Reflecting on 2014: A Year of Beauty & Brokenness
Hi friends! For those of you who celebrated Christmas or Hanukkah, I hope your holidays were full of joy and peace and family and good food. I've been silent on the blog the past week, because after an insanely busy December, I desperately needed to unplug for a bit. We spent last week in Tampa with B's family – his parents rented a condo right on the beach, and even though the weather was only warm a couple of days, it was so nice to be by the ocean. I went on long walks on the beach every day, to think and to pray, and to process all that's happened this past year. We returned to NYC for a quick 48 hours, and then flew to Italy yesterday (!!). But more on that in a bit...
It's crazy to think that this wild and wonderful – and in other ways heart-wrenching – year is coming to a close today. 2014 it was a year of seemingly impossible dreams coming true: writing (and publishing!) my first cookbook, driving across the country throwing dinner parties with some of my favorite bloggers, going over my Kickstarter goal, collaborating with ABC Carpet & Home, visiting Iceland, interviewing Ina Garten for Tasting Table, and seeing my book sold at my favorite bookstore McNally Jackson. If you had told me two years ago all that this year would hold, I wouldn't have believed you!
It was a year of collaboration – I was blessed to work with a phenomenal book team: Signe Birck, Katie King Rumford, Lauren Salkeld, Jean-Luc Le Du, Elise Inman and Olivia Funk, Eric Ryan Anderson, Nate Poekert, Dana Tanamachi-Williams, Jill Browning, and everyone at Worzalla. (And of course, my love Brandon, whose talents and guidance impacted every aspect of the book.) Blogging can be quite isolating, so it was a nice change of pace to work so closely with a team of talented people – I only wish that I could work with all of them every day!
It was a year that renewed my faith in the power of community. There is no way that my cookbook, or road trip, or Kickstarter campaign would have succeeded without the incredible support and enthusiasm of you all! I was blown away time and time again by the generosity of friends, family, fellow bloggers, blog readers, and even total strangers who heard about the project via Kickstarter. I could tell you story after story: like how my dear friend Jenn Elliott Blake flew to NYC – not once, but twice! – to help me throw two big events, schlepping through torrential downpours to buy flowers and supplies, and and helping me haul a mountain of groceries and boxes of books up and down my stairs...or the time Jeanine Donofrio (of Love & Lemons) agreed not only to let me throw a dinner party at her home in Austin, but invited me to stay with them for a few days. I could tell you about how Megan and Mike Gilger flew to NYC to shoot my Kickstarter video, or how Sarah Harmeyer of Neighbor's Table threw a dinner party for 20 in my honor, rounding up a team of people to cook recipes from my book and wouldn't let me do a thing. I could list all of my incredible volunteer recipe testers – nearly 60 in all! – who tested recipes for the book, and later threw dinner parties to put the book's mission into practice...or I could tell you about the many non-recipe testers who just wanted to throw Yellow Table dinner parties for fun, to help spread the word about the book and/or the Kickstarter campaign. I could tell you about the army of volunteers in Brentwood, TN who showed up at my parents' house to help us pack envelopes and ship out nearly 2000 books in 3 days. It makes me teary-eyed to think of all the friends who baked and cooked for my many book events over the past few months, and volunteered to help out with serving or dishes or prep.
The way people banded together at tables across the country to spread the word about this project reinforced to me the importance of the book's mission – to create community through shared meals and conversation. I think people are hungry to be apart of a something larger than themselves, and it makes me so proud that The Yellow Table isn't just my book, but rather our book. It truly does take a village.
And finally, this was a year that proved that, with a little courage and faith, and a lot of hard work, anything is possible. I really believe that if I can make my dream come true, then so can you. I had certainly had intense bouts of fear and doubt this year, but giving up was never an option. I knew I had to keep pressing on, and knowing I had you guys cheering me on often gave me the strength and motivation to keep going!
One of the biggest lessons that I learned this year, however, was that dreams don't happen in a vacuum. (Or as my friend Rebecca Rebouché says, "There's no music playing when your dreams are happening!") Meaning: there is always going to be heartbreak and frustration and exhaustion and failure mixed in with the high moments. The day-to-day struggles of life don't just go away while you're pursuing a dream...they stick around, and often intensify as you hone in your focus. B's health – always a struggle for us – has been at an all-time low this year, and it's been heartbreaking to watch him suffer – and to feel totally helpless to heal him. Between him starting a company and me writing a book, the long hours of work have taken a toll on us, physically and emotionally. Looking back, I wish I'd done a better job of setting boundaries between work time and us time.
At the end of the day, the idea that you can do it all is a myth. When you add new responsibilities to your life, something always has to give. Part of what got me down this year were my unrealistic expectations for myself: that I should maintain my normal life juggling quality time with good friends and B, freelance work and housework, and exercise and rest and church commitments, all while tackling the biggest project(s) of my life. I constantly felt like I was falling short in every area, and lived more often in a place of shame rather than of confidence. (Showing myself grace has never been my strong point!) The high moments were wonderful, and I'm incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities that this year has brought, but in all honesty, rather than feeling inspired the past few weeks, I've felt worn down.
But it's good to look back – to give thanks for the good, and to take an honest assessment of the things that need to change. Life is nuanced: ideally, not too sweet or too painful. There are glimmers of beauty in the pain, and moments of hardship amidst the goodness. A friend told me recently that true maturity is being OK with the "and." It's looking back at my year and saying: this year was really fantastic and really hard. And being OK with the contrast.
On a very exciting note, B and I decided to do something a little crazy. We decided to go to Italy. For a month!!! We've never had the opportunity to get away for so long, and after such a hectic year, January seemed the perfect time to take a break. We desperately need the time to rest, to reconnect, and to dream again. We arrived in Venice yesterday, and we'll be here with good friends for few days over New Year's, and then we're heading to Sicily for most of January. Partially to retrace B's family roots (his great-grandfather immigrated from Catania), and partially to enjoy the sunshine and good food – and to take advantage of the island's incredibly affordable AirBnB prices! I'll be blogging about our Italian adventure over the next month, and sharing a bunch of new recipes that I'll be learning...so stay tuned. My hope for this month away is that it brings replenishment, inspiration, wisdom, and new direction. I have no idea what 2015 is going to bring, but I know I need to take a step back and refuel before launching into any new projects.
Happy New Year to you all, my friends!! I'd love to hear from you: What did 2014 teach you? What was a high and low point? What are your hopes for 2015? Even if you don't feel comfortable sharing below, I hope you'll take time to answer these questions with friends, or in your journal sometime this week as we head into the new year. Cheers to new beginnings, and to embracing beauty and brokenness.
Photos by (clockwise from L-R): (3) Signe Birck, (4) Belathee Photography, (5) Hannah McSwain, (6) Signe Birck, (7) Jack Mathews & Jeanine Donofrio.