Dear Mom,

It sounds like you really enjoyed your vacation, but there’s something nice about home. I’m a rooted creature. I’ve lived in exciting places. The feeling of curling up in my childhood bed under the same quilt that kept me warm when I was an infant, however, is just as appealing as the excitement of sleeping somewhere way cooler. Being home is grounding; it reminds me that I once had a life—and will always have one—outside the black hole of whatever currently consumes me.

Right now that black hole is school—it’s totally consuming, and I haven’t been cooking much. My visit home for Thanksgiving, though, inspired my vegetable-chopping ambitions. Our traditions—the 10K run, shots of slivovitz, lots of food—pulled me from the darkness and threw me back to moments much bigger than that hole. That’s why traditions are meaningful.

Latkes are my favorite winter tradition. Four years ago, I threw a Chanukah party in India. I grated potatoes with three friends, two knifes and one hand peeler. We poked holes into a bottle gourd for a menorah. We covered the floors with newspaper to soak up the grease. We left the door open in my kitchen for ventilation, and a cow wandered inside! For a day, I removed myself from the consuming anxieties of living in a foreign place. I remembered that wherever I am—whatever consumes me—there’s always something outside much, much bigger and more important.

I might not have the wherewithal to make latkes plus deal with the corresponding mess in my little Berkeley kitchen, but I’ve been invited to a few Chanukah parties where latkes will be aplenty. I’ll bring curry cashew cream and mint chutney as an alternative to traditional sour cream and applesauce. Tradition is important, but the Berkeley crowd calls for twists on conventions (sans cow).

Happy Chanukah!