Courage as Big as a Baby’s Finger

I’m about to throw down a metaphor here, and I’m going to ask you to go with me on this.

Newborn babies have tiny fingers, but on those tiny fingers they can have long fingernails. Shockingly long, in the case of my daughter, 11 plus years ago. Howards Hughes after a particularly lengthy shut-in long. It’s not the kind of thing you think about, but while they’re in utero, growing all that hair, and skin, they’re also growing nails, and there’s no in-utero elf to help keep things in check until they emerge and you can take over.

On the second night Dorothy was home, I trimmed her nails. I didn’t want to, but they were. So. Long. She was scratching me, but, worse that that, she was scratching herself. Each little finger, so small, not even the length of a matchstick, skinny, and plump at the same time. Each digit so delicate yet destructive, leaving little wounded dashes across her face when she moved around in her sleep.

I was at the second to last finger when I nicked her. The baby-ring finger. Nerves, and almost-relief at being done made me hasty. It happened in an instant. In the scheme of a life, it was a tiny thing, an itty-bitty wound. There was a fairy-size droplet of blood, and that was it. Teeny-tiny.

She howled the way you do when you experience pain, but have absolutely no relationship to cognizant thought. Harsh, brutal whailing, without remorse or pause. Because, yes, it was tiny, but, to be fair, it was the most pain she’d experienced in her life to that point, besides the being born itself that had just taken place.

I cried, too. Mine was more the lasting meek weepiness of my first true parental guilt compounded by my lack of sleep, and the fact I was still recovering from recently producing a person. Unlike baby-brain Dorothy, I could have all the thoughts, and did. She was calm, and feeling better long before I stopped leaking little tears of horror, and guilt. I had nicked my baby. What kind of human was I?

Well, 11-years-later-me has a grip and I can tell you: I was a human practicing good hygiene, for the first time, with her child. I was an anxious woman, too, afraid of getting it wrong. I was clumsy. And I was the onlyone available for the job.

Writing about Psalm 73 a couple days ago feels a lot like that to me. Important, necessary, and nerve-wracking, and all in my little world. There are small differences, you could argue. Children must have their nails trimmed, but you don’t have to write or write about God. or write and put it out in the world, on the internet. I mean, maybe?

But sometimes you do have to write about things. Some of us, it just bubbles, and bubbles, until you do something about it. At least for me this is true. I bet this applies to other people, too, about painting. Or photography Or, Lord help us all, running. A desire so deep it grows and grows until you Do. It. Or it makes you a little crazy. If you fight it, you can get weird, and unpleasant to be around, and, in my experience, eat cake out of the pan with a fork to calm down all the scary feelings that come up with this particular desire. (I’m guessing, runners don’t do the last thing. Personally, I couldn’t speak to that particular struggle.)

Dissecting that psalm happened so naturally. I read it, and, while I was still in the moment with the squirrel and the Word, I was writing it down. Afterwards, I think around mid-day the next day, I felt a little jolt, and a “what the HECK are you thinking?” voice in my head.

I’ve been following and loving Jesus for a hot minute now. That’s all I’ve got. I have zero Biblical training, or education. I don’t even have years of tuning out folks who have biblical training. Why in the world do I think I get to write about psalms, and speak into the Bible, and also was there an actual squirrel involved?

Except, I don’t know, I did it anyway. I didn’t want to cut Dorothy’s teeny-tiny nails, but I was the only person around equipped to do it. So often I don’t want to write, but I have all these writer-things in my head, and I’m the only person around equipped to get them out of me. Lately, so many of these writer-things are about Jesus, because, it turns out, He’s pretty much the ultimate hero, lover of all people, and butt-kicker of evil in the world, and all good things do come from Him (and see, right that was a scripture reference too, from Psalm 16, and I used it. Not. Afraid) and that’s what I’m thinking about and that’s what I like talking about.

This is my nudge-nudge post, to myself and anyone who might stumble across it, and needs a boost. The courage you need to do whatever that thing inside you is? It’s the same amount of courage you need to clip a baby’s fingernails. Don’t have one of those? How about clip a dog’s nails? (However, if you’re clipping a dog’s nails, I’ll be praying for you. Dogs are way worse than babies when they get cut, with their big, mournful, “I thought you loved me” dog eyes. Talk about giving some grief. Babies just get mad. Much simpler.) It’s the same amount of courage you needed to apply to that school, or send that text. There’s something in your life you’ve already done that took just a modicum of courage. You were the only one who could do it, and you did it, even when you didn’t think you were ready.

That’s it.

We- well, for clarity’s sake – I make it out to be So. Much. It’s been the be-all-end-all for me so long, to write actual words and then share them with people. Just as hard has been to look at other grown-up people I’ve known for some time now, and say, “I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. Did I not mention that…?” Taking the writing and Jesus and putting them into one blog? Hold onto your bobby socks.

And honestly, I’m just wearing myself out with it. The hubbub’s finally become more tiring than the just saying it already.

Dorothy, as an 11 year old, isn’t like that. She gets an idea for a story, and says, “Where’s a pen? Mommy, I’ll narrate, and you write. I might make this a series, if I decide to publish.”

Does that sound like you? This post’s not for you.

But we aren’t all like Dorothy. For y’all who take after my side of the family, and find a small blog on the world wide webs intimidating or whatever your version of that may be, I’m saying – we can do it. We can dig in a little, and do that tiny/gargantuan thing that’s wanting so badly to be done. Go past the point of believing it to be optional and make it necessary. Eleven years ago, I had to clip those baby nails. Three days ago, I had to write about Psalm 73 and what it was speaking into my life. Plus, most of us know, if we don’t follow where we’re called, then we’re led to no-good. Scratched up baby faces, and sheet pans of cake. With a fork.

Baby nails, blogs, local art contests, singing at karaoke night, whatever you might be facing down – this is important to your particular piece of beautiful life here on our beautiful earth. Possibly small, maybe inconsequential, and definitely crucial to you. What more do you need to know to go for it? Get the clippers, and hold that baby’s hand. If you draw blood, it’s going to be OK. You’re going to make it. And then you’re going to look around and say, “Look what I just did!” Because you got a little piece of courage going, and because you knew it needed to be done, and most importantly, because you were the one single person equipped to do just that thing.

Well done, you.

Any small, but momentous jumps you’ve made lately, you’d be willing to share? Post below! We’d love to hear them.

Friday Finds

I wanted to do a little post here of what I’m enjoying right now. Yay for life’s little pleasures!

Sandra McCracken performing Thy Mercy, My God feels like being cocooned in cool temperatures, rainy days, and crackling fires. With Advent right around the corner, Sandra McCracken is coming on strong on my Spotify playlists right now.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved poked me a few different times. A few writers I like post it on Instagram; its name gets dropped in a podcast I enjoy; I see a blurb about it on Goodreads. Do I pick it up? Yep, just months later. I paid attention, though, and got a-holt of the audiobook, read by the author Kate Bowler. Somehow I breathed my way through it. This memoir of Kate living with Stage-4 cancer, in her 30s with a husband and young son, took a lot of breathing, some deep belly laughs, and a pinch of gaspy crying. Life is precious and unpredictable; God is good and inexplicable. These messages wove in and out of this book, and throughout me as well. It hurt to listen to, and I didn’t want to stop at the same time- that’s writer magic there. What a beautiful, bittersweet gift this book is. Bonus points – Kate Bowler hosts a podcast by the same name as her book, and It. Is. Lovely. Real, honest, funny, tender, and not too long. Perfect combination for a podcast.

Joining the group hope*writers has shown me so many blog happenings in the world. Reading through a selection today, I especially enjoyed the story told here by Andrea Wolloff of the deep meaning of the work we’re all doing.

What are you enjoying these days? Bring your books, your podcasts, and your favored music, too. All are welcome here!

A Squirrel and a Psalm

This afternoon, a squirrel tried to run me off. If someone asked what I anticipated, when the morning got started, I wouldn’t have predicted a weird stand-off with a squirrel about, of all things, a nut.

I was already tender when it happened. After the morning I’d had, I headed out to the yard, seizing the thirty free minutes I had, to take my Bible, my journal, and a couple fat squares of dark chocolate outside. Here, I threw myself down in the yard, surly-toddler style, turned my face to the sun, and prayed that God do something now rather than later, as in this minute would be fine, and just change my life. Just on this one issue, around my most precious person, my daughter, ‘K, thanks.

Here’s what I know after living with myself for 39 years: this thinking of mine wouldn’t get better if left up to me. Because how often, when squeezed, as I had been squeezed that day, do we actively and practically take up good thinking? How often do we take our negative downward spiral and make healthy choices to shake it off? You might be an expert at this. I can raise my hand only if you call mindless ‘hearting’ while scrolling through Instagram healthy? No? Me neither.

Well, not today, Satan. Today, I would change my mood through real, actual, practical action: Bible reading. Please change these mad thoughts, Lord, through your Holy Word.

But first, this squirrel.

There was a click-click-click happening. That’s what got my attention. I unscrewed an eyeball, and looked up. Above my head, two-thirds of the way up a tree (it’s a tall one, with nuts, couldn’t tell you what kind, please don’t ask me to describe) was a squirrel, aimed head-first for the ground. He (I have assumed) held a nut between his two front paws, his back claws gripping the bark for Christmas, and he was performing a sort of undulation. A dance almost. And he was clicking at me.

This was only my second jaunt outside, the first one, a walk I had taken earlier with my daughter, before getting her to school. My anxiety today was high, the result of a long, stressful morning navigating a doctor’s wellness visit and some unforeseen struggles. None of the struggles were because of Dorothy, but they were all around Dorothy, and she wasn’t immune to them. By the time I dropped her at school, came home, and got myself outside a second time, I was angry. Fist-shakingly angry. Yelling to a friend over the phone angry. Tender-cry angry. This was our time, it’s precious, and we were losing it to uncontrollable circumstances that I could not circumnavigate, no matter how hard I tried.

By the time I went outside, that Bible in one hand, and chocolate in the other, it was clear, only God was getting me out of this one. I was alone, I was away from all distractions; it was time to pray, and be changed. Except this dum-dum squirrel, with his tiny little nut, and almost profane tree-dance, hanging over my head. He was clicking something fierce.

I’m not an “ooo, nature, trees, animals” type person. Even with working outdoors, and being a lifelong dog-owner, I have none of those commune-with-the-critters feels. You do you, I’ll do me, all us Sixth Day Creations. It’s cool.

This squirrel was not having it. “I don’t want your nut,” I called up to him. “Stop stressing.”

He kept clicking.

I opened my Bible.

Going to my Bible is new for me. I haven’t written much about it here, and now’s not the blog. Believe me when I say, I’m a new believer. Yet even I’ve heard of opening, at random, the Bible and seeing what the Word has to tell you, and so I do it. Sometimes, I find great wisdom. And sometimes I open to 1 Kings, where Solomon’s rhapsodizing over the cubits of this temple he’s building.

Today I made a safer bet, and went for the Psalms.

What Psalm, Lord?

Psalm 73, A Psalm of Asaph, Christian Standard Bible

Alright then, Lord.

I read aloud. To myself. And, I guess, the squirrel.

For I envied the arrogant;

I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

73: 3

You have my attention, God. (click-click-click)

They are always at ease,

and they increase their wealth.

73: 12

Still with You. (click-click-click)

Did I purify my heart

and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?

For I am afflicted all day long

and punished every morning.

73: 13-14

OK, Brother Asaph here needs to stop reading my mail. I see why this psalm, Lord. Thank You.

But, please, continue. (click-click-click)

When I tried to understand all this it seemed hopeless

until I entered God’s sanctuary.

Then I understood their destiny.

73:16

Here’s where it gets good. Well, here’s where it makes my vindictive little heart happy. This is the place where Asaph reminds us, God’s not resting on His laurels, admiring His creation, while evil runs amok. Yep, evil’s there. But look, God is on this. There’s language about putting these bad’uns in slippery places, letting them fall to ruin. The word “despise” might be used, and I don’t know about you, but I do not want God and despise joined together against me. You don’t win that one, friend.

Yes, yes, YES, I thought.

When I became embittered

and my innermost being was wounded,

I was stupid and didn’t understand;

I was an unthinking animal toward you.

73: 21-23

Wait a second. What? Let me just pause here. But, what about those bad guys, God? Because I was picking up everything You were putting down.

Except, here we are, and Asaph has brought us to this. Embittered. Wounded. Stupid.

I was an unthinking animal toward you.

I realized the clicking had stopped, and I looked up.

The squirrel had dropped his nut. He was still there, in exactly the same spot, still doing his squirrel dance. But that nut, the one he was guarding so ferociously from me, the one that caused him to freeze on the tree, and do his snake dance of squirrel terror? He’d dropped it.

That squirrel was so busy guarding his nut, he lost it.

It’s such a thin line. It’s a delicate dance, and not of the squirrel variety. Becoming so protective. Protection veering into angry. Angry turning to bitter. You have this nut, you want this nut, to have, and to enjoy it, it is all you see, keeping this nut. And then you lose your nut, and what was the point in the first place?

If I spend so much time trying to protect our time, and guard my kiddo, am I losing the actual right here and now we have? Did I drop the nut?

At least, I need to be aware, it could happen. Bitterness poisons and leads to nowhere fast. Days like today have happened, and are happening, and might keep happening. Yet the point of this, always, is Dorothy. The gift is the present moment we have.

Maybe my dance is of the squirrel variety.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that God put a squirrel in a tree, protecting a nut, and this Psalm in my hand at this exact moment, to paint some Holy reminder to enjoy what I have with Dorothy and not let anger, bitterness, or fear eat me up. At least, I’m not sure if I believe that or not.

What is clear is Asaph wrote a song that applied to him, and applies to me, too. And maybe it’s applied to you, in your life? And it’s certainly arresting to read I was an unthinking animal toward You, God, only moments before watching an unthinking animal suffer an accident that I expect he regretted for at least a few moments, before his squirrel brain took off on a new tangent.

It’s hard, and dark, this place. Unthinking animal, who doesn’t understand, and slides into bitterness. This Psalm is hurting my mouth to read.

But.

Before we give ourselves up to being as lost and hopeless as that poor, foolish squirrel, there’s this:

Yet I am always with you,

You hold my right hand.

73: 22

Even as I write this here, I’m smiling. Because you see what happens? Asaph reminds himself, and us, we’re always with God. More importantly, Big-H He’s always with little-u us. I mean who holds hands with an unthinking animal? Oh, right, that All-Knowing, All-Loving, Most Merciful God. That’s who. Who doesn’t leave His children to fall? Yes, correct, God. That’s Who.

Psalm 73 ends brightly.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart,

my portion forever.

Those far from you

will certainly perish;

you destroy all who are

unfaithful to you.

But as for me, God’s presence is my good.

73: 26-27

I like how we get one more reminder that the wicked are coming to a bad end. Still, even here, the love of God outweighs the vengeance. Asaph reminds us of who we are, and who God is. So I consider today’s post my thank you and love note to God. For that dum-dum squirrel and Psalm 73. And I’ll finish with the last verse, the work we’re all here to do:

But as for me, God’s presence is my good.

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

so I can tell about all you do.

73: 28

He’s got it together, this Asaph. What good fortune I turned to this Psalm. Dorothy, who I love, would call it a God-wink. Click-click-click. Wink-wink-wink.

Have any God-winks of your own to share? Please do. They’re such an encouragement to all of us.

Parent Fail: Dinnertime

Our lives are busy. My husband owns and runs a small market garden (have I mentioned that once or a dozen times? ) about forty minutes away from our home. I work with him, and average close to 40 ours a week, about 8 to 10 hours less than he does. My daughter, Dorothy, goes to school about ten minutes from the house, and she does her own full day. Five days a week and half of Saturday, during farmers’ market season, we’re busy, in a variety of combinations – sometimes all three of us, at markets, at the farm, and sometimes split apart from each other.

Dorothy’s at that age, late elementary school, where she has lots to say,
sprinkled with plenty of opinions. Add to that a deep creative nature, and a
love for starting projects (maybe not finishing projects, but definitely
starting projects), and this is a kid who can always find something for us to
do. This ranges from walks in the neighborhood, to writing books together (both short and long fiction), to reading together. Somewhere in that, we sandwich in real life living – like making lunches, and getting bedtime showers – for good measure and good hygiene. She’s still allowing me to put her to bed, and while I’m TOAST by 8pm (Tired, Overwhelmed, And Sleepy, Thanks), I’m not letting go of bedtime until she kicks me out.

The last special ingredient thrown into the busy mix? Shared custody. This is the hardest piece. As if childhood doesn’t speed away of its own accord, her dad and I share our time with her, so she’s not always home with me. Losing time with your child, whether through custody, demanding work, unusual living situations, whatever the reason, focuses a bright, lone spotlight on the time you have. Don’t miss it, the spotlight reminds you. This is what you have, right here. We gave you this circle to highlight it. Don’t wander off. Don’t lose it.

When work and school are done, we live our time together intensely, together constantly throughout the afternoon and evening. By the time I’ve made dinner, my brain needs a little quiet. Dorothy’s brain needs a little quiet. And as Jim, the newest member of our team, gets accustomed to the constant-chatting around here, he definitely needs quiet.

This is how we (I’m about to admit this on the actual internet) end up eating dinner, as a family, in front of the television most nights.

Yep.

We have one TV in our home, in our living room, and honestly, we don’t watch much beyond this forty-two minutes each evening. But at dinner, as the exhaustion of the day settles over all of us, the words slow down, and we move a little carelessly, TV-dinner begins.

We put a picnic blanket on the ottoman (“setting the table”), send one person out to guard the food from the dogs, and then the other two run back and forth bringing out all three plates, plus drinks, silverware, napkins, the whole shebang.

I want to be embarrassed about this dinner situation, but I’m not. Well, I’m a little embarrassed. But not enough to stop.

I don’t want to be embarrassed anymore. It’s not a family around the dinner table, sharing their stories about the day, relaying what was a “glad” and a “sad.” Y’all, we did all that. Earlier. On the drive home. On the thirty minute walk. While making dinner. While taking dogs out, organizing lunches, changing into pajamas. We’ll do it more, during bedtime. Now we just want to eat our dinner while laughing about these here spies. Let us live.

My job, I’m realizing, is to embrace it. When we look back, we’ll say – well, honestly, I have no idea. I hope its good. What I believe is happening and what will prove to be the truth for Dorothy, Jim, or myself is still a mystery.
Right now, I know it feels fun. It feels connected, and sweet, with lots of silliness and lively conversation (“would you think it was a good idea to walk out on that tiny platform hanging a thousand feet above the sidewalk? No, I did not think so.”).

When I live in the world of what I think this family-life we’re making is supposed to look like, I feel like such a flop. When I relax into how it feels to me, and the way the two people I love most are responding- I think, thank you God, for all Your many blessings. Or in the world of hashtags: #crushingit.

So this eating on the sofa, watching a silly, big-hearted TV show from a
decade ago, all of us snuggled up together? I am A-OK with it. I’m not making peace, but opening my arms, and bear-hugging it. Thank you for the fact, my 11-year-old, my new husband, and I are all enjoying one another so well like this. Help me, Lord, to let go of the (made up, in my head, perceived) opinions of others, and just be in this sweet, sweet spot. Help me see what I have. Help me find rest and recovery with these two, these dogs (who are terrible ruckus unto themselves) and this funny, thoughtful, underrated spy show. And I’m reminding myself, let us live, girl.

Am I alone in this? Do you have a family fail that still totally or mostly works for you and yours? I’d love to hear what they are below. 

Whatcha Reading?

Does what people read tell you about who they are? I did a trip to the library today, and came home with a stack of 5. (I’m nothing if not overly optimistic when it comes to reading.) Looking at this stack on my bed, I think, I don’t know if they tell you who I am now, but they sure do speak to who I want to be.

Going from left to right (almost said left to write! could you have forgiven me if I did?), here’s what my books are telling me about who I want to be.

Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey finally came in! I want to love you, God, AND I want to understand this here Bible. It is so beautiful, and it is still mostly a mystery to me. To be fair to the Bible, I’m the newest of new believers. As in, the last few years, has been my walk to and with God. There was nothing before that. Nada. So this struggle of women and their place in the Bible? I do not know this. I believe it exists. I’m just not familiar enough with it yet. Enter Ms. Bessey. I’ve got the book- GO.

Stephen King showed up, and not because of Halloween. I’ve read, from writers I admire, his On Writing simply can’t be missed. Ever. So here he is, as I’m someone who has more than a passing entrance in stringing words together. Isn’t it a lovely thing that writers who have exceled in their fields take time and energy to share how that works? Teaching the folks who want to rise up and be like them. It’s inexplicably generous, basically saying to the world, alright then, new writers, I’m going to give you a leg up, by sharing what’s been easy and what’s been hard, what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t. Mentoring through books is not required, or expected, just a big gift.

Company of One by Paul Jarvis was suggested in The Art of Simple Podcast. The second piece of the title is: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business. So this is me, as part of a small business, who wants to work smarter, not harder. The idea of staying small in our farm business, but still doing the service I believe we’re called to, and making an income for our family at the same time is the desire of my heart. But it is hard. Business acumen and savvy are not acquaintances of mine. I mean, we wouldn’t even wave if we passed each other at the farmer’s market. That’s how little we know each other. This is the book I most hesitate to read, and so probably need the most. The fact a writer I find accessible recommends it takes a little of the pressure off.

Listen to a podcast, and take two book recommendations from it? Yes, please. Tsh Oxendrider’s At Home in the World has been on my list for a hot minute, but after her last podcast, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. As someone who’d take a pillow from my bed with her into everyday life if I could, the call of travel hasn’t ever been mine. Yet. I love reading about people on travel! How’s that for vicarious living?

Finally, and especially pertaining to this blog, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith is a second must-read recommendation for anyone doing this kind of memoir-style writing (hi! I am living my life out loud on the internets! Might it benefit you if I had a little training at that?). Full disclosure: I saw the size, a light, delightfully small paperback and did a mental fist pump. Yes! Doable. I am going to crush this memoir-blogging. Y’all. The type is tiny. And there’s no pictures. So this might be a minute too.

However, sigh. I am sighing over this. Right now, I’m under three warm blankets (winter came to East Tennessee! I mean, sure, we didn’t get fall, but, eh, 3 out of 4 seasons ain’t bad, amma I right?), with all these books spread out in front of me, and there’s sweet potatoes in the oven, and a few minutes to write, and my heart feels filled up right now. Books do that for a lot of us. They’re hope and promise and stories and information we don’t yet have and worlds we might not ever see and yet experiences we relate to and they are good. Writers are doing meaningful work in this world. Yay and hallelujah for the writers. They’re good people.

Like a Chef

Our farm to table dinner went down like a house on fire. I don’t know if that’s actually possible? But that feeling- house on fire + it’s going down = exactly what this dinner felt like.

Our guests left fat and happy, a salute to what is delicious about Southern eating, with a flourish of modern and sassy.

The sunny, 72 degrees weather created an ideal environment for time outside, dropping slowly into the low 60s. This was not so cool as to freeze people, but just cool enough to encourage them on their merry way as the night wound down. Because we were tired and feet were sore.

The ambience was lovely, and I can say it myself because I was nothing to do with it. Leah made it beautiful. A dear and beloved friend from church, Leah is the person you hand yards of burlap, some twinkle lights in jars, some autumnal gourds, and a bit of raffia and ask, “could you help? Please?” And then beautiful things happen.

I’m setting a stage for you now, with the people, the food, the weather, and the décor, but it’s not the stage you might expect. I’m not going to talk to you about hosting, or cooking, or farming, or any combination of these things. I want to talk to you about Chef Jessica. Because Jessica was the only unknown factor in this equation for a truly beautiful evening and Jessica rocked it.

Here’s how we got Jessica. Jim (my farmer) and I planned this second farm to table dinner months ago. We set the date, checked with the chef we hoped would come back, and set to close the outdoors tents for that time. We worked with our chef to start a menu, with a general plan of what we’d have planted. Our chef considered what cut of beef, and decided: ribs. We sorted out cows to get to the butcher, and organized setting aside enough ribs for a dinner of forty. Time, effort, and careful consideration went into this meal. We literally spent more time planning this dinner than we did our wedding reception.

A week ago Monday, our sweet, sweet chef sent us a surprising, and sad text. A dear family friend had passed unexpectedly. Try as he might, our guy could not help his friend’s grieving family, and give his all to our meal. Something had to give, and because he’s got his priorities in order, it was our dinner. He gave us optional dates, and he also included, “or I could ask Jessica to step in?”

Chef Jessica we knew too. Jessica was his sous chef for our first dinner. Jessica is a former farmer, who just this year started her food truck, Sister South Foods, and is taking Southern food to a new level with her PB&J (pork belly and jelly) and her pimento grilled cheeses. When she sous-ed (is that a thing?) our first dinner, they were one well-oiled machine working seamlessly to make a feast for our guests.

We wanted to work with out chef. He’s an amazing person and incredibly skilled. Also, and not incidentally, we had sold out this dinner. We had actually over-sold out this dinner, going 6 tickets over our initial limit. Canceling on that many folks, and tossing up that hail Mary they could reschedule for 3 weeks from now didn’t seem risky, so much as throwing money back at them.

I messaged Jessica and her response was, along the lines of, yep, I just talked to your chef, he told me what was up, do you want to give me a call?

The next line: “But yeah I’m up for it!”

That was that. On Monday afternoon we were down one chef for our 50-person farm-to-table dinner happening that following Sunday. Monday evening, we were back up to one chef. Tuesday morning Jessica, Jim, and I did a 15 minute phone call, running through the basics: what we were growing, the meat we planned, head count, time frame, all of it. We hung up, Jim and I whipped up a quick list of vegetables, fruit, meats, and other farm products we had, shot that to her, and by that night she had us a menu.

It’s exactly the menu Jessica cooked, y’all. She and her calm and collected helper, Aaron, drove out to the farm Thursday, getting a lay of the land, and masses of beef ribs to take back to Knoxville to prep. There were some texts flying back and forth, jokes about Fred Flintstone size rib bones, possible use of a table saw, and a few actual plans made regarding delivery of items she still needed, mostly more ribs.

Sunday Jessica and Aaron were at the farm by 11am. At 5pm, guests were arriving, and they were plating appetizers. Dinner kicked off at 6pm, and Away. We. Went.

The food left them groaning. It left them smiling. It left them asking for to-go boxes, and asking was that ok to ask for in the first place? Jessica came out, to much applause and fanfare. That was a lady smiling and possibly a little teary. In a week’s time she pulled together an astonishing meal for about 50 people and it was, basically, flawless.

At the end of the night, when she and I were exchanging heartfelt thanks and gratitude to one another, she said, “Can I tell you something? I didn’t want to say this before but, until tonight, I’d never cooked ribs in my life.”

That is what I want to share tonight. Until that night Jessica had never cooked ribs before. She went from having cooked no ribs to cooking 90 lbs of ribs for a paying audience. . . in one evening.

What is the word for that? Plucky? That doesn’t cover it. Gutsy? Fearless? Heroic?

Here’s my thought: Jessica was scared, and she did it anyway. She had never done this before – this one particular thing, and it was a BIG particular thing. We’re a beef and vegetables farm. We’re showcasing our vegetables, but we are a beef farm in the south and people are coming for their meat. The dinner hinged on the meat.

She’d never done this, but she had done all these other things. She’d worked on a farm, and run her own farm, and CSA, she’d worked for some strong chefs, and this year she started her food truck. There was a whole bag of her tricks, and skills she could lean into. When we asked, a week out, if she’d like to run this 50-person farm-to-table dinner, oh and here are these ribs you’ll be cooking, Jessica said: I’m up for it! Like. A. Boss.

If you could do with a little encouragement this week, I’d ask you to think about Jessica, who was plucky, gutsy, fearless, and, certainly to our stranded selves, completely heroic. If the ingredients are new, and the stakes are high, could you be up for it? Considering the skills you have, the lessons you’ve learned, the life you’ve lived, is it possible this stretch isn’t the impossible stretch you see it to be?

I’ve hesitated and held back so often in my life. For me, it’s taken age, and the passage of time to be bolder. Perhaps, though I’ve not thought about it until now, it’s also taken developing my own bag of tricks, and skills to believe: I’m up for it.

So often, I’ve lived as though I can’t start this new thing, until I’ve already done this new thing. It sounds like something from Lewis Carroll that the Mad Hatter might have riddled at Alice. I hope today, you’re starting the new thing exactly where you are, with exactly what you have. You can be up for it. You can take on those ribs. We all can. They’re just ribs. They’re a part of the meal, but they’re not the feast. I’m hoping for you today, if you’re feeling frozen, or stuck, or intimidated by a new opportunity, you decide you’re up for it. Like a chef.

Delicious, Beautiful

Pictured below is the beginning of our second farm-to-table dinner. In the last seven months, I’ve become a farmer-ish, cooker-ish, host-ish person in the last few months. I’ve been a mother, and in only the last week I’ve added wife to those titles. Looking at this photo, I wonder: does that look like much? I read those titles and ask: does that sound like much?

However, when it’s getting dark, and all the tables are set with locally grown tiny orange pumpkins, autumnal-colored gourds the size of your hand, and clean white plates, with twinkle-lights everywhere, and a cool breeze in the air, I hope, I hope, I hope this will be something magical. Simple, seasonal, magical.

In the same way, I want to believe that all those titles, of farming, cooking, hosting, mothering, marriage, and then some – they’re all adding up. They’re more than the sum of their parts. They’re life experience, and life skills. It’s a life, not a job, a concept my new husband constantly reminds me of. This is a concept that I badly want to get my brain and heart around.

Because in this making it up as I go along, pulling it together, with some farming, and some cooking, and some markets, and some dinners, while being a mother, and being, now, a new wife, I’m attempting to build a life of everyday meaning, every day.

I want to give our farm-to-table diners a delicious, beautiful experience. I hope they walk into this big, canopied tent, and all the little parts, the gourds, the lights, the plates, the food: I hope it adds up to something magical for them.

I want to give my family, and myself a delicious, beautiful life. Because it turns out, walking into this big tent of life, this is what lies at the bottom of my heart. A life with my daughter, a life with my husband, a life with my friends, and my parents, a life with our church. A life under God, casting my eyes to everything around me, the cobbled together jobs, the every moment seized with kiddo, the high fives and kisses with the man I married, looking to all these faces I see and love, and saying, “Wow. You give us all this. Delicious. Beautiful.” It doesn’t look like much in pieces and parts, but standing back, with a little distance, it can be magical.

It’s what we’ve got, and it’s enough. I’m hoping you’re able to stand back today, friend, with a little distance, and see all of it, all of these titles and jobs you carry and do, adding up to something delicious. Something beautiful.

How much is that sugar?

Things I googled today:

What is price of 4 lb. bag of sugar?

How to boil alcohol out of jelly?

How much is in a packet of yeast?

It’s a new day. My lovely, safe, former job is over. I gave my notice a little more than two weeks ago. I then froze up, and mostly went through the next fourteen days breathing hard through my nose, and pretending I was a light-hearted person who finds adventure whimsical and exciting. By not writing here or posting on social media, or by speaking to only a handful of friends about it, I mostly pretended like this wasn’t happening.

Here’s the thing: that first step is scary. It just is. It didn’t matter how many days I spent at my previous job, wishing badly, I could be at this new job, doing this new work. It didn’t matter that I could be grumpy with my delightful co-workers, resentful of them for not being the farm, the kitchen, my man. It doesn’t matter there’s a relatively solid platform in place, regarding pay and work distribution, to rely on. It’s just scary.

Two days into my new job, Kitchen Manager, and I’m finally talking about it. As if, now that I’m two days out of my old job and two days into my new job, that’s when it’s official. IT IS THE WEIRDEST THING. Four days ago, I was this. Today, I am this.

It took such small steps to make such big actions. “I need to turn in my notice.” A sheet of paper, with a few sentences, a signature, a date, and a sad smile and it was done. I still haven’t social media-ed about it. My fiancé did, today. He wrote a lovely post, with shots of me working in this kitchen, that’s still not fully equipped, looking almost professional. I’m still not ready. And yet, the universal reality: once it’s on social media, it must be true. It must be real. It must be irreversible.

Today was the first day I did real work in the kitchen. We’re still waiting to be inspected and we’re still gathering all our supplies. Today was a makeshift day, using cooking utensils from both houses. An extra measuring cup from my house, a skillet, and two pots I no longer need. From his, a big plastic spoon for stirring, a silicon baking tray, a wonky little pairing knife, and a set of big silver mixing bowls. From both of us canning lids and 1/2 pint glasses, all sterilized within an inch of their existence in the kitchen’s fancy pants dishwasher.

He gave me the go-ahead: “You’re the boss; I’m just here to help.” We got to playing around. Bread and jam, in this case, English Muffin Bread (my mom’s recipe, a classic) and wine jelly, a new thing for us, but, frankly, amazing. We’re working on what we already have, me, a solid breakfast bread recipe, him, a sister who owns and operates a small winery there on the farm. Whatever my panic and hesitation, we have some real assets on our side.

This was Day 2. Writing about Day 1 might have been dull. Paperwork, emails, and lots of focused breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Today was different. Real, physical work made this tangible. Those small steps led to this. I’m still operating with panic in my belly, but I’m working through it. And now I’m writing about it. Now it’s on the internets. It must be real. So here’s my prayer and my decision: it’s done, walk forward. Eyes on the road, not the rearview mirror.

Bread, bread everywhere, and not a bite to eat

Oh, y’all, it’s on. I have all these:

With more coming in. Thank you, Lord, for my local library.

This new life leap includes a baking element. Now, here’s an interesting fact about my baking bread to sell, for this small, commercial kitchen, on this family-run farm: I don’t, in fact, eat bread. I actually kicked the bread habit almost 9 years ago. It took effort and practice and cultivating discipline and- ugh- will power. And it happened. I stopped eating bread when my daughter was about a year and a half and after falling off and on the bread wagon over a year or so, I stopped entirely.

Flash forward to now. Professional baker is about to be added to my working title. Oh me, oh my.

This is a terrible time to have will power.

In some ways, it’s a gift. It’s an odd situation, choosing not to do a thing, while desperately missing the practice of making it. Shortly before I quit bread, I wanted to bake and bake well. I tried, made a few runs at it, but then – what do you know- I decided bread and I weren’t friends and gave it up.

I have a wishy-washy stand on bread. I will not say: Bread is bad for everybody. Boo, hiss, bread. I don’t eat bread and, in large part, that’s due to the fact, I don’t have self-control around bread. If one piece of bread is good, a half loaf is better. And that’s just lunch. No one wins in this scenario.

I feel better not eating bread. I noticed I would go a bit without bread, be tempted, and eat some (good stuff, by the way, I wasn’t chowing down on Sunbeam white, but stick a crunchy crusty loaf with a soft, light crumb in front of me and yes please, where’s the lady sticking her hand in the air emoji right now?). My belly would feel off, sort of overly full and bloated. Charming, yes? However, was that the bread? Or eating too much bread? I can’t say and I don’t remember. Hand to God (lady emoji again).

What feels true is: I overeat bread and that makes me unhealthy. It means I eat too much and skip the foods that serve me – howdy, vegetables! -in exchange for flour and butter. Giving up bread was the best choice for me.

I don’t love being gluten-free, mostly because I feel awkward explaining it to people. Folks rush to modify their beautifully made dinners or hurry to apologize for not anticipating this eating quirk. Usually, I bring something I know I can eat (a big salad, or cabbage slaw) and try to say as little about it as possible. With restaurants I’m clear: I’m in no danger of sickness here; it’s a ‘lifestyle choice.’ I roll my eyes at myself while I use the words. It feels so inhospitable. I no longer miss eating the thing, and I hate that folks feel badly I’m not eating it too. I don’t do much substituting ‘fake bread’ for real bread, either, mostly because I’ll just eat the hell out of that too. I don’t do well with bread, y’all. It’s a thing.

Making bread though? That’s a pleasure. Working with flour, kneading, pulling, patting, the hot oven, the air scented with fresh baking. I make bread for my daughter and fiancé in spurts, a focaccia here, some homemade biscuits there. It makes our house feel home-ier, cozier, and they’re both over the moon about it.

Now, there’s this professional kitchen almost done and bread is going to be made and I need to be on top of that. So here we go. Studying again. I’m reading Tartine Bread, playing with no-knead, no-rise Irish Soda bread recipe from The River Cottage Bread Handbook, and eagerly anticipating the arrival of The Bread Bible when it comes in.

I’m torn, still, on how to approach this. Right now, I’m relying on all my senses, but taste. Sight, smell, feel, sound, and feedback of others. Could it be like superheroes who lose one sense only for the rest to come in stronger? (Here, I’m thinking Daredevil. That’s a things right? He lost his sight, but all his other senses are heightened? That’s me: Daredevil.) I wonder though, if I’ll end up sticking bits of bread in my mouth, chewing, rolling them around, then spitting them out, like a sommelier who doesn’t want a buzz before noon.

I’m excited. And nervous as all get out – don’t mess this up, lady! There’s a thrill and a fear, so excitement in one. I’ll keep you posted about how this plays out. How would you handle this, were you vested in making an off-limits item? I’m curious.

The Day It Begins

It’s a New Year and there’s a new opportunity in front of me. It’s big. It’s work and love-related and here’s the thing, folks, does that make it just crazy? It’s work and love-related AND it’s a risky endeavor. I alternate between dismissing it, a little mental wave of my hands, an eye roll, “that is never gonna happen” mixed with “this! this! This- pleeeease, Jesus, this?”

I ask you: How do you decide to seize the moment? How do you decide when to go and when to stay? Is it a feeling, a voice, a well thought-out decision, a sudden leap? What do you do, Reader?

Here’s your setting: a woman in her kitchen, the bones and bits of a chicken she roasted in a pot of water on the stove, simmering away, while she’s chopping sweet potatoes to roast in olive oil and salt, until they’re shrunk to bits and soft, with just a hint of chewiness. This is her happy place, her safe place, the place she goes when life is good and when it’s impossibly hard. Whether she’s hungry or not, this is where she wants to be. This woman has a young daughter, a dog, a small rancher with a reasonable mortgage, and a fairly low-paid, just make the bills, delightful, and often dull, full-time job. These are her loves, what she looks after, and who’s looking to her to keep the boat afloat. Here’s where it starts to sound like set-up of a joke – a farmer and a commercial kitchen walk into her life.

True story. Highly simplified true story. The farmer walked in a little more than two years ago. The kitchen has been an idea floating through the air, intangible, delicious to think about, hard to imagine putting into practice.

Now the kitchen is almost finished, located a few steps from the farm. The farmer is no longer a boyfriend but a fiancé, and while dates aren’t set, marriage before the end of the year seems likely. And this woman, has her foot on the brake and the gas pedal at the same time, both hands wrapped around the steering wheel. Her eyes dart between the rearview mirror and the windshield, the past and the future, each in view. Which foot does she lift?

Left?

Or right?

Y’all, I’ve tried both, a foot on each pedal. I know that’s the easy answer. “Do both until the farm pays consistently, until it’s more settled, until it’s safer.” 2018 was my year to Do! Both! Diligent effort made to be two people with the powers of many who worked both jobs, while mothering, meal making, church-going, friend-seeing, just overall life. I did both pretty good except when I didn’t. Then I snapped at people I cared about, cried, and had shouty, frustrated conversations with God about putting dreams in front of us and then not. making. them. easy. Basically, I was a joy to be around.

Here’s my struggle: trust. How? When? WHY?

I’m a new believer. Most of my life I’ve been excellent at depending on me to keep the worlds spinning, planets, moving, permission slips emailed, laundry at an appropriate level (top of the basket height, that’s my comfort level; only then is action necessary, but it must be taken). This idea that God actually does… all the things? What? What is this madness that you speak?

Let me hold my hands up and add: I do not believe that I can make a wild, foolish leap and God’s got this, girl. (wink, wink) I love books about women who do that very thing. I just don’t happen to be on of them because I like sleeping at night.

However, this isn’t a total risk. There’s (some) money available to start paying me. There’s a kitchen almost ready to go. There’s a sweet farmer who’s eager to get me to the farm, to both work it together and get this kitchen going. There’s a daughter who really likes the farmer and wants me to work there solely so we’ll get chickens (it’s part of the deal, I won’t explain now).

There’s this deep, deep longing in my belly that says: what if this is exactly where He’s been leading me?

Left?

Or right?

Time’s a wastin’. There’s a CSA to organize and manage, seeds to order, seeds to start, recipes to work and work and work and hope to perfect. The farmer needs help; he did last year on his own and, while his toughness was proven, he’s not Superman. This is a job for a team.

Join the team? I’m not eaten up with anxiety, as I might have been in the past (I say that, but let me acknowledge, trouble sleeping, eating too much dark chocolate, and starting small picky arguments with the farmer, as if testing to see if he can handle it, are not the coping mechanisms I’ve typically heard recommended). However,I have two new elements in my life: I’ve lived through hard things and survived; and Jesus. Reverse that order. I’m not expecting to get paychecks signed by J. Christ anytime soon, but knowing I’m loved goes a long way to soothe my anxious heart. Whether or not I know what to do, I’m loved. Whichever choice I make, I’ll still be loved. What a good Father He is. This is the promise we get and it’s ruffling my nervous, nattering heart regularly.

Left?

Or right?

It’s getting clearer to me, every day, which foot to lift. As I pray, and breathe, and talk to friends and family, and pray some more, and then pray-beg a little (“pleeeease just show me, Lord? Just, like, real quick?”), I feel more sure. This decision doesn’t have an expiration date, but if it happens, it’s going to be quick.

Right now, both feet are on the pedals and I’m cooking on this , my day off, from the great, safe job, that closes for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s cold as all get out, and we Southerners would be losing our minds, except the sun is out. It’s just keeping everyone together. Still, it’s the perfect time of year for chicken stock, as pictured above. I first read about chicken stock in Nourishing Traditions, which is a great cookbook where I started learning about whole eating. I’ve only made a handful of the recipes because, frankly, they can be a little out there for me, and I’m not awash in money for complicated ingredients. Chicken stock or broth, whatever you call it, though, made that purchase totally worth it. Too the author’s writing style is lovely, and her conversation about diet, pre-Industrial Revolution versus now ,is compelling.

However, as mentioned above, money is limited, so I make Bare Bones Chicken Stock. I’ve love to fancy it up with whole onions, chunks of carrots, loads of celery. But we need that food for eating, not seasoning and then throwing away. So here’s how I make mine.

Bones of one whole chicken, in a big pot. I mean every last bit of bone, especially any congealed chicken fat that might be clinging to the container you’ve diligently saved those bones in. Chuck in some salt; I’m guessing about a 1/2 tablespoon will do, though I’m sure I go more. (If you have the tail ends of veg to sacrifice, like bits of onion, or soft carrots, be my guest. Otherwise, if it could make part of a meal, save it.) Run cold water over chicken bones until its covered and then some. Set it on the stove, bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for what suits you. Aim for at least six hours? I’ve been known to take our family’s life in my hands and leave it at a barely moving simmer over night. Mostly I just keep it on during the day (while home, Gentle Reader, I’m not a total madwoman), shut it off near bed, and then stick the whole things in the fridge, lid on, and let it cool until I can bag it in quart baggies the next day. I’ll keep a little fresh, but not much. If I don’t have a recipe planned, it drives me crazy to forget it, leave it a week, and then throw out that hard work. I can hear my grandfather, turning over in his grave, any time food is thrown out. (He, also, all the way up in heaven, I believe, gets annoyed when the heat kicks on in the middle of the night, because: money. But that’s another story.) So keep a little for a cup of hot broth in the morning (it is DEE-licious, arm, nourishing, salty, and so good for your belly) or pour a little on ground beef the next time you cook it in a skillet and see how extra tasty it gets. Otherwise, freeze it and then you’re the Gourmet Guru the next tie you pull up a recipe that calls for “1 1/2 cups chicken broth.”

Praying for you, Reader. Welcoming your prayers too. Left foot? right foot?

Honestly, I know the answer. It’s in my bones. It’s just lifting my foot.