Hello from South America.
New Year’s Eve in Nicaragua can be characterized by three things: family, fireworks, and food. Certainly there are other elements for some, the usual celebratory “necessities,” but fireworks are a central part of it all. Everyone has some and they are exuberant in their using pyrotechnics to celebrate a new year. It is not unique to them, but the degree to which it is part of the celebration is significant and intense! Perhaps some of my reaction is my own uncomfortable sense of shooting them off. Food is central to most celebrations. I have observed this on a number of levels and throughout my life. One of my earliest memories of food comes from my Grandmother’s bakery. She had a serious “from-scratch” bakery with pastry bakers and bread bakers, from cake decorating to providing incredible baked goods for diners, stores, and even hospital break rooms. I grew up in that bakery, and perhaps that is where my love of food originated. Growing up, it was the holidays dinners that the same grandmother and her elder sister, creating meals that are unequalled to this day. The food was perfectly prepared, and created with such love that this extra ingredient merely added to its scrumptiousness.
Then, because my own need for money, I fell upon my first job as a server, thank you to an RA, whose first name was Jack. That restaurant introduced me to a world of food before unimagined. There were flaming entrees and desserts; there were meals rolled out on a gueridon. Wine and food were paired, and eating was about creating an experience. This concept, this practice had never occurred to me. In the years since, working in the food and beverage industry was both a way to make ends meet, but it became so much more. Food is a medium that is a profound equalizer. We all need to eat, but the communal aspect of eating and our response to the fellowship that occurs reveals more about us than we often know. Certainly our connection to food has changed over time. Dinner time was sacrosanct in my household when I was a child. Everyone was sitting at the table at 5:00 o’clock sharp, and being late was not permitted. And yet, my mother, who could outdo any confectioner or candy maker at Christmas, could not cook an edible dinner to save her soul. Conversely, my Grandmother and her sister were kitchen mavens, long before anyone would have considered such a term. Growing up on South Dakota farms during the depression meant they could make magic from nothing. My love of vegetables began in their garden, and there was nothing thrown away, the steamed water became broth. Bones and organs became stock. Everything needed was on the farm, from main dishes and sides to homemade bread and stunning pies and cakes. It was their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that set the standard I have to this day.
I have been fortunate to taste meals from 5 continents and my favorite meal, the ultimate comfort food for me, is simple: a half of pink grapefruit, two poached eggs (soft) and a single piece of buttered toast. Nothing ostentatious, but what my grandma made me every morning. What made it amazing, a little butter on both the eggs and the toast. I am adventurous when it comes to food, but I am also content with simple. It might seem I have strayed from my initial intent of the blog, but fear not, I have not. Home for me is about comfort and safety. Throughout the decade I have been posting, the place of safety for me was 4547 Harrison Street, my grandparent’s home, my place of residence from ages 2-5. I never felt that safety again until I created it on the Acre. That is a half century of time. That realization to stunning to me. The reality is a somewhat frightening when I ponder it in any pointed manner. Simply – seldom did I feel like I had a home for the great majority of my life. Home is essential for identity; home is foundational to security. And yet, not surprisingly, it is much more than a building, an address, a place on lays their head. It is more than ownership or being current on one’s mortgage or rent.
As I write this, I am back in Pennsylvania. It is good to be back on Sterner Avenue, the place I call the mini-Acre. It has become home to me, but the important question is how. I think there are three reasons I can say it feels like home. First, I have decorated and made it mine, both inside and out. Second, this past holiday I turned it into the Winter Wonderland. Christmas and all the decorations recreate the feeling of safety that was the acreage that was my grandmother’s house, the place I felt loved and valued. I think that is what creates a home, feeling loved and valued. The third thing that has created a sense a home is playing in my kitchen. Between waiting tables, prepping in kitchens, and being a restaurant rat and cork dork, food is a fundamental element of my being. I love what you can do when preparing a meal to change a person’s perspective, to contribute to their experiences at any given moment, to establish a connection that is both rewarding to them and personal for me. It is not altruistic, nor is it meant to be. It is in the creating a space what is welcoming and safe that everyone can be themselves. It is through tastes and conversations that we change our lives, one meal, one bite, one glass, or one sip at a time. It is through these three seemingly ordinary things that something extraordinary has occurred.
Much like the same principles I have noted in my Winter Term Technical Writing class, attention to detail and understanding expectations are what creates successful documentation. Creating a home and feeling safe to refer to a space as home is about attention to detail and understanding expectations. Detail is something easy to manage, expectations are something quite different. I have my own expectations, and as is quite evident here, my own baggage. But expectations also come from the other, from the person entering the dwelling. And those expectations come from places both realized and unrealized, from both apparent and unapparent memories. Sometimes it is about things that seem mundane or irrelevant, but our senses are unparalleled in their ability to pull something from the most extreme recesses of our mind. Sound, smell, and even a course of events can pull us back to a previous time and overwhelm the present. And yet, often it happens so unexpectedly, that we fail to process either the present moment or what caused the déjà vu moment to begin with. La prime example for me was at the Acre (my former house) one day. As I walked into my large farmhouse kitchen through what was my back door, I could sense my grandmother sitting in the kitchen on her stool one evening. It was at that moment, and not because of all the renovations I had done, that the Acre became home.
In much the same way, it was as I sat on my couch this past December, with the fireplace blazing, the large Christmas tree lit, and the home decorated in every room that I felt the warmth and serenity of Christmas, of a sense peace that I had not felt since a Christmas on Harrison Street. 239 W Sterner was more than the new place; it has become my current home. There are many details that contribute, and there is always more to do, but at the moment I am content. I am home. This piece by Mannheim Steamroller has reminded me of that serenity and the purity that I believed existed as a small boy. The goodness and safety in feeling loved and valued. In spite of this being more Christmas-based musically, being loved and valued is always in season. Enjoy!
This piece brings tears of joy. I still miss you, Grandma, and I love you. You are my hero. To everyone else, thank you for reading