Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Birthday Report

I had a splendid fiftieth birthday, I must say. Upwards of fifty people came to the party yesterday, despite a lot of cancellations because of illness (there seems to be a nasty stomach bug going around, and several friends' kids have come down with strep: welcome to the beginning of school!). We had a lot of great food -- much of it thanks to my brilliant-chef husband -- plenteous beverages, and fabulous music from Charlene. As you can see from the photographs below, we also had near-perfect weather.

Three things made me especially happy. First: Some friends from church brought their grown daughter, who's developmentally disabled. She has a hard time socializing, but she loved the music. When Charlene started playing, her face lit up and her feet started tapping, and then she got up and started dancing. When she saw that no one else was dancing, though, she sat down again. I'm never brave enough to dance in public, but I went up and asked her if she wanted to dance, and she did, so the two of us got up and hopped happily around. A third person -- a friend with much better coordination than either of us -- danced too. We were the only three people who danced, but it made me feel really good to be able to help bring some joy to our friends' daughter, and she taught me something about unselfconscious celebration.

Second: The guests included two church friends I haven't seen for a really long time, who've been estranged from church for one reason or another. It felt healing to see them there and to see them connecting with other people.

Third: One of the abovementioned church friends, as she was leaving, told me, "If you can start studying the fiddle in your late forties, I guess I can start taking voice lessons in my fifties!" She's never had formal voice training, despite singing in choirs for years. Our friend Katharine teaches voice, and my friend from church had talked to her, and it sounds like she'll be starting lessons soon. This makes me happy; perhaps my fiddle project has done the larger world some good even if I'll never -- as is almost certainly true -- be fit to play for any kind of audience.

I'd told people not to bring gifts, but some people brought them anyhow. The cats made out like crazy: birthday-cat Figaro got more catnip, treats, and toy mice than he and the other two beasts will be able to destroy for several years, which is really saying something. Katharine gave us a humongous zucchini from her garden, with a gold ribbon wrapped around it, and a pretty potted plant. (Katharine's determined to turn me into a gardener, even though I've told her that plants die if I look at them.) My friend Judie brought us another kind of squash, the name of which I forget. Our friends Stephanie and Gary, who just got back from Alaska, seem to have bought out the state; they brought me chocolate from Alaska, soap from Alaska, an Alaska mug, an adorable moose earring-and-necklace set, and a set of very unusual buttons made from bits of bone and antler (I'm sure all this stuff was humanely harvested). Stephanie was anxious to know if I could use the buttons in my knitting. I'll certainly try! Now I have extra motivation to make that cardigan Gary's been asking for.

Speaking of knitting, my friend Sheila from the VA, who's a fabulous knitter, made me socks! Ironically, they're the same lace pattern I'm using in a pair I'm making, although Sheila's are much nicer. I can't wait for colder weather so I can wear them.

I also got a ton of really wonderful cards, some of which were amazingly creative. One friend printed photos from this blog to make a card for Figgy. Sweet!

We got at least half a dozen bottles of nice wine, along with homemade cider from Charlene's husband. I drink very little, but Gary will certainly enjoy all this. Someone -- and I wish I could remember who -- brought me a chocolate dessert wine from a Christian vinyard in California. This sounded so intriguing that I just had to try it, so I had a small glass last night. It's profoundly yummy. Since I hardly ever drink, it knocked me right out, but I plan to enjoy small bits of it on evenings when I don't need to do anything but go to sleep.

Our friend Wendy, who'd flown in from Seattle and was staying with us, was incredibly helpful with set-up and clean-up. The whole thing would have been much more stressful if she hadn't been there.

This morning, my actual birthday, Gary gave me a CD of baroque music played on viola. The three of us went out for breakfast, and then we hiked on the mountain across the street (photos below). Gary had mapped out a new route that took us into a beautiful canyon and then up a hillside with striking stands of pine trees (unfortunately, I didn't get photos because my camera was out of room). Today's high winds made walking more difficult than usual, and we were out for two and a half hours -- the most exercise I've gotten since well before my recent knee problems -- so I was pretty exhausted when we got home. Also sore. I took Tylenol (since ibuprofen messes up my stomach) and feel better now, but we'll see how I do tomorrow.

During the hike, my sister called me on my cellphone to wish me happy birthday. We got home to find a package from my friend Ellen, who sent me a sarong from Hawai'i: pink and purple batik in a floral pattern, very pretty indeed. Gary wanted to put it on the wall, but I want to wear it as a shawl, and since it's my present, I win!

We had dinner -- half of Katharine's zucchini in a stir-fry -- and then took Wendy to the airport. It was incredibly generous for her to fly down here for two days just for my party, and it was great to see her. She's a therapist, so we spent a fair amount of time talking about my parents (we might have done that even if she weren't a therapist, but her occupation lent extra gravitas to the conversations).

Although I thought about, and missed, both of my parents today, I think I did a great job planning a birthday celebration that left me more happy than sad. I'm nervous about Christmas, though: the first Christmas without either parent and without my old parish. I'll just barely have started going to another church and probably won't feel fully at home there yet (and I'll miss my old church even if I do). Gary hates Christmas and would rather ignore the entire season, but I love it and want to do something to recognize it. I also really want to be with Gary, though. I'd thought about going to Philly to be with my sister -- and that may still happen -- but Gary's especially allergic to this kind of family holiday, and if I'm going into a sabbatical year on two-thirds salary, spending the money to fly us, or even just me, across the country seems unwise.

I talked to Wendy about all this, and she said that it's important for me to make plans for the holiday, to have something to do that will make me happy. I'd already known that, but talking to her underscored the point. This morning it occurred to me that, weather permitting, I'd really like to drive to San Francisco for Christmas. Gary likes that idea. We could stay in the hotel by the beach we found when Dad was in the VA hospital there: walk by the water, hike in the Presidio, eat good food. If my friend Ellen's in town, we can spend some time with her and the kids. It won't be a churchy Christmas, and it certainly won't be the family Christmas I've missed so much over the last few years, but it will be a new tradition rather than an emptiness, if that makes sense. The ocean always makes me feel better -- partly because it's one of the places where I feel the presence of God most strongly -- and I have a hunch that listening to surf and smelling salt spray will be just what I need, in through there.


  1. Your birthday sounds fabulous. Congrats to the kitties on their great haul. Chocolate wine? I am so there!!
    Good idea to plan ahead for Christmas. With so many changes in your life it's important to have a plan. The first year I was parentless we made a plan with our daughter (she had a rough year herself) how to fill the day and stay reasonably happy. It worked not too badly and we got through it and were able to enjoy the day. A plan is important.
    Sounds like Gary's got his own baggage.

  2. Happy Birthday. Glad it was a good one.

    I know what you mean about unselfconscious celebration - I need to be better at that, but can you make it happen? :)

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    Dear Susan,

    So glad you had such a splendid birthday celebration!



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