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Before our youngest child was born, we told our middle child the new baby was going to be his birthday present. He wasn’t particularly impressed. He wanted a bike.
Having two children with birthdays three days apart used to cause a lot of problems. Back when I was arranging their birthday parties, I could never find a way to combine them. When the older one was hosting roller skating parties, the younger was barely walking. When I took the younger one and her friends to a G-rated movie, the older one was only interested in R-rated movies.
Birthday week was a nightmare when they were both in grade school. Not only did I feel obligated to provide 25 cupcakes for each child’s class, there was also baking required for both the family birthday party and the actual kid birthday party.
I would have been fine with serving purchased cakes, but with two kids needing gifts, parties and special dinners, I needed to pinch pennies whenever possible.
I used to love planning a themed birthday party — back when they were young enough to tolerate my ideas. One of the last themed parties we had happened to be for the oldest daughter, who agreed to a beach party in the basement. Her birthday is in February, so it had to be an indoor party. Even then, none of the invitees wore their bathing suits. We drew beach scenes on long pieces of newsprint and hung them around the walls.
I wasn’t quite crazy enough to import sand and water into our partially finished basement, but I did force my husband to help me make “surfboards.” We cut a piece of plywood to a surfboard-like shape and placed it on a piece of PVC pipe so the kids could balance while we played Beach Boys songs. The kids all thought we were crazy.
For the younger two, birthday week always corresponded with the opening day of the city’s Children’s Zoo when we lived near Fort Wayne, Ind., and I took advantage of that.
First, I had to scour the local Hallmark shops for zoo-themed paper goods. Then I used to load up the little red wagon with snacks and drinks and round up four or five of her friends. I got to know that zoo really well over the years.
We always started with the prairie dogs, which looked like the guinea pigs we had in the basement, and we finished with the petting zoo, which meant chasing the goats out of the little red wagon.
Looking back, I’m wondering if maybe I liked the zoo trips more than the kids did. I’m not sure.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in charge of anything except for the family birthday dinner. With the youngest off at college and the middle child living in his own house, the biggest obstacle is scheduling the festivities.
It took an entire morning of texting, emailing and, as a last resort, calling to pin them down to one dinner. Now comes the complicated menu negotiations.
She wants grilled shrimp, he wants barbecued spare ribs. The older sister, who had her own birthday dinner in February, has diet restrictions to factor in. So salad, shrimp and spare ribs. Yum.
By combining the birthdays, I solve the cake issue. I’ll just buy one cake for everyone. It may have to have one white layer and one chocolate layer, I don’t know.
One thing I do know, with all three of them now in their 20s, I know I’m lucky to have them home for birthday dinners every year. I may have to make 50 cupcakes for old times’ sake. Or maybe not.

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For me, the New Year always begins the first Monday after Jan first and it always begins the same way – with a new diet and exercise routine. Well, actually, I long ago ran out of “new” diets so I have to repeat the old ones. So this year I’m returning to the “Salad and Chicken” diet.
The Salad and Chicken diet is a variation of the Low Carb diet. I’ve been “low carbing” on and off for the last couple of years. It’s a great excuse to eat cheese and steak and regular hamburger instead of diet lean. What’s not to like? Well, actually, I don’t really lose much weight doing low carb. I’m almost afraid to say that because low carb people take their plan very seriously. I’ve been on some message boards where a statement like mine would be fighting words, but it’s the truth. There were other benefits – I felt better and I wasn’t starving all the time, but I needed a faster weight loss so I had to adjust. I call my plan the Salad and Chicken diet because it’s low carb without a lot of the high fat meats like bacon and sausage. It worked for a while last year.
It worked way better than Weight Watchers which I’ve tried five or six times over the years. Some people have a lot of success with Weight Watchers, but spending all that time looking up points and adding, subtracting, substituting and cheating left me completely food obsessed but no lighter. I especially hated the meetings where dozens of middle aged women sat around and talked about the best way to make something taste like something else. I’d leave those meetings so hungry, my car would drive itself to the nearest drive-thru.
I didn’t have any luck with calorie counting either. It seems like it has to work. If you consume X amount of calories and your body needs X+Y to function, you have to lose weight, right? I wish.
One time I ignored calories and counted fat grams, but that was no better.
It’s always the same pattern. You start out all gung ho and count and figure and drink your water and the first week is great! You lose six pounds, maybe. The second week is fine – you lose four or five more pounds. By the third week, it’s harder to stay on plan, but you force yourself. Of course, by the third week, you’re no longer losing. That makes it easier to cheat on the fourth week when you’re sick to death of the diet and it’s not working anyway. I seldom get past the fourth week.
And those ten or 12 pounds I lost those first two weeks. I’d find them immediately when the diet ends. Finally I gave up dieting and just ate a reasonably healthy diet without any special plans. I gained about ten pounds eating healthy.
I’ve tried all the diet foods and all the magic diet cures. I remember when rice cakes were new and tasted even more like Styrofoam. I remember diet candy that was actually called “Ayds.” I think they changed the name when it became a disease. One time I ate nothing but Lean Cuisine dinners to “retrain” my appetite and get used to the tiny portions. I also ate the boxes they came in. Another time I took fiber pills. You were supposed to take five with a glass of water before a meal. They expanded in your stomach so you didn’t have room for food. One time I got one stuck in my throat and I was sure it was going to expand and suffocate me. I couldn’t take anymore.
I have a library of diet books written by doctors like Stillman, Atkins and Dr. Phil. I sent away for a copy of “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and I have half a dozen paperbacks to look up the numbers of calories, fat grams and carbs.
So here it is 2011 and there’s no sense buying anything new. I’m recycling the Salad and Chicken Diet and my traditional New Year’s Resolution. I will lose weight, exercise, and clean my closets. For at least four weeks.

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