“Making the Best of It,” Feb. 9, 2021

Birthdays in my childhood were always remembered, but not especially memorable. My mother would bake a cake and the family would sing happy birthday off-key. The birthday person would blow out the candles. Then we’d eat the cake and tell funny stories about the birthday person.

No gifts. No balloons. No bounce houses. It was simple, but we made the best of it. Making the best of things is the best anybody can do.

Imagine my surprise when I grew up to be a mother of three, and was duly informed in no uncertain terms that a birthday deserved more than a cake. The informant was my middle child, who by the age of 3, wanted to plan her own parties along with those of her brothers, her dad, her mom and our dog.

I’m not always the smartest person in the room, and I’m smart enough to know it. So I wisely let my daughter take charge of family celebrations. She was thrilled. The only hitch was limiting the cost.

“We can spend $20,” I’d say, “but that’s about it.”

“You’re not serious,” she’d say.

I’d give her a look that said, “Yes, I am.” And she’d give me a look back that said, “Fine!”

We threw some good parties thanks to her brains and my twenty bucks. Then my kids grew up, got married and had kids of their own. Now they plan their own celebrations.

My husband and I fill our social calendar each year with birthday parties for our eight grandchildren. Talk about fun. We get to take turns being a bouncer at the bounce house.

But the pandemic has changed a great many things in our lives, including how we celebrate.

In August, our oldest grandchild marked his tenth birthday with a drive-by party, standing outside his house with his family, waving at his friends and their parents who drove by honking happy birthday.

I wish you could’ve seen him.

It wasn’t how he’d hoped to celebrate. But he and his family and friends made the best of it.

My husband and I have been together more than 20 years. Our birthdays are ten days apart. We often celebrate both at once with dinner at a favorite restaurant, or a weekend some place with a heated pool.

Not this year. Restaurants in our area—Monterey County, California—are closed, except for take-out. We talked about going away for a few days, but decided we’d rather stay home.

So today, on my husband’s birthday, we treated ourselves to cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I stuck a lighted candle on his cinnamon roll and he blew it out. If I’d given him a candle for every year in his age, we’d have needed a lot more cinnamon rolls. And possibly burned down the house.

A few hours later, our kids—the two families that live closeby—showed up with cards and gifts they’d made just for him. We sat on the patio laughing and talking through face masks like a happy family of bandits.

Then our out-of-town kids began calling and sending “happy birthday” videos. It was more fun than a bounce house.

After everyone left, and the phone quit ringing, we talked again about our birthdays. We wanted to share a gift, like the glider we gave each other for Christmas, where we sit most evenings to watch the sun set.

There are things we could do, plants for the yard, paint for the house, a rug for the kitchen. But we realized, honestly, we have our health, our home, our loved ones, and each other.

The only gift we truly need is the grace and grit to be thankful.

A grateful heart beats slower and holds within its walls both the loved and the unlovely. It lights a candle of hope to find the best in everything, even in the darkest of times.

My husband and I are thankful to celebrate another birthday.

You don’t need to send us a card. Unless you really want to.


  1. George Balint says

    Happy late Birthday greeting to you. I may have finally passed you in age as I hit 67 on 2/9/21. I think back on how long we’ve known each other. My earliest memory is Mayflower church/ Appleby group 1971

  2. Happy Birthday! Mine was Feb 15th, turned 71!

  3. My birthday, my two sisters, my Mom, my grandson and two nephews celebrate BDs in February! Sent cards, flowers to all, celebrating a quiet day at home ☺Happy to be alive. My gift was the 1st vaccine in my arm!

  4. Happy Birthday Sharon and Mark. I’ve sent this video to friends for their anniversary but I think it works for a combined birthday as well enjoy. https://youtu.be/sUITrMQpilo

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    A blessed and belated happy birthday to both of you…. we celebrate four birthdays between Feb 1 (the eldest boy turned 43) and today, Feb 11 (his son, the GRAND who started that generation, turned 19…)…. it costs twenty bucks just to mail the gifts 😂😂. You are so right, family, kids, grands and good health are all the gifts we need these days, yes? I celebrated over the hill with the Feb 6 and Feb 8 grandkids— only went cause I love cake and ice cream 😉.

  6. Marie E Hartranft says

    Happy Birthday to you both. My birthday happens to be 2/17 so I am in good company!
    Beautiful column! I look forward to it every week.
    How are your sister and brother. I think of them as I pray fir them and a few others that are having a tough road.
    Enjoy your birthdays!🎁🎂🎈🎉😘🍻

  7. Birthday Blessings to you both, Sharon & Mark!

  8. Sharon, if you want the very best cinnamon rolls in your life, just pop down to Pismo Beach, none better, and when we were there last Oct. everything was near normal and opened, at least patio dining,


  9. CHope Hall says

    Great piece. Happy Birthdays to you both. We have a birthaversary as we call it. Hubby will be 81 on the 17th and our 60th anniversary on the 18th. We usually go to places we went to when we dated and eat both meals out. We won’t this year, but hubby will get his chocolate uniced mayonnaise cake with candles 81 at 1 min after midnight on the 17th and I’ll take some pics and we’ll thank God for another year together. Last year our kids threw a surprise party for us and since the quarantine that is the last time we have seen them. We are trusting next year will be better and we can be together again. God is good and it is well. Please keep writing, these stories help so much.

  10. Gail Tancreto says

    Happy birthday to both of you! May we never lose the hope and love that keeps us going.
    God bless

  11. Tim Bridler says

    Many years ago my wife and I went to hear you speak at the Embassy Suites in Seaside.
    My wife, who is not shy, told you afterwards that it was my birthday.
    You very graciously gave me one of your books and incsribed it with a birthday greeting.
    I still have the book somewhere.
    Something about Paper Cranes. ( I’m old. I forget.)

    Thank you and Happy Birthday.

  12. Ruth Copsey says

    Celebrate the best way you know how! Happy birthday to both of you, rom the both of us- Ken and Ruth

  13. Ginny and C’est La says

    May your days sparkle and shine and give you both joy, Sharon and Mark😘

  14. Naomi Smith says

    Happy Birthday to you both! I hope you have many more special celebrations.

  15. Happy Birthday to you and your husband!! Wishing you another wonderful year with each other and your family.

  16. Happy Birthday to both you and your husband, Sharon!!!!! 🎂👏🎉🎂👏🎉

  17. Carolyn J Bartelt says

    Happy birthday to you both I love hearing about your life and family. !!!!!!

  18. Janice Sizemore says

    Happy Birthday to both you and your husband! I have a milestone birthday coming up on the 14th, and will also be “making the best of it!” No big party, just a simple dinner with my husband. Being grateful to have survived another year, that is enough for me.

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