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owning my success

June 15th, 2011 | 12 Comments »

I can’t recall, nor can I find the exact date that I first hit the ‘Publish’ button on this blog and began this journey, but it happened in June, and it was five years ago, in 2006. There were hardly any food blogs then, and I really had no idea what I was getting myself in to, nor what would happen over the next 1,825 days, the people I would touch, and who would reach back to connect with me, the ways I would explore food and all it’s impact on my life and the way this little niche world would explode like it has. I had no concept of how this venture would change me, and who it would make me out to be. I’m a food blogger, for certain, but also, I buck the trendiness of food blogs. I don’t follow the popular ones, I don’t criss-cross the country for conferences, I don’t jump on the latest food bandwagon and post a recipe that’s been talked about to death. It’s not because of who I am, but because of who I am not.

Because I’m not one of those bloggers; you know, those picture perfect bloggers with the amazing photos that are always in rotation on the websites that every food blogger dies to get linked to, and the fact that I can’t even remember the names of these sites is proof I’m not one of those bloggers. I’m one that doesn’t reach for the stars, that doesn’t spend hours styling every photograph. I’m one that just makes stuff they like, take a few shots of it on an old TV tray set near a western window in a sunroom full of plants. A girl who crosses her fingers, most of the time, as she aims a simple point-and-shoot camera, hoping one or two of the 20-30 shots she takes will look really nice. And then applies all the best iPhoto techniques to them anyway, just in case, posts it to her blog and sends it into cyber space. To a place that no one really seems to go, but they do, according to the numbers. But they don’t, according to the comments.

There’s a lot that I do well, and even I can see that. And I hold stubbornly hard to the gut instinct that this blog of mine stay as organic, as original, as personal as possible. But it’s hard to continually put your best foot forward, akin to dressing for the coolest party and then showing up to an empty house, before you begin to think you’re just banging your forehead against the wall and no one is hearing the ‘cronk cronk’ sound of your effort. I’m no slouch as a food blogger, and my friends, my dearest most amazing and supportive friends will never let me forget that. They are my lifeline during those times I post what that I feel is incredible, yet also feels like something that no one seems to have found. But I will not compromise myself for success, and it’s been a long hard road to accepting the internal, and perceived success of this little place of mine. Because it isn’t out there, that success; it’s in here. It’s inside of me, not in the search engines, not in the popularity polls. It’s not in the accolades, ever. Ever.

And every year, as the anniversary of starting this blog approaches, I am faced with the same ‘standing on the ledge’ feeling; the sense that I want to jump ship, give up on this baby I’m trying to raise in all the right ways, maybe stuff both of us with junk food while watching endless amounts of bad television, while I hover over the ‘Delete’ button, eyes dripping in tears. It’s like we’re both five years old this year, this blog and I. Five. Years. Old. If this was a child, I’d be thinking of sending her off to Kindergarten. And those of us with children, we know how emotional this stage of life can feel.

But really, it’s a blog about food that has grown up in a superbly saturated food blog world. There are thousands upon thousands of food blogs out there now and unless you’re screaming at the top of your lungs from the rooftops about what you do and spreading yourself thin to every corner of the world in order to get your point across, you are, for the most part, an insignificant attendee at a big ol’ trendy party, hovering just outside the glare of the paparazzi.

And that’s not me anyway. My friends will be the first to remind me that I’m not a showgirl. I’m the one who enters any gathering and circles around the edges, a smile on her face, waiting politely for a group to stop talking so I can step in and say ‘Hello’.  I never burst in and shout ‘Here I am!’ flashing something eye-catching, showing off my bling and ruffles. I’ll celebrate your success while I keep quiet about my own. I’m good about deflection. I’m humble about where I’ve gone, what I’ve done and what kinds of creations spring from my fingertips. I’m so good at what I do, but I’m terrible at telling you about it. I like for this blog to do that, to spread the word for me while I quietly hum to myself in the background, maybe washing the dishes out of sight, my sleeves rolled up and a stray lock of hair falling over my forehead. If I based my sense of success on how glam this blog is, how well received it is, how much people talk about it, then I’d never lift my head off the pillow. But that isn’t what success has come to mean to me. Not for this little blog, in her unassuming way. And it certainly isn’t how I measure my own success.

And in terms of the last five years of blogging, I can, with the utmost confidence say that this blog has been a success; a rousing, mind-blowing, gorgeous and delicious success. In my own world, where the only thing that counts is the measuring stick I hold up next to me, this blog of food, photos and stories has had an undeniable, smashing run. I can look back over the last five years and see how far I’ve come in terms of my writing, my pictures and the foods that I show you. It’s grown by huge leaps and bounds, become tightly focused and, within the last few years, has found it’s footing with an audience that loves what they find each time they pull up my site. Within my local food community, the people in my immediate circle, the ones who move and shake the food life of Minnesota, I’ve found a platform that is solid and an acceptance that is monumental. My reach as a blogger may not be far, but it runs very, very deep. And in my own quiet and unassuming way, I’d like much more to deeply please and really touch half a dozen people than a hundred or more in an utterly superficial way. One ‘Yum’ comment means little to nothing for me. I want to stir something in you with what I post. I want it to make you feel something move within your heart, or your gut. At the very least, I hope it makes you hungry. And not just for food.

So this post is an acknowledgement of ownership. This baby, this little one that’s grown, evolved, matured and become stronger is not going anywhere. And neither am I. We’re going to stick with our plan, the foods that nurture you both in body and spirit, while continuing to avoid the proverbial blogging TV, the ads that make you Want! Want! Want! and avoid the urge to think that somehow, it needs to me more than it is. Although I may have moments where I gaze in frustration at what the public seems to find appealing in terms of food blog posts, I can’t measure my own acceptance by that tiny and insignificant stick. Every post that comes through my fingertips originates within my heart, and springs to life through the food, the recipe, the words and the feelings it evokes. Nothing you read here is ever forced or contrived, even the posts for financial compensation. Nothing is ever posted to fill empty space, a day in the week or some need to be heard. I rarely have an agenda when I write, except when I’m eager to express what my food wants to say. And my food speaks clearly when it desires to be heard, and tapping in to that effect is what makes this blog soar.

I must admit though, that this post has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. It’s an acceptance that doesn’t come easy, evidenced by how hard I push against the tide each Spring, how often I look at this place of mine and grind my teeth over what it’s not. We’re hard-wired to always want more than we have. We bombarded over and over with what we think we need, what we should do to become successful, to be popular, and to buck the trend, to get off the horse while the rest of the crowd rides on is difficult and often very lonely. But I can’t become something artificial. I can’t force this into a shape that it isn’t. And I absolutely won’t write anything for this blog that doesn’t spring to life within the muscle that powers my life. I’ll remain true to what I want within these pages, to follow my own path and trail.

And I hope you continue to stick with me in this journey.

embracing a season

February 8th, 2011 | Comments Off on embracing a season

When I wrote this post, which was last week, it had just snowed a gorgeous fluffy three or four inches, the temperatures were decent for a February day and it was lovely, really. But today, when this post goes live, the weather has sunk once again into a deep, bone chilling cold, so I do realize that asking a Minnesotan to embrace winter is quite a stretch. Still, I’m posting this because when it was actually occurring with me, it was really beautiful, and it’s worth sharing even if today is merciless and cold. Also, the photos are not in black and white. It was just the light that day, low and monochromatic and beautiful in it’s own soft, gray way.

There are plenty of those in Minnesota who, right about now I realize, are really, really tired of winter. We’ve had a lot of snow, most certainly, and it causes quite a few headaches, especially if you commute to your work. I’ve been fortunate that being out driving in it hasn’t been necessary for me during the worst of the storms. I can sit home, warm and snug and the only hassle I need to deal with is getting the newest snowfall amounts off the driveway, up and over the six-foot high snowbanks lining the sides. It’s Mother Nature’s workout at it’s finest.

And I’m a cross-country skier, so naturally the more snow, and the more frequently it snows, the better the skiing conditions will be. After our most recent several inches of fluff fell, I slid my skis in my car on a quiet Monday morning and headed over to the regional park near our house where a perfect 3K trail is carved through woods and wide open areas. When I arrived, there was a snow-shoeing class going on, with young children and their parents. I locked my boots into my skis and slid off on the trail. Pretty soon, the rest of the world fell away and it was just me, the sheer glaring white of a fresh snowfall and an empty park. The weather was perfect, and with each stride I felt like I was propelling myself further away from the clenched teeth feel of everyday life and into some place where I could breathe deep, let go and just be.

Sometimes when I ski, the rhythm of the stride, the movements of my shoulders and my very breath all seem like they’re fighting one another to co-exist. It’s a struggle to sweep myself along the trail; I feel clumsy and breathless, like I just can’t make my body work the way it needs to. On other days, within the first 5 minutes, my body slips into the familiar patterns it’s known since I was a young girl, and every muscle, breath and reach feels like the well-oiled machine that it is. On this snowy and silent Monday, I had one of those perfect days where it all fit. And with the trail to myself, I stretched, flew, slowed, stopped and breathed in the clear cold goodness of a winter day.

At one point in the trail, both sides are closely guarded by long stands of large pine trees, with sweeping boughs of green. They line the path like sentries, watching as you pass. I like to stop on this part, to look around under the trees as it’s a good place for wildlife to lurk as the tree cover tends to prevent the snowfall accumulation on the ground underneath. Sometimes there are deer in those trees, silently watching me; one time I was blessed to see a bright red fox for one good look before he leapt off, thick tail flashing wildly. This morning, I glimpsed a quiet rabbit, ears placed against it’s back under one majestic pine, and I stopped to catch my breath and watch. It was nibbling on something, paying little attention to me. I was struck with how content it looked, sitting there in a thick fur coat, like this snowy day was just another part of life.

And in reality, it is. The animals know nothing else but instinct. They just know what to do and how to manage the seasons as they change. And we could pick up a clue or two from their behavior. I don’t think they hang around each other, complaining about the current snow, the cold temperatures, and how much longer it is until Spring, at least those that stay here year round. But it seems like human beings somehow become hard-wired to complain about what they can’t change. Somehow there’s a sense of entitlement to having life exactly the way you want it, all the time. When it’s cold we want it hot, then when it’s hot we wish it wasn’t. The glass is full, but we drain it, then want it full again; always wishing for what is not. I don’t love the bitter cold, but there isn’t a single thing I can do about it when it comes except wait it out, wrapped up snug in wool sweaters. No words that can be formed with my tongue will make any difference, and the more bitterness I throw at circumstances beyond my control, the higher my dissatisfaction with my life rises. And that’s no good for anyone.

This all was churning through my mind as I skied further on the trail that day, listening to the whirl of wind over the open snow, and the moaning of a train whistle nearby. Being content with winter is challenging, I’ll be the first to admit that. But it’s also inevitable where we live. The snow falls, the snow banks grow, the muck in the streets covers our cars and potholes are everywhere. Granted, that part of the season isn’t the prettiest, but out there in the park that day, with just the wind and the train, and the endless lines of brown branches against the leaden sky, there’s a beauty that shouldn’t be ignored. And the best part about Winter is that Spring always comes, like the sunrise, a new day and with a sweet breath of relief.