Happy January Birthdays

January, a month of fewest births and most deaths, is where we stand fighting the latest variant of Covid. How wearying to be still writing about this unwelcome virus. But like glitter left from wrapping paper or cards, it won’t be dusted, swept, vacuumed, washed, or wished away. Lots of people have stories about trying to rid the nasty stuff from clothes or rugs or skin, but no one really knows the secret to beat the stuff. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay inside, but the hated Covid, like unwanted glitter, stays in the air. 

Our family has a tradition of January births, even among in-laws. The older generation of January birthday holders has mostly passed, many on December dates, but there are four of us who are happy to celebrate. Birthday cake is a nice treat after holiday chocolates and cookies. Maybe there’ll be one more chance to get that sweater or book that wasn’t under the Christmas tree. Even better, everything is discounted and can be bought for yourself with little guilt. Even if there can’t be a party, there are safe ways to gather family or friends. If all fails, Zoom offers forty free minutes to talk with your relatives in sunny Florida. 

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter” by Christina Rossetti and Gustav Holst often runs through my mind at this time of year.  Rossetti’s beautiful words describe winter: “Icy wind may moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like stone…” and that often experienced January weather of “Snow on snow on snow.” As soft and gentle as January is icy and lonely, versions by Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor and others fill my blue light time when it is neither day nor night. You have to sing through to the end of the song for its encouragement that “as empty as I am (of gifts for the Baby Jesus), I must give my heart.” 

That is a magic message. If our basic physical needs are met, then we can push through January, holding each other tight inside our hearts until free once more to meet personally during spring’s warmer days. Until then call a friend, send a note, take a walk. We’ve figured this out and know how to make the weeks pass. In honor of the friends and family who are no longer with us to celebrate these January birthdays, I will treasure mine.

Do-Overs

September 9th 477Picking up flowers for Crystel’s 13th birthday I realized how true it is for me that I live my past through my kids.

I don’t remember my 13th birthday.

I don’t remember my mother ever buying me flowers.

Of course, she had 12 children and buying flowers wasn’t on the top of her grocery list. Even remembering all of the birthdays was challenging for her.

That’s why Antonio and Crystel get a birthday week with a gift each day. It’s my do-over.

Two years ago, Crystel traded in her birthday week for an Amazing Race birthday party complete with clues, drivers, and unknown destinations.

All of us had so much fun that I didn’t even wait for her to ask this year.

I started planning an Amazing Race birthday weekend nine months ahead of time at Briggs Farm in Winona for both Antonio and Crystel. Their birthdays are only six weeks apart. The surprise Mankato Mud Run the next day was declared the highlight of the race by the participants.

Mankato Mud Run

Mankato Mud Run

This upping the ante started when their first tooth came out. It wasn’t a quarter under a pillow. It was a treasure hunt with clues written by the tooth fairy that led to a final gift. Some people warned Jody and I that once you start big you have to keep it going. That never bothered me. I didn’t want to stop. Perhaps I was doing a do-over for the tooth I lost on Christmas Eve one year. I figured that the stuff under my pillow was the same stuff that was in the other kids Christmas sock.

Not to say my mom didn’t try she did.

My favorite birthday was when I was 4 and I got a gun. It wasn’t a real gun but still my four older brothers wanted it and took turns shooting at the target across the room. Finally when they went to school I got to use it. Probably good it wasn’t real because when I did get my hands on a BB gun I shot one of my brothers just above the eye. Later when I was 12 and received a 20 gauge shotgun, I shot the pickup two brothers were sitting in. Accidentally, of course.

As I carry the flower bouquet to the car I think of how some things don’t require a do-over. Guns, for example. I’ll take them to a shooting range for that.

What I Overheard the Gnomes Saying

Start of the Race.

Start of the Race.

Amazing Race, a reality television game show is the only television show that our family watches on a regular basis, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when Crystel requested an Amazing Race scavenger hunt for her 12th birthday party.

A garden gnome was the children’s passport and the first clue stated how important their gnome was:

Before the Amazing Race is over Shin Bee and Antonio will forget their Gnome in a restaurant incurring a 1/2 hour time penalty.

Before the Amazing Race is over Shin Bee and Antonio will forget their Gnome in a restaurant incurring a 1/2 hour time penalty.

Find a gnome. The gnome must be with you today, always. One of you must hold it, carry it, and have it on your person at all times. Both of you are responsible to tenderly attend to your gnome until you are on the mat at the finish line. If you are ever without your gnome it is a ½ hour penalty. This penalty will be served before you can step on the finishing mat.

Crystel using Peachie the gnome for support. She is about to get her feathers plucked.

Crystel using Peachie the gnome for support. She is about to get her feathers plucked at Bella’s Salon.

A ruckus in the corner of the living room draws my attention. Two gnome brothers are about to go at it. One has a hoe he menacingly swings above his head.

“I had it worse than you,” he hollers.

“No, you didn’t,” the other argues. “Look at my hat. I’ve had this HAT ever since the19th-century.” The gnome starts to sob. “I remember … when the

Zipporah and Natty finishing a challenge. At this point, Gnomio, being held by Natty, still has his conical hat.

Zipporah and Natty finishing a challenge at Richfield Veterans Memorial Park. At this point, Gnomio, being held by Natty, still has his conical hat.

German children … called me Gartenzwerge (garden dwarf).”

He is overcome with grief and drops his water pitcher. The black jug lands at his feet spilling its contents. “What is it with children these days?” He sits down, not caring that his pants are getting wet. He rests his head in his arms, lets loose with his tears.

Crystel and Allie completing the 'take a selfie with a dog' challenge. Peachie safe in Allies left hand.

Crystel and Allie completing the ‘take a selfie with a dog’ challenge. Peachie safe in Allie’s left hand.

“Yeah, but, yeah but …” the gnome with the hoe says, “At least YOU were found. My children caretakers couldn’t even find me. I would have stayed in the crook of the tree aaaallllllll day if it wasn’t for their

mother. Darn electronics!” He peers down at the hole in his brother’s conical hat. “Maybe he’s right maybe he does have it worse. I can see right down to his feet. I knew he never had any guts.” He touches his head. “At least I still have my point.”

Gnomio overlooking the make a homemade pizza and drink challenge. He's shaking his head. "This isn't going to turn out," he says. 2 cups of flour for the drink was used instead of 2 tbs.

Gnomio overlooking the make a homemade pizza and drink challenge. He turns his back to whisper,  “This isn’t going to go well. 2 cups of flour for the drink was used instead of 2 tbs.”

The gnome lowers his hoe, sits next to his brother on the grass and places his arm gently around him. “Children have lost their ability to see.” He pauses, then goes on, “And, to read, for gosh sakes. The clue clearly showed where to look for me.” After a moment, he starts to chuckle, “Did you see those two girls running all over Donaldson Park? At the playground, in the soccer field?” He bowls over with laughter. “They weren’t even close to where I was.” The gnome finally realizes that he is the only one

Lighting fire with a flint. Crystel and Allie will do as there ancestors before them did ... steal fire from a competitor. Though they can't read a clue well they can think outside the box.

Lighting fire with a flint. Crystel and Allie will do as there ancestors before them did … steal fire from a competitor. Though they can’t read a clue very well they can think outside the box.

laughing but he can’t help himself. He raises his eyebrows. “Oh, my,” he exclaims. “That is quite a hole. Forget about going to the repair shop for that.” He grabs his tummy, shakes with glee.

Only when it is quiet do the gnomes think to inquire where their older brother is. Maybe they are thankful he isn’t around. Lately he has insisted that they listen to his sermons from the mushroom platform that he has created. His daily pontificating drives the brothers crazy.

Zipporah choosing her route at the Ghostly Gangplank at MOA. This was a first for her. All a part of the Amazing Race.

Zipporah choosing her route at the Ghostly Gangplank at MOA. This was a first for her. All a part of the Amazing Race.

They found their brother sitting under the mushroom talking softly to his pet bluebird.

“They called me Gnomie,” he says unhappily to his pet.

“Cheer, cheer, cheerful, charmer,” the bird says in a melodious, gurgling whistle.

“That wasn’t the worst of it,” he was telling the bluebird. “They abandoned me in a restaurant. All they could think of was money, money, money, winning, winning, winning.”

Antonio and Shin Bee high fiving it when they learn that Crystel and Allie took the time penalty for not finishing their sushi at Masu Shushi & Robata at the MOA. However, they will forget Gnomie at the restaurant incurring their own time penalty.

Antonio and Shin Bee high fiving it when they learn that Crystel and Allie took the time penalty for not finishing their sushi at Masu Shushi & Robata at the MOA. However, they will forget Gnomie at the restaurant incurring their own time penalty.

The two brothers crawl under the gold chanterelle mushroom and join their brother. Apricot scent is in the air.

“My two girls called me Gnomio,” the one with the hole in his hat says shrugging his shoulders. He had a lot bigger problems to think about.

“I was Peachie,” says the one with a hoe. He reaches up to take a nibble out of the tender mushroom stem. “Mmmmm,” he says.

“Stop it,” says Gnomie. He bats at his brother. “The altar will fall.” He measures his brothers with his eyes. “I think we can all agree that it wasn’t a good day to be a gnome.”

All three solemnly nod their heads.

Children’s laughter is heard in the background, oblivious to the gnomes sorrow.

What surprised me the most about Crystel’s Amazing Race is how similar it was to the reality show. Clues misread or not read, shouts of unfairness, competitors talking their way to the front of the line, and a gnome (passport) forgotten in the heat of the race….. but most importantly the day was a whole loft of fun for competitors, drivers, video and camera crew.