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Celebrating Life (Happy 80th Birthday, Mom!)

When I made the decision to fly to Houston to celebrate Mom's birthday, even as slotting in a trip to Texas created some scheduling challenges, I had no idea what to expect. I did know a few things. First, I knew the 19 women who had RSVP'd "yes" to attend the ladies' luncheon I was hosting on Jan. 10th, the day preceding Mom's 80th birthday. Second, I knew where we'd be having the party: in the home of my sister-in-law, Frieda. Finally, I knew that I'd be preparing the food for the gathering. I'm not famous for food preparation. In fact, I'm probably infamous among family and friends who know me well for not preparing food. I've been blessed to be the lucky recipient of Steve's culinary creativity as he first learned (years ago) to prepare vegan-friendly cuisine, once I shifted from vegetarian to vegan, and now raw vegan-friendly foods. In our household and during the course in mindfulness that we teach (in a virtual classroom via teleconference), The WE Juice for Joy Experience ( if you'd like to learn more or join our mailing list - Steve is known there as "Chef Xian"). I had an ulterior motive in creating the menu and preparing the food: I knew that everything would be organic, raw/living, vegan, gluten-free and kosher-friendly, and that would serve the health and well-being of me, Mom and all the guests.

Frieda entertains quite a lot and is really an expert at putting on wonderful events, large and small. We discussed the number of people and determined that 20 or fewer would be optimal. That worked well in accordance with Mom's request that we keep whatever we were planning to something small. I requested that Frieda provide the venue for the party, and to allow me to create (via Chef Xian) the menu, recipes and shopping list for the food. I was so lucky to have her help yesterday in preparing the ingredients. I was also very grateful for being able to find organic fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods. You see, to accommodate my food choices and maintain my commitment to respecting all creatures and my body, I requested full responsibility for the food.

I should share, at this point, that I'm the only vegan in my family. Mom and my brother, Walter, did our juice cleanse & course in mindfulness in October, and this session (January), Frieda was participating. What this meant is that Frieda was helping to prepare many of the recipes while juice cleansing (and therefore unable to taste during preparation and would also not be eating during the party, which was day 10 of the 10-day juice cleanse). I was so inspired by Frieda's commitment to the program and to honoring her sacred self-care.

This morning, on the day of the ladies' luncheon, my dear friend, Amy Merkin came over to pick me up at my parents' home and drive us to Frieda's home. Amy generously agreed to my request to spend her day off helping to prepare, serve and do whatever was needed at the party. (Thank you so much, Amy!!! You are such a devoted, loyal, beautiful friend for life. I am grateful for having you in my life.) Frieda's daughter, my niece, Marissa, who is graduating from University of Maryland this spring, also joined us in the food preparation on the morning of the party with her beautiful salad-making talents. Frieda's housekeeper, Dora, had come early to provide incredible support for the party, too. What a great group of women who have come together to prepare a loving, beautiful gathering in Mom's honor!

The guests began arriving a little before 11 am. Each one has been a longtime, dear friend of Mom's, and there are many of whom I have referred to as "aunt" for 50 years (even though there is no immediate blood relationship-- but there is a sister relationship). Aunt Lila, Aunt Janice, Aunt Doreen-- and Flo, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, Marsha, Sandy, Mallory, Meredith, and Elaine-- and Monica, who provided a special and unexpected surprise when she chose to fly in from Memphis, Tennessee for the occasion to honor and celebrate Mom! Thank you all foro joining us. Mom was glowing, looking absolutely beautiful, and she was so thrilled to be surrounded by so many of her dearest lifetime friends at this intimate gathering.

None of these guests happen to be vegan, either, but each embraced the completely organic, plant-based and gluten-free beautiful, colorful and delicious creations displayed on the buffet. Each sampled the raw vegan zucchini-tahini hummus and the "refried bean" pâté (that contains neither beans nor anything fried or refried, but is created from sprouted sunflower seeds, sundried tomatoes and cauliflower) with Chef Xian's crispy flax "crawckers" (raw sprouted flaxseed crackers, gently dehydrated at low temperatures to retain their "living" nutrients). There were also crisp organic celery sticks stuffed with creamy, delicious macadamia nut cheez (no dairy), which Mom proclaimed as one of her new favorites. The main entrees were two different enormous all-organic salads: Chef Xian's "rainbow salad" with mixed baby greens, Roma tomatoes, yellow and orange bell peppers, sprouts, and much more; and Chef Xian's "kale salad," featuring fresh, organic chopped kale, avocado, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, and other delicious vibrating ingredients.

Frieda has done an amazing job of decorating the table and getting the food displayed on the buffet, in addition to her efforts in the food preparation. I'd completely forgotten about flowers, but Frieda had found the most beautiful peach-colored roses, and put a single bud in each of several small low bud vases along the table. When we've collaborated before on some family events, our other sister-in-law, Bettina (Charles' wife) shared her incredible talents at design, creation and decorating. This time, though, Bettina wasn't able to be in Houston timely to attend the ladies' luncheon. (Bettina and Charles and their three sons are scheduled to arrive around midnight tonight, so they'll be here for the family dinner that Dad is hosting tomorrow night on the actual day of Mom's birthday, January 11th.) Thank you, dear Frieda, for everything you did to create this beautiful celebration, particularly during your successful 10-day juice cleanse. Thank you for putting your trust in me and allowing me to prepare food in your beautiful home.

Each guest has brought a wrapped gift; however, these collected gifts are not for Mom. Instead, we decided to have a gift exchange so everyone left the celebration with a gift. The colorfully- and beautifully wrapped gifts looked so enticing on the coffee table. At first, Mom looked dismayed, thinking that these gifts were meant for her-- and I'm making up she imagined having to write many thank you notes! When she learned that these were for a gift exchange, she laughed and willingly participated. This group didn't "steal" anyone else's gifts, as often happens during a gift exhange, and each woman seemed to really enjoy what she received.

Mom spoke eloquently, even while shedding a few tears, about what this celebration and turning 80 meant to her. She reflected on her gratitude for the gathering, as she experienced being fêted by those of us who love her. There were several others who were unable to join us in person, but who were there in present, including the friends who weren't feeling well or who were tending to family health matters. Mom's the youngest of three girls in her family, and her two elder sisters, Betty, 92, and Bernice, nearly 90, were not able to be there.

Meanwhile, photographer, Jared Daum of dV Photography, captured the various aspects of the celebration, included taking a group photo with everyone present.

Mom, I'm so happy to have been able to be with you and experience such a loving, beautiful gathering for your 80th birthday. I'm beyond thrilled that you enjoyed yourself and got to experience the abiding love that each of us have for you. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Joan, happy birthday to you! (And many more...)

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