Indestructibility 

Everyday this week, I was caught with an egg on my face.

You name it, I wrecked it.  At the building, I dealt with my own electrical load miscalculations, health department protocol breaks, and hood ansul system backtracks.  In the music world, I double-booked shows, charted horn sections in the wrong keys, and forgot to pay my producer for his work. At home, I missed a daycare drop-off, lost kids' favorite toys, and was incredibly short with my husband.

Mistakes are my wheelhouse.

This time of my life feels harder than any other.  I spend the majority of my days shooting in the dark, which means the majority of my days are spent bumbling.  It dawned on me this week that I spend more time doing damage control than actually being in control.  To make matters worse, the fires that I put out everyday are ones that I started.

Ain't that a kick in the head.

My mom recently reminded me of a quote by one of our favorite writers, Pema Chödrön.  She once said, "You must face annihilation over and over again to find what is indestructible in yourself." Those words ring so true. The more that I withstand, the more I get to the core of what I am.  Turns out there is a feisty, critical, joyful, and empathetic soul within me that is completely resilient to my daily destructions.

Reader, if you also find yourself too regularly in damage control mode, I hope this quote brings you a little peace as well.  Every storm you weather reveals the essence of who you are.  I don't know about you, but I find that comforting.

On a positive note, I recorded a live Christmas record last Saturday night in Chicago, and it was more fun than I've had in months.  Nine musicians, 3 hours, 11 original songs, no edits.  I'm calling it New-Fashioned Christmas and it'll be available this winter.  Guess the songwriter in me is indestructible, too. See you next Sunday. -Em

Pajama Party 

No blog tonight; I worked all weekend and am taking the night to have a pajama party with my kids. See you next Sunday. -Em

Death of a Salesman Hater 

A salesman surprised me this week.  

Before I started the restaurant, I didn't fully understand the world of sales.  I taught and wrote music, and I didn't need much help to accomplish those tasks.  Aside from the occasional call from Comcast or AAA, rarely did a salesperson try to sell me anything.

Since I've entered the restaurant world, I've had no fewer than a dozen vendors pitching to me every week.

At first, I was fascinated by it.  Now, it's infuriating.  

Turns out, I really hate being sold things.

Fortunately, I'm nearing the finish line with my need for future vendors.  My internet, POS, beverages, and even my CO2 are all squared away.  But until this week, I didn't know who was supplying the bulk of my food.  I had narrowed down my search to two companies, and I finally decided to eliminate one.  I drove to their headquarters to break the bad news.

When I got there, my sales rep opened the door.  He smiled.  I kept a straight face.

Then he led me down a hall, listening to my concerns.  He was kind.  I remained cold-hearted.

Then he sat me down in a test kitchen with his colleagues.  He was professional.  I became passive aggressive.

Then he proceeded to lay out every item I would need to cook my menu.  He brought in a chef, and had him cook my whole menu.  In front of me.  Listening to my concerns.  Being creative.  Being open to change.  And explaining to me that in order for them to sell food, they need to have successful restaurants.  And in order to have successful restaurants, they need to listen to the concerns of the owners and help them build their best business.

He was empathetic.  I was sold.

Reader, just a fun reminder that--as black and white as the world can appear--people can still surprise you for the better.  I was so taken aback this week that I actually hugged the sales rep. If you find yourself in a position to change your position, roll with it.  Allowing your mind to be changed is the beauty of humanity and the essence of real growth. 

Plus it keeps life interesting.  With that, I'm off to pour myself a little Talisker scotch that my friend Aerin brought me in a glass jar last month.  Whimsy abounds. I'll see you next Sunday. -Em

 

Gratitude 

An old friend of mine recently passed away. Before he died, he told me the best way to be happy is to be grateful.  He explained that it’s damn near impossible to be filled with anger when you’re filled with thankfulness. 

I clung to that advice for dear life this week. 

I feel like there is an overabundance of anger in the world lately.  Or maybe it just feels like there’s more of it because the Internet allows us to see and comment and argue about everything. 

Regardless, it’s hot out there. 

And the truth is, we have every reason to be angry.  People lie.   Greed is pervasive.  Injustice abounds. White nationalism has come out of the shadows. And we have it all thrown in our faces every second of the day. 

It dawned on me recently that—just because we have an excuse to be angry—doesn’t mean we should use it.   

In my little world, a lot of people dropped the ball on me this week.  And I had every right to be enraged.  But even though I had good reason, it didn’t feel good. I felt emotionally drained at the end of every day.  The small charge I got from being justifiably mad didn’t make up for how exhausting it was. 

And that’s when I remembered my friend’s words. 

By Friday night, I had made the decision to direct my energy away from anger and into appreciation. I threw a small happy hour for all of the volunteers who have helped me build my restaurant.  It was therapeutic.  We drank champagne. By the end of the night, I was my old self again. 

Reader, if you find yourself justifiably hotheaded this week, consider finding something else to do with your precious energy.  The subject of your anger is not worth losing your positivity over; life is too short to waste time on those people and things that “do you wrong.”  The people who “do you right” deserve it all. 

I’m filled with thankfulness for the people who have done right by me, including you for keeping up with this little blog.  I’ll see you next Sunday. -Em

Try Anyway 

My restaurant is so close to being open, I can almost taste the lefse.

These are exciting times for me.  I've been running for 3 years now.  I've hit every obstacle.  But the finish line is there. And even though I've got a few more major hurdles ahead of me, I can feel this race coming to a close.

That concludes my dopey running metaphor.

Anyway, it's hard not to reflect.  I got to thinking about my journey today when my family went to Severson Dells Nature Preserve to commune with nature (and burn some toddler energy).  The hit was a giant spider web made of rope. My kids couldn't master it.  They were awkward.  They fell a lot.  But they tried anyway.

They tried anyway. "Try anyway."  Those two words have become the mantra of my life.

And I love seeing them in my children.  They can be used in response to just about everything that plagues us.  Broken hearted and don't know how to pick yourself up? Try anyway.  Beset by grief and not sure how you'll go on? Try anyway.  Feeling too old, young, short, tall, skinny, fat, white, black, yellow, purple to do it?  Try anyway.  

Or in my case: exhausted from all the damn trying? Try anyway.

Reader, whatever it is, keep at it. There is little more amazing about humans that our ability to persevere.  See you next Sunday. -Em

 

Parting Ways with Facebook 

I parted ways with my personal Facebook account this week.  It's been a tumultuous relationship from the start, but I finally decided it was time to call it quits.

Which is odd, because I was having a great week. The floors in my restaurant got varnished, and they look beautiful (tomorrow, I get to move in all my furniture).  I also cut, sanded, and varnished 200 of the 400 wooden bricks that I have to make for my "Wall of Support" in the restaurant; they're stunning.  I got to play a show in Chicago on Thursday night that was packed and lots of fun.  I even found time to model in a photoshoot for my friend's clothing line. 

The world felt nice. 

Enter Facebook.  The trolling started again this week.  Some guy just unloaded on my restaurant.  (An aside: doesn't it seem like people write far worse things on-line than they could ever say to your face?)  And his miserable words are still ringing in my ears.

I know, I know.  I need thicker skin.  I need to ignore bullies. I need to realize that those comments are out of my control. I know.

But knowing and feeling are two very different things. And my feeling right now is that I don't have the energy or time to do the emotional work needed to confront this issue.

So I walked away.  And truly, the freedom I feel--knowing I'm not opening my phone to regular verbal attacks--is worth the sacrifice I'll make not seeing the photos of my friends' kids

Who knows...maybe I'll start seeing their kids more in real life.

Reader, if there's something or somebody in your life that's doing more harm than good, it's a damn nice thing to leave it behind.  You don't need to burn the bridge. You don't need to cut ties for good.  But you can walk away.  The result of is that you have more room in your heart and mind for the good stuff.

Like gorgeous restored maple floors.

With that, I'm off to have a troll-free week, and I wish you the same.  See you next Sunday. -Em

Easing In 

It's been an extra busy week, and this will be an extra short blog. This songwriting mama is tired.

With the construction at my building complete, I spent the week getting my place ready to function as restaurant.  

Yikes.

Full disclosure: I have zero experience running a restaurant.  And like everything, starting new tasks can be overwhelming.  It's hard to know where to begin.  As excited as I am to see my kitchen equipment arrive, I'm also a bit terrified.  Just when I was feeling confident in my job as a general contractor, I've now got to figure out how to be a restaurateur.

Where do I start?

Answer: somewhere.

It seems to me that--when life gives us more than we can handle--it's less important to know where to start than it is to know to start at all.  This week, I began easing into Phase 2 at my building, a little haphazardly.  I unloaded my freezer, some sinks, and cutting boards.  I put a finishing coat of epoxy paint in my storage area.  I unpacked my shelving units.  Admittedly, my order of events doesn't make sense.

But I'm underway.  

Reader, if you've got something big to tackle in your life this week, I hope you're not too overwhelmed.  Starting anywhere is a good start.  Take a lesson from my son, who is easing his way into potty training by wearing underwear...on the outside of his pants.  It's not even close to where he need to be, but at least he has begun.  

Wishing you more joy than a toddler in two pairs of super hero underpants. See you next Sunday. -Em

 

Ignoring the Signs 

As logical as I am, I believe in signs.  For example.

In 2006, I saw an Amish farmer trying to sell a crate of yapping mutt puppies to a pet store in Chicago.  The store owner didn't want to buy the farmer's dogs, saying they were too old.  There was one dog in the crate that sat completely quiet, his eyes fixed hard on mine.  I thought it was a sign.  That puppy is now my 12 year-old dog, Hank.

In 2011, I had just started thinking of playing the guitar when I went into Chicago Fret Works (the best local repair shop) to have them fix my broken banjo.  When I walked into the shop, there was a beautiful old Stella guitar on the wall.  The person behind the desk said it was an abandoned instrument: the owner had dropped it off to be repaired, and then never came back for it. I thought it was a sign.  I bought the guitar for a song, dubbed it "Loretta," and it's still my favorite guitar.

In 2017, my daughter was going to be named "Annie" until I went into labor. On the way to the hospital, we turned on the radio. Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" was the first song that played.  I decided it was a sign.  Now my daughter is named Johanna.

And here we are in 2018, and I think I've finally learned that there are times in life when it's important to ignore the signs.

This was one of those weeks.

Since I began my restaurant project, I've run into every obstacle.  Despite a thousand signs to stop, I persisted. This week--my last week of construction--was one of the most difficult yet.  It started early Monday morning with an epic knock to my head with a piece of oak, a large financial mistake, blistering heat, a huge amount of work to complete, and a shortage of time and volunteers.

All signs pointed to "I'd Turn Back If I Were You."

But instead, I just worked harder. I kept my head down. I put in a few sleepless nights.  By the time Friday night rolled around, the construction was complete.  The cheap cold beer we drank around the bar was the best cheap cold beer I've ever had.

As I sit here tonight, I feel at peace.  The restaurant has been built.  The painters and floor finishers start tomorrow.  All of the equipment is on its way. And I even managed to spend the weekend with my kids and write a song this morning before everybody else woke up.

Reader, if you happen to have one of those tough weeks this week, I thought I'd pass along a reminder: hard times aren't a sign that you shouldn't be where you are. Hard times are around to build our character, fortify our vision, and give credence to our merits.

And also to make the cheap cold beer taste good.

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.  See you next Sunday. -Em

Superheroes 

My heart is so full tonight.  It was just a really sensational week.  

First, I'm down to my last five days of major construction at the restaurant, and it's all shaping up better than I'd ever imagined.  The barn wood that I retrieved from Minnesota and restored for my posts and beams looks straight out of old-world Oslo. (Pic below).

Second, I got to play an outdoor show in Chicago on Wednesday with my favorite guitar player and friend, Gregg Ostrom. Between the warm crowd and the gorgeous Glessner house courtyard setting, it was every musician's dream gig.

And to top it all off, my son just turned three, and the little super hero-themed party we threw him today made him beam with glee until he fell asleep with a death grip on his new Iron Man and Hulk action figures.

Which got me thinking about superheroes.

As sappy as it sounds, my mother and father were always my superheroes.  Whenever I was in trouble, they swooped in and saved the day.  Peril didn't stand a chance in the face of a parent's love for their only child. 

But after my dad died, my world began to crumble.  No one was going to keep me out of trouble, fix my mistakes, or bail me out of bad decisions.  I was on my own.  And for a long time, I spiraled down into a pretty dark place. Stressed-out and lost, I bought a building in Rockford to rehab into a restaurant, and my lack of experience and finances just made me feel more stressed-out and lost.

And in that darkness, I flipped a switch.

Somewhere in that terrifying place, I stopped waiting for help, and instead, became the person that I wished would swoop in and save the day.  I didn't have an option.  I was either going to flounder, or I was going to be courageous.

(To be honest, I continued to flounder.  But after several months, I made the anticlimactic decision to be brave.)

I think part of what has made me so euphoric this week is knowing that--just five years ago--I was still the kind of person who was waiting to be rescued from crises.  Today, I'm the kind of person who does the rescuing.  I restore old buildings.  I write and perform music.  I mom, for crying out loud.  I fight my own bad guys and keep myself safe from destruction, every day.

We've started calling our son "Super John" to drive home the point that--while superheroes really are amazing when people need help--they aren't so different than you and me (minus the sweet costumes, of course). And they're not always going to be there.  

When help doesn't arrive, we need to summon it from within.

Reader, if you're stressed-out and lost this week, I hope you too can swoop in and rescue yourself.  I'm off to get a little shut-eye before I embark on the big final push at my building. Let's get out there and save our own worlds this week. See you next Sunday. -Super Em

 

 

Gone Foraging 

No blog tonight. I’m still driving down from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I spent the weekend camping with friends and foraging for driftwood to use in my restaurant project. Never a dull moment. See you next Sunday. -Em