Monday, October 26, 2009

Going Like 60

I enjoyed a unique and touching 60th birthday celebration over the weekend.

It started propitiously enough when Jennifer Martin drove over from Dancing Rabbit Friday afternoon, clothed in more attitude than fabric. Arriving in a skimpy black teddy, black leather boots, long black gloves, and a choke collar, "Mistress Jennifer" got everyone's immediate attention. With an affected British accent she directed me—with crop in hand—to get my things together with alacrity and get in the car. While I was not all together certain what "things" would be needed for what lay ahead (there was a scroll directing me to bring an overnight bag, wine, and cash in small, unmarked bills, but that didn't actually cut the fog much), it was clear I needed to make choices quickly.

Hastily selecting some festive apparel (like Jennifer, I also chose a ruffled black top; unlike Jennifer, my selection—a shirt—covered more and accentuated less), I got in the car and away I was whisked for the three-mile ride from Sandhill to Dancing Rabbit. I tried, with partial success, to concentrate more on the driving than on Jennifer's decolletage and we'd only barely (so to speak) gotten into the topic of sex toys when we'd arrived and I could gracefully effect a change of subject. (Where was the weekend headed??)

To my amazement, the birthday celebration started at the Milkweed Mercantile, the not-quite-finished Eco-Inn located smack in the midst of Dancing Rabbit. My birthday dinner (the first of two) was their inaugural restaurant event, and Ma'ikwe and I were the first overnight guests at Kurt & Alline's inn. So it was an auspicious occasion for more than just me.

In addition to my surprise at seeing the Mercantile ready for service (my immediate impression was of the warm glow of flames dancing in the fireplace, complemented perfectly by the array candles happily flickering on the elegant table), guests started popping out from behind the furniture. First there was Tony, handsome in a red vest, followed by his partner Rachel, in a long print dress. Given that they're both good friends and live at DR, their attire was more unusual than their presence, so I took this first "Surprise!" in stride.

When I turned to my left however, it was shocking to find my sister Alison smiling back. She lives in Chicago. I had hardly digested that before her eldest son Allan added his "Surprise!" to the chorus. He lives in Iowa City. After finally managing to get a kiss from the party impresario, my wife Ma'ikwe, I was urged to look around a bit more closely, and discovered to my furthering surprise that a second sister was in the room—Kyle, all the way from San Antonio. Holy moly, this was getting more special all the time.

After that initial burst, the rate of surprises slowed down a bit. There was time for appetizers and drinks (which I pretty much needed by this point). Other local guests drifted in and I was able to catch my breath. (And, since Jennifer had demurely changed into an evening gown, so could others.)

After a half hour or so, the door popped open and an eager black dog skittered inside. It was one of my granddogs: seven-month-old Yoshi. He was followed immediately by his owner, my daughter Jo, just in from Ohio. Holy Toledo, now they were arriving from different time zones!

This level of surprise was sufficient to get us to dinner: dressed spinach salad garnished with slices of Asian pear, followed by a main entree of lasagna, capped off with tiramisu and dessert wine. Lovely! Somewhere between the main course and the dessert, the door burst open again. By this point it could have been Santa Claus and I wouldn't have batted an eye. Instead, it was Betsy Morris and FIC-Board member Raines Cohen from Berkeley. (Would Max Lindegger from Australia be next?) While not exactly mythical figures, Raines & Betsy are legendary travelers and world-class social butterflies, so it only made sense that they'd make an appearance. After all, there was a party going on, right? (They were en route from California to Kansas City to DC to Berea KY, and I guess Rutledge is sorta on the way.)

It was both confusing and wonderful to have at the same table so many different elements of my life, all happily commingling: my sisters, my daughter, Rutledge community connections, FIC compatriots, and even one of my bridge partners (though Jennifer usually dresses differently for the Kirksville duplicate club). While the numbers were not large, the mix and energy of the evening was satisfyingly evocative of Ma'ikwe's and my wedding in April 2007, and that's as good as it gets. Ma'ikwe was wise enough to know both how meaningful for me this would be and that I wouldn't ask for it. Therefore, she didn't ask.

There were no new arrivals after that and the party broke up around 10:30 (poor Alline was patiently reading in the corner, wondering if she'd ever get to bed). That meant that Ma'ikwe and I had the inn to ourselves for the rest of the evening, which we took full advantage of to celebrate in ways that were equally special yet beyond the scope of this blog (and you thought I didn't have any boundaries).

After a leisurely morning in bed (read more celebration), Ma'ikwe and I drifted next door to the DR Common House and our morning coffee ritual. Eventually we were joined by all of the out-of-town guests and Ma'ikwe conducted a tour of DR. While I knew most of her spiel, there's been so much going on at DR (20 people have been accepted for residency this year, and there's more new construction then at a gold strike boom town) that it was good to get more current on what the neighbors are up to.

The tour ended at Ma'ikwe's new house, which is now only a fortnight away from being enclosed enough to be able to occupy and heat for the winter (which is very exciting). Alline catered a lunch for us at the house site, after which Allan had to depart for his regularly scheduled life back in Iowa City (though not before he got to share with me a 120-minute IPA from Dogfish Head Brewery, which is worth every penny of the $10 it costs for a 12-oz bottle).

Then the party progressed (as progressive parties do) to Sandhill, where Jo and I were the surprise dinner cooks. I had been worried about being home for five days and not contributing at all to the cook rotation at Sandhill, but my clever wife took care of that. Knowing that there isn't much I enjoy in the world more than cooking (and eating & drinking) with my kids, she arranged that Jo & I got to be the cooks for the second birthday dinner and we merrily spent five hours in the Sandhill kitchen putting together the following repast:

o Fresh mixed green salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing (aka Laird sauce)
o Sliced tomatoes and red onion marinated in homemade basil aioli mayonnaise
o French bread with brie and baked garlic
o Roasted sweet potatoes
o Homemade pasta with a choice of sauces:
—Onions and garlic, slowly
caramelized in sage butter, olive oil, and black currant wine
—Mushrooms Berkeley (shiitakes, onions, and green peppers sauteed in butter and then cooked down for hours in sorghum, mustard, wine, and worcestershire)

Nobody went hungry.

Then it was back to the Mercantile for birthday cake (a choice of spice cake with maple frosting, or carrot cake with cream cheese frosting), ice cream, and a second round of partying. After getting all sugared up we watched a video that none of us had seen before: Geoph Kozeny's footage of Ma'ikwe's and my wedding roast, held the night before the ceremony in April 2007. It was just as funny the second time.

After that, we tapered off with a round of Skittles, a wooden game of Appalachian heritage that has been in the Schaub family since before my birth. (Is there anything more grounding than traditional foods, ritual activities, and convivial friends and family?) It's played in an open box that is approximately four feet long, two feet wide, and eight inches high. The box has partitions and there are 15 five-inch high wooden pins (turned on a lathe) that are set upright on designated locations around the box. The more obscure the location of the pins, the more they're worth if you knock them down. The game is played by taking turns winding up wooden tops with string and then releasing them into the box. Your score is the value of the pins your top knocks down. There are tricks to getting a lot of action out of your top, yet it's a mistake to think that your score doesn't depend substantially on luck.

Just as the tops eventually wound down, so did us revelers. After about 30 minutes of Skittles, bed beckoned to us all and the second day drew to a close.

This was my actual birthday, yet it worked better for most of the out-of-towners to celebrate early and use Sunday as get-away day. Thus, my sisters and daughter were gone before Ma'ikwe and I had arisen from the luxury of the Mercantile's down comforters.

Again we started with coffee (which is not much different than saying I got out of bed, or the sun rose in the East). After a leisurely breakfast, we schmoozed with Betsy & Raines and then I headed down to Ma'ikwe's house to install the stove pipe for her wood stove. On Saturday I got to cook; on Sunday I got to do some construction. It made me happy (as Ma'ikwe knew it would) to be able to bookend my birthday with the opportunity to be constructive with my hands.

Although rain shortened my work day after about five hours (you can't caulk a roof penetration in the rain), I was able to complete the trickiest part—building and installing the fireproof pass-through, where the double-wall stove pipe goes through the insulated ceiling. That means the ceiling rafters will be ready for the drywall crew expected today. Whew.

Right before sundown, with rain clouds rolling in from the west, I went home and did yoga, which was a fitting conclusion to my birthday.
I realized as I was stretching, that yoga was the last thing I'd done before Jennifer appeared on Friday. So while it may be questionable whether I ever got the hang of my birthday, I'm confident that I got the yin and the yang of it.
I want to close with a reflection about connection and the threads of life. In addition to the straight forward joy of unhurried time with friends and family (which I'm pleased to report are not mutually exclusive groups), it was a delight to see how things naturally tended to flow in sequence.

o Two years ago I had asked Alison to bring Skittles to Ma'ikwe's and my wedding in Albuquerque, but there was a lot going on and it didn't happen. On the occasion of my birthday, which I didn't even know Alison was attending, she brought Skittles on her own.
o Friday night, after Ma'ikwe had created an ambience which echoed our wedding, Alison presented me with a framed statement of our wedding vows which she had calligraphed and gotten all the wedding guests to sign as witnesses. While I knew this was in the works, it was the first time I'd seen the finished product, which will be mounted over Ma'ikwe's and my bed.
o Saturday evening we watched for the first time the video of the wedding roast, after which we had queued up a game of Skittles. It was eerie to hear Ed Pultz (an original Sandhill member) say halfway through the roast that he "was surprised that no one had mentioned Skittles so far." I had forgotten he'd said that.
o I next depart home tomorrow, for the start of a 16-day trip. My first stop will be Berea KY to participate in the FIC's fall organizational meetings. It will be my first time I've ever in Berea… which just happens to be where Skittles is made.

Are there ever any accidents?

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