Clock Works

As my 101 year old grandmother transitions between living situations, she found herself giving away some of her most carefully curated possessions.

At some point in the last forty-six years I (apparently, though unintentionally) impressed upon her that my (genuine) interest in her cuckoo clock, the same clock that hung on the wall of her house for most of my childhood, the same clock that my (late) grandfather would wind daily by pulling the chains down to the floor each night, the same clock that would fascinate us with it’s animations when we visited, that such a clock should end up on my wall some day.

That day was today.

I am feeling a little emotional and humbled, to be honest.

As my parents and relatives assisted with the job of packing up her room and sorting out what needs to move to the next place, my grandmother firmly asserted that the clock was to go to me.

So, suddenly there I was, with something of a family heirloom in a heap on my kitchen table after a short delivery visit by my folks.

As it turns out, my grandmother got tired of the tick-tocking and hourly cuckoos about fifteen years ago, so the beautiful beast has done little more than hung lifeless on her wall as a decoration for that whole time.

I hung it up, set it up, reset it all, and … the ticking doesn’t tock as well as it used to.

The pendulum ticks and tocks for a few seconds… or a few minutes… as long as eight minutes once, keeping accurate time for a fraction of an hour, but then tick-tock-tick… tick…. tick… silence.

I opened it up to see if there was something obviously wrong, but clock works are not my specialty (nor, if I’m being completely honest, a thing that I have anything other than a passing experience) in diagnosing or fixing.

So, for the moment, the family clock is hanging decoration-like on my wall looking sharp and elegant and like it belongs there. But thus starts an adventure to restore it to the glory of the 70s and 80s and those days I remember from my youth, and to bring back the ticks, tocks and maybe even a cuckoo or two.

Cast Iron Convinced-ish

After nearly nineteen years of marriage, I’d like to think I’ve learned something about not just my own spouse, but about being married in general. One of those lessons is that a good spouse is one who can keep the other in check, balanced, and grounded. And vice versa, of course.

Introvert and extrovert. Left and right. Yin and yang.

I can’t tell you when exactly I became a die hard fan of cast iron cooking. It came on gradually and evolved proof-wise from an ever-growing, ever-expanding collection of pieces and recipes that validated my obsession.

I can tell you that my wife has been — tho largely supportive — mostly skeptical of the effort and has never fully jumped into the crucible of molten iron that is my cast iron fandom.

Insomuch as she has enjoyed the results of my cooking efforts, there have been a wave of negs from the gallery, commenting on their weight, or the space they occupy in our cupboards, trotted out like a curious exhibit for visitors who get a peek into the cast iron cupboard.

Then last week I found her cooking dinner having unearthed a Teflon frying pan from the depths of our pantry.


Or, yin and yang.

“You’re using an old frying pan?” I asked.

“I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy one.” She replied.

Don’t get me wrong. She knows very well that there are jobs for which a cast iron pan is just a pan and others for which cast iron is king. This past weekend she led the charge for Father’s day, frying up a sizzling pan of smoked pork chops fried to a crispy finish in my ten and quarter inch Lodge.

But her convinced quotient still leans the “sorta” column whereas mine is camped in the “fully convinced” lot.

Her caution is the balance to my obsession.

And for any stray reader who stumbles upon this website or post, perhaps googling a query like of “how to convince my wife to switch to cast iron” or “great reasons to buy your first cast iron pan” the advice I would offer is simple: maybe you never will. Maybe you never should. Maybe you only need to convince yourself and then just cook. The proof is in the pudding… or pancakes. And anyway, who cares if no one else does. Do you and find joy where you need to.

We have a cupboard full of cast iron and I use it almost daily to prepare our meals, bake our bread, or grill up interesting things to share. Years on, my spouse still doesn’t quite get it… and maybe she never will.

Maybe that balance is a good thing.

It reminds me to enjoy and use the pieces I have, to keep learning new skills as to bring her closer to team “fully convinced” and overthink it all to maintain that balanced yin and yang of a good marriage cast in something probably much stronger than iron.

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.


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.