celebrating seventy

Over the weekend, we celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday.

Friday, the day of his birthday, everyone gathered at our place for the birthday supper: pot roast and potatoes, roasted carrots (I had to make them twice since the first time I made them a couple days before, we gobbled them all up), baked corn, peas, rolls, pickled beets (from my mom), and applesauce (from my sister-in-law). 

After supper, there were a couple small gifts, and then my husband set up the monitor for the main event: my brothers and I had emailed dozens of family and friends, inviting them to send in a video of themselves wishing him a happy birthday and, if they wanted, to share a memory or something they appreciate about him or learned from him, and then my brother compiled the messages into a half-hour long birthday movie.

The video was both simple — just people saying happy birthday and talking for a minute or two — but also stunningly beautiful: over 80 well-wishers represented, together representing a broad cross-section of his life from different states and periods of life to his various involvements and interests. Some people read poetry and sang songs. Some read from their notes or sent in written messages or were recorded via Zoom (and with my brother’s help). Some blew party noisemakers or held up happy birthday pictures and cards or filmed themselves working in their sugar shack, shouting their happy birthday wishes over the noise of the boilers: We hope your day’s as sweet as ours! Among the things that people noted (again and again) were: Dad’s love of nature, his readiness to help anyone anytime, his gift for teaching, his hospitality towards immigrants and refugees, and his commitment to his family, his peace work, and his passion for supplying us kids with firewood from his property.

Then, the cake! My niece had offered to make a cake, and then I got an idea for it — which she liked — so we decided to work on it together. 

She made the cakes — a chocolate and a vanilla that she made into a checkerboard patterns — and the fondant top and fungi.

Together we made the caramel vanilla whip filling (she made the caramel sauce from scratch) and the vanilla and chocolate Italian meringue buttercream. She fashioned the axe out of rice krispie treats (smooshed around a wooden spine that my younger son made for us) and fondant. 

We assembled the cake at my house over the course of several days, and we did the final assembly together before the supper. My husband cut a piece of plywood for the base and wrapped it in brown paper. We scattered pinecones and pine needles around the log, as well as pieces of kindling and a whole kindling bundle that Dad had given us (along with the many loads of firewood I already mentioned). We hid the cake in the downstairs bedroom until it was time for the big reveal. 

We didn’t know how the axe would hold up, but it turned out it was sturdy enough for him to take a couple whacks at the cake with it. It wasn’t sharp enough to cut through the cake’s fondant top, though.

The next day, my older son and daughter-in-law arranged a hike.

Except they just invited Dad — they told him they wanted to take him on a hike that morning — but what my dad didn’t know was that the rest of us were coming, too. My son stalled him in town, and then when they arrived at the trailhead, the rest of the family (minus our van — we pulled in a couple minutes after them) was there to surprise them.

I think the biggest surprise, though, was that my mom, the never-hiker, came, too. Dad was like, What?!?! You’re here? 

It was a perfect family hike — about a half hour to a lookout and then back down to the river for lunch. My brother’s family provided sandwiches, veggies, and chips, my mom made the cookies, and I brought s’more fixings. 

The weather was like a whole other character at the party: enthusiastically cold, sunny, and windy for most of the hike, but then when it was time for the picnic lunch, it went apeshit on us. The sky turned dark, the wind picked up even more, and — BOOM — a freak snowstorm.

It was wild! I couldn’t stop laughing at us all eating our sandwiches huddled around the fire in whiteout conditions.

On the hike back, it was like it was like we were in an enchanted wood. The snow had transformed the whole forest into a misty wonderland. It felt magical.

By the time we got back to the cars, the snow was mostly gone.

This same time, years previous: update from the north, the quotidian (3.29.21), teff pancakes with blueberries, absorbing the words, wuv, tru wuv, on being together: it’s different here somehow, the boy and the dishes, cream puffs.


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