war and peace

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I often start to write because I feel things swirling around in my head. Usually, a string of events that are somewhat related to one another form some sort of deeper feeling for me. I’ve had a few of those things happen recently — some of it related to war and peace.

It should be noted that I am Russian by ancestry, but I’m not getting into it that way.

Let’s start with taking out the trash.
I live in a quiet neighborhood. Well, mostly, until the guys across the street start revving and working on their old trucks that backfire and spill black exhaust into the air. That’s okay. A more wild thing unfolded yesterday when I witnessed the neighbors a couple of houses down yelling, which led to an all-out brawl. I sat the lid down on my trash can just in time to see them push one another. They rolled around on the ground, yelling, crying out. I stood by just in case I (maaaaybe) needed to call.

They finally settled down. I watched one man head back into his house, and the other make his way back into his truck. He had taken a beating. I usually think no one wins in these matters, but this guy definitely lost. Fighting has always been scary to me — it puts a knot in my stomach and stays there. I felt bad for both of them. It has to be so exhausting and emotional to fight someone. I’ve been super lucky in life not having to find out for myself.

Either way, I’m glad things didn’t get too rough. I’m sure at some point, they were friends.

Another part of my day was spent wandering around the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby just down the road a bit. Sitting out stationary in the field near the museum are the bigger machines of war. Tanks, airplanes and artillery.

I do have a soft spot for these kinds of things. I have been fascinated with war history since Jr. High and not much has changed. While I am usually drawn to weapons and other machines of war, I was led a little closer to their stories. Men and women from my home town — the places they traveled — the battles they won (and lost.)

Being so close to history always moves me, deeply. Whether I’m wondering who used to wear that Nazi officer’s coat or if these weapons actually ended the lives of people, I am moved by their weighty ghosts.

It’s hard to shake.

The business of war.
(Or fighting another man on your front lawn.)

To quote Gen. Sherman,
War is Hell.

It is easy to numb the things our walls help us block out. Then, out of nowhere, you remember that there are small (and large) things happening every day that carve out the Earth. Maybe you retreat; maybe there’s a victory. Sometimes you lose. But it is almost always hard fought, regardless.

Keep moving towards peace. That’s what I say.

The fire and noise and smoke stay with you.

Not all things that move us are kept behind glass,

and most things aren’t easily forgotten.

ramen night.

Food, Story

If I can tell you any truth, it is that I had no idea what I was doing.

This goes beyond “Fake it til’ you make it”, because if we’re all being honest, we do know what we’re doing, or at least trying to do. Whether or not it’s the quality you desire, it just takes time and practice.

A few months ago, I had a person on Instagram (Who I’ve actually never met, nor do I know) from Hattiesburg message me about doing a Ramen night at our restaurant. I brushed it off because we do sandwiches and salads mostly. Like most ideas others toss on me to mull over, I rejected almost immediately. But, I let this one marinate and it got under my skin.

The masochistic part of me, which most chefs are to some extent, knew we would be crushed. I laid awake at night trying to figure it out. I also know that in general, if I set my mind to it, I can probably overcome the “drag” part of my brain that really just wants to sit in my chair and play Overwatch all day.

I made a batch at home, inspired by Ivan Ramen. I figured if anyone was going to have an idea how to sell this stuff to a crowd in south Mississippi, it would be him. Technically, it’s very labor intensive. I had to source a lot of ingredients online, as well as a few different asian markets in the south.

After all was said and done (around 11pm) I finally had my composed bowl of ramen and it was insane. There was depth. There was some element of magic. It worked. Afterwards I thought, “Okay. I guess I can do this now.”

So, I set a date and it blew up. I knew it would. People like ramen. It’s cool. It’s fun. If done right, it is so completely satisfying. Like a big hug or a good conversation.

The word kept spreading, and I kept feeling it in my stomach.

“I’m going to have a make an epic shit ton of this.” I kept thinking.

Along with ramen, I wanted a few other fun snacks. We had Okonomiyaki, Tofu Coney Island (our token vegan option) and Chaschu Pork Cubanos, also inspired by Ivan Orkin.

Between working on the line and my usual daily toils, it took me about three days to prep. The day of the event, I spent in the zone. Pacing myself. I was already tired and the event wasn’t for another six hours. I was caught up, so I went home and laid down for thirty minutes. I somehow managed to doze off for ten minutes, but it was enough for my brain to restart. I felt good. I felt excited.

The kitchen crew showed up. I hurriedly ran through each part of our line. They seemed blitzed a bit. It was a lot at once, but I knew way before we began that they would handle it. We made everything once. Let the staff try it and everything got a full mouthed “thumbs up”.

I walked across the dining room to see a line stretched around our building. I figured people would be piling up. But not that many.

I gave the go ahead to our FOH to open the doors.

For the next three hours my head was buried in tickets. Bowls of ripping hot broth burning our hands and steam filling our faces with sweat. We were in the deepest weeds ever, but we were calm. And people were having a great time.

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About an hour and a half into service, I looked out and the line was still wrapped around the building. I knew I had to cut it off at the door. We were getting to a point where the last person was waiting nearly an hour to get their food, and for the sake of compromising the quality, we had to break some hearts.

I felt awful. But I also still had about 30 tickets hanging for food and knew some time down the road, we would do it again and I would make up for it.

We fired off our last bowl of ramen about 8pm. I looked at my team and we were all running around like crazy, half smiling half exhausted.

To be honest, my head is still buzzing.

We had done something.

I felt a crack in the Earth. People were glowing. Excited. Fed.

It won’t ever feel like that again, or at least in that way. That, was so super special, and my heart is still full.

I don’t know if it’s masochistic. I really just want to give people something good, in hopes that they respond to it.

To those who came out: thank you for standing in line and waiting. Thank you for waiting again and for your response.

To those we had to turn away: know that it crushed my heart to do so, and I hope you understand that sometimes, food runs out and we didn’t want to sell it to you only to take it right back. We will make it up to you.

And to the cosmos and universe for feeding me the energy to try something new, over and over again, I thank you.

let’s do it all over again,

and again

and again.

eating last.

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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.

During my last post and this, a lot has happened y’all!
I moved (into quite possibly the coolest cottage in south Mississippi).

I got an award.
And I got nominated for another award.

In the midst of all of this, we’ve had three monstrous catering events and our little shop is getting busier by the week, it would seem at times. Certainly at times more hectic, at least.

Now, these are all great things. Growing pains and things, perhaps. Things I thought wouldn’t happen for at least another year. Certainly not now. I saw my name mentioned with a few other local chefs who basically run entire restaurant groups and thought to myself,

“Damn. All we have are two hot plates, a sandwich press and an oven that functions well about 70% of the time…”

I feel really proud about that. I feel proud for my crew, as I don’t believe they asked for any of the attention or what becoming busier imposes. Higher expectations. Different crowds. More pressure to perform consistently.

How do you ask that of people? How do I ask that of myself?

I think the answer is why.

Maybe why is the question, as well.

I’ve been reading this book on leadership. Not because it is something I’ve pursued, but somehow something that has always been given to me — and something that I feel proud to take. I walk around knowing that I’m a decently educated, tall, white male — which means I am probably given better opportunities – historically and well, presently.

I say all this because I always want to recognize that privilege before anything else.

Also, I work hard. And work hard to remain kind when I can. And fair. I will also eat last.

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Why is eating last important? I have no idea. But I always find myself, even when I cook for people, the last person in line. Generally by request.

Simon Sinek has a book called, “Start With Why” — and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I eat this stuff up. He interviewed military generals and corporals and came away with a profound truth: Officers eat last.

People feel safe with good leadership. This is something I’m learning. Especially in kitchens where every one is giving it their best for not much reward — they are doing so because they know they are important, and will be cared for in some way. At least that’s the way it should be. Once that is compromised, things begin to fall apart.

It’s also important for people to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. That can be hard.

I’m less likely to give my money to someone who has no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing. But if you can show me why — I’m all yours. That in itself makes me feel safe.

In the same way you buy food from us because you know we give a shit about what things look and taste like, you are willing to come back again and again.

When I get days like this, where I am allowed to settle into myself, I feel a lot of things. Definitely being tired is one of them. I haven’t had a real day off in about a month and a half. Therefore, I get to catch up on writing. On purpose. On being better.

I will sit and listen.

Moan and stretch from the weeks toils.

I like being here. I’m still learning how to do this, and I have hopes that we are still working towards something better. That means hustling so my co-workers have jobs and that we continually work to make this city better.

I am happy to be eating last. And as it turns out, it’s made all the difference in the world.

steps.

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Lately I’ve been getting asked the same kind of question.

“How are things working out for you now?”

I sort of fumble around with words and tell people that I am busy and it all feels sort of wild. It is true. I can’t think of my last full day off where I wasn’t doing something for the restaurant. Whether that’s writing menus or picking up ingredients from out of town. It’s okay, though.

I am okay.

My first year back in Hattiesburg was very hard. I was a different shade of Josh than the last time I had lived here. So I always explaining to people that I was different, that I felt different about things, but that I was glad to be home. I still am. I love being back in Mississippi.

It was hard dropping down from being a sous chef in a big food city, to a barista/sandwich maker for $7.25 an hour. That is restaurant work, for the most part. Working one’s way up the ladder. So, I started my own side thing and made some money to pay bills and eat with. I had ridiculously generous friends who would feed me all the time and toss me side gigs to make a little extra. I was hustling. I’m still hustling, but in a different way.

I find a lot of pride with my work. What I do, I put my name on. I put my heart into it. As cheesy as that sounds, it works for me. So now that I have the title, and a little more financial room to breathe, I am home every night so very thankful for my hurting legs and back. The fact that I smell like onions and oil 90% of the time might not be okay with everyone else, but to me, it smells like my craft and my world.

I also know that I am extremely lucky. I do think that I have some skills as a cook, and a decent palate to go with it, but I am silly to think that I achieved any of this all by myself. I had people who believed in me and that what I did and who I was, was in fact, good. That is a super hard thing in itself. I suppose we are doing that for each other, when we can. Sort of helping each other get where we need to be. At least I think we should.

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Last night, I was reading something I wrote a few months after my divorce. It was about my old job in Portland.

Memories came flooding back to me and I thought about my walk from where I lived to where I worked. That simple walk. From both houses I lived in. With Hannah and with my roommates. Sometimes it was very cold and wet. Other times warm and gorgeous. The same road I walked for a few years.

I read a line where I thank my chef and friend, Gretchen, for allowing me to cook and to struggle…and I completely lost it. I closed my computer and cried like I haven’t in a good while.

There has been so much struggle. So much of me trying to get to this place where I can be more free to create and explore and push forward. And I am so, so lucky to have that. I also know so many people are struggling to get there and have been for quite a while.

I am not the kind of person who takes these seasons lightly.

I always process my new year around this time. Fall always brings me in a little tighter, a little more snug.

I think often about the steps taken up or down to get me where I am at this moment.

Some things, super painful. While others, full of great accomplishment and pride.

Yeah, I am doing okay. And I feel good about who I am and where I am going.
Though, I’m not quite good at settling with this wild career of mine,

so I will keep my plow to the ground

and dig up the earth wherever it is I find myself.

watermelons

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we grew watermelons in our bellies.

too many seeds
you’re bound to swallow a few in a lifetime.

they supposed to have seeds.
it means they keep going
in our bones
and the bones of our children

smith county off highway 49
hermiston up in the PNW

we used to bury em’ in the sand to keep em’ cold
my granddad put table salt on his

I used to shoot them seeds from beneath my fingers
in hopes they’d stick to my cousin’s bare shoulders

If I’m at the market thirsty, I’ll eat it up in a flash
sweet and tastes like summer
Mississippi summer

hot hot hot
running across the road,
barefoot
asphalt burning soft feet

for that watermelon.

sweet and tastes like summer
smilin’
sweatin’
nappin’ (well, eventually under the great swingin’ ceiling fan)

horse flies bitin’ our shoulders

for that watermelon

maybe they didn’t grow in my stomach after all
at least not in the way an 8-year-old thinks

though you can find me, today
swallowing a seed,
wondering if I had a belly full of dirt
would it grow?

I’d say yes.

Give anything time
water
love
a little thought
light
warmth

and it’ll grow
and grow and grow

hot and sweet and tastes like summer

Mississippi growin’s all I’ve ever known.

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enough.

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Some part of me has always cried for justice.

Back when my mom felt so alone,
or when I felt alone.
When I saw terribly young women standing in a line, waiting to be bought and brought to a room for sex.

And my heart is breaking. A whole helluva lot.

Another church burning. Another headline. Another turned head.
The man across the street from me has his confederate flag flying higher and brighter than ever.

These days…
It’s like jamming a shovel into the packed earth. Tilling up soil that hasn’t been turned in decades. And when you see its underbelly, full of scary looking things. Cracks in the earth.

But there is breath too, and now there is room and a chance for new things to grow.

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You see?

If you know me, you know a lot about my heart. I don’t hide it very well, as cooking takes a lot out of me. I give it to people all day long. I’m also not too afraid to be vulnerable.

I told you when I was going through a divorce, and how I wept in my old hallway that felt like a depth of hell I never knew could exist.

And I will tell you now, that I am so glad I have changed.

You are not born seeking justice or truth or mercy.
We have no framework for grace, given our blank slate.

That stuff…is just magic.

Somehow, we are able to learn a bit. Hurt a bit. Give up a lot.

Fill our bellies with good food and maybe feed others, too.
A few times I have lifted naked men and dressed their shivering bodies.

I still dream of that time I saw a man die of neglect. It still haunts me. It is my framework for how I live my days, now. Sure, I cook and make fancy food. But I remember his open eyes. I remember his skeleton.

That body reminded me to take care of everyone.

So some of you are mad at the government. You have your reasons for being angry. As do I. I’m wondering where are the peacemakers. The market gardeners. The wounded healers.

One day, younger people will ask me about this time. I will remember what it was like to wonder about the 60’s and the civil rights movements, and how I asked myself the same question. “What would I have done? Who would I have been during that time?”

Today.

Today, though.
I will be an ally, and I’ll work for peace.

I’ll tell you that my heart is happy that all people get to be married and fight about dishes and watch Netflix and obtain all their civil liberties.

I’ll tell you that that confederate flag had a lot to do with hate and injustice, a heritage of oppression and war and slavery. I’m glad to see it transition into history books and I’m excited to see Mississippi squirm a little. Grow. Change. Expand.  Moan. Heal.

I hope that we can be kind, too. We can be angry, also.

I am glad that we change.

I hate that it takes us seeing horrific things to make us move. I wonder why that is. I wonder why seeing horrible things makes us jolt out of our seats and scream, “Enough!”

Because it is enough.

And it is going to eat us alive.

Today.

Today, though.

I will be an ally, and I’ll work for peace.

And may You have mercy on my soul.

 

beliefs.

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Everything is just, happening.

I feel like the days zoom by and I am the roadside jetsam and flotsam, getting picked up in the current of a passing 18-wheeler.

Up and down, left and right.
I’m thinking it’s a pace I’m going to have to get used to.

I am in a comparing season of my life. I suppose we all are, at many times in our lives. Meaning, I’m comparing myself with other things. Like cooking. I’m thinking I could do better and that I am better, or I’m thinking I’ll never be that good.

I’m comparing myself to my friends who are uncles, and I’m thinking I’m not a great uncle because I’m always late on giving gifts.

I feel a bit on edge at times. Dodgy and picky and stubborn.
I feel apologetic.

For my generation. For me, really. My inability to not check my phone every five to ten minutes. My fear to choose in a world of choices. My need to feel authentic but to not stick out.

I feel sad for our recent losses. I think there is a gaping wound there. It hit us again. We are knee jerking and moving forward quickly and it’s just a lot. I’m okay with everything, but really, it’s not about me or what I think is right.

I used to really want my beliefs. I wanted my certainties. They made me feel important and unique. Edgy.

That’s what I want to come back to, each day. How much this world is not about me.

I am in a luxurious, though sometimes lonely, season in life where I have so many freedoms. It is addictive. It is so fun. I’m not sure how healthy it is to have it all, but I’m close to feeling content with where I am at.

That is okay. I am still removing the ideals of being a gypsy of some sort. Some of that still resonates within me. The idea that the world is meant to be traveled and understood by me.

But I am not so much that guy anymore.

I am the guy conflicted and pulled by gravity.

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The guy who is scared that the Bible is not quite making its way back into my world like I thought it would, being back in the South. That is not to say that I think it is stupid or unintellectual. It is just not a framework that I live my life through anymore, and haven’t for quite some time. I think that is scary, sometimes. I wish I had faith like my friends and family.

Deep down, where the waters are still, I find it there. A small glow, but a glow indeed. My peace. My ability to show grace and absorb pain.

But nearing the surface — that is where the waters are tumultuous. Pulled in by the moon and sent crashing into rocks as though it is in my nature to break and form back together.

So while I do my comparing and floating and crashing, I am still drawn to whatever it is that gives me peace every day. At least for a moment, and then I go on surviving and bumping into people and colliding with their thoughts and their own wars.

Luckily grace exists outside of the Bible. As does love and mercy and forgiveness. All of which I learned from Jesus, but I also learned from my momma, and Mother Teresa, and my chef.

Today, I will be carrying everyone with me.

a cook’s life.

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I think of myself at times as a niche cook.

I fit in where other people are too big, or too clunky.
I’m good at that. Filling in the cracks.

Which is what happened last night.

My friend asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in catering an outside event for 35 people.
Hors d’oeuvres + five courses = a good time

I say yes. I really have no other option. Saying yes to things is the only way, I think.
I purchase a large country ham from Benton’s up in Tennessee.
I source my grains and peas from Anson Mills over there in South Carolina.
My quail is from Georgia.
And well, I am a dude from Mississippi who learned to cook in Oregon.

I prepped and cooked and stored two hors’doeuvres, and five courses in my tiny apartment kitchen. Not to mention three allergy people, having me make four separate courses.

I started cooking on a Thursday and didn’t stop until 11:30 on a Saturday night.

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We had been watching the weather, because it’s Mississippi in the summer time. It’s going to rain, it’s just a matter of when. So we pushed our host to really consider moving it inside. He kept insisting that we try to have it outside. We kept saying he should REALLY move it inside. He kept saying to wait. So, we did.

And it rained. And rained and rained. And blew out our fires. My friends at my back, holding our tent down as the thunderstorm raged above us. Beside us. Underneath us.

The dinner party had relocated to under the gazebo while I was mid-way through cooking my pork belly dish.

Saron, my friend and our event coordinator, ran under our kitchen tent and we pushed around a few options involving some restaurants that were closed, that would house us on such short notice.

So, we called my boss and he okayed that we move to my other place of business. We hustled and yelled and got soaked. But now we were in our element. Ovens. Sinks. Warmers. Thank God.

The party had congregated in the front of the restaurant. Wet, but laughing from all the strong drinks. We pushed together tables. Turned on some music and started to assemble.

Five courses.

Sorghum Molasses cured Pork Belly, with charred peach, soy/honey vinaigrette, benne seed

Chicory Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Gorgonzola, Radish

Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Louisiana Jasmine Rice, with Crispy Duck Skin, Scallion

Quail with Sea Island Red Peas, Black Garlic Puree

Banoffee Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

I walked out of the kitchen at 1:30am. So proud of my team for hustling and keeping a good attitude. This was one of those situations where you reap what you sow. And I’ve worked hard to treat my people well and with respect and dignity, and it showed. That’s what makes this stuff so insanely rich. I am never poor in company and friends. Goodness gracious.

Having maybe eaten two or three times in the past three days, I collapsed on my sofa.

I reached for whatever I had in my box from the night containing most of my mise en place.

Rice crackers and pimiento cheese.

I fell asleep with my hand in the container.

Stood up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed.

The life of a cook.

Ya know, it’s not so bad.

apple cobbler

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Anne Lamott always talks about life not having a manual.

I have a hard time knowing that regardless of what I read, what movies I watch, or which people I connect with, there will always be a curve and incline.

We are all feeling it, thinking it.

The Earth keeps moaning and we are feeling its wrath.
I think people are getting tired and weary, and all the weight that gravity lays on our shoulders is wearing us thin.

Two police officers were killed in my city this weekend. A senseless act of violence, among so many, fed with fear.
My community is heartbroken. Not just because they were cops, but because they were people in our community.

Southerners are emotional people.

They probably won’t admit it, but that’s just being Southern.

I feel their weight, not because I’m also a Southerner but because they are my people. We all mourn together. I take an active part in feeding this community, so in a sense, I worry for them and take their burdens as I hope they take mine.

It is a tough season for so many. My family. My friends. Moving. Change. Fear of the inevitable unknown.

Time is so uncertain and it is so precious of a thing.

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So I settle into myself, for at least a moment. I let sadness in and I let it out. I do the same with all of those things. I become vulnerable with the people I work with, and it’s hard. It’s hard to lead and to also be vulnerable, though I think the best leaders are. We confuse vulnerability with weakness, when it is the opposite. It is strength. And it is your immeasurable power as a human being.

I grew up keeping so much in. A fist clenched tight with worry and anger and doubt.

I’ve certainly had my growing seasons, and also months where I wilt a bit.
But I have also learned that exposing your wounds to air helps to heal.

Sure, there are others things that heal. Time and a bit of care.

Okay. A lot of care. Self-care. Other-people-care.
Ice cream-and-warm apple cobbler-care.

These words are the sound of settling, of embracing my humanness and I want to crumble and dissolve into something bigger. Something, somewhere that knows me and places its palm on my arm to say, “Broken world, son.”

I hear those three words more often than not, floating around in my subconscious, reminding me that we are beyond fixing.

But we are not beyond healing.
And we are not beyond changing and growing and shifting. We are all okay to do that.
We are okay to open.
We are okay to bloom when the sun shines brightly and we have just enough water in our veins to be a gift to others.

We are…okay.

In these seasons, we are not asking anything but to be loved and heard.
To be set free and to live as wounded healers.

To be fierce sons and daughters of the Beloved.

I am okay today.
And though I wish I had that manual for tomorrow, or the day after that, but I do not. Neither do you.

That’s okay.
If you need me, I will be in my summer-warm kitchen, shoo’ing off a few fruit flies and washing dishes.
I will offer you a place at my table.
We will both dissolve into that something bigger and embrace our humanness.
And maybe, just maybe,

there will be apple cobbler.

a southern year (in review)

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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.