Birthday Basics

Google alerted me that my November column ran yesterday. It’s rare that I miss it. By rare I mean that it’s never happened before. Yet another reason to love my Google Machine.

That reminder reminded me that I still haven’t posted my link to last month’s column on going back to birthday basics, so here it is complete with the pictures I promised my mom I’d post. Of course, I have to add my “after” commentary as well.

The column:—hardy

The prep:

Because I took a totally different, low-key approach to Sam’s birthday party this year (read the above article), I actually enjoyed every aspect of planning for his party. And somehow managed to pull off a darn good party without all the stress of last year. I spent approximately $60 on the whole thing. Due to our  restricted budget at the moment the party was kind of his gift, and since he requested that we gave little gifts to his friends, that counted as part of his present and he was quite happy with that.

Another thing that helped was starting the planning process well in advance. It made it possible to get what I wanted without paying extra for any of it. I broke it down into doable tasks and had fun all the while. This is not something I’ve been able to do in the past when I was stuck in my procrastination by perfection cycle.

First up was picking a theme that would be fun and flexible and totally Sam. We discussed some ideas, train-theme, book-theme and finally settled on camping. It was perfect!

I hit up the Google Machine and found this insanity:

That kind of inspired my column about going back to the basics.

Sam and I had fun making these toilet-tube decorations inspired by my beloved Pinterest:

Sam's 4th birthday party-49Sam's 4th birthday party-50

I made the cupcakes to look like mini-campfires with chocolate rocks, Reece’s Pieces and pretzel sticks from Winco’s bulk bins and dye-free gummy bears from Trader Joe’s. Lest it look like I’m bragging, the frosting I made was totally disgusting.

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I used Matt’s old Play Mobile toys to decorate the tray. Note: It was a terrible idea to use real rocks in addition to the chocolate rocks.

Another fun Pinterest-inspired idea was having the kids go “fishing” for snacks. They dipped pretzel, carrot and celery sticks into blue-tinted cream cheese to go“fishing” for goldfish.

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Cute + Cheap + Fun + Easy = Perfect! 

For the invitations I ordered camping theme stickers from Oriental Trading company and printed the necessary information in a triangle shape.

For the favors I ordered compasses, mini-flashlights and some bandanas which I used to tie the compasses, flashlights and granola jars into hobo sacks. Note: this was an unnecessary expense and I won’t do it again. The flashlights were cheap and the granola would’ve been plenty. Also, sticks don’t jive with the 3-and-4-year-old crowd.

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Note: I wrapped these in wax paper bags and made labels on my computer in colors that matched our theme. I have them saved if anyone wants them. They just say: “Happy Camper (Name).”


Sam's 4th birthday party-44_edited-1

For entertainment we played London Bridges, Hot Potato and Freeze Dance. And, of course, the main attraction: a tent pitched in the playroom.

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I’d love to post more photos of the kiddos but I don’t have permission from everyone’s parents and I think it’s super important to honor the privacy of other families, especially in our digital age.

Of course, none of this was the highlight of the day. For Sam it was all about the birthday stars. A story for another day!

Blessings next door

It's been awhile since I wrote a birthday blog but I just have to write one for my good friend and neighbor, and Godmother to my son, Loretta. Or, rather, as Sam calls her, Retta. Loretta, if you're lucky enough to know her, is grace in action. Some of the things she's dealt with in life would send many to crash on a therapist's couch, or at the very least cloud their attitude about the world. Not Loretta. She gets up the next day and asks you how you'redoing. If people were colors Loretta would be the yellow in sunflowers and lemon meringue pie.

Retta is totally one of Sam's people. I have to carry Sam in my arms from the car or else he'll twist himself out of my grasp and charge Loretta's house yelling "Retta! Retta! Retta!" as he runs up her driveway, climbs her steps and starts tapping his little hands on her door.

From the moment she knew he was coming, Loretta has been nothing but loving and supportive of Sam, and us, his parents. We were good neighbors before that news but something about sharing that and the ups and downs that came with it brought us closer. Then, there was the devastating news about Loretta's wonderful husband, Ron's illness and as quickly as the news came, he was gone. He never did get to meet Sam but I'll never forget, near the end of his time with us, the way he told me that Loretta loved babies and to make sure we let her love this little one of ours. "She's great with them, you can learn a lot."

Little did he know how much we would come to lean on her love and support. Just this afternoon, for instance I got a call that I needed to be at the doctor's office in half an hour and thanks to Loretta, I made it. Not only did she watch Sam, she got him down for a nap and then vacuumed, cleaned my kitchen and hung up the coats Sam pulled out of the closet. All of them.

When Sam had his first pukefest, she's the one I called. She's made chicken noodle soup from scratch when we were sick, helped me figure out how to do an embarrassing amount of things around the house and made me laugh even when it hurt to do so. In the short time we've been friends and neighbors there've been hugs, there've been tears and there's been joy. We are so blessed to have her in our lives and are thankful she was born and moved in next door.

We love you, Retta! 

Happy, Happy Birthday Sarah

Happy, Happy Birthday ... May all your dreams come true ... Happy, Happy Birthday from Red Robin to you ... Sarah has the patience and good humor to have endured that obnoxious song during the years that it was my favorite. No, not when I was seven, it was during college. Sarah_amy_in_canada_1

I love Sarah for a million reasons, but toward the top of the list is the fact that she has the best laugh in the world.

Sarah and I have been friends through so many phases it's not even funny. Well, a little bit funny when you look at the pictures. We were friends from high school j obs working at the Sunset Grill in Gig Harbor to the better part of two years as roommates in college. Sarah's been my friend through phases that make me cringe to remember.

My first memory of us as friends is after an away game in high school, we had a late tennis match and after finishing our games, we were waiting and talking and laughing in the van. And eating the surprisingly delightful combination of Satsuma mandarins and sugar cookies. The whole box of them. If I remember correctly.

Sarah is an awesome friend and was an amazingly patient and good-natured roommate. The only fight I remember us having was waged (by me) in sticky notes and lasted very briefly. Something to do with a hair dryer and me being an impatient, mean person in the morning.

Sarah is a good sport and always game for little adventures. More than once we drove to Canada on a moment's notice. There was also one spur of the moment debacle when she agreed to go on a little adventure driving up to Mt. Baker in my Geo (where she had perma-shotgun) with pillows in tow so we could sleep in the car. We came home early because a) it was freezing and b) it was freaky/stupid to sleep in a Geo on the side of the Mt. Baker Highway. And another night, during finals week, we went for a drive to get some smokes and she woke up beside me wondering why we were still driving, and by the way where are we? Some of my favorite memories are from Sarah and me living together: checking the mail, sharing clothes like her awesome Suicide Suedes, talking for hours and hours, studying (there was studying, right?), napping whenever we felt like it, watching Silk Stalkings, and playing games. And learning to navigate the stages of being on our own from defrosting a mini-fridge, stacking bunk beds to the point of fire hazards and reveling in the pleasures of not having anyone to tell you to clean your room. Ever.





In a lot of ways, Sarah knows me better than anyone, all the different me's I've been since I was 17. And she's been a true, loyal, loving, honest, awesome and genuine friend to all of them. I adore you and wish you a healthy, happy year ahead with much to laugh about!

The guy's got guts

Tim_and_nat Matt and I were trying to remember what we did last year for our anniversary. Clearly it wasn't an epic celebration. When I found this picture dated 8-12-2005 I remembered we'd gone out for a drink and dinner and instead of the movie we'd planned to see, we went to a friend's house because Tim was in town. Tim's the type of guy you change plans for--even anniversary plans--because you don't want to miss out on seeing him.

Tim's the kind of person you just feel good being around. He's defiantly in the loose cannon category. You never know what's going to come out of his mouth. One of my favorite Tim stories is when he had his thumb wrapped and hand out of commission. His friends tried to get him to go skiing but he didn't want to do anything that might get him hurt as he had a ton of work to do at the shop. So, they opted to go to the safer Family Fun Park where Tim hurt his hand on the bumper cars. (If I remember correctly). The fact that Tim saw the humor in that makes him my kind of guy.

Also putting him high on my list is his sense of humor and loyalty. He's been through a remarkable year where the things he figured he could always count on to stay the same, didn't. And although he may not be quite ready to send any thank you notes to those who hurt him, he's managed to stay focused on what's positive and continue to be healthy and happy at heart. I respect Tim for dealing with life head-on. The guy's got guts.

I love ya Tim Tait. Partly it's because I like saying Tim Tait, partially because you're one of the coolest.

p.s. Tim's birthday was in March ... I'm catching up slowly but surely!

Cool like that

Rosebday2 Zivijo, Zivijo, Zivjo to Rose.

Our husbands knew Rosie and I would be friends before we even met each other. My very first memory of Rosie is dancing together at her Christmas party shortly after we'd exchanged our first words - something like "Oh, it's sooo nice to finally meet you!"

It was a couple years before we saw each other again- after the successful completion of Operation Back to Mac. Just after we moved back, covered with paint from our first house project and unpacked boxes all over, Paul and Matt were hanging out and decided that would be a good night for Rose and I to really meet. I was impressed by her spontaneity because she agreed to drive out after work and meet for a quick dinner at the brew pub and then off to Michael Moore's latest movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 - our mutual loathing for the current administration, combined with some witty, sassy comments confirmed what our husbands knew all along. We were destined to be friends.

As weird as it sounds, I feel like Rosie and I have always been friends. Sometimes we share stories and it's like, "Why didn't I know that about you?" Oh, yeah - we hadn't met yet. It's also amazing that for as few years as we've been friends, so many of my favorite memories are from times together - from dinners out to hanging out at home making fun of tragic movies, during phone conversations and weekend adventures, I cherish the memories and look forward to many more. One of my all-time favorite memories is when she set it up for us to go see Anne Lamott (just the coolest writer on the planet) in Portland. I'll never forget some of the conversations we had and how awesome it was to experience meeting my favorite author (the coolest writer on the planet) with Rose. In fact, if it weren't for Rose, I may never have met her face to face. When the crowd started to merge in to get autographed, several of the nice,Spiritual people got a little pushy and if I'd been alone I would've gone to the very, very back of the line instead of standing my ground to keep my place up front. As I stood there flustered, Rose took my arm and reminded me that I deserve to be there just as much as anyone else. She's just cool like that.

I adore Rosie for the complexity of her character - a combination of calm and intense, gentle and strong, hilarious and serious. She is thoughtful, kind and generous. Smart, beautiful and stylish. And a super talented writer. She introduced me to the world of blogging, and for that I am SO thankful. She is brave and speaks up for what she believes in. Pretty much all-around-awesome.

Also, Rosie Lou has the coolest friends. Sometimes - okay nearly always - when I go to parties I'm pretty anxious about it but Rose's friends are so welcoming, smart, sassy and fun to talk to ... who you hang out with says a lot about who you are.

So, Rose- wishing you some Cowboy Love and fun adventures in the year ahead - glad you were born!

love ya to the moon and back!

Martin on my Mind

Martin_nathalie_lake_chelanWhen you're little, you think it's you and yours against the world. And then you grow up and realize the people in your childhood, your family, are people you actually have to work at having a relationship with. A real one, not just the one in your head. Or the one based on childhood memories.

My May-baby brother was born 28 years ago and for some reason that surprises me even more than the fact that I'm 30. Martin is someone I survived childhood with. When memories of us together start dancing through my head, I feel a warming in my heart: playing Judo, complaining about calisthenics with my dad (but secretly liking it), staying up late talking about nothing and everything ...  it was sad when all of that gave way to sibling rivalry and teenage trauma. But it was a subtle shift and I didn't know how much our relationship was changing until it did, and then what we had as kids was over. Through college we made scattered attempts at being in touch. Seeing Martin's handwriting on an envelope in my mailbox made my day. Still does.

Martin and I are so completely different from each other in all the ways that I can think of, but the things we have in common, love for our parents and our childhood, the bond of being siblings - that's enough to keep us connected. I have no idea what music he listens to or how he spends his day-to-day life, but I do remember where he spent a string of birthday parties, Le Snack and Red Robin. And I do remember how badly he wanted the Castle of Grayskull and how he generously agreed to saying he wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid (Joseph Marvin) so that my Mala Suzy could have a brother and playmate. I remember the ease with which he made friends while I remained a wallflower until my mom would drag me by the hand to the closest kids in sight and introduce me. I remember how he kicked ass at pretty much anything he tried. I remember how homework that took me hours to do, he could complete effortlessly on the ride to school. I remember how he always knew when to duck to avoid a par fatsek. I remember how his smile lit up his face and his laugh was contagious. So much so, that sometimes at dinner when our parents had had just about enough, we got to laughing about something stupid and just couldn't stop. Even when it meant one of us had to eat the rest of our halusky in the garage, still we kept laughing.

Wedding_martin_me I remember him showing up on my wedding day with the most beautiful flowers, looking as handsome as could be and I was so proud of and happy to have my brother there with me, with us, to celebrate the new family I was coming into. His being there, his reading and standing up for us, proved that we would always be a family, always show up for each other and continue to navigate our relationship as siblings. Whatever that means for us during different times in our life. So, bro, happy birthday! I'm glad you were born and I'm glad you're my brother.

(Looking through old family photo albums, you'd think we were twins, Martin always in blue, me in red - but no, we really were a boy and a girl born two years apart, delivered at the same hospital and bundled up by the same nurse).

Martin_nathalie_twins Martin_nathalie_sledding Martin_and_nathalie_funky_clothes (Looking at how we're dressed, you can see what I mean by "surving" our childhood. Our mom was naturally well-intentioned, but not quite hip to the importance of American fashion in our American grade schools.)

A variegated friendship

I knew I liked Stephanie right away. But there was one specific moment when I knew she was someone I wanted to be friends with. We were working at DND one morning and I said I liked a particular plant's coloring. Steph said, "Yeah, I like the way it's variegated." That was a new word for me. I decided I wanted to look it up, but when I went to get the dictionary, it was gone. I turned around to find her flipping through the V's. I enjoy her company and one of the very, very few things I miss about my old job is seeing her every day.

The second moment that sealed the deal was when she rolled in to work with the Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker affixed to the bumper of her Geo. We worked with a group of very, very conservative people and the sticker sent one of our co-workers over the edge. It was beautiful to listen to her debate with him without ever backing down.

Another bonding moment during the initial phase of our friendship was when we read the same article in the local newspaper over the weekend and both dreaded the lunch room conversation that would naturally result from a co-worker's ignorant, racist and hostile way of seeing the world.

She has a wicked sense of humor, is smart and kind and does generous things with her time that would totally freak me out, like volunteering at the zoo and actually diving in the aquarium in Newport to clean it out.

Basking in the Rotisserie of Life

Labor_day_tom_with_knifeA little birthday blog catching up to do. Glad you were born Tom Boyer! I took a pretty instant liking to Tom. I met him while visiting Matt during spring break of my senior year at Western. His wife, Barbara, made a special dinner complete with homemade Sushi Rolls and Sake. One of my first memories of Tom is him putting a glass of Sake in the microwave, followed promptly by the sound of glass breaking. As the rest of us startled, he cocked his head to the side and said, "Huh. That's odd."

In the same week, we were checking out a barn Matt was working on. I the City Girl walking around The Country, it was windy, it was muddy and I was less than comfortable yet trying to act cool until a tree gave me away by choosing that particular moment to drop a branch, not a twig mind you but a real branch, and hit me in the back of the head with it. Maybe it wasn't personal but you'll have a hard time convincing me of that. I went looking for Matt and found Tom instead. He gave me a big hug without my having to explain my "par fatsek" from nature, and then led me back to the truck where I sat warm and waiting. A par fatsek, by the way is a neat Slovak thing where, by way of punishment for a smart ass comment, you get a little "tap" to the back of the head.

I dig this picture of Tom - he and Matt have a lot in common with a love of farming and a familiarity with Mother Nature - as well as the ability to mix a bloody Mary with a friggin' butcher knife. Tom is generous, witty, patient and loyal, for these reasons and more, we adore him.

Tom is also one of my most quotable friends. So, in your own words Tom, Happy Birthday and may you continue basking in the rotisserie of life.

Could've Met you in the Sandbox

Jo_nat_munson_falls Happy Birthday to my dear Jocelyn! Jo and I may have met at Curtis Junior High because we were there at the same time. Or, we could've met at Western Washington University because, again, we were there at the same time. But instead, we waited until I started dating Matt who grew up with her boyfriend Jeff in Walla Walla. Kinda convoluted for such a friendship that was simply meant to be. I love Jocelyn for her generous heart, her sense of humor and her strength. The girl's got guts.

Since our husbands were friends from the sandbox, it worked out pretty perfectly that she and I instantly liked each other. Sometimes you just know that someone is your kind of people. Jo is most definitely one of my people. She's smart, thoughtful and she enjoys the stationary aisle at Target as much as I do. She's game for adventures like hiking in new places or just sitting on our asses catching up. From the start of our friendship, we understood each other without even having to say a lot. For instance when her boyfriend came to visit Matt for the weekend, I wasn't invited out with the boys so I poured a glass of wine and called her in Portland. We talked and drank wine for a few hours. I knew then we were going to be good, good friends. Since then, we've been in each other weddings, shared countless special occasions, helped each other move a million times and many more random, memorable moments. One that just came to mind was at the Phish show in the Gorge when she wore her cool headlamp deal and walked with me through the masses of Dirty, Loaded People until we reached the row of Rank Honey Buckets. She even offered me her headlamp while I went in but we both decided some things are just better done in the dark. But still, it's a pretty damn good friend that crawls out of a warm sleeping bag to do that for you.

I love and adore ya Jo, and wish you a year full of happy surprises.

Paul - you da bomba

Paul_matt_woodstack His heart. His honesty. And his perspective on life are just a few of the reasons I love Paul and am glad he was born. His German heritage and foreign upbringing are also part of the reason we connected quick-like. The first time I remember meeting Paul was at his annual Christmas party when Matt and I showed up around eleven p.m. after Matt's shift at the Palmer House. When everyone else is dancin' and makin' merry like Christmas and you're all sober is not the best time to show up at a party, but we did and Paul was totally gracious trying to hook up up with food, drink and people he thought we'd click with. Paul is the kind of guy who finds ways to help a person and just does it. The photo above is Matt and Paul leaning on the pile of wood Paul cut, delivered and stacked without us knowing about it because he knew we were going to need it. How do you not love a guy like that? There are other things too, like the way he's game to do things he's not so crazy about, like playing Pictionary - here's Paul being a good sport. Yes, he does appear to be enjoying himself. A little. Pictionary_paul_2

Paul's love for his wife Rosie, and the way he shows it, is another thing I dig about Paul. He planned their ten year wedding anniversary as a surprise and pulled the whole thing off without a hitch. He's also an awesome writer who tells the truth about life and pain and beauty.

Alles gutes zum Geburstag, Palusko!