Monthly Archives: March 2015

Spring Sunshine

spring sunshine

As the days turn warmer, you can almost hear the city breathing a collective sigh of relief. Even though our winter this year wasn’t all that harsh, there were still enough days where we had to bundle up in huge puffy coats and mitts and hats and scarves to make us long for the season to change. In winter we hurry from one place to another, clutching our hoods tightly around our faces to block out the cold winds and barely slowing down for a glance at the person passing us on the sidewalk. We forgo nights out with friends in favour of staying warm and cozy on the couch in the comfort of our homes. The long hours of cold and darkness bring out the hermit in most of us.

As much as I love to get out to the mountains to ski and snowshoe, I’m never sad when I see winter coming to an end. Spring brings the promise of so many good things. As the sun gets stronger, I start to feel that the days of music festivals, boat rides, camping trips, and backyard barbecues with friends are not so far off. I can almost taste that cold Corona with a little hint of lime and feel the warm grass on the soles of my bare feet. I can imagine that feeling of complete freedom as I plunge into the chilly lake water for my first swim of the season and then let the sun coax every drop of water off of my browning back. I can feel my shoulders relax as my body begins to realize that it no longer needs to steel itself against the biting chill.

Spring sunshine doesn’t pack the same punch as its summer counterpart. Instead, it gently whispers of things to come. As the first buds start to appear on our leafless trees and the first flowers poke their heads out, I feel so much excitement for the upcoming season. I’ve always been a lake-swimming, sandal-sporting summer girl, and this late March sunshine on my shoulders lets me know that my favourite season isn’t too far away.

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My Calgary: OEB

OEB eggs benedict

I still remember the first time Zevi and I visited OEB. We tried to go to a well known breakfast joint down the street, but since there was such a huge line up we decided to take a chance on a little spot that had just opened a few doors down. It may have been the one and only Saturday in its existence when we could just walk right in and get a table! I was instantly impressed, and had a feeling that that it would become a favourite.

Let’s be honest, the last thing I really want is for OEB to gain more popularity. There are already hordes of people spilling out the doors on weekend mornings, and even on a weekday you’ll probably have to wait a few minutes to score a seat. As much as I’d love to keep it to myself, though, there’s no way I could talk about my favourite spots in Calgary without mentioning this gem.

The number one thing everyone mentions when they talk about OEB are those potatoes. And man are they some incredible potatoes – the best ones in Calgary in my books. If a french fry and a hash brown made sweet sweet love, OEB’s breakfast potatoes would be their offspring. The wedges of potato are fried to crispy perfection, and seasoned with just enough special spices to make you wonder exactly what they sprinkled on there to make them so addictive. Anyone who doesn’t order these in some form gets a serious side eye from me. Zevi’s lucky I let him steal some of mine ;).

OEB Duck PoutineOEB soul in a bowl

OEB has a mind-bogglingly expansive menu, so basically any breakfast items you can think of, and some you’ve never dreamed of, are there for the taking. From crepes to eggs to toast of all kinds, it’s on the menu. I often find myself gravitating towards the “Box’d” section of the menu, which features some wildly creative, and, more importantly, wildly delicious breakfast poutines made with those delicious potatoes. You really can’t go wrong with melty, squeaky curds and crispy spuds, topped with bacon, duck, or even fois gras. They’re pretty much breakfast perfection in a cute little take out box, and so easy to take home to snack on later if you can’t digest all of those saucy carbs in one go.

OEB Zevi

If you’re looking for the best breakfast in Calgary, I know many people will agree with me when I say you’ll find it at OEB. You might have to wait a while to get in on a weekend, but now that they’re using the NoWait app, you can put your name down in the comfort of your own home and just wait for the text saying your table is ready. There’s pretty much nothing stopping you from stopping in now! Just save some potatoes for me, ok?

OEB

824 Edmonton Trail NE

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Hiking Lady McDonald

Lady McDonald - Heather, Adelle, Caleigh

For her birthday, a friend of ours invited us to go for a hike up Lady McDonald, and Zevi and I jumped at the chance to get out to the mountains. Located just North of Canmore, the hike is a quick trip from Calgary. Thirteen of us gathered at the bottom of the trail and started making our way to the summit. It was a gorgeous blue sky day, and not even an accidental wrong turn could dampen our spirits!

Lady McDonald start Lady McDonald Zevi Lady McDonald Heather Adelle Lady McDonald mountain view Lady McDonald rocks

The way up was a pretty steep slog, with barely any flats or downhills to be found on the trip to the top. The trail was well marked, though, and although we had to navigate through a few rocky sections, I never felt unsafe or unsure of my footing. I’d worn a tank top under my long sleeved shirt not really expecting to strip down to just that layer, but on the first half of the hike the sun was so strong that I was actually sweating in my sleeveless shirt! Definitely not the weather I’d normally expect to find in the mountains in March.

Lady McDonald treesLady McDonald summit Lady McDonald summit 2 Lady McDonald summit Heather Lady McDonald inukshuk

Once we got nearer to the summit, things started to feel a bit more like early spring. The wind picked up, the clouds rolled in, and we started to see a few more patches of snow. There was still far less snow than I’d generally expect to see at this time of year, though. One of the great things about this hike is that you get to see gorgeous views all the way up, which erased any disappointment of not making it it to the actual summit. We were told that it was a fairly challenging scramble to get there, and that with the frigid wind howling the way it was it was pretty unrealistic to take that on. I was pretty happy with what we’d accomplished, and although I didn’t run up and down the mountain twice like one of our friends did, my legs were definitely burning by the end.

Crazyweed group shot Crazyweed wings Crazyweed steak Crazyweed ribs

We capped off the day by stuffing our tired faces with delicious food at Crazyweed. There aren’t many better ways to spend a Sunday than enjoying fresh mountain air and a great meal with friends!

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My Five: Favourite Instagram Accounts to Follow

Instagram is probably my favourite social network. Full of gorgeous food photos that inspire me to get out my pots and pans and jaw dropping travel photos that make me want to drop everything and hit the road, Instagram is where I go when I want ot be inspired. Here are some of the accounts whose photos I find myself double tapping on a regular basis.

@tracyshutterbean

Tracy has such a unique eye for photography and she captures life from such an interesting perspective. I love her quirky snapshots of every day life and her mouth watering food photos!

We dipped our toes into an alternate universe today.

A post shared by Tracy Benjamin (@shutterbean) on

The recipe for this Smoked Salmon Ramen is on #shutterbean today. That egg tho! 🍜🍳✨

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@bevcooks

Bev posts lots of insanely cute photos of her twins, but the best part are the hilarious captions she writes.

All the ladies in the house say YEAH.

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@travelalberta

This account full of awe inspiring photos of my home province makes me proud to live in Alberta!

Spring, we're ready for you. Photo by @alexstrohl | #explorealberta

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Why do you travel? Photo by @younner | #explorealberta

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@abeautifulmessofficial

I can always count on A Beautiful Mess for a shot of colour, a jolt of creativity, and some of the best murals you can find.

It's the little things! Like fresh fruit and veggies from the farmer's market! 🍅 Photo by @hannahjgoodwin #ABMlittlethings

A post shared by Elsie + Emma A Beautiful Mess (@abeautifulmess) on

Your mission this week! 💛 Photo by @allisonwonderlandphotographie #ABMlifeiscolorful

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@julieskitchen

Her food photos are beautiful, and the collages she creates are spectacular.

Those are just a few of my favourite Instagram accounts to follow these days. What are some of your favourites?

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Saying Yes

Buenos Aires

I’ve always been a cautious person who doesn’t really like to take unnecessary risks. Sure, I’ll try weird foods and go travelling to foreign countries, but in general, my default setting is to stay within my comfort zone. I like routine, and change always takes me a while to adjust to. I like to plan ahead, and I’m not very good at being spontaneous. Because of these things, I sometimes avoid exploring new opportunities because I’m not very comfortable with improvising my way through the unknown.

One thing I realized on our South America trip is that I don’t always want to be the “no person”. I don’t want to be the person that shoots an idea down just because it seems crazy or unrealistic, or because it’s something I’m not necessarily comfortable with. Being a realist and thinking carefully through your options is great a lot of the time, but sometimes you just need to jump in with your eyes closed and see what happens. There may be repercussions, but most of the time you come away with an experience worth talking about. You might be a little tired the next day, or get a little dirty, or get your truck horribly stuck in a muddy salt flat, but every time you push yourself beyond your comfort zone you grow in a way that you wouldn’t have if you just stayed home.

I’ve been trying to say yes more often, and get involved in things I might have otherwise passed by. While I still want to make sure I’m respecting my limits and taking care of myself, I know that my life will be richer if I continue to take risks and put myself out there in big and small ways. After all, the worst outcomes still make for great stories.

Cafayate – Part 2

I know it’s been a while since our South America trip ended, but I want to write about the last part of our trip before I totally forget about it! So, from time to time I’m going to go back and revisit our big adventure. 

We’d had a great day of wine tasting in Cafayate, so the next day we decided that we wanted to do something a little bit different. The owner of our hostel had told us about a hike close to town that would take us to some beautiful waterfalls and give us the opportunity to swim in the Rio Colorado, which would be a welcome respite from the heat of Northern Argentina. Although most people who did the hike hired a guide from the local community, we were told that it was possible to do the trek without one. The only caveat was that the trail was not well marked, or marked at all, really, so we might have trouble finding our way on our own. Feeling like we wanted to save some money and be independent, we decided to give it a shot solo. The man who greeted us at the entrance to the parking lot was not happy with our decision and tried to tell us that we were obligated to hire a guide, but we stood firm and set out unaccompanied.

Rio Colorado Cafayate hikeRio Colorado hike

If you’re thinking about doing this hike, you should know that no one’s exaggerating when they say that the trail isn’t marked. The trek was basically a big guessing game, where we jumped from one side of the river, which was more of a stream in this blazingly hot and dry November, to the other attempting to navigate our way up the valley. There was a group with a guide just a bit ahead of us that we tried to sneakily follow for a while, but eventually we lost them and it was up to us to find our way again. We never felt like we were in danger, and in a way it was kind of fun to chart our own confusing course, but I do understand why they encourage you to hire someone who actually knows where they’re going.

Rio Colorado hikeRio Colorado Cafayate hike

After we’d been hiking for a couple of hours we became really unsure of where the trail went next, so we decided to stop. We were running low on water and the sun was unrelenting, so we really didn’t want to go much further anyways. Luckily we were stopped right by a little waterfall with a nice pool, so we got to go for a swim. The water was absolutely frigid but it felt great after hiking in the heat!

Puppy in the window CafayateEl porvenir Cafayate

After finding our way back to our car and going back to our hostel to change (and seeing a very cute doggy in the window!), we headed out to do some more wine tasting. We had some bad luck with the first few places we went to being closed so we almost gave up, but we ended up going to some great tasting rooms in town. We really loved how casual the Cafayate wine tasting scene was. Unlike much of Napa and Mendoza, most places had no problem with drop ins, and prices were extremely reasonable.

Cafayate steakChef at Cafayate parilla

We’d eaten dinner the previous two nights at the beautiful wine bar attached to our hostel, but on our last night in Cafayate we wanted to try out something different. I think there’s a rule that you can only go so many days in Argentina without having a steak, so we decided to check out the parilla that our hostel recommended. Cafayate is a pretty small and not particularly touristy place, but we definitely felt like we were off the beaten path when we finally arrived at this hole in the wall restaurant. We sat down at a plastic table on the sidewalk and proceeded to have a parilla experience that was lightyears away from any of the places we’d eaten at in Buenos Aires. There was no menu, so I walked up to the sweatpants-clad chef and asked him to bring him whatever he thought was good. As you can see in the picture above, his grill was built in to the side of the restaurant, so this was street meat at its finest. When our entrees arrived at our table, we both took one bite and confidently proclaimed that this was by far the best steak we’d ever had. Instead of our usual sirloin or rib eye, we’d been given bonier cuts, and the meat was so incredibly tender and flavourful that I was rendered speechless. My only regret was that we’d waited until our last night to go, so we wouldn’t be able to return. The whole experience just reaffirmed something I already knew about eating out. As much as I love eating at fancy, high end restaurants, sometimes the most amazing food comes from some guy slinging meat on the side of the road, or from a little nondescript hole in the wall.

Cafayate still stands out to me as one my favourite stops on our trip, and one of the places I’d most like to return to. With great wine, delicious steak, beautiful natural surroundings, and a laid back atmosphere, how could we not fall in love with this little town?

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Brunch Parties

Brunch Julia and ZeviBrunch saturday one

I love having people over, especially when there is food involved. Dinner parties are the classic choice, but lately I’ve hosted a couple of brunch get togethers and I’ve really loved having people over earlier in the day! They’re usually a bit more casual, no one’s worried about spending a ton of time on hair and make up because you’ve all just rolled out of bed, and there’s no need to worry about appetizers or dessert.

Brunch Saturday twoBrunch mango mint lassis

Here are a few things I’ve learned about hosting brunch that you might find helpful should you ever want to give it a try.

  • Do as much prep as possible the night before. When you’re crawling out of bed in the morning, you want to have as little as possible to do before your guests show up. Don’t leave yourself a ton of cooking to do in the morning before everyone shows up and you will feel much more relaxed! Last Saturday, I made these baked eggs, which I’d made with success in the past, and I was able to do everything other than cracking the eggs in to the dish and baking them on Friday night. I also made these potatoes, which are always a hit, and I boiled the potatoes the night before so I just had to smash them and bake them in the morning. I also cut up a bunch of the fruit for the fruit salad so that I only had a bit of chopping to do on the day of. Zevi and I made a delicious baked caramelized banana french toast a couple of weeks ago that we just had to pop in the oven in the morning, which made things a total breeze. You never know what will come up, or how may cocktails you’ll have the night before, so being extra prepared is the way to go.
  • Master your coffee making set up in advance. Coffee is pretty key to most peoples’ wake up routine, so it better be on point! We normally use a two shot stovetop espresso maker in the mornings but that wasn’t going to suffice for a group of six people, so I had to use our Chemex. We’ve had the thing for years, but I’ve barely used it, so I was frantically googling tutorials and watching youtube videos on Saturday morning. The coffee turned out ok, but I wish I’d done a couple of test runs with the Chemex to get the system down pat beforehand.
  • Make something you love, but don’t be too ambitious. Your friends are counting on you to provide their first meal of the day, so maybe don’t try out that amazing looking souffle you’ve never made before that has a high chance of failure. Brunch should be fun, and you don’t want to be stressed about things not working out on a weekend morning.
  • Make something that doesn’t need to be eaten immediately. Things get a little unpredictable on a Saturday morning. Sometimes alarms don’t go off, or hangovers are raging, or people are just a little slow to get themselves out the door. Whatever the reason, it’s highly likely that someone you invited won’t show up on time, so making something like that’s best eaten right as it’s finished cooking, like scrambled eggs, can prove problematic. You’ll have more success and feel less stress with something that’s still great after sitting for a few minutes.
  • Most of all, don’t sweat the small stuff. I tend to obsess over what I’m going to make when I’m having people over, whether it be for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but I try to remind myself that people really aren’t going to be that upset if their yolk isn’t perfectly runny or you burn a couple of potatoes. As long as you don’t give them food poisoning, your friends are going to be grateful for the opportunity to get together and chat above all else. Yes, it’s great to be mindful of the food you’re making, but in the end what you’re eating is secondary to the conversation.

The first meal of the day is often so rushed, so it’s fun to have the opportunity to sit down and eat something delicious in the morning. I’ve loved having people over for brunch recently, and I can’t wait to do it again soon!

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Morimoto Napa

Zevi in front of Morimoto fish wall

We ate a lot of great food when we were in Napa a couple of weeks ago, but the big standout for us was Morimoto Napa. Based on Morimoto’s title as Iron Chef and all of the fame and prestige that comes with that, we were afraid that the restaurant might be all style and no substance, but when we tasted the food we couldn’t have cared less whose name was on the front of the building.

Morimoto kitchen Morimoto Heather

Don’t get me wrong, though, the place has plenty of style. As we walked in, I was immediately captivated by the oversized fish mural. How can I get one of those for my kitchen? The dining room was polished and elegant, and the music was just at the right volume for good conversation. I loved peeking over at the brightly lit sushi bar to see an army of chefs working behind display cases filled with raw fish. There aren’t many sights more beautiful to me than giant slabs of raw salmon and tuna waiting to be turned into delicious sashimi.

Morimoto carpaccio

We were enticed by some of the creative main courses, but we decided to share a few of the smaller plates instead. I love to eat off of everyone’s plate so sharing is always right up my alley! We started with the meltingly tender waygu beef tartare, thin strips of beef brightened up with a sweet ginger-garlic sauce.

Morimoto sashimi

Next up was the most unexpected dish of the evening. We’d ordered the Morimoto sashimi, which was described as “seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces”. I’d expected the fish to be presented in the regular sashimi style, but I’d forgotten that we weren’t at my neighbourhood sushi joint (which I love, by the way). I was surprised and intrigued when the we were presented with the plate pictured above. The pieces of fish were layered one on top of the other, each with a different mini garnish, and accompanying them were droppers filled with the aforementioned five sauces. The server demonstrated how to put little drops of each sauce on to our plate and dip our fish towers in as we saw fit. I wouldn’t want to eat my sashimi like this every day, but I really appreciated the whimsical and creative presentation. Most importantly, the fish was delicious!

Morimoto fried rice Morimoto bone marrow

I’m a sucker for a runny yolk, and egg on top of our duck fried rice provided the perfect mix-in for this flavourful dish. While the fried rice was good, the bone marrow was a true standout. I’d been eager to try bone marrow for some time now, and I managed to get Zevi on board. We were both glad we’d jumped on that train! The marrow was silky smooth, and the spiced panko breadcrumbs cut its luscious richness just enough. We were still trying to scoop out more of that heavenly stuff even when we knew in our hearts that we’d eaten every last drop.

Morimoto sushi

When sushi’s on the menu there’s no way I won’t order at least a little bit of plain old raw fish. While this was the simplest thing we ate that night, it was probably my favourite. The fish was extremely fresh with a perfectly firm texture, and the rice was expertly prepared. In fact, it was so good that we ordered another round!

Morimoto dessert

After seeing how inventive our savoury courses had been, we were eager to check out what the chefs at Morimoto had up their sleeves on the sweet side of things. We ordered the “s’more”, and while this wasn’t your campfire special, when we ate all of the components together we could certainly identify one of our favourite summer treats. The presentation was gorgeous too, and there were no sticky hands in sight.

We were thoroughly impressed with Morimoto, and I would make a point to go back there if I return to Napa. It’s definitely a special occasion type of place, but if you’re looking for a high end meal in California’s wine country, it’s certainly worth checking out.

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Napa Valley – What We Ate

Addendum flowers

If you know me, you know that my main goal when I travel is to find and eat delicious food. The Napa Valley is wine country first and foremost, but all of those wine obsessed tourists bring a lot of money in with them which means that there are lots of world class restaurants to choose from. We barely scratched the surface of the dining scene when we were there, but we did eat some pretty delicious meals!

Ca'Momi cheeseboard Ca'Momi prosciutto and burrata Ca'Momi pizzas

The evening after our wine tour we got together with the rest of our group and went to Ca’Momi, an Italian restaurant in downtown Napa’s Oxbow Market. We sat on their covered patio which was perfect for a large group and plenty warm on a spring evening. Zevi and I had actually visited this place on our last trip to Napa, and the crust was as perfectly chewy and tender as I remembered. I’d filled up on too much free cheese and fruit at our bed and breakfast before heading out for dinner so I wasn’t able to enjoy as many of the appetizers as I would have liked to, but they looked great as well. The menu is huge, and there’s really something on there for everyone. To me, the crust is the defining element of a restaurant that claims to be making authentically italian pizza, and this was some of the best I’ve had outside of Italy.

Bouchon coffee and pastry

It’s hard to talk about food in the Napa Valley without renowned chef Thomas Keller’s name making its way in to the conversation. While we weren’t planning on making a trip to the highly touted French Laundry, I did want to sample some of his offerings, so we made a stop at Bouchon Bakery. Located in Yountville, or “Thomas Keller-ville”, as one shop employee in a nearby town jokingly called it, Bouchon is celebrated for its amazing pastries, breads, and other baked goods. We tried the monkey bread, and it was incredible. I was expecting more of a cinnamon bun type of dough, but it was actually almost as light and flaky as a croissant. The salted caramel glaze gave it amazing flavour, and every bite had me wishing I could try one of everything Bouchon had to offer.

Zevi at Solbar Duck bahn mi at Solbar Fish tacos at Solbar

We spent one day laying off the wine and driving to check out a few of the towns in the area. Solbar is part of the Solange Hotel in Calistoga, and we stopped there for lunch during our travels. The weather was sunny and gorgeous, so we sat on their beautiful patio and sampled their globally influenced fare. The duck in my bahn mi sandwich was extremely tender and juicy, and the cucumbers and jalapeños provided a great crunch, but the bread could have been better. The mango slaw on the side may have actually stolen the show – I loved the tart bite of the barely ripe fruit. The flavour (and the gorgeous plating!) of Zevi’s fish tacos was spot on, and I loved the pickled cabbage that accompanied them. It was a beautiful spot to grab a bite and wish just a little bit that we could sneak in to their pool and soak up some sun on such a gorgeous day.

Lunch at V.Sattui Lunch at V.Sattui

If you need some lunch during a busy day of wine tasting, or if you just need a little something in your stomach to soak up some of that vino, I would highly recommend heading to V.Sattui. Not only do they offer great wine and a top notch tasting experience, they also have a deli where you can buy delicious food to eat at picnic tables outside. It was hard to choose what to get from their dizzying selection of cheese, charcuterie, breads, salads, and warm entrees, but in the end we went with a baguette, a couple of cheeses, a golden beet salad, some truffle mac and cheese, and some prosciutto (just for me, of course). Everything was delicious, and we (Zevi) left feeling ready to make the drive back to town.

Addendum sign Addendum meal Addendum Heather

When I heard that Addendum, another Thomas Keller spot, was opening up for the season, I knew I didn’t want to leave the Napa Valley without paying it a visit. On our last day in the area, we made a stop in Yountville to try some fried chicken in a gorgeous garden setting. At Addendum, you get the choice of either fried chicken, pulled pork, or pork ribs, plus whatever two sides they are serving that day. As tempted as I was to go for the pork, after reading many rave reviews of the chicken I just had to try it, and I knew that stealing a bite of Zevi’s wouldn’t suffice. After ordering from a little shack in the back, we sat down at a table with our sides, which that day were a macaroni and a beet salad. I knew I’d enjoy the beets, but I’m normally not a fan of mayo based pasta salads so I was surprised by how much I loved Addendum’s version! The fried chicken was even better than advertised, with ultra crunchy skin and tender, juicy meat. The flaky salt and rosemary sprinkled on top made it extra flavourful, and Zevi and I agreed that it was some of our favourite fried chicken ever.

I love the opportunity to try amazing wine in the Napa Valley, but the food scene is another great reason to head there. Among all of these great meals, I didn’t even talk about our favourite, which was at Morimoto, bus since this post is plennnnty long I’m going to save that for another day.

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Celebrating My Grandma

Grandma's 91st birthday

This week we’ve been celebrating my Grandma’s birthday. This picture is actually from last year, but she’s now officially 92 years young. She’s a St. Patrick’s day baby, so on Tuesday I made homemade macaroni and cheese and salad at my parents’ house and my sister made a delicious cake and we celebrated. I’d take hanging out with my Grandma over drinking green beer any day! Today we had another celebration with even more members of my Dad’s large extended family. When you’ve lived more than nine decades, every birthday deserves some extra fanfare.

My Grandma didn’t go to high school, but she’s taught me so much about life. When my Grandpa had a stroke, losing the ability to speak and walk, my Grandma showed incredible dedication to him, visiting him many times a week for the eight years that he lived in a nursing home. She doesn’t drive, so she had to take the bus there or rely on rides from her family members, but I never heard her complain. She showers her family with love, and her children have passed down that love to their children, and, in some cases, even their children’s children. Through good times and bad, she remains that calming, positive, and supportive voice, always wanting to know what’s going on in our lives. Even if she may not have chosen our path for herself, she’s always excited to hear about what we’re up to, as long as we promise her to be careful, of course.

It really moved me to see my Grandma stand among some of her family and tell us all how proud she is of us. Without her, none of us would have been standing in that kitchen in a circle holding hands. She brought us all together, and I wouldn’t exist were it not for one of the children she brought into the world. She may not have travelled the world or pursued any kind of higher education, but on her 92nd birthday, I don’t know that anything meant more to her than being surrounded by her family. I’m grateful to her for showing me the power of unconditional love, and helping me to remember that sometimes it’s the little things in life that are most important. I’d like to think that I inherited just a little bit of her soft spoken kindness, and I hope that small part of her lives on in me forever.