Summer Challenge: Build Your Own Damn House!

Published July 13, 2014 by Susan Woodward

At the beginning of summer, Rev. Kaaren told us a story about toast. And coffee. And coconuts. And she challenged us to “build your own damn house!”

toast-3The story of Giulietta Carrelli, a woman who found comfort in cinnamon toast, energy/speed/communication in coffee, and survival in coconuts can be found if you click on the picture. It is the story involving a restaurant that offers only those items. And if you get the whole shebang, that order is called “Build Your Own Damn House.” Please do read the article to get the full impact of Giulietta’s story.

I remember my mom making us cinnamon toast when I was a kid. I had forgotten all about the treat until Kaaren brought the memory to the forefront with this tale. I remembered how Mom would butter the hot toast and while it was still warm, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the melted butter, and how it would almost caramelize just before taking the tiniest bites so as to savor its flavor and make the toast last. I can’t believe I’d forgotten how I had made that for my own children, but then stopped for some reason. Memories of cinnamon toast brought back sensations of satisfaction and comfort from my childhood, and I wanted to live them again. Many times I forget about the simple things that made me feel so good when I was younger. The busyness of adult life has a tendency to not leave much room for childhood simplicities.

While thinking about (and making) cinnamon toast for myself at home, I thought about other simple things that my Mom made when I was a kid and that I’d thought of as “comfort food”: shells and butter with garlic salt, tuna and egg salad sandwiches (yes, mixed), cucumbers and sour cream, jello with milk poured over it… these are memories that go beyond filling a stomach with inexpensive ingredients. I can taste and smell every one of them, and I vowed that I was going to allow these simple pleasures back into my life, these forgotten memories.

I can see how Giulietta Carrelli got the idea of offering cinnamon toast as a way of awakening simple, comfort-laden memories, and why so many people flock to her establishment to get a dose of this for themselves.

Included on the menu is a good cup of coffee. It warms the insides as well as offering an energetic kick. While the toast brings on nostalgia, the coffee gives energy to act on those activities that nurture me. The toast reminds me of the comfort of simple foods, and the coffee fuels me to partake in simple activities to rejuvenate my spirit. To Carrelli, coffee also symbolizes communication. How often when we decide to meet up with someone, it tends to be over coffee? When guests come to our home, isn’t it true that we most often offer coffee as a beverage? It make sense to see coffee as a symbol of communication.

Coconut is also on her menu as a symbol of survival. Since I started doing walking/running races, I have heard the praises of coconut water for hydration (along with the mighty chia). I even heard stories of how soldiers injured in the South Pacific during WWII had been kept alive through IV’s connected to green coconuts when IV fluid packs were not available. While coconut does not stir nostalgic memories in me, I certainly can relate to survival. Looking back, I see many times in my life when things were terribly difficult and how I managed to survive them. These remind me of how strong I have become over the years, and how the life I enjoy today is because of the struggles of yesterday. That alone makes me feel a sense of gratitude to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures that make life worth living…what I survived for.

Those things together…comfort, speed, communication, and survival…are all I need to build my own damn house, my own spiritual temple within.

How perfectly wonderful for a summer challenge, especially after ending a rather stress-filled school year. After being told that I would be teaching two new preps next year (English 10 and 11), I had been fretting about spending the entire rejuvenation time writing lesson plans. However, when gathering ideas for English 11, I went to the Transcendentalists to open the school year. I selected Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” to kick things off, followed by excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  Beginning my summer reading with these pieces fit perfectly into the challenge offered by Rev. Kaaren…how to build my own damn house.

The first step was to actually make some cinnamon toast! I savored the taste and took the tiny bites like I’d done when I was little. I sipped a hot cup of good coffee in the process (my personal favorite is Ethiopian Harrar). To be truthful, I had to pause while writing this to go make some cinnamon toast and coffee.  🙂 But the first time I made the treat earlier this week, I munched on it while reading Walden to prepare some lesson plans. During my reading, I began to feel a bit restless to partake in the simple act of walking in Nature. After finishing my breakfast, I got out my hiking boots, grabbed a container of coconut water (I stocked up as part of the toast/coffee/coconut symbols), and shoved Thoreau’s book into my back pocket as I headed out to Durand Eastman Park.

Durand LakeThe link below is to my Map My Walk ap that I use on my phone to keep track of my excursions.

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 2.78mi, time: 01:01:48, pace: 22:13min/mi, speed: 2.70mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/642687573

The hike around Durand Lakes’ sister, Eastman Lake, reminded me of the visit to Walden Pond I’d made with my daughter, Robin, years ago. Those memories, like the cinnamon toast in my belly, reminded me of times filled with the simplicity of being in Nature. I smiled as I remembered the frog she caught on our walk around Walden Pond, and how she laughingly kissed it in the hope of it turning into her prince. Those memories were made even more special on this particular hike because I had just witnessed the birth of Robin and her husband Sean’s daughter earlier in the week.

Durand Park Hippogriff Pond Uprooted Tree

After finishing my hike, I got my folding chair out of the trunk and found an appropriate spot along Durand Lake to read:

Walden

And so my challenge begins. I even booked a cabin in the woods for four nights in August! And, like Thoreau, I bartered for the price. I will be in a tiny, one room cabin, and in exchange for the fourth night, I shall do some copy-editing for the owner’s online advertisement!

I look forward to spending the summer finding more ways to Build MY Own Damn House!

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