This past weekend, Mom, Sharon, Erika and I hosted the second annual Big Summer Potluck in Bucks County, PA at our home on Friday night and then at Linden Hill Gardens on Saturday. We were only able to pull it off because of an enormous amount of support from Dad, Andy, Tony and our dear friends, Kirsty and Karen Hughan. It was a truly unforgettable weekend in so many ways.

Yes, the location was gorgeous and the weather was perfect, but something magical happened in that barn.

When choosing speakers, Erika and I always go for what we call our “moon shot” choices. We did it last year and got Alice Currah (of Savory Sweet Life) and this year we decided to ask Penny de los Santos and Shauna Ahern – an award-winning photographer and a celebrated writer. We knew they were both incredibly passionate about their work, but neither Erika nor I were prepared for the impact that their words would have.

As one of the hosts of the event, I didn’t sit in the audience. I stood to one side to be ready to step out if needed, introduce the next speaker or to see raised hands during Q&A sessions. But it also gave me a wonderful vantage point; I could see everyone’s faces. Moments into Penny’s first talk, everyone was dumbstruck. Eyes transfixed, mouths agape. Halfway through Shauna’s talk, it became clear that we weren’t really talking about blogging anymore. This was about life.

SEO? Increasing traffic? Networking? No.

Shauna talked about being vulnerable, real and raw in your writing. About accessing those things inside which you may feel ashamed to admit or things that are important to you but you fear might be mundane to others. It was about taking risk, trusting yourself and expressing your life through words. And how we get to re-live our lives (through food) when we write about it.

From Penny we learned about taking note of life’s many moments. Being present and aware. About “getting past yourself,” getting beyond your insecurities or your fears and just going for it. Breaking down barriers. Penny presented (I believe for the first time) without AV equipment. She couldn’t show us the photos, so she described them. And what a job she did. We used our imaginations; we felt what she felt in those pivotal moments.

To hear these two women talk about their passions was profoundly powerful. It spoke to us about our own lives, far beyond the blog. For me, it lit a fire inside to pursue my passion with even more determination and commitment. There were laughter and tears, there were heartfelt admissions and soulful confessions. And it felt good.

Through the day we ate and drank and talked. We took photos. We shared stories (not business cards) and in the evening we realized we were not the same people who had arrived that morning. We were all friends.