My birthday was almost two weeks ago, but keeping with the procrastination subtext of this blog, I am just getting to the subject now. Each year I do a little birthday post in which I take stock of the state of my life. This year was a doozy.

I began almost three years ago to prepare for my impending retirement – originally slated for September 2021. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall into a confused funk, unable to enjoy filling out each day with whatever projects struck my fancy at that particular moment. I didn’t think I would do well with structureless time or the end of gaining new insights and stories through work. I started a mental list of retirement projects – new things to try out or tackle once I finally had the time for them.

It turns out all that worry was unnecessary. The list of “new experiences” I’ve had in just the past three months is already long. I was on an operating table for the first time and was “put under”. I got my first incision and scar. I spent my first night in a hospital. I had to use a diaper for the first time since potty training and smoked pot for the first time since high school. I had my daughter cut my hair off – the shortest it has ever been. I dialled the Austrian version of 911 for the first time in my life and then used a fire extinguisher to put out a wall of flames in my upstairs bathroom. I sat in an ambulance while they checked me for smoke inhalation. I had my first therapy session with a psychologist. I realized suddenly that I am already retired, and so far, it has not been at all what I expected.

Before you all start envying me, let me add that I also had two Christmases this year. With so many people worried about me, with all the packages and flowers showing up at the door, with all the cards and letters and messages and calls and wishes and presents, I got overwhelmed by it all. I experienced a new insight that I am surrounded and blessed by so many friends and family members who made an extra point of expressing their love and concern this year. I felt the warm wave of their support buoying me through these hard times. It keeps me going. It makes me wonder, not with trepidation, but with hopefulness and determination, what I will be writing in next year’s birthday post titled “Sixty”.


Friday Matinée


Five years ago today, I wrote the first birthday blog post to my bff, Ly.   (“Theatercafé”) I can’t really call it a tradition, because I forgot to do it as often as I remembered to – but now, thanks to quarantine, the birthday post is back!

A lot of you who read me also know her and her “Sunday Matinée” series. She has been introducing me (us) to cool artwork / artists for years, and so for her birthday, I thought I would return the gift.

Ly, meet Mary Cassatt, an American impressionist painter, friend of Degas, born on May 22nd in 1845 in Pennsylvania. I chose this picture because it reminds me just a bit of you.


While searching through Google images, I almost gave up on this little project. So many pictures of women with babies or little kids, some dogs but no cats, and a style that is probably not really your taste. Still, I figured you’d like them more than a Wagner opera or the Unabomber’s manifesto (also May 22nders). So I looked more closely and stumbled upon two that I liked. Here they are. Your birthday presents so to speak. Hope you are having a nice day, friend!

Lilacs in A Window

Lydia Seated in the Garden





The husband’s birthday was one of the minor challenges I have had to face during the past six weeks of lockdown. The first thoroughly unoriginal idea was to have a family picnic. But then I saw a video of some couple in the States who held a drive-by wedding and an idea was born . . . (or maybe I should say “co-opted”. . .):

                                (anonymized for the blog)


Of course, before I could send this out, a lot of prep work had to be done. The husband is very aware of his role model responsibility and has been strictly following the social distancing rules. On the other hand, things are slowly opening up here – stores, hairdressers, mechanics, building sites, etc. A week from now, the kids will start returning to schools. I made some calls to certain friends and co-workers to pitch the idea of this party and got nothing but enthusiastic responses. Every one of them had also been isolating for six weeks, seeing one another only through screens the entire time. So, I figured I would go for it.

Turns out the hubby`s friends and teachers are a spectacular bunch. Secret WhatsApp groups arose where they worked out the timing among themselves to make sure no crowd would form, everyone agreeing to leave as soon as the next guest showed up. (In true Austrian form, they expressed less worry about any health risks than “what the neighbors would think”!) I didn’t have to organize a thing on that end – they did it all on their own. And none of them spilled the beans.

Friday, 1:45 pm, the husband arrived home from work as ordered (only 15 minutes late). We sang a quick “Happy Birthday” and sat down to lunch under the decorated carport. The husband expressed his wish for a long family hike in the afternoon and we all insincerely said “Sure! That’s a great idea!” (heh, heh.) Ten minutes later the first car drove past and parked nearby. As the first two guests walked toward us, we quickly rolled out and set up the self-service bar, complete with hand-sanitizer station. My last worries subsided when I saw the husband’s laughing reaction and how happy was. A steady stream of very cool people made sure that he stayed that way for the entire time.



My daughters announced that they wanted to treat me to movie matinee as a birthday present and they suggested “Emma” which just happened to be showing in the original English. The fact that my husband and I had passed the movie theater just two days earlier and that I had stopped in front of the poster and exclaimed happily “Oh! There’s a new version!” didn’t immediately raise any suspicions in me. “What a coincidence!” I thought.

Sometimes it takes me a while to figure stuff out.

Now I’ve read the novel “Emma” at least three times and have seen all the movie adaptations of it – a few of them a lot more than once. Being an Austen purist, I still like the old BBC version the best. But I’m always willing to give a new version a chance. So, this afternoon, my daughters and I bought our popcorn and sodas and took them to our expensive seats in the nearly empty theater. The lights dimmed . . .

(If you plan on seeing this movie, you should probably stop reading now. I’m going to have no qualms about spoiling the near spoiling of the story of the spoiled girl.)

The first scene reassured me that this adaptation was going to be true to the original novel. All of the dialogue was familiar to me and the settings showed faithfulness to early 19th century detail. But then we see Mr. Knightley for the first time. He’s being undressed by his manservants and proceeds to walk stark naked around a room. “What’s the point of this??” I wondered. On reflection, I later decided the message was: a man with such a nice butt can get away with marrying a woman 20 years younger than him and not be considered a pedophile. In Jane Austen’s time, that was a point not necessary to make.

After that scene, I was on edge for a while – what other liberties would this movie take? But, basically, it went back to being a standard retelling with a few exceptions. I noticed that the stories of minor characters were dealt with minimally and not really developed. Instead, a lot of attention was given to showing the houses and living standards of various classes, including some funny scenes involving servants’ reactions to their “masters’” antics. The major focus was on the emotions of the central couple. It made me start anticipating how the filmmakers would deal with the final marriage proposal. In true Jane Austen form, this is one scene where she leaves out critical dialogue for them to make use of. And, therefore, it’s the place where most movies screw up. In the original novel, this is what Emma says in response to Mr. Knightley’s declaration of love:

“She spoke, then, on being so entreated. What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. She said enough to show there need not be despair – and to invite him to say more himself.”

We were almost two hours into the film and the scene finally arrived. Mr. Knightley asks if he has any chance with her. The camera zooms in on Emma’s face, closer, closer, her nose now fills the screen . . . and . . . and then . . . blood starts streaming out of it.

“What in the HELL is THIS?!” I blurted out much too loudly, waving my hand in the air, setting off the laughter of my daughters and the couple in the row behind us. For a minute I worried the movie would now take some kind of absurd Tarantino-type turn. Zombies would appear. Or Mr. Elton would show up at the Woodhouse estate with an Uzi.

But no. With the exception of one completely fabricated scene between Emma and a farmer, the movie returns to form. There is a wedding in a church full of smiling faces. Happy End. The lights in the theater come back on.

Sometimes it takes me a while to figure stuff out. But this one decision of the filmmaker will remain a mystery to me forever. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Jane Austen’s noses do not bleed.



A serenade from twenty-seven students. A wave of WhatsApp wishes. Facebook full of happy feelings. A birthday blog from a bff. Red roses refreshing my room. A delicious dinner date. And, finally, a last little gift of good news from the cosmos.




Things I can now say:

Garlic shrimp with arugula is delicious. Contrary to popular experience, Thai massages can be wonderfully unpainful. Next week I will probably finish “Becoming” in my new hanging basket chair on the screen porch in 70 degree weather. I am no longer so immature as to do something like make a Styrofoam cheesehead hat – that’s the kind of stuff I did when I was younger. Today was a near-perfect day.




I reached 55 today. It’s a good time to ease off life’s gas pedal and switch on the cruise control.



According to Merriam-Webster, today I also reached the status of “senior citizen” (synonyms: ancient, elder, geriatric, golden-ager, oldster, old-timer, senior). At least that’s the definition “for English language learners”. When I think of my very young students, it is probably true. My own Grade School teachers were a lot younger than I am now, but to me back then, they were all like Grandma. Sigh.



So today was also an especially good day to resurrect the vinyl with my new excellent birthday present/toy! For a few hours this afternoon I soaked in the sounds of my two-six-pack basement parties during high school, my college dorm rooms, my very first apartment . . .  In the vernacular of my newly rediscovered inner 15 year old, I was really rowdy and had a blast!