Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sunshine, Lilacs, Birthday Honours

 Finally, finally, yesterday the sun came out and shone for the entire day. My birthday. I could not have been more honoured. Well, except for how honoured I felt at the family dinner Sunday night, two missing but nine of us crowded happily in our Vancouver apartment feasting on Pater's Moroccan-spiced lambshanks, Megan-and-Rob's scrumptious lemon meringue pie.
 Then my sister Rachel took me out for lunch Monday at Bacchus in the Wedgewood Hotel. We got a lovely seat in front of the fireplace which shouldn't have been lovely in May, but was. . . . it was still cold then, the day before my actual birthday. The sun was waiting . . . .
 When we got home Monday afternoon, back to the island, I picked up the mail and there was a birthday card from the accountant. Nice thought, but really, just after taxtime they should probably write something on the envelope: "Not to worry. No bad tax news inside"! Much more pleasant was an actual paper card inside a hand-addressed envelope -- when I opened it a sweet little bookmark fell out. All from Cindy, a friend from Prince Rupert where we lived for seven years, 23 years ago. We haven't seen each other for perhaps ten years (although I hope this might be the year that changes!) but she remembers my birthday with a card. How special is that? Thanks, Cindy.
 And then the actual day of, the sun starts shining. And keeps it up. And the lilacs decide that, well, all right, perhaps it is time to open, weeks and weeks later than usual. And they do, and that seems to ignite a brilliant little sequence of purples throughout the garden. Some a bit scrubby -- the lunaria I let volunteer because I love its silvery seed discs in flower arrangements. It's commonly known as the money plant -- but pretty just the same.

 Pater and I had picked up my new android-powered Smartphone earlier, my birthday gift, but he surprised me in the morning with Aveda bath salts, and then he left for some meetings, leaving me to savour the quiet in -- have I mentioned this yet? -- the sunshine. I did have to work on my paper, and also got out for a good run, but I took time to putter around the garden, pulling weeds, pruning back herbs, snipping some lily-of-the-valley for my "birthday vase," a wee coalport vase, white, placed on my breakfast tray on my 17th birthday by my mom.
I love remembering, with this little vase, that Mom used to remember my birthday, because she doesn't do too well with that anymore. But when I came in from the garden yesterday, the phone light was flashing, and I checked my messages. "Oh, Frances," my mother's voice hailed. Then "I'm sorry. . . " and Click, she was gone. Too funny, and very poignant. She finds technology overwhelming, and she has always been horrifyingly shy on the phone anyway. That she managed to find my number and dial it, including prefacing it for the long distance, and that she managed to cope with the voicemail was a very big deal. I heard the birthday wishes clearly, moved almost to tears, called her back several times until I caught her in and thanked her. Teased her a bit -- she loves being teased and joked with on the phone, can keep up her end quite well, especially if she relaxes so that the stress doesn't compromise her memory. I told her I appreciated the call even though it was truncated because I know how she hates the whole process. She said, "Oh! How did you know?" and I joked, "Well, I guess because of the way you pester me with all those daily phone calls."  It's funnier if you know that she might have called me six times in the last ten years. Might have. And this pattern pre-dated the MCI (cognitive impairment). So the phone message, odd as it was, made a great gift.
 My sister Mary left a phone message as well, but hers was considerably longer than Mom's. Mary was keeping up a family tradition of my Dad's, who was neither shy nor afraid of phones. He used to phone to sing Happy Birthday to anyone he couldn't get to in person, and I think some family member has sung my birthday greetings to me over the phone every year since I turned 18 or 19, at least.

A sweet little geranium in the shade, I believe this is geranium phaeum  (Mourning Widow)
And the new tradition of Facebook messages -- this is truly fun, watching the birthday greetings fill the wall. This friend and That friend and 17 other friends, announces the Facebook notifications icon, have left you a message.

 And besides all the purple, these orange tulips are finally opening in the sun. Right behind them, in the fishpond, an echoing orange flashed under the grasses. Relief! We'd thought perhaps the kingfisher or heron or garter snakes or raccoons had emptied the pond of fish while we were away. The original six and their descendants have kept us (relatively) mosquito-free for a decade or so, but we hadn't seen them in the two weeks we were home. Until yesterday, when one came out to say, surely, Happy Birthday.

 Then last night, Paul made me a gorgeous meal -- a stir-fry of Asian vegetables with large, succulent scallops and prawns -- fabulously tasty and healthy, in keeping with some renewed goals.

So life is good in the last two years of my 6th decade, 50-something for a bit longer. Life is rich, and I'm grateful. Sitting in the sunshine, smelling the flowers, savouring family and friends and fortune, while I can. Life is good.

So tell me, what birthday traditions, quirky or sentimental as they might be, do you treasure in your family? Does anyone still administer the childhood "birthday bumps"? or know what I mean by that? Is there a special meal you must serve? Or a dish you always serve it on, once a year? I'd love to hear your birthday stories. Comments always welcome.


  1. And many happiest of birthday wishes, ex post facto, to you oh most delightful of people. We have no particular birthday traditions, none but remembering. And perhaps we gather at my dad's house, and eat outside with cloth napkins:).

    My garden is a dried up frazzle, the lilac a distant memory, but check out my peonies (which somehow ended up under a really old post from last week!)
    My birthday is invariably at Easter so I do get some celebration via family but Emin refuses to celebrate the whole cycle of obligation circus although he did pass me his old iPhone this year so he must be mellowing.
    His first and last gift was a flying lesson! Amazing, but it has had to keep me going ever since. Like most men he throws you a good one and then rests on his laurels forever after.
    Glad you have had a good day, can't believe you succumbed to Facebook, I'll get Daisy to 'poke' you!
    Oh and seriously you don't look like you are in your forties let alone fifties!

  3. Happy Birthday to you! Please send some of that sunshine to all of here in Toronto! We have been having such a miserable, cold and rainy time of it, I do believe it's starting to affect our moods in a very negative way! Enjoy your day!

  4. Happy Birthday wishes mater!
    It is a gift to see the sunshine...and it shines again this morning.

    I was so hoping for a picture of that birthday vase and Lily of the Valley blooms...maybe tomorrow?

    Food and feasting with family gathered close is what we do to celebrate our birthdays here. My girlfriends and I gather for coffee and a token gift exchange.

    Your garden is bursting with colour and looks ever so lovely!

  5. Happy Birthday! So glad it was a wonderful and sunny day :)

  6. Happy Belated Birthday, Mater! I loved your story about your mom's phone call. My mother is failing rapidly and cognition is impaired. But we still manage to connect. My birthday is a few days before Christmas. One of my favorite memories is the effort my mother took to make sure I felt my birthday was special for me. No Christmas wrap on birthday gifts, a ballerina cake and little party. All this with three other siblings to care for and a dad who was frequently gone for long periods as a military pilot. Your garden is amazing. Life is good!

  7. Happy birthday Mater! When we were little the birthday child got to choose dinner. I always chose chicken paprika. Since I cook all the time, I am taking my spouse out to his favorite place for lunch on Friday for his 82nd birthday.

  8. Lisa: Eating outside always feels slightly festive up here, 'tho perhaps it's less so where you are.
    Alison: and now Emin's scored again with the iPhone, he'll have earned himself some laurel-resting again.
    You once had a flying lesson? Too cool! As for FB, I've been on it for a year or two -- it's actually quite useful for keeping our huge (extended) family in touch. I'd love a "hello" from Daisy, but won't be surprised if she declines the opportunity to give one of her mom's friends a peek into her world ;-)
    Anon: I've heard that your weather has perhaps been even worse than ours -- and yours comes after a long, cold winter. I'm so sorry, and I'll see what I can do about the sunshine. Thanks for commenting.
    Hostess: Yes, food seems to be our primary way of celebrating birthdays -- and I'm alright with that! I should photograph my little vase and post it one of these days. . .
    Jillian: Thanks -- glad to see you're feeling better.
    Marguerite: Sounds as if there are some similarities in our childhood birthdays, even if they're at different times of the year. Mine was always a day to feel (and be treated) special(ly), and the work of that fell to my already busy mom -- who rose to the task for each of us.
    Mardel: Isn't it funny how magical that choice felt? And how we'd look forward to a favourite meal coming 'round again? Happy Birthday to your husband, and I hope the two of you have a lovely meal together on Friday.

  9. What a wonderful birthday Mater - all three days of it! :0) When we were small we got the 'dumps' (same as the bumps). Now we do the dinner thing - we either go out or the birthday person chooses what to have at home.
    I, too, loved the story with your mum - precious! P.

  10. Happy Birthday Mater! I am so glad the sun came out for you :-). Your birthday dinner sounds yummy.

  11. I'm glad to hear it was such a very lovely day for you! Birthdays have always been important in my family - perhaps slightly less so in my husband's. Our traditions, such as they are, always revolve around food! Every year we take my in-laws (whose birthdays are 10 days apart) out for dinner somewhere special - although they're quite well-off, they never go out to nice restaurants. The kids also now insist on a dinner out - in addition to a party too, of course. When they were little I threw insanely elaborate parties, but now Kid 1 refuses anything except the family dinner ...

  12. mater .. had i only known when i saw you earlier today, i would have, also, bestowed birthday greetings upon you .. so good to have youhome again .. i look forward to our serendipitous chats on the road ..

  13. A belated Happy Birthday to you! I'm so glad you had sunshine and flowers. It sounds like a wonderful extended celebration all around.

  14. Lilacs and sunshine for your birthday....heavenly!
    Showered with love by your family...priceless!

  15. Patricia: Thank you -- I love hearing that the birthday bumps were the birthday dumps in your family/area. I find those kind of variations so interesting (as with the nursery rhyme, earlier, if you remember)
    Thanks, Susan, it really was delicious.
    Tiffany: I can imagine the cooking for your kids' early parties, judging from some of the menus you've shared!
    Jane: I do love our road chats!
    Pseu: It was wonderful -- as, I suspect, was your first day in Rome.
    Pavlova: It really is beyond price, that family love!

  16. Thanks, Gina -- you've helped me stretch the birthday even longer!


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