i was good enough

the big traveling potluck | the merry gourmet

My heart raced in my chest. I didn’t feel good enough to be reading these words aloud, but yet there I was. I held the microphone in my right hand, my palm clammy and damp, while my left hand held the page I was reading from. The paper quivered as if it, too, had heart palpitations, making my already messy handwriting all that much harder to read from. I stumbled over my words, looked up and saw a reassuring face and then another, and I started over.

I watched him move in the kitchen, pulling his wheelchair-bound body along the counter’s edge, hand over hand, until he reached the bowl of warm, boiled potatoes. I stood in the doorway, observing him quietly from the other side of the wood-paneled kitchen. He moved awkwardly but deliberately, wanting to do this for himself. This was the first time since his stroke that he had tried to cook. He was making his famous mashed potatoes recipe, the one filled with butter and cream and cream cheese, the one that was a staple on our holiday table. If I had known then that this would be the last time he would make these potatoes, I might have paid more attention.

Make eye contact, I reminded myself. Stop fidgeting. I heard my voice and cringed at the shakiness of it. I looked out over the room, bright with sunlight, into the faces of my fellow food bloggers, into the faces of my friends. I kept reading. And then I was done, and I remembered nothing that I had said.

It’s amazing what we’ll do when we have the support and love and encouragement of our friends.


I spent last weekend in Temecula, California, for The Big Traveling Potluck. The Potluck is a conference of sorts, aimed at food bloggers, but with an emphasis on exploring creativity and inspiration and community. I traveled to California last Friday, just eight weeks after my father’s death, needing all three of those things, badly.

In the days leading up to my trip, I wondered whether I was making a mistake. It felt selfish to leave my family for this kind of a trip – not work-related, purely for fun. I wondered whether I would be an emotional mess. After all, I was (and still am) having moments of intense grief that come out of nowhere, completely unexpected. In these moments, I feel the loss of my dad so intensely that my chest tightens and I can’t breathe. Maybe the emotions were all still too raw.

Riding coattails on these worries was the ever-present anxiety that I’m not a good enough food blogger (or writer). I have this tendency — and I know that I’m not alone in this — to feel that I’m an impostor, wearing ill-fitting hats that always seem to fit better on other people.

Here’s a spoiler: I didn’t make a mistake in going.

The weekend at The Potluck was exactly as I had hoped it would be. Sure, I cried some – but only when I talked to Maggie. And to Chris and Karen. And to Debra. And to Maggy. And to some others, too. But it turned out to be okay, because I wasn’t alone with those tears. I was surrounded by friends, both old and new, and I felt reassured and lifted up. I felt not alone. And I felt good enough.

I felt good enough to stand up before a crowd of people who could judge me – but who I knew would not judge and would instead cheer me on and offer support – as I read a short essay I’d written about my father using one of Cheryl Sternman Rule’s writing prompts. Because that’s what the weekend was about – supporting each other, realizing that none of us are perfect and that it’s okay to embrace our imperfections and to be vulnerable and honest.

I wasn’t thrilled with what I’d written, and I was embarrassed at how nervous I was when I spoke. I critiqued myself, as is my nature.

But really, I was good enough.

*   *   *   *   *

The speakers at The Big Traveling Potluck were amazing, and if you don’t know them, you should. Aran was so honest and vulnerable, that many of us were in tears with her. Ashley is just as delightful in person, and she and Aran are both such wonderful photographers. I’ve followed Cheryl’s work for years, and I hope she didn’t think I was stalking her at the conference – I just so admire her writing. Maggie taught us about giving gifts of beautifully-packaged food, and I’m hoping I can convince her to come visit me in Florida she goes on tour when her book comes out. Jordan and Jocelyn gave us a lesson in cocktail-making – and mixed up some mighty strong ones on Saturday night. Debra and Rod of Smith Bites gave a video workshop on the last day, and I was completely in over my head, but I took good notes, so we’ll see.

My roommate out in California was Kate, and she’s written a lovely post that captured the essence of The Potluck. It’s worth reading.

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18 Responses to “i was good enough”

  1. 1
    Chris — May 1, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

    Here’s the thing that you don’t know…over the past week, I’ve shared the essence of your story with five other people. I shared it as an example of what makes The Big Potluck so special. And everyone of those five people had tears fill their eyes. What you shared was more than good enough, and I will remember that moment for a very long time.

  2. 2

    MJ thanks for sharing this with those of us who couldn’t attend. Of COURSE you were good enough. And good for you for recognising that you needed this trip. I am sure your dad would be proud to hear you read your work. XO

  3. 3
    Macaroni Mama — May 1, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

    So touching. I wish I had paid attention to your father as well, when he was making his last mashed potatoes. MJ, you are far better than good enough. Tears are running down my cheeks as I write. Thanks for sharing your story with everyone.

  4. 4
    Cheryl — May 1, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

    You read beautifully that day. I was honored to hear you recount this story and commend you for finishing it here. Good, true, real writing moves people, and that’s precisely what you’ve done. Thank you.

  5. 5
    Art & Lemons — May 1, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

    I’m glad you kept reading and continue to write and share your truth. You are great!

  6. 6
    Irvin — May 2, 2014 @ 2:03 am

    Oh MJ. I love you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there at the BTP. But it sounds like you were more than just good enough. Hugs to you. Big huge hugs.

  7. 7
    Karen Covey — May 2, 2014 @ 10:43 am

    I do hope you will continue writing and sharing because this is so wonderful and touching. I lost my father last year and know that awful, dull pain that aches in your heart. I’m so very sorry for your loss, truly…

  8. 8
    Katy — May 2, 2014 @ 11:24 am

    Dear sweet child of God~you are more than “good enough”~so much more so He only made one of you and said that it was good! <3 Katy

  9. 9
    Amelia — May 2, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    I loved reading the rest of your story here. Thank you for sharing and I’m also so grateful for the Potluck experience!

  10. 10
    Georgie — May 2, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

    Every-time I read one of your post… I fall into deeper “like” with you. Your post moved me and it is so well written… so “good enough”. It’s moving, eloquent and transparent of your connection with your father and you are a beautiful testament of his love. You just honored him deeply and sharing his beauty. XO

  11. 11
    Paula — May 2, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

    How beautifully you write! I wish I could have been there to actually hear you share your thoughts with all the others that were in attendance. I’m so happy that it was a wonderful and moving experience for you. I know that everyone who meets you, is able to spend time with you, comes away feeling that they were enriched by the experience. Touching people, being able to connect the way you do with others is a gift and that is always more than good enough.

  12. 12
    Leah — May 3, 2014 @ 10:16 am

    I’ve been wanting to go to a conference but I have been kind of scared. Thank you for this post and for your honesty! I’m so sorry for your loss – I am sure it was not easy to leave your family during this tough time. Definitely on the lookout for when The Big Potluck is this fall and thinking I will probably sign up!

  13. 13
    Courtney — May 4, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    I love that you said you felt lifted up, because that’s exactly what I think the folks at The Big Potluck do for one another. This was beautiful and heart-wrenching, and I just want so say you are good enough. Always.

  14. 14

    You’re such a beautiful person! So glad to have met you!

  15. 15
    Liren — May 4, 2014 @ 8:05 pm

    There should never be any question in your mind or your heart: you are good enough. Too good. I’m so glad I was there in the room, to hear the words pour out of your heart. And I’m so glad we finally (finally!) met. You are as beautiful as I knew you would be, inside and out.

  16. 16
    Kris — May 4, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

    What a beautiful post! It sounds like BTP was everything the big potlucks aspire to be. I’m so sorry for the loss of your father and I’m glad that you could be with these wonderful folks at a time when you really needed it.

  17. 17
    Brooke @ Foodwoolf.com — May 4, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

    Bravo! Fearless. Beautiful. Honest. It was great having you at the Potluck. It wouldn’t have been the same if you hadn’t been there. So glad you took care of yourself and came. xoxoxo

  18. 18

    I loved meeting you and talking on the bus. I am so sorry for your loss, so glad you came, and am proud of you for your courage in reading aloud to us.

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