I’ve got a confession.

I am the kind of person with five separate meditation apps on my phone. I can tell you how many because I went through the trouble of creating a tiny folder on my screen to contain them all in an attempt to encourage myself to use them.

It’s right next to the folder entitled “wellbeing,” filled with small apps that promise to help me organize my day, set goals, develop better habits, and any number of things.

And yet, everywhere I turn I feel I’m being told to take care of myself. To find the time, make the practice, put my oxygen mask on first. I can do this, they tell me, in any number of ways. Develop a morning practice – yoga or journaling or meditation. End my day with a gratitude list. Pick up a hobby just for me. Get weekly massages. All of which sounds absolutely delightful.

Except, in the phase I’m in right now—yes, it’s a phase of decades with little end in sight any time soon—being able to take a shower in which I wash and condition my hair without any one knocking on the door to use the bathroom is living my best life. Even better, if that shower comes after I’ve actually cleaned the bathroom—we won’t discuss how often that happens. Sheer unadulterated bliss.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is chock full of Good Things (TM). But that’s just it, it’s CHOCK FULL. It’s so full, there’s, at times, hardly space for me, let alone yoga.

I don’t mind so much most days. My days are filled with a job I love that feels purposeful and absolutely exhausting, a husband who is a great partner, two kids on the verge of tipping into adulthood filled with opinions and ideas—and when they choose to explain them all to me, I’m all ears, all the time. Our mornings start early in a delicate balance of who has the bathroom when and end with trains, buses, homework, late business calls, and, if we’re lucky, an episode of Alone in which we armchair quarterback with glee but very little practical knowledge.

If I actually stay awake through the entire episode, I consider it a win. Ending my day with a “Best wishes” to my daughter as she saunters off to sleep, replying, “Warmest regards” down the hallway.

Life is good. Busy and exhausting and abso-effing filled to the brim, but good.

And yet, I hear the commentary on self-care and filling my cup and finding the time. I feel in my bones that it is necessary. But, like I ask my therapist, When exactly will this happen? This meditation in which I concentrate on my breath and not try to identify the strange smell that certainly exists and is now impossible to ignore? Or the journal that starts with things to be grateful for, until I decide what I’d really be grateful for is some idea for dinner this week and a coherent list of groceries instead.

The every day is demanding and relentless, and impossible to ignore.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to take a breath. To be present, savor the moment even as it passes by like a rocket. It just means that maybe I don’t need to add one more thing to my to-do list to make it happen. The magic is the ride, the cacophony of the everyday.

The best self-care I can subscribe to is finding those everyday activities that feed my soul and leaning in with all I have. Using those moments, as they are, to take a breath and just be. To think about the wonder—and chaos—that surrounds me and be grateful. Be aware. Be intentional in how I exist within it.

My main moment for this is dinnertime. These people I share my home with need to eat, as do I. On the regular, I find myself in the tiny kitchen of our fifth floor walkup drumming up some sort of meal over our too small stove. I love to cook, and while I’m often hampered by time, the meals I create in that liminal space between homework and bedtime are my love language.

When I can stir a pot, knead some dough, create something to nourish the people I love—to nourish myself—I’m choosing ingredients that represent my hopes and love for them. Herbs and spices that will lend me what I need in that moment—an extra bit of black pepper for courage or a squeeze of lime for luck. It’s a chance to revisit a long lost friend or a favorite far away place in time with the smells and flavors of a particular recipe.

I can simply stir clockwise to bring forth good things and remind myself how cute the kids were when they were little. How much cuter we all were.

But always, I have that moment, however long I wish to make it. Feet on the ground in the midst of our ever-evolving lives, making food—hopefully, a memory—that lasts much longer than that night. Breathe in, breathe out. Hold in the beauty of the moment, the thing that went right, the laughter in the hallway, the singing in the living room. Breathe out the stress of the missed meeting, the looming deadline, the petty argument.

A turn of the spoon, a slice into bread. A wish, a hope, an intention. A moment where all there is, is this moment to nurture with this food I prepare.

I’m not ready to exit the chaos just yet. I’m not yet at the self-care phase of meditation and journaling and yoga. And that’s okay. I will find the time over the stove or at the chopping board, woven in between the threads that composing my every days.

It’s where, right now, I feel most empowered and at ease.

And if I’m honest, I find joy in it. The ridiculousness of it all. The challenge of it all. The magic in every moment.

Misty Bell Stiers is an artist and author. Her memoir Witch, Please (Apollo Publishers, 2018), explores her extraordinary journey to Wicca and features her original art. Her new cookbook, Light, Fire, & Abundance (Apollo Publishers, November 2023), draws from ancient practices and natural properties of plants and herbs to provide an understanding of how food connects us and how to impart love through a thoughtful meal.