thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the tag “family”

The Art and Addiction of Escape: Explaining the Explorer

The following reflection is written by my cousin, Wesley Troost, of Kampen, the Netherlands. He grew up on a dairy farm but began guiding outdoor adventures and participating in extreme sports when he was 17. While searching for what this means professionally, Wesley has traveled extensively as a guide, explorer, and soul-searcher, including a trip around the world in 2010-2011. His greatest victories range from graduating from a year of schooling on personal growth to jumping off a 59-foot cliff into the Vorderer Gosausee, a lake in Austria. Challenges yet to accomplish include solo skydiving and creating a successful company of his own.

Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara, Nepal


Isn’t it strange how we all fight almost day and night for a secure, settled life but still admire a traveler?

I used to work as an outdoor sports instructor for months in a row. But I knew that I loved, and still love, the thrill of excitement and the satisfaction of feeling alive after completing an awesome trip. This motivated me to search for more mountains and more adventures. As the Netherlands doesn’t have any mountains at all, it forced me to travel. Not a bad thing, you could say. And it wasn’t!

For at least five years in row, I have spent more nights in a tent then I’ve spent at home. On a good night, I’d have a real roof over my head; on other nights, the stars were my roof. But most of the time a couple of framed poles and a sheet of fabric were what I called my home. And every day was a new adventure. I could go on and on about all the stories, but that’s not my point today (although sometimes it is).

Wesley on a night train through India (2010-2011)

Night train through India

The adventures triggered me to keep going and keep searching. And I kept on learning, exploring, laughing, and making friends. But in between all of this I longed for a warm shower in a warm bathroom! I longed for a couch that I could call my couch where I could rest my head, for food that I didn’t have yesterday or the day before, for a closet that I could open with all of my clothes in it, for a heater that could be turned up or down according to my will, for chocolate sprinkles on fresh Dutch bread, for all the friends I left behind, for a house that I could call home.

A couple of years ago I decided to travel the world. After my work season finished in Europe, I packed a bag with the goal of seeing as many countries as I had dreamed of before the next work season would start. I kept a blog about all the great adventures and the beautiful landscapes. Nepal, India, Thailand, New Zealand… I have never felt more alive. If you have ever taken the gamble of going wherever you felt like going — without a plan, without limits — you too know the addiction of freedom. It doesn’t stop until time or money runs out.

People admire the courage. The courage to put your will ahead of the risks.

Jodhpur, India (the blue city) (2010-2011)

Jodhpur, India, the Blue City

But only three weeks into my trip I found myself stunned. It was at a busy train station in Varanassi, India, where I watched backpackers leaving the station, one after the other. Every single one of them held a worried gaze in their searching eyes. Overwhelmed by the culture and the question, now what? As if they had all forgotten why they left their steady homes and everything they had known to live among the complete opposite. Their eyes stunned me with the question: Why had I?

The question left me with only answers that didn’t satisfy. Not only for that day or that month but for a couple of years. Until now.

Agra, India; home of the Taj Mahal (2010-2011)

Agra, India, home of the Taj Mahal

I haven’t traveled a lot lately. But if my bank account will allow me to, I’ll be gone to discover and explore the many more countries that I dream of. Why? To get a break from life. To escape from the pressure of every day. A day in Western culture causes a human more struggle then finding food, shelter, and happiness in a place where we are total strangers. Let me rephrase that: at times I would rather leave my culture, friends, family, and all the comforts of my home to release myself from the world that I wake up to every morning. Sounds a bit alarming, doesn’t it? But it’s the world we created by ourselves. We have so many balls in the air that we sometimes feel like running away for them not to come down on us.

That is why sometimes I choose cold showers. I choose hiking while my feet hurt. For food that is so spicy that it hurts going in as well as going out. For trusting people I have just met. For traveling 33 hours non-stop. For a bed so hard an elephant couldn’t dent it. While in the meantime I enjoy the world’s most beautiful sunsets. I enjoy nature’s prettiest sceneries and all the thrilling activities it can provide. I enjoy all the cultures. All the people and the stories they carry. I enjoy the pure freedom of deciding whatever I want to do the next day. And I enjoy learning more than any other time of my life. With a searching gaze in my eyes.

Varanassi, India

Varanassi, India

30×30: Lesson 19: Family comes first

Over the summer I visited my family in the Netherlands after having helped lead a six-week study abroad program in Nantes, France. The night before my flight home, my aunt Colleen and I walked to a local tennis club to sip wine and watch my uncle play doubles. Afterwards, we crowded around a table with the tennis partners, neighbors, and friends, and one woman’s smiling eyes shifted from my face to Colleen’s face and back to mine.

She turned to Colleen said something like this: “Ze is zeker je nichtje.” She is definitely your niece.

I understood and smiled. “Ja,” I said. Yes because the woman was right; but also yes because, due to my family, I can be a million miles away from where I belong and still find a place that is home.

Collen and I, 2008

Colleen and I in France, 2008


I am humbled by the loyalty of my family, especially when traveling. Knit by something more than a shared dairy farm, my family challenges one another, begs to differ, and then opens its arms anyway.

Countless times have I stepped off a European train into the waiting hug of a cousin I haven’t seen in years. In August 2009, my siblings, Andrea and Jordan, and I took the train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia just to sip coffee, browse markets, and gab like crazy. A few months ago, my aunt Dena invited me to attend an information session on Foreign Service careers in Washington, D.C.; we sat together, asked each other questions, and discussed everything later with my uncle Floyd over a home-cooked dinner. Just yesterday I just received a text from my cousin, Laura, who asked if she could stop in Pittsburgh on her way back from Wisconsin.

My heart resonates when I am with family far from home.

If family is loyalty, family is also priority, graciousness, and forgiveness. Family is learning from your mistakes, apologizing, and being there when you are needed anyway. Family is where you’ve come from and being open to where you’re going. Family is learning to accept love as much as it is learning to give it. Family is a choice — but it can be the most beautiful one.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

30×30: Lesson 17: Lifelong listening and love

I couldn’t sleep after my first ballet performance (in case you were wondering, it was Laurel Valley Studio’s second rendition of “The Lost Children,” sometime around 1990). The heat of the lights and the swirl of the costumes kept me awake long after bedtime — as well as the memory of my favorite dancer named Crystal who broke her wrist onstage during her solo. Sometime in what seemed the middle of death (as nighttime always seemed to me as a kid), I crept over to my parents’ room.

“Mommy?” I said.


I remember searching for words to explain why I was awake. “I’m glad Crystal’s okay.”

“Me too. How about you sleep with me for a little while?”

And so I climbed into the warm space of the bed that my dad had left empty when going to milk cows, and I fell asleep with the sense that my mom would always be there whenever I needed her. For anything.


Is listening an art, a craft, or a choice? Is it the ability to be on the same wavelength as someone anytime they need you, or is it a skill you hone in order to read the longing in somebody else’s eyes?

For me, listening, like silence, is trust. But it is also peace. For me, growing up with a mother who would put down the phone, turn off the vacuum, and allow me to talk was fundamental to my ability to work through problems, express myself, and learn that I needed to lean on others beyond myself. And this way in which she allowed to breathe also founded my understanding of the friend, partner, sister, and teacher I want to be.

But what is incredible about my mom — about both my parents, actually; as well as my family; and especially my boyfriend, now that I’m really thinking — is the way in which not only has their ability to listen continued, but the way in which their love is followed up by selfless action.

“Just tell us when you need us,” my dad says each time I return to Pittsburgh for a new semester, “and we’ll be there.”

And they all have been. Such support — in action, in patience, and in the words at the end of the phone — give me a foundation on which to stand. Strength to go on. And love to share with others.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Three of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, 2014

Three of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, 2014

30×30: Lesson 15: Intermezzo: My older brother

I’ve reached the halfway point of this 30×30 series. Kind of crazy. There have been some themes: my lessons so far include a lot about fear, letting go, and patience. A lot of them, like Lesson 8, are deeply about how I view myself; others, like Lesson 5, are about how I consider my positioning in this world. On certain days, I find myself writing about what I’m struggling with at that moment (Lesson 14); other days, I write about a lesson that has impacted me repeatedly (Lesson 12). My goal has been to tell stories, reflect at where I am and from where I’ve come, honor the individuals who have allowed me to live my life beside theirs, and maybe impact the way you guys, my friends and readers, think of yourselves.

As I thought through this project as I approached its halfway point, in addition to realizing I have a lot of growing to do I noticed that Lesson 11 was the only post that spoke toward a tangible realization — appreciating that I can walk. Not that the other realizations don’t have tangible results — they bleed into the way I act and choose in very physical, daily ways — but I began wondering what other direct, physical skills I have gained throughout the past 29 years.

Grandma Grove taught me to roll a pie crust. Peggy Grove taught me to play the piano. Julia Child, voiced through Jon Hoey, taught me how to cook eggs (“low heat and lots of butter”). I am extremely glad to know these things, just like I am grateful to the bottom of my soul to have learned to a foreign language, how to eat with chopsticks, and how to properly pour a beer.

But everything else I really care about, I learned from my older brother.

Two years older than me, Chris Grove was my original partner-in-crime, my original best friend. Together our domain was hay forts and four-wheelers, star-gazing and math problems. As a current student in the humanities, I’m often not called to make sense of elementary chemistry, but everything else I’m so relieved to know — how to climb trees, jump a car, swing a hammer, braid bailer twine, change oil, discuss space voyages, grasp basic physics, properly hold a flashlight for someone who is working, differentiate between screwdrivers, and drive an automatic vehicle — I learned from him. (And all that time, I thought we were only playing.)

Because of Chris, when I am faced with problems outside my league, I feel less unarmed and more secure. The lessons he taught me remind me daily that I am a much more complex individual than just a French student, life partner, a writer, and a daughter. Instead, I am the intricacies that make Sylvia.

When thinking of life’s lessons this tangibly — down to the nails we drive in and the computer programs we run — I am even more impressed by how different we all would be without the other people who frame our lives.

It’s humbling. It’s beautiful.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Pine Grove Furnace, 2010

Pine Grove Furnace, 2010


30×30: Lesson 10: The spice of life

Pizza Hut at Grandma's

Pizza Hut at Grandma’s was an anytime tradition. 1989?

There’s a reason why I know all the words to “Tradition,” the opening number to Fiddler on the Roof. From the way my mom spelled out our birthday ages with chocolate chips in the frosting of our cakes, to the races that all the cousins would run (and still do) in my grandmother’s basement during the Grove Christmas, I have a special fondness for things that happen the same way, year after year.

Traditions are reminders of where you’ve come from and, in a certain way, provide a sense of where you’re going. Whatever happens this year, for example, I am pretty sure that I will still be invited to my aunt and uncle’s cottage for Thanksgiving as I have been since I was born; and I’ve already brainstorming the logistics of my fifth annual Cookie Party.

But sometime when I was 20, I realized that, when driving around my hometown, I always navigated certain streets over others, not because they were more convenient but because they were more familiar. When I first began to cook for myself in Talange, France, I developed the tendency to make eggs for dinner multiple times a week, not necessarily because I adored omelets but because I didn’t have the capacity to think up anything else.

At best, traditions solidify groups and knit people together, but running ruts into my own traditions was stagnating.

When Melinda Hoey came into my life, one of the first things I loved about her was the way she would deal with change. No chocolate chips for the cookies? Try mint chips instead. No taste for turkey this Christmas? Lasagna was cool. “Something different,” she’d shrug.

And this was revelatory: that traditions could be beautiful, but so could the skill of exploration, newness, and openness to the unknown.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Friday Photo: The Grove women

Thanksgiving Day, 2012

In France in 2007, Thanksgiving was just another day of assisting in high school classes, cous-cous in the cafeteria, and pan-made stuffing.

This year, I was very conscious of coming home, not for the stuffing or mashed potatoes, but for this: the faces of the Grove women, bent over the noon meal, tasting and stirring with the lips and eyes and pride that define the women from which I’ve come.

Friday Photo: Christmas iCaroling

It’s two days after Christmas, the day that my extended Grove family gets together to exchange gifts wrapped in glittery paper and eat homemade ice cream cake off my grandmother’s Lenox china.  We’ve just finished our traditional supper of potato roll sandwiches, seven-layer salad, Kay & Ray’s potato chips, and homemade Chex mix served buffet-style, right to left, across Grandma’s kitchen counter, and I have just commented to somebody that I can mark my growing up like a timeline by recalling my annual reaction to this 25-year-old menu: the elementary school year I first put mayonnaise on my potato roll sandwich, the high school year during which I abstained from mayonnaise, the college years when I ate everything like normal again.

My mom, the piano teacher, has just sat down at Grandma’s upright piano to play Christmas carols.  One my one, my family puts down their dinner plates and surrounds her to sing, my father with his rich bass, my aunt’s contralto, my two brothers’ bass and tenor, my 90-year-old grandma’s warbling-yet-on-pitch soprano, and the alto and soprano parts that my mother, sister, and I seamlessly trade back and forth like playground candy.  Our voices blend like Brethren-in-Christ memories, smoothing over rough textures and varnished pews.  My immediate family used to sing together in front of the church on Sunday mornings, a fact which I’d almost forgotten, but by my mom’s elbow with my siblings pressed in around a hymnal that predates all of us, I somehow feel that if we were all to rise out of our seats and through the ceiling, our singing could shield us in a world of no sadness like a cord of three strands not easily broken.

I glance over my shoulder to find my boyfriend Jon standing slightly away from the group, his iPhone out, intently studying the screen.  “Who are you texting, hon?” I say, feeling hurt.

Jon glances up at me, surprised.  “I’m following the words,” he says, and then he joins in to the fourth verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” an eager magnificent bass. I turn back around to face the open hymnal before me, a smile playing on my lips as we’re joined by my sister’s fiancé, and I flap my arms to get us all to laugh and sing the chorus a bit louder, lifting all of us into the night.

Post Navigation