Two Sundays ago, I lied to a customs agent.
"What was the purpose of your trip?" she asked, not even looking up from my passport. (Her loss - I look much better in person than I do on my passport.)
I paused for a moment, trying to come up with the right answer to her question. I discarded a dozen possible answers, and finally just went with the easiest one. "I went to a food blogging conference," I said.
And there it was. The big, bald-faced lie.
Sure, Big Summer Potluck may technically be a conference for food bloggers, complete with nametags, featured speakers, printed programs and swag bags full of goodies. But it's also somehow so much more than the sum of its parts.
In the week and a half since then, I've been starting and stopping on this post, trying to find the words to describe how amazing the experience was.... and I can't, other than to say that it's simply like no other conference I've ever attended.
There were no panels to tell us to optimize our SEO, to show us the must-have WordPress plugins, to teach us how to take more Pinterest-worthy photos, or to coach us on the best ways to interact with brands and monetize our content. I handed out less than a handful of business cards, and took home even fewer than that.
We kicked off the festivities at Pam Anderson's lovely home in rural Pennsylvania, where Pam and her co-hosts Maggy and Erika treated us to a feast of fried chicken accompanied by potluck goodies that had traveled from across the country in carry-on bags and car trunks.
The next day, we gathered for a big breakfast and then sat down to learn to make buttery-soft smoked salmon from Max. We sweated along with Marisa as she stirred a steaming pot of spiced plum jam and gave us the low-down on making small-batch preserves at home. We sat outside and wiggled our toes in the grass as we listened to Joy talk about keeping it real, choosing between jealousy and inspiration, and sticking that shit.
(Yes, that's right. Joy the Baker swears in real life. As if there weren't enough reasons to think she's the bee's knees already.)
We learned a lesson in mindfulness from Brooke as we nibbled on slices of cold watermelon and considered the importance of being fully present in the moment. Molly gave us some straight talk about what it's like to be a professional writer, and about the discipline and practice required to be a good writer. We shared our doubts, our frustrations, our and our revelations.
And after it was all over, we piled our plates high with pulled smoked pork and more potluck goodies to the sounds of a fabulous bluegrass band. We ate, we drank, we laughed, and we connected.
Drinks were drunk, silly photos were taken, babies were dandled, and big wooden spoons were used in ways no spoon should ever be used. Even a torrential downpour couldn't dampen the high spirits.
It's only fitting that we ended things the next day right back where we started, at the Anderson home, for a big waffle breakfast. Only this time, it really did feel like a gathering of friends, because everyone knows that spending a day sharing together, sweating together and eating together in a stuffy barn loft tends to do that.
I was so busy having fun and eating good food that I kind of forgot to take photos. (And besides, with the number of fantastically talented photographers in attendance, it's kind of pointless to try.)
This wasn't a conference. It was a three-day sleepover party full of food, friends (both old and new) and more inspiration than you can shake a stick at. I came home feeling more excited about this blog than I've felt in months, and determined to make some serious changes in the way I live my life.
I will stop racing through life and spend more time living in the moment. I will find my honest, real voice and I will stick with it. And I will sit down and write every. single. day. no matter how uninspired I might feel.
However, I know customs agents don't deal well with cathartic displays of self-revelation. So instead of saying all those things, I just lied.
And know what? I don't regret it one bit. In fact, I'm kind of hoping I can do it again next year.