Image courtesy of Media Mike

James O’Rourke was no ordinary man in our lives. He was someone…exquisite. An angel, of sorts. Over the past week I have searched for the words to express how much James O’Rourke meant to Tony and me, and our entire team at Sarello’s. I thought that if I allowed the grief to settle, my intention would be clear and the right words would come.

But grief is funny that way, and I’ve discovered that Jim is a very difficult man to define, mainly because everyone has a different dictionary when it comes to James O’Rourke. Some definitions I’ve seen in the past week include: curator, mentor, lover of art, community leader, brother, legend, teacher, customer, hero, eccentric, uncle, trailblazer, artist, leader, icon, friend, and the list goes on. Jim was so much to so many, but for us, he will always be The Man at Table 34.

Mr. O’Rourke was our original customer – literally, the original. When we opened for business on Friday, December 15, 2000, Mr. O’Rourke and John Rowell were the first two customers to arrive. They walked in, introduced themselves and, after welcoming us to the neighborhood, asked Tony if his martinis were any good. Undaunted, Tony assured them that they were in excellent hands, and invited them to choose their table. Mr. O’Rourke surveyed the dining room and chose a table at the front, in the corner by the window. They were seated, and Tony quickly retreated to the service station to mix up the meanest martini possible. After sampling the cocktail, Mr. O’Rourke told us that he would like to make a standing reservation for lunch, every Monday through Friday, but only if he could sit at Table 34. What a way to start the night!

For the next year, Mr. O’Rourke came in for lunch every weekday, without fail, and never ventured to another table. In fact, he became such a fixture at Sarello’s that other guests would stop us to ask who the man in the corner was, thinking that he might, perhaps, be a relative.

After our first year in business, we made the decision to stop serving lunch. As a married couple in business together, the pace was unrelenting, and we found ourselves in need of a little more down time. We had a very loyal lunch clientele and I dreaded making this change. I was especially anxious about how to break the news to Mr. O’Rourke. I should have known better. Many people were disappointed, some were upset, and some were both (my parents). But Mr. O’Rourke was gracious and understanding. “I’ll just have to come in for dinner more often,” he said. And he did, regularly hosting events after museum exhibit openings, or just to satisfy a craving for salmon.

Another year passed, and I grew weary of chance meetings with former lunch customers, who would always inquire “WHEN are you going to open for lunch again?” Some were relentless (again, my parents), and I’m sure that the guilt would have kept me up at night were I not so grateful to have a little more free time with my husband. But Mr. O’Rourke never once asked us about opening for lunch, and for this he will always have a special place in my heart.

However, by popular demand we opened again for lunch in the fall of 2002, but only on Fridays. Once again, Mr. O’Rourke was the first customer through our door. When he came in, I greeted him with enthusiasm: “Good morning, Mr. O’Rourke, it’s so good to see you!” I will never forget his response: he came right up and gave me a big hug, then kissed my cheek and said, “Please, call me Jim.” I felt like I had just been granted admission to a very private club.

Jim came to lunch every Friday for the next eight-plus years, missing maybe only two Fridays in all that time, and he always sat at Table 34. He was our original customer, in so many ways. For years our martini list has featured “The Rourke” – the classic martini, named for a true Moorhead classic.

When we were dreaming of opening Sarello’s, I had all kinds of ideas of the clientele we would attract. But never in my wildest imagination could I have created a customer as wonderful as Jim. His loyalty, humor and friendship were gifts in our lives, and he will be dearly missed.

So my final thoughts are this: When I no longer own a restaurant, I’m going to find a new favorite place to dine. And when I find it, I’m going to seek out the best table in the house and claim it. I’ll visit my table often, and from time to time I’ll order a fillet of salmon with a really dry martini. Then I’ll raise my glass and say “Thank you, Jim.”


Music has always been a source of inspiration for me, especially when writing, and I like it in almost any flavor: rock, pop, jazz, opera, classical, folk, hip-hop, holiday, inspirational, metal (although I tend to stay away from speed metal), show tunes, Barney (well, maybe not Barney)…you get the drift.

When my husband and I were hosting our radio show, “Live with The Lost Italian,” I would choose the music for each segment. That is, the “intro” and “outro” according to my producer friend, Dustin. For two and a half years, every Friday night I would hunker down at my laptop and sift through iTunes, looking for the perfect song to enter and exit each segment. I would search words that were related to our topic: tomato, soup, peaches, hotdish, cheese, fried chicken, etc.  Sometimes it wasn’t so easy, and I’d have to find a backdoor route, like using a phrase instead of just a word: I love tomatoes, soup is my life, green asparagus, and so forth. You would be amazed at all the songs out there, just waiting to be discovered.

When I have a big project coming up that requires inspiration, writing or otherwise, I turn to music. (I’d have to exclude bookkeeping from this list, since I would probably only associate it with lullabies. Zzzzzzzz…..) I compile playlists around what I think I need to feel to be inspired. When I was writing a speech for a fundraiser for the F-M Opera Company, I needed music that would give me courage. “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky works wonders; “I Still Believe” by The Call moves me every time and often works its way onto many of my playlists (I always get choked up at the lyrics “For people like us, in places like this…); “Eye of the Tiger” ridiculous, but true…

I had about a dozen songs like that, and I would listen to them over and over in the days leading up to the event. Only one of them was actually an opera song: Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” – I threw this in just to keep me focused on the mission, but holy cow, is it inspirational!  These tunes helped me create the imagery and atmosphere I needed in my head in order to reach my goal. Oh, and by the way, that playlist has pushed me to raise over $200,000 for the FMO in just five nights over the past four years.

For my novel, I really wanted to seek out new music, especially tunes from Norway and Ireland. Turns out, not so easy to find Norwegian rock on iTunes. I had to dig a little deeper, so I clicked over to Google (oh Google, how I love thee!), and started to search. I stumbled onto an article in Wikipedia about Norwegian music. I clicked through the links to different bands and sampled their music, until I found BIGBANG. Heralded as Norway’s best live band, I tried to find their website, but got directed instead to an outdated Facebook page and an entry on MySpace. I returned to iTunes and, BAM – there they were. I listened to only a few tracks before finding “Wild Bird” from the Edendale LP.

Upon hearing the opening count “En, To, Tre, Fire” I knew I was hooked (the rest of the song is in English). As I continued to listen, I couldn’t believe my discovery – it’s as if they wrote the song specifically for this book. I love, love, LOVE this song. When I listen to it, I can see my story unfold in my mind, almost as if I’m watching a movie. I can see the location, the characters, the challenges – all from one song. I downloaded the song immediately, and it has become my anthem for this project.

I’m a big believer in serendipity, which must run in my family because my sister, Carolyn Solares, writes a great blog called “Signs and Serendipity.”  There are times when you just know something is right. The band’s name, for instance: BIGBANG. I needed inspiration to create my story, and when I found this song, it was as if a “big bang” went off in my head. Esoteric and hazy images of characters and varying plotlines suddenly shot into focus. My mind cleared in order to make room for the stage of my story. 

And in case I needed any more signs, two days after finding the song, I discovered this little nugget. I have had this novel in my mind for the past year, and have referred to it as my “Lightseeker” story. Part of it takes place up in the Lofoten Islands of Norway, and I was doing some research on the types of birds that inhabit this part of the world. I’d spent time in this area when I worked on cruise ships, and the bird life is prolific. Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns, etc.

I remembered seeing Arctic Terns in both the Arctic and Antarctic, but I couldn’t remember what they looked like. I went back to my old pal Google for some help. I don’t remember what search term I used, but I followed a link to someone’s personal website, only to find a poem at the top, entitled: “Arctic Terns – The Lightseekers.” Okay, that’s pretty serendipitous…and the name of my novel’s anthem is “Wild Bird.” How’s that for inspiration?

We lost a dear friend of ours on Thursday, and my mind has been flooded with images and memories of him for the past two days. I plan to write about it at some point in the next week, but I want to let the grief settle a bit so that I am clear in my intention.  I want to find the right words – the perfect words – to express what he meant to us. This was no ordinary man in our lives, this was someone…exquisite. An angel, of sorts. And so all I can tell you right now is that the piece will be called “The Man at Table 34.”

On the writing front, I have been giving myself a hard time today, because my word count hasn’t progressed since Monday night. After mentally browbeating myself, I decided to take a look at what I did accomplish this week.

On Monday, I completed a chapter that was really testing me.  The section I had to finish was mostly dialogue, and I think I was a little intimidated by that. I almost decided to put it off till Tuesday, and just go to bed. But instead, I sat down at my computer and switched my brain to neutral. An hour later, I had almost 1,300 words, and my chapter was done. And I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

On Tuesday, I launched a writer’s group with my mother and sister-in-law, which is something we’ve talked about doing for a while. We shared writing ideas, worked on plans to collaborate on a series, and enjoyed a great bottle of Martinelli Zinfandel in the process. Oh, and I can’t forget the *yummy* cheese & meat tray from my friends at  The Green Market. All in all, a pretty good night.

On Wednesday I got caught up on some “real” work. I do the book work and other “behind the scenes” jobs that go along with owning a restaurant. Before we had our son I worked in the restaurant alongside my husband almost every day,  and I dearly miss being with our clientele and staff.

In every job I’ve had till now, I have always been actively engaged with the public. Never in my life did I think I would be a bookkeeper. Ever. Let me stress this again: Not. Ever. When I worked on cruise ships, I was not the Purser; I was the Cruise Director. And there is a BIG difference in the type of people who gravitate toward these positions. But, I can work from home and choose my hours, so I guess it’s a pretty good trade-off. Anyway, while my novel did not progress on Wednesday, I did my book work and got some bills paid. Whew!

On Thursday, I met my marketing deadline of the week and launched my blog. Sure, it was time I could have spent writing, but I had every intention to spend the evening hurling words across the keyboard like a madwoman. Sadly, right around 6:00 pm I learned about our friend’s death, and I just couldn’t focus on writing fiction anymore.

Friday was one of those weird days. You know, the kind that seems like you have all the time in the world, only to find that it’s suddenly 7:30 pm and you’ve had limited productivity. Or zero, as it happens. I did get in a great game of charades with my six-year-old son, Giovanni, though. That was pretty fun.

So now it’s Saturday evening, I’m here at the keyboard, and I don’t know what to write. I’ve spent the afternoon playing games on our Wii with Gio, and thinking about my book when it wasn’t my turn. But now I’m looking at the pink post-it note fixed to my monitor that says, “87 DAYS ’til JUNE 1st,” and I can’t stop looking at it. What happened to 112 days? Or even 97? Back then, 80-100K words didn’t seem so daunting to achieve by my self-imposed deadline. But 87 days? Yikes!  It’s seriously time for me to get writing – which I will, right after I play another round of Wii Bowling with my son.

Hello and welcome to my blog!

I’ve been writing in one way or another since I could properly form a sentence, but I’ve rarely written just for myself. I’ve written tons of marketing copy, speeches, and newsletters. I have begun many different fiction projects, only to leave them langusihing in a folder, yearning to be loved enough to make it to completion. But my enthusiasm would fade with the distraction of daily life, and my efforts were just that – efforts.

In January, after a two and a half year run on live radio, my husband and I made the decision to end our weekly two-hour show. It was a painful decision, but the station we were with was choosing to move in a different direction and we just felt it was time for us to move on, too. We absolutely loved hosting a show together, and I will forever cherish that experience. But I knew then, and know now, that it was the right decision. 

However, I found myself missing this creative outlet, and wondering what I was going to do to express my inner-artist. With tons of time now available in my schedule, I decided that it was time to knuckle down and write the novel that has been permeating in my mind for the better part of the past year.

Last month, I began writing my novel, and my goal is to complete it by June 1, 2011. This blog will document my journey as a fledgling writer, and will also feature frequent excerpts from my daily life, just to keep my writing skills fresh. You can find these stories in the section I like to call “Up in the Crow’s Nest.”

I hope you enjoy today’s story, Gio’s Silver Dollar, which was inspired by my son’s new smile. Please feel free to stop by anytime!

– Sarah