“A Big Birthday Surprise,” Feb. 27, 2018

Have you ever been given a gift that was exactly what you wanted, even if you didn’t know you wanted it? Are you forever looking for the perfect gift for someone who has “everything”?

If you’d asked me a week ago what I wanted for my “big” birthday, I’d have said, “No gifts, please, and no surprises.”

When you’ve blown out as many birthday candles as I have over the years, gifts tend to be something you’ve already got. If you don’t have it, it’s probably because you don’t want it or can’t afford it. And if you can’t afford it, chances are, no one else can afford it for you.

As for surprises? Is it a happy one? Just tell me in advance and allow me the pleasure of looking forward to it. Or if it’s an event — say, a party in my honor with a lot of well-dressed guests all laughing and snapping my photo — allow me the dignity of cleaning myself up beforehand so I’ll look like the honoree, and not like something the cat coughed up.

I don’t need gifts or surprises, usually. But this birthday was different in most every way.

My husband is scheduled for hip replacement surgery soon. Until then, he’s limping around the house, wincing in pain and trying with admirable, if limited, success not to be cranky. So for my birthday, we opted to stay home in Las Vegas, and celebrate later in California, with our kids and his new hip.

Imagine my delight when my oldest and his lovely fiance´ drove in from L.A. to surprise me. Their presence (as I always say) was the only gift I needed. But they brought an even bigger surprise: A beautifully framed, perfectly arranged collection of quotes titled “70 Things We Love About You.”

I wish you could see it.

They’d spent hours texting and compiling and editing dozens of contributions from 10 of my favorite people: My three children, their others, my three grandkids and my husband.

They videotaped me as I read each quote, and sent the video to the other contributors who couldn’t be there to laugh at me as I bawled like a branded cow.

Seventy is a lot of “I love you’s.” Unfortunately, space limitations won’t allow me to list them all, but here are a few from the little people:

Eleanor, age 3, said she loves me because: “Nana comes to my house.” “She has bracelets.” “She plays with me.” “I laugh at her.” “She loves Baby Honey (Elle’s favorite doll.)”

Wiley, age 5, said: “She makes me toast.” “She likes ‘The Book with No Pictures’ and she reads it really funny.” “She likes what I build out of Legos.” “She lives with Papa Mark.” “When I sleep over, she cozies with me.”

Henry, age 6, said: “She’s smart and always happy.” “She’s amazing and very interesting.” “She’s one of a kind.” “She taught me about love.” “I love her more than any nana.”

Randy, age 7, said: “She’s the best nana I could ever ask for.” “We love reading books to each other.” “She warms me up if I am cold.” “When I feel bad, she helps me.” “I love her all.”

And despite his bad hip, my husband (and former editor) listed several reasons including: “She’s my best friend.” And “she writes like a dream.”

It’s quite a gift to be told that we are loved, even if we already know it, and especially to see it in writing that can be read and reread by friends and strangers and God and all his angels.

If someone asks you what you want for your birthday, tell them honestly: “I want to know what you love about me. Put it in writing so I can read every day.”

And if you need a gift for someone who has “everything,” make a list of things you love about them. Frame it, or just give it to them in a card. But don’t wait for their birthday.

Surprises are overrated. But surprise gifts, given for no special reason, are the best.


  1. Sharon Starns says

    We did this for my Dad on his 80th. I emailed all 80 memories (8 each from my Mom, his four kids and five grandkids) to my daughter who printed each person’s contributions out in a different font and color, cut them apart and glued them in random order onto two huge (36×18) pieces of poster board, and then packed and FedEx’ed them overnight from DC to California. It was a huge hit with my dad, and I still have the “card” even though I don’t have my Dad.

  2. Jennifer Memmer says

    Thanks for sharing such an awesome idea!! My mother and I are avid readers of your column, and my family is celebrating her 86th birthday next weekend. I borrowed this idea, and finished her frame yesterday!! I laughed and cried reading all of the contributions from my siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews on what they love about mom!
    I can’t wait to watch her laugh and cry when we give it to her!!!
    Thanks for all of the advice on life and the Sunday morning chuckles you provide!

  3. debbie bjorklund says

    Hi Sharon, my husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in December. Our youngest daughter surprised us with a box filled with Hershey kisses and hugs and 40 memories of her childhood, that she printed free hand on place cards, it was the most thoughtful and best present I have ever received or ever will as long as I live. I framed them all in a large frame and stenciled the words, memories bring us back home again, and hung it in our kitchen where I can read them every day.

  4. Pat Wright says

    My sisters and brothers (6) love this idea but I know they are going to leave it up to me to complete. Could you please send a picture so I can start dreaming up this project? Thank you for sharing this very special idea. Pat

  5. Sharon Selby says

    Happy, Happy belated Birthday, Sharon! I love reading your stories. Your 70th reminded me of my precious husband Fred on his 70th. I asked our family to think of 70 things, ideas, objects, etc for his special day, & it was amazing. And he was so surprised & pleased, & so were the rest of us. You are a real jewel, & your columns I look forward to reading each week. Thanks for being you. Sharon Selby

  6. Carolee Walker says

    I want to say thank you for such a great idea for my sister. Her Birthday is in April and I will be doing the same for her. I’m grateful for the best gift or any day idea ever. My youngest son will be 18 in August and will be graduating. What a great idea that would be as well. Again, thank you and Happy belated birthday.

  7. Happy birthday to most loving writer in my life of 60 years so far so good.
    I waiting 3 days for this post . Thanks

  8. Susie Ladra (formerly secretary at Carmel Presbyerian Church) says

    Happy Belated Birthday, Sharon,
    My sister’s birthday is Feb. 27 (I think yours is Feb. 26?) — wish I’d had this special birthday idea for this year, but will definitely make it happen next year for her (or not wait until her birthday!) I so appreciate your ability to paint a living picture of your family or any other situation with images that touch our hearts and helps us live the moment with you. It always leaves us richer. I’m sure there are many reasons why you are so well-loved by your family and friends. We love to hear about just some of them!

  9. Just as an aside for your husband: Be sure you have the operation through the front. My husband had it last year, and that afternoon they had him going up and down stairs. Home the following day. The “rear” method cuts through muscles and requires a much long recouperation period.

    Now happy birthday, belated, dear lady. You are so much fun. In your honor, I have started to write down some of the crazy stuff I have experienced, and while I will never be your funny…it gets a laugh here and there.

  10. “She writes like a dream.” Perfect!
    Happy Birthday, again, Sharon.
    Bruce & Neva

  11. Jeri Duncan says

    What a very special birthday gift!! Love it!
    When I read your husband is having hip replacement surgery. I said, of course he is. My husband just had his hip replaced. Our life is so similar! Sometimes unreal! Take care! Happy birthday!?

  12. Brenda Weaver McAbee says

    My children gave me the same gift because that’s what I asked for. Happy Birthday to you and to me.

  13. Kate Sciacca says

    What a wonderful gift! My sister did the same for her dear husband for his “big one” – she had us all give the phrase that best described him… and made a beautiful big poster with all those different descriptions. You are so right- no better gift.

    Two of our grandsons visited last weekend – shortly after they got back home to their mama (she stayed home with their two girls… this was a ‘dad and the boys’ visit) I received this text from my sweet daughter-in-law:

    I asked Charlie if he needed a diaper change and he said, “no, gramma changed me and I love gramma!” ?

    Doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

  14. I absolutely L-O-V-E this story more than any of all the many others! It’s precious!!!

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