Category Archives: Non-Mom Stuff

My Birthday Project

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I posted an ad on Craig’s List earlier this week for a pair of Nine West black winter boots in size 11.  I posted the ad a year ago, too, and never even got any inquiries. Probably because they’re a size 11, which is not a common size for women’s shoes. I bought them in hopes that they would fit my size 10 wide feet, but it turned out they were just too big. They were expensive – I think $90 – and they were my birthday present from Eric that year. I was bummed that I had spent so much money on them and then only wore them a few times, but not bummed enough endure sore heels. After putting them back in the box and storing them in the basement, I really didn’t give them a second thought. The money had been spent. It didn’t work out. Oh well.

On a whim, I reposted my Craig’s List ad on Tuesday. I was asking $25 for the boots. On Tuesday evening I had an inquiry from Lisa. She was interested in purchasing the boots this week. She didn’t live near me though, and we agreed to meet in Menomonee Falls on Friday when I would be out shopping after Thanksgiving. But then I found out that she actually worked in Brookfield, near the mall, and would be trying to make it to Menomonee Falls and back to work again on her lunch hour on Friday – on her lunch hour on Black Friday, from one crazy traffic shopping mecca to another. I just didn’t think it was going to work. Lisa and I talked on the phone this morning and I realized that I was taking the kids to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum today and could meet her even closer to her work – today, instead of Friday. She sounded stunned when I offered to meet her today so that she wouldn’t have to drive so far. She said, “Really? Are you serious? That would be so awesome.”

Then she went on to tell me that she just really wanted to get these boots because she had been looking for winter boots for two years and these were really nice quality for such a reasonable price, and in her size (!), and she was afraid that if she waited longer to get them from me, that another person would buy them before she could.

I was thinking that I doubted that anyone else would have wanted to buy the boots given that I got exactly zero inquiries last time I posted them. But she so excited about them.

I hung up the phone and immediately knew what I was going to do. I was going to meet Lisa, and I was going to give her the boots. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I sensed that Lisa didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t need that $25. I decided it was going to be the first thing on My Birthday Project list.

About nine months ago I discovered a group on Facebook called The Birthday Project. The group was founded by a woman who decided that on her birthday she would give the gift of herself to others. The project has exploded (more than 20,000 people like the page), and all over the country people are celebrating their birthdays with intentional acts of kindness and by loving others. And, you don’t even need to go out of your way for someone on your birthday. The group encourages people to be intentionally kind and to love others whether it’s their birthday or not. It’s kind of an amazing group. Gratefulness, kindness, love. All things our world could use more of. The project wants to change the world one birthday at a time.

This year is a milestone birthday for me, I guess – 35. It seems like it should be a milestone, anyway. I decided nine months ago that on my next birthday I would do 35 Intentional Acts of Kindness.

And today was the first one.

It was amazing.

I met Lisa in a parking lot and right away she started opening her wallet. I said, “You probably should try them on just to make sure they fit, right?” And she said, “Oh, okay. I’m sure it will be fine.” She tried one boot on and said, “Yep, they fit!” As she was putting her shoe back on, I bent down to put the boots back in the box and stood up while Lisa was going through her wallet again.

“Lisa, don’t worry about it. I just want you to have these.”

Her face. Stunned.

“Are you serious?”

I told her that my birthday was coming up and that I had decided that I was going to do intentional acts of kindness for others.

I said, “You were just so excited about these boots when we spoke on the phone and I just felt like you were meant to have them.”

And then she gave me the biggest, hardest, longest hug I’ve ever received from a complete stranger. And then she hugged me again.

I told her that she could pay it forward some day and she said, “I will! God bless you.”

After I pulled away, I got a text from Lisa: “I’m just in shock Jen, that anyone would do such a generous thing for me. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. I have been looking for boots for so long.”

To be able to do something like that for someone else and have them appreciate it so much, makes me feel amazing. I’m getting teary right now thinking about how grateful Lisa is to have warm boots on her feet and I’m so happy that I was able to help her.

In keeping with my birthday theme this year, I also decided a few months ago that I wanted anyone who would normally have purchased a birthday gift for me to instead donate it to a worthy organization. I had a short list of organizations, and then a few weeks ago as I was sitting in a church committee meeting, I knew. Exploit No More.

The State of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee in particular, has one of the highest recovery rates for child victims of sex trafficking in the United States. Yes, sex trafficking is a horrific problem in poor foreign countries like India, Congo and Iran. But it’s happening here, in Wisconsin. And it’s not just an urban issue. It’s happening in every county in Wisconsin. Including here, in Washington County, because no one is looking for it here. Sex trafficking is roughly a $32 billion dollar industry worldwide.

The traffickers make very strategic moves to form relationships with vulnerable girls. Many times the girls feel like the pimp is their boyfriend. The girls are manipulated to think that their pimp is the only one who loves them and that the girl’s family will never want them back once they know what they’ve done. The pimps regularly ply the girls with alcohol and other drugs because they don’t want the girls to be thinking much about what they’re doing.

Again, it’s not just an urban issue. There are websites and message boards where pimps brag about their ability to lure young affluent white girls.

The youngest girls get the highest price.

Girls as young as 10 or 11.

It just makes you sick.

I started following this issue on an International level about a year ago, and when my church started a committee to address the issue locally I felt like it was something I was meant to be a part of.

Exploit No More was formed in May 2013 by a number of Milwaukee-area churches wondering how the church could impact local children affected by sex trafficking. This summer the group hired its Executive Director. She is the only paid staff person. You can read more about all of Exploit No More’s goals, but their biggest effort right now is to raise funds to purchase a home for long-term residential aftercare for girls rescued from sex trafficking in the Milwaukee metro area.

What Exploit No More heard most from law enforcement was, “Why should we keep rescuing these girls if they have no place to go afterwards. They just end up going back because they don’t know what else to do.”

Exploit No More is hoping to change that. Exploit No More wants to have a safe place where these girls can live and recover for at least 18 months. A place where the girls can be deprogrammed and learn that they are loved and they do have value.

I realize this is an awful issue. Everyone involved realizes it’s an awful issue. It’s not easy to talk about. Certainly not something to discuss at your Christmas party or the dentist’s office.

But my God, I just cannot imagine a world where my three daughters could end up victimized and enslaved that way. I just cannot imagine it. And I don’t want anyone to have to endure it.

Which is why this year I’m asking all my friends and family members who would have gotten me a birthday gift to instead donate that money to Exploit No More so they can get their house and start helping girls.

When I was thinking about doing this, I asked myself – “Are you really sure that you want to give up the fun of getting gifts for your birthday? Are you going to be disappointed?”

Because believe me, I’m no martyr. I love my birthday. I love getting gifts. Who doesn’t?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized – I have everything. I don’t need anything. And with Christmas right around the corner, would I really rather stockpile gift certificates for massages and facials, more jewelry and scarves, over giving some girl a warm bed and a positive person in her life telling her she is loved? No. I would give up all the facials in the world if it meant someone could be freed of sex trafficking and taught that they have value.

If any of my friends or family members who wouldn’t ordinarily have gotten me a birthday gift feel inclined to donate to Exploit No More, that would be wonderful. In fact, right now they’re giving away these awesome Christmas ornaments to everyone who donates a minimum of $25.

I really wish there was a way to track the donations people are making on behalf of my birthday, but unfortunately there’s no way to do that unless I use an outside organization that would take a percentage of the donations. I think it would be fun to know the final tally, so if you donate and you feel inclined, send me a Facebook message or email at jenovotny(at)gmail.com and let me know so I can keep track!

I still need to make up the rest of the things on My Birthday Project list. I have a few ideas and I’m going to scour The Birthday Project Facebook pages for other ideas. If you have any idea for me, let me know!

I know sometimes I feel like the problems of the world are so overwhelming. That there’s nothing I could possibly do to change or impact anything.

Exploit No More’s Executive Director left us with this quote:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale

When it feels overwhelming, I will remember Lisa’s face and her hug. I will think about her wearing those boots in this cold and snow. I will remember her gratitude and how easy it was to make her feel valued for nothing more than the fact that she’s human.

Love and peace.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. Literally, just as I was proofreading this and getting ready to post it, I got an email from Lisa:

Jen,

Still in such amazement. Just got home from work and looked at my new boots again. Wow. I believe it must be the Lord God you hear leading your heart to be so generous. You really understand every syllable of “thanks” & “giving”.  May He return the blessing 7 fold.

Hope you & children had a terrific afternoon at the museum.

Lisa”

Love wins.

Donate to Exploit No More

Donate for a Christmas Ornament

Set This Circus Down

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It’s hard to know where to start when trying to sum up 10 years of marriage, not to mention the six years of togetherness prior to marriage. Husband and I just celebrated 10 years of marriage a week and a half ago, and our wedding day seems like yesterday.

May 16, 2003. Bliss.

May 16, 2003. Bliss.

Until I actually flipped through all of our photo albums since we were married … and then it seemed like a lifetime ago.

Ten years. Our wedding day, up to that point, was the happiest day of our lives.

Everyone who came talked about what a fun party it was, and at the gift opening the next day, Husband and I promised that we would renew our vows and have a big anniversary party for our 10th anniversary.

And then our reality happened.

So much for a special "family" celebration on our 10-year anniversary - crabby, hungry kids and screaming baby.

So much for a special “family” celebration on our 10-year anniversary – crabby, hungry kids and screaming baby.

So I guess our vow renewal and super awesome anniversary party will have to wait a few more years.

For our one-year anniversary, the traditional gift is paper, and I had the brilliant idea that Husband and I should forego an actual gift in favor of each writing down our memories of our wedding day (on paper — get it?). So naturally, I wrote down TWENTY-FIVE PAGES of memories — bulleted, single-spaced, 12-point font. And I wrote down my memories not just from the wedding day, but the five days before it and one day after it. Husband wrote down 11 pages worth of memories, double-spaced, 18-point font. I’d say that’s quite an achievement for a guy who doesn’t like to write!

Jen and Eric First Anniversary-3

Reading memories of our wedding day on our first anniversary.

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Going back to the church we were married at on our first anniversary.

First anniversary dinner.

First anniversary dinner. We look like little kids!

A couple of highlights:

  • When I woke up in the morning I said to my cousin (who’s like my sister), “I don’t want the day to start because I know it’s going to be over before I know it.”
  • Making the very short drive to church from my parents’ house felt like forever. There was such anticipation. When we were driving up the big hill into the parking lot and I saw all the cars, I got nervous for the first time and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! People actually came!” I don’t know why, but I genuinely was surprised that there were people there. It finally started to feel real, and not just like a dress-up game.
  • My mom saying, “Well, Jen, I have to tell you — I take back that you’re going to be late for your own wedding, because you’re early!”
  • When we said our vows. We both had memorized them and we were both so confident. I thought I would cry, but I was just so happy.
  • The same cousin (whom I dubbed the “Cousin of Honor” for the wedding) was dying of starvation by the time we made it to dinner. During the entire meal she made food noises, and said things like “Oh, this is so good. Oh yum. Yum, yum, yum. This is sooooo good.” (this still cracks me up)
  • All day long I said to my BRAND NEW HUSBAND, “We have so much to look forward to.” And I wasn’t just excited about continuing our wedding experience by going on a fabulous honeymoon/vacation. I was talking about all the years we would spend together, having kids, watching them grow up, going on adventures, living our lives together forever.
  • My BFF and maid of honor ended her speech by saying, “May your dreams of today be your realities of tomorrow.” This has always stuck with me (and as far as google can tell me, she made that up all on her own).
My grandma made this cake with her own two hands. It's so lovely. I still love this cake.

My grandma made this cake with her own two hands. It’s so lovely. I still love this cake.

What we felt that day is almost indescribable. We felt SO INCREDIBLY LOVED. It was like nothing we had ever experienced before. Every single person who was there, was there for us. We both felt completely honored that people would come and be there just for us.

We had people warn us about how expensive weddings are and how afterward we would wish that we hadn’t “wasted” all that money on a wedding, and instead used it for a down payment on a house. They told us that we would wish we had eloped.

For us at least? Never, ever, ever, ever in a million billion years. We wouldn’t have given up that wedding day or how we felt on that day, for anything in the world. It was exactly what we wanted, and the feeling was more than we could have imagined.

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Husband and I got engaged in August 2001, and a few months before that, Tim McGraw released his album, “Set This Circus Down.”

Tim and his wife Faith Hill (I like to think we’re personal friends) have always been two of our favorite artists. For our wedding slideshow, I chose Faith’s song “She’s a Wild One” (one of my faves) to go along with the photos of me, and Husband chose “Indian Outlaw” for the photos of him. For the photos of us together, we chose “Set This Circus Down.”

The song has such a literal and figurative meaning for us:

Sometimes this road it just keeps winding, round and round and back again
But you’ve always kept me smiling
Over every hill round every bend

Baby you’re the one smilin’ with me
When the sun comes up
I got the wheel,
You got the map and that’s enough

Chorus:
And we go rollin’ down this highway
Chasin’ all our crazy dreams
I’ve gone your way and you’ve gone my way
And everywhere in between
One of these days we’ll find a piece of ground
Just outside some sleepy little town
And set this circus down

Sometimes I lie awake just thinking
Of all the horizons we have seen
And as another day is sinking
I thank God you’re here with me

‘Cause baby you’re the one laughing with me
When the sun goes down
Livin’ on faith and holding on tight
To the love we’ve found

And we go rollin’ down this highway
Chasin’ all our crazy dreams
I’ve gone your way and you’ve gone my way
And everywhere in between
One of these days we’ll find a piece of ground
Just outside some sleepy little town
And set this circus down

And set this circus down
Baby, one of these days
Gonna set this circus down
Set this circus down
Baby, one of these days

Two days after we got engaged, Husband and I embarked on this crazy adventure where he literally had the wheel and I had the map. We packed up a tiny U-Haul truck with all our crap and moved to North Carolina for me. He left a secure job, a home and all of his family and friends, for me and my dream.

EXHAUSTED after driving across the country for about 16 hours straight.

EXHAUSTED after driving across the country for about 16 hours straight.

Looking back, I’m not surprised he did it. But I am surprised at how easily he made that decision. It really wasn’t a decision — we were young, we were in love, the world was our oyster and we had no real responsibilities at that time that were holding us to Wisconsin. He came with me and chased my crazy dream, and we always knew that we would come back home eventually to be with our family and friends.

When “eventually” turned out to be six months later, because we (mostly me) was so homesick and my dream job was not all that it was cracked up to be, we packed up and came home — despite the fact that he had just gotten a new job in North Carolina.

On our wedding day, when I kept telling him over and over again, “We have so much to look forward to,” I didn’t really have any specific ideas of what that would look like — what our home would look like, what our kids would look like, or how many of them we would have. I don’t know that I could have imagined anything anyway.

Marriage has been both infinitely better than I thought it would be, and also infinitely harder than I ever imagined. Before you get married you think you know that you’ll have your ups and downs; that you’ll have battles; that you might go through a rough patch or have a crisis or two. But here’s the thing — you don’t really know. You’ve heard all those cliché pieces of marriage advice like compromising and fighting fair and trying not to go to bed angry and yada, yada yada. You don’t really know. You think you know what it means to make a lifelong commitment to someone in good times and in bad. But you just don’t really know until you’re in the trenches, making that decision to be in it, in good times and in bad, every day.

But, like I said, marriage also has been infinitely better than what I imagined, because we have built a life together. I have a partner — in life and in everything — and he is a kind, warm, generous, strong, gentle, funny and selfless man. And despite how very hard it is on some days, we have love, respect, faith, laughter, and this:

What 10 years will bring you. This is our circus.

What 10 years will bring you. This is our circus.

We set our circus down, literally in a sleepy little town just liked I’d always hoped, and my dreams of yesterday have most definitely surpassed my realities of today. I couldn’t have dreamt this. I feel so lucky and so blessed. And while I can’t even fully dream tomorrow, I feel certain that my reality will surpass my dreams.

Husband, like I’ve told you countless times before, as we travel this crazy journey, there’s no one I’d rather be traveling with than you. Thank you for our circus, and thank you for being my partner. I thank God you’re here with me.

10 years later, at the church where we got married.

10 years later, at the church where we got married.

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10-year anniversary dinner.

10-year anniversary dinner.

Believe

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I do believe in Santa Claus.

I really do.

I have “Believe” signs sprinkled throughout my house, and while I’m sure they were intended to be Christmas decorations, I keep them up all year ’round because I think they have more meaning than just believing in Santa Claus.

While Christmas definitely is a religious holiday for us, and I am thrilled that my girls understand that the true meaning of Christmas is celebrating Jesus’ birthday, I personally find parallels between Santa Claus and Jesus.

Santa Claus is a legend that originated in the actions of a real person, Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop who had a reputation for secret gift giving and to whom many miracles are attributed.

Jesus wants us to take care of others, especially those less fortunate, to act without expecting anything in return, to be selfless. To give.

For our family at least, Santa Claus and Jesus don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Amidst all of our holiday merry-making, which has included many of our favorite holiday activities, including several nights of viewing Christmas lights,

Pere Marquette Park, Downtown Milwaukee.

Pere Marquette Park, Downtown Milwaukee.

baking lots and lots of goodies,

Mmmm. Christmas treats.

watching our favorite Christmas movies,

"A toast to my big brother George. The richest man in town."

and even a wrapping extravaganza day,

My wrapping station.

I walked into a 9,000 square foot warehouse on December 13 that quite literally, was overflowing with wrapped Christmas presents. And what I saw was a generosity of spirit. A visual reminder of all that is good about Christmas.

I saw Santa.

I saw people who had given gifts out of the kindness of their hearts, with no expectation of anything in return.

And isn’t that the best kind?

Isn’t that what Santa does?

I went to the warehouse to volunteer. I discovered the Gingerbread House back in September when I was looking for a service project to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The Gingerbread House is part of the Youth and Family Project which serves Wisconsin families in Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties. The organization, which is dedicated to providing a variety of support, education and counseling services to help reunite families divided by crisis, really struck a chord with me because I think a strong family unit is so core to a child’s development (and ultimately what his/her future will look like).

This Christmas season the Gingerbread House will serve over 600 families. In chatting with the woman who began the project 20 years ago, for most families, the gifts they receive through the Gingerbread House *is* their Christmas. There won’t be any other gifts.

I was overwhelmed when I saw that in some families with three kids plus parents, there were 3-4 gifts for each person.

That is astounding.

Astoundingly generous.

At what other time of year do we see this kind of generosity?

Ironically, when I pulled names from the “giving tree” at our local YMCA I discovered the gifts were for people who had signed up through the Gingerbread House.

And the two boys asked for blankets, and an 11-year-old girl needed shirts. It was so humbling to me to see that these were truly needs, not wants. As I’m piling baby doll cribs, Dora toys and high end vacuum cleaners into my minivan, how could I not get blankets for a 7-year-old and a 15-year-old? How could I buy MORE clothes for my two girls who don’t need any more clothes, when there’s an 11-year-old who just needs some shirts?

Next year I’d like to do more. I’d like to be like the other families who have adopted an entire family and have provided each person 3-4 gifts. I can do better than blankets and shirts.

I think even Jesus would be happy to know that Santa inspires this kind of generosity in other people.

I believe in Santa Claus.

I believe in God and Jesus.

I believe in miracles.

I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe in people.

I believe in laughter and joy and positive thinking.

I believe in life.

All year ‘round, I believe.

And P.S. Who doesn’t love George and Mary? My most favorite Christmas movie, and maybe even one of my all-time faves. At any given point, we can all relate to George Bailey, but as he discovers, it really is a wonderful life.

And if you still don’t believe, there’s this — a mathematical equation that proves Santa is real.

What do you believe in and how will you be celebrating Christmas?

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), Writer, Cartoonist, Animator

Unanticipated

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I don’t normally feel “old.” But I was especially reminded of my age and impending birthday (the big 3-3!) at Monkey’s first school Christmas program.

I stood there, holding back tears, thinking, “I can’t believe I’m the one holding the video camera.”

I’ve always watched the parents holding the video camera taking videos of the kids, and I was always one of the kids!

Now I’m the one with the camera.

I thought, “I can’t believe I’m old enough for this. I can’t believe I’m responsible for two children.”

I can’t believe I’m the mom.

It’s funny how motherhood still catches me by surprise sometimes.

Monkey looked like she was on the verge of tears when she filed into the room with the rest of the kids. Finally, our eyes met and I could see a look of relief on her face.

Monkey got over her initial shyness and then went on to be su-per loud during this Beatles-esque “Shape” song. Good lord.

Monkey and Bean post-performance with Nana and Mimi.

Incidentally, I guess b*tching on your blog about how people overlook your December birthday really pays off.

😉

A week before my birthday Husband came home with flowers and proclaimed it birthday week. We had a wonderful date on the weekend before my birthday (which honestly made all the difference because we weren’t trying to cram it in on the same weekend with all the Christmas festivities), and even though we both got sick with a horrible stomach virus, the week ended on a high note with a lovely dinner with our families.

Monkey with her Great Grandma, or GG, as we call her. So sweet.

By the time my actual birthday came on the 16th, I felt like I had already celebrated a marvelous birthday!

And then my cousin-who’s-like-my-sister showed up on my doorstep with a birthday morning Starbucks! And a hysterical card about carrot cake, which is only funnier because that’s my favorite kind of cake and the one my Grandma always makes me for my birthday.

Do you get it? Carrot cake. His nose was a carrot. Tastes like boogers. Sooo funny.

The carrot cake that my Grandma made me.

I couldn’t have been more shocked.

And then my awesome neighbor stopped by with a smoothie!

Plus I got two of the sweetest and most unexpected cards in the mail. Truly, so unexpected, so sweet and they made me feel so special.

I was very humbled. And thankful.

It made me realize that I need to put my money where my mouth is and make sure that I’m following through on making birthdays as special for other people as I expect it to be for myself.

Cheers to another year!

December Birthday Diatribe

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I’m part of a club. A club I’d rather not be a part of. But a club nonetheless. I had no idea how many of my friends in my extended social circle also are part of this club until I was looking at the “Upcoming Events” section of my Facebook page. Even when I meet people on the street, this club gains me instant sympathy and nodding heads. I’m part of the December birthday club. And I don’t like it one bit.

Naturally, I blame my parents. 😉

Here's me - nine days old on my first Christmas. It's a girl. In case you were wondering.

But in defense of my parents, (they didn’t plan it this way) they always did a really good job of making my birthday special. I got a party every year (not like the extravagant parties that are common today, but a cake and some girls for a sleepover), and they never really gave me a combination gift (I can’t even think of one right now).

In fact, I don’t think my contempt for my December birthday started until I got older. Maybe a teenager, or a college student? I don’t know exactly when.

Here’s the thing. I love Christmas. LOVE it.

We loooove Christmas in this house.

I love listening to Christmas music while doing pretty much anything holiday-related. I love picking out the tree and decorating it. I love wrapping gifts. I love watching my favorite Christmas movies by the glow of the tree. I love baking lots and lots of cookies and other goodies. I love the magic of the season and the spirit of generosity. And I especially love the extra emphasis on spending time with family and loved ones.

Both Husband and I are pretty big Christmasers. While we’re not super psycho crazies, we both have big expectations for Christmas.

I’m also a big believer in birthdays. I think birthdays should be celebrated for a minimum of a weekend, and I prefer to celebrate them for a whole week. I think birthday people should be given lots of extra attention and be made to feel super special. There always should be cake, a card and a gift, and extra points for balloons or flowers if you’re over 16. Birthdays are a big deal to me and I make them a big deal for my loved ones.

I guess the reason I started disliking my December birthday when I got older (as opposed to when I was a kid) was because other people didn’t “respect” the birthday as much as my parents did. They didn’t make it as special (and I don’t mean my dear husband; he has always been excellent at making me feel extra special on my birthday).

I’m not exactly sure why this happens. I can’t really think of a good reason why people think it’s okay to combine birthdays with Christmas when, as my cousin J said, “Everyone with a birthday in spring, summer or fall doesn’t have to ‘share’ the day they were born with a holiday. I don’t know why it should be any different at Christmas.”

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think anyone was ever trying to purposely be rude. I mean, after all, these are people who love me and are giving me gifts. Maybe it’s because Christmas just becomes so ubiquitous that they’re not thinking when they give me a pine and red berry flower arrangement for my birthday? I get it. It’s seasonal. But it’s my effing birthday! Where is the pink and the purple!?

What not to get someone for their birthday.

This is a "passable" flower arrangement for a December birthday. It's got ornaments, but at least it's not red and green.

THESE are birthday flowers.

Extra points for creativity.

And don’t even get me started on wrapping my birthday present in Christmas paper. If you want to see my head spin around and pop off, just try giving me my birthday gift in Christmas wrapping paper. Why, why, why!?? It’s too much trouble to go out and get birthday wrapping paper so you’ll just use this Christmas paper you have lying around? At no other time of year would this be acceptable.

This is not birthday wrapping paper!!

You have no idea how tempted I have been to wrap other people’s birthday presents in Christmas paper in May, August, whatever. Just to prove a point.

IT IS MY BIRTH-DAY. THERE SHOULD BE NO RED OR GREEN OR HOLLY OR SANTA.

I may give you a pass on a snowman. Maybe.

My poor brother-in-law. He is awesome and so great and I love him dearly. He has experienced firsthand my hatred of the Christmas paper for birthday gifts.

I don’t know why, but for whatever reason we went through a period where he kept wrapping my d@mn birthday gifts in Christmas paper! And this was after celebrating many birthdays with him!

The first time it happened I gave him a lot of crap. So then the next year, before my birthday, Husband reminded him “NO CHRISTMAS PAPER.”

So that next year, he wrapped my birthday gift in (drum roll please) … silver paper.

And while he protested heartily that “IT WAS SILVER,” clearly it was Christmas paper. And that would have been okay except that he used a CHRISTMAS GIFT TAG to address the gift to me (we were at an extended family Christmas gathering where lots of gifts were being exchanged).

Nope. Definitely don't put this on a birthday gift.

When I pointed this out he looked at me with a genuinely confused look on his face and said, “Well how else were you supposed to know that it was for you and not someone else?”

I gave him a hard look back and said, “How about a birthday card.”

His eyes got really big. “Oh. That’s right. I forgot about cards.”

And that, my friends, is what happens to gift givers around Christmastime. All common sense goes out the window.

And while this is a tongue in cheek example, it really is disheartening when you want your birthday to be a day all about you and you’re constantly being reminded of CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS — and as I said before, I do LOVE Christmas — but it’s my one and only special day!

The next year he gave me my gift in birthday paper. With a card.

Balloons, stars, cake ... good. If it says HAPPY BIRTHDAY, even better!

Honestly, I think the biggest reason I don’t enjoy a Christmas birthday now that I’m older is due to time. There’s just not enough of it this time of year.

Husband’s extended family has now firmly established the weekend closest to my birthday as the weekend of the family’s annual holiday gathering. It also happens to be the same weekend that my parents do their annual Christmas party. So inevitably, I don’t get a weekend to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends the way I want to. Instead we (and all of our family members) are running around all over the place celebrating Christmas.

And now that I’m an adult with a family of my own, and want to do the Christmasy things like baking, shopping, wrapping, Christmas card sending, etc. — things I genuinely want to do — it just leaves little birthday time.

Celebrating my birthday last year. Note the Christmas tree at the restaurant.

2010 birthday cake!

Of course I’ve always been bummed that I couldn’t do fun outdoor activities like have a pool party for my birthday, but to be fair that’s not exclusive to December. My cousin L’s birthday is in March and for the last 20 out of 25 birthdays it’s been cold, gloomy and rainy. So there’s really no exclusivity when it comes to crappy weather. I mean, I guess rain generally doesn’t cause event cancellations, but you get my drift.

So yeah. The general consensus after polling my Facebook friends is that December birthdays (and even early January birthdays) kinda suck. Most of us have differing reasons for why we don’t like it (although combination gifts was a big complaint) the bottom line is we feel kinda cheated.

I will say that having only known a Christmastime birthday, I do like how the trees and lights and Christmas music remind me that my birthday is coming soon.

I’m thinking I might start a tradition of celebrating my semi-half birthday with my husband whose birthday is in July …

Barbecue anyone?

P.S. I will say that I think parents tend to be more sensitive to making their December birthday kid feel special, and they have the kid’s whole lifetime to remember to do that. Whereas other (non-December birthday) people (like my brother-in-law) are just unaware. So again, I’m not calling anyone out, I think they’re just not aware of the sensitivity because they haven’t had to be.

What about you? Do you have a December birthday? Do you hate it or do you love it? Alternatively, is your birthday around another holiday where you have to “share” celebration time with holiday time?

I Tried Not to Write This – Really.

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So the PR person in me was going to blog about Taylor Swift’s brand and how consistent her concert was with her brand. But even though I LOVE her, a lot, I won’t do that, because I know how many of you don’t care for her.

I do have to say one thing though — it was so REFRESHING (if I could put that in 50 pt font, I would) to see live entertainment that wasn’t bursting at the seams with girls in bra tops and hot pants writhing dancing around on stage. Seriously. So refreshing. I mean, performers from Rihanna to freaking LUKE BRYAN on the CMT Awards have the dancing girls. I’m just so over it. Um, not that I don’t like sex, I just don’t need it shoved in my face (and my kids’ faces) 24/7. I mean, we know, sex sells. But seriously, let’s move on. Doesn’t anyone have any original ideas anymore? Taylor Swift was the first performer I’ve seen in a long time that hasn’t utilized sex in some way to sell herself — and that includes her concert Wednesday night.

Don’t get me wrong. She had dancers — they were unbelievable dancers — but they were fully clothed, and they played character roles in her production. By our guess, it was the same dancers throughout the night, so they were dancing everything from choreographed pop moves, to ballet, to acrobatics.

So kudos to Taylor for not only being a great performer, a great writer, but having an original idea and not contributing to the early sexualization of girls. Don’t know what that is? (think Abercrombie & Fitch selling padded push-up bikini tops for 7-year-old girls — this year!) Google it. It’s disgusting.

Oh. One more thing. She really can sing. She sounded great — actually the only thing that disappointed me was that at the beginning you couldn’t hear her very well, like her mic wasn’t turned up enough. But then it got better. Don’t believe me that she can sing? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s review of the concert said she was “sonically superb.”

(For the record, I agree with the reviewer who said that the show came off a little too “staged.” It definitely was a big production number. It reminded me of a Reba McEntire show that I saw at the Bradley Center in the late 1990s — remember when she had the big hair!? Reba had a set and costume change for nearly every song. But honestly, I would rather be dazzled by a big production, that at moments is a tad over the top, than just watch a singer and a stool. Aside from a little more hair whipping than I thought was warranted, I liked it. I’m not sure if her somewhat overly dramatic stage presence is due to her age, and still figuring things out, or if that’s just her. Either way, it was SUPER fun.)

Okay, fine. I guess there’s one more thing. In the past, I’ve made fun of myself for not really being in Taylor Swift’s target demographic. In fact, certain friends, have made fun of me for liking her music, and before the show, joked with me to say hi to all my 15-year-old girlfriends. Well listen up, yo. I’m here to tell ya. We were not out of place AT ALL.

The people at the concert were of all ages AND both genders. I think my friend A and I were both a little surprised. Especially when we got to our seats and found that on our right were two 23-ish looking girls, and on our left was an adult 30-something-year-old daughter with her two late 60-ish parents. Not a tween in sight with them, either. Oh, and behind us? Probably some high school/college freshman girls, and then a boyfriend/girlfriend duo who were BOTH singing along to EVERY.SINGLE.WORD — even the guy. A and I kept laughing because this boy knew the words to every single song. And he wasn’t the only boy! There were lots of boys! Young boys, teenage boys, college boys.

I think we both were expecting to be surrounded by screaming girls ages 7-15, but such was not the case. Don’t get me wrong — we definitely gave each other a look and burst out laughing after passing two 9-year-old girls with matching braided pig tails and matching homemade Taylor Swift T-shirts. But we were not out of place by any means, and I rescind my earlier beliefs that I’m out of her target demographic.

So there.

(Although it was kind of funny when, towards the end of the night, A’s taking her daily disposable contact lenses out, chucking them and replacing them with her glasses, and I’m stretching and cracking my neck. Sucks getting old.)

Well, I really tried not to write this about Taylor Swift. But apparently I just couldn’t help myself. So I’m just going to go ahead and put a big wet sloppy kiss all over this post and say that in addition to love, love, loving her music, I LOVE the fact that Taylor Swift is such a good role model for my daughters. Prior to the show, concert goers could text a message that would show up on a screen next to the stage, and I may have gotten a little teary-eyed when a mom wrote, “Taylor, thank you for being such a GREAT ROLE MODEL for my girls.” And it wasn’t me. I swear. But it could have been.

(And if you’re a parent to daughters, and you’re not sure what the early sexualization of girls is, please check it out and be aware).

I really tried not to write this. Sorry. I’ll try better next time.

Comfortable Love

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One day when Husband and I were in Punta Cana on our vacation, we happened upon a wedding on the resort.

I love weddings. I’m usually a hot mess of tears from the moment the bride walks down the aisle, even if it’s the second cousin of my husband’s boss’s friend, or a wedding on TV, or the wedding of two complete strangers that I just happened to catch as I was walking by. (Basically I’m a hot mess of tears anytime anything remotely emotional comes on TV, yes even commercials, which is why I don’t allow myself to watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition.)

I love how being at a wedding makes you nostalgic for your own wedding day — makes you remember what it was like to be that blushing bride gazing into the face of your nervous groom, with all of the newness, hope and anticipation laid out in front of you. For me, seeing those emotions on the faces of two other people is a reminder about why I got married in the first place.

I am especially eager to listen to the officiant’s message at a wedding. It’s always something about partnership and love, and usually I can find a piece of advice to apply to my own married life.

I think the officiant at the Punta Cana wedding said what I think is possibly the sagest advice I’ve ever heard regarding marriage.

He said getting married is like saying to the other person, “Thank you for sharing a life with me.”

Wow.

Yes. That is exactly what it is.

Because marriage is not always fun, it’s not always never the overly romanticized thing we see on TV, and often, it’s really, really hard. But, it’s a choice that you and your spouse made to share a life with each other, and everything that life entails. Everything.

And that is simultaneously what’s also so wonderful about marriage.

In the brightest moments and the darkest hours, I can look to my husband and thank him for sharing this life with me. I can laugh with him, cry with him, lean on him for support, worry out loud, be totally neurotic, be absolutely silly and always be myself.

I don’t think anyone ever prepares you for how challenging marriage can be at times. I mean, people say it’s hard, but you don’t really get it. You don’t really understand until you’re arguing about who’s family’s house you’re going to for Christmas, or which one of you is going to get up with the screaming baby for the fifth time, or who has more responsibilities around the house and why. (It’s kind of like motherhood — people can tell you that you need to feed the baby every two hours, but until you’re actually doing it, it just doesn’t click.)

So yeah. Hard work.

But the best things in life aren’t free. And isn’t marriage one of best gifts you could ever receive? Someone picked you. And in addition to arguing over where you’re going to spend the holidays and who has to trim the bushes, you also have the privilege of building a home together, watching your daughters take their first steps, and sharing inside jokes.

Husband and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary a couple days ago, and it’s been almost 14 years that we’ve been together. We’ve basically become adults together. We’ve gone from courting each other, to puppy love, to newly-wedded bliss, to a comfortable sort of love that’s shown by saving the other person a piece of cake or not leaving the dish rag wadded up in a ball. I love how author and blogger Chandra Hoffman wrote about what love means in her marriage. She said:

“When he buys and carries five eighty pound bags of water-softener salt down to the basement every six weeks, that is love. Also, hand-weeding in between the pavers of our driveway. Turning my kitchen compost pile. Building a 60×8 foot trellis for the lima beans to climb.

That is all so, so true. It’s the gestures that aren’t necessarily big and grand, and the acceptance of each other as we are. That’s love in a marriage.

So, thank you Husband for sharing a life with me. You make me feel unconditionally loved, and there’s no one I’d rather be traveling with on this journey than you.

May 16, 2003