Chapter 1. Love Where You Live: Finding Joy at Home

I can't say for certain exactly how it happened, or when; but like a slow marinade of spices and oils and herbs, my body has been soaking in the Midwest since my mother first wrapped me in a white blanket. I have absorbed the textures unique to each season: Lush grasses upholstering rolling hills, the crunch of leaves underfoot as I scout goldfinches in the garden. I have listened to the winter calls of red-tailed hawks that fly boldly near the icy, spring-fed waters of our pond. I have memorized the lines and arches of the trees I love, stared in reverence as they swayed in the wind, bending and dancing and nearly singing to me—composing a forest cathedral that seemed to be mine alone.

I know this place as one knows a sister or a close friend—intimately and effortlessly.

Trying to remove the Midwest from my being—from my blood—would be akin to attempting to separate out the varied ingredients in my mom's winter potato soup: Impossible. My love for this place is so ingrained in me—so deeply pressed upon my very soul—that it is part-and-parcel of who I am.

I remember a day when I was a child, bouncing along in the backseat of my grandparents' Buick on our way to Amish Country. I always loved those Sunday drives; hearing the gravel crunch on the old country roads, driving somewhere to pick wildflowers on a hill or in a meadow. The autumn sun streamed in through half-open windows and dust danced in the glow of the backseat as I watched ...

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