What's Cooking

funtocook Riley and I had been married for a couple of years when we got into a big fight about cookbooks. It went something like this:

Driving home after a long day, it had been quiet for an hour and then Riley spoke up,

Riley: You are always looking at cookbooks. You know that? Always buying them and reading them. But then you never make anything out of them. Ever. Do you know how annoying that is? It’s such a waste.

Me: What the hell? You are mad that I enjoy reading cookbooks? What kind of person gets upset about that?

Riley: You spend hours looking at those things. And you never do anything about it.

Me: Well. We’re broke. We don’t have enough money for most of the ingredients. And looking at all the recipes is a kind of escape. It calms me down. It makes me happy. I can’t believe you are angry that I have a little hobby that makes me happy.

Riley: Too broke to make ANYTHING? You’re buying ingredients for something every time you go to the grocery store. It’s not like we don’t spend money on food. Why not try all those recipes you’ve been looking at for once? Megan, I am not angry that you look at cookbooks. I am frustrated that you never do anything with what you find inside of them.

Me: Are we still talking about recipes here? Or is there something else going on?

Riley: No, I guess this isn't really about those cookbooks.

He looked at me once and then re-focused on the road. I got quiet.  He wasn't actually talking about cooking. He didn't really care that we ate the same five things ever week. With a fall of my heart, I knew what he was trying to say. For years, I had been talking about maybe writing or maybe this or maybe that. Maybe. Someday. Perhaps. A few days before I had cried because I hadn’t begun to do all the things I always thought I would do. He’d held my hand and told me to get started. Instead, I calmed down and went to sleep. The next morning, I’d forgotten what that ache felt like and moved on. I was skimming through my existence in the same way that I’d been skimming through those cookbooks. Flipping the pages of my own life - looking at the possible ingredients and shutting the book before I’d given anything a chance. I was without direction, without confidence and without courage. I’d forgotten how to become a participant in my own life.

I’d lost the savor.

The next day I pulled just one cookbook down from the shelf and opened it to the beginning. We had dinner from it the next night and the next and the next. I learned the beauty of french peasant food on a budget and the art of deglazing. I burned the hell out of a roast chicken and made the perfect pot de creme. I found myself within the constraints of creation - the measurements and cooking times and chemical reactions.The act of cooking was a gift to myself that also provided sustenance for those I love. And, blessedly, I learned that some nights it was alright to let the kitchen fires stay cooled. There was no shame in a little (or a lot) of domino's pizza, chicken nuggets or paper wrapped burgers.

As I cooked my way through that book, I applied the lessons I learned in the kitchen to my writing.  I don’t need a lot to create much. Sometimes intended masterpieces come out smelling liked charred trash can. There are constraints to my creation - limited time, limited talent and unlimited family. Those are not obstacles to be gotten over, they are a structure to be built upon. The act of writing is for myself but it has given additional happiness and purpose to our home, sustenance for those I love. And, blessedly, I learned that some nights it is alright to let my fires cool - to collapse in front of the tv or into a book or the sleep that promises to give me the next day.

I still sit in front of piles of cookbooks - flipping from glossy page to page. I still dream of far off spices and those unattainable (for me) perfectly light rolls. I still run my fingers across the possibilities for my life. And sometimes I still get overwhelmed. But now, when I am at my best, I remember to stop perusing and start cooking.

Life tastes just a little better now.

Your Dreams are Stupid (Time to Get Some New Ones)

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Fabulous hand lettering by the ever lovely Kelsey of She, in The Making

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. If you believe the internets, instagram gurus and that meme your grandma keeps posting, your dream is just one “let’s do this thang” moment of clarity away. It would be nice if words set against filtered sunsets were true.

But much of the time, they’re not.

And, right now, if you're anything like me, your dream is probably stupid.

I used to want to be a country music star. I’d twang my way to the Grand Ole Opry and other less countrified stars would write my name into their songs to get more nashville cred. Singing from a stage in sequins and heavy eyeliner was my dream. But my voice is just alright, great for funeral solos and church service. I’ve never really wanted to live more than a few hundred miles from family, so Nashville was out. And I just couldn’t seem to take the time to learn to play an instrument or read music or understand the composition of a song because, you know, sleeping.

Nashville Meg was a stupid dream because it had nothing to do with what I’ve been given and I wasn’t willing to work to fill in the blanks. I didn’t really want it.

For a long time, I thought I’d grown out of foolish dreams. But then I took a long hard look at where I put my aspirations and time. I was still dreaming..it was just in a series of pinterest sized boxes instead of big, grand storyboards. As we get older, so many of us think we’ve matured past the big dreams that take up time and money and energy. But really, we keep dreaming...we just do it on a much smaller, less ...well…inspired scale.

“When I was a kid I used to want to be a princess that could build robots that killed dragons. Man. Isn’t that ridiculous? I mean, the kind of thinking I used to put my energy into is hilarious. Hey, can I smell your cupcake? I’m off sugar for the next 282 days because I saw an article that said I’ll look like a Victoria’s Secret Model by the time I’m done. Do you mind if I do crunches while we talk?”

Oh, yeah. That's a  MUCH more rational dream.

Adulthood is not a time to abandon dreams, it is a time to honor them. But first, we need to figure out what the heck is worth inhabiting our dream space. We need to clear out the stupid to make room for the golden.

Get rid of the dreams that distract. Whether we are talking a perfect reign of domestic goddessness, the chance to dance with N’Sync on stage (am I the only one that wants this?) or absolute and complete mastery of your craft, it is time to abandon the impossible.

The beautiful thing about abandoning the impossible is that in doing so, you generally realize it is also the unnecessary and even unwanted. Who wants a Stepford wife when you can have a real live woman that laughs about the spaghetti sauce on the floor or the dirty babies dancing in a puddle? Dancing with N’Sync sounds nice, until you realize that JC Chasez would be up there right along Justin Timberlake. And complete mastery of your ever-loving craft? Can you imagine the tedium that would follow? What are we without our desire and ability to move ever upward?

These impossible dreams are poor stand-ins for the real thing. They keep you dreaming rather than achieving and they negate the real value of your efforts. You are worth more than the inflated paper on which they are printed. Get rid of them.

Stop dreaming other people’s dreams. Let HER cultivate her IG following. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Let HIM drive the car with the price tag of two vacations and a new roof. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. Let THEM eat #whole30nodonutsnomatterhowmuchyouwantone. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. If those things are really part of your dreamscape, great! Make them your own. Emulation can only take any of us so far. And every once in awhile, take a step back to make sure they are still making you happy.

True happiness is a deeper and more abiding experience than any of us are willing to admit most of the time. Let’s start seeking that kind of joy and let’s stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Figure out the stuff of which lovely, lovely you is made. Listen, YOU are worth getting to know. Remember that awful movie Runaway Bride? Julia Roberts plays a hardware store owner (riiiiigghhht) in upstate NY who has spent the last several years leaving a half dozen men at the altar on their wedding day. This is breaking news, so, of course, Richard Gere shows up to investigate the story.

Why Richard? Why is she breaking hearts? Answer! Our Julia has never taken the time to know who she truly is - she’s always just conformed to be like the person she is with at the time. How do we know this? Well, her horrendous pick of wedding dresses for one. But also, because in every relationship, she’s ordered her eggs just the way her partner did. Girlfriend didn’t even know how she liked to eat eggs! And if you don’t know that, you don’t know nothing. Fast forward to the “find herself” montage, where she eats 25 different preparations of eggs to figure out what the heaven she likes. ( I think it ended up being eggs benedict? Which is not much better than not knowing in the first place. Yeck.)

You know what kind of eggs I’ve been eating? My kids cold, leftover scrambled eggs. Both literally and metaphorically. And it’s enough.  We can each wake up 30 minutes earlier, go to sleep 20 minutes later or run away from home/work long enough to take some time to figure out who we are and what we want. Read. Pray. Meditate. Talk to yourself in the mirror. Get in there.

Who are you? What makes you happy? What are you doing when you feel the most fulfilled? Are you with your children? Are you creating? Career making? Cooking? Writing? Giving parking tickets? A mixture of a few things in different ratios?

Answer those questions and you’ll be closer to discovering what your souls been dreaming of than you’ve ever been.

When you’ve gotten to know yourself - to appreciate the hopes of your soul - even seemingly small dreams hold a great and sparkling weight. So often, my most held dream is simply the act of a day lived well. Children loved, husband kissed, a good book read. So often, somewhere between the apparent smallness of my dream and the fulness it lends to my heart, I glimpse something grander. Beauty begets beauty and dreams beget dreams. As you move through the grace of your day to day hopes, you will be given insights and understanding of the bigger aspirations that make up the locomotion of your soul. Write them down as they come and visit them from time to time like the good friends they are.

Once you’ve found something that lights your fire, don’t forget to stoke it. You want to write a cookbook? Then cook. You want to create a loving family? Then love. You want to build a new life? Start living. You want to be on the world’s stage? Don’t wait for anyone to invite you up, build the damn stage yourself. So often we look at the groundwork of our dreams as the preliminaries, but it is really the frame upon which all the trimming rests. Without it there is nothing but a heap of good intentions. So honor it, respect it and sweat like hell on its behalf. It will repay the favor. Tenfold.

Here’s the thing about your stupid dreams - the ones that are safe because they keep you from trying for what you really want - they’re a dime a dozen. Anyone can come up them and most of us have. You weren’t sent here to be predictable and cautious. You were sent here to be YOU. And YOU is so, so good.

Dream bigger. Dream bolder. Color outside the pinterest sized boxes. Fill up the storyboard of your life.

It's time.