Birthday Beginnings with Chocolate

A friend of mine, growing up in the Dominican Republic, would awaken on her birthday to the song Las Mañanitas and a cup of hot chocolate. I want to adopt this cultural practice of starting the day with my belly full of warm chocolate!

One of my favorite travel memories comes from my time in Paris when our hotel would serve us fresh-from-the-oven croissants and individual pots of chocolat chaud. I am salivating just remembering how wonderful it was to start to the day with this buttery, flaky pastry and my own silver carafe filled with liquid Parisian chocolate? Each of the mornings I spent there felt like my birthday — just being in Paris is enough to celebrate after all.

Hot Chocolate Creativity

Nonetheless, we can’t have this excellent experience every day in most parts of the world. So, instead, I offer the following few exciting hot chocolate recipes for you to try if you want to add this idea into your birthday fun.

This spicy hot chocolate from the New York Times has chile powder too:

Or People shared chocolatier Jacques Torres’s recipe for a minty hot chocolate:


For a little added boost to your morning, you could start with a Kahlua hot chocolate such as this one from Damn Delicious:

Another boozy one that is supposed to taste like a foil-wrapped chocolate orange comes from serious eats:

Or, for hot days when you still want some cocoa taste, you could try this Frozen Nutella hot chocolate:

Combining two of my favorites is this chocolate and peanut butter hot chocolate recipe (plus, I love this site’s name:

For your entertainment, also, I end this blog with a Minions parody of the best-known Latin American birthday song.

What’s Your Birthstone?

It’s June! Did you know that June birthdays are associated with cultured pearl, moonstones, or alexandrite? This month is also one of only two to have three birth stone options.

history of birthstones

Alexandrite, Image source

May gets Emeralds. April gets Diamonds. My birth month, October, gets boring old Opal. I almost wish I lived prior to 1912 so that I could have enjoyed aquamarine as an option! Although, I found out there’s something called a chocolate opal, which sounds appealing but still does not float my aesthetic boat.

history of birthstones

Chocolate opal, Image source

Why 1912? That’s when the National Association of Jewelers in the US officially adopted a list to standardize birthstones. Nevertheless, the standardization hasn’t taken over entirely. For instance, the Hindu would go with coral for October, or topaz for December, when the Americans and Brits would associate the same gem with November instead.

What’s Your Birthstone?

The full, standardized, list per the Jewelers of America circa 2016, when they added spinel — yes, spinel (pictured below) — to August options.

January — Garnet
February — Amethyst
March — Aquamarine
April — Diamonds
May — Emerald
June — Alexandrite, Cultured Pearl, Moonstone
July — Ruby
August — Peridot or Spinel
September — Sapphire
October — Opal or Tourmaline
November — Citrine or Topaz
December — Turquoise, Tanzanite or Blue Zircon

history of birthstones

Spinel, Image source

History of Birthstones

You may think birthstones are simply a marketing tool, but the attachment of a stone to a birth month dates back to the 1st century AD. Before that, in the book of Exodus, a breastplate of Aaron is described as being set with twelve stones representing each of the tribes of Israel. In the 1st century, and again in the 5th century, writers proposed that each of the stones had a special power associated with its corresponding astrological sign, and the stone could act as a talisman at certain times.

It wasn’t until 18th century Poland when the idea of wearing the stone associated with your own birth month came into fashion with the arrival in the region of Jewish gem traders.

Now that I know this history, I think we should start lobbying to bring back the practice of owning all of the gems for the year. No, I’m not on the gem association payroll, I just really, really like shiny things.

How Your Birth Month Affects Your Personality

birthday month

There’s a Mother Goose poem that suggests the date of your birth impacts your personality:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

Astrology too suggests that your personality is dictated by the position of the planets at the exact moment you cry your first cry.

Yet now there’s science, too, that suggests the month of your birth can affect your personality.

How Your Birth Month Affects You

A Time magazine article recently summarized the “small but increasingly persuasive body of evidence that there may indeed be some cause and effect at work.”

There are countless factors in your development as a baby in the womb that can be impacted by season:

Nutrition — Even where food is plentiful the availability of certain vitamins and proteins can be influenced by season

Viruses — A baby gestating during wintertime may be affected by a mother’s bout of the flu or seasonal affective disorder. Low serotonin levels in the maternal brain, for instance, could potentially cause serotonin shortfalls in the baby too.

The season in which we’re born can affect us after birth, too. A 2010 study of mice found that mouse pups (did you know that was their name?) “born and weaned in simulated winter light adjusted less well to a change to summer light, exhibiting poorer feeding habits and activity levels.” Meanwhile, “mice born and weaned in summer light had no such problems adjusting to winter conditions.”

Seasonal Patterns for Humans

Scientists have worked to see if these kinds of findings are true for humans too. The preliminary results suggest yes. Here are some of the Time examples:

Spring: March, April and May babies score higher for general optimism. Yet, at the same time, spring babies have proven more susceptible to clinical depression. According to a study of 58,000 subjects in the U.K. in 2012, May babies are most at risk while November babies have the lowest depression rates.

Summer:  June, July and August babies are more likely to cycle rapidly between high and low moods. Yet this doesn’t reach to bipolar diagnoses — those are lowest among babies born in August.

Fall: Fall babies tend to enjoy the equilibrium suggested by the zodiac sign Libra’s scales. Studies show “people born in fall not only enjoy low levels of depression, but are similarly less likely to develop bipolar disorder.” Nevertheless, the autumn-born “do have a tendency to irritability.”

Winter: Babies with these birthdates face several challenges: “higher levels of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, SAD and depression.” At least they’re likely to be less irritable. Plus, one study of 300 celebrities did find that January and February are good months “to be born if you want to be famous since those months correlate with creativity and imaginative problem-solving.”

Keep in mind, this is a fledgling area of scientific research. Still, if you’re looking for something else to blame for your blues or tendency to bicker, you could potentially point to your birth month.

Related reading:

Bad at Sports? Blame Your Birthday

It’s my special day — mine and some 20M others.


Stretching the Birthday Suit Idea

I regularly follow social media with the hashtag #birthday. You can see what I find if you follow me @birthdaysarebest. In the meantime, I want to weigh in on a phenomenon I’ve noticed — women posting selfies of their birthday outfits.

To begin, let me clear, I do not want to body shame any one in this blog. I am thoroughly impressed with the confidence these women have in posting their barely clad bodies on twitter.

What shocks me is the lack of fabric in the outfits of choice. I didn’t realize I was such a prude until I started seeing these grinning young women in scanty clothes. I have done a mental cataloging of my own past birthday outfits — notice I don’t say birthday suit — and even when I was their age I don’t remember a day where I wore so little fabric!

Birthday Skin

Without naming any names (or twitter handles), I’ve seen an awful lot of birthday skin by virtue of following the #birthday tag.

Apparently birthday outfit means you have to:

  • Show your belly button
  • Barely cover your breasts
  • Keep skirt hemline thigh high at best
  • Wear shoes that are sure to kill you if you have any drinks and attempt to dance.

I may have done one of these at most in my younger days — Ok, maybe two in my wildest days — but all four at once? Man, clearly I am over the hill (and should probably start regretting my age at birthdays more).

I am certainly over the hill enough to regret the evening when I ended up viewing an unexpected eggplant shot. Some guy thought it was a great gift to a girl to share his engorged self on social media. For a hilarious take on this phenomenon check out Famous Authors Reply to Your Unsolicited Dick Pic on McSweeney’s.

Hey! hint…that is not really something that gets many girls going…dress sharp and take a photo. Tell her you dressed up for her because she’s so classy. See where that gets you instead. You can thank me later.

In the meantime, I have come across a song that probably inspires some of the birthday outfits I’ve seen. Thanks Rihanna:


Birthday Goal to Get Behind

Milestone birthdays prompt many different reactions. There are those who plan big parties. Those who try to hide from the date and the attentions of friends. Or others who plan adventurous trips with family to mark a big year.

Recently, a video circulating Facebook was of an “extreme couponer” using her powers of saving on food for good. Lauren Puryear believes that “humans should never have to suffer,” and so she takes her coupon habit seriously enough to serve meals to the homeless in her native New Jersey.

The video shows her buying shelves and shelves of soups and pastas (and apparently storing them in a rented space) before going out onto the streets to provide food to those who need it. She claims to have served 10,000 meals thus far. She states her hope is to serve 30,000 by her 30th birthday!

This woman is not 10, and it is not stated in the video how old she was when she started this campaign. So, it’s safe to say she is setting a high hurdle for herself to reach. She will need to pick up the pace to reach her goal — especially to do so as responsibilities pile up (as they tend to do with each year).

Still, it is impossible to do anything but hope she achieves her goal by her milestone birthday. As she says in the video, “It is our human duty to have some type of love for other people.”

Worst case, if she doesn’t make it by her actual 30th birthday, she can become one of those people who stay 29 for several years in a row — at least until she serves that 30,000th dinner!



What to write in a birthday card

card fir blog.png

Looking on the Hallmark site recently in the hopes of finding some of its archived treasures available for view online, I came across a blog on what to write in a birthday card.

I’m a writer. That’s what I do for a living. Yet, even I’ll admit to struggling sometimes to come up with the personal statement to add in the birthday cards I still love to send (in the mail — as opposed to relying on social media posts).

In putting together their guide, Hallmark’s writers acknowledge a few aspects of writing in a card that make the added personal message more difficult: “the card has already said it all” or you are trying “to keep things short and sweet.”

They go on to offer some interesting tips:

  • Pick the card carefully so that it suits the birthday person in particular, then you can let the printed message and design do the talking for you.
  • Kids love to see their age; so even if the card doesn’t have the exact number write the years old in your personal message.
  • Writing your private nickname for the card recipient instantly personalizes it.

Suggested Personalizations

Nevertheless, some of the examples they offered for what to write did seem laughably obvious:

  • “Happy, happy birthday, [name]!” — because ah, yes, that added “happy” makes all the difference. 
  • “Hope you make your [25th] a birthday to remember!”
  • “[Year] never looked so great!”
  • “Happy Birthday…a little late!”
  • “Happy Birthday, [Mom]. We love you so much!”
  • “Let the b-day fun begin!”
  • “Here’s to you!”
  • “Here’s to a great birthday!”

Hallmark also reminds us that “a warm closing before you signature is like the bow on top of the birthday gift.”

How about a warm closing on a blog…what would that be considered?

With blogging affection…. me.


Tolstoy at 80: “No party for me.”

This blog’s regular likely would not expect me saying “no” to a birthday party. So, you can imagine my surprise reading about revered author Leo Tolstoy’s reluctance to be celebrated.

In 1908, as the Russian author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina (and other works) approached his 80th birthday, plans were afoot to organize several big shindigs. There was even talk of erecting a monument, drafting a bill to declare the day a national holiday, and establishing a university in his name to mark the day.

Tolstoy was far from receptive. He wrote to M.A. Stakhovich, a family friend who was spearheading the efforts, rejecting the celebrations. The letter, later published in the “Ogonyok” magazine (1908, No. 14, April 6) and also partly reproduced in many newspapers, stated: “Here is my great request to you…do whatever you can to abolish this jubilee and set me free. I will be very, very grateful to you forever.”

In his diary later that year, he is said to have written, “what must I do? I must go far away from all this, but go where? To God? To death?”

Even though the event was officially cancelled, family members still feared many would come. According to the Tolstoy homestead museum, his daughter offered to hide her father away and “take him to Pirogovo on that day,” while his wife “wanted to block the entrance and have gate wards not to let anyone in on the 28th.”

An 80th to remember

What happened on the actual day varies by the source. A video claiming to show his 1908 birthday sees him in a wagon surrounded by hordes of children. Another source speaks of a brass band and hundreds of people outside his home property until he at least came out to make some grateful remarks.

Yet, the Yasnaya Polyana museum reports there were “not so many people” at the property where Tolstoy lived: “only a few reporters and photographers” and “only family members and friends in the house.” Apparently, the recently ill didn’t even leave the house and worked as usual.

One wonders how much he could have accomplished, though, with the interruption of receiving six hundred telegrams and about one hundred letters. Within a week of the August 28 birthday, several hundred letters and two thousand telegrams signed by fifty thousand people were received.

There were gifts too:

  • a samovar (so very Russian) inscribed with signatures of many admirers
  • 21 pounds of bread
  • one hundred scythes, which were given to local peasants (all except the one he kept for himself in his study)
  • A box of chocolates from St. Petersburg, picturing views of Yasnaya Polyana, for each of the peasant children.

Despite his disinterest in celebrating, Tolstoy was grateful for the outpouring of affection. In a letter in the newspapers he said, “… I ask you to accept this statement of mine as the expression of my sincere gratitude to all the people who expressed their kind feelings to me, for the joy they gave me.”

See, even authors who would rather their big day go unnoticed are moved by the kind feelings that come with birthdays!