the big summer potluck of 2012 and reflections

I spent last night in a shiny, modern hotel in Manhattan, on Crosby Street in Soho. It was my last night in the city, and the first night since leaving the Big Summer Potluck in Pennsylvania. The previous two nights, I’d shared a room in a Bethlehem hotel with two talented and beautiful friends, Winnie and Lindsay. But last night, I was by myself again, soon to head home to my family.

In the elevator on my way down to breakfast this morning, I caught myself avoiding looking at my reflection in the mirrored elevator walls. I’ve never liked seeing myself in mirrors. When faced with mirrors, I tend to focus only on the necessary parts, singularly – the contour of my eyelid as I put on eyeliner, the center of my lip as I apply lipstick– but rarely as a complete person. I realized, in that mirrored elevator ride, that by avoiding my image – avoiding myself – I was doing the exact opposite of what I’d spent the weekend doing at the Big Summer Potluck. During the Potluck, a retreat for food writers, photographers, and bloggers, I’d spent hours reflecting on myself as a whole, looking inward, delving deep, and taking stock of both who I am and where I’m headed.

While food was a focus of the retreat (I refuse to call it a conference), the Big Summer Potluck was, to me, less about food and more about enjoying and embracing the community of writers and creative types who make up this food blogging world. It was about finding meaning and purpose in what we do, be it making beautiful photographs, creating nourishing food, writing the book we’ve been dreaming about for so long, or lifting up and supporting those we love and cherish.

Brooke spoke of mindfulness and of finding moments of stillness that can serve to reconnect us to our lives. She spoke of being fully engaged in everything we do, be it washing dishes or eating a meal or reading a story to our children, regardless of how trivial that action may seem at the time. Brooke’s words resonated with me and reinforced a lesson I’ve learned often (and forgotten, just as often) from the cancer patients I care for – we should live this day, this moment in time, as if it were our last.

Later, I caught Molly in the upstairs of the barn, when it was just the two of us, and – after introducing myself – I explained that I struggle with knowing exactly where my writing is headed. There’s a book in me, I confided to her, but I don’t know how to get it out, or even what form it will take. I confessed that I feel scattered, especially given the multiple components of my life that compete for my time, none of which I would trade for all the money in the world, but all of which manage to blur my focus. She spoke later of her own path as a writer, and her words were comforting and encouraging. I’m not sure Molly said these words exactly, but what I heard was, “Just write. You can do it, I know you can.”

I’m pretty sure I felt an imaginary hug in her words, too. A strong, warm, and encouraging embrace.

Joy sat in a folding chair on the grassy hill behind the barn, before the rains came, and talked of being inspired by the creativity we see in others’ work. Marissa made plum jam, slogging through the steamy heat rising from the simmering pot of jam-in-the-making to share her trade secrets with us. Max prepared omelets for 80+ and discussed the finer points of making smoked salmon. Pam created much of the food that was served, including heavenly buttermilk waffles and fried chicken, and then she discussed the art of recipe development.

Various attendees stepped up to the microphone and chimed in with their stories of self-doubt and fear of not being good enough, stories of success, and tidbits of wisdom. Melissa’s words, spoken through tears, of being brave and strong, and of ignoring the 13-year old jealous child within, had me nodding as she spoke, and earned her a big hug later in the weekend. Maggy wore a white tank top with a huge red heart in the center, and somehow this was fitting. Her personality shines with enthusiasm and vivaciousness. The Big Summer Potluck simply wouldn’t be what it is without the dynamic and awe-inspiring trio of Maggy, Pam, and Erika.

And so, after meeting a friend for one last breakfast in Soho this morning, I returned to my hotel to check out and head to the airport. With my handbag and tote slung over my shoulder, I maneuvered my overfull, wheeled suitcase to the elevator. Once inside, I pressed the button for the lobby. I glanced in the mirror ahead of me and saw myself reflected back. I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw, but I wasn’t appalled.

And most importantly, I did not look away.

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37 Responses to “the big summer potluck of 2012 and reflections”

  1. Winnie — July 30, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

    I adore you so much and I love this post…I am so glad we got to spend so much time together this weekend.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 1st, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

      I adore you just as much, Winnie, if not more. xo

  2. Aimee @ Simple Bites — July 30, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

    I so appreciate how you soaked every moment of this weekend up and seem to have processed it already. I was a tad distracted (baby!) but loved the event all the same.

    It was lovely to see you, even if we didn’t get to talk much. I was happy to have been able to make it, and am not going to have regrets over missed conversations.

    I hope we see each other again soon.

  3. Liren — July 30, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

    I can sense the book in you, always have. Thank you for sharing how wonderful the weekend was, I lived vicariously through you. And the next time you look in the mirror, remember there’s a beautiful person looking back! Hopefully one day I get to meet her in person 🙂

  4. art and lemons — July 30, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

    A beautiful post, as always! I agree with what Molly said, just sit down and let the book come out. Reading this post makes me wish I had gone to BSP, next year.

  5. Gail — July 30, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

    You’ve summed this experience up better than anyone has or ever will.
    It’s a transformational (is that even a word?) experience, and I’m glad you had it.

    Next year, we all cry together.
    xoxoxo

  6. It was such a pleasure finally getting to meet you and getting to chat a little here and there.

    I told you the other day that I love your work. It’s true. I love the stories, the recipes, the photos. It’s you through and through and THAT is what makes me come back to your site time after time.

    And I have no doubt that your book will come out of you and it will be beautiful and I’m sure it will bring tears to my eyes.

    Glad you made it home safe. 🙂

    -B

  7. Mallory — July 30, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

    You captured the experience and the purpose of the weekend retreat perfectly. Thank you for this post.

  8. Kimmie — July 31, 2012 @ 1:22 am

    Beautiful. Both inside and out. Love your honesty and love hugging these beautiful people vicariously through you.

  9. You SO have a book in you MJ. Posts like this are evidence. Hugs xo

  10. Kathryn — July 31, 2012 @ 4:05 am

    It sounds like it was such a special weekend for everyone involved and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes you.

  11. autumn — July 31, 2012 @ 7:45 am

    I am so, so happy we got to meet and chat and I think you really captured the feeling of the weekend perfectly. Molly’s words really resonated with me as well. I have had a ton of creative energy for my writing recently, but deciding how to make the time for it and what the finished product might look like feels like the biggest struggle. After this weekend I feel like we’re all in a much better place to begin working towards something that feels a little more clearly defined, right? Gorgeous pics, too!

  12. Chef Dennis — July 31, 2012 @ 7:50 am

    Hi MJ

    Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful recap of the weekend. It was very nice meeting you and getting to speak with you.

    It is reassuring to know that we all face the same insecurities, and it was nice to be able to let share them with others. I too feel like their is a book in me, but have no idea how to get it out, Molly was very helpful in that area.

    I look forward to seeing you again!
    Dennis

  13. DessertForTwo — July 31, 2012 @ 7:54 am

    I so enjoyed your recap. I always enjoy your writing. I, too, feel like there’s a book in me, but I’m scared to let it out. I’m scared it will consume my life, and right now, I have too many priorities.
    I adore Maggie’s shirt. It just shines on her.
    I’m taking the words “be fully engaged in everything you do” with me 🙂

  14. Jessica L. — July 31, 2012 @ 8:00 am

    this is so beautiful! a great reminder for everyone to believe in ourselves and do the things we love. thank you!

  15. olga — July 31, 2012 @ 8:33 am

    MJ i am so sad to have missed the potluck (for both reasons!) and especially seeing you in NYC this past weekend. Personally, I think you’re a beautiful person, inside and out, and you bring so much and give so much to others. I think that next time when you look at yourself, make a small list of things you are proud of. We’re all in short supply of self praise and sometimes it’s very important to be your own biggest champion. I think you’re a very good writer. I feel almost banal saying that a book, if you have a story in you, will shape itself in time. You can’t rush the fruit ripening on a tree – let the idea ripen. And to echo Molly’s suggestion – in the meantime, write, write, write.

  16. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen — July 31, 2012 @ 9:16 am

    Beautfiul post from someone who sounds so lovely! You captured the weekend of Big Summer Potluck so well with your honesty, candor and true voice. I wished there had been time to get to know you better. Thanks for sharing this post! And yes, you have a bestseller in you, don’t ever doubt that! Cheers!

  17. Ken — July 31, 2012 @ 11:13 am

    Beautiful words, you’ve captured the essence of the weekend in the most poetic way.

  18. What a lovely re-cap! It was really nice to meet you at Sunday’s breakfast. I wish we’d had a chance to talk some more during the weekend! Looking forward to seeing you next year (if not sooner).

  19. Brooke — July 31, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    If anyone has a book in them, its you. Your words are so beautiful, vulnerable, and true. What a gorgeous POV on this weekend. Thank you for your gorgeous words and beautiful honesty. Spending time with you this weekend was a highlight. More, please!

  20. Sheri — July 31, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    I’m so happy to have met and spent some time with you last weekend. One of the highlights, hands down.

  21. Margaret — July 31, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

    What a gorgeous post and beautiful way to capture this weekend. Reading this recap was like reading a page from you novel. It was captivating, and I look forward to your book being published. You’re beautiful inside and out. xoxo

  22. Tricia — July 31, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

    Isn’t Molly transformative? Can’t wait to see that book come out of you – this writing is only a small example of the amazing talent you have. Thank you.

  23. Lindsay — August 1, 2012 @ 10:39 am

    Lovely, truly lovely words. I was so happy to spend time with you this weekend. Something I’m going to remember for a long, long time.

  24. Jenny @ BAKE — August 1, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    this is really beautifully written, so open and honest! the retreat looks amazing too

  25. Nisrine — August 1, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

    Looks like a lot of fun. I wish I were there!

  26. Courtney — August 2, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

    I’m so thankful that we got to meet and for the time that we spent chatting. This post eloquently sums up so many of the things I felt last weekend. I really hope I get to see you again next year!

  27. Pingback: Friday Faves and August 2012 Food Blog Calendar Download | foodiecrush

  28. Elizabeth — August 3, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    So well said! You capture so many of the important moments of the weekend, and the thoughts and feelings behind those moments. Since getting back I’ve felt such an intense clarity, and a similar willingness to look at the things that are right in front of me. Mostly I just feel like, let’s do this! I can’t wait to read your book, whenever it materializes. And, it was so wonderful to finally meet in person, and I’m hoping our paths will cross again soon!

  29. Aggie — August 3, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    I always love your takes from events like this, always written in just your way…you always find the right words to describe in such a way that I feel like I was there MJ.

    Your photos, especially the one of the porch & bench, are stunning!

  30. Paula — August 4, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

    I haven’t read all the recaps of this retreat but of the ones I have, I have to say that yours is the most honest and personally reflective. I remember how so many attendees were moved to tears in the barn at last year’s gathering and though it has grown in numbers this year, I’m so happy that the essence of the retreat remains intact. To be present amongst friends and yet to be made friends where others are so willing to share and many are so willing to open themselves to experiences of giving is an opportunity not to be missed if at all possible. Thanks you for sharing your personal experiences at the BSP3. Perhaps one day I shall be able to attend too 🙂

  31. Frank O'Hara — August 5, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    The next time you look in a mirror, please give her a big smile.
    You deserve it.

  32. Elizabeth @duckandcake — August 6, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

    I am finally getting around to reading all of the BSP recaps, and I started with yours. What a lovely post, beautifully capturing everything we all felt. I am glad to have met you, and look foward to getting to know you even better through your blog and hopefully in person.

    Elizabeth

  33. Kristen — August 7, 2012 @ 8:29 am

    Oh girl – I love love love reading posts like this and seeing how powerful of a transformation one can have just by being surrounded by the right people. This made me happy. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us.

  34. Cate O'Malley — August 7, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    Sounds like an amazing adventure was had!

  35. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — August 8, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

    We met so briefly during FBF but I rather we met than nothing meet at all. Thanks for sharing YOU, with us here 🙂

  36. Isabelle @ Crumb — August 9, 2012 @ 11:42 am

    Merry, this is quite possibly the most beautiful post I’ve read about BSP… I’m kind of glad I waited until after I’d posted my own recap to read it, if only because I’d never have had the nerve to write anything of my own after reading your eloquent and heartfelt words.
    It was wonderful to meet you, though I’m sorry we didn’t have more time to chat. Next year, hopefully?
    PS: I can’t wait to read your book. I hope it finds its way out soon.

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