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My Number One Son

What did you serve?

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Nineteen!!

Between us, my son and I never acknowledge that there is, in fact, only one son. The boy formerly known as Eighteen, now Nineteen, goes by many terms of endearment. He was certainly my Number One Son when we planned that he and some college friends would come to the house for dinner to celebrate on his birthday.

 

Although most of the time I pretend he’s five or six hours away from home, it’s incredibly convenient that his college is just sixty-three miles door-to-door. The hungry hoards would arrive in three cars before six. Anticipating the crowd, Fifteen and I prepped the dining room ahead. It took my table on a slant across the room, both of the extension leaves, and two six-foot folding tables to get enough chairs—dining and folding—arrayed around for all of the guests to have a place. We decorated with BB-8 paraphernalia from the party store—hats, blowers, and cutouts. The Lego BB-8 Nineteen received and built on Christmas Day was the centerpiece. In the brass goblets my mother purchased in Mexico fifty years ago, goblets that have been making party memories ever since, we placed “light saber” party favors—Quasr bars from Trader Joe’s.IMG_9948

 

Decorating wasn’t nearly as challenging as menu planning. What do you make for fourteen? Consider that among the guests there was one nut allergy, one lactose intolerant, two vegetarians who eat fish, one meat lover who doesn’t think much of vegetables, and one young man who believes potatoes are not just a food group of their own, but food sent from the gods above. Midweek before the party, I got a call. The vegan friend could come too. Toss into the mix that I was working out of town the two days before, so the shopping had to be done in advance, with last-minute items added on Sunday, cutting down on cooking time. For inspiration, I borrowed heavily from Thanksgiving.

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Snacks:
Deviled Eggs
Olives, Pickles, Cheese Cubes, and Cherry Tomatoes with toothpicks

 

 

 

Dinner:
Salmon Stuffed with (nut-free) Spinach Pesto and Roasted Red Peppers
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Roasted Chickens (from Costco)
Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs
(A recipe that was a “let’s try it this year” Thanksgiving addition years ago and immediately earned a permanent spot: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/scalloped-yukon-gold-and-sweet-potato-gratin-with-fresh-herbs)
Roasted Carrots, Green Beans, and Asparagus
Fruit Salad
Bread and Butter and “Butter”

IMG_9914Dessert:
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (a Cook’s Illustrated recipe)
Cheesecake with Fruit (made in a crowd-accommodating tart pan)
An Assortment of Frozen Vegan Treats from Trader Joe’s

Beverages:
Water infused with Lemon, Cucumber and Blackberries
Sparkling Berry Lemonade and Sparkling Limeade

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BB-8 is Nineteen’s Spirit Droid

When they arrived, I rather wished I’d thought of a piñata or created a pin-the-tail type game as they aren’t yet a cocktails before dinner crowd. But when invited, they stopped standing awkwardly around in the kitchen and lined my sectional, making pre-dinner chatter. Their spring semester is rapidly drawing to a close, their summer plans and finals anxiety making up a large part of the conversation.

These young women and men are undoubtedly heading toward remarkable lives. They’re talented, articulate, attractive, opinionated, loving, grateful, and sparkly brilliant. They hail from parts far and near—my son’s roommate comes from Russia, but in every other way is his brother from another mother. All together, they made this mother’s heart happy by eating nearly every last bite, enjoying all of the details, and wearing their hats all the way through dinner.

The full moon shone on the carloads as they drove back east to their ivy-covered oasis. I’m told the dinner is a capital T topic of conversation. I couldn’t have pulled it off alone and am grateful to Fifteen and her father for all of their help.

In honor of Star Wars Day, May the Fourth be with you! Much love, RxoIMG_9927

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Birthday Mala

Birthday Mala
What's better than a question mark!?

What’s better than a question mark!?

Who’s sending you all of these?

My first Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) in nearly three months was Sunday, July 12, eight weeks after hand surgery on the index finger knuckle of my left hand (please see https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/07/hand-le-this/ and https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/18/my-ten-cents/). I was warm from thirty easy minutes on my treadmill, my hand tender and still puffy. I took myself through Surya Namaskar (a salute to the sun), ten straightforward poses that might be taught in an intro to yoga class. I took myself through a second. When I completed the third, I thought of BKS Iyengar, who told my teacher: three poses make a practice. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar. In spite of the uncertainty and pain in my hand, I felt really good, ready for my day.

(In English, a basic sun salutation starts standing tall. Lift your arms and fold all the way forward, lift your torso to a flat back, your hands sliding up your shins, bring your hands back to the floor and step or hop back to plank (top of a pushup), then lower your heart to the floor. Lift that heart in a small backbend. Soften out and lift your hips to an upside down V, that’s downward facing dog, the pose from which I was restricted both pre- and post surgery (no weight-bearing on my hand). Step or hop forward, create the half lift, soften back to forward fold and sweep your hands to the sky, coming back to mountain pose standing straight and tall, hands at your sides.)

The next day, I walked again on my treadmill, and then again I did three more sun salutations. And three more the day after that. I was feeling shaky in my plank, lowering my heart to the floor meant dropping to my knees first, and I could barely hold downward facing dog, the pain making my hand wobble. But I couldn’t get over how good this simple practice made me feel—centered and thoughtful, able to scoop my cat onto my shoulders (she waits for me right outside the door of the room where my treadmill is) and head up to cheerfully greet the day.

I consulted the calendar and realized I had gotten lucky. By the time I had started it was less than fifty days before my fiftieth birthday, so I couldn’t complete a challenge like fifty yoga poses in fifty days. But with the right math, there was enough time for a Mala. Mala is the Sanskrit for garland, and the traditional practice is 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar (albeit with more jumping and ramped up versions of my plank and backbend). My calendar showed that three-per-day six-days-a-week would get me to the Friday before my birthday. It seemed an auspicious way to move toward that big five-oh and rehabilitate my hand all at the same time.

What started out choppy and challenging became smoother. I added in a hop. I lowered down more easily each day. I was re-gathering strength and flexibility. I started to practice more fully with my yoga classes, too, encouraging my body to move in ways that were at once familiar and refreshing. I felt, too, some of the benefits of the “yoga marathon,” what we sometimes call the 108 practice when it’s performed all at once time. My daily practice was connecting my days, which often feel disjointed, giving them a comforting unity. The challenge to complete the Mala was all that kept me going at first, but soon I found the practice so compelling that the few times I did not get up and go right to my treadmill, I made the time later in the day.

At the end of the fourth week, four postcards arrived in my mailbox. They were each different, colorful and wonderful art, each addressed in lively different colored markers, each decorated in the part where you’d write a note with a two-inch letter. H, A, P, and P arrived all in a clump, and I set them next to my bed with an unconfirmed suspicion about who the sender might be.

The next day came Y, and it was time to share the goodness. I arrayed the postcards, picture side up, for each of my family members. Then I flipped them one by one, spelling out H-A-P-P-Y. Indeed, this gift was making me exceedingly happy. I posed with the Y for my Facebook profile picture, sharing my excitement with my online world.

When 5 and –th appeared next, Thirteen helped me put up a string in our kitchen where I attached the letters that had come so far. Each day I got excited about checking the mail; each day there was a new delight or a new mystery—where was T, what would come after the comma—unfolded.

In the basement in the mornings, I kept to my Mala; upstairs in the afternoons I hung more postcards on my garland.

The last week of my Surya Namaskar practice I started counting down in my head—only eighteen more, then fifteen, twelve, nine … I thought at nine about polishing them off in one go—I have done 108 in one session a number of times—but decided it was more important to stick to the pattern I had set for myself. After not quite six weeks I could reliably lower down from my toes, jump into plank, and lift from my backbend to downward facing dog without lowering through the middle. Still, three sun salutations felt measured and right, a practice I had and could sustain, even if afterwards I sometimes worked in another pose.

The final N of my name arrived two days before my birthday. A package came, too, from the number one suspect. The N postcard announced that it wasn’t the end, in tiny letters scrunched to the side of my address. What could be left?

My fiftieth birthday was a Sunday. I woke at nearly my normal too-early time; the house was dark and quiet. I thought about turning over and going back to sleep, but something urged me out of bed. I soft-footed my way down to the treadmill, realized that I couldn’t lie to it and punched in 50 when it asked my age, walked for 35 minutes at 3.8 mph and a 1.5% grade, walked my cool down, peeled off my socks and stepped onto my mat. Lifting my hands over my head, I folded to the earth. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar and I was on my way upstairs, a new garland and a new half-century ahead of me.

The complete garland--so beautiful I can't bear to take it down!

The complete garland–so beautiful I can’t bear to take it down!

The day after my birthday, the final postcard, an exclamation mark composed of books, arrived. In tiny print on two of the books, the masterpiece is signed, “Love from, Diana.” Thank you, thank you to the Lady with the Magic Van—your magic extends far beyond your vehicle. I love the way my birthday Malas linked the time before and the time after. Just like the phases of the moon bring me back to you, dear reader, at the same time they move us all forward. Happy full sturgeon moon, Rxo

Birthday Twins

Birthday Twins

Who was born on August 23?

Their house was a magical place. A long, low ranch, whose owners had a musical doorbell that would always bring the wife running, wiping her hands on her apron, full of warmth and hustling us through the door of the house that invariably smelled of whatever delicious feast she was busily preparing. Her husband would be right behind her, echoing the welcome, taking drink orders, and holding onto the collar of his latest hunting dog.

These lovely friends of my parents were fixtures in my early years, a couple with whom we celebrated holidays and enjoyed tennis picnics. We always looked forward to seeing them and we always had such a festive and delicious time when we did.

One chilly evening when I was eleven, we were invited over for dinner to meet our hostess’s sister. I remember sitting on the step down into the lush living room, where more than once I had fallen asleep on the sofa waiting for the revelry to end, with the sister. She was telling me she had a little girl in California, just my age.

“You do? What’s her name? When’s her birthday?”

The next thing I knew she told me the most startling fact: our birthdays were the same day. By the time we were summoned to dinner, we had figured out that Christine and I had been born just about twenty minutes apart. I announced it all at dinner and in her ever-accommodating way, our hostess squealed that it would be wonderful to celebrate our birthdays together.

We would meet during the summer we turned Twelve (this picture is Christine visiting my room in our farmhouse) and become Christinepen pals. That summer she was making a short visit and returned to California before we could celebrate our birthday.

The next summer turned out to be much better. The summer of our thirteenth birthday, Christine came for an extended stay with her aunt and uncle. To my delight, we spent a lot of time together that summer, helping Christine’s aunt around the house, listening to music, swimming, having picnics and dinners, and even taking a memorable road trip to attend an opera and stay at a hotel. I was so ever-present in the household that summer, that I soon begin echoing Christine and calling my parents’ friends, who had always been Dr. and Mrs. to me, Uncle and Aunt. In this way, these wonderful people became my life-long extended family.

On our thirteenth birthday, we did indeed celebrate together. I feel certain Aunt made her famous multi-step fried chicken and I remember a bakery cake lavish with frosting flowers. Treating us like twins meant we got many of the same gifts, including Swiss Army knives and the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band LP. Remarkably, I still have both of these, albeit the LP collects dust in the basement as I don’t have a turntable and the Swiss Army knife is stiff with the detritus of years of misuse.

I also still have my friend. The fact that I haven’t seen her in nearly twenty years doesn’t diminish the pleasure with which I have watched from afar as she has found her calling and raised her family. It seems to me no accident that our children are nearly the same ages, and even if our communications are limited to Christmas greetings and “can you believe we’re (fill in the age)” birthday cards, I am honored to share a birthday with this beautiful, laughter-filled woman.

As with just about any day, there are plenty of famous people born on August 23, Shelley Long and Gene Kelly being two of my favorites. Fifty years ago this country was in turmoil at home and abroad, the Rolling Stones were touring and the Grateful Dead played their first concert with Jerry Garcia, the historic voting rights act passed into law, and a gallon of gas cost thirty-one cents. And fifty years ago on August 23 in two different families, two bundles of joy arrived within a few minutes of each other but miles and miles apart. One day I hope we can celebrate our birthday together in person, but I will always treasure sharing Christine’s with her. With all my love and gratitude for sharing this important day with me, Happy Fiftieth Birthday to a woman who comes from a long line of remarkable women, each of whom knows how to celebrate in style, and whom I am honored to count as one of my dearest friends. And no, Christine, I can’t believe we’re (almost) fifty!

With my love and thanks, as ever, for sharing my journey. Happy New Moon! Next time I “see” you here, I’ll be Fifty, or the Writer Formerly Known as Forty-Nine. Embracing the next chapter, Rxo

Happy Birthday, Ninety

How can you not celebrate turning 90?

Family legend has it, I climbed a pyramid when I was not-yet two. We were in Mexico, an exotic escape for my father and a place my mother loved to go. The pyramid rose up and up and up with precipitous steps and before anyone really knew what was happening, I did that half-crawl, half-walk thing that toddlers master and wended my way to the top. It was my mother who climbed the stairs after me and carried me down, one step at a time, looking neither down nor out nor up, but only at the next grooved stone, worn by centuries of feet and weather. I must have been, I imagine now, completely at ease in my mother’s arms or we would not have made that descent safely.

So it’s no surprise that 47 years later I can still find comfort crawling on to my mother’s bed, where we might be joined by a cat or one of my children, and where she will absently pat me. We call these chats “morning email,” in honor of our habit of writing to each other first thing in the morning for years beginning when Mom got her first computer in 1985. When we moved in together in 2001, the missives slowed, although sometimes an electronic note still delivers a message most directly.

We’re planning a party—how can you not celebrate turning 90? Lying on her bed that morning, discussing plans, she said, as she often does, she was resisting turning 90. Then she said the most amazing thing:

Turning ninety is like waking up and finding yourself at the bottom of a pyramid and knowing you’re going to climb it and wondering how you got there.

Yes, I thought immediately, that must be exactly what it’s like.

My mother at 90 is many things she has always been—grand and beautiful, thoughtful, engaged with the world, and bold in spite of all of the times in her life when she had no sure-footing to stand up. In our bustling household where Twelve and Fifteen shift and change and the too-many felines romp, my mother bears witness to our transitions, holds forth, and carries on. She may not realize it, but she’s already successfully climbed dozens and dozens of pyramids—so this ninety business shouldn’t be too troublesome after all. And I don’t seem to have changed much either—I climb up my pyramids okay, and there’s my mother still helping me climb down safely.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Happy new moon everyone—an auspicious time to start a new decade or begin any new project. With all my love, Rxomomportrait

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