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Happy birthday to me

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?
The same as the years it takes to train a husband to buy a good gift for his wife.


While I never believed I’d get to the center of this dilemma (because I get impatient and take a bite out of the candy first) I can finally say that it takes 20 years of marriage to train a man to buy the perfect gift. And that is only because I happened to marry a man who was easy to train. To the rest of you ladies, I say, good luck.


Today is my birthday. My husband bought me a mule. Not the kind that eats and poops. The kind you drive around a farm to get a job done. I’ve been begging for one for two years.



He traded in our two four wheelers to purchase it – something we discussed and felt was a good idea because we are convinced someone will eventually get killed on those ATV’s. Our kids are pretty responsible, but every time we have guests visiting, the friends go wild and end up crashing or rolling the vehicle. It has been an endless investment in repairs – not to mention the panic attached each time I hear the four wheelers roar down the driveway. My brother’s son had a close call last time he was here, and that was “it” for me. The problem is, I use the four wheelers every single day. I toot around to pick blackberries all June, then cuss because balancing the bowl on the front grate is precarious at best. I zip down to the barn tying a bag of my kitchen scraps to the handlebars, but this gets messy and I end up with jeans damp from leaking spaghetti. I try to balance hay bales or a bee super on the back, but it rarely works on our hills and I roll along slowly, frustrated because some things are simply too heavy for me to carry a long distance but my car gets destroyed lugging stuff around through our fields. Worst of all, there is NO place for a cup of coffee on a four wheeler. That sucks. But I make do. Mark bought me a little cart to put on the back for hauling manure and that has been a help, but still – it was clanky and made backing up hard and well… it was no mule.


Neva loves sitting behind me on the four wheeler and together we roar around our 50 acres on summer mornings (her still in her jammies) just to check on the animals or the garden or to snag some blueberries for our cereal. And of course, I’m a safe and wimpy driver, so there is no danger here. I do love the feeling of her little arms wrapped around my waist and the way she buries her face in my back when the air has a chill.  So the idea of getting rid of the four wheelers just because others misused them was frustrating. But we hated to play the heavy and say “no” to the kids using them for pleasure rides- seeing two fun four wheelers sitting in the driveway with a “disallowed” reputation was torture to Kent and his friends. Made us feel like stick in the muds when we said “no”, but irresponsible when we said “yes”. And as I said, I use them every single day weather permitting, so we so recognize how useful they are in a lifestyle like ours.


So, for a long time now, I’ve talked about a mule. A mule is a four wheeler that is built like a golf cart, tank style. It has the power of a four wheeler, but instead of straddling it like a motorcycle it has two seats for comfortable riding (good for Mark’s arthritis or when my aging parents visit and I want to sport them around to see what we’ve been up to on the land). It has two cup holders, so I can zip around with a cup of coffee. Most importantly, it has a small loading bin in the back for holding whatever it is I want to cart around – 80 pound bee hives filled with heavy honey, a bale of hay, bowls of berries, plants – you name it. I can drive out to the pasture and fill that puppy with manure for fun (no cracks) or fill it with chicken droppings to pour over the garden too. I can use it to haul pumpkins home from a garden if I am lucky enough to grow pumpkins this year. It even has a nifty lift to help you empty whatever you load, like an itty bitty dump truck. Whenever I’m browsing horse magazines, I see ads with pretty, well-dressed, non-sweaty women driving perfectly clean mules with a leisurely smile and I think – that could be me! Of course, I’d have mud all over my t-shirt and a spilled cup of coffee on the floor of my mule, but I can dream, can’t I? 



(Neva took these pictures. I am not going downhill… at least not literally…ahem)
People around here often purchase mules for hunting. These vehicles can go anywhere in the woods and the truck bed is apparently good for hauling out a slain deer. For me, it is simply a perfect work vehicle, and I’m not just being over-indulgent. I really spend a lot of time outside doing nasty work and could use something to help me get these jobs done. Now, I have it. Happy Birthday to Me!


This is the second perfect gift my husband has given me lately. On Valentine ’s Day, after ten years of asking, he bought me a one-man (one woman) kayak that only weighs 35 pounds. I can lift that puppy myself! Every summer when tourist season begins here, cars go by always with TWO of these easy to handle kayaks on the roof, and I grumble jealously and pine for a boat of my own. We have a monster of a two-man kayak, but it is very heavy and I can’t handle it alonel – if you can’t budge a thing, you are unlikely to take it out for a quick paddle.


It is not that these light weight kayaks are very expensive as recreational toys go, but there was always something else to buy and Mark didn’t think I’d really use it considering our lives have always been so busy.  But I really wanted one and so I asked for it every year. When he gave me the  boat at Valentines Day – a brilliant red one like a heart – I was shocked. I kind of gave up the idea of ever owning one, and if I did, I expected I’d be buying it myself and having to make up excuses and justifications for my actions.


He said, “I know you want two (no one wants to kayak alone), but let’s start with one. There are other holidays to come and you can get another one eventually if you really use this one.” It was a true sign of love to me.


Now, I don’t want to give anyone the impression Mark has ever bought me thoughtless gifts. He has never been an idiot giving his wife a vacuum cleaner or a toaster for Christmas. He would buy me beautiful pieces of jewelry or some other feminine, lovely thing that was lasting and meaningful – I think he was proud to finally (after years of our being scraping by) in a position to buy me something real that you don’t need to look at with a microscope. I happen to be a woman who dresses nice, and I have a certain style that would suggest I’m meant to own jewelry. The problem is, these are gifts traditional women would love, so he assumed they were a proper and thoughtful things for a man to give a woman, but I’m not a traditional woman and jewlery never impressed me much– so while I treasured these things because my husband gave them to me, and I wear them all the time, I have to admit they didn’t twist my pickle or have me ecstatic when I unwrapped them. I do appreciate them, but they just weren’t “me.” He bought me an oil painting once. That was a very romantic and dear gift and I treasure it still. More “me”. But for some reason – that kayak meant so much more than any pricy, classy gift I’ve ever been given before. It felt as if he was saying, “After 20 years, I finally know you. I understand you are complex and somewhat weird, but that’s OK. You look like one kind of woman, but inside, you are another, and I’m willing to accept and support that .”


You see, giving someone a kayak as a gift isn’t just giving them a boat. Because it is a gift that implies more – that boat has to be used, and Mark (who does not happen to be sporty in that way) knows I’ll want to drag him out on the river. So this is a gift of tolerance as well.


Anyway – I couldn’t be happier with a Porsche than I am with this damn mule. I wouldn’t be more thrilled with a ten day cruise on a fancy yacht than I was with my bright red, liftable kayak.


Today is my birthday. My husband left at 5 am to take a cram course in real estate because he recently finished his 9 week course and he takes his state exam this week. I encouraged him to go. It is just a day, after all. He missed my birthday last year too – he was in Florida handling the FLEX mess.  I figure I’ll save next year for something really special.


It’s raining out, so I think I’ll take the kids to Atlanta to the museum of natural history (my idea of great fun- not theirs necessarily,  but hey, it’s MY day.) We will all meet up with Mark later for dinner and perhaps a movie.


I am 49 today. Nothing very remarkable about it. 50 will be something to celebrate but 49 is just another birthday. I don’t feel old and adding another year to my life roster doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve accomplished enough to keep from getting depressed. One good thing is getting older makes me less of a liar. I always round up, so I’ve been telling people I’m 50 for about two years now. Mark says he doesn’t want me to turn 50 because I’ll then start telling people I’m 60. He’s exaggerating of course. I’ll tell them I’m 55. (I round up in 5 year  increments.) Just seems easier to toss out a nice round number.


Time to start the day. I’m going to go wild and eat pancakes till I bust! Yipee!

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

5 responses »

  1. Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you!!!!! You and Jaime Mueller! Don’t ask me how I remember that though. Hope you have a fabulous day, enjoy you deserve it!!!!! Lots of loveKathy

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  2. Happy Birthday Ginny! 🙂 ps- You look WAYYY hotter than Cyndi Lauper does…

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  3. Happy Birthday Ginny. I sure do envy your gift. So can a wife be trained to do the samething? So what kind of birthday cake did you have and did you have to bake it? I hope not. I hope the rest of your day was just as fun. Frank

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  4. Aw Jess, now we know you are getting old too. The eyes are the first to go….Someone told me they saw you in a national commercial. I said, “That’s impossible. She’d have called or written and told me about that if it was true, because if she didn’t – well, then she’d really be in the Hendry doghouse….” Hummmmm…………………………….

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  5. The commercial thing really isnt that big of a deal – kind of embarassing actually. I told Mark about it… Sounds like you had a great bday! I am glad 🙂 Hoping to get to see you guys soon!

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