I will go anywhere, provided it be forward.
– David Livingstone, Scottish medical missionary and explorer
Yesterday I celebrated my 51st birthday, which was no less momentous than the milestone of reaching 50. This is a new mode of thinking for me. At a certain point in adulthood, I didn’t think much of making a celebration of birthdays. Not that I was thinking of getting older at that time. It was more a feeling that birthday celebrations were for children. When I had my own children, that philosophy was validated, as I focused more on their yearly milestones – the parties, the presents, getting excited for them, and sharing and basking in their genuine happiness.
When the 49th birthday came and went, fear set in, and you know the rest of the story (if not, you can read my blog bio and my first post, “Welcome to the Dress at 50”). Celebrating birthdays has taken on a different meaning since last year. I face a new year, grateful to be alive and healthy and to have my family with me. I also return to the two things that motivated me as a child and young adult – tapping my creative juices and being inspired by other peoples’ creativities and visions, and opening up my heart and unleashing generosity for the greater good, for social justice. I look to them as presents to receive and give with each birthday.
My birthday celebration started on Friday when I finalized an interview earlier in the day with two amazing women for the following afternoon in Los Altos. We ended the evening with a casual dinner out with good friends of ours and their kids, who are friends and classmates with our kids. It was a busy, deadline-driven week at work for me, so winding down after dinner and sharing a bottle of wine and David’s brother’s homemade beer in front of the fireplace with friends was very welcome.
When I had found out that my interview on Saturday was going to be in Los Altos, I contacted my old college roommate, Susan, who lives in Los Altos. Being spontaneous was never my thing (back in college a former dorm floor mate was trying to coax me to go out dancing one evening, and I begged off, with the excuse: “I’m not spontaneous!”). To this day, I try to be more spontaneous, which is still a work in progress. Happily, Susan was available for brunch, and she suggested a terrific very child-friendly, farm-to-table restaurant called Bumble (145 1st Street, Los Altos, CA 94022, 650.383.5340), which is housed in a quaint 100-year-old cottage and serves meals – very good ones – made from organic, locally sourced ingredients. The owners, a married couple, both came from farming families. (I think this concept would be well received if some enterprising entrepreneur could find a venue with character and execute on the concept. Hint, hint, local entrepreneurs!) What was really nice was to be able to sit back and eat and catch up in a leisurely fashion. This is a rarity for me. It was a gift to allow myself to not clock-watch (it helped that we had given adequate time for getting together before our respective appointments).
After brunch, I met two women who have known each other for 40 years and who were introduced to me via e-mail by a good friend of mine whom I’ve known since 2005 through my work in the healthcare information technology world. You will read about their very rare and beautiful friendship, as well as their inspiring and tireless philanthropic work, in March. I only hope that I can do justice to their story through my writing. What they’ve gone through and what they’ve done in their lives to this date compels me to want to be as big-hearted as they are. The evening ended with dinner at another good friends’ warm and bustling home and enjoying my friend Raissa’s homemade chicken curry – the best, hands down.
On my actual birthday, the only things I was anticipating was David’s Sunday special, his breakfast sandwich and protein drink, and my daughter getting up to join me as I walked Rex in the morning. It was a beautiful, sunny albeit cool day, so doing something outdoors was a given. Nothing came to mind immediately; I only knew I was not going to clean or do work. This was going to be a day to enjoy with my family. My daughter, who has been fancying horses and horseback riding for more than a year now, was lobbying for a horse-themed activity in Walnut Creek. We owed her a horseback-riding family event in lieu of a party with her friends, which was at her request (from this past December). Though horses are not my thing, I voted to contact the riding stable near Point Reyes, upon the suggestion of the Walnut Creek horse ranch that didn’t have any openings for us on such short notice. Hey, I was being spontaneous again.
So we drove the 1.5 hours to Olema on the winding Highway 1, listening to Morrison Boomer‘s CD, Down the Hatch, which we had purchased after listening to them play at Pikes Place in Seattle a few weeks ago. For all my driving of late, I have had the pleasure of enjoying their music while on the road. We ended up at Five Brooks Ranch (8001 Highway One, Olema, CA 94950, 415.663.1570) and we took an hour’s ride through the coastal woods. When we had to command our horses to trot or gallop, I erupted in laughter, not unlike the laughter that lets loose when I try to scream on the roller coaster and instead laugh with my mouth frozen wide open. I couldn’t stop laughing because I was bouncing around so much. As I mentioned, I’m not a horse person, but my daughter was in heaven, and my son had a good time. To have her hug me long and hard made all that bouncing around and walking bow-legged for a few minutes upon dismount worth it all.One of our family traditions is that on our actual birthday, the birthday person picks a restaurant of his or her choice for dinner. I had originally hoped that we could attend the Academy Awards party at the Cerrito Theater (10070 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, 510.273.91020), but the show was sold out. I deferred my birthday dinner until later in the upcoming week, as I usually don’t cook on weekends and do cook on weekdays. And for me, one of the perks about having a birthday is not cooking. We toasted to family and health over dinner while watching the Oscars, but not before granting my son’s wish to play a game of Monopoly.
Engaging in family activities that my kids requested on my birthday was a gift to me. It warmed my heart to see them so happy, to see them enjoying themselves in such a carefree way. It was my gift to them. Being with friends and spending leisurely time with them were also priceless gifts. Meeting new people, learning about their goodness and being inspired by them were wonderful surprises and unexpected but gratefully accepted gifts. It is not so much the material gifts that are given to me that I value, though I appreciate their thoughtfulness, but it is the family and friends, their love and their friendships, as well as the experiences, that make birthdays memorable and worthy of celebration. Welcome 51 and beyond!