An Evening with French Broad Chocolates

Chocolate.

What can I say that hasn’t been said.

To avoid the common lusty language, let me say that I do not eat desserts that often.

“Oh, I’ll just have one or two bites..” Which leads to me eating at least four or five.
When my friend Sarajane over at French Broad Chocolates asked me if I wanted some chocolate, it was a resounding, “Hell yeah I want some chocolate!”

In exchange for a recipe and a few words, I was happy to welcome these luscious chocolate drops into my Mississippi home.

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The weather is a bit warm here, already. But I wanted to make something that would showcase the chocolate more than anything.

Sipping chocolate. This isn’t something I often do, as it is rich but so deeply satisfying.

It also inspired me to create some homemade marshmallows which turned out pretty sweet! (And were really easy to make!)

So, let’s get started.

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Ingredients:
6oz of incredible chocolate
For this recipe, I used a 68% cacao chocolate from Matagalpa, Nicaragua
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 TB packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, but I like a tiny bit of heat)
**I also added a tiny pinch of fleur de sel after pouring, because I like a little salt to cut the richness**

This chocolate already had a profile of brown sugar, so I kept it going in that direction, but surely you can use another kind of sugar and also another kind of milk. (I’d recommend substituting milk for coconut milk, and coconut cream for heavy cream.)

Bring your milk and cream up to steam on a low flame. You don’t want to scald the milk or simmer it, just enough till you see wisps of steam. This is when you add your chocolate, salt, sugar and *optional* cayenne. Whisk continuously until it is all dissolved and luscious looking.

Kinda like this:

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Since I got the wild idea to make marshmallows, I decided to use my new sweet blow torch attachment (also known as a Searzall), to add a little char.

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I don’t really have to tell you that it came out amazing.

Oh man.

It was so simple and delicious and rich. You could get at least six 3oz. servings out of this recipe.

So call up some friends. Melt some chocolate, toast some marshmallows and bliss out for a while.

You deserve it.

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Thank you to my friends over at French Broad Chocolates in Asheville, North Carolina. It was such a pleasure to work with your product and I believe you are making the world a better place. Next time I’m up your way, I’d love to pop in, say hello, and maybe poke my head around your kitchen.

Cheers!

saints and salt.

I’ve been watching this new series on Netflix called, “Chef’s Table”.

Of course, as a cook, I am drawn to things that shed a little light on my world and why we are driven to do what we do.
For one, the series is beautifully produced.
The music is dreamy.
The food is just. Humph.

I sit in my chair, squirmy and restless.

In the back of my mind, I say “Can I do that here??!!”

Can I become great?
To be honest, I don’t think that’s the right question.

In all of these stories, there are extraordinary highs and gut-wrenching lows. From physical exhaustion and breakdowns to having your biggest client tell you that your food was terrible. There are the empty dining rooms, and being booked solid for a year.

The ebb and flow of being a chef is like this: Response. No response. Doubt. Certainty. And I think that it changes daily.

Each chef has this desire to create and change the world they live in.
I am so drawn to their worlds. It makes sense to me. Deep deep down I will always have a need to create and change.

And I have been so challenged this past week.
Frustrated with the industry. Letting my tired and restless soul get the best of me on numerous occasions.

It is so hard to translate your life’s passion to someone who doesn’t care like you do. It feels a little like being a kid and having the grown ups discourage you from being wild. I think we lose so much of our wildness. We lose our ability to say what we need to say and to communicate it well.

I’ve found myself as a leader. I think maybe because I try not to be an asshole. I try to not set up my people to fail. I try to be good and I try to do good things. It is hard keeping your patience and to not blow up on the occasional (or frequent) slip up.

And I am so hard on myself. And I am so stubborn, even more so in a kitchen.

I am learning what kind of chef I want to be. This has been a season of learning what kind of chef I don’t want to be. At the cost of losing sleep and burning a bridge or two, I am learning still.

I am not here to feel justified.

I’ve been a jerk too many times for that.
But I have a lot in common with these people and the fires that reside in their bellies and their kitchens.

Their love of feeding people and doing it well.
Their passion for life in all its complexity.
Truly, they are the saints that salt the earth.

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Today I rest my legs and my back, getting ready for another week where I hope to make good decisions. I also hope that I have the courage to speak my mind when I feel something is right and to fight for and with the people I work for, and this way of life.

Because I’m not sure what cooking is without conviction and trials,

or the weight that I carry that comes with feeding people.

All I know is that there will be huge highs and lows, and the things I might sacrifice to get there.

I don’t know if I will ever arrive.

I don’t think it is about arriving. It is about the road and pit stops and randomly jumping into an ice cold river,

That is what makes this journey personal,

and I’m excited to see where and for how long the road takes me.

hands lifting

I like being imperfect around other imperfect people.
Or at least the ones who submit to the fact that this world is hard and unruly and unpredictable.

I like hearing parents tell me how hard it is to be a parent. How their kids cry because sometimes kids just cry and that they are exhausted beyond any thing they’ve ever imagined.
I want the world to know that I love those little hamburgers from Wendy’s and that’s the stuff I won’t put on Instagram with a fancy filter.

We like real. At least I do. I think we are meant to struggle with each other. Sometimes we get to celebrate with each other too. Like anniversaries and new jobs.

I like that with each hard thing, I learn a tiny lesson. A gift in the form of a small train wreck.

I move forward with more confidence. I absorb it and I let it run through my system — the one that has felt this way before and can somehow manage to feel it though again and again.

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In and out, I think about the people in Nepal. I remember walking through their streets and I remember their people and their food. I remember playing guitar and singing with their kids. My heart is breaking all over because I know they are not built for such a thing. Who is, really?

I see rubble and pain. I also see hands lifting them both.

The Earth keeps spinning and moaning. Friction and heat and release.

I am saturated in it.
I mourn, with the rest of the world.
I pray and I remember how beautiful the stars were.

Somehow though, I am spared, and I am allowed to keep moving, each day.
Lucky is a word I use a lot. I’m not sure why. I wouldn’t consider myself a person of great luck, but I have become accustomed to feeling the good when it is good, because I know how bad things can get.

I’ve seen how deep and dark depression can be.
It feels a little like being at the bottom of a well, hoping you become the water that someone will just scoop up and save you from being in the dark.

Some days you feel a little bit like dying and it becomes less so. You just have to keep waking up and keep opening your heart to other people. I know that sounds cheesy and redundant, especially on this blog.

But I could never hear it enough.
I have written on my left arm, “These things take time”, and it’s surrounding a big pot, inspired by my friend Callie. Another friend of mine actually gave me the tattoo. I think I knew then that time was a gift. I wanted to remember that. I wanted to remember them. My people, the ones actually placing their hands on wounds.

They were my own wounded healers.

It carries over into cooking. I find myself cutting corners and knowing deep down, that is not who I am and it is not who I want to be. Time is nitty gritty. It is tiring and always pushing you forward, like your friends helping you to jump off the high dive.

You will plunge deep into the water, and it will sting your eyes and burn your nose, but you will rise up to the top and take in a deep breath.

That breath is a small victory.

So celebrate and throw up your hands,
eat a piece of cheesecake,
buy some new curtains,
hold tightly to your love,

and celebrate our healers as we are the hands,

lifting.

moaning.

mourning.

singing.

cooking.

cleaning.

tickling.

feeding.

rebuilding what is broken.

gargantua

I couldn’t fall asleep last night.

Maybe it was a mixture of my day’s lump sum.
Drinking. And crawfish. Eating. Taking a nap.
Drinking a little again. Eating a bit more.

These are days that I try to smooth over a bit.
Sort of like trying to fix the frosting on a cake,
and getting it all over my fingers in the process.

I felt it all too.
And I missed her deeply, especially on this day.

Somehow I was given the space to deal with it all. I’m not always that lucky.
I began watching “Interstellar” and tried to make it through the whole movie, but it was late.

My heart had been beating so fast. I think because of Saturn again. And its beauty. And its symbol to me, at this point in my life. People may think I’m crazy, but it stirs something deep inside my own swirling galaxy.

My head wouldn’t stop spinning. Not because of alcohol or blood sugar, but because of outcomes. Because of time.

I couldn’t let it go. At least not last night.
The subtle shift of life’s forward motion. A small bump into a new trajectory.

It became so bright and sparkly. Maybe some pieces were engulfed in flames, like rock or metal skipping off the atmosphere.

I told myself to take deep breaths.

In between my steady stream of thoughts and worries. I squirmed and tossed and turned.
I punched my pillow a few times to get it positioned just so.

It was one of those nights where I think I got some sleep. Enough to wake up, at least.

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I woke up yesterday with a burn in my belly. Restless from the get-go. Those are the days I walk through carefully.

I think about every single thing. What would happen if I would have stepped left instead of right. Embracing my world like an old friend I haven’t seen in quite some time. I think that’s maybe what feeling small does to me. My tiny world, hanging so delicately on some sort of tilted bias, occasionally in darkness, but always coming to light.

I heard a young poet yesterday say that ‘wonder is the inevitable conclusion to fear.’ And that ‘someone, somewhere has already cracked open its beauty’.

This is truth.
These pains and these joys have already been felt and explored. But we are all so new to everything. We are allowed the opportunity to explore these frontiers for ourselves, as scary as they are. And we get to see each new day, when we open our hearts to it.

Like I open my heart to the universe and its pull.
Or when I want to hide in my own darkness, gravity and time still find their ways to fill me with wonder.

Cracking open what is infinitely human,

again and again.

‘how wild it was, to let it be’

The infinite spirit of the human being.

I think maybe this has been some theme swirling around in my head for quite a while. Maybe a bit medicine-induced; a fever-like sort of haze.

I don’t quite know how we make it through the horrible shit.

Abuse and death and violence.
Divorce or moving or taxes.

And yet, here we are, being soft again.

And again.

I helped cater a wedding this weekend. It was a beautiful wedding.
I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in almost eight years.

My tiny corner of dessert prep was done in the back of a refrigerated rental truck. Slicing strawberries and bananas as thinly as I could with the motor vibrating against my shoulders and the condensation from the cooler dripping on my shirt every thirty seconds or so.

I jogged to my car, slipped off my chef’s coat into my nice shirt and adjusted my wrinkled tie. I was lucky enough to have a stunning wedding date this time around. She gave me a thumbs up, though I felt like a sausage packed into its casing. I’ve never been one to tuck in shirts, is all…

I drifted in and out of wedding land. Thinking about my desserts in the truck, hoping a server didn’t slip and crash into my 48 banana puddings and mini peanut butter pies. Then I watched my beautiful friend walk down the aisle of an old New Orleans church, built in the 1850’s.

The back of my shirt had come untucked. I’m used to it, being a tall oddly shaped guy.

Then came the message from a person I knew long ago as a pastor and friend.
He said all the right things and it was picture perfect. To be honest, who cares if I agreed or didn’t agree. It was what it needed to be.

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Only, it’s hard to sit at some weddings and not feel a little jaded from it. For some reason, marrying people allows you to talk about what’s right and pure and what’s wrong and damaged. Like divorce. Or that marriage is hard and challenging. Which it is.

When I tell people a bit about my life, I bring up the fact that I was married, and that I’m not married anymore. Usually the response is “I’m sorry, marriage is hard”. And I nod and swallow, somewhat bitterly. I move on, because I don’t have time or the want or the energy to walk them through why everyone and everything is so complex and different.

I find myself thinking, “Why do people even have to say anything?”
But they will. And you will listen and it will make your heart heavy again.
You will smile and the conversation will move on to work, babies, etc.

Weddings are fast and emotional and busy. It is a whirlwind of remembrance and newness. Perhaps it will flood your brain with memories of love lost. Whatever it is, you feel it.

At the end of the night, my wedding date had a glass of red wine spilled on her dress, and her phone stolen from the venue.

She also smiled and laughed. And we both had our choice words.

I watched people eat the desserts and dance in the aisle, and I imagined it such like a place in the cosmos. All sorts of energies colliding and creating. New life mixing with old.

The Second Line marched the wedding party out of the doors and into the streets.

I cleaned up my jars, packed them away in my car and drove back home.

Somewhere, somehow, I said, “This is all just feels so good. And I feel so lucky. It’s just the best.” Not about any specific happening or memory. But that time shifts and moves forward.

I think it’s because at the end of great sorrow, there is birth to something else. Something new and undiscovered. And that’s exciting and scary.

It’s coming and I feel it all, wrapped up inside my heart — like a bud — awaiting to open and invite in the Beloved.

For a moment. I feel wild and carefree,

and it is enough.

I am enough.

here and there.

I’m writing to you.

This person I’m so afraid of.
With so many breaths I find myself apologizing for my lack of commitment and the mess that other person left in my head. The mess I leave in my own space.

Sort of like moving out of a place, you can get the big parts up and out, and it looks like you’re making progress. But then you’re left with the tiny things. The rackets in the closet. The loose boards. The last picture you take off the wall to hide the hole you made, inevitably losing your safety deposit.

This is the stuff I’m still cleaning up.

I think about choices. I think about how devoted I am to a place, and I’m not convinced that I have what it takes to stay too long any one place. I am always thinking about something that involves me, traveling towards another horizon. Maybe that’s with you. Maybe it is opposite you.

This is my biggest choice.

I think that it might be one of my most life defining moments. What do I give up and when do I give up? What do I lose? Do I have to lose something to gain another? Why do I even have to word it that way?

I realize I’m using a lot of possessive pronouns here. It all sounds very selfish, and it is. I have that luxury right now. What it took to get me here, was its own hell, though. We’ve both been through our own hells and we are both seeking the heavens in our own little ways.

So, I can only indulge in what has given my heart so much peace. Time. Some days I feel like I’m wasting it and other days are full of the moments that make me believe that I am here for a reason. And maybe it’s like my coworker said one time, “Some folks are just meant to be background people.” I was a background person. But I was also very strong. I didn’t know it at the time. I still don’t quite know about this person I’m becoming.

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There is so much here.

And there is so much there.

Every day, I am torn between wanting you and wanting my craft. Knowing that obtaining both is so, so very hard. It is not something that I would want to put you through. The world that I work in is stressful and tough and demanding.

I think that it’s totally possible. I also think there are better people for the job. On both ends.

But, when I do think about you, this person, I melt. It doesn’t go to waste, like some tragic spill, but instead it absorbs into something else. Like butter into toast. That’s kinda how it feels.

I think about building a home with someone again. I feel hopeful and it makes my eyes water a bit. I know this to be true and something real. But right now, I dream. And I dream where I am. Mixed with where you are,

in hopes that someday,
they will meet.
and I know, inevitably,
they will.

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Big changes.

Big lessons.

Big moves.

These are the themes in my little swirling galaxy.
Currently, in my head, are a million different ways of doing a million different things.

I see faces and I hear their words.
pressure.

I think that’s what I feel most.
Not necessarily from these people, but what I put upon myself.

The pressure to be the best and make the best choices. Or at least to keep getting better. I know this in itself sounds troublesome to you. But in my line of work, if I wish to succeed and be better, I have to keep practicing.

This is a reason as to why I cook so often for my friends and why I push myself. I don’t have the luxury of a professional institute training me how to do things. I don’t know anything about business. I’ve taught myself everything.

So that pressure. It’s not always bad. It continues to push me beyond my own boundaries, where I know if I wanted to stay in my room all day, I could.

But I can’t. And I won’t.

This galaxy, that is swirling constantly, is pulling in and slinging out all sorts of jetsam and flotsam.
Daily, I am digesting new information and recycling ideas with each new day that I find myself staring into some oblivion, hoping to connect the dots at some point.

Like stars they are, floating in a great mystery. So many tiny dots — like bulbs lighting up the darkest of spaces.

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I am aware there’s a common theme to what I’ve been writing lately. A lot of “I don’t know what I’m doing and where I’m going”, and bits and pieces about food and how it relates to all of this.

I suppose that is what this time in my life is about. I know better than to act on a day thought. Sleeping on ideas and words are often better than me making a quick life decision. I realize that life is about failing too, and people keep saying that it’s okay to fail, but that also seems really stressful. Many of us are in this boat.

It’s a very large boat.

I will do as I always do. I’ll try my best to hold loosely to my loves. My friends. My family. Their lives will change. I will maybe fall in love. I might move away again. I can guarantee you food will still be very important. Nothing seems to be very permanent, except cheeseburgers.

But alas, I put my hope in much higher things than cheeseburgers.

I put it in today and tomorrow. In people. In feeding their bellies and watching them raise their kids.
I say thanks to it all, for the tiny galaxy that consumes and moves and transforms,

and the mystery we’re all floating towards.

sunday biscuits

Sunday is for being soft.

Well, it is a new luxury for me.
If you’re not a brunch cook on the line, or a waiter at Cracker Barrel on a Sunday afternoon.

But for me, Sunday has become a way to reconcile with my week.
It softens the edges of my trials and toils.
I reflect on my week and I gain courage to take on another one.

Today, like most days, is a day I allow myself to live in a lot of grace for my mistakes,
and for my bad attitude,
my hectic mind racing back and forth, seemingly between to entirely different states.

Yes, this is a luxury.

I picked up a jar of homemade fig and strawberry jam from the farmer’s market.

So, I made Sunday biscuits.

As I pulled them out, I observed how much they had risen and inhaled deeply the browning butter sizzling under the crispy, brown bottom.

It’s the small things, really.

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I set out a couple of eggs on my board and thought they looked beautiful.

Today, is the day I feed myself.

After spending my weeks cooking for the general public, I also cook for the people I hold a little closer, and I try to treat them like jewels. Because our weeks and months grow long, and they are also fast. I like to give myself to these treasures. I like them to slow down for a minute and listen to them speak from their hearts.

Maybe something wine induced, and maybe the smell of tomatoes and fresh bread helps, too.

Someone recently called me a healer.
No, I do not claim to have magical powers, nor can I own up to that term every day.

Only the idea is that all of our words and actions carry their own weight.
The weight I choose to put on my words and actions are heavy.
We are all capable of being healers.

I try, anyways, to not tear down people’s worlds. I will maybe try to pry a board loose, but I also know that it’s a delicate action, to restructure. To bend and not break.

Sunday is for healing.
It is for dusting off tools.
The ones that I use to breathe deeply from my belly when I feel as though I’m carrying a cannonball.

They are the tools that allow me to keep going, to keep recognizing my own strength and maybe, allow me to show you your own.

I know you are afraid of what you don’t know or understand. It makes you feel weak and defenseless. But that’s not you.
Recognizing your strength.
Pushing forward.
Embracing the gravity that works against your body.

Letting ideas and motions flow through you. Permeable. Osmosis-like.

That is all we can do, some days.

Sit down.

Cut some butter into flour.

Watch them rise and sizzle and brown.

Soft butter. Warm jam.

Pour a cup of coffee.

And feed yourself.

wobbly shelves.

I look down my tiny hallway to see my bookshelf, buckling under the pressure of heavy cookbooks.

All of my shelves are like this.

Hand me down furniture, mixed with a few new things.
I never knew I could get so attached to these odd bits.

I tell people often, when my car lost a tire on the side of a mountain in Colorado, I had to put all my belongings on the side of the road to retrieve my spare. It was a little humbling to see the things I cared so much about.

My pots and pans. Boxes full of cookbooks and an old writer’s shelf where I keep the things that will become my heirlooms.

I live a life that is hard to explain. Why I don’t want certain things or why I might put myself through certain trials, seen or unseen. The truth of the matter is that being alone makes those hard life things a little harder. Not having a person to bounce your thoughts off of, or maybe giggle at because they bumped their head on a wall while trying to understand.

I am an unusual person.

And it is as natural as breathing is to me.
Having to explain why I do things the way I do…or why I am obsessive about particular things is like having to explain why you do things a certain way that no one understands.

It is exhausting to be different people.

I was driving a few days ago and thought, “I wonder if it’s possible to be the same person to everyone…”
I figured it sounded ridiculous, but I thought about it a little more. It might be impossible to be one person unless you’d like to go about your life offending and alienating 30-40% of the world’s population. But we have to be different to different people. I’d like to, somehow, remain mostly me in the midst of it all.

We live in a world where you can’t just be one person. You have to be fierce to own a business and to lead. You have to be gentle and compassionate with those who need extra help. You have to be wise and loving and other worldly-patient with your children. You also have to grow more patient and understanding with your parents, if they are still with you. We grow older and imagine we have seen a thing or two which gives us some power over our lives. And it does. But also, if you value wisdom and age, and like me, are stubborn, it is important to let it in.

And your siblings? Well, I think you can be whoever you want to be with your siblings.

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I say all of this because these cookbooks and pots and pans, they mean a lot to me.

I look through them and remember who I was cooking for. Where I was. What it was for. I remember the conversation I had with her which made us both sit across from each other and talk about really difficult things.

I see another that I got for Christmas from my mom. Another from a friend who thought it reminded her of me.

They are more than references to a dish.

They are me, slowly becoming.

And they sit on my wobbly shelves, with stories to tell just as much as any ingredient or dish will allow them to spill.

Sometimes, I think about a stock reducing, becoming more concentrated and flavorful. I see life doing something similar. Things get added, things evaporate, and it gets stronger and stronger with a bit of time. Richer. More full of depth. And what it gets added to, makes it better.

I suddenly find myself thankful for everything, and everyone who makes my life what it is.

While I lean my head over the steam and breathe in deeply,
I see the lines on the side of the pot of where I used to be, to where I am now.

And this,
right here,
right now,
is who I’m supposed to be.

a southern year (in review)

I drive on Highway 49 when I go to visit my family outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

It’s a highway I’ve known my entire life.
There’s the boiled peanut man.
Well, there are a lot of boiled peanut men.
There are also a lot of sweet potato men.

Antique shops. Roadside flea markets. Mom and pop diners.

It occurred to me, while driving this stretch of road yesterday, that it’s been a year since I’ve moved back to Mississippi. I’m very nostalgic about dates like this. Not only has this year gone by fast, it’s also been a whirlwind.

I still don’t feel like I’ve caught up just yet.

I’m also still struggling with my sense of place.
It’s been a hard season for me.

I was lucky to have a few months off when I moved back.
My mom, nonchalantly placing $20 bills in my shoes before she left for the morning.

I struggled finding work in Jackson, so I moved back to Hattiesburg.
Still, I find myself a little wobbly, and a little out of sorts.
So many people I know have found their niche. Their people. Their lovers. Their pets. Their homes.

I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is I want. What a luxury.

I sense that I am so close to learning something about me and my life. I have doors open for me, and a lot of doors I feel I’m left knocking.

Not religious enough.
Not healthy enough.
Not social enough.
Not southern enough.

It is a needy feeling, sometimes in my belly. Some days, I connect deeply, and others, I still feel so homesick for that thing I used to have.

I’m really trying hard.

I’m working a lot, and I’m carrying a lot of weight.

I’m carrying my past, present and future. All of which, looks a lot like me trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

With that being said, I have felt so lucky to have all of this back.

What I lost, was tremendous.

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But coming back home, I gained something else.

My wild and precious community.

Who feed me.
Text me.
Employ me.
Pray for me.
Pull me in tightly.
And let me, by some miracle, into their lives.

It has been a wild, wacky year.
I broke a bone.
My roof caved in.
I started to build a home.
I forgot I knew how to sweat appropriately.
My dad got married.
My second nephew turned one and I got to feed him hotdogs.
I met a cat raccoon.
I got a bigger bed.
I planted flowers with my niece and nephew.
I started a tiny business and am excited and terrified.

Whew.

A few deep breaths, and I resonate with these words I have tattooed on my arm.

these things take time.
and I look in the mirror, with some weepy eyes, and proclaim:

yes!

surely,
they do.