Last Spring was a bit of a blur for me, but today, if I close my eyes and think about that time, I am transported back to a cold April day. It was a day the promise of many things—including snow—hung delicately in the air. And it was the promise of a beginning that manifested itself in the shape of a key—a key that would open the door to a hopeful, happy future.
I remember the sound as the key slid into the lock and my footsteps’ hollow echo as I walked across the floor. I remember the way the space felt and smelled, so fresh and new. I remember wandering around as if in a trance, pulling open the blinds and seeing a hint of dust dance in the flood of sunlight and—although I was on a tight schedule and needed to get back to work—sitting down on the floor and taking in the moment.
I pressed the key firmly into my palm now and it moved ever so slightly against the pulse it had found—a pulse now slower, calmer, than it had been in months and possibly years.
And as I sat there in the emptiness of my new place, so full of promise and potential, I remember thinking, “Now what?”
The “now what” of course ended up being a manifestation of the old cliché: I just took things one day at a time. (As I mentioned in last week’s post, when you don’t know where to start, sometimes you just have to begin.)
So that first night, my daughter, Zoey, and I ate dinner out and, returning home, fell asleep together on a makeshift bed I made up on the floor. And that next day, in the middle of a snowstorm, we moved in.
Because I didn’t have much—a desk, a dresser, a nightstand, my childhood bed I’ve had since I was 4, and a trunk I’d saved every last penny to buy when I’d first moved to Colorado—it didn’t take long. And in spite of the storm, the IKEA delivery man showed up with my newly purchased furniture (IKEA’s home delivery service is a godsend, by the way) and as I signed the paperwork, he shook my hand and smiled and offered these words:
“Now it’s time to make it a home.”
* * *
Over the next few months, the IKEA delivery man’s comment stuck with me. More than anything, I wanted to make my new place feel like home. But with most of my stuff being new, it was going to be the little pieces of my past I had brought with me that would make this a home: the photos, souvenirs from travels, and other childhood memorabilia that I had kept over the years. I knew of course the love between my daughter and I would certainly make this a home, but I really wanted to make this a comfortable, warm space, too.
Because my daughter and I both love music, I knew one of my first purchases would be a record player, which one might think odd since I didn’t own any records myself. But because I grew up listening to my parents’ records, I had an appreciation for how a song sounded on vinyl—warm and inviting. Being children of the 50’s and 60’s, my folks’ albums were diverse, from The Beatles to Motown to Simon & Garfunkel. So although the record player I bought was new, I felt a deep emotional connection to the concept of owning one in my home. Just like my parents did with me, I wanted to expose Zoey to all kinds of musical genres. Christmas was also right around the corner, and the thought of a Christmas record playing during December as snow softly fell outside my window sounded pretty perfect to me.
So the first records I purchased were a handful of old Christmas albums and a copy of Harry Chapin’s Legends of the Lost and Found, which included the song I was named after, and very well could have been the soundtrack of my youth. It was all so very nostalgic.
And you know what? I loved how doing this nostalgic new thing—collecting and playing records—made me feel. I was happier, more like myself, more connected and engaged. I realized I wanted these new experiences to continue.
* * *
When I thought about what I wanted to do for this week’s Everyday Nostalgia post, I thought back to the things that had contributed to making my new place feel like home—the record player and records, photographs, art, collectables, books. Books . . . One of the books I had was a family recipe book my aunt had assembled back in 2004. While flipping through those pages always made me nostalgic (my grandmother’s yummy Christmas cookies and her to-die-for white cake recipe she always made for everyone’s birthday), I realized I’d never really made any of those recipes myself that my family and I cherished so much.
Inspired, I decided to make one of these well-loved recipes. As I flipped through the pages trying to decide which one to pick, I came across my great grandmother’s Polish pancake recipe. It made me pause because just last month, during my parents’ visit, my father had shared stories of his grandmother as we all sat around the table and taught Zoey how to play cards. My father shared stories of how Great Grandma Z would always cheat when she played cards and how she’d speak in Polish whenever she didn’t want people to know she was talking about them (but, of course, they knew, they just may not have understood…). Although I’d never met my card-shark, Polish-whispering great grandmother, hearing these stories made me feel connected to her, and to all of my family and the things they had passed down, in some shape or form, which contributed to who I am today.
I asked my father about these pancakes, traditionally called nalesniki, and I could immediately tell that the mention of them took him back to his youth. His voice changed as he told me how delicious they were, and how the best way to eat them was with real butter spread all across the top, and then rolled up and drenched in maple syrup. I could tell he was thinking back to his childhood, sitting at a kitchen table, mouth watering in anticipation of these pancakes being placed in front of him, waiting to be eaten up (with lots of butter, of course).
We all know that eating engages all the senses. Touch, sight, smell, sound and taste—all create a sensory smörgåsbord. And because of this, it’s no wonder that food related memories are some of the strongest memories we have. Smell in particular can bring back particularly strong nostalgic memories and research shows that scent-evoked nostalgia is associated with “higher levels of positive affect, self-esteem, self-continuity, optimism, social connectedness and meaning in life.”
And it made me think how I felt holding that Harry Chapin record I bought, how the smell of the slightly tattered and yellowed paper sleeve and the first few pops it made against the needle immediately transported me back to my own childhood. It brought home the fact that we are all just a collection of the people that come before us, the experiences we have, and the memories we make.
And it’s those memories that I want to hold on to for me and my daughter.
So of course, Zoey and I made these pancakes (she liked the idea because her great-great-grandmother’s last name started with a Z), and my dad was right: they were delicious. And although we’d never made them or eaten them before, the intoxicating mixture of butter and syrup and laughter and flour on noses and full bellies certainly did feel like home.
Grandma Z's Polish Pancakes
A thin, crepe-like pancake that can be served with berries, jam, honey, maple syrup, confectioner's sugar, bacon, ham, or sausage.
- 3 eggs
- 2 1/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- In bowl, beat eggs and 1 cup milk.
- Add flour, salt, and butter. Beat until smooth.
- Beat in remaining 1 1/4 cup milk and let batter rest at least 1 hour.
- Stir batter, then measure 1/4 cup into skillet and tilt for even distribution.
- Cook until golden brown, then turn and cook other side.
- Serve at once or keep warm on platter set over hot water.
So, to the IKEA prophet out there who not only delivered my furniture but also delivered sage advice: Thank you. You’ll be happy to know I’m doing just what you suggested. I’ve made my place a home. My home. And it’s not “in with new and out with the old.” It’s in with the new and in with the old. It’s in with the laughter and love and, well, life. It’s about finding the keys that unlock doors and forgotten places in your heart, and it’s about finding your way home, one amazing new—and old—experience at a time.
* * *
Everyday Nostalgia is about finding and celebrating connections to your past and using them to create better days today. This week was about doing something new that was a happy nostalgic part of my past. What old nostalgic things can you make a new part of your life? What did you always want to try, but never did?
Think about who you are, where you came from, and what you want to be. Think about the people, the places, the events in your past and how you can incorporate those things to your present life. Do something new. Do something old. Whatever you do, this can be the starting point that will lead you to being more engaged and more present in your life.
And it might even be the key to leading you home.
Week 2 Suggested Reading
by Meera Lee Patel
Our suggested reading this week is Meera Lee Patel’s gorgeous, interactive journal, Start Where You Are. Designed to help readers nurture their creativity, mindfulness, and self-motivation, it helps readers navigate the confusion and chaos of daily life with a simple reminder: that by taking the time to know ourselves and what those dreams are, we can appreciate the world around us and achieve our dreams. Start Where You Are presents supportive prompts and exercises along with inspirational quotes to encourage reflection through writing, drawing, chart-making, and more.
* This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com. If you purchase a product after clicking an affiliate link (and it doesn’t even need to be the one I’ve linked to), I receive a small percentage of the sale for referring you, at no extra cost to you.*