this is 30.

well. i’m 30. *closes eyes & takes a deep breath* i celebrated my birthday over the long weekend, & here we are. i’m 30. i’ve been mentally preparing for this all year long, which, i realize sounds completely melodramatic. but i can’t help it. some people are really into milestones & reflections…& i’m totally one of them. & 30? it…

well. i’m 30.

*closes eyes & takes a deep breath*

i celebrated my birthday over the long weekend, & here we are.

i’m 30.

i’ve been mentally preparing for this all year long, which, i realize sounds completely melodramatic. but i can’t help it. some people are really into milestones & reflections…& i’m totally one of them.

& 30? it feels big.

30 marks the end of the first decade you really remember. sure, you can have tons of memories from your childhood. or from transitioning from middle school into high school as a teen.

but your 20s?

you can remember your 20s vividly, in a way that you don’t remember any other decade:

  • …the exam you stayed up all night studying for but still bombed in college.
  • …your first (legal) drink.
  • …college graduation.
  • …the tiny apartment you lived in post-grad.
  • …your first job.
  • …the inevitable “i’m a real adult & have to pay bills for the rest of my life” meltdown.
  • …your first promotion.
  • …the moment you knew you were falling in love.
  • …the moment he proposed.
  • …your wedding day.
  • …the moment your best friend in the whole world calls to tell you she’s pregnant & so excited.

you just remember your 20s. 

closing out this decade as a 20-something is somewhat bittersweet. i’ve always felt like something of an older soul. in that way, coming into my 30s feels a little bit like i’m becoming more myself.

however, i’ve built the plays well with butter brand on connecting with 20-somethings, despite the fact that, on a personal level, my 20s were not the easiest or happiest years…especially not in the way that they’re portrayed as being “the best years of your life.”

so…there’s a strange tension to this transition, & it’s had me in a near-constant state of reflection for the past month.

but if there’s one thing i know with certainty, it’s that i’m really excited to see how my 30s unfold.

& if there’s a second thing? it’s that my 20s taught me a whole hell of a lot.  

the most important things i learned as a 20-something:

that chip on your shoulder? girl. it’s only hurting you.

boy oh boy, can i hold a grudge.

& while i for sure joke about it, it’s something that i have struggled with & have been working on for as long as i can remember.

i’ve written about this before, but i ended high school on a majorly rocky note. i went through some issues with boys & with friends during my senior year. by the time graduation rolled around, i was SO ready to just leave the small town i grew up in, & everyone in it, behind.

so i did.

but something funny happened.

no matter how much distance i put between me & the people or the situations that caused me sadness or pain, they still held so much control over me. the dumbest stuff, like a facebook post or a text from someone from my past, could still move me to tears in an instant…even though years had passed.

i began to realize that the only person i was hurting & holding back by clinging onto painful situations that were so far past was me.

my memories, my anger, my sadness? they affected me deeply, but they didn’t affect anyone else.

forgiveness is a funny thing. while it can totally be a gift that you graciously offer to others, it’s really a gift to yourself. because along with forgiveness comes freedom. along with freedom comes possibility.

& really, what greater gift is there than possibility?

life’s too short for shitty friends. find your people & celebrate them.

i realize this seems like a conflicting sentiment after just going on & on about how powerful forgiveness is.

but i really don’t think there’s that much of a conflict.

choosing who you surround yourself with impacts everything: how you spend your time, how you view yourself & others, whether you feel empowered to chase your dreams…it really impacts everything.

& for me? i wouldn’t be where i am today without the support & love of my family & friends.

the period after college graduation was a weird transition for me. at that point, i really a lot of pressure to stay in touch with the people i got to know & socialized with (…aka went to the bars with) throughout undergrad.

i slowly realized that some of those relationships brought into my life more stress & volatility than they did happiness & support.

& along the same lines, as i spent more & more time with the people i truly love being around, the better i felt. those were the relationships it made sense to invest time & energy in. 

we’re not meant to get along with everyone, & that’s okay. everyone doesn’t have to be your cup of tea. just because someone isn’t a close friend, doesn’t mean they have to be a mortal enemy.

& you know what? it goes both ways. it’s okay to not be everyone’s cup of tea either.

trust your gut. 
our milwaukee wedding via playswellwithbutter

i believe a lot of the success i’ve seen in the last 10 years comes from being able to hone in on my gut feelings & developing a strong trust in my intuition.

i can’t describe it very well, other than the fact that there’s a feeling i get the in pit of my stomach. it shows up when i’m faced with a big opportunity or when i’m in a situation that’s both extremely exciting & extremely terrifying.

it’s a butterflies-in-my-stomach sensation, & after a few deep breaths to process whatever is going on, i can visualize in my mind, with perfect clarity, what the next steps need to be.

it feels crazy. but it also feels totally right.

the first time i really felt it was when i started hanging out with chris again. it was the spring of 2013, & i invited him to go apartment hunting with me on a sunday afternoon. we spent the day walking around the east side of milwaukee, chatting & joking the whole time. it was friendly, light, & fun.

as we were wrapping things up for the day, we wandered down into veterans park to walk by lake michigan. we approached a little white footbridge, & paused on it to take the view in.

standing next to someone had never felt so comfortable as it did in that moment.

my mind was racing over all of the stupid, crazy risks that came along with a(nother) do-over with chris larson (anger? humiliation? heartbreak, for the 3rd time?), & going over all of the what-ifs (what will our friends say? what will our families think? what if he dumps me…again?).

but my heart? my heart knew, with certainty, that standing next to him felt like home. being with him was exactly where i needed to be.

& it was. we became boyfriend/girlfriend a few weeks later. we shared i love yous a few weeks after that. we moved in together months later & got engaged a year after that.

once i got out of my own way, things just worked out.

& that crazy gut feeling?

it came back in early 2015, when chris got a job opportunity that would bring us to minneapolis, a city where i had no job & we had no friends, just a month before our wedding. but we moved anyway.

& it came back that fall, when i learned about the opportunity to take a food photography workshop from one of my favorite bloggers, despite not having any experience in photography or blogging. but i signed up for it anyway.

& it came back the next winter, when i finally bought the domain for plays well with butter, with no real assurance that i’d like blogging or that i’d be any good at it. but i bought it anyway.

& it came back the next spring, when i left my corporate job to freelance full-time, which more than halved my corporate salary & offered no certainty of long-term success. but i quit anyway.

needless to say, i’ve grown to be a giant proponent of taking big, juicy risks to follow your heart & trust your gut. it’s exactly what’s gotten me to where i am in my business, & in my life.

if you let them, things have a way of falling right into place exactly when they’re supposed to.

nothing cures a broken heart like cooking a beautiful meal.

i saved my favorite for last: there is no better cure for a broken heart, or a tough day, or a tough year for that matter, than cooking a beautiful meal.

my 20s started with a BIG, real love. the kind of short-lived love that inevitably leads to a long & painfully intense heartbreak.

we met working alongside each other at a summer resort in wisconsin’s northwoods. i came back from college year after year to work as a server in its tiny dining room, & he was one of the big city chefs hired by the owner to live on the resort & run its kitchen for the summer.

he was everything my 20-year-old self thought i wanted in a partner. & our relationship? it made me feel like i could be the person i always dreamed of being.

but in the exact same way he was everything to me, i was not everything to him. he broke up with me later that fall over one of our late night phone calls.

& i was devastated.

time has taught me that there’s so much more to life & to real real love than what we shared over those few months. but at the time? it hurt so fucking much.

then a month passed, & it still hurt. then the school year ended 6 months later, & it still hurt. & i started a new relationship, made a ton of memories throughout my senior year of college, graduated & eventually moved off campus…& it still hurt.

contact jess | plays well with butter food blog & food photography

in fact, the only thing that made it hurt less was cooking.

so i cooked.

i cooked, & i cooked, & i cooked.

at first, i cooked because it was the only thing that made everything feel a little better. it served as a distraction for my mind & my hands. in some sort of twisted way, enjoying a thoughtfully prepared meal made me feel closer to him, & closer to the person i was when i was with him.

things eventually shifted, though, & i began to cook because it made me happy. because turning your brain off after a long day & letting your hands do some work to create something to feed your body & your soul is actually magic. because there’s no greater joy than sharing dinner & conversation with your loved ones.

& that’s exactly what brings me here. it’s the belief that’s at the very core of my being, & it’s the very core value of plays well with butter.

food has a transcendent quality about it.

it does so much more than just fuel our bodies.

a good meal can bring us together in celebration, even if all we’re celebrating is the fact that it’s taco tuesday.  

cooking a special recipe can take you back in time, like when you’re baking your grandpa’s famous banana muffins & you have a flashback to the times when he let you sprinkle chocolate chips over them in his hawaiian kitchen.

food is more than just food.

& that is what plays well with butter is all about.

i’m so, so grateful you’ve chosen to come along on this journey with me. i’m so proud of how plays well with butter has grown in the past 3 years, & i’m so excited to share more of what’s i have in store for pwwb in the coming months & years.

i’m sure there are plenty of challenges & lessons ahead, but if there’s one thing my 20s taught me, it’s that things have a way of just working out.

thank you so much for being here. cheers to another 10 amazing years!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.


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  1. 9.6.18
    Vickie said:

    Beautiful and well written! Keep writing!

    • 9.6.18
      jess said:

      thank you, vickie! xo

  2. 9.5.18
    Katie said:

    What a lovely reflection – thank you for sharing!

    • 9.6.18
      jess said:

      thank you for popping in! xo

  3. 9.4.18
    Maman said:

    Beautiful post. You’ve come a long way from senior year in high school when your theme song was Rascal Flatts’ I’m Moving On.

    • 9.4.18
      jess said:

      oh for pete’s sake, mom. thanks for outting me. hahahahahahahahahaha #loser