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. 

holy ground.

“She say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
– Alice Walker, The Color Purple

I think there are a few truths that are certain.
That life is full of pain.
That life is full of joy.
And that life is really funny.

Certainly, you can file ‘funny’ under joy, but I believe that it is its own form of spirituality. I believe Anne Lamott says that laughter is a ‘bubbly effervescent form of holiness.’

You have to understand, that writing about pain is important. I think some folks imagine me sitting, all Poe like, hunched over a dark writing desk with a human skull as my muse.

In reality, I am only exploring the things that allow me to feel shitty.

A mean customer.
A drunken man.

Then there is a group of people beheading prisoners on a beach.
There’s another man testing nuclear missiles for fun.
There’s a woman on death row in Georgia who is close to a dear friend of mine.

Daily, I allow myself to take in the human condition. I hear people talk about money. People with six digits still stressing about the world and their things and I digress. Those are not my problems.

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Yes, I cook.
But I also empty trash cans and mop floors. I have plenty of time to think.

I chose to cook.

I choose to serve, and I keep choosing a life where my hands bleed and my bones ache.

I can’t help but to think these things are hilarious, too.
I laugh a lot.
A lot.

Probably at things I shouldn’t. Whatever that means.
But also at things that deserve a good belly laugh.
I think, if God does reside in the Heavens, they laugh often. And with their bellies.

I also know, that if God resides in the Heavens, they also cry.

I don’t believe you can measure any of this. Amounts of pain or joy. Considering they are building blocks of a day. When we’re not doing our jobs to help grow our businesses or make the places we are, better than they used to be.

Last night, I came home late from a catering job.
I’d say there was a lot of pain in yesterday. Both mental and physical. I wanted nothing more than to forget about it, but instead I came home, sank into my couch and decompressed. Granted, a few episodes of Parks and Rec and another late night wanderer made my world a little softer.

If there’s one thing, among many things that I know to be true, is that dignity covers our scrapes and bruises. It helps to wash away the ever-pressing job of being fully human in this wonderful and heartbreaking world.

At the end of the day, I resonate with those very first words from Alice. That what we are looking for, is each other.

Mother Teresa also said that we belong to each other. More so, that if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

So, I am ready.
To dissolve into you, because you are the face of God.

and for all I know, I’m always standing on holy ground.

balancing.

I love cooking so, so much.

In fact, I am defensive of my love for it. I guard it fiercely because it is one of my main love languages and I get to use it every day. It is how I get to love on you.

Unfortunately, I am in a season of doubt. I’m sure most industry people go through this. Some sooner than others who know this type of work truly isn’t for them. Personally, I am glad they find out sooner than later, because there’s nothing harder than watching someone burnt out clock in and clock out wishing they were somewhere else, doing something that makes them feel alive.

I am lucky, in that I found something that I love. I walk this balance beam, holding on to a lot of what I am. That big softy who wants nothing more than to live in Vermont in a cabin under a few maple trees. Perhaps submitting my award winning cheddar in the state fair. All of this, with a wonderful person who may, from time to time, spoil me with a back scratch. Maybe a kid. Maybe two. Probably an herb garden, because my mom thinks they’re fancy.

The other side of this balance beam is standing behind a stove (or anything hot, really) listening to my colleagues moan about a horrid customer or that they’re hungover or that they just burned a two inch line in their arm from the convection oven. The hot and brutal rush of making food and feeding people. The clean up. The decompression. Doing it all over again. It’s addicting. It’s fun. It’s hard. Hard. Hard work.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had numerous people (not directly) advise against opening their own place. There’s the stress on all accounts. The long hours. The constant worry about your business. The strain on relationships. The idea of business itself is a little overwhelming, and I realize one needs to be tough tough tough.

I’ve worked for chefs who inspire me to work harder and cleaner and other chefs who insult their own profession.

I work in an industry that is slowly gaining some sort of weight in our country. Less so, in a smaller Mississippi community. I do not live in an industry city. We are best described as a retirement community. A college town with a struggling downtown scene. One that I wish to invest in.

It has been so hard, as a person who loves to eat and to cook, to not have the things that brought me to cooking in the first place.

This, is the nitty gritty part.

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Being single, and closer to more friends and family has been so good for me. I’ve been taken care of so much and I’m also busier than ever. Which is weird. I don’t remember being too busy. I remember having a lot of time to learn how to cook. I suppose this is the hustle. In between the calm and the storm.

What I want to say, is that food will always be the way I take care of you.

Sure, I have my words. My eyes that struggle to make contact with yours.

I’m trying really f*cking hard to make eye contact. To stand straighter.

To talk louder. To not mumble so much.

I am Josh, the quiet kid who once upon a time, hid behind the legs of his mother and another time forgot his lines in the church play when he was eight, even though there were only three I had to remember.

I am also 6 foot 2 inches and carry a belly. I’m pretty bald and wear a brown beanie because my head gets so cold.

But in that kitchen,

I am present.

I dissolve, like salt in water.

Leaning slightly, wanting more color, more heat.

Tasting and observing the changing of water into air.

I can be both, I say deep in my belly. I have room for both.

Because I love to cook,

and it will always bring me closer to you.

posture.

I spent the latter part of this week wandering in my past.

I suppose when you’re around your family, all you have is the past. Who you used to be. Where you’ve been, and the ever-conflicting conversations about where you’re going. The same goes for the collective ‘they’.

It’s not anyone’s fault but my own that I think this way.

But I sat and processed a lot of ghosts. A lot of painful things and resounding conclusions that we are resilient and strong and capable.
I watched my dad pacing back and forth and reassured him that this was another adventure, not knowing quite where the road will end up, or how steep some days might seem. I feel as though this is what life is. A steady stream, moving you through God knows what.

Hopefully, at the end of the day, you have some peace and a full belly.

I look at my relatives who have seen and caused and worked through some traumatic things. I see us all as wounded. Not one of us here has been able to move through this thing unscathed — new people — new things — but their eyes are the same and I read that they are capable of seeing life a million different ways.

In all of this, I move in and out of my own past. I sit with that tired and heartbroken part of my body that is dying in its own way. I push my shoulders back, and I make more eye contact. A sign that all living things have the ability to open and close; add and take away. This is my season of standing taller, I say to myself. This is your body. Your eyes. Your scarred up arms and skinny legs. Use them. This is another way to show people you love them, to share with them your struggle of being wonderfully human.

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“Have you gotten taller?”

I hear that from people, these days.

Probably not.

Just my attempt at standing straighter, when possible.
Perhaps whenever it is that I’m leaning over the stove, and I feel the muscles in my lower back responding to this common motion, I think about adaptation and repetition. The parts of ourselves that grow stronger because it’s what we have to do. The lean. The constant pressure. Adjusting back into your frame.

Familiar motion.
Small moves.
Returning back into ourselves.

Maybe this is about posture.

How we hold ourselves up in all this gravity.

All I know, is that our stories aren’t fully written yet. That is both exciting and terrifying.
You will carry yourself and others toward the end, though.

And that is what I watched this week.

A family, carrying their own through another chapter. Another story.
Another adventure, with the past in its place, and the future moving forward,

standing straighter,

eyes wide open.

tiny worlds.

Okay. Okay. Wow. Hmm. Okay. It’s okay.

Those were my thoughts on a Monday morning.
Two of my best friends, terrified and excited and worried and exhausted.
Their details, I won’t share here, but the circumstances had me holding back tears on the line.

“I need sides on 48 and 12!” I would holler out to my buddy, also cooking on the line.

I would pace back and forth, heart beating and trying to keep it together.

After things settle, and my heart is more at ease, I start focusing on my week, getting things tucked back in, like tapping a stack of misaligned papers on a table.

Tuesday, Work and Ramen night. Visit friends in hospital.
Wednesday, Work and Cater Captain of Zeus party. 13 hour day.
Thursday, Work and Prep for private catering gig. 13 hour day.
Friday, Cater private gig. Clean. 10 hour day.
Saturday, Record day of lunches at work. Cook gumbo for Mardi Gras event. 12 hour day

More often than not, I would say to myself, “Okay dude, don’t freak out. It’s going to be okay.”

My friends, so heavy on my heart, and so many other hearts.

I did what I always do to clear my head.

Clean.

After my private catering gig, my kitchen was horrid. Tomato sauce splattered everywhere from rushing around in my tiny space. Pots and pans stacked and my oven was a mess. After visiting with my friend, I came home and put on some music. I steamed my windows with the heat from the water and washed dishes till my fingers were wrinkly.

I get my steel brush and scrub the tomato off of everything. I remove my burner tops and scrub scrub scrub. I scrub it all away. I tear up a lot. I take deep breaths.

On my knees, I’m scrubbing my floor with a towel, enjoying how easily the dirt just washes away.

I take out the trash, let out a sigh and turn off the light to my kitchen knowing I will be doing this exact same thing again in 24 hours. I am okay with that.

I don’t mind cooking for people. You have to know that deep down, they will not know how much work goes into the food you cook. How much you have to clean up afterwards and how serious you are about your craft.

It is, at the end of the day, about the table we all sit at. That place I write about so often where we sit and talk about hard things that make our necks tight with fear and also the place we fall in love again and again with the people we share our tiny worlds with.

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I think about the breath of a new baby, and its cries that are as natural as breathing. Cries that make you believe in God again and restore in you that there is something bigger that ties us together, even in the midst of small nightmares and restless nights.

The truth is, you never know when the world will crack beneath you. You live in the terrifying moments and exhausted moments as you would when waking up next to a warm body, while the rain taps against your windows.

We live in all the moments, and we breathe life into each others worlds.

We are all, like I always say, small galaxies, floating infinitely, capable of such deep love and pain and beauty,

Birthed from the bellies of our mothers, and the mothers before them,

breaking water. breaking bread.

discovering again and always, the sacred life of the Beloved.

enough.

January is just too long.

It’s a recovery month, I think. At least that’s the way I see it.
Everyone is adjusting to a new year, and regaining some composure after the blast of late year holidays.

I, however, am in the midst of some funky stuff.

When I was in counseling and seeing my doctor regularly, I was picking up tools to use. Granted, it would be nice to have that sort of thing here, but Mississippi lacks in what I would consider a more holistic style of healthcare. But the tools I did gain, keep me aware of my body processing the world.

What I ingest, both physically and emotionally, takes a huge toll. I keep that at the forefront.

The sad parts of my being are craving physical touch and connection. I’d say more of a longing than actual sad, sad. Though I think feeling sad is important. I think there’s plenty of poetry there, some marrow, and perhaps a bigger part of our life force.

Restlessness is something I feel.
As a person who is in constant thought of something bigger, I have a hard time adjusting to the slower seasons.

Lately, I’ve been learning to adjust to my own expectations. Of basically every damn thing.

My cooking. My attractions. My belly which has been eating a lot of carbohydrates (read: delicious things) the past week.

More so, my expectations of what falling in love looks like. I’m having a hard time separating the things I know of that kind of love. Granted, I am not in that season and don’t imagine it happening here any time soon, but what I have been noticing is my fear of intimacy.

I feel some fear in my belly. For losing someone again, even though I haven’t much made an effort to pursue. I am influenced heavily by the elements that surround me. I get knocked down a few pegs when I feel a little too confident and remember why it’s so good to be humble. I enjoy who I am. Truly.

I don’t own much. I don’t make much. I don’t need all that much.

I’m in the in-between, as far my spirituality goes. I crave that Great Mystery, but for some reason, I cannot grasp it. Like some pit I’m falling into, trying to grab hold and it’s just too slippery. I feel it may be my undoing some days.

Not God-fearing enough.
Not confident I am tough enough to handle this industry.
Fear of being an asshole, because I have asshole thoughts.

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I am a messy form of a human. I know we all are, at least I know that’s probably what you’re thinking. But I want my beliefs to be a bit more firm. I suppose seeing more of the world, and more of the worlds of people, I am swayed to believe that we are all floating forward towards the same sorta thing.

I float around not really conforming to this or that. I will not judge you for your lifestyle, as I hope you won’t judge me for eating a Christmas tree cake even though they are out of season. (Which, in my book, is never true.)

I can tell you that I love fried catfish, and a nice medium rare steak.

I love eating hash browns on Sunday with poached eggs and hot sauce.
I love being there for people.
I have a hard time taking without the weight of giving back.
When someone orders food when the kitchen closes in 10 minutes. Ugh.
(But really, it’s fine. Really.)

These things are true.

There is nothing I enjoy more than learning how to cook better. Hanging my head over a pot of kombu and dried shitakes, wondering, “Is this right??”

Maybe that’s the idea that I’ve known all along.

A longing of sorts, of tasting and nodding.
Adjusting,
Adding,
Taking away,
asking,

is this right?

I’m not quite sure.
But I’m always asking.
Always tasting.

And today, that is enough.

quiet

I seek refuge in the quiet.
I know that’s not easy to do these days.
I also know that it’s a luxury.

Outside of the window, as I write, is a wind blowing through the bare branches of the Natchez Trace. I remember when I first moved home, I would sleep with this window open. In the early morning I would awake to see deer and other early morning creatures ruffling around the fallen pine straw.

I thought of it as a gift.

Lately, this has been a theme. This morning I woke up and read an article about a Native American who spoke about his ancestors and their relationship to silence and space. How before they would speak, they would be silent as if not to waste any words on another’s behalf. When there was a loss of a presence or when there was conflict, a time of silence was taken. Not because there was a loss of something to say, but as a space to honor the other person, and yourself.

They would do the same while being in the wild — though they didn’t call it wild. They called it nature. Or at least their word for it. It was a harmony of sorts. When it became too cold, they would not get angry, but adapt to nature. They understood that it was a force they couldn’t change, and decided to move forward with the season, rather than revolt and create noise.

I think it is okay to feel overwhelmed with all the noise and distraction. Sometimes I assume I live a different lifestyle where I need a quiet space to reconnect, while others can move with all the noise so much easier. I realize kids have a lot to do with this, so I speak only on my particular plain.

But it is in the quiet that the world gets softer. My world calms and I am able to connect better with you.

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I read Christopher Kimball’s piece in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated about people living off the grid and being alone. I am aware of the differences of being lonely and being alone. He spoke about being content where you are. Whether a still pond deep in a wood, or with a cutting board at your waste, diving into a recipe.

I am okay with being alone. Very seldom do I actually feel lonely. I know loneliness is our greatest poverty here. Even with all the noise and distractions, this world, especially now, can be a very lonely place.

Over the years I’ve collected and dropped things. I’ve created a tiny life and I also gave it all away. I’ve seen heaven and I’ve felt a depth of hell with the pain of losing a person. Sometimes, the quiet has been my undoing. It is, like we always say, about balance.

So in this season, I am working hard to carve out a space for myself. I feel my world moving quickly, and I want to live in the quiet, as well as the noise. But also, I want to recognize my neighbor or the person working beside me. They deserve me as my best.

While they may question my intentional need for simplicity, and my unusual quiet and gentleness — I do it for me and I do it for them.

Because this space is sacred, as are my bones that resonate in this gift of a world.

And you?

you might as well be the face of God.

navigating the universe.

It is completely obvious that I’ve been in a different state of mind as of late.

I at least know my co-workers see it. My pacing back and forth in the kitchen. Staring off at the rack of spices, hopefully fooling them into thinking I’m working something out for a recipe.

In reality, I am moving through some tricky waters.

I feel excited and scared and scattered because I am entering new territory, even with all of my experience as an almost 30 year-old human being, I am starting to notice that maybe I’m just scratching the surface of a new horizon.
These things make me feel flustered. Is that right to say?

It’s hard to focus on the thing in front of me and I feel like I can’t perform as usual. When people try to ask me questions about my process in working through it, I have to just sort of shake my head. What a luxury it is to have options and ideas.

How terrifying is it to realize you are going to submerge yourself into a project that will direct the trajectory of the rest of your life? Sure, we can change whenever we want to. We can move. We can learn how to make a canoe out of a single piece of wood. Most likely, we will settle with what we know how to do best and let that guide the rest of our lives.

My generation is bad at this. I’m bad at this. We just have too many options and too many things we’d rather be doing.

My generation is also in this position where we’re creating a lot of our own jobs. Maybe it is a ‘rejecting what our parents did’ sort of thing, but also an economy thing. I drank the kool-aid. I am that statistic and I am navigating these new, open waters.

Granted, some days feel like I’m treading those open waters. I am taking on more water on certain days, while others I am sailing free and fast and straight.

Then maybe the sails die down. The water stills and I am left to think of what to do next. I am no stranger to this season. We are all aware that life is fast and slow, and right now it feels kind of fast. I love it and I am terrified of it but deep down in my belly I know this is where I’m supposed to be navigating.

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I realize I am being vague with you all as well.

But for those of you who, by the grace of something bigger, have kept up with me know that I have been through a lot the past year and a half.

I’ve had to slow down. I’ve had to pick up and leave. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cook anymore.

I’m here to tell you that I feel very alive and light. Though I am at times weighted a bit with these thoughts of mine, I am moving forward with the hope that my ceiling won’t collapse again or that I will not break another bone anytime soon.

I can’t make any promises of knowing where I’ll end up, but I’m looking forward to bringing y’all into this season of life and I feel so lucky to have this.

We are as infinite as we want to be.
I learn more and more each day this truth, that we are capable of wonderful tiny things that make up an entire universe.

And that everything,

everything,

is important.