Sunday, January 8, 2012


December is always full for us.  In addition to the traditional holidays, we celebrate our birthdays, my brother's birthday, my mom's birthday, and the birthdays of friends.

It's a month of happy madness.

Chris had to work on his birthday this year.  Since I like to surprise him annually with something, my time was limited.  I decided to let him off easy, by making dinner plans with friends at a favorite dining place of ours, followed by dessert with more friends.  I told him about these things, but I didn't tell him about his present, which was two tickets to see one of his favorite authors on tour at Playhouse Square this April: Anne Lamott.

Emily's birthday was a spontaneous collaboration by me, Chris, and our friend, Rachel.  The three of us planned an after-sushi party at our house a week before Emily's actual birthdate.  We made the evening complete with balloons, champagne spritzers, brownie cake, gifts, and a Cary Grant movie on Netflix.  Emily welcomed her mid-20s with friends and a touch of old Hollywood.

For Amber, I conspired with her hubby (Justin) to create a day of surprises for her.  They had family time in the morning (Justin & Amber have four kids - the youngest is a darling one month old), then the Allen girls and I showed up on their doorstep and stole Amber away for Thai food and pedicures.  We snuck a Starbucks run in-between venues, and  relished our hours together.  After our nails were dry, we returned our friend home to a cake on the table and her favorite lasagna in the oven.  At some point, her hubby presented her with a gift certificate for a facial at my salon, and let her put her pretty feet up for the night.  

My birthday was also on a workday, so I picked a new-to-us Ethiopian restaurant in Cleveland for dinner and followed it with two hours at a Middle Eastern teahouse and a midnight snack at Denny's.  Empress Taytu is the only Ethiopian restaurant in Cleveland, and one we did a Google search for before we moved to Ohio.  We just wanted to be sure we could find some of our beloved west coast flavors on the other side of the country.

Empress was everything we hoped for.  We sat in a hut and drank honey wine before our meal was served, and I challenged my tastebuds to a lentil-filled sambusa and a raw jalapeño (stuffed with hot peppers and a tomato relish), accompanied by traditional injera bread.  Our dining companions had never tried Ethiopian food before, so this was a treat on all accounts.  The consensus was "yum," while we savored our platter of savory meats and vegetables.  I did leave out the part about driving around Cleveland looking for an IHOP, which was comedy all by itself.

Last night, we got to be part of another birthday surprise.  This one involved a train car, pasta, balloon hats, and beautiful Agnes. Thanks to her boyfriend and daughter, she didn't suspect a thing.  I should mention, this is the second birthday in a row Agnes has been surprised by her friends.  I'm liking the trend.

Here's to another year of joy amidst heartache, peace that transcends understanding, hugs that change a moment, and love that means everything. 

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