Pacific Coastline, Big Sur National Park. Photographer, Joseph MacMorran (fall 2021)
Now that I've had time to clear my mind and let myself gravitate towards the things I love, I'm learning what joy certain things bring me. Some of those things surprise me and may even surprise my friends; here's what is bringing me joy now:
Growing up I always had a great cook in my mother. She was adopted into the foster system as a kid and bounced around from family to family yet, there is something to be said for the positives that came out. The exposure she had to different cuisines and cooking styles was something she has carried with her throughout her life. As a kid, I was fortunate to sit in barstools making flower tortillas from scratch, learning how she cooked different meats, used different spices, baked Italian Creme Cakes, made amazing spaghetti from scratch, homemade enchiladas from scratch, you name it. We had a lot of cookbooks around our house growing up and some of my favorite memories were flipping through them and looking at the pictures to help pick out what dishes she should make.
Since I've left my career in teaching, I'm finding that I have more time to cook for myself and more importantly my wife. There's nothing more joyous than seeing her reaction after I've made a meal for her. I'm a perfectionist and I'm always tinkering, not only with flavor, but with efficiency. Cooking can be so messy! Which is why I'm constantly thinking of ways to cook and clean up more effectively. This includes finding cookware that is high in quality. Our schedule now makes the breakfast and lunch options look pretty easy - usually a typical egg and salsa breakfast followed up with leftovers from dinner the previous night for lunch. This leaves plenty of planning time during the day to brine meats, create marinades, read about cooking tips, or watch some of my favorite shows; Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Great British Baking Show, anything with Roy Choi (thanks Cinjin Casillas), David Chang and even Antoni Porowski from Fab 5. There's always something on our TV during the week that involves food. What I also love about cooking is that I have the time to prepare fresh meals without feeling rushed. Whenever I was teaching, the hours I put in would absolutely drain me. I never felt energized. Now I can be intentional about what I'm consuming and putting into my body.
My physical health has always been important to me. Growing up I was average (average Joe, I know). Seriously, I'm only 5'11" but I always struggled with the water weight. I was chubby in junior high and when I moved on to high school I really thinned out my junior year in marching band - I played tenors for two years and during that time really took my physical fitness seriously. I learned more about my passion for long distance running during that time. I endured some family hardships growing up and besides being a band kid, running was another escape. I remember getting in trouble with my mother one time because I ran 5 miles up and down major roads; including one road on a hill without a sidewalk. I loved putting some music on and just getting out there.
Since those formative years, I've only run one half-marathon in 2016 but I'm currently preparing for my second one in February 2022. In order for me to lean out, I can't just rely on running alone. Now that I've had the time, I've hired a good friend from Austin as a personal trainer. We've focused a lot on my body composition and the types of exercises I need to lean out and grow muscle in certain areas of my body. We've also had to change the type of diet to get those results and keep me healthy. There are a lot of reasons why I want to stay in shape but the biggest two are my mother and my father. Both have their fair share of devastating health issues. It keeps me motivated to watch my own food intake and my physical fitness.
This topic comes in behind two of the things that are about my personal well-being. I have to take care of myself first. If I'm nourished by my diet, my exercise, and mental well-being, it makes the most joyous thing I have even better. For so long as a teacher, it was giving, giving, and more giving. Giving time up with family was huge. I spent a long time filling a void with personal relationships that were broken or damaged in our family. That void was filled with working; I felt like I always had to be doing something. But I recognize that now and luckily for me, and my family, it's early enough to correct the course I was taking. Having a the flexibility in building a career on my own terms has allowed me to be in the right mental and physical state to mend those open wounds.
Because of the change in lifestyle, huge milestones like holidays are more meaningful. Time spent traveling to see family is exciting again. That seems strange to say but in the past, when I was teaching, it was really hard to see family during holidays because I was so stressed out from work that I really wanted alone time. When my wife and I made the leap in 2021 and changed careers, we also changed physical locations. We wanted to be back in a place where we felt joy, where we met each other, got married, and where we had family. There were many upsides to this change in scenery and living 30 minutes from an international airport made direct flights easier to either coast. We could see family on both sides within a matter of 3 hours. When we lived in Houston it made for such long days - 6-8 hours total with connecting flights.
There are so many other things bringing me joy right now and the adventure feels like it's just beginning.
p.s. wherever you are in your journey, make time for yourself, the food that nourishes you, and the family that supports you. Your body and mind will thank you.