Tag Archives: birthdays

Little Owl


If I knew then what I know now…

My son, Kai, cried incessantly as a newborn. He breastfed around the clock, never satisfied by the milk I produced: his begonia pink lips suckled the air in his rare moments of sleep, and begged my knuckles for more while he was awake. I slept little during his first few months, withering under Kai’s wakeful, insistent hunger, feeling at times more like a cow than a woman. Sleep-deprived, I cried constantly… just like Kai.

Kai didn’t – wouldn’t – sleep in his crib, so we converted a second car seat to hold him after we finally cajoled him into slumber. I fed Kai in dimmed lamplight before work each morning, while outside coyotes rustled in the pre-dawn respite from Tucson’s heat. I placed Kai back in his seat before leaving, worrying my thumb across his forehead, over and over, to soothe him. His eyelids slowly drooped until flaxen eyelashes fanned his plump cheeks and I made my escape, creeping out the front door like a sour-smelling thief.

I’m embarrassed now by how long it took me to pinpoint the source of Kai’s newborn restlessness. My husband and I initially attributed his discontent to colic and our glaring inexperience. Over time, though, I began to notice small hints of something else.

Kai is sensitive. Not sensitive in the cruel, soft-bellied way that society attributes to weakness and “wimps,” but, rather, emotionally astute. He “reads” people’s moods and implied nuances the way a gardener knows the veins and freckles of his plants – the health of the crenellations in tender green leaves, the direction in which new shoots might unfurl. He understands the intersection of physical and spiritual the way a baker works a fragrant loaf from bubbling, yeasty starts. Kai is intense, deep, and, most tellingly, tactile. He touches everything. Hugs release the anchors from his soul. If I’d made the connection when he was a baby, I would have cuddled him until he levitated.

Kai turns ten this week. He’s almost as tall as me, and wears one shoe size smaller than I do. Where once he embraced my knees, now his hugs cradle my shoulders. Kai’s thoughtful brown eyes widen as he talks: “You know, mom, I think…” His hands emphasize his words. If there’s a stairwell, he reliably jumps the last steps, his lanky limbs clattering to the ground. Lately, he’s developed a dancing streak.

Kai struggles with his sensitivity, though I insist it is a valuable strength, reminding him of the many ways in which it helps him build relationships with others and showcase his empathy. Our dog adores him for the constant affection he shows her. Kai is the first to offer help. His friends smile the goofiest, sweetest grins when he’s around. His laughter is a fine thing.

There are a handful of things I wish I could do over, knowing now what I wish I knew then. Those early months with Kai top the list. I am so grateful that, with Kai, every day is an improvement from the one before. The trajectory of our relationship arcs upward, marked by a broadened sense of understanding. Seeing him develop as a young man has been worth every tear.

Happy birthday, little owl.

© Julia Moris-Hartley, 2015




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Secret Squirrels


Recently, I orchestrated my greatest culinary coup yet.  I pulled off the ultimate surprise party – a belated birthday brunch for one of my dearest friends, Lori.  Lori and I started working together six years ago, both of us relocating from the South.  We quickly realized that living and working at a boarding school carry complicated dynamics, which are difficult to explain to those who live outside of the boarding arena and which sometimes impose tricky, uncomfortable situations within the boarding community.  Simply put, living at a boarding school is like being on reality television, 365 days of the year… Which is why it was a little amazing that the party secret didn’t leak two minutes after I distributed the invitations.

Part spitfire, part sage, Lori has helped me overcome countless emotional hurdles.  She mourned with me when I lost my mom, and she has coached me through struggles with my children and with some choice haters.  Her bright blue eyes positively twinkle with mischievous sass, but make no mistake: she is all heart. I knew that whatever I planned would have to be big.

Coordinating an in-house party for upwards of 30 adults and children requires planning and endurance. Logistics come into play, because summer vacations comprise a variable element in boarding school life.  When will the maximum number of potential guests return home from their vacations?  How many seats do I have available?  What if some guests RSVP and others don’t – what is an acceptable median for invitations extended?  And, most importantly, who should I invite?

The answer changes with each party and harbors an implicit caveat: everyone can’t be invited to everything, especially in a boarding school community, where faculty are united by chance, tamped into a fish bowl, and expected to accord in peace while living on-call, 24/7.  There are too many members in the community and too few venues in which to host events of such magnitude.  Ultimately, the decision falls on depth of experience – the friends with whom one has laughed the most.

When the day came, we hovered in a darkened corner of my living room, smirking when we heard Lori ask her husband, my co-conspirator, where everyone was.  He came in, nodded at us, and gave us the verbal cue: “I don’t know, honey… Maybe they’re all outside.”  She entered the room.  We yelled, “Happy birthday!” She twirled in a double take.  And we laughed all morning.


© 2013 Julia Moris-Hartley

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Party Days

Let's party!

In my family, spring is more or less a continual opportunity to celebrate a string of birthdays that begin on March 4th and end on April 18th.  So, between consulting gigs and birthdays and instead of testing out recipes for single meals, I’ve been cooking on a mass scale and hosting a lot of parties.

I seldom need an excuse to throw a party.  It’s Thursday?  You like purple?  Let’s party!  When I watched Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow – the chefs from The Meatball Shop – on Chelsea Lately in January, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I hosted a meatball party.  My daughter, Rory, who shares my suggestibility, eagerly co-opted the meatball party idea for her fifth birthday.  Though Laurie Colwin, who writes of the birthday tea party tradition she shares with her daughter, had already sold me on a tea party for Rory’s birthday, Rory was so sunny in her hope for meatballs that I couldn’t refuse her.  And then I thought, Why not do both?

By the time Rory turned five, I could barely contain my excitement.  We celebrated last week.  Rory invited four friends (and her big brother) to a princess tea party that was so civilized I almost laughed.  I prepared three types of tea sandwiches: coconut and lime curd, peanut butter and Nutella, and honey with banana slices.  I molded rice crispy treats into small spheres, and served them with chamomile tea and raspberry lemonade.  I learned several interesting things from the giggling guests, including the merits of having a younger brother, the versatility of bird poop, and the hilarity that underlies British accents.  Rory opened her presents, my husband extracted quarters from behind the ears of the guests, and the tea party concluded with a rousing jump on the trampoline in the backyard.  Laurie Colwin, you are a genius.

The meatball party commenced half an hour later, giving me just the right cushion of time to clear dishes and prepare for round two.  The Meatball Shop Cookbook provides numerous options, but ultimately I settled on their pork recipe.  I prepared the spicy pork meatballs the night before (ground pork shoulder, minced white bread, and hot cherry peppers ensure their spicy tenderness), and put them to heat in the oven mid-tea party.   I prepared TMS’s spicy tomato sauce to serve as an accompaniment.  I made a quick sauce of ginger ale, ketchup, barbeque sauce, and grape jelly for frozen meatballs, which I cooked in the crockpot all afternoon for the children of those we invited. (Rory declared the meatballs “dewicious!”) Because sometimes meatball ideas can be daunting, I extended the party theme to “Meatballs and Other Edible Items of a Spherical Nature,” which opened up potluck possibilities for all the guests.  Collectively, we ate the spicy meatballs and sauce on round rolls; African meatballs with green olives and an additional spicy tomato sauce; hominy in cheese sauce; a salad of miniature mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes; marinated mushrooms; grape tomatoes; green and black olives; red and green grapes; blueberries; rice crispy spheres; energy bite balls; donut holes; chocolate-covered espresso beans; and jelly beans and M&Ms. (Other suggestions: oranges, radishes, melon balls, macadamia nuts, caviar, red hots, cheese balls, and any number of round, dough-based creations…)  Similarly inspired by TMS, my friend, Casey, served ice cream floats: root beer and vanilla ice cream for the kids; cream soda and cappuccino ice cream (and rum) for the adults.

We sat at the table well into the night, picking at our plates and laughing, while upstairs the children watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.  It was a great night… and the start of an annual tradition that I will enthusiastically repeat.  As  The Meatball Shop folks say: “You had me at balls.”

Your friend in meatball love,

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