Anatomy of a Birthday Weekend

Or, What We Did On Our Birthday Vacation

Thursday (our birthday weekends start early, by necessity)

  • Tour a school that we might want Baguette to attend next year.
  • Decide that we do not want Baguette to attend that school (it seems like a very good school–just not what we want for her).
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio and back yard.
  • Go to speech therapy and music therapy.
  • Go to Costco and buy food and birthday cake.
  • Clean the house.
  • Make items for party games.


  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the back yard.
  • Do some work that needs to be done even if I am on vacation.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the back yard.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Welcome grandparents and great-aunt, who are visiting from out of town.
  • Go out to dinner.
  • Clean the house.
  • Make party favors.


  • Make party favors.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Make signs for food.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Locate the Happy Birthday banner we bought two years ago.
  • Put up the Happy Birthday banner.
  • Locate more tape for the Happy Birthday banner.
  • Make the salad.
  • Put the Happy Birthday banner back up.
  • Welcome guests. Realize again that we have invited a really large number of people.
  • Abandon hope of keeping the Happy Birthday banner up.
  • Make sure parents and children are enjoying themselves.
  • Call the pizza parlor and confirm that the pizza is actually going to be delivered.
  • Make sure that Baguette has the chance to find some quiet time.
  • Put out the pizza, salad, and signs for the food.
  • Realize that I have left another parent supervising Baguette in the front yard for far longer than is reasonable.
  • Ask Baguette if she wants pizza. (“No thank you.”)
  • Ask Baguette if she wants macaroni and cheese. (“Yes.”)
  • Bring a chair we took outside for the party back inside, because Baguette wants to eat at the table in the breakfast nook like she always does, not at the table on the patio where her friends are.
  • Make sure everyone gets food.
  • Eat one slice of pizza and some salad.
  • Realize that, in spite of all the cleaning, the living room still contains a case of baby wipes and a 3-pack of contact lens solution.
  • Decide not to care.
  • Bring out the cake and put candles on it.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light one candle, which is the most that we may be able to keep lit with the breeze.
  • Abandon hope of lighting the candles.
  • Serve the cake.
  • Encourage Baguette to say “thank you for coming to my party” to as many children as possible.
  • Say goodbye to everyone.
  • Try to get Baguette to nap.
  • Abandon hope of getting Baguette to nap.
  • Regroup with grandparents and great-aunt when they come back from their hotels for dinner.
  • Order Chinese food.
  • Eat Chinese food (adults) and macaroni and cheese (Baguette).
  • Open presents from grandparents and great-aunt.
  • Accept that the most enticing part of presents is the paper, which tears interestingly and can be draped as a fetching hat.
  • Say goodnight to grandparents and great-aunt.


  • Have morning meltdown (Baguette, with collateral damage to Mr. Sandwich’s hearing).
  • Regroup with grandparents and great-aunt.
  • Caravan to 7-11 for coffee.
  • Caravan to L.A. Zoo, because it is the weekend and therefore we go to the L.A. Zoo.
  • Look at zoo animals.
  • Get in line for lunch.
  • Take Baguette for a walk, because the line is too long. (Mr. Sandwich)
  • Realize that Baguette is screaming, and Mr. Sandwich is waving energetically from outside the cafeteria.
  • Take Baguette and try to comfort her.
  • Realize that 5 feet away, a zoo docent is holding a small constrictor.
  • Consider one’s pathological fear of snakes.
  • Ask Baguette if she wants to touch a snake.
  • Confirm with Baguette that she wants to touch a snake.
  • Hold Baguette while she touches the snake.
  • Wash Baguette’s hands.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Leave zoo.
  • After Baguette falls asleep in the car, take advantage of the situation to trim her fingernails while Mr. Sandwich runs into the hardware store.
  • Go home and let Baguette unwind.
  • Make brownies for Baguette to take to day care the next day for her actual birthday.
  • Watch Baguette start to spool up again when grandparents and great-aunt rejoin us for dinner.
  • Try to prevent meltdown.
  • Fail.
  • Take Baguette into her room, comfort her, and tell her that she can take time to calm down, but that we will be in the living room so she doesn’t feel abandoned.
  • Give Baguette iPad when she asks for it. (Mr. Sandwich)
  • Be grateful that, this time, the iPad helps her come out of the meltdown instead of exacerbating it, because there is no predicting.
  • Send grandparents out for In-N-Out.
  • Welcome Baguette when she comes back to the living room, feeling better.
  • Feed Baguette one of her favorite noodle dishes.
  • Tell Baguette that we will be on patio, and that she can come out when she wants to.
  • Eat In-N-Out while Baguette plays with party games on back lawn.
  • Say goodbye to grandparents and great-aunt, who are returning to respective homes on Monday.
  • Give Baguette a bath.
  • Open a few gifts for Baguette and talk to her about what they are and which of her friends gave them to her.
  • Write thank-you notes to those friends.
  • Wrangle Baguette into bed.
  • Sleep fitfully.


  • Put brownies in car.
  • Take thank-you notes to day care, along with party favor for one guest who didn’t get one.
  • Give brownies to teacher.
  • Realize that Baguette would still really prefer to have some quiet time.
  • Recognize that at this point there is nothing to be done about that.
  • Drop off thank-you notes.
  • Wonder how ABA will go tonight.
  • Wonder how birthday phone call with aunt and uncle will go tonight.
  • Wonder if Baguette will catch stomach bug that is running rampant through her school.
  • Think about how, at this rate, it will take several days to open Baguette’s presents.
  • Go to work.
  • Really, really intend to write the rest of the thank-you notes.

Little girl in chair, covering face with "Happy Birthday" balloon

Grown-Up Day

Last Friday was my birthday, but I didn’t really plan anything, so Mr. Sandwich and I took today off. Baguette stayed in day care, which means:


Which, naturally, we spent watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Sure, some people might schedule couples’ massages or elaborate al fresco lunches, but we live not in a commercial but in the real world of total exhaustion.

Also, we like superhero movies, and we never get to see them in the theater.

Plus, you know what you can’t do while watching a movie in the theater? Put all of your clothing in a pile on the floor and sort out what to keep and what to donate. Well, I guess you can, but only until you are thrown out of that aforementioned theater.

And now we are approaching the time to pick Baguette up from day care, which means we will finish the day of superheroes and wardrobe productivity with a trip to the pool.

It’s pretty much perfect.

45 Good Things

My 45th birthday is coming up, and while I don’t think that 45 is any kind of a milestone at all, I wanted a way to mark the occasion. So between now (January 8) and my birthday (February 6), I’m going to do 45 good things. I figure these can be pretty much anything that helps someone else, be the effort large or small. I’m not saying I’m going to save anyone’s life, but maybe I can make their day a little less crummy.

So here goes:

1) January 8: Bought a sandwich and a bottle of water for the homeless woman outside of Starbucks.

I’ll keep a tally on the 45 Good Things page, and will use the hashtag #45goodthings on Twitter. Want to join me?

Happy Birthday, MTV. You Murderer.

Forty-two Thirty-two (I really should check my math more carefully) years ago today, MTV was born.

I first encountered it in 1983, when we moved to Texas. We didn’t have cable in Maryland, where we’d lived previously, and as it turned out, we didn’t have it in Texas, either.

The cable company thought we did. They insisted that there was a main cable in our neighborhood. They never wondered why no one was subscribing.

Possibly because there was no main cable in our neighborhood. It took a surprising amount of lobbying to get them to lay one. So the lesson we can learn from this is that cable has always sucked.

The result was that I did not know what MTV was–and therefore I was very confused for a large portion of my friend’s birthday party. We ate lunch and cake, listened to Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy album about three times (do comedians still do albums? I can’t imagine why they would). And then, as I told my mother:

I don’t know what we were watching. There were songs, and sometimes there was a concert, and sometimes there was a little movie. I have no idea what it was, but we watched it for hours.

I kept hearing about MTV, and finally, after spending several minutes listening to friends talk about it, I wound my courage to the sticking point and asked a question that I knew would mark me as clueless: “What’s MTV?”

One of the guys said, aghast, “What’s MTV? Are you serious?”

I said, guessing (and hoping) that this would help, “We don’t have cable.”

It did help. Clearly you couldn’t hold not having cable against a fellow 13-year-old. He described it for me, and I said, “Oh, I’ve seen that!”

So it turned out that I just didn’t know MTV’s name, and was no longer an outcast. And I finally knew what on earth had been going on at that birthday party.

(Years later, my grad-school roommate injured her foot and did nothing but watch MTV. It completely turned me off the whole video phenomenon, and to this day I don’t use YouTube nearly as much as I should, considering that I work in marketing. Speaking of YouTube, embedding doesn’t seem to be working. So here’s a nostalgic and topical link for you. Enjoy.)

Traditions: Chinese Food

Fortune Cookies - version anglaise

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. She would have been 75. She should be 75. She should be here to see Baguette grow, and hear stories about what we’re doing, and pay long visits in which we’d spend time cooking together (or, given the way things work right now, she’d cook and I’d keep Baguette out of the kitchen).

But she’s not. So we made sure to have Chinese food yesterday in her honor.

Growing up, chow mein was never one of our family’s dishes. But my mom would have been delighted with how absorbed Baguette gets when she eats it. I know I am.

Photo by maza34, via Flickr.

Traditions: Birthdays

I grew up with wonderful birthdays. My parents never rented a pony or bouncy house (the kid across the street had a pony party one year–even at the age of five, I thought that a pony you didn’t get to keep was a terrible birthday gift). But they did put a lot of work into creating a fun experience for me–or my brother, on his birthdays–and our friends.

I remember a pinata so tough my dad had to take a hack saw to it (we made it ourselves–papier mache is strong). I remember square dancing, which most of us enjoyed even while the Mean Girls in my Blue Birds troop (my mom made me invite them) mocked it and refused to participate.* I remember the world’s greatest relay race, in which we had to put on my dad’s clothes and run to a teammate, who would then don the clothes and run back, all of us flopping around in oversized boots and button-down shirts and hats.

And every year, my mom made our cakes from scratch. She used the Four-Egg Cake recipe (although she’d add another egg or two) from the Joy of Cooking, and the frosting was butter blended with powdered sugar. When we were small, she’d cut a sheet cake into shaped segments and then re-assemble them into a duck or a rocket ship or whatever fascinated us that year. Later, she would make flat cakes that she and my dad would decorate by hand. They weren’t ever going to be mistaken for professionally decorated cakes, but they were a far cry from Cake Wrecks. We always had fun working on them, and the love was palpable. And tasty.

So last year, it was really important to make Baguette’s first birthday cake. We had family and a few close friends over for a cookout, and I made the Four-Egg Cake (with another egg or two). The frosting came from a mix, because I have had bad frosting luck for years, and I colored it purple. (Mr. Sandwich’s race color is red, and mine is blue. The symbolism here is magnificent, if I do say so myself.)


This year? I had plans. I made a test cake, which was unsuccessful due to what I’m pretty sure was a failure to put in enough baking powder. We invited family over (we’ll probably have Baguette’s friends over next year, but right now she doesn’t know what birthdays are; in fact, she’s slept through much of this year’s and last year’s). But between work and car problems, it became clear that this was not the week to make a cake.

So I agonized very briefly and ordered a couple of dozen cupcakes from Susiecakes, my favorite baker. They’re not cheap, but they’re delicious–and all I have to do is pick them up. And while I may not be doing it the way my mother did, the love is the same. Plus, it’s still cake. Delicious, delicious cake.


*I just found out that Blue Birds is no more; it has been replaced by the co-ed Starflight level. Alas, my childhood is obsolete!

Photo of Susiecakes cupcakes by Susan Lavoie.