Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ben!

I used to have the goal of always writing a journal entry or a blog post of some kind on my birthday. This year, my birthday came and went, and I never wrote. In fact, this is the longest I’ve gone without writing for quite some time. Still, I’ve never given up on writing about my birthday, even if I failed to write on my birthday. This is the realization of that compromised goal.

My birthday fell on a Friday this year. I don’t have school on Fridays, so I knew Thursday afternoon would feel like the beginning of my birthday weekend, and I wanted the festivities to begin right away. (I’m of the belief that adults should let their birthday celebrations last at least a week, since birthdays aren’t nearly as fun for adults as they are for children.) I decided that we should go out to dinner on Thursday afternoon, once I got done teaching. I chose a steakhouse near campus and had Melanie and the kids take me to school so they could run some errands (re: do some birthday shopping!) while I taught. They would then return to campus, pick me up, and we’d all go to dinner. It never happened. Just as we got to campus to drop me off, our van started smoking. Though the temperature gauge looked normal, smoke was suddenly billowing out from under the hood. I got out and investigated. Everything under the hood was soaked with antifreeze. A lime green river of antifreeze coursed from beneath the van toward a dumpster several feet in front of us. A Good Samaritan came over and counseled us to let the van rest for at least an hour, fill the radiator directly with water once the van had cooled down, and then take the van immediately to a mechanic. Any plans for birthday shopping and a birthday dinner went completely out the window. Sadly, I had to attend to my school duties, so I barely had time to react to the situation before leaving Melanie and the kids stranded on campus. They headed to a nearby McDonald’s, and I hurriedly prepared to teach. The plan was to meet with Melanie and the boys after class and try to get us safely to our mechanic. (To make matters worse, I had forgotten my cell phone that day, which I’ve done only once or twice before.) After class, however, I found a note from Melanie in the van, telling me that she had run into our good friend from church, who gave her and the boys a ride home. I was glad Melanie and the kids could be done with the ordeal and would no longer have to be involved. I filled the radiator with water and anxiously drove toward our mechanic, uncertain how far I’d be able to get before another problem occurred.

Luckily, I made it. The van was beginning to smoke again as I pulled into the garage, but I had made it. Popping the hood, we quickly discovered a huge hole in one of the hoses. I was happy to hear that it would be a relatively cheap and quick fix. At that point, an easy fix seemed a welcome birthday gift. An hour or so later, the repair work was done. I headed home, feeling emotionally and psychologically exhausted. Shortly after I arrived home, we piled into the van with renewed confidence and picked up a couple of pizzas, a kind of consolation prize birthday dinner.

Friday was my actual birthday. I had no plans for the day, other than to make it fun. With Tallahassee, that can be a bit of a challenge. There really isn’t that much to do here. Racking my brain, I finally decided to have us go miniature golfing. It’s something we’d never done as a family before, and it’s one of the few potentially fun things I knew Tallahassee had to offer. We went to the Fun Station, which at noon on a school day was quite dead. With a coupon deal, we paid $12 to have all of us play a round of miniature golf. The good news: Edison absolutely loved it. He thought it was wonderful, so much so that we struggled keeping him with us. He kept running ahead to play the next hole. Eddie’s enthusiasm and momentum was such that, in many ways, it felt like we had taken him miniature golfing and the rest of us were just there to watch. (Melanie and I skipped playing several holes, just to keep up.) The bad news: the mini-golf course was incredibly lame. It was the dullest miniature golf course I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding when I say that I think only one hole had an obstacle that amounted to something more than going around a curve, over a slight bump, and/or around a small piece of wood. There were no obstacles that required you to time your shot just right. The only genuine obstacle, in my eyes, was on the 2nd or 3rd hole, when you had to go over a little bridge. The ball then ran into a little hole and reappeared out of a rock slightly downhill. But that was the only hole like that. There was no going through or under or around things other than on that one hole, with the exception of the aforementioned single piece of wood. Surprisingly lame. Here are some pictures:

No joke, this was as fancy and complicated as the miniature golf got—a couple of bumps in the road and a small block of wood near the hole. Only one hole was cooler than this. But Melanie seems excited.

Edison gears up.

And it’s outta the park! Home run!

Peter, who was happy to have a green ball, his favorite color.

Peter, perched atop the absolutely fanciest part of the miniature golf course. He wanted to stay here forever and keep making his ball go under the bridge. Can’t say I blame him.

Edison instructs his younger brother on the finer points of the game.

As Melanie would say, proof that Creegan was there. I snapped this photo while holding Creegan and a golf club. Don’t complain.

Oh, yes, and I was there too!

Wait for me!

Eddie, about to make a hole in one ... of the patches of fake grass.

Before we went miniature golfing, we had stopped at Barnes & Noble, in part to pass the time while we waited for the Fun Station to open at noon. I bought a book, which is a very rare occurrence for me nowadays (excluding school-related purchases). After we miniature golfed, we finally went to a steak dinner. We ate at Logan’s Roadhouse, which I chose primarily because I knew it would feel different. Usually, Outback Steakhouse is my go-to for special occasions, and yet even though we go to Outback only once in a long while, I felt like going to Outback for my birthday would feel too much like the same old thing. So I chose Logan’s, which we had been to once in Orlando and remembered liking. It’s not as good as Outback, but it was fun and felt like we were doing something different and special. I had a steak and ribs combo and felt very satisfied. Then we headed to Best Buy and browsed. I ended up buying Pulp Fiction on Blu-ray, and Melanie sneakily purchased me the most recent album by The New Pornographers (which is probably my very favorite band to come out in the last 10 years or so). Melanie made the purchase while Peter, Eddie, and I played around in the musical instrument department. (Edison and Peter love going into the drum room and banging away on the skins.) Some might consider it a humble birthday, but seeing my little stack of gifts—a book, a movie, and a CD—I couldn’t help feeling like it was the perfect haul.

With the van problems having thrown a wrench into the original birthday plans, the birthday celebrations have continued sporadically since my actual birthday weekend. Just a few days ago, Melanie gave me a belated birthday gift of a new set of bath towels. They feel deliriously luxurious, like you’re wrapping yourself in a blanket after you step out of the shower. I love them, and it makes my birthday haul even more perfect—a book, a movie, a CD, and something practical and yet pampering. What a perfect blend! And then, this past Sunday, Melanie and the boys made me Mountain Dew Cupcakes. They’re quite lemony, and I don’t think you’d think of Mountain Dew at all if you weren’t told that they are Mountain Dew cupcakes, but they were yummy.

The Friday after my birthday, Melanie and I also went on a date to our first concert in years. Believe it or not, The New Pornographers actually came to Tallahassee. I guess you could view the concert as a continuation of my birthday celebrating, but I’ll save the details of the concert for another post. Until then, I’ll just say that things are going well. The van worked well for a couple of weeks, and then something else went wrong, but that’s been the story all along. I’m ready to drive it off a cliff. Happy birthday to me!