Posts Tagged ‘birthdays’

22nd October
written by Michelle

I am 33 today and despite my daughter’s concern that I am getting “older” I feel a deeply grateful. Maybe there is a certain wisdom and perspective that comes each year. I’d like to think I am little wiser, a little less controlling and a bit more joyful than I was at 23. And I hope I can say the same 10 years down the line. 

Birthdays can be gentle invitations to gratitude, but also painful reminders of what you have lost or what you would have hoped to have. I remember a dear friend telling me how hard it felt to celebrate another year by herself. She was 32 and what she really had hoped for was a birthday surrounded by a husband, a life-long partner. 

I have another sweet friend whose own mom died to cancer before she finished elementary school. She once told me, I would give anything to be able to celebrate my birthday with the one who gave birth to me.

 I am not sure what’s tougher, birthdays without loved ones who have died or birthdays without someone you had hoped to love.

 When you’re a woman who struggles with infertility a birthday is yes, another year of life, but also a painful reminder of a life that you so deeply want to hold, but cant. One friend described each passing year of hoping to be pregnant as “a heaviness that keeps growing in your heart, while nothing grows in your womb.”

 Can I just say, if birthdays have felt hard for you, I am so, so sorry. Our culture in general doesn’t do a good job of acknowledging how days typically reserved for celebrations can sometimes also be days filled with sadness. They often go hand-in hand, the celebration and the mourning.

 I remember my own birthday at 27. Sitting over hamburgers and beer at my favorite little beachside restaurant, two of my best friends asked me, what I was most looking forward to in the year ahead— a simple and appropriate questions for a birthday dinner. But instead of words, tears came. I couldn’t answer the question, because I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the growing discontentment in my heart. I was chasing a meaningful career and filling my schedule with really good things, but my heart was being pulled elsewhere. It’s funny how your life can be so full, but your heart can feel empty. That was the last birthday I celebrated in California.

This evening after getting home from a fun and loud family dinner at my sister-in-law’s house, complete with tortillas, fresh squeezed limonada, cake and three rounds of “Feliz Cumpleanos,” I carried an over-tired Elena upstairs. It was already way past her bedtime, but I am firm believer that celebrations sometimes trump bedtimes. I tried to brush her teeth and she adamantly demanded to do it “all buh mah-self.” We read, The Giving Tree, one time and I kissed her forehead and told her how much I loved the flowers from her and Daddy. As I stood up, picking up her dirty clothes on the floor, I heard her little voice singing “happy buh-th-day to you” and my heart melted just a bit. I closed the door leaving just an inch of space between the white frame because she likes it when the hall light shines in.

 I walked downstairs, carrying the dirty towels from the bathroom and Elena’s clothes, my heart full from the special and yet very ordinary ways that made this birthday wonderful. I started a load of laundry and remembered what a gift it is, nothing short of a modern miracle really, that a machine will wash our clothes while we sleep. I curled up next to my husband on the couch and we commiserated how full we were. I moaned as I stood up and complained how hard it felt to move. “That’s what happens when you’re 33” he joked. He can only say that because for 9 months he will tease me that I am older than him. I got out my coffee thermos for the morning and filled up my pink water bottle and snuck back upstairs to read through Facebook birthday messages and write a bit before bed.

I think my favorite kinds of birthdays are ordinary days sprinkled with thoughtful gifts and affirming words and this birthday started and ended with both. I spent my first 27 birthdays in California and I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend my next 27 here in Guatemala.


20th October
written by Michelle


I was talking to my Gerber on the phone tonight because he’s gone working for the week with a team from Canada. He asked, “Are you excited about your birthday?”

I am, I replied.

I could hear him smiling through the phone.

I know he loves me dearly, be he doesn’t totally understand why birthdays are a big deal to me. And that’s ok. If I have learned anything in my marriage, it’s not about convincing the other person to be like you, it’s about accepting the other person as they are. And he accepts me. Birthday hoopla and all. 

I will be 32 tomorrow. And although I love kind words and little gifts and free things, the truth is I like those things any day of the year. But what makes a birthday significant for me is that it’s a marker. A reference point if you will. I can clearly think back and remember where I was or what season of life I was in for each birthday.

5 years ago I was in Santa Barbara. I sat at one of my favorite restaurants and shared a hamburger and beer with two of my best friends. I cried tears of disappointment. Instead of pretending everything was fine, I learned that maybe that was an ok place to be. 

4 years ago I wrote a vague blog post about surprises and someone special. I had moved to Guatemala and we were newly dating. He surprised me with chocolate and white twinkle lights and dinner out and then, FIREWORKS. Like real live fireworks. 

3 years ago we were engaged and trying to plan a wedding and a honeymoon and get birth certificates notarized and somewhere in the mix I got sick. I spent my birthday curled up on the couch with a fever. Gerber refilled my water bottle and rubbed my feet.

2 years ago I turned 30 and I wrote about What I learned in my 20s. I remember this birthday well because it was also the day I found out we were pregnant. I celebrated my birthday and the new little life inside of me. I carried around our little secret for almost 3 months before we told people my family at Christmas time.

Last year at this time, we had a 4 month old who would only sleep while being carried. I wrote this post and remember that I carried her in the ergo alllll the time. Those were rough months. Gerber bought me an hour message at my favorite salon. He dropped me off and then drove around town for an hour with Elena in the carseat, trying to get her to nap with a bottle and the vibration of the car. He picked me up and we went to Hector’s for dinner with Elena. I bounced her in the ergo throughout the whole dinner and we took this picture. We look like tired, happy new parents. Which we were.

And then this year, 2014. The house is quiet, except for the buzzing of the baby monitor. Elena is sleeping upstairs, by herself. I have a cup of tea at my side and my flannel wrapped around me because the cement walls always make me feel cold at night. Tomorrow is my birthday. And in many ways it’s an ordinary day. I am going to breakfast with a sweet friend and I’m looking forward to sweet messages and texts from family and dear ones far away. They’ll be emails to respond to, diapers to change and probably a stop by the grocery store. Gerber will call in the evening. And I’ll be one year older.

And you know what? I couldn’t be more excited. Or maybe thankful is the better word. There is something about getting older or maybe it’s watching a little one grow and change that makes me thankful. Thankful in new ways for life, for health and for another year.

I think getting older makes you realize just how fragile and precious life is. One thing I love about Guatemalans, is that most people inherently view life a gift, not as a right. Sadly, when you live in a country with increased violence and lack of adequate medical care, it means everyone knows someone who has lost their life too soon. If you ever have the chance to hear a Guatemalan pray, almost always before they get to the amen, they will give “gracias a Dios por darnos otra dia aca.” 

I like that. I am not sure often I have actually thanked God for giving me another day of life.

But on my 32nd birthday. It seems appropriate. I am grateful for life. For mine, and for my family’s and for my sweet little girl’s and  husband’s my and good friends’. These lives make my life richer. And that is worth celebrating.

11th August
written by Michelle

If your new here, these are series of letters I started writing to my daughter before she was born. This was the first one, and this is one her Daddy wrote her. I wrote about her birth story here  and I seem to write a lot about raising a bilingual and bicultural daughter and hardest part of motherhoods . These are my way to capture and remember parts of her life and I invite you to read along. This may be last “Dear Mija” letter for awhile, but I am sure I’ll come back to it.


Dear Mija-

In June we celebrated your first birthday. (And our first year has parents! Let’s be honest, both are equally important.)

Elena, you say “Dada” first thing every morning, you are starting to give real besitos and you would eat black beans by the spoonful if we let you. I am convinced the Guatemalan side of you will always prefer to sleep right between me and Daddy and it’s a good thing we live in a country where no one bats an eye if you breastfeed your walkin’, talkin’, toddler because that very well may be us. Your favorite things are doggies, agua and signing “more.” Maybe in that order.

Anytime you see a doggie you make the cutest little “ruff ruff” sound. Oddly in Guatemala, the toilet paper brand Scott has a cute golden retriever as its logo. So you often walk down the supermarket aisle pointing and barking.

Before you said “mama” or “dada” you said “agua.” And it’s still your favorite thing. Washing your hands, taking a shower, playing in the pool…as long as there is water involved you’re a happy camper. We’ve started teaching you signs for “more” and “all-done” around 7 or 8 months and I was convinced that you could care less. And then one day around 11 months or so you ago you just got it! It’s like it clicked and you started signing “more” ALL. THE. TIME. More aguaMore beans. More nena. More books. More, more, more.

When I tell you it’s time to go “night night” you grab your monkey or your nena and start to pat their back and say “shhhh.” It’s pretty much the cutest thing ever. You now sleep in a small corner of your room on the floor, surrounded by pillows and blankets. We call it your nest, and ironically you sleep better now then you ever did in your crib.

You wave to people we see on the street and you love playing with and poking other kids. We’re working on more of the former and less of the latter. You have always liked noise and activity and being out and about. When we go to a birthday party or out with friends you’re as content as can be. But the moment I get you in the car you start to fuss and cry and basically melt down. When you meet someone new you usually give them a stare down at first. When someone talks to you, you listen with your eyes. Serious, focused and intent. When you trust someone you usually grab their hand and a cautious smile comes across your face.

Without intentionally planning it we got to celebrate your first birthday in both countries. First in California with your US family and then a few weeks later with your Guatemalan family. At Nana and Papa’s house your Auntie Christine and Stephanie decorated with an etsy banner that matched the circus theme.


Nana bought Animal Crackers and delicious cupcakes and everything was red, white and yellow. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread with onions and veggies and drank fancy drinks through pretty straws.

You sat on the floor in your red birthday dress and loved trying frosting for the first time. You opened gifts and tore paper and played with the envelopes while I read your birthday cards.


You are so loved by your family in the states. Your Uncle Andrew was there and Grandma Charlotte came by. I so badly want you to have memories in that home where I grew up. I look forward to the day when you say, “I want go to Nana and Papa’s house.”

In Guatemala a few weeks later, I picked up some balloons and a “Feliz Cumpleanos” banner at the Bodegona. I had you dressed in jeans and little blouse, but when we got to Mama Hiya’s house she surprised us with a huipil and corte that she made just for you. Your Aunt Mimi got you dressed and everyone said how beautiful you looked.


You didn’t look so sure about your new wardrobe, but you were a good sport. Your abuela made pepian for the whole family and we drank rosa de jaimca.


We had a huge Winnie the Pooh piñata, which I think your cousins were more excited about than you were. We sang to you and ate cake and drank Pepsi.

I made your “cake” with banana bread and cocoa date frosting and gave you water. Sorry, Mija…if I can hold off giving you soda for a little bit longer I will.


And you are so loved by your family in Guatemala.

I love watching you grab your cousins’ hands and walk around the home where your Daddy grew up. I look forward to you learning things about your Guatemalan heritage, things that I can’t teach you.

Elena, as you get older we’ll probably have our own birthday celebrations here at home. And I have a feeling we’ll take some traditions from both families. I imagine you may always want a piñata and ya know, the Bodegona has some half-decent decorations on the 2nd level. Your Daddy and I may get you a gift or two and let you choose a new birthday outfit. I will probably make some half-healthy snacks and I think pretty straws are sometimes fun. I imagine as you grow up we will keep finding ways to honor and celebrate you, and where you come from and who you are.

Elena, each year on your birthday I want you to remember three words:

strong, kind and grateful.

These are three words I hope to teach you and model for you. Three words that I pray over you and the one day you’ll look back and say, my mama taught me how to be strong, kind and grateful.

I want you to be strong in who you are. I want you to have an inner strength to know where you come from and how deeply loved you are. I pray that your strength comes not from what you do or what you achieve but from a deep trust in God. My hope is that your strength allows you take risks, and be the kind of girl who who stands up for what you know is right and is willing to sometimes do the hard thing.

I also want you to be kind. This is something that I have had to learn how to be. Sometimes I think being a first-born means we learn to be bossy and brave, but kindness gets buried underneath being in charge. Elena, my sweet girl I want you to be kind to people, kind to the boy or girl at school who other kids make fun and kind to the old lady you see in the park. Kindness is kind of like of a muscle, the more you use if the stronger it becomes.

Lastly, and maybe more most importantly, I want you to be grateful. I want you to be grateful when we sit on plastic stools and are served caldo de galina, even if it’s not your favorite. I want you to be grateful for the home we have and the privileges that will have. I think you can either choose to live life complaining about little things, or being grateful for the big things. I hope we can always choose the latter.

Elena, I know if I want you to be a strong, kind and grateful girl, then I need to model that. So on your birthday, this is also a reminder to myself, too. Because the truth is I want to be a strong, kind and grateful mother.

Whenever Daddy asks you, “Cuantos anos, Elena?” you hold up your little pointer finger ever so proudly. Uno!

Yes, my dear you’re one. And sometimes I want to bottle up your little finger, and chubby legs and sweet smile and say, stay my one-year-old baby forever. But then I remember what a gift it is to watch you grow and change and learn. And how being your mom is one of my favorite things ever. So here’s to a lifetime of celebrating your birthday…and making me a mom.

I love you, Elena.

 All my love,



P.S. Here’s a little quick 15-second look at the past 12 months, month-by-month!

14th October
written by Michelle

A week from today I will 30. And I couldn’t be more excited. For so long the idea of thirty sounded, well… old.  So grown-up if you know what I mean. But I don’t feel old or really grown-up. I feel healthy and strong and content. For the first time in years I am thankful for who I am, how I look and where I am in life.

My twenties were characterized by questions, moving and lots of change. Internally and externally. If you’re in your 20’s- hold on. I don’t think it always feels so unknown, so turbulent, so exciting, and confusing all at once. I’ve spent a lot of time this past month thinking about my twenties.

In no particular order, here is what I’ve learned:





  • And that break-ups suck. no way around it.


  • Some point after college I learned to view food as a source of nourishment and pleasure, not something to be counted and kept track of.


  • Know how you like your eggs* (Figure out what YOU love, before you find the Love of your Life.)


  • How to have an adult relationship with my parents. This is an ongoing process for me and probably for them.



  • I’ve learned to be thankful for what my body can do, not what my measurement are.


  • Counseling is worth the investment. Seriously. Counseling has helped me know myself better and learn how to ask for help. I would easily spend an hour with a physical therapist to become physically healthy, so why not spend an hour with a counselor to become emotionally healthy? One of the best decisions of my twenties. hands down.


  • Be the kind of friend you want to have.


  • Ladies, HEIGHT is not everything. It took me 27 years to realize this.  Stop waiting for some dreamy, Mr. 6’5 to walk by. You could miss out on the LOVE of your life. Give the short men a chance : )


  • What it means to be surrounded by people and yet feel alone.


  • Be able to laugh at yourself. One day I’ll write about how I ended up in the ER with a broken nose, on a “first” date.


  • Invite the new person. If you see someone by them-self at church or a birthday party or in the corner at an awkward work function, invite them to sit by you or come join your table. Because if you’ve ever moved or been the “new-girl” you know how much you appreciate those people.



  • “Everything happens for a reason” is a load of crap. I’m sorry, but at some point in my twenties I realized there are a number of things that I had heard about or had witnessed and there is no good reason or explanation. Best perspective on pain and loss is Rob Bell’s here


  • I’ve learned the world is a better place if we just give people the benefit of the doubt. Oh, that man who just flipped you off on the free-way, you ask? Don’t worry he just had a bad day. It’s not personal.





  • If he doesn’t call, and doesn’t respond to your text…Then he is probably not that into you. I am not the exception, I am the rule.** Repeat.


  • Feeling lonely is a universal emotion. Somehow I never knew this. I was shocked in college when I learned that married women feel lonely. And when a friend who is a mom of three told me she sometimes feels lonely, too I was floored. I thought only single people felt lonely. I was wrong.


  • Jesus is not a white middle-class American.


  • Loving someone doesn’t mean making them more like you.




  • Having roommates is one of the best preparations for marriage.


  • Pay attention to the kinds of questions people ask you or the kinds of things they invite you to, these are probably the things they want to you do for them.


  • You don’t have to change the world or be anyone extraordinary. Sometimes I think the most radical thing I can do is acknowledge the stranger on the street,  pay attention to the men who pick up my trash and leave my husband a smoothie in the fridge without expecting anything in return. Those ordinary things become extraordinary.


What do you remember learning in your 20s? or What was the best part of your 30s? Do share.


*Run Away Bride…in case you missed it.

** He’s Just Not That Into You (wished I had seen this when I was 21, not 27. )

10th July
written by Michelle

Yesterday was Gerber’s birthday and he was gone the whole day and the whole night….working.

He had already committed to start building water filters with a new community in the southern part of Guatemala and he had four eager volunteers waiting to go. So at 7:00am he left with his truck bed piled high, four guys seated in the cab and our Guatemalan technical nestled in the back between shovels, sifters and a wheelbarrow. I did at least send him off with a birthday smoothie.

Antigua has relatively mild temperature year around- and yesterday was one of those perfect, mild-75-and-sunny-with-a-slight-breeze-and-volcanic-views, kind of days. Where they drove to is almost always HOT and HUMID. Temperatures hover around 90-100 degrees. And when you add in the humidity and some manual labor, it’s a recipe for constant sweat dripping down places you didn’t know could sweat. This is where he went to spend his birthday, my brown skinned, dark haired boy who complains when I ask for a table in the sun!?!

I talked to him last night on the phone and he seemed happy. The kind of happy that comes from somewhere deep within, because you’ve spent the day doing something you love- working with Guatemalan families, sweating and laughing and lifting. Watching kids still too young to attend school help wash sand and carry shovels three times too big for them. Helping teenage boys from the states learn how to mix cement and take a shower without running water. Attending the evening service at the local church and wondering why with so little resources they are so welcoming and sometimes our big, fancy churches with entire committees dedicated for “welcoming” don’t feel that way. I know there is something he loves about setting up tents and mosquito nets and working hard and being thankful.

One of the reasons why I love this man so much is that he is passionate. He is passionate about helping people get access to clean drinking water. He enjoys serving others, and maybe even more so, teaching others. He has vision, ideas and goals and he’ll even give up a birthday so he can be a part of making these things happen.  His passion and direction make me proud and excited, but also, they give me a sense of security. I know that the same passion he feels about bringing clean water to communities, he also feels about me and about being a dad one day. And I know that he’s the kind of man who will sacrifice a birthday, or his own plans or needs to take care of something or someone that he is passionate about.

 {a little dating advice if I may: I think having a spouse who is passionate about something is one of the most attractive things. And when what they are passionate about happens to align with what you are passionate about I think you have a pretty good match. }

I love this man because he would rather work on his birthday doing something he loves, than be celebrated and taken out to dinner*

Happy Birthday, mi amor! Te amo.



*I did make a little dessert last night in his honor and tasted it to make sure it was fit for a little belated birthday celebrating.