(Note: If you are pressed for time, you can scroll down to the actual day of my birthday: December 2nd: Turning 70 for the Cycles of Life ceremony.)
I turned 70 in December 2007, a real milestone birthday for me. At 40 I was preoccupied with the pregnancy of my 3rd child; at 50 I was busy figuring out if I should stay married or not after 30 years with my husband (I didnâ€™t stay married); and at 60 I was busy relocating to Seattle to see whether I could survive as a natural foods cook, which I could have, but missed family back home. So 70 is finally the decade where I think I can focus on my â€œgolden girl yearsâ€ and how I plan to use whatever years are left to leave the planet a better place than when I came onto it. A dear college friend just lost her husband of 40 plus years, so I feel the pull of mortality more strongly and want my 7th decade to be the best ever.
November in California:
The celebration actually started in Northern California in early November when all my siblings attended the bar mitzvah of my older sisterâ€™s only grandson, Zach. My older sister died three years ago (my first wake-up call about mortality) and the rest of us felt we should all go to the bar mitzvah as a show of love and support for Susan (my niece and Zachâ€™s mom) and her family. It was a wonderful long week-end with mild weather and only one rainy day.
On Sunday, after the festivities for Zach were over, we had Sunday brunch to celebrate the various birthdays of my siblings and their spouses, many of whom were turning 65 or 70. In between we also had various childrenâ€™s birthdays in October, November, and December, including my son in November and the bar mitzvah boy in December.
My niece and nephewâ€™s home in Tiburon (just north of San Francisco) is spectacular. In fact, it was featured in a magazine a couple of years ago. (The photo on my Home Page is a snapshot of the back of their house.) The brunch was prepared by a good friend of Susanâ€™s and the relaxed atmosphere was perfect after all the formal aspects of the bar mitzvah. Below is a photo taken at the brunch. The 65 and 70 birthday â€œkidsâ€ wore buttons my sister-in-law Carol brought, which said, â€œKiss me, it’s my birthday.” Carol added a 65 or 70 on the ribbon.
(Family photo at the brunch, with me at the far left leaning on the bench next to my niece Susan with son Zach on her lap. My husband Alan is on my left in the cranberry shirt.)
After the brunch, we drove back towards the airport and met my older son Ira and his wife Samantha for a quiet celebration at a restaurant that faces the Golden Gate Bridge. We watched the sun sink into the horizon. It was spectacular and a lovely way to end the week-end. My gift was a special tea maker that I am using to brew myself some herbal teas.
Another Sagittarian Birthday
Right before my birthday (November 30th), my dear friend Amparo flew all the way from Florida just to come to my womenâ€™s gathering. The second night of her arrival, my husband, Amparo, another friend whose birthday was in November, and I went to Horizons, a delicious vegan gourmet restaurant in Philadelphia. (I reviewed their cookbook, Horizonâ€™s CafÃ© in the September 2006 posting.)
Dinner was delicious and lots of fun in a relaxed atmosphere. We had four decades present—Amparo turned 55, I was 69 and counting, my husband is 74, and our other friend is in her mid- 80s. But the decades melted as we shared good stories and good food. (Below is a picture of Amparo and me taken on Sunday.)
The next celebration was at our apartment near Philadelphia on. On my apartment door I placed this poster:
The gathering was â€œfor women onlyâ€ and featured a ceremony using several beverages to designate phases of womenâ€™s lives. I also placed quotes around the room and asked each person to choose a quote that spoke to her. The one I chose was a quip by Dorothy Parker, my favorite female writer: â€œThe cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
(Go to This â€˜n That for a list of the other quotes).
I also asked everyone to bring a flower for a birthday bouquet. I placed it in the center of the coffee table and put the cups and drinks around it, with Amparoâ€™s help.
The ceremony involved drinking to the various cycles of our lives. Several years ago, in Moment magazine, I had read about this ceremony in an article by Phyllis Ocean Berman, who I believe lives in Philadelphia. She wanted to acknowledge female rites of passage from menses through menopause and created this ceremony. I added the two beverages for cycle 4 and cycle 6 as well as the quotes/readings. Here are the beverages and phases to go with the drinks in case you want to try this at your next womenâ€™s gathering. (The quotes are taken from a little book called “The Big Little Book of Jewish Wit & Wisdom,” edited by Sally Ann Berk and published by Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2000.)
(A snapshot of one of the readings.)
1. Wine or any red beverage (ex. cherry juice): This signifies menses. I read from Eve Enslerâ€™s Vagina Monlogues, choosing the one on girlsâ€™ reactions to having their periods for the first time. I remember when this monlogue was done onstage and it was a powerful â€œepisodeâ€.
2. Champagne: This represents young love and dating in our teens and twenties. This is the quote by author Erica Jong that someone chose and I asked her to read: â€œMen and Women, women and men. It will never work.â€
3. Milk (Dairy or non-Dairy; I served both): This represents nurturing, even if you never had children. It could mean nurturing a parent or nieces and nephews or friends.
This Yiddish Proverb seemed to fit here: “Everyone is kneaded from the same bread but not baked in the same oven.”
4. Punch: This can be any mixed fruit drink, with or without a bit of rum. It represents midlife â€œunexpectancies,â€ such as death of a child or spouse, divorce, career changes, returning to college or graduate school, buying a new house, etc. This quote by author Judy Blume worked here: â€œMy only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully, and yell if you need it.â€
5. Sparkling Water: The sparkling water represents menopause, when women no longer menstruate and move into what Native Americans call â€œWomen of the wise blood,â€ that is, we no longer lose blood, so we retain our wisdom. A good quote for this cycle is one by Julia Child: â€œLife itself is the proper binge.â€
6. Sparking Apple Cider: This stands for PMZ or post-menopausal zest, a term attributed to Margaret Mead. Cider has a bite to it, so the sparkling cider is one notch zestier than sparkling water, because by the time we are Crones*, we have a right, or maybe an obligation, to speak up for ourselves and for those women unable to do so for themselves. There are many quotes for this time of life. Here is just one from Mae West: â€œYouâ€™re never to old to become younger.â€
(When I asked my husband which beverage would be appropriate for post-menopausal zest, he suggested prune juice. I put out a bottle just for fun.)
*Crone: My New Oxford American Dictionary, a previous birthday present from my daughterâ€™s partner Maura who works at the press, defines crone in a negative light: â€œan old woman who is thin and ugly.â€ I choose to redefine crone as a woman who has survived many decades and has become wiser with each passing year, especially after menopause, when she becomes a wiseblood woman, as described above.
After the ceremony, we had dessert (fruit salad, yogurt, and kamish bread, somewhat like a Jewish biscotti, from my neighbor Mildred. ) We also had a book swapping table. Each guest brought one or two books she no longer wanted and took one or two in exchange. I picked out two of Nicholas Sparksâ€™ books and have finished one and am almost done with the second. Good reads if you like love stories.
I put two quotes by the book swapping table:
“There are perhaps no days of childhood we lived so fully as those spent with a favorite book.” Marcel Proust
“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” Jerry Seinfeld
Friends at my Birthday Gathering (two came later) I am sitting on the floor in a red Chinese jacket that was my deceased older sister’s. I wore it in remembrance of her vibrant life.
My next birthday celebration was a surprise birthday cake at a Hanukkah party with our Havurah group the next Friday, December 7th. It was a lovely gesture on the part of a new friend, Ronnie Manlin, who was unable to attend my gathering. I was really touched by the gestureâ€¦.and the cake was delicious as well! Thanks, Ronnie.
Celebrating with my Daughters
Then I went to State College to see my older daughter and family and celebrated there. Finally, I will go to Brooklyn to celebrate with my younger daughter and partner to enjoy my final birthday celebration.
I have the feeling that I need all these celebrations over a two-month period to adjust to the fact that I am now 70, surpassing the ages that my mother (66) and older sister (68) lived. That feels strange, so celebrating gradually seems to be working.
I feel happy to have reached my 7th decade with so many friends and a loving family and a wonderful new husband. The problems of the planet and of life seem much more manageable when you are surrounded by love and light. Recently, I read a delightful book entitled Jane Austen in Boca by Paula Marantz Cohen. I found this quote by one of the author’s characters that really spoke to me as an editor and writer and sums up my feelings at this time of my life.
“I want my last years to be like a well-edited story or a fine, short poem.”