Wordy Wednesday–”Under the Influence” Series, Part 3

My mother has some cool cousins. I mean, they’re her cousins, so it’s not like I myself am particularly close to any of them, but the one I’m probably closest to is Hali, with whom I went to the Newport Folk Festival in 2011, and who has invited my Paul and me to a “Moon Dance” in mid-August. We don’t really know what that means, but we’re going to be sure to find out. When I was a kid I thought she was intimidatingly beautiful. Now she just makes me feel happily like I’m not so far from being an abridged hippie after all. Guilty by association or something.

Hali is the one on the far right. Yes, that's Emmylou Harris next to her.

Hali is the one on the far right. Yes, that’s Emmylou Harris next to her. You should probably click on this picture to read that story.

My mom gets along with all her cousins, but the one she’s probably closest to is Ann. Cousin Ann and I share a birthday, so we already have something in common, too. As a child, during our very rare Extended-Family reunions, I would always try to play with Ann’s daughters, both of whom were slightly younger but also prettier and less socially awkward than I was. Maybe. Maybe we were all socially awkward, because I definitely remember wanting to be friends with them, and having less than zero ideas what to talk to them about–but I’m not sure they were any better at making conversation. I like to think we would all do better now–although I’m probably no less socially awkward–but unfortunately I haven’t seen either of them in years.

Their family had a permanent impact on me, however, because it was Cousin Ann or maybe her mother, Auntie Eva, who first recommended that I read the book A Wrinkle in Time. I remember overhearing this conversation but maybe not quite being a part of it, and, as with most books which had been recommended for my reading pleasure by older relatives, feeling somewhat resistant to it. (I always ended up loving those books, too, though, once I gave in to the pressure.) Probably the main motivator to check it out was that I had this sneaking suspicion that Cousin Ann’s daughters were not only prettier, but also smarter, than I was and that reading a book they had read might help me catch up, even if I couldn’t get ahead.

This cover didn't exactly make me want to rush out there and . . . borrow it from the library.

This cover didn’t exactly make me want to rush out there and . . . borrow it from the library.

I have read this book as an adult and wondered what it was that captivated me about it as a tween, and I’ve decided it wasn’t the writing, but the fact is, after I broke down and read it for the first time, I really was captivated. I remember being fully aware that it was science fiction, but also aware that there was enough science in it to make the fiction believable and thinking it was kind of astonishing and inspiring that a writer could know so much about science and hoping I could someday write that believably about something I didn’t, at the time, know that much about.

I went on to read many more books by Madeleine L’Engle–not all or even most of them, but both her fiction and nonfiction, and both her books for children and for adults. Here is what I like about her books besides the Extraneous Knowledge thing:

1. She wrote fiction and nonfiction.

2. She wrote for children and adults.

3. Her characters overlap in her novels. She wrote novels in series (A Wrinkle in Time was the first in a trilogy, until in the 90’s she wrote a book about the twin siblings who didn’t get much air time in the trilogy–and I’m still not sure if that was supposed to be part of the series, or a stand-alone), but then you’d be reading a book in another series and suddenly a side character from the last series you read would be a main character in that series, and even though crazy sci-fi/supernatural/paranormal stuff might happen in the story (and then again it might not), it would remind me that life is like that. Everyone’s a main character in their own story, even if they seem like a side character in someone else’s. I have been asked in years past to write a sequel to Trees in the Pavement, and I just can’t because although the ending is somewhat open, I feel like it’s a self-contained story from which an add-on would just detract. However, that’s not to say I haven’t considered utilising Zari’s ex-best-friend as a character in a novel–maybe in a novel for adults, in which the ex-best-friend (and Zari, for that matter) is an adult, too.

4. Certain characters had more sci-fi things happen to them and other characters were in more “realistic” stories, but L’Engle didn’t let that prevent the overlap, even if it was slight. I’m also not positive about this, but I do think that some of the characters in her children’s books ended up sneaking into some of her adult novels as well. I am not sure it’s strictly true to say she used magical realism in her stories, but there was realism, and there was “magic,” and I liked that combo. Lately I have got a few story ideas up my sleeve along the same lines. I’ve tried to write fantasy like Lewis and Tolkein before, and I just can’t do it, but I think I could take the L’Engle approach pretty successfully.

I never had a correspondence with Madeleine L’Engle like I had with Lloyd Alexander, but I did meet her once when she came to my college with a number of other authors (notably Chaim Potok and Frederick Buechner). I wanted an autograph, but all of my copies of her books were back home in New England, and I was in Chicagoland. What I did have was a blank book which I used to have my friends sign after choir tours and mission trips and things. I opened it up to an empty page and mumbled apologetically, “This is a little weird, but . . . can you sign it anyway?”

She did.

Sometimes I wonder if this inscription foreshadowed the book I'd be trying to publish now.

Sometimes I wonder if this inscription was a foreshadowing of the book I’d be trying to publish now.


Cleaning Missouri

The Tuesday Reblog

This is about as wordy as I’ve felt lately, so it seemed like the right thing to reblog. Plus–congrats on your house, Bas and Ms Missouri!

That’s (Almost) a Jenn Story

Saturday Snippets

For the last few years I’ve been taking two or three teens at a time to the annual conference of the ICCC (pronounced “Eye-Triple-See”). Said teens were always of the female variety. Sometimes I would imagine that I was the twenty-first century equivalent of a Victorian chaperone, à Charlotte Bartlett, for example, from A Room with a View. This was a particularly apt parallel when I was still single, which I wasn’t when we went last year.

Lucy Honeychurch was still harder to keep tabs on than all three of my "charges," say, last year.

I’ve been compared to Maggie Smith characters before, as it happens . . . though probably not the most recent one.

This year for the first time I brought more than three kids, boys as well as girls, and a male chaperone, but because of some logistical weirdness earlier in the year, the boys got added to the trip late. Although we returned all on the same flight, I couldn’t get them onto the girls’ outbound flight, and so they left Our Fair City at 4 in the morning and we didn’t have to get to our airport until around noon.

It was a tiny little airport and there was no line so I walked up to the desk, the four girls trailing behind me, and the young woman behind it said, “Oh. Your flight’s been delayed two hours.”

The more she talked about it, the more it seemed to be delayed–at first we were to be landing in Cleveland (an intermediate point) at 4 pm, and then it was 5, and then it was 5.30. It didn’t really matter, though, apparently, because our connecting flight there was departing so close to our original landing time that we were going to miss it completely, and it was the last flight out of Cleveland to Grand Rapids for the day. This meant that our options were somehow to get ourselves to Boston and split up into two groups which would route through various bigger (and further flung) cities than Cleveland, and hope we all ended up where we were supposed to eventually; or we could stay together, fly our original but delayed flight, and then try to find a hotel room in Cleveland and make it to Grand Rapids the next morning.

I began making a mental list of all the people I was going to need to call:

1. The boys’ chaperone, who was probably already fed up with trying singlehandedly to keep the two boys entertained when no other kids had arrived yet.

2. Pastor Ron, just to keep him in the loop.

3. The main ICCC youth leader, who I knew would be counting on me and the other chaperone and my kids.

4. The hotel in Grand Rapids, to attempt to cancel two rooms for that night and none of the other nights–when I had missed my 24 hour cancellation window.

5. The hotel–any hotel?–or possibly my friend Phyllis–in Cleveland, to arrange new lodging for the night.

Then I started gearing myself up to give the girls a pep talk about how we were having an adventure and how much fun it was going to be and how memorable, even though just a few minutes before I had ranted to them about how much trouble I always have with this airline and how the only reason I bought tickets from them this time was because of how many I needed to buy and how much cheaper they were than all the others, but how I hadn’t flown them since 2007 because of situations like this which always happen.

The woman checking us in was having trouble with the computer system. I decided to get started on my phone calls. I started calling the hotel in Grand Rapids to cancel that night’s rooms. All of a sudden a guy came running out of the back. “Hey,” he said to his colleagues. “It’s not delayed.”

“What?” we all said.

“The flight,” he said. “The one to Cleveland. It’s not delayed anymore.”

I’ve been traveling by air since I was two years old. I’ve had delays, cancellations, lost luggage, overnight layovers in San Francisco, floor-sleeping in the airport in Bangkok, missing passports, you name it. I have never heard of a flight becoming undelayed.

So here’s my question. If a Jenn story is a misadventure, and a misadventure almost happened but didn’t, is it still a Jenn story? Or is it a Jenn story because the misadventure itself misfired and nothing actually went wrong which is, if you look at it maybe squinty and upside-down or something, a failure of another kind? And then what do you call it when it was the boys who missed their initial flight (they still got to Grand Rapids before us) and the main ICCC youth leader and her group who almost didn’t get there until the following day?

Anyway, whatever. We all got there eventually, and we worked hard and played hard and the kids all made new friends–and so did the adults, actually–and then everybody got dressed up at the end. And then we came home. With no delays, almost or otherwise.

None of us normally dress like this. But it's comforting to know that we're all capable of it.

None of us normally dress like this. But it’s comforting to know that we’re all capable of it.

Wrap It Up

Family Friday

Tiki TorchDon’t tell anyone, but I think I might be getting as tired of talking about my birthday as you are getting of reading about it. It’s just that the festivities were so lovely and so long-lived that I feel as if I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the other people along with my Paul who helped me celebrate.

The day after the outing to the Brimfield Antiques Fair was a Sunday, and technically no real birthday celebrating happened. However, my friend the Mag-nificent (her name’s Maggie, see) has a birthday the day after mine, and Sunday evening she had some women from our church’s Women’s Bible Study group over for dinner. It was very hot outside, but we sat in her screen porch with fans blowing at us and with appetizers and glasses of wine, and then her husband came home and grilled kebabs for us, and it was very relaxed and civilised-feeling. It’s amazing how easy it is to make yourself feel like the rich and famous (of the 1940’s maybe) even when you’re not. It also felt like we were actually secretly celebrating the Mag-nificent’s and my birthdays at the same time.

The next two days I had requested as vacation days, and it turned out to be a good thing, because there was a lot to do on Monday to get ready for our guests who were arriving at 5. Girl-Talk Friend, Star-becca and The Item showed up first, and then later my new seminary-best-friend (whose blog nickname is still percolating) and her husband. We went swimming off the boat in the middle of the pond, and the pond felt like a bath it was so hot outside, but still managed to be a little bit refreshing once one got out. Then we came back to shore and my Paul (who, let it be said, is one of the best hosts I’ve ever known, and I’m not even biased. Okay, maybe I am) grilled like crazy–both salmon and ribs–and we took our plates down to the chairs at the water’s edge and ate and talked.

By the time we had finished eating, the sun was setting. Everyone got back on the pontoon. We’ve made a delightful kitchiness out of our boat, wrapping the railing in coloured Christmas lights and clamping two tiki torches to the front, so we lit all those things and our guests oohed and ahhed and laughed and crowed over the “party boat.” Back in the middle of the pond, we ate dessert and talked some more until the mosquitos started ignoring the tiki torches and our farthest flung guests decided they needed to start heading back. There were some gifts, but like I’ve said before, I’m not a “stuff girl.” I just love celebrating with people I care about. The friendship and the memories for later are the gifts.



Lights at sunset

Lights at sunset


The next day, my Paul and I drove to Boston and walked along the Harbour to the North End (Little Italy). There we bought packets of leaf tea, which was unexpected, and pizza, which was more expected and also delicious. After that we came back home, cleaned up (did I mention it was very hot?) and went to my parents’ for another civilised dinner.

I feel more than sufficiently celebrated, and very loved, and I’m grateful. All these people are family, really. Thanks, Family.

Sunset cruises on the Pond almost every night. Even for unbirthdays.

Sunset cruises on the Pond almost every night. Even for unbirthdays.

Great Neighbors

The Tuesday Reblog

Seasonsgirl’s peaceful stories always leave me smiling. This one about a good deed also shows just what a nice person she is.


It’s great to have neighbors like we have… you can depend on them, trust them, and you can bless them if they let you… This evening I went over to visit one of our neighbors. I could see him out in his garden. He is in his 80’s and currently struggling with lymes disease among other things. He isn’t getting around as he used to so when I can spy him out from across our field I go see what I can do. I try to go over with a question or to ask to get an onion or something, but usually it’s a way I can go over to talk to him and help out now.kims phone pictures 349Tonight he was going to pick tomatoes for his wife to can… so an hour later we had pulled up potatoes, onions, picked tomatoes of all kinds, and picked blackberries. As a reward I got a…

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Memory Monday
Almost like Grandma had . . .

Almost like Grandma had . . . only the ones in this picture are actually working.

My maternal grandparents were the first people I knew with Venetian (actually Persian, apparently) blinds. They were legit: wooden, painted slats, held together with thin, strong cords and wide fabric bands. They were impossible for me to operate when I was a younger child. I don’t know what material the cords were made of, but they felt dry like cotton, and the white paint on the wooden slats was a flat finish, so there was a lot of friction all around, the cords got easily tangled, and half the slats would end up slanting the wrong direction. They were kind of disastrous. I was forever getting fed up and leaving them hanging drunkenly for some adult to sort out. You would think I would eventually have stopped trying to do anything with them at all, but there was something horribly fascinating about them, such that I would have to adjust only that one slat . . . and then the whole thing would let go and send the blinds clattering down to the bottom of the window.

Even when the adults were manning them, and all the slats were demurely hanging closed in the same direction, those blinds didn’t really keep much light out, and for a while my parents carted around these black vinyl tarps when we visited Grandma and Grandpa M so they could cover the windows with them. This was, no doubt, less for our benefit than for theirs; I, at least, was an insanely light sleeper, and both TheBro and I were early risers. Once I reached my teen years and spent five full summers in that house, the tarps were long gone and I finally mastered those shades and started finding them a little more quaint and endearing, kind of like the footed and ribbed radiators under all the windows, but it was a long hard road. And by that time I had met another version.

Sometime just before I became the Venetian (actually Persian) blinds-whisperer, my parents and TheBro and I went on a family vacation to Europe for a month. This was really splashing out, let me tell you, and probably I will tell you, sometime, but how it’s relevant right now is that while we were in Stockholm, we stayed in a house which had double-glazed windows, and very narrow-slatted metal Venetian (but in actual fact, Persian) blinds in between the two panes. They were awesome. They always went exactly where they were supposed to go. They didn’t get dusty. They pulled up and down the track smoothly and cooperatively. All the slats turned in the same direction. They were also better than the vinyl blinds we had at home with the internal springs that were either unwound to the point that the blinds wouldn’t retract at all, just hanging limp and half-hearted a third of the way up the window, or wound so tightly that they sprang right off the window. I wanted to take those Swedish Venetian Persian blinds home.

Now I live in a house with metal narrow-slatted Venetian (Persian) blinds with nylon (or something) cords, and although they sometimes have equilibrium issues, they work pretty well. But I noticed, because of taking them all down so I could paint window trim three weeks ago, that they are also completely filthy. This would never have happened with the Swedish Venetian Persian blinds because they were encased, and the one major advantage to my grandparents’ blinds was that the slats were wide enough (and therefore spaced far enough apart) that it was pretty easy to dust them.  I didn’t have time to do anything about the Cottage blinds when I was taking them down, except sigh over them, because I was trying to paint my whole house, but now I know how dirty they are, and the day will come, soon, when I can’t stand that knowledge anymore and have to do something about it.

So my question for you, The Readership, is: Do you have any idea of an efficient, not-too-crazy-making method of thoroughly cleaning narrow-slatted metal Venetian (which are really Persian) blinds?

(Note: I am fully aware I could just Google this, but I so much prefer the interpersonal interaction. Googling is a last resort.)

You Didn’t Really Think I Was Done With Birthday Stories, Did You?

Family Friday

Last Christmas, I needed boots. Did I ever need boots. My Paul bought me three entirely distinct pairs–and a pair of slippers–and much to my surprise, I ended up wearing them all equally often–and I do mean often. Last birthday, my Paul bought me a Nexus 7 tablet, which is not only a pretty fun toy, but has also helped reduce the cost of textbooks for seminary considerably, since many of them I can buy digitally. Not only is it easier on my wallet, but it’s easier on my back, since I don’t have to lug around so many enormous theology books. I guess what I’m saying is, my Paul is pretty good with the presents.

So I might have been a little surprised when, a about a month ago, we were lounging about on the Pontoon in the middle of the Pond and he asked, “What do you want for your birthday? I’m having a little trouble coming up with anything.”

“Just take me out for dinner,” I said. “I don’t need anything currently, and you know I’m not really a ‘stuff’ girl. I prefer experiences.” This is true. It’s also probably a good thing, because our Cottage definitely does not have room for any more stuff. And I like going out for dinner. He didn’t seem particularly convinced by this, though, until maybe a week later when, the day after we had taken Cousin Elizabeth out for a really nice hike and then she had gone away again, I got home from work and said, “I want to go somewhere. I wish this were fair season. I want to go to a fair.”

This reminds me. I never really wrote about that visit. I should at least post a photo.

That reminds me. I never really wrote about this visit. I should at least post a photo.

Last Friday, he said, “Hey! The Brimfield Fair is this weekend!”

The next day we went to the Brimfield Fair. We’ve been having an incredibly intense and soggy heatwave for a couple of weeks, so walking through the fair was a little like slogging through soup (first it rained, and then it was so muggy we couldn’t dry out), but it was really fun! He told me to pick something out for him to buy me, and I suppose he thought I’d go for something a little pricier than what I chose. I saw lots of things I liked–like retro typewriters (is that redundant? aren’t all typewriters retro?) and some fancy old inkwells, but nothing I could really countenance dropping the cash on at this point in my life. I mean, if we ever buy a farm in New Hampshire like we talk about sometimes, and there’s enough room for me to have my own writing studio, and even more if I’m actually writing stuff that lots of people are reading, maybe I’ll decorate my studio with those things, but for now they seem a little superfluous.

I'm going for the one in the back. That way I can rest my quills across the top.

I’m going for the ones in the back. That way I can rest my quills across the top.

What I ended up choosing was a small 60’s or 70’s era American Tourister suitcase.

Random, you say? Not so!

Random, you say? Not so!

First of all, I have a thing for non-traditional handbags. Last year I bought a leather purse at this fair. I love it and use it every single day even though it doesn’t match every single outfit. Because I’m rebellious in that way. (Also because I would totally forget my wallet half the time if I had to keep switching bags like that.)

What I really wanted this for, however, was to sell things out of the trunk of my car. Specifically, Trees in the Pavement. Here’s the deal, guys. I want this book to sell somehow, but I haven’t seen a royalty from it since the year of publication, and I’ve discovered it’s more cost-effective for me to purchase my own copies at my author discount, and then sell it  full price. (What’s been happening lately is that I’ve been consigning it to local businesses who then forget to give me my cut.) So you can buy it from me here at the Jenn Store, or, if you see me in person, you can buy one out of the trunk of my car. The trouble was, I had been unable to store it in the trunk of my car for a while, because the box the books were in was self destructing. Now I can carry them around in this cute little suitcase much more soundly.

Psst! Hey! I got the stuff!

Psst! Hey! I got the stuff!

I think you should buy one.

Even without books in it, that little suitcase got pretty heavy by the time we “finished” the fair (which is kind of like “finishing” the Internet, if you’re wondering how extensive this fair is), but I was pretty delighted with my purchase and my birthday outing and with the brief stop we made in a local pub on the way home.

This would have been a fully sufficient birthday celebration for me, even three days before my birthday, but I had already planned a party for the beginning of the following week. But I’ll tell you that story next Friday.


Wordy Wednesday–“Under the Influence” Series, Part 2

Quick! Wordy Wednesday’s almost over, and I still haven’t introduced you to the next of my literary influences! That’s what we’re doing on Wordy Wednesdays currently. Except last week, when we didn’t do anything.

I have actually blogged about Lloyd Alexander before–quite a bit on my Old Blog, in fact, because I like to think that not only did I read and love his children’s books, but also I kind of knew him a little bit. I’ve mentioned him a few times here, too. So . . . let me just reiterate. (By which I mean, mostly copy and paste from my Old Blog. Which may seem like a cop-out, but he passed away about six years ago, and so it’s difficult to have much new to say about him. And you haven’t read that post, have you?)

This was a bookmark I painted for Lloyd of his Prydain characters

This was a bookmark I painted for Lloyd of his Prydain characters.

I first “met” Lloyd through some characters of his at the public library I frequented as a child, and my imagination was never the same again. Our sixth grade class was having a contest to see who could read the most Newbery Award books within a certain period of time, and Lloyd Alexander’s The High King was on the list. All the boys in my class were reading the Prydain Chronicles, and I was pretty sure I would therefore find the book scary or violent or boring, but on the other hand, it looked sort of interesting . . .

You’re not really supposed to read the last book of a series first, but in this case it might have been good I did, because I was completely won over. I proceeded to read the books leading up to it, and then started in on the Westmark Trilogy. I wanted to be Mickle. She was  awkward like me, but much cooler, and I used to go off into the woods behind our house and act out the stories to myself. In junior high I wrote a letter to Lloyd and he sent me his autograph. In high school I got a local Welsh pastor to teach me Welsh because I had become so enamoured with Wales and its mythology through Lloyd’s books.
After college during my Life as a Nanny, I met Dear Paulina and found out she was also an avid reader of Lloyd’s books. Through a little finagling and working a connexion she had with Trina Schart Hyman, she got Lloyd to agree to a phone call with me for my birthday. I don’t know that writers are always very good phone-talkers. At least, I have an intense phobia of the phone except as regards talking to my family–and Lloyd’s own powers of conversation were a little stilted. (Furthermore, he had been put in the slightly bizarre situation of trying to talk to someone he didn’t know, who doesn’t really know how to ask good questions, and who had informed her imagination with ideas out of his head.) I don’t remember too much of what we talked about, except for my saying that I had just re-read the Prydain Chronicles and cried at the end, as usual, and wondering how he could ever re-read them and revisit those characters. He told me he couldn’t, and he didn’t. I don’t believe he ever read those books again after they were printed. And I suspect that almost every book afterwards was an attempt to recreate those characters without actually having to revisit them.
In spite of the awkward phone call, he was very gracious, and out of that conversation a patchy correspondence was born. Paulina and I sent him and his wife Janine a box of cookies (which Janine, apparently, devoured). He gave me writing advice. He allowed me to inform him of my move to London . . . and my return to the U.S. He autographed the first edition copy of Taran Wanderer that Paulina discovered and generously bought for me before the trip to London, and autographed the first edition copy of The Iron Ring she bought hot off the press when I was there.
Lloyd wrote to me about his and Janine’s health and his garden and the weather and his cats and faith and God and relationships and current events. After a while our correspondence dwindled to simple Christmas cards–mine, the homemade ones I sent to almost everyone I know; his, cartoon caricatures of famous paintings in which he is playing the violin to an audience of irritated or bemused cats. I went through a regrettable and completely stupid weeding-stuff-out phase at one point, and so I only have his last four Christmas cards and a few arbitrarily-saved letters. I regret not saving everything. I regret that I never wrote and told him Trees in the Pavement finally got published. And I’m sorry he never got to read it.
Artwork by Lloyd Alexander
But I’m grateful to him (and Dear Paulina) for the chance to know him a little bit. I miss him and his Christmas cards. And I really do hope everything’s going okay where he is now.



The Tuesday Reblog

Fortunately–for both of us probably–my Paul is really good at birthdays, too. My actual birthday is today, but we’ve been celebrating since Saturday. In honour of his excellence at taking his wife’s quirks and whims into account and showing her a nice time, and because it is Reblog day, I am herewith reblogging his guest post about our honeymoon.

That's a Jenn Story

Remember that complicated guestlist? Well, the final festivity of all the wedding festivities involving all the complicated guestlists is upon us . . . on Saturday, three and a half months after the actual wedding. I guess it made my Paul nostalgic or something, because he has spent the last two days tweaking and retweaking his reminiscences of our curmudgey–honeymoon, I mean. Without further ado, then, the first ever That’s a Jenn Story Guest Post, written by my Paul:


In honor of our summer wedding party, I thought I’d share some random observations  from our Montreal honeymoon.

We’ve decided to call this our Curmudgeymoon, because as we sit together on the couch our stomachs are grousing at each other like Statler and Waldorf in the Muppets balcony.

A random cafe in Old Montreal, 10 degrees out, my first smoked meat sandwich. We met Rafael, a period tour guide…

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We Do Birthdays Right

Memory Monday

I know people are supposed to reach an age where they don’t want to reveal their age and they dread birthdays and stuff, but I’m not there yet. I think this might have something to do with the fact that my parents always did such a great job with birthdays when I was growing up.

When we moved to New England from Honduras and I started attending a Christian school there, I remember being somewhat startled and troubled by the facts that in my class, one boy’s parents were divorced, one girl was the daughter of a Christian and a non-Christian (and as I recall that was a source of tension), and certain other kids I knew, both at school and in my home neighbourhood, didn’t really ever get a big deal made out of their birthdays. All three of those things elicited my pity, which maybe is sort of condescending, but give an eight-year-old a break. I just wanted other kids to have parents who loved each other, and who gave them birthdays to remember.

I think the only really big birthday parties my parents ever threw for me were my 3rd and my 13th, and most of the other ones were either just family affairs or maybe included one or two close friends at the most. But there were certain birthday traditions to be upheld, and to which I looked forward every year–even those years when I was around my parents as an adult. This might be because when TheBro and I were growing up, our parents received the same treatment on their birthdays that they gave us on ours, so even as adults, given the proper vicinity, some of these traditions continue.

First, there was breakfast in bed. I always tried to stay asleep until my parents and TheBro came in with my special breakfast  tray, but I was a notoriously light sleeper and early riser, and it was so hard just to lie in bed and pretend to sleep without doing anything, that I  usually ended up reading a book while listening to the kitchen-y noises of breakfast preparation and getting excited to have plätter (Swedish pancakes) or blueberry pancakes with bacon or whatever I had chosen for breakfast that year. Everybody else brought their breakfast in, too, and would perch on the edges of the bed, or on the desk or wherever, and we’d eat together. My mother would usually find a bud vase or a little tiny jar for flowers from the yard, and grace the corner of the tray with that. I loved that touch.

Supper and its accompanying dessert were also always choices for the birthday girl or boy–and everything was fair game. As an adult, I often choose lobster or clams. When TheBro and I were in elementary school, Mom would also make us these impressive cakes featuring a theme or a character we were into at the time. I think she stopped with the theme cakes for each of us when we turned twelve or something, and after that, we could choose a dessert, but no more Raggedy Anns or Darth Vaders.

Guess which one is the cake.

Guess which one is the cake.

There were also always presents, which were exciting and mysterious, but now that I come to think about it, although I remember always wanting there to be presents, and also being grateful for the things I got, they were never the focal point, really. The main point of the day was to celebrate an occasion–and a person.

It wasn’t just standard birthdays that got celebrated, either. For example, I don’t know what the reason was, but I distinctly remember someone visiting us in Honduras, and our having an “unbirthday party” with them. I suspect what happened was that our visitor had brought a gift for TheBro and me (I remember the gift) and maybe my parents didn’t want us associating visitors with gifts, so, drawing on my cursory knowledge of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from the recording of the Disney movie, my mother threw together a small party for us and our guest(s), wrapping up the gifts and even, I think, having a small cake. I went on to throw unbirthday parties and birthday parties for my friends in college . . . because everybody needs to have their birthday celebrated.

How did you celebrate your birthday as a kid? Or how do you wish you did?