Thursday, February 2, 2012

my balloon day.

A few years ago: someone sang this song to me on my birthday
And while he sang: the snow came down in spirals across my window.
We both: sat in the floor across from each other. 
He sang: and I listened. 
And I thought: this is a wonderful day to be alive. 

Today is a special day, set aside to celebrate America's most beloved weather-forecasting rodent.

This is Punxsutawney Phil.

Just kidding! That's an R.O.U.S. from The Princess Bride

Today, we celebrate him and his shadow. 

Today also marks the second anniversary of the day I turned 29. This is me: 

And each year, on this day of days, my brother texts and asks if I've seen my shadow yet. You'd think, after this many years, his joke would get unfunny. But he never finds it unfunny. Some people get to be born on Christmas. Some people get to claim Valentine's Day as their birthday. But I am proud to share this day with Phil. Many holidays are very cliche these days, very commercialized and consumer-ized. Groundhog Day? Is still indie and awesome! Celebrating my birthday in Punxsutawney, PA is definitely on my list of life goals. (In the words of Juno, "Whoa! Dream big!")

Last year on my birthday, I wrote about what I'm dreaming and believing and hoping for. How change can be a good thing. That's one of my most favorite posts. If you're a new reader (hugs to you!), you might enjoy it too. 

This year, I wanted to pop in (zing!) and share my balloon story with you: 

A few years ago, I did a short stint in graduate school (before realizing my heart was gallivanting down a very different path). The grad school I went to was 1.) amazing and 2.) very far from my friends and family. I had just started school, and didn't know many people yet. And it wouldn't have mattered if I'd known a bunch of people. The sad truth about birthdays is that, as you get older, birthdays tend to be bittersweet. Especially when it comes to people. Maybe this isn't true for everybody, but it's definitely true for me. All day today, I'll be thinking about people I love and people I miss. 

My first far away grad school birthday started out sweet, thanks to a bunch of phone calls from my peeps. (My dad always calls at the exact time written on my birth certificate to tell me he loves me. He's the coolest.)

So I should have been in a chirpy mood when I set out to face the day. But I couldn't kick the sad. The people who knew me best, and who loved me most, were hundreds of miles away. I love them all so much it hurts. When there's significant distance between us, the hurt starts to take on a very unwelcome hollow quality. Lonesome is a bad way to be, no matter the day. 

No big deal, I tried to convince myself. I am a grown-up. I'm an adult now. Birthdays are just days. I've got too much to be grateful for to be sad ... 

And so I set out trying not to think about the lonesome part. 

I did not succeed. As I walked back to my door late that night, the click of my heels against the sidewalk sounded extra loud. They made more of a tick-tock sound than a click. 

Tick-tock, I'm getting older. 
Tick-tock, I should know what you want to do by now.

Tick-tock, I'm in a huge city. And I'm all alone.

Seconds seem to click by extra-slowly when you feel lonely, don't they? 

And that's when the balloons happened. 

The first thing I noticed when I walked into my apartment was the vase of flowers on my table. Next, I saw a happy birthday banner, made of colored-foil letters, shimmering over my tiny kitchen. My very dear Texas-by-way-of-Michigan friends, Kaylene and Jill, were responsible for the balloons and flowers. I'd given them my spare key in the likely event I lost mine, but they're wonderful people. And they frequently dropped in to leave muffins and cookies and delicious baked goods in my apartment. (I mentioned to them once that I didn't feel like I brought much to our friendship. They said, "You have cable!" Win.)

I did a little happy dance. And then I walked into the bathroom. 

And those two wonderfully-wonderful friends of mine had filled my bathroom with hundreds of balloons. 

This is a fact you need to know: they didn't even use an air pump to blow up the balloons. They actually blew each one up. Just the two of them. Olympic athletes should envy their lung capacity.

They made me laugh

Soon after the balloon discovery, Kay and Jill burst into the apt and took me out for birthday tacos. Even though it was late. Even though they had approximately ten thousand things to do the next day. I remember closing my eyes that night so happy. So grateful. 

I will never, ever forget the year of the birthday balloons. 

And that's why I'm sharing my balloons with you. 

I realize that today might not be your birthday. But since it is mine and Phil's big day, I hope you'll allow me a very sappy moment to remind you: 

That you're never anonymous,
never forgotten, 
and never, ever alone. 

You are loved and wanted and celebrated. And there's a big reason you're living and breathing and taking up space on this planet. I hope the people in your life remind you of that fact very frequently. If I could, I would fill your house with ten thousand balloons just to remind you of how awesome you are. But that might come off creepy. So if you're in a party mood later, maybe flip open your Bible to Psalm 18:16-19 and draw a little balloon in the margin instead. (The clean-up will be much easier ... )

Thank you for being part of this little blog and sharing this twisty-turny journey with me. Happy Groundhog Day to you! ;-) And happy chandeleur to you lovely French folks! (The fact that people all over the world are eating crepes on my birthday brings me much joy!)

I'll be back soon with some middle grade books I'm dying to read. For now, I'm going to go look for my shadow. And maybe eat a cupcake. Or three ...

What's the sweetest gift you ever received on your birthday? I can't wait to read about it! I'll meet you for virtual cupcakes down in the comments. 


  1. i love that you mentioned "the princess bride"!<3 haha, and i loovee that picture of you!! :D your BEAUTIFUL!!!

  2. Joyeux Anniversaire, Natalie!

    J'espère que vous avez un trés bon jour! :)
    (I hope that you have a very good day!)

    I love your balloon story. Friends are the greatest. I love the fact that you have this blog and I remember years and years ago when I was reading Brio, always flipping straight to the In-Step section and reading your columns. I always posted them up, read them ten times over, took notes and dreamed about writing like you. I never thought that I would get to "meet" you. :) So thank you for being awesome and sweet, and so faithful to God. :)

    Have an awesome anniversaire de nait (birth)! ;)

    P.S. I have taken french for about 4 years now, and I think it is so cool you were born on La Chandeleur or Fête de la Lumière or "jour de crêpes!" :) I really want a crêpe today.

  3. Happy birthday!! And Groundhog Day! That's a cool holiday to share it with. :) Love all those balloons.

  4. I can't even tell you how awesome it is that you can fit a picture of an R.O.U.S. in your birthday post.

    Anyway, I have to echo what Steffanie said...I loved your Brio column and I was beyond thrilled when I discovered you had a blog. You are such a lovely person! Thank you for your beautiful words and for being so inspiring and encouraging. I hope you have a super wonderful birthday. :)

    P.S. One of my most favorite birthday presents was my record player from my parents several years ago. The old one that had been my Granny's had stopped working, and I had no way of listening to my records. I love it so much. :)


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  6. Happy Birthday! I hope you have an awesome day filled with all sorts of wonderful things.
    I agree with all the girls above that you ARE very inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to blog to all of us. It makes my day brighter :)
    My favorite birthday present I ever got was tickets to see Riverdance from my parents. I was so happy my heart did little leaps and twirls and I cried.
    Have a supercalifragilisticepialidocious day! And may God bless you. There are a million hugs coming from Him to you today, I just know it.


  7. Happy Birthday, Natalie!!

    This is my favorite quote to write inside birthday cards, and I want to share it with you, because I think you will adore it.

    “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” --Neil Gaiman

    So many, many virtual hugs are being sent your way. Thanks for being so YOU and such an encouragement to me. I would like to be you when I grow up. <3


  8. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I loved this story, and your brother's joke, and the fact that you call it "the two year anniversary of the day you turned 29".

  9. Happy birthday, Natalie! Hope today is filled with lots of fun, love, and celebration. P.S. If a guy ever sang a Damien Rice song to me, I would fall forever in love. Just saying.

    I've received a lot of great gifts over the years but here's one that was particularly lovely. For my 30th birthday, a friend wrote down 30 things she loved about me. Some were funny, some were poignant. It totally made me cry!

  10. Happy Birthday Natalie!! :)

    I am a reader of Paperdoll and of every single one of your posts. You don't know me, but your words have helped me through so much. I hope one day I can be as loving, beautiful and cool as you!

    Lots of love,

    Frédérique (in French, Happy Birthday is Bon Anniversaire!)

    P.-S.: Lovely picture of you!

  11. Happy birthday, Natalie! I hope you had a lovely day!

    I loved your story about the birthday balloons. And I love that the friends who did that for you are Texans by way of Michigan, having been born and raised in MI myself.

    The sweetest gift I ever received on my birthday? Well, it wasn't on my birthday, but it was the day my friend and I were going to coffee and made a stop to get her parents a gift card at Applebee's on the way, except that really she had put together a surprise birthday lunch for me with a few of our friends from college. Sweetest & best birthday present ever!

  12. Natalie! Happy Birthday to one of my favorite writers! So sorry I missed it yesterday but I'm celebrating you today. :)

    It's hard to say which birthday gifts have been the sweetest to me... but a few years ago, my older sister got she and I tickets to see Celine Dion. This may make you gag, or say, "so what?" But you really must understand that we GREW UP singing every single song Celine ever sang! We sat in front of Mom and Dad's stereo and sang through WHOLE ALBUMS in one sitting. It was a special concert for sure. Celine forever.

  13. Happy (day late) birthday! I went to YouTube and searched for "Happy Birthday Natalie" videos to post on your Facebook wall, but a) I couldn't find one that was perfect (although several were quite entertaining!) and b) your Facebook page is gone! Oh well. I thought of you. Enjoy 29+2!

  14. NO WAY, I have the same birthday!!! My friends ask me the same thing," Did you see your shadow today?"

  15. I'm going to do that to a friend's bathroom. Someday.

    When I lived in England, ages and ages ago, I had a birthday coming up. I was homesick and missing Holland like crazy. Anyways, after dinner on Tuesday night a week or two before my birthday, my parents sat me down at the dining room table and told me that dad was going back to Holland for a few days to speak. And I was going with him.

    I started crying.

    Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday, Natalie. I'm so glad you exist.

  16. Love your blog.

    Hope you had a wonderful birthday!

    -Britt T.

  17. Happy (Belated) birthday!!!
    The sweetest gift I have ever gotten was actually this last birthday. In my family my nana, papa's, dad's and mine all fall within about three week of each other. So, we had ALOT of leftover cake (lol). Well, we were slightly strapped for cash, so i decided we would just re-ice the leftover half of my dads cake, and i was totally content with that.
    But when it was time for the cake to be rolled out, my mom pulled out a store bought cheese cake from the fridge!!!
    My grandparents had went out and gotten it for me.
    I don't really remember what I got, (am I sad or what?) but i will always, ALWAYS remember that.
    Hope you had an awesome day!!!

  18. That one birthday where my sister was away at college and I didn't think she'd make it home. The door bell rang and the goofy dreamy girl that I was (and still am) pranced to the door singing "Happy birthday to me" and expecting to see a good family friend. Needless to say it was my sister and I burst into tears at the sight of her. Mom gave me the picture of us hugging on the door step to keep in my dorm room. Best. Birthday. far. Now if she could just surprise me coming from WI that would be fabulous! March be my first birthday away from home and family and as much as I say we don't make birthdays out to be a big deal, I'll still miss 'em. Good news is I have fabulous friends to spend it with. Happy Weekending Natalie!

  19. You're "30" post was a year ago already?! Oh MY how I loved that post. Happy Birthday, beautiful you! I hope you had a day that just FILLED your heart with contentment.

  20. First of all, I feel like a terrible person for forgetting to actually comment on your birthday. So, happy birthday, a few days late! Better late then never, eh?
    Secondly, I really liked this post. And I went back to your birthday post from last year, and I really, really liked that one. You're so cool.
    And last but not least, I really feel like having a big long discussion with you about all the ins and outs of Downton Abbey. That would kinda make my day right now. (:

  21. What a cool thing to do for a birthday, all those balloons! Might have to keep that one in mind. :)

  22. Happy beleated Birthday my friend! Yeesh I'm late...

  23. Happy birthday! I hope it was amazing!

  24. Happy birthday Natalie!! I'm sorry I'm way way late! I hope you had a very lovely day!!!! Xx I hope this year is filled with more joyful days, the ones to add to your "days to remember" album. May the Lord grant you the desires of your heart and may He show you more of His love and plans for you!
    Thank you for this blog. it's always a delight to read your posts. Much love , Hannah :)