“Understanding begins, but does not end, with the act of perception” from The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider & Joost Elffers

Carolyn Torhjelm by ©Lori Maloney

Image © Craig MacPhee

An Interview with Carolyn

Q. What is your best memory/moment from one of your past birthdays?

A. I have lots of great moments that I flash back to over the years. But my favorite had to have been a breakfast that my kids did for me a couple of years back. Unknown to me, and all on their own (they were 5, 9, and 11 at the time), they had set up a little restaurant for me downstairs. I had to check in for my reservation, be seated, and then choose my breakfast from a menu of options that they were ready to prepare. It was so thoughtful, and so fun. I loved every minute of it!

Q. How about the worst? And why?

A. Although I can’t remember a really bad birthday memory of my own, I sure remember one from one of our youngest son’s birthdays. On his second birthday, just after having his cake, we headed into an after hours medical clinic. His 7 year old brother wasn’t feeling great. Although I thought I might be overreacting, that changed when the clinic called an ambulance to get him to a hospital. Although I am grateful that he was quickly admitted, treated, and then released a few days later in good health, I will forever remember that ambulance ride. And connect it to that birthday celebration.

Q. What was the present you’ve received for your birthday that most surprised you?

A. Many years ago, my boyfriend (now husband) surprised me with a weekend away at a horse ranch. I had absolutely no idea that he had planned a get-away. He showed up at my work, let me know we were leaving right that minute for the weekend, and that he had packed everything that I needed (which in itself was a tiny bit terrifying). As we drove, the only clues he gave me were that he had packed my cowboy boots and that there would be dancing. Both good things in my books. It was an amazing weekend, and a complete surprise. And thankfully, he packed well!

Q. Is there one food or dish that you insist on eating during your birthday celebration?

A. Cake. Always cake. Some of my most memorable cakes were shared at my grandparent’s cottage at Kalamalka Lake. As I have a summer birthday, we were often there celebrating my birthday with them. Grandma was a great baker and would make cakes in her square angel food pan. Once made, she would put fresh pansies from her garden in the middle. I am grateful now to have that cake pan. And think fondly of those birthday celebrations, her flowers, and she and my Grandpa, whenever I pull it out.

Q. What do you believe is the most important aspect of celebrating a birthday?

A. Definitely family and friends. Although I am in a different city from most of my big extended family, I love getting calls and notes from those that mean the most to me. And always try to do the same for them. Knowing you are being thought of from afar is special to me. And great big hugs from those that are close are mandatory. I love celebrations. Especially birthdays!!

Q. Do you/your family/culture have any traditions/rituals/ceremonies that are performed to celebrate birthdays? What is it?

A. My favourite thing about birthdays at our house is how different they are from year to year. Our deal is that the birthday person gets to choose all the food for the day, and the activity that we will do together. Part of the fun is listening to the kids start planning their next year’s birthday the minute their birthday day is over. Over that next year, “their” day goes through a whole lot of incarnations. And it’s fun to imagine each and everyone of them!