Posts Tagged ‘birthdays’

A Reason To Celebrate Birthday Number 150

Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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West Virginia is turning 150, and true to form, many Mountain State residents will be celebrating.

Thirty years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and questioned why anyone would care about a state’s birthday.

But thirty years ago, I didn’t know West Virginia.

At the time, I was a shy, awkward adolescent trying to recover from culture shock after my parents moved our family from Oregon to West Virginia.

I was truly baffled when complete strangers acted as though they already knew us. I understood common courtesy, but West Virginians were truly friendly to everyone.

I argued that the nickname Mountain State was inappropriate. To me, real mountains reached higher than 10,000 feet and were snow-covered all year. You couldn’t convince me that the steep hills were ancient mountains that were worn but wise with age.

And I was afraid I would pick up the distinct West Virginia accent that television and movie actors never get quite right.

Yet at some point, despite my resolution not to become attached to West Virginia, that accent began to grow on me.

West Virginia had befriended me by charming me with its character, its beauty and, most of all, its history. As a state born out of the Civil War when it seceded from Virginia, its residents have never forgotten what the motto “Mountaineers are Always Free” really means.

I may never understand the appeal of a pepperoni roll, why anyone would want coleslaw on a hot dog or the allure of the smell of ramps, but I will always be awed by the New River Gorge Bridge, the gold dome of the state capitol building and the eery beauty of Dolly Sods.

Living in the narrow strip of land between Maryland and Virginia, I often cross state lines several times a week. Yet every time I cross back into West Virginia, I  always break into song.  John Denver wasn’t from West Virginia either, but “Country Roads” expresses the feelings of so many who call the Mountain State home.

It may not be Happy Birthday, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing those lyrics tomorrow.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Monday, June 10, 2013
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She slept through it all.

Ten years ago, I ate a pound of tortilla chips dredged in hot salsa, chased it with Mexican combo dinner #6, washed all of that down with sweet tea, and then walked a mile around our neighborhood park. Four hours later, I was having my first baby.  She was delivered in part by a friend from college who was training a new nurse, who would end up buying our house.

But wait! There’s more!

Ava Elizabeth was born on June 10th and went home, the color of a Georgia peach, on June 12th. We pulled into the driveway to discover neighbors in our yard, eager to see the interior of our house, which had been flooded when a drain on the hillside became clogged with debris following a violent rainstorm.  Only the bottom level of the house was damaged, but the laundry room floor was beneath several inches of muddy water.  Maternity clothes, which were borrowed, floated on top.  The washer and dryer were ruined.  The phone lines were ruined.  The walls were ruined.  The carpet was ruined.  The furniture was ruined.  Everything seemed ruined.

It had to get better.  It just had to.

But, it didn’t.

A week later, more rains drenched Charleston, and the same drain (which didn’t belong to us or the city) clogged again.  The basement, newly bleached and recently stripped of everything down to the car in the garage, would undergo another soaking.  My husband climbed the hill to clear the drain, but the force of the water snapped his shovel in half, sending the wooden handle to the road.  I was certain he had died…a drowning…possibly a heart attack..maybe a stabbing…possibly a beating.  I just knew he was gone.

With hormones raging, I called 911.  I informed (correction: screamed) that my husband had been overtaken by rapid waters.  I yelled for him, but he didn’t respond.  I couldn’t hike the hill to check on him because I had just given birth to a baby girl — with jaundice.  She was by the window, by the way, wearing only a diaper…

First the police pulled in, then the rescue squad, and then the longest firetruck in the fleet.  BIG JOHN, I think they called it. Superheroes jumped out of their vehicles in black hats and rain gear.  They pounded on the door to check on us and to find out where my husband was last seen.  I pointed to the hillside behind our deck.  I cried. I shook. I hyperventilated.

A paramedic sat with me as the others tackled the waterfall.  Getting to the top was still nearly impossible, so they started shouting for Mike.  ”CAN YOU HEAR US?” a fireman bellowed through a bullhorn. “MIKE! ANSWER IF YOU CAN HEAR US!”

When the skies cleared, a confused voice could be heard from the top of the ridge.  ”Hello?” Mike replied.  He was alive!

“ARE YOU OKAY, SIR?” asked the fireman.

“I’m fine!” he yelled back.

“WE THINK YOU SHOULD COME DOWN, SIR.  YOUR WIFE IS VERY UPSET!”

Mike obeyed and slid down the hill with the bottom half of his shovel, which then resembled a trowel.

“Is she all right?” Mike asked, breathless, cold and extremely wet.

“She’s fine, but she’s worried about you,” answered the fireman.

Mike informed the Superheroes that he had broken his shovel trying to dig out the stopped-up drain, but his wife had lost her damned mind.

A news crew had filed in behind the string of emergency vehicles.

“She wasn’t in danger, but she was scared,” a paramedic told the reporter.  ”We sent mother and baby to the neighbor’s house across the street so she wouldn’t be alone.”

But, mother and baby had to return home because the neighbor had pneumonia.  It really wasn’t a good time.

That evening, as I sat on the couch because I wasn’t allowed to get up or even think about making a telephone call, I noticed that Ava couldn’t open her right eye.  An infection had set in, which I feared would render her as blind as Stevie Wonder. Mike phoned our new pediatrician.  Medication was called in for Ava. Rest for Mama. A bottle for Daddy. Doctor’s orders.

The next morning, June temperatures swept through the house and roasted all of us like baked potatoes.  Ava’s chest, stomach, arms and legs were covered in red bumps.  I broke into a familiar hysteria, calling the pediatrician again to beg for an appointment. She worked us in within the hour and diagnosed our new baby with a heat rash that would go away once I took the winter pajamas off her.  After that, we replaced the central cooling unit at a cost that could have sent our next daughter to an Ivy League school of choice.

Once the house was dry (and cool), and the weather crisp (and calm), we sold our home (to the labor nurse) and the first memories that went with it.  A decade later, this beautiful little lady with blonde hair, healthy blue eyes, deep dimples, long legs and even longer feet, represents everything motherhood has to offer.  With her love of Harry Styles and the British band, One Direction; for reading and writing; for all things formal and proper; she is so lovely.  And it has been wonderful.

Happy birthday, Ava.

Click on the Harry Styles hyperlink for a very special birthday message to Ava. 

My Birthday Boy

Saturday, June 1, 2013
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My baby turned 4 this week. I can’t believe another birthday has come and gone. Once again I’m left asking how time has passed so quickly. Most things baby related are now a distant memory—no more diapers or board books, and even most of the baby toys are gone. The only remnants of the beautiful creature I brought home from the hospital are his pudgy little hands and an occasional cuddle in the rocking chair after a bad dream.

Thinking back, I can still remember most of his major milestones. He rolled over at four months and crawled at seven. He walked at nine months and practically ran at ten. He gave up his bottle by a year and a half and was potty trained by the time he was 3. Now he’s enrolled in preschool, which means he’ll be away from me all day, every day, in just a few months.

The Birthday Boy- newborn, 1st birthday and now.

There were laughs and giggles and plenty of sleepless nights. Sometimes it felt like weeks would drag on through the endless cycle of work and day care, dinner and play time, bath and bed.  Somewhere along the way my baby grew into a big boy right before my eyes. I wish I’d known the time would go by so fast. I took much of that precious time for granted, not realizing that one day I’d be looking ahead in disbelief that by his next birthday my boy would be getting ready for kindergarten.

During a recent cleaning spree, I stumbled upon his diaper bag in the bottom of a closet, abandoned immediately once the diapers were gone. After a few tears, it dawned on me that what used to seem like an inconvenience is now another sign that my baby is relying on me less and less all of the time.

There are many perks to his new -found independence – no more diaper changes in the middle of the mall and a lot more sleep at night. But on special occasions like this, I can’t help but fondly remember the baby I once had and gaze astonishingly at the little boy that he is now.

How do you celebrate birthdays?

Three is a Magic Number

Saturday, May 26, 2012
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On Sunday, my baby boy turns three. Even as the words are leaving my fingers, I can’t believe it’s been three years since he was born. It seems like yesterday and 20 years ago. Since then, our lives have changed in ways than I would have never imagined.

Henry and I formed a bond the second the nurse handed him to me. As I rocked him to sleep in the wee hours of the morning during those first sleep-deprived weeks, I was overcome at the depth of my love. I likened it to someone wrapping their

Henry's Three Birthdays

arms around me and squeezing out every feeling, every breath, except for love.

I soon learned that love was the easy part. Everything else was a struggle. I’d tried for a long time to get pregnant and when I finally did, I was delighted beyond belief. So, why did becoming a parent make me feel like I’d been sucked up by a tornado and spit back out? Perhaps it was because I was too set in my own ways. Maybe I was more selfish than what I realized. My husband and I were used to being alone, traveling when we wanted and sleeping late every chance we had.

Or, maybe it’s because having a baby changes everything. It’s cliché, but so very true. Gone were the days when I could run to Kroger with just my wallet. Now I had to nurse him, change him, dress him (inevitably he would decorate my shirt with his spit up), get him in the car seat, grab the diaper bag – the list goes on and on. Nothing was easy. Laundry, dirty bottles and pumping milk were endless tasks. God forbid if I ran out of diapers while I was home alone. I was lucky to get a shower before 5 PM most days, let alone leave the house.

All of this stress lead me to one question – would this get easier? I just kept waiting for things to calm down. Then one day I woke up and he wasn’t an infant anymore. He was a toddler and I faced new parenting challenges. Now he’s a pre-schooler and I find myself thinking how I wish I’d been a little more willing to hold on to those sleepless nights. I look back on his first three years and realize that even though it was the hardest time of my life, I wouldn’t change it for anything. Through all of the sickness, sleepless nights, teething episodes and terrible two’s, becoming a mother is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

I’m so fortunate to have a healthy, happy child that’s turning three years old. There’s not a day goes by that I’m not mindful of this blessing. Potty training is a work in progress and bedtime is out the question without a binky in his mouth. But, I realize that if I rush through this period, I’ll look back in a few years and wished I’d lived more in the present.

When I feel overwhelmed and try to rush things so I can get on with life, I have to remind myself that this is life. Managing the pressures of work, home, husband and child are my life. I need to see it for what it is – a beautiful mess filled with love, laughter, fun and the tantrums of a three year old.

Just like they say in Schoolhouse Rock: Three is a magic number. The past and the present and the future.

The Mother, the Daughter and the Holy Ghost

Monday, May 7, 2012
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Reflecting.

Since my book was published, friends have asked me if I’ve always been so happy. If I’ve always laughed. The short answer is no.  The long answer takes about 10 years.

From 1996 through the early part of 2006, I had nothing to smile about.  My dad suffered a stroke that ended his career and much of his independence, and my mother hid breast cancer from us while she focused on him. She died within weeks of diagnosis, and my dad’s Alzheimer’s disease progressed to the point that he was in and out of hospitals and assisted care facilities…even a mental institution for severe dementia.  Caring for them took its toll on me, and I took their deaths — particularly my mother’s passing — extremely hard.  For 10 years, I worried non-stop about what was going to happen to them, and to some extent, what would happen to me because I was so dependent upon my aging parents.

I recently decided to clean house beginning with my closets to throw out things that I no longer wanted (or could wear, quite honestly).  Then, I moved on to bookshelves, which were stuffed with bound pages containing messages and lessons that once meant something to me.  It was then and there that I realized how badly I hurt in those 10 years.  Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.  The Orphaned Adult. Finding Peace.  How to Handle Adversity.  The Daughter Trap. And one title that I couldn’t get rid of: Motherless Mothers.

Hope Edelman’s book, Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become became a supplement to my bible for a long time. When Edelman became a parent, she found herself revisiting her own loss in ways she had never anticipated. As the mother of two young girls (like me), Edelman set out to learn how the loss of a mother to death or abandonment affects the ways women raise their own children.  She reveals the anxieties and desires mothers like her (and like me) experience as they raise their children without the help of a living maternal guide.

In an early episode of “Mad Men”, Betty Draper tries to talk to her husband, Don, about her mother’s death and the fears associated with it.  Don, showing little interest in his wife’s grief told her very simply, “Please stop. Mourning is an extended form of self-pity.”  Whatever you say, Dick Whitman.

Even though my mom died in 2000, I still think of her every single day.  I wrote letters to her for a year, deciding on the first anniversary of her death that I, too, needed to stop. I filled a hat box with sealed envelopes labeled only by date, and they’re buried in a much larger bin in our basement. Writing served a purpose back then — a type of therapy that helped me feel like she was still around.

And then… last Sunday, I saw her.

Mike and I were outside trying to decide what to do with our grass-less backyard.  After trading a few ideas, we decided to go to Lowe’s to price landscaping materials.  It was a nice day for resting in the hammock …a nice day for playing in the tree house…a nice day for reading in the shade.  But I was going to put a stop to all of that.

“Ava, get your shoes.  We need to go pick up a few things.”

My daughter turned to me with one hand on her hip and a look of stern disapproval on her face.  Her left and right feet were positioned in a majorette “T”, and her jaw was set.  Her eyes narrowed at me under furrowed brows.

My God.  My mother.

I remember that look.  Whenever I would say or ask something out of reason, that was the exact look my mother would give me.  The only difference is that she usually had a cigarette secured in the opposite hand; a stream of smoke lifting up to the sky.  She would stare at me for a moment to think about how to respond.  Yet she never had to.  I always knew that look meant whatever I wanted wasn’t going to happen.

We went to Lowe’s anyway,  and the drive to Southridge was a quiet one.  I kept looking back at Ava to see if I could catch another glimpse of  ”Little Betty Lou” with her pouty face and crossed arms of protest.  Then I emerged from that smoky haze realizing that Ava may be a version of my mother — a throwback — but she’s really an eight-year-old girl with blonde hair, blue eyes and legs longer than anyone on my side of the family.  She’s not my mother.  She’s her own girl.

Today, May 7th, is my 39th birthday.  My mother gave birth to me at this age.  I was her only child — a “gift” she said, which was an alternate word for “surprise” as my dad called it.  In our society, advanced maternal age is no big deal, but in 1973, it was a news headline because she was on the verge of entering her fourth decade.  However, my mother — always cool, always collected and always calculated — saw her age and my birth in an entirely different way.  ”Life begins at 40,” she wrote in my baby book. “This is just the beginning.”

And that’s something to smile about.

A Little Holiday Nostalgia

Saturday, November 26, 2011
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This Thanksgiving seemed easier than most. My Mom and I didn’t fuss or fight and we prepared the whole meal without a single argument. As my husband will attest, this was one for the record books. My in-laws came early and stayed late for some after dinner conversation. My son, although only two and a half, was especially good – no crying or tantrums. He enjoyed all of the attention from both sets of grandparents, and his aunt, all at the same time. Everyone pitched in to make the day a little easier. My husband would describe the day as smooth as butter.

Last year we celebrated Thanksgiving with the joy of having my chemotherapy over, but with the uncertainty of six weeks of daily radiation ahead. This year, it was a blessing to know that my cancer treatments were behind me. It created a deep sense of nostalgia.

My father in law celebrated his 81st birthday on Thanksgiving Day. We sang happy birthday as he blew out the candles on a fall-themed cake. When someone you love is lucky enough to reach that age, it is impossible not to wonder how many more holidays you’ll have together. It was a heartwarming sight to watch little Henry sit on his Giddee’s (grandfather) lap and blow out the candles. I also used a table cloth that belonged to his mother. It is a beautiful cream-colored linen cloth stitched with faint fall-like flowers. My father-in-law was totally surprised when I told him that I had “rescued” it last summer from the bag he intended to send to the Salvation Army. Although he would never admit it, I’m sure he was delighted that we were using something that belonged to his mother.  It was an unspoken birthday gift- the best kind for someone who has accumulated eighty years’ worth of possessions.

My husband agreed that he felt more nostalgic this year than most, too. After everyone went to bed, we stayed up late chatting about how much the world has changed in the 81 years since his dad was born. What was life like back then?  America was gripped by The Great Depression. In their small Lebanese community in Detroit, they were probably surrounded by lots of family and friends during holidays. With no television, no Internet, no text messages and no excitement over Black Friday shopping, we couldn’t help but think their holiday celebrations were probably simpler and likely more down to earth.

I read an article this week that explained the psychology of holiday nostalgia. Doing something repeatedly over the years – preparing our favorite dishes, trimming the Christmas tree after our Thanksgiving meal, holding hands during grace – fulfills our need to connect with family and friends. As I have watched my little one grow from an infant during this first holiday season to full blown toddler this year, I can’t help but wonder what special memories he’s creating. I hold on to the hope that we will all be here, healthy and happy, to celebrate many holiday seasons ahead.

What special holiday traditions do you celebrate with your children? Is there a certain custom that makes you especially nostalgic this time of the year? I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Happy birthday, baby

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
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She's FIVE!

  This week, my baby – my sweet little 8-pound 1-ounce, 19-inch long bundle of bliss – turns five. FIVE. It’s such a milestone year. She’s no longer a baby, for sure. Not even a toddler. She’s school age. She’s a big girl now.

  It breaks my heart a little. But I’m coming around.

  When Julia was a baby, I admit I used to feel sorry for mothers of older children. How sad, I thought, that they don’t get to pick up and hold their babies, kiss chubby little cheeks, sing lullabies to sleep. Poor them, I thought. Lucky me.

  I also remember thinking, what does one even do with a 6-year-old, a 9-year-old? I’m not even interested in 6-year-olds. I just want this baby of mine to stay a baby.

  My husband was always eager to see what would come next. He was looking forward to watching her take her first steps, go to school, learn to read. Me, I just wanted to hold her in my arms.

  Well, guess what? Despite my efforts, she grew up.

  And you know what? My husband was right. It is pretty cool.

  She’s constantly learning new things. She loves school. She devours books. She watched in wonderment as caterpillars turned into butterflies. She plays board games with me. She’s starting to write her name and her letters and numbers. She has friends.

  She’s discovering what an amazing world we live in.

  She’s starting to think for herself and have her own ideas. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like. She has opinions. She has a sense of humor. She’s her own little person.

  And the potential I see is overwhelming. When I peek through the window into her dance class or hear her sounding out words, my heart nearly bursts with pride. Every day she amazes me.

  It’s also a little overwhelming to think that it’s my responsibility alone as a single mother to give her a good starting place as she moves forward – to teach her to be a good person, to be kind and generous, to stand up for herself and others, to love herself and to be confident and strong, and to dream big and work hard to get there.

  While I’m working on that tall order and doing my best to set a good example, I’ll enjoy the other perks of having a 5-year-old: no more diapers, no more diaper bags, no more bottles, no more formula, less crap to pack every time I walk out the door, putting the cute knickknacks back out without risk of them being broken, being able to have actual conversations, movie nights, lunch dates and having a shopping buddy and someone who loves Tidewater rolls as much as I do.

  Happy birthday, sweet girl.

  Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Happy birthday to you, this smells like a zoo

Thursday, June 30, 2011
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In five weeks, we’ll celebrate my baby’s first birthday. Just how we will celebrate it has been weighing on me lately. How big should a first birthday party be?

I’m for small birthdays on principle. I don’t want to set an impossible standard of gift-giving, for one thing. And I don’t ever, ever, ever want to spend an afternoon supervising a group of small people in Chuck E. Cheese’s. I realize it’s probably an inescapable fate, but I’m going to try really hard.

But this kid is loved, and we want to celebrate her. It’s just a matter of figuring out how best to do that.

We attended a lovely first birthday party last month that I thought was very well done. It was a gathering of family and friends at home with barbeque and birthday cake. The birthday boy’s parents said “no gifts” and were totally disregarded.

Our house isn’t really big enough to hold even just close family and friends comfortably, so that puts me in a position to figure out somewhere else to have it. My parents’ house? A park? A rented room somewhere? You see how quickly this kind of thing can ramp up.

And what about food? Am I feeding adults, or are we just having cake and ice cream? I mean, whose party is this? I think that’s a serious question because the baby isn’t going to have a much of an idea of what’s happening, so that kind of makes it my party, right?

Clearly I have been over thinking this. But friends have been asking me for months now if I’ve started planning her first birthday party yet, so I’ve had time to obsess. And I see lots of blog postings about birthday parties. Ohdeedoh has a whole series on kids’ parties with themes and decorations and favors that put my best aspirations to shame. This post on Unclutterer is closer to how I feel about kids’ birthdays.

So far, I plan to have a round, layered yellow cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles, and I’ll cut a slice for her to “smash.” Because I really like yellow cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles, and I can easily make this myself for very little money. I kind of don’t get the smash cake thing. I don’t judge it, I just don’t get it. (Other things I don’t get: tattoos, garter tosses). I plan to decorate with balloons, and possibly make a balloon banner. I’ll use Paperless Post for invitations (I like this one). Still haven’t decided about food and location. I’m starting to think our house is the best place even if it isn’t quite big enough.

So tell me, moms, what do you think about first birthday parties, and birthday parties in general? Am I being too austere?

Reliving the Days of Ozzie and Harriet

Monday, June 13, 2011
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A lesson learned from Ricky Nelson.

I’d like to think of myself as an up-to-the-minute parent, but the truth is…I’m not.  I’m not even close to being a hip mom. I’m old-fashioned and a bit stuck in my retro ways.  I believe in going back to the basics and entertaining my children in Old School style.

Oh, really? How?

I banned the birthday party.

Well, let me clarify that statement:  I banned the concept of the modern child’s birthday party. The inflatables. The band. The four-tiered cake. The beer cage for parents.

Now, let me rephrase those statements:  While I certainly enjoy merriment, I simply can’t throw a bash like that for a number of reasons:

1)      My daughter has a summer birth date, so I’m always competing against family vacations and the grand opening of the pool.

2)      Her classmates are scattered in the summertime. Plus, they’ve had enough of each other by this time.

3)      Inviting the entire class, or both second, soon-to-be-third grade classes, would have been mighty expensive, and I’m self-employed operating on a writer’s modest budget.

4)      Because “everyone else has a birthday party”, the kids have celebrated all year and are worn out with the same types of things (as are their parents).

5)      She’s  entering an age and stage that makes entertainment harder than it used to be.

Yet less is always more.

We’ve thrown parties for her before, but not to the scale that we see in today’s spirited neighborhood. I’ve stuffed treat bags full of junk from Oriental Trading, and I’ve ordered cakes bearing the famous faces of cartoon characters.  I’ve hosted the smaller affair for three close friends, which made the other four pals mad. I’ve hosed down the house with enough streamers and balloons to give Party Palace a run for its money, and I’ve spent the same amount on gifts that were forgotten two hours later.

I quit. I’m through.  I’m done.  Party’s over.

I did feel guilty telling Ava that her birthday would be celebrated with family members on the weekend closest to June 10th.  I felt bad that she wouldn’t have any girlfriends at her special occasion, and I felt worried that she’d accuse me of ruining her day once it was over.  I assured her that we’d have a great time, but it would be small and it would be private.

When Mike and I discussed toning down the festivities, he admitted that he never understood the mega party.

“When I as a kid, the party consisted of one friend, one pizza and one hour. And, the friend had to be a neighbor who could walk to my house and back on his own,” he said.

Yikes.  My parents did a little more than that, but once and only once.  When I turned five, my parents threw a party for me in the front yard of our Kanawha City home, which brought out every neighbor on Noyes Avenue.  The photos of my mother revealed how much fun she was having:  Hair disheveled, icing on her blouse, a present lodged under one arm and a platter of hamburgers balanced in the other. My father? He was there, somewhere, but too busy to pose for pictures. Did I have a good time? Honestly, I don’t remember.

We broke the news gently to Ava, anticipating her normal response of smiling through broken-hearted tears. Much to our birthday surprise, she didn’t care. In fact, I think she was relieved not to have to put on a show that made everyone else happy. And, deep down, I think she was secretly relieved to know that everyone in this particular party would attend. No RSVP anxiety.  No day-of cancellations. No pressure, no worries, no no-shows.  Guaranteed fun with family.

We decided that we’d have a picnic in the park, relying on the movie, Gnomeo & Juliet for inspiration.  I went to the dollar store and bought  outdoor lanterns, in addition to pink flamingos and plastic elves.  I picked up a croquet set, gigantic bubble wands, Frisbees, and hula-hoops. I ordered $20 sandwich platters from Kroger and burned a playlist of summer music.  And for a couple of hours between thunderstorms, we had a garden party…and there was magic in the air!