Birthdays have never really been my thing. I mean, sure, I think, much like many women my age, I held on to the “Sixteen Candles” fantasy of finding my own Jake Ryan to sweep me into my next year…well into my 20s. But for the most part, my birthday has always been a private event. I’m not a huge attention hound. I’ve never needed a big shindig to make me feel important. In fact, the thought of a bunch of people singing in my honor sort of makes me sweat.
Monday was my birthday. I honestly cannot believe I’m officially in my mid-30s. This isn’t a statement about feeling old. Rather, it’s just that I’m shocked that time has passed so quickly. I know I sound like my Great Aunt Merle when I say that it feels like only yesterday that I was 15.
This year I celebrated with some of my favorite people:
On Friday, I went out with my friend and neighbor Tommy, his girlfriend Tracey and his sister (and a close friend) Annie. My new squeeze Alex joined us too. It was a fun night. We had a yummy dinner at a local pub, then raced to Urban Outfitters to buy long-sleeved shirts because it’s apparently already autumn in Chicago. Properly bundled, we walked to the Lincoln Park Zoo to catch Five for Fighting at an outdoor concert. It was such a pleasant evening. We plopped down on blankets, gerbiled up to stay warm and sipped a refreshing beer while listening to live tunes.
Saturday morning I arose early for a long run. Throughout the 9 miles, my thoughts were on one person: my dear friend Amy. The week before she had given birth to a beautiful, healthy boy. The day before she had endured an 8-hour surgery and double mastectomy to remove cancer from her breast and lymph nodes. Just as I was lacing my sneakers for the exhausting run, I got word from her husband that the surgery went well. Each time my feet pounded the pavement, I thought of Amy. If she could endure childbirth, the heartwrenching decision to have a double-mastectomy, the surgery itself and the anxiety of upcoming chemotherapy, then I could endure yet another mile.
Clean and rested from my exercise, I zipped down to Crust to meet Courtney. We are kindred spirits who met at a dinner party where everyone was required to bring someone who didn’t know everyone else. The person we knew in common has long since disolved in our social circle, but the bond between Courtney and I keeps getting stronger. Over an incredible salad, two pizzas and some wine, we caught up, laughed, gave advice and figured out the time when we’d meet next. I couldn’t have felt more lucky to have spent quality time with her – whenever we are together, I leave the encounter feeling stronger and more fulfilled!
With moments to spare, I raced back to my house, as my parents were about to arrive. They walked in the door, arms full of presents. We played with the dog and I opened the gifts — favorites include a new Boo’s Chopping Block and the add-on to your iPod so you can track your running and your music! I took Mom and Dad to The Violet Hour — at first I think my dad thought it was too “floofy” for his taste. But sitting at the bar, he developed a near-instant man-crush on the mixologist. Before you know it, we were all warm and fuzzy from concoctions like the Juliet & Romeo, a Tequila Old Fashioned and a Dark & Stormy. Following cocktail hour, we put our names on the long list at Avec. My brother joined us, and we shared a bottle of Bordeaux while we awaited our table. Two hours later, we were seated at last. The wait was worth it. Our palates were teased with dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon and topped with pequillo pepper sauce; chicken thighs roasted with fennel and favas; a whole roasted dorade; house-made pappardelle with blood sausage ragu – the list goes on, and so we kept eating. Full and happy, we all retired that evening confident that the foodie thread running through the family DNA had been amply satisfied.
Sunday morning, I revived myself with a cup of coffee from Intelligentsia. Quickly thereafter, Carrie and I met and shimmied down to to the Gold Coast, where our other girlfriends had congregated. We were lucky enough to snag a table that day at Fred’s – the ultra chic 7th floor restaurant at Barney’s. I felt so privileged sitting at that table. There I was with five beautiful, talented, intelligent women – it’s staggering to know that in my life I have the pleasure of naming these ladies as my friends. Over eggs and strong coffee, I opened up to them about my new romance with Alex and felt so empowered by the enthusiasm they shared with me and for me. I talked with Robin about the upcoming birth of her second daughter and we all got to giggle as we rubbed her growing belly. We talked about work, travel, finances, family — much like the moment when you’re on a perfect date and you feel that the rest of the universe has grown quiet, it seemed that we were the axis around which our very happy worlds were spinning. How fortunate I am – how fortunate we all are – to have each other for celebrating life’s excitement.
I spent that afternoon with Alex and a couple of his friends at the Slow Food Chicago event at the Goose Island Brewery. Featuring several “green” chefs, the party was a pig roast with scrumptious takes on swine. We sipped delicious beer and noshed heartily. Afterward, Mark and Sandra invited us back to their loft. Very graciously, they opened their wine cellar to us, and we finished the night sipping gorgeous reds and an exquisite dessert wine.
I couldn’t believe it when the alarm rang on Monday morning. This was my big 33, and yet I had already been celebrating for 72 hours! That day at the office my colleagues wished me a happy birthday and friends from near and far called, sent emails and texted me with good tidings. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Alex that he had been able to sneak out of work early so he could pick me up at the office. He greeted me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a CD compilation of love songs with a rock’n’roll twist (sigh). After taking Stella the Wonder Dog for a long walk, we changed into our fancies and hopped in a cab down to River North. At the restaurant Graham Elliott, we enjoyed the 10-course chef’s tasting menu, complete with unique wine, beer and spirit pairings. The two gluttons that we are, Alex and I couldn’t have been happier. We enjoyed escolar, halibut, scallops, corn bisque, duck, bison, fruit, chocolate…it was a lovely evening. Stuffed and buzzed, we headed home.
As the week has progressed, I’ve had further opportunity to celebrate. Last night my brother and I went to a Cubs game with some fellow Vanderbilt alumni. Tonight I’m meeting Allison and some other friends for a special Wandering Goat dinner from famous chef Stephanie Izard.
Eventually the volume on “Happy Birthday, dear Charlotte!” will fade to mute. I’ll probably have a few extra pounds to work off from this week of indulgence. I certainly have some lovely gifts from loved ones. But the thing I find to be the most rewarding part of ringing in my 33rd year is the people whom I celebrated with. I am immensely grateful to have built a world for myself that features such remarkable, sharp, funny, talented people who sincerely care about me as much as I care about them. When I blew out the candles on my cake this year, I wished for my life to continue to be enriched with wonderful people and experiences. But, fortunately for me, much as Sam told Jake, there is really no need to make a wish – it already came true.