Happy birthday to my dear son!

Robert at the beach
My son at the beach when he was younger.

Today is my son’s birthday. It was also our big yellow lab Angus’s birthday.

The following story was first published in the Los Angeles Times Sunday paper in the Kids’ Reading Room section. It’s the true story of my son’s second grade birthday party. I repost this story each year in honor or my son and Angus.

Robert with the Easter Bunny
My son with the Easter bunny.



A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents are too much for one eight-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swallowing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

Big yellow lab
Angus

In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large licorice jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

Angus and Robert

Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!

Unusual gifts

Presents from my kids.

My son, his girlfriend and my daughter spoiled me with a pile of gifts for my birthday. The packages arrived all week and I was instructed not to touch or open anything. On my birthday morning, my husband stacked the gifts on the counter in our casita.

This whole pile is to make a cup of coffee. That’s right. All these items are used for “Pour Over” coffee. When I last went to Berkeley to help my son post foot surgery, I learned the arduous task of pour overs. The first time I made coffee my son said to me, “You didn’t let this bloom long enough.”

It did taste bitter, a side effect of not enough “bloom.”

If you’re curious what was in all the packages, the big bag held the grinder. The smaller packages included Ethiopian beans, a scale, a bowl to put on the scale to weigh the beans, a glass carafe to make and hold the coffee, coffee filters, a platter to put under the grinder (from a Finnish artist — since I’m of Finnish descent) and a special kettle with a thermometer on it to get hot water at the exactly correct temperature.

Here are the presents unwrapped — the Pour Over paraphernalia.

Why did they choose to give me pour over coffee equipment? It’s because at my son’s house, I began to enjoy the process of making coffee every morning. When I returned home, I called my son and said that my Keurig coffee — even the special Starbuck’s Holiday Blend — was tasteless. I could have been drinking water.

Here’s the secret recipe to making a good cup of pour over coffee:

Fill the kettle with water and turn on the burner.

Weigh 30 grams of beans in the small bowl.

Put a filter on the Chemex carafe.

Place the carafe on the scale.

Grind the beans right before the water is at the correct temperature.

Pour hot water into the filter to get it wet.

Pour water out of the carafe.

Place ground coffee into the wet filter.

Pour 60 grams of hot water from the kettle over the coffee grinds — making sure it’s all wet.

Let it “bloom” for several minutes. Bubbles will appear on the surface of the grinds.

Pour 100 grams of hot water onto the filter holding the ground coffee beans.

Wait for the coffee to drip.

Repeat three more times.

The result is an excellent, bold, full flavored cup of coffee! There’s something about the process that is relaxing and satisfying. Otherwise, it would be too much work — even for superior tasting coffee.

A friend from Palm Springs called with birthday wishes. I asked her if she knew about “Pour Over” coffee. She said, “Yes. My two son-in-laws have all that stuff. The glass carafe, the coffee grinder. I have to get to work in the morning. I drink a cup of instant.”

We met friends at a restaurant for my birthday dinner. They walked in with a huge wrapped gift. It reminded me of when I was a child and I’d get a large doll in a big box! I was so excited.

What was in the box? Pink flamingos. Now I need to find a home for them in the yard!

Have you heard of Pour Over coffee? Have you tried it? What are your thoughts of pink flamingos?

My celebration

View of Cactus pool lanes
My new home pool.

Yesterday was my birthday and I celebrated in a few unique ways. First, I took a cold shower. Not on purpose, but the hot water was out. We had a plumber run a gas line from the laundry room into the kitchen the evening before. Tomorrow we are replacing the electric cook top with gas! We are so excited, but somehow the hot water got turned off so a cold shower it was. It sure woke me up!

Then I went to my first neighborhood club meeting. It was ladies coffee club with six other women from the neighborhood. It turns out the woman in charge of the coffee club lives right across the street from me. She and her husband stopped and introduced themselves when we first moved in but we haven’t seen them since. She apologized and said they were meaning to invite us over, but they forgot our names. I told her we had a concert and party and were going to invite them, also, but I couldn’t remember their names, either.

The big celebration for me was to drive 30 minutes to the pool and dive back in. I’ve been talking about doing this and haven’t made it there yet. We went from snow and freezing temps a little over a week ago to 80 degrees today, so I had no “it’s too cold” excuse. I set my birthday as my goal date to return to lap swimming. It was fabulous. I love the sensation of floating and gliding through the water. I met other nice swimmers who were so positive and friendly.

The downside to swimming was how out of shape and tired I got. Swimming is not a sport to drop for months at a time. Consistency is the key. My new goal is three days a week. It also makes me super hungry.

What special things do you do to celebrate yourself on your birthday or any day?

“A Birthday Day for the Dogs” and Other Reasons to Celebrate Today

robertIt’s my son’s 22-year birthday. I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around that fact. On the bright side, Spring Break allows him to come home to celebrate. This year he brought his girlfriend, too. This is all overwhelming and exciting at the same time.

I can’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic for when he was a young boy. He called me “sweetheart” because he thought it was my name. When we went to “Mommy and Me” at the Palm Springs Pavilion, there was a “good-bye” song at the end of each session. When his name was called, he’d toddle to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was so sweet. Still is.

robert 1In honor of his birthday, I’m reposting a story I wrote when he invited 50 kids to his 2nd grade party. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room, it’s about Angus our yellow lab of 15 years, who shared my son’s birthday.

A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents is too much for one 8-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swalloing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

Angus5

In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

Angus8Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!