Belated birthday.

Rebecca left me a voicemail last night: “You’re probably out celebrating, but happy birthday! I’m glad you were born.”

Birthdays are strange stuff, full of the same high expectations met with crushing disappointment drama of New Year’s Eve, but reserved exclusively for you. Since my fifth-birthday party pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey meltdown (a fiasco preserved on dusty VHS in my parents’ basement), I’ve kept my requirements low: something sweet to eat and some sweet reminders I am loved.

I’m lucky enough to partake of both most days out of the year, but yesterday was something extra nice, alternately full-up on embarrassment (thanks again, Mom), aging jokes from my grey-haired gentleman coworkers (including kazoo serenade and improv sonnets), phone calls and Facebook messages and text hieroglyphics (still chuckling, Caitlin) and one lovely evening on a quiet lake.

I treated myself for breakfast with just-ripe slices of nectarine. I usually stick to good ol’ apples and oranges, so trying new fruits feels indulgent and birthday-worthy somehow. I listened to the new Cat Power over and over at work, and I highly recommend making “Nothin But Time” your next sappy birthday jam. I got a new dentist. I got all your cards in the mail at once. And, in a particularly nice turn of events, boat rental plans at a nearby lake — foiled by an office with unpredictable hours — turned into fully-dressed swimming. Because we were there and it was warm and there was that late-summer light between sunset and moonrise and because we were born.

And then we played in the sand, and then we sat quietly on the grass and it was so nice. Like smell of warm, fresh-baked bread nice (which, now I’m thinking about it, will probably be my 25th birthday breakfast treat).

I’m feeling giddy and silly these days and I’m so, so happy and so, so grateful to everyone who’s making that possible and listening to me gush about these wonderful and unexpected people and events. The best birthday gift (besides maybe a hand-drawn card) was feeling taken care of and excited for the future, especially this weekend in Knoxville with Annie, girl-timing and exploring.

I promise to return all the calls and messages, but for now, thank you thank you thank you. I wish I could give you all a quick hug and a perfect morning nectarine.

On playtime.

My sister’s coworker is dying. Stage IV cancer. Sorry for the Monday downer, but this is relevant to weekend plans and good living in general. Whether you know the person or not, cancer news is always a punch in the stomach and motivation to live better, or at least consider what that means. This woman has been blogging about her experiences, and Saturday morning, K and I were talking about her latest post on regrets. Number 1 is not taking time for play.

For K, playing more means maybe investing in a bike and moseying around a lake near her work (I did a little dance to convey my enthusiasm when she told me this plan over the phone). For my part, I’m pretty good at playing already (see: previous phone interaction). Child-like interest in wildlife and cheesy pasta, check. Inability to turn down a dare. Unabashed sober dancing.

This weekend was all about indulging that sense of wonder, starting with missing deadline on a story because I was too excited and distracted by weekend plans. Those included lounging in the shade by Cedar Lake and late-night tours of NewBo; mussel hunts, walking train tracks, silly sweaty dancing and staying up past bedtime; rainy Sunday morning brunches and watercolor-fest Sunday nights.

It was playful and perfect and life-affirming in its own small way.

#MM.

Story: Driving back from the Grand Canyon last year with five travel-weary, ripe-smelling friends in a five-person car. Around 8 o’clock Thursday night while speeding through the dusky dregs of New Mexico, we made the controversial decision (4-1) to drive all night, through the Oklahoma panhandle and most God-forsaken part of Kansas, pulling into a hometown cafe for fried egg sandwiches around 6 a.m. It was easy until 11, harder and darker and more deer-infested after that. Looking back, it was a dangerous choice — especially when a thunderstorm rolled in around 3:30 a.m.

But, the night drive had its moments. Like when Jessica and I were the only ones still awake, driving toward a vast field of red lights suspended hundreds of feet in the air. It wasn’t until we were deep in it and noticed the giant blades that we figured out they were wind turbines, not flying saucers (serious business). Or like when she played this Ivan and Alyosha song for me and it was good.

After that night, the name and melody slipped my mind until a couple Sundays ago. I was listening to Iowa public radio, headed home on the highway after a long drive and long weekend in St. Louis. They introduced an archived Iowa City coffee shop recording from a few years ago — probably right around the time we were killing ourselves to get through Kansas — and it was this band and this song.

Nature walks.

I’ve been walking and biking and seeing so many things! After a series of weekends stuffed with family and commitments and heinously long drives, it’s nice to reflect on the time spent alone or with one quiet person during the past few weeks, exploring fossil beds, wading in creeks, taking sunset bike rides after work or walking to the grocery store.

When I take the time to breathe and look around, I realize how much there is to see outside my daily routine. And how much I should stop letting worries about deadlines and rent money and returned text messages dictate my mood. And how the deer in Cedar Rapids must reproduce like crazy.

Green living.

I wish I could take credit for how crazy this houseplant is. Each leaf is about three of my not-dainty lady hands and I think it’s about to go kudzu all over the desk it’s sitting next to. I’m not sure what it is (best guess: The Mother of All Peace Lilies) or where it came from.

One day, I was chatting in the courtyard with my landlord and he said, “Want a houseplant?” then leaned aside to indicate this guy looming behind him in a ray of holy sunshine. Poor thing was abandoned by the previous tenant — probably because no moving van could hold it. I gathered it, not daintily, in my loving arms and bore it to my living room where it sits happily in a pie pan I ignorantly thought would hold all the runoff water required by a 20-pound houseplant.

This plant survived the week I went to China and neglected to find someone to water it, and then the week I went to Mexico and did the same. It pulled through the Broken Furnace of January 2012. Sometimes when I forget to water it for a bit, it shrinks to about a third of its mature size in a way that manages to look sad and scared and petulant in that way only toddler-like houseplants can. Each time, I pour two glasses of water and can actually watch the leaves brighten up and straighten out. This plant’s powers of recovery and forgiveness and putting hydration to great use should be a lesson to us all — especially my dried up, dead lavender plant.

#MM.

Cicadas are up to no good here and the nights have been almost too chilly for open windows. I’m sure we’ll be back to 100 degrees and sweaty lunchtime walks in a few short days — and it’s only mid-August — but I’m feeling that late-summer nostalgia anyway. Revised seasonal goals:

  • More dancing
  • More sundresses
  • Long messy braid-able hair (this is partly because I’m trying to save money anywhere I can, and cuts got cut)
  • Freshwater mussel bakes
  • A very special art project
  • Keeping cool
  • Buying basil
  • Bolaño

S. Dakota.

I am a fan of Sioux Falls’ downtown waterfalls, quirky shopping district, climbing rocks, great Iowa wine and dancing with children. I am not a fan of casinos, though the one where I stayed for a wedding this weekend did give me an early birthday T-shirt and I won $1.53 while wearing it. I used the money to buy a poster of the human brain and a grilled cheese.