“Thank you, God, for waking me up this morning.” This is a popular Black Christian adage that I say to myself every day and have heard in probably every church service I’ve ever attended. The simple act of breathing is truly a blessing, and it’s the most basic thing we should be grateful for. If you are breathing, it’s reason enough to celebrate.
Most people tend to focus on major events and holidays: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Passover, Ramadan. But what else deserves to be celebrated? In my world, anything and everything. In between those big events are life’s little moments, and they, too, are bursting with joy. When my daughter took her first steps, I baked a cake. When I finally finished reading a book that was on my to-do list for over a year, I threw a batch of cookies in the oven. When my favorite show returned after a long hiatus, I cooked the most epic dinner. I’ve found that surprising your loved ones or friends with a mini celebration of LIFE is always more fun than expected.
The seed for this book may have been originally planted by my grandmother Maggie Small. Big Mama, as we used to call her, celebrated two birthdays. While she had a birth certificate with a specific birthdate, she insisted the date was wrong. And so we celebrated twice, on August 6 and August 13—the date she thought was the right one and the date on the birth certificate. The joy Big Mama had, and her desire to celebrate more—not less—is a lesson we can all learn from. (Inspired by her, I’ve really run with the birthday concept and now celebrate my whole birthday month
, because why not?)
Most of our lives are made up of small moments, and those moments can bring us so much more joy when we take time to appreciate and acknowledge them. We all know the stress that comes with the big holidays, when stores build their displays and try to convince us that happiness and fulfillment lie in a gift. But this is different. What happens in between those big calendar events is the everyday life we live—the glorious, messy, filled-with-tiny-moments life—that is also worth appreciating. Are you having a good hair day? Celebrate! Did you just cross something off your bucket list? Let’s toast! Did your pet have a birthday? If that’s not an excuse for cake, what is? Honoring those moments with a pressure-free dinner or dessert can create memories that last a lifetime.
In the spirit of this mindful shift to celebrating life and cultivating joy, I also want this book to honor the African American experience. Part of Black survival is learning to laugh, dance, and smile through the most painful and troubling moments. From slavery to segregation to Jim Crow laws to the civil rights and BLM movements—these experiences have steeled us into a people of resilience, strength, and power. Even our homegoings (funerals), despite the somber occasion, are filled with celebration and gratitude as we come together and remember the life of the deceased. Our joy truly comes from within, because even our everyday experiences are cloaked in being Black. Finding joy even amid pain or monotony is the way we get through things. It’s our survival mechanism. We can form a Soul Train
line or do the Wobble anywhere—and everywhere.
My appreciation for life’s small moments was a gradual shift that took place over time. The birth of my daughter, Harmony, made me take stock of what I considered a priority. Watching her grow and change was a celebration in and of itself. First smile, first word, first steps—these moments were as important as any holiday I’ve ever observed. I started to search for more meaning and joy in everyday things. I started questioning some practices we hold sacrosanct: We keep these insanely long to-do lists and work ourselves into a frenzy, and where does it get us? I had been running on autopilot for too long.
As I started to settle into my new routine, I began to discover joy in the moments I was building rituals around: writing in my journal, creating a meditation practice, putting a pause on social media—even though my profession depends on it. When I started to spend less time online, I became much more present in the here and now.
Then the 2020 pandemic hit, and everyone’s lives changed overnight. Get-togethers, vacations, social plans were all put on hold—indefinitely. We had to relearn how to live with the people in our homes. Whereas I once saw my husband for just a few hours every morning and evening, now I was seeing him around the clock, along with my mother and father, with whom we were living as we waited for our new house to be built. We were cooking three meals a day for days, weeks, and months. Date nights out were replaced by date nights in, sandwiched between folding the laundry and putting Harmony to sleep.
Since we weren’t leaving our homes much, we were forced to find joyful moments in the everyday things—and in one another. Our typical holiday family gatherings became smaller, quieter affairs, with just the people living in the household. As I let it sink in how different it all looked, I began to redefine what constitutes a celebration. It dawned on me that all moments, as many as possible, in fact, needed to be celebrated—and not just during the pandemic, but beyond it.
You might have heard the saying “When God closes the door, He opens a window.” Perhaps the silver lining of the close living forced on us by the pandemic was taking a step back, shifting our perspectives, and reevaluating what is truly important to us. What happens when the ground shakes beneath us? When the world—and life as you know it—shifts, can you shift with it?
What I think of as a celebration has changed. Really, sitting in this moment has become more important to me. There’s always been, for me, the chase of accomplishment, but its importance has paled. Do I want to be answering a million emails when my daughter is playing in the other room and I could be with her instead? I don’t want to miss these fleeting moments. And maybe instead of creating another Instagram Reel, I’ll use my phone to call a relative, record my family history, and capture my heritage as I learn about my family tree. I don’t want to let the wonderful moments in my life pass by and go unacknowledged.
Life isn’t a string of holidays we move from and to. Acing a test, getting that job offer, finally finishing a book you’ve been reading for a while should be just as much cause for joy as a wedding anniversary or holiday. We should celebrate our real
lives. And the more we try to take the time to do so, the more purposeful and joyful our lives will feel.
Take stock in your everyday accomplishments: They matter. You matter. No thing, regardless of how seemingly insignificant, isn’t worth celebrating: Your child losing their first tooth, your pet learning a new trick, paying off that credit card balance, or making your bed several days in a row. Keeping a plant alive longer than you thought you could. Sorting through a pile of mail. Smiling to yourself first thing in the morning. It’s all worthy of acknowledgment. And this is where my book comes in. I’m not suggesting it’s a shortcut to joy—that work needs to be done by you and you alone—but it can be a bridge to that place where you become content from within, delighted and grateful for each day, each moment, taking in your blessings.
And what better way to honor it all than by cooking and sharing that joy with others? These recipes and stories, full of comfort and inspiration, are just a jumping-off point—where you take your own journey of giving thanks for your everyday accomplishments and victories is truly up to you, be it cornmeal biscuits à la Big Mama (page 30) or a Cajun lobster roll (page 153) or even your own Italian herb-and-spice blend (page 64). You write the blueprint for your life, and you get to erect and furnish that edifice with the events, people, and, yes, foods that bring you the utmost joy. I’m truly honored to come with you on this journey.
So, let’s celebrate—together.