Happy Birthday!


By Louise Ure



I turned sixty this weekend and had a lovely time doing it.

My sister and her boyfriend came up from Carmel and we ate and drank our way across the San Francisco summer day. Lots of other friends wrote, called, texted, dropped by during the day or slid improbably wonderful gifts through the mail slot.

All in all, a great way to grow older.

I’ve never worried overmuch about birthdays. In fact, I’ve been saying I’m sixty for several years now, just to encourage compliments. (If you tell someone you’re 56 or 57, you can see the thought bubble above their head: “And you look every inch of it.” If you tell them a few years early that you are sixty, they are more likely to say: “God, you look good for sixty.”) I am shameless in my pursuit of the empty compliment.

In my family, every child got exactly what he wanted to eat on his birthday, and each year I would ask my mother for corned beef and cabbage, followed by strawberry shortcake. It would probably still be my “Last Night Before Execution” meal. It wasn’t so easy to get corned beef in July back in those days. That was a meat offered only around St. Patrick’s Day. She would be brining and corning all day long, just to fulfill my wishes. 



In later decades, no mater where I lived, the only other constant on my birthday was a phone call from my brother Jim and his family, singing “Happy Birthday” in four-part harmony into a speaker phone. Whether I was in Singapore or Sydney, Paris or Seattle, they figured out how to find me. And there was no more perfect sound.

Bruce and I never really had a birthday ritual except for the roses. Each year he would carpet the house in red roses. Dozens and dozens, all of the same hue. I could have slept on a mattress of rose petals for a week. This year, my friend Jessie fulfilled that role, and brought the most beautiful long stem roses in a red so lush and deep that I knew she’d been channeling Bruce with the purchase. 



One of my favorite birthdays might have been my 30th. I was single. A bit wild. And certainly ready to party. A group of friends from the ad agency took me out to a country and western bar for a night of drinking and dancing. At some point, my friend Tina approached the table where I sat, pulling a sinewy young cowboy by the elbow. Black hat. Plate-sized silver belt buckle. Blue eyes as clear as a madman’s.



“This is Jake. He’s your birthday present.” (I truly don’t remember his name. It was one syllable, and ended with a hard “K” sound. Jake. Mike. Rick.)

Oh Lord. The answer to my newly-30-year old prayer. I wanted to eat him up and blow him out like a birthday cake. Cake. Maybe that was his name. In any case, he was perhaps my best birthday present ever.

So here it is Tuesday. Two days post B-day celebration and I’m still celebrating. My sister is still visiting. Two Aussie buddies are in town. I had a gorgeous evening with my foster kids and their entourages. I’m still throwing the party right between my eyes.

How about you, ‘Rati? What was your favorite birthday of all time? Or your favorite present? Or what would it be if you were creating it for yourself?




40 thoughts on “Happy Birthday!

  1. Sarah W

    Happy birthday!

    I think my favorite was two years ago, when my younger daughter climbed into my lap, pressed her nose on mine and said, "I'm glad you were borned, Mommy."

    Can't beat that.

    (but I'll admit I do keep going back to that fourth image up there. Whew!)

  2. Reine

    Birthday. Birthday? . . . Jake . . . um. What's a birthday? Um . . . Jake . . . I want Jake. Jake cake. With Jake candles. Gimmee Jake. That'll be the best birthday. None of them look good anymore next to Jake.

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    Happy Annual Event!
    We would ask for lasagna. Back in those days you had make it from scratch so it was a big deal. My sister always had confetti angel food cake for her birthday and my brother liked German chocolate. I never stuck to one that I recall, probably chocolate. My grandmother on my dad's side would always call and sing the happy birthday song.

  4. Reine

    I was sO all shook up by that picture of Jake I forgot to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOUISE!!!!!
    xo Reine

  5. Louise Ure

    Sarah and Reine: I'm so glad you appreciate the gift of Jake!

    PK, I'm with you on the lasagna.

    And thanks for the salutation, JD.

  6. Gayle Carline

    My family wasn't big on birthdays. You got a cake, you got a present, that was plenty. My favorite present was when I was 45 and my hubby bought my a set of horseback riding lessons. A year later I owned my first horse. (BTW, he tells his friends now to give jewelry. You don't have to feed it.) My favorite birthday so far was my 50th, when hubby took me and six friends to the Bette Midler concert. SO much fun!

  7. Allison Brennan

    I love, love, love strawberry shortcake!!! (And corned beef & cabbage.) Yum. Now I'm really hungry. Has nothing to do with the blue-eyed cowboy, of course 😉

    I don't do a lot for my birthday — I can't really remember anything all that fun. When I was little, we always went out to my favorite restaurant. For years it was La Fonda in San Mateo. (La Honda? Oh, how soon we forget … ) Best Mexican food ever.

  8. Judy Wirzberger

    I still have the plastic pink flamingo a friend gave me for my 50th. She said 50 deserved a tacky gift.
    My favorite was watching a DVD cut by my son with a Hawaiian theme and then having my granddaughter make me dig in her back back for my invitation to go with them to Hawaii for my 60th.
    Now 70 looms on the pages of the calendar and I think his barbecue ribs and a beer would be quite lovely. (and for the 69 yet to come, a drink with you and the amazing Syliva.)

    Happy belated, my friend.

  9. Louise Ure

    Concerts and horseback riding lessons, Gayle. I love it.

    Allison, I'll have to see if that Mexican restaurant is still around. I need a good Mexican restaurant here.

    Ah, Judy, you've celebrated so much and so well. Yes, you and I and Sylvia should raise a glass.

  10. David Corbett

    Wow, Louise, what a fun post! Happy Belated Birthday, gorgeous!!

    Yeah, we got our favorite dinner and cake too. My brother always chose German chocolate, at least partially because he knew I hated coconut and wouldn't eat any. Prick.

    And if you're looking for good Mexican in San Francisco, head to 16th & Mission and follow your nose — or check out the following:

    Mexico DF: http://www.opentable.com/mexico-df

    Colibri Mexican Bistro: http://www.colibrimexicanbistro.com/

    Mijita: http://www.mijitasf.com/

    Tres Agaves: http://rocksnosalt.com/san-francisco/?navcode=san-francisco

    La Corneta Taqueria: http://www.lacorneta.com/

    La Taqueria: http://sanfrancisco.citysearch.com/profile/889361/san_francisco_ca/la_taqueria.html

    That should keep ya for awhile. If you need more, or if I have the locale wrong, lemme know.

    Hippy Butt Day, yoo hoo!


  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Happy Birthday, sweet stuff!
    My 16th birthday was probably the best – a HUGE party at my home in New Mexico with hundreds of kids and kegs and a bong. By midnight my mom threatened to call the police if everyone didn't disperse.
    My 21st was pretty nice – I'd been living in Santa Cruz and experiencing a wild foursome situation – innocent enough, me and a girl from college and her best friend with another guy. After two weeks we somehow switched partners and I was with the best friend girl in San Francisco for my 21st birthday, hitting one bar after another, then crawling back to my mom's apartment with to fall asleep on the living room floor.
    30th was great – I had about thirty friends in Hermosa Beach – we took over the local restaurants and bars.
    40th was wonderful – with my wife and family in Cambria, CA – hitting all the vineyards.
    That birthday cake at the end of your post – is that a Hannukah birthday cake? I guess if your birthday falls on Hannukah, what are you gonna do….

  12. Allison Davis

    I love birthdays…mine always last at least a week. When I was younger, I would ask for angel food cake on my birthday as I like how it squished. I wasn't big on regular cake but I liked angel food.

    Most recently, I don't need things for my b'day and my mom has passed so I asked my dad to write down some of the stories he told me as a kid and I have a nice collection now…for my 47th birthday, the year Louie Armstrong would have been 100, he wrote a story about seeing Louie Armstrong in 1952, when he was in high school. He and his friends couldn't afford the concert, so they snuck out and someone got them into the Colored Cooks and Waiters Club in Seattle, where Louis, a little drunk post concert, sat at a table and played his horn (about 2 a.m.). He said it was magical. I had a dinner party and read the story aloud at the party. A fine birthday celebration.

    On my 50th, 50 friends went to a Giants game with me and we all had matching orange t-shirts. Very geeky — I loved it.

    Happy sixtieth Louise, so glad this was a happy week for you.

  13. David Corbett

    Well, my previous post apparently got eaten — it doesn't show here. Weird.

    Okay, let's try again:


    Wow, what a wonderful post. I loved hearing about Bruce and the roses. God, my heart took a little dip there.

    Yes, we had the same birthday ritual at my house. My brother always chose German chocolate cake, at least partially because he knew I hated coconut and so wouldn't want a piece. Prick.

    As for Mexican restaurants, wow, you live in SF, there's several I can recommend:

    Mexico DF: http://www.opentable.com/mexico-df

    Colibri Mexican Bistro: http://www.colibrimexicanbistro.com/

    Tres Agaves: http://rocksnosalt.com/san-francisco/

    La Mar Cebicheria Peruviana (okay, it's Peruvian, shoot me): http://www.lamarcebicheria.com/web/index.php

    Bocadillos (ok, it's a tapas bar, shoot me again): http://www.bocasf.com/

    And for great taquerias:

    Mijita: http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/mijita.php

    La Corneta: http://www.lacorneta.com/

    La Taqueria: http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-taqueria-san-francisco-2

    And now, everybody sing:

    Hippy Butt, Hey! Yoo hoo!
    Hippy Butt, Hey! You hoo!

    Big Love,

  14. Tammy Cravit

    My mom always fixed the same meal for my birthday — marinated flank steak, salad (or green beans) and a to-die for cherry chocolate cheesecake on a crust made by crumbling those chocolate wafer cookies. YUM!

    I don't mind my birthday, and feel no anxiety at all about the fact that I'll be forty in a year or two. Considering some of the stuff I battled with in my teens and 20s, the fact that I'm still alive, still whole, and healthier and more successful than ever seems plenty of reason to celebrate.

    And happy belated birthday, Louise! May the worst of the next 60 years be better than the best of the past sixty, and just as full of life.

  15. Louise Ure

    Stephen, when I die, I want all your birthday celebrations to flash before my eyes. And I have no idea if that's a Hannukah cake; I just liked the way the wavy candles looked.

    Allison, your Dad's stories are the best birthday gift ever. Oh, man … Louis Armstrong?

    Thank you, Alex. Yep, the roses made my day.

    And David, my culinary SF guide, thank you, thank you. I see a forced march through Mexican food bingeing in my future.

  16. Barbie

    HAPPY BIRTHDAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!! Birthdays are the happiest, prettiest occasions! I love birthdays, mine and everyone else's!!!

    And, I can't believe your friends gave you a K guy as a birthday present!!! Oh, wow! I've had some great birthdays and great presents, but something tells me nothing ever as great as your 30th 😀

    But, I'm curious, what did K guy think about being a birthday present???

    Happy Birthday, again, doll! I hope it's been grand and I really do wish you the best!

  17. Sylvia

    Happy Birthday!!! What a great way to celebrate – and keep on celebrating.

    I love the "you pick the dinner" ritual for birthdays. We had the same thing growing up although for each child their menu changed every year. The best – slow roasted beef ribs. The oddest – scrambled eggs with mashed potato side.

    Happy Birthday again you lovely, lovely woman!

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Many happy returns of the weekend. And no, you don't look sixty in the least.

    My favourite birthday meal would always be Japanese food, and a really good pavlova.

    A few years ago, when we were in the midst of building the house, a major delivery of materials happened to arrive on my birthday. I told everyone Andy had given me rocks. "What – you mean diamonds?" they asked. "No," I said. "About 60 tons of sandstone…"

    (I'll pass on the Jake and stick with an Andy, btw.)

  19. JT Ellison

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! It sounds like you had a wonderful time – and the roses were the perfect touch.

    I am a huge fan of birthdays – birthday week, months, day…

    The older we get the more extravagant we can be – this year was in Geneva, Switzerland, which was a blast, but I think my all-time favorite was the last day of my third decade – in Napa. Had breakfast in bed, then hit multiple vineyards, then a redwood forest, then a beach with a rocky cliff, then another vineyard, then the best meal I've ever eaten, candles, followed by a fire, FRENCH KISS and french kissing as I slid into decade 4. Sheer perfection.

    I find that regardless of the backdrop, I am simply grateful to be having birthdays with my loved ones.

  20. Louise Ure

    Tammy … cherry chocolate cheesecake? That sounds like something that could actually make me like chocolate!

    Thanks, Rae!

    Barbie, the K guy seemed to buy into the whole b-day gift idea. I remember him suggesting that his belt was the ribbon around the package. "The package?" TMI.

    Sylvia, scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes sound just about as bad as my brother's birthday meal request: cottage cheese sandwiches.

  21. Louise Ure

    I know, Sarah. Where's a Jake when you need one?

    Zoe, I still like the more traditional meaning of "rocks" (diamonds) for your birthday. But I'll bet the sandstone was beautiful.

    Rob, I don't live for the big, round birthdays. My favorites have usually been prime numbers.

    JT, I remember your fabulous Napa birthday weekend. That's a memory to hang on to.

    Thanks, Martyn!

  22. Reine

    Corbett, "Hippy Butt Day, yoo hoo!" That is the funniest thing I have heard of in like for ever!

    Louise, Step's mother could cook only two things – angel food cake and hot fudge sauce. I could cook neither. Of course the only cake Step ever wanted for his birthday was angel food cake with hot fudge sauce. She gave me her antique angel food cake pan (is there any other kind) and her copy of the Fannie Farmer cook book that the cook had given her for her 13th birthday in 1918. Apparently the cook thought it would inspire her. It did. She learned how to make her favorite birthday cake.

  23. Louise Ure

    Reine, so Step only wanted the cake his mother could make. Such a sweet son. It's like my mother's favorite saying: You can have everything you want, if you don't want anything you can't have.

  24. KDJames

    Well now I know what I want for my *next* birthday. And won't my kids just be surprised as hell when they read that Wish List…

    Happy Birthday, Louise! I'm glad it was a happy occasion spent with friends. Can't really ask for more when it comes to making those special days memorable.

  25. Louise Ure

    KD and Barbie, I think we need to start a movement to provide Birthday Jakes nationwide!

  26. Erin

    Happy Birthday Louise!! I love the idea of a movement to provide Birthday Jakes nationwide!! 🙂

  27. Gar Haywood


    Sorry to be so late to this party. And wow, it is a party! Sounds like you had a terrific birthday and I hope all your future birthdays are equally fantastic.

  28. Laura

    Happy Birthday!
    I know exactly what I want for my next birthday… Jake. Maybe even Jake jumping out of a cake.
    This year my mum made home made dumplings for my birthday. They were pretty awesome. She also took me to Disney On Ice. (I am 25 I swear!)
    As far as best birthdays go, I don't think I've had my *best* one yet!
    Hope you're having an awesome day 😀

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