work tomorrow.  See you next Sunday.  -Em

Bleeding Before You're Cut 

In my life, when things go wrong, I tend to play out the worst case scenario.  It used to drive my Dad bananas. Over and over, he'd tell me: "Only a fool bleeds before they're cut."

This week, I was that fool.

On Tuesday, hell broke loose at my restaurant.  The hood came in, but it was too big, so I demoed a wall that I had just put in to make it fit.  The HVAC crew who delivered the hood damaged my wood floors as they brought it in.  Then a lumber delivery didn't show up.  Then my 100 year-old hammered glass window broke.  And when I thought it couldn't get worse..

A building inspector showed up to say that the fire department thought I may need a $50,000 sprinkler system.


My mind began to race.  I called my lawyer.  I called a friend's lawyer.  I called a friend's friend's lawyer.  I called the Mayor's Chief of Staff.  I called my architect. I called the Economic Development team.  I called the City's inspector.

(Somewhere in there, I called my husband and told him to pour me a queen-size goblet of wine.)

Long story short, I played out every worst case scenario in the books about how the Fire Department would make me install a sprinkler system that I couldn't afford, thus thwarting my whole restaurant project. My family would go bankrupt.  We'd have no place to live. The kids would go hungry.  We'd have to put the dog in a shelter.  

Needless to say, I didn't sleep that night.

The next day, the Fire Department showed up.  And they couldn't have been nicer.  We came to a compromise that would allow me not to have to put in the sprinkler system.  All would be just fine. Nothing was wrong.

And to think how much blood I lost without a single wound.

Reader, take it from this bleeder: you're going to get hurt out there in the world, but you don't have to let your own imagination hurt you.  Let things play out on their own.  If there's a problem that feels scary to you, maybe there's an outcome with a solution that you didn't foresee.  Maybe the worst case scenario isn't going to happen after all. 

I leave you this picture of my 2 year-old eating a popsicle in his tree house today, without a care in the world.  Fancy free. All of his scenarios are good ones.  He's my hero this week.  See you next Sunday.


Return of the Worry Doll 

My friend Rufus co-wrote a brilliant play called The Shakespeare Conspiracy.  A director on Broadway fell in love with the script and picked up the play; it was slated to open on Friday.  And I thought: how could we miss this!?  So my husband and I figured out childcare (thank you, grandparents), put the restaurant on hold, and made the trip. 

It was one of the best trips of my life. 

But it didn’t start out that way.  The week began with at least a dozen mishaps at the building, and true-to-form, I internalized every one of them.  Really, there is no mishap too small for me to stick in my worry bank and let fester for days, weeks, even years.  That’s just how I roll.  I’m still mulling over transgressions from grade school. 

(I'm not what you would call "laid-back.")

Anyway, I called my mom on the way out of town and started telling her all that was weighing on me. And she said, "Honeybun—" (some nicknames never die) "you’re going to ruin your trip if you don’t figure out some way to put these things out of your mind."

So true-to-form, I then began worrying that I couldn’t stop worrying. 

I worried all the way to Brooklyn, where we were headed for dinner.  Next to our restaurant was a little record store, and I stopped in to check out some vinyl.  I found a great Gladys Knight album and brought it to the check-out clerk. At the cash register was a worry doll. 

Remember worry dolls? They used to be everywhere. Made of cloth and wire, these matchstick-size cloth are used to help relieve folks of their worries. You tell your troubles to the dolls, put them in a woven bag, sleep on them, and let them take care of the concern for you. 

I didn’t need to buy the dolls to pick up the lesson.

Reader, there are a lot of tricks to de-stress, and whatever works for you, I hope you're able to figure out a way to put worries out of your mind this week.  My trick in New York was to close my eyes and picture a house on a hill; inside the house is where all my worries lived, and I could decide to address them one-by-one at a later time.  Silly as it was, it worked, and I had a great time out east.  

Controlling our stress is the most responsible and kind act we can do for ourselves.  Being calm and at ease is not only good for you; it's also good for everyone around you too (just ask my husband).  I hope you're oh-so-kind to you this week, Reader.  Stuff your worries in a sack.  See you next Sunday. -Em

The Band Comes In 

Being an introverted only child, I've gotten very comfortable working by myself.  Going solo on projects is my wheelhouse.  Not only because I don't have to trust anybody else, but also because--if I fail--then I'm the only one I let down.  And up until now, being a one-woman-show has worked well. 

But not lately.  My restaurant project is officially bigger than I am.  I cannot measure, cut, and hang my ceiling materials alone.  I cannot mount my signage alone.  And I am physically unable to lift the tons of equipment and furniture coming into my space.

And you know? I don't have to.

This week, the infantry showed up.  Friends, neighbors, and strangers lended their hands.  There was a staining team in my basement. There was a painting team on the main floor.  There was a signage team working outside, and even on the roof, there was a team on a crane.

That's a lot of teamwork; this introvert is wildly outside of her comfort zone.

In music, I've always enjoyed hearing a songwriter sing alone. But there's also an exciting lift when the band comes in.  And in this songwriter's life, I'm definitely feeling the boost from the band that just came into my life.  Reader, there really is nothing quite like a band and the willingness to admit that we need one sometimes.  I hope yours comes marching into your life, too.  See you next Sunday. -Em

Time Is On My Side 

For the last three years, most of my efforts have gone into parenting, songwriting, and opening a restaurant.  And for the last three years, I've hit every kind of a snag.  Asbestos. Pipe leaks. Sick children. Writer's block.  Broken arms. Lack of funds.

All the while, I've thought: if all the obstacles would just go away, I could get it all done NOW.

(I make myself cringe as I type that phrase.  It's sad to admit that I've got the American "I want what I want when I want it" mentality.)

Anyway, it dawned on me this week that it's all getting done at the exact right pace.  Here's how I know.  I've been hunting down restaurant chairs on-line for more than a year now. It's been a challenge because I'm trying to use reclaimed wood for this project, and I've got peculiar tastes and not much money. I've spent countless nights daydreaming (is it possible to daydream at night?) about how the perfect reclaimed chairs would just fall into my lap.

And on Friday, they did.  

Well almost my lap. I had to do a little hustling. At about 11 am, I had just finished renting a trailer and hauling 4,000 lbs of pine for my restaurant ceiling when I got a call from a woman named Katie.  She saw on Craigslist that I was looking for chairs identical to the ones she was selling off from her restaurant in Chicago, Honey Butter Fried Chicken.  And I just-so-happened to have a truck and trailer ready to go.  

So just like that, I grabbed my Mom and off we went to Honey Butter Fried Chicken to get the reclaimed restaurant chairs of my night-day-dreams. By 3 pm, I was loading 45 chairs into my truck.  It was cold, hard work, but now they're mine.

All I needed to do was have a vision, and not expect it to happen NOW.

Reader, there is a time for urgency, and then there's a time to let things play out in their own due course.  Focus is important.  Then so is patience.  I really do believe that--for some things--time is on my side.  And it's on yours too.  I hope some of your daydreams come to fruition this week as well.  See you next Sunday. -Em

The Importance of Being Frivolous 

My whole life, I've been called a "deep feeler."  When I feel an emotion, it puts me on my heels, and it's impossible for me to operate in the world.  (True story: I once saw a goose get hit by a car on the highway, and I had to take off the rest of the day because I couldn't stop sobbing). Lucky for me, I know what an emotional basket case I am, so I've found ways to deal with it.  I spend most days with my head down, plowing through problems with thought and practicality.  And while I'm a pretty happy person, I don't let myself feel very much.  My heart is under lock and key.  

And I'm the only one with the key.

Or so I thought.  On Thursday, I went to drop off my kids to their daycare in our neighborhood.  My toddler grabbed my leg and said, "Mommy, I don't want to go in this house.  Please don't go."  

Apparently my toddler also has a key.

So with one million "more important" things to do, I took off on Friday and had a date with my kids.  We went to the Madison Children's Museum and the Henry Villas Zoo. We ran through a giant gerbil wheel and held a snake. We ate sorbet for lunch and french fries for dinner.  We sang Old McDonald over and over again until they both fell asleep in the car, and I listened to them snore as we drove home.

And I of course bawled big quiet tears of joy.  

Reader, I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on the importance of doing the "less important" things.  Right now, my husband and I are barely scraping by financially, and we've prioritized our life entirely around work.  We rarely do things without intention, and we NEVER do anything we consider to be frivolous. But those frivolous times that make our hearts explode are recharging.  They help us focus.  They give us clarity.  And surprisingly, nothing so grounds me as taking time to be lighthearted.

Whatever you're up to this week, I hope you're carving out a little time for frivolity. It's just as important as the important stuff.  See you next Sunday. -Em

Failing for the Win 

When I first began renovating my building into a restaurant, I didn't know a thing about renovating. I was apprehensive and awkward. Those early days were pretty basic: I scraped tar.  And I failed miserably at even that basic job for my first several months.  

Then I took it up a notch: I installed wainscot, caulked trim, and cut ceiling tiles.  I ended up wasting dozens of tiles because of my lack of geometry skills. I destroyed countless tubes of caulk because I didn't understand the method, and I broke three caulk guns before I got the hang of it. 

Fast forward to today. In the last two weeks at my building, I have:

+Framed in my fourth restaurant bench.

+Purchased, unloaded, mixed, and poured 2,000 lbs of concrete.

+Torn out 460 square feet of a damaged cedar floor and the accompanying nails.

+Torn out 300 square feet of a damaged pine sub-floor and the accompanying staples.

+Purchased, cut, and laid 300 square feet of durock, then screwed it in place with 550 screws.

+Cut and installed 100 feet of plywood, then nailed it to my kitchen walls.

+Framed in another wall.

+Purchased, cut, and toggled to the ceiling 400 square feet of 2"x 4" furring strips so I'll be able to deck my ceiling.

+Moved one ton of quarry tile.

Now, none of this is rocket science, and it's not a remarkable feat.  But what gets me is that I'm not apprehensive anymore.  I still don't know a thing about renovating, and I still fail everyday, but I'm not uneasy as I start new jobs.  Which leads me to one conclusion:

There is no greater way to achieve confidence than by being daring enough to try and fail.  

It's an incredible phenomenon: once you fail enough times, it doesn't feel so bad to keep failing.  And to boot, the more you fail at the small stuff, the more you're willing to fail at bigger and bigger tasks. Failing starts to feel so natural that it no longer has any power over you.

Reader, take it from this failure: do the scary stuff.  Don't worry if it doesn't work out.  Count your failures as a win. The more small failures you've got under your belt, the more bold you become. So get out there and fail this week!  I'll see you next Sunday. -Em

Lame duck 

No blog tonight.  It was a big work week at my building, and I ended up with an arm/hand injury that makes typing painful.  This lame duck will see you next week; take care of yourselves out there. -Em