Birthdays; a cacophony of cake, calamity and cadavers.

A pile of inflatable balloons.


People often fall into one of two camps when theirs come around: the kind that want balloons, and the kind that pop them.

I tend to tell my family to save their breath–not because I don’t like balloons, but because Sir Sackier is a god-awful singer, and without doubt, everybody wants to sing the duet part. It’s a train wreck of a song, but that’s not it. It’s not even half over after the first rousing chorus because then it has to be sung in Polish, then Spanish, and finally, just to impress, someone might start a verse in Hebrew. That one usually peters out quickly as no one is ever quite sure they remember the words, and it feels almost sacrilegious to continue muttering and mumbling something that could be mistaken for clearing your throat of phlegm.

Ducks in macao

Also, I was raised in a household that eventually fostered a lackadaisical attitude toward birthday celebrations. Being Polish, all festivities required the slaughtering of some unlucky animal, and seriously, one can only stomach so much duck blood soup. Therefore, I’m left trying to explain to my own kids why I’m not fussed when no one from my family calls or shows up to wish me happy returns on the day.

“Aren’t you offended? Doesn’t it hurt your feelings?” they’d ask.

“Nope. We were raised not to have feelings. We couldn’t afford them. Plus, we’re not big on guilt. We’ve still got a mighty big bag of it left over from catechism classes, so I think we’re all pretty much set for life in that department.”

Happy Birthday!

Now it’s not that my family doesn’t ever recognize one another’s birthdays, it just happens a little later in the calendar year–like over the phone when someone has called to let you know that another ninety-year old relative has finally shuffled off this mortal coil.

“Hey, you just turned thirty, didn’t you?”

“Yep. ‘Bout seven years ago.”

“Cool. And Ciocia Grazyna kicked the bucket.”


“Dad’s Great Auntie Gracie.”

“Good heavens, I had no idea she was still alive.”

“Apparently it came as quite a shock to the rest of the family, too. Three people swore they attended her funeral two years ago.”

Nowadays, birthdays for me are much more about taking stock. I start the morning off in bed and go through a small, yet growing, checklist. Toes still working? Check. Breath coming in and out? Slow, but steady. Check. Right arm still capable of hurling wretched alarm clock across the bedroom? Let’s see …


I take stock of what hurts, and more importantly, what doesn’t, but normally does. I say a small prayer of thanks and then throw a few curses at the bits that are louder than usual.

I try to get up early enough to drag a lopsided lounge chair outside, or find an accommodatingly soft rock to perch on, in order to watch the sunrise. It’s sort of a gift I give myself. That and the two shots of tequila I bring out as a pre-breakfast tipple.

I’m only kidding. I don’t actually get up to see the sunrise.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Let’s all pretend this is me, okay?

Ok, seriously, I usually pick some yoga pose and try to hold it for as many seconds as years I’ve lived all while watching the sun creep above the horizon. By the time I’ve finished, the squirrels are having a good laugh, and birds are pointing out to their young just what not to do.

It doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all back later. We used to eat a lot of squirrel while growing up. We called it tiny chicken.

Usually, I then come into the kitchen, where Sir Sackier has cooked up something that one would normally see on a twelve-course tasting menu, but all on one plate, and the kids are bustling about snatching things like my iPad out of my hands, telling me I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting today.

The day continues with me basically eating too much, laughing too hard, and worrying that my kitchen will never look as it once did a few hours earlier.

I spend time really focusing on things. The direction of my writing, the height of my children, the sagging of my–well, never mind that–the point is I look with fresh eyes. Okay, maybe the eyes themselves aren’t so fresh, but the perspective is.

The phone rings and one of the kids peeks at the caller ID and says, “Hey, Mom, it’s your second cousin Celia.”

“Don’t answer it,” I shout.

“Geez, Mom, they’re only going to wish you a happy birthday.”

“No, they’re not. They’re calling to tell me about somebody’s deathday.”

“Whatever,” they respond. “And just so you know, G-ma and G-pa’s car just pulled into the driveway.”

Herding ducks in the New Forest

“Quick! Somebody hide the ducks. Or we’re going to have two funerals to attend this week.”

“No worries. Dad’s already made dinner. He said you’d love it.”

“Great,” I sigh. “What did he make?”

“I’m not really sure … I think he said it was some kind of soup.”


Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!


11 thoughts on “Birthdays; a cacophony of cake, calamity and cadavers.

  1. Fantastic post, Shelley. If it is your birthday, many happy returns of the day. Love to you and yours.

    • Thank you, Saryl. The returns are (fingers crossed) an annual guarantee. It’s the returning of the contents of the day that usually leave us cross-eyed, flour-covered and wondering if it’s worth purchasing a ticket for another ride around the sun. I think I’m up for it. But I’ve not had dinner yet, so it may be too early to tell. 🙂

  2. You are an extraordinary writer Miss Shelly. I get a real kick out of reading your posts. Happy birthday to you! Good luck in the next year of your life and thanks for the chuckles.
    Andy Severson

    • Wish I could take credit for being so clever, Andy, but I’m pretty sure it was a result of either something the cafeteria lunch ladies were slippin into our tater tots, or the fact that I got a lot of practice writing out the definitions of obscure words in Mr. Rapple’s class. Must … write … something … interesting … eventually.
      Thanks for reading! 😉

  3. Happy Birthday Shelly! Love your welcoming ritual, but you’re far too young for a checklist. Looking forward to another literary year outta ya!

    • Many thanks for the kind wishes! As far as the checklist goes, I have a short memory, but, thank God, a long pencil. And if you’re hoping for literary here … I’m going to need a bigger eraser.

  4. My dearest Shelley,

    From one of my favorite authors, I share with you this:

    “The first half of life consists of the capacity to enjoy with the chance;
    the last half consists of the chance without the capacity.”
    ~ Mark Twain

    Many happy travels and new experiences to you my love. Happy birthday!

    And to your dearest daughter, I give her this:

    “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished a how much he had learned in seven years.”
    ~ Mark Twain

    C, be gentle with your mum, her wisdom will astonish you beyond her lifetime! 🙂

    SP 🙂

    P.s. Chole, my attempts to respond to your delightful prose while covering for your Mom’s vaca was a failed attempt. It worked on my end; however I believe someone has the power of editing from afar. Hmm… Best regards!

    • I do believe Twain also said that wrinkles merely indicate where smiles have been. Which explains why I have the face of a pug.
      Thank you for the many smiles, buddy. However, I’m fairly sure you’re also responsible for the many scars across my kneecaps.

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