Sunday, May 29, 2016

Best and Worst Birthday Presents

I celebrated my birthday this past week. While I was away at the recent women's retreat, my roommate celebrated her birthday. I asked her if she was having a good day despite being away from her family on that day. I was surprised when she said she really doesn't like to recognize her birthday at all for a few reasons. Low expectations mean you cannot be disappointed. Moreover, she really doesn't like to draw attention to herself.

While I would feel uncomfortable with attention cast my way in front of onlookers (for instance, I did not tell our waiters that we were there to celebrate my birthday because I cannot abide the idea of having all the wait-staff surrounding me and singing a song to me in front of on-looking strangers), I do enjoy some recognition. I relish the spattering of greetings I receive on Facebook (each one brings back happy memories of times with the person writing). I love the attention of my family for one special day.

I remember a birthday that was, indeed, a complete disappointment when I was twenty or twenty-one and spent the entire day babysitting kids who were whiny. The mother had gone golfing, for lunch with a friend, and then off shopping. She brought back a gift for me of a white jogging suit (not as high up on my list of coveted objects as a book would have been) , but had dropped it in the parking lot and had to throw it in the washing machine before she could give it to me. Nobody else (apart from my mother) expressed recognition. I went to bed that night thinking it was the worst birthday I had ever had.

This birthday was certainly a good one. The best gift of all was delivered in the mail. My sister was the first beta reader for my most recent manuscript. She had printed off a copy of the manuscript (despite its length) and written comments throughout. I received her returned copy of it in the mail at the end of the day. I quickly turned to the last page because I was most concerned that she would express a dissatisfaction with the ending. Instead, her comments made me beam. She wrote: (I am leaving out chunks so as not to give away the story, but) "I cried as I read the last words. One, I'm crying because I'm just so proud of you. Great job! But two, for Kamal [the main character]. I'm glad for the heart-wrenching ending... It leaves you sad, but also ... happy, that there are good people, and strengthened - to fight against evil. I felt for a bit like the ending would be predictable or easy to figure out, but it wasn't."

If my words can move a reader to an emotional response like tears and inspiration, then that is the best gift I could imagine receiving! It made me so happy. I didn't get around to reading all the comments until a bit later, but it was good to read where things got confusing for the reader (too easy to forget that the reader doesn't hold all the clues in hand from the outset ... like I failed to inform the reader that the story takes place in 2032 until midway through the novel, and didn't provide enough background for how the world got to the place it was in at the outset of the novel). It helped me to see my characters through someone else's eyes and see places where I made them rougher than I intended.

I also received a book of poetry written by my middle son, Trevor. The poems were cute and funny (emphasizing my love of reading, writing, and dark chocolate):

My husband gave me some dark chocolate covered cherries from the cherry capital of the world, Traverse City, Michigan, and some jewelry. I had sent him emails with various options of things I would like and had included special codes he could use to save 20% off the price, but he failed to jump on it when I sent the information and thereby missed out on the savings, paying full price. Here is what he purchased:

While it was, indeed, on my list of desired pieces, once I saw them (they lacked the luster the photo presents) I realized that I liked a different set better. So, he graciously agreed to let me return the ones he had purchased for $140. I then placed an order for these sapphire items for only $82 (using special discounts offered by Kohls) and even earned $15 in Kohl's cash to be used next week (probably on dress pants for Bryce for his work as an intern this summer):

Nothing better than getting a good deal!

The worst birthday gift showed up on my birthday, but we have no idea when or how it originated. Midway through the day, I began to itch terribly. As time progressed, 16 large welt-like bites emerged on my back and shoulders, and three more on my front torso. Later in the day, John discovered this dried up dead spider next to the downstairs desk I always sit at in the morning:

But, the bites don't really seem to have two puncture marks, so we began to think they were perhaps bed bug bites acquired at the hotel in Cedar Point. We were immediately anxious that perhaps we had brought bed bugs home with us, but no one else in the family has exhibited evidence of similar bites. It sounds like bed bugs bite exposed areas, yet my bites are located mostly near my pants waistband and my bra, as if something burrowed into these constricted parts of my clothing. I eventually went to a dermatologist who said they couldn't be certain what caused the bites, but I needed two shots (yikes) in the buttocks, and a round of steroid treatment at the site of the bites.

Thankfully, the bites are going away and we are no longer worried about bed bugs. (John also discovered some mites around the back area of the basement near one of the window wells where a dead animal had been discovered several weeks ago, so perhaps the bites were from mites ... who knows). My day ended with a dinner out at my favorite Mexican restaurant. Bryce stayed with the two younger boys so that we could get away.

Even without the serenade from the waitstaff, the meal was delicious and a perfect end to a special day.

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