One Hundred (Incredible) Years

I found myself in a local drugstore this weekend, standing in the greeting card aisle, picking out a birthday card.

The selection was limited.

Limited, not because the store was lacking in birthday cards, but because there was only one option with the correct age number printed on the front: 100.

While we’ve spoken on the phone numerous times, I hadn’t seen my grandmother in person for well over a year. This, even though she lives a mere dozen kilometers away in a care home near the neighbourhood where she lived most of her life, a fifteen minute drive away from my front door. Fluctuating restrictions due to the pandemic have had us teetering on the knife edge between “probably shouldn’t” and “definitely cannot” go for a visit.

Yet for a birthday celebration, her with double-dosed vaccinations and us with one each, we spared a bit of caution and met her in the grassy courtyard for a sunshiny visit and a cupcake.

It’s not how any of us imagined celebrating a century of life.

One hundred years is such an unfathomable span of time for most of us that to tell folks that a loved one has reached the milestone evokes reactions ranging from clapping and cheering to dropped jaws and gasps of astonishment.

“One hundred?! Really?” They say. “That’s incredible.”

Because it is incredible.

Within some of that hundred years I’ve had plenty of overlapping time to experience the influence of this woman I call my grandmother.

She loved to walk and did so every day of her life, until she couldn’t anymore, and then still tries to walk as much as she is able up and down the hallways of her care home. I don’t know that she was ever a hiker or explorer, per se, but I can’t imagine that she ignored those countless trails running through the creek ravines near her old house, some of the same trails I now run.

With the exception of a small patio, her entire backyard was a vegetable garden and my oldest memories of visiting her in that house were of my grandparents fussing with weeds, and tinkering with soil. The rhubarb plant now growing strong in my own garden was a cultivar of her plant and after fifteen years I still consider that I’m just minding it for her.

And as long as she was in her own home she never fell for the trendy upgrade to an electric stove, remaining in my mind the one and only cook who stuck by gas and her good sturdy kitchen tools. I missed out on the family cast iron collection, a regret I’ll have for a long time because the culinary gene skipped a generation (right over my mother) and all credit for my interest in making food goes back to that lineage, pots, pans, and genetics all.

But there it is. I don’t know how to celebrate a century of life in these times other than to acknowledge it. Just say, wow.

A piece of cake.

A conversation in the sunshine.

A card with a giant one-zero-zero on the front.

Incredible.

A Gift of Bread

Since the pandemic began I’ve been baking a lot of sourdough.

In fact, on my way home over a year ago from my last day in the office and even as we transitioned into working-from-home mode, I stopped at the grocery store and restocked my flour supply. Then as I checked into my kitchen and fed my starter, I kicked off the first of what now accounts for almost two hundred loaves of bread.

All of it was practical. All of it was a kind of food security during a time of uncertainty. All of it was for ourselves.

And then about a month ago as we were passing through on our way to the mountains and stopping for a brief puppy-pee-break at the in-laws house, I had bagged a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven sourdough and handed it off to my mother-in-law.

A gift of bread.

The practicality of that gesture was simply that a loaf of bread was best eaten fresh by someone who would enjoy it, rather than left on our counter while we spent the weekend on mini-holiday.

The emotional aspect was that my mother-in-law had been halfway teasing that I should stop bragging about all my bread and posting photos of it on the socials if I wasn’t going to start offering to deliver to their house (an hour and a half drive away!)

So I delivered.

And this resulted in a text message the next day thanking us for the short visit and the gift, and suggesting it was probably the best bread she’d had in about a year. Great!

Food of any kind, but particularly food one has personally made, is linked to a long history of human gift giving. It is probably one of the most foundationally human things we do: make something worth eating, then give it our family, friends, or… everyone.

I had been baking bread casually in the years leading into the pandemic, and often the loaves I created were shortcuts to contributing to communal meals: something to bring to a gathering or a picnic or a thanksgiving dinner. And apart from a few gluten-adverse acquaintances, sourdough is simple enough to satisfy almost anyone, like the friend who cannot eat eggs, or my vegan pals, or even the picky folks who don’t like spicy food. Sourdough is just so basic… and yet robust enough to hold its own in that long human tradition of sharing your food with others.

There is both a universality to bread and an implied effort with sourdough. Almost everyone’s eyes light with an “Oh! You brought fresh bread!?” as you pull it from a bag and start slicing it up.

That same mother-in-law (though I only have one) put in a request earlier this week. One of our extended family just got some sad medical news (details redacted) and she was hoping we could make a delivery this weekend.

A gift of bread.

Of course we can.

Family Day

Where I live we have a province-wide statutory holiday called Family Day. Today. It always falls on the third Monday of February, and for as long as I’ve been working it has been a random day off in the middle of winter with a clear theme, but no clear method of celebration.

You don’t exchange cards or gifts.

It’s not something that we decorate for.

There are no fireworks, and you generally go to bed at a reasonable time because you’ve got to get up and go to work the next day.

And in the middle of February it is almost always too cold to do much outdoors beside bundle up and listen to everyone gripe about frozen toes and ears!

I’ve been pretty clear on the theme of this blog: cast iron cooking and outdoor adventure.

What I haven’t written much about (though I’ve alluded to frequently) is my family.

My wife of nearly eighteen years.

My teenage daughter.

My new puppy.

Relatives all across the country, and around the world.

And many good friends that have earned honourary aunt and uncle status with the kid.

And I’ve written about all of it for a long time. In fact, over the years I’ve created a few different websites, and if you had asked me a dozen years ago I’d have said that the biggest theme of most of my writing was fatherhood and how it intersects with all the other things in my life.

For example…

The first of the two notable websites was a “dad rules” blog, where I would come up with tongue-in-cheek rules for being a dad based on things the kid was doing, write about the silly antics babies and toddlers got up to, and tie it altogether into a cohesive article.

The second fatherhood website that got a lot of traction was my “This is Pi Day!” web comic. The name came from the idea that pi day, March 14th, was essentially just a celebration of both math and dad jokes. The whole day was just one big dad joke. My comic was mostly the kid character reacting to the dad joke sense of humour of the dad character. The site is still live, but if it happens not to be working when you click on it, note that I host it on a homebrew server in my basement that crashes occasionally.

While those two blogs were focused on family stories and how they interected with the things I was interested in, if you’ve read enough of this blog you’ll probablly note that it is spun around the other way: focused on the things I’m intersted and how it intersects with my family.

I cook and bake and set an example of sustainable, healthy eating while teaching these things to my daughter.

I run, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors, doing much of it with my family and to set an example to a kid who loves her screentime.

And I try to instill a sense of legacy and purpose into my work, the hobbies I do and tools I use to build up something to someday pass down to my now and future family.

These are the things I’m interested and how they intersect with family.

So, on this family day, a diversion from that regular focus to spin it back around for a moment: that’s my family and how it drives almost everything I do. No cards or gifts or decorations, just a quiet celebration at home today.