by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Jessica Fontenot
It was about 6:30 a.m., and I brewed a cup of coffee and melted a stick of butter at the same time. Glasses perched on my nose, pajama-clad, sleep-tangled hair in a messy bun on the top of my head, scuffing around the kitchen in my fuzzy slippers. It was earlier than my normal baking time. But this was no ordinary day. I had big plans to road-trip to see my son in college, and there was no way in hell I was showing up without some homemade chocolate chip cookies. I hurried them into Tupperware, where they oozed and tilted into one another. My car smelled delicious all the way to Houston.
I miss cooking for my boy — and his posse. I miss big breakfasts, the smell of bacon and French toast wafting up the stairs like sirens, luring bedhead scruffy football players to the safe harbor of the kitchen island. I miss chili cooking all day in the crockpot and the comforting drone of football games on television and oversize boys lounging by the warm glow of a fire in the fireplace. I miss steak dinner, the summer smell of the grill and chlorine and the sound of rowdy kids jumping in the pool.
It looks different now, but certain things remain the same. Now I bring food with me, baked treats or homemade favorites in portions that can reheat in a dormitory microwave. Or I use food as bribery, exchanged for time and connection. Whether that means sponsoring trips to H-E-B for provisions, or hosting a motley crew of new friends for dinner after a college game, or an at-home reunion of high school friends for dinner at his beloved (okay, sacred) Matt’s El Rancho (and a tab comparable to an airline ticket, whaaat?), I am game to show up and pay up if it means I get the pleasure of my people showing up, too.
Food and love are inextricable.
Which brings us to a bigger question: How do we nourish ourselves, and those we love?
We know there are certain ways of eating that optimally fuel our bodies. I subscribe to higher wisdom most of the time, with noted exceptions like coffee, wine, margaritas and queso. We know we need both sleep and rest, which are not the same thing. A Sabbath is essential, Sunday or any day where we unplug and give ourselves permission to say “no” in order to fully recharge our “yes.” We need a balance of connection and downtime, honoring the equilibrium of our introvert and extrovert. A screen fast once a week, or even once a month, can restore our appetite for what truly satisfies. It’s important to nourish our sense of adventure, as well as our desire to root and nest. We need to dabble in discomfort just enough that we retain our awareness and appreciation for being comfortable. We must thoughtfully prioritize all aspects of Self — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. In a world that emphasizes what we Do, we cannot neglect who we want to Be. Overall health is manifested in the intersection.
I believe the most important source of nourishment is cultivated by our relationships — with God, self and others, in that order. Time invested in these connections is not dessert or a snack shoveled on the run; it’s the sustenance of the main course. Fast food might make us temporarily full, but the calories are empty. We cannot possibly or properly feed our people when we are starving. We teach health by living healthy. Wellness is about maintaining a deep well. Intentionally surrounding ourselves with people who comfort and inspire, beloved people who simultaneously call us home and call us higher, is ultimately what infuses our life with health, energy, love and meaning.