Big Traveling Potluck Lessons

Two weeks ago we hosted our first Big Traveling Potluck in Murrieta, California. For those of you don’t know about this event we host with our dear friend Erika from The Ivory Hut, it’s a bi-annual mash-up between a conference and retreat for food bloggers aimed at inspiring and igniting passion for our lives and work. For the past three years we’ve hosted it on our home turf in Bucks County, Pennsylvania  but this was our first time taking the show on the road, and the result was a beautiful success – more work than we anticipated, but so worth every ounce of energy we poured into it.

We were so busy, there wasn’t a moment to take photos, so I am using the stunning photos taken by our photographer and good friend, Brian Samuels (you should totally hire him…no seriously). He’s wildly talented, insightful, and most importantly, he catches those subtle moments you might otherwise miss. So thank you to Brian for giving me permission to use his photos. He posted a lot more from the event on his blog recap.

Here were a few things we learned after this (our first) Big Traveling Potluck and about hospitality in general.

People’s People. The night before the event we were sitting around the table eating burgers for dinner with a core group who had been helping. We were, as you can imagine, a little nervous about the weekend ahead, mulling questions like, “Do you think people will enjoy the food?” and “Do you think people will have fun?” As we talked about our insecurities, Mom piped up, “You know” she paused for a moment, “I’ve learned that people’s just people.” Two simple words: people’s people. And when you think of your guests not as people above you looking down and ready to pass judgment, but as people like you ready to accept hospitality, that’s a game changer.

(My favorite photo from the event. So much natural beauty goin’ on I can’t stand it!)

Aim for perfect, and then get real. There’s a lesson before the lesson here: surround yourself with people who balance you. Erika is an off-the-charts perfectionist while Mom is in all things pragmatic; somewhere in between there’s me. As a team, we aimed to make the event perfect, but when things went a little awry, we had to get real and aim for good. And If I learned anything it’s that from the outside, people can’t really tell the difference between the perfect you’d hoped for and the good you delivered. From my perspective, for example, breakfast on Saturday morning was a disaster. Then people arrived, and it was just fine. I look back at photos and hear what people had to say and you see that it may not have been perfectly executed, but it was real. And it was actually quite beautiful.

(The ‘disastrous’ breakfast)

Take Ten. Feeling good at your own event is important, but it is always possible to work up until the very last minute and not leave yourself any time to get ready. Each day of the event we made sure that we got a quick shower and a chance to put on some clean clothes and ‘paint the barn’ as my granny would say. If you’d asked us in the moment if we had time to take ten and get gussied up, we’d have said no. But we made the time. I learned how much you can actually accomplish in ten minutes with water, a brush, and a bit of lipstick. And it made a big difference in how we felt those days.

(Believe it or not, we looked like rough as a badger’s bottom fifteen minutes before this photos was taken!)

Give it up to the ‘Most High’. The morning of the event, Mom and I received a short note from Dad. It simply read:

The doors open today, and your guests arrive soon. I’m thinking of you both. Have fun, and try to live your message–that, after you have done all the work, as Stevie wonder used to say about his music, you “just give it up to the Most High.”

That e-mail made me pause. We had done the work; we did have the right spirit. And now, there was nothing left to do but give it up to the Most High, trust that it would come off beautifully. And it (mostly) did.

(The first night, when the nerves were the worst. We did the work, we brought the right spirit, and this happened.)

Love Big. Thank often.

This event could not have come off without the help and support of our incredible hosts, Ron and Laura Komers and Tiina and Steve Keski-Kestari. They didn’t just rent us the venues; they helped us pull off the event, from arranging flowers and ironing tablecloths to hauling tables and washing dishes. We also had extraordinary support from Big Summer Potluck veterans and good friends, Chris Thornton, Sabrina Modelle, and Deb and Rod Smith. These are wonderful, giving people who worked hard and also provided the conversation, laughter, and food (and adult beverages) that fuelled us to the finish line.

These are just a very few of the incredible people who worked that weekend. And while we worked hard, we took time to stop and love on each other. We took time to sit and eat. We took time to thank each other for running that errand, bringing that box in, for going back to the house to grab something. We took time to hug and have good conversation while we chopped and diced. Hard work is hard work, but if you love big and thank often, it can be a deeply bonding experience and, dare I say, fun? It would be easy to leave a hectic weekend like that needing space, but we left as family and just wanted more.

I thought that was pretty cool.

In summary…

Whether hosting a dinner party for six or a weekend retreat for a hundred, bring a spirit of true hospitality – the goal is not to impress but rather to welcome and be of service. And even when it seems there’s no time, take a moment to look and feel good and more importantly, to thank the people working alongside you.

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  1. Cassie says

    Beautifully said, Maggie. It was amazing and so happy to get to meet you. See you again soon!

  2. Ashley says

    This post reflects beautifully the wonderful weekend you gifted us with! Thank you :-) hope to see you in nyc soon! Xox

  3. says

    HA! do you know how many YEARS it took me to learn what you did?!! and I do this stuff all the time!!

    You are absolutely correct on all counts. and it was a fantastic time for me. thank you so very, very much!!!!

  4. says

    ‘give it up to the Most High’ – yes. at the end of the day, we freely and willingly offer ourselves and what we’ve prepared out to the world – without any expectation of getting anything in return – and when that happens, it’s magical. the weekend was magical Maggy – am so very grateful to have experienced it! (((hugs)))

  5. says

    Great post darlin! I love you to bits and you all did an amazing job. As I was flying home, filled with joy, I started coming up with reasons why I *needed* to go to BSP. Seriously, it was all beautiful, you’re beautiful and I can’t wait to come be inspired, hugged, and loved at your next event. xoxo

  6. says

    This is a MUST READ post for anyone who is getting married, throwing a party, or loves to host events. Your suggestions are so incredibly insightful and deep. You are one incredible woman and throw INCREDIBLE parties.

    As an attendee I can attest the event was damn near perfect.

    You and everyone on the team are some of the most talented and hard working people I know. You showed me what hospitality from the soul is all about.


  7. Liz @ The Lemon Bowl says

    What great lessons to live by! Looked like such an incredible event- congrats!

  8. says

    That pretty much perfectly summed up our weekend. And that’s coming from the alleged “off-the-charts perfectionist” of the team. It was physically taxing, yes, but so rewarding and uplifting. I’m grateful to have been a part of it and to have witnessed the relationships being born and nurtured by the wonderful people who graced the event. So despite the aching feet and tired shoulders come Sunday afternoon, I’d still gladly do it again with you and Pam (and Chris, Sabrina, Deb, Rod, and all the other helping hands and souls) in a heartbeat.

  9. says

    Maggie, the beauty of everything you said about the event is that it also applies to life. Such wise words.

    PS, do you think your folks would adopt me? Because your family never stops amazing me with its grace, wisdom, and love.

  10. says

    It was a magical weekend down to every last detail.
    Maggie, you’re grace under pressure and make every last body feel embraced and loved.
    Pam, can I come back as one of your daughters? Please?
    Thank you for your endless generosity!
    Excited for the next one!

  11. says

    Maggy, Pam, Erika, thank you for a wonderful weekend. Thank you for inviting me to meet, learn from and be a part of this remarkable group of people. Maggy, I am so inspired by you and richer for knowing you. xoxo

  12. Cassie Sue says

    You guys were in Murrieta?!? I don’t live there, but I most definitely work down in that area. Awww man!

    Well it looked like you guys had a great time, and the pictures are gorgeous. I love all of the advice, it’s a great reminder once in a while. Especially since I’m a huge perfectionist.

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