In our family, birthdays are a big deal. And a 40th birthday calls for something extra special. Lee just turned 40, and because I’m an insufferable planner, I started thinking about how we might celebrate his fortieth about … oh, I don’t know… several years ago.
I got serious about it last year around his 39th birthday, and decided we should have an epic 40th birthday weekend bash in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a haven for beer nerds, and it’s just far enough from Savannah to feel like a vacation but close enough to invite our friends from around the southeast. I have a folder on my computer where I saved some lodging options. Lee doesn’t even know about this, because I had planned to surprise him.
Of course, all that planning went right out the window the day we decided to move to Costa Rica. But even so, I don’t think I could have planned a better birthday than the one he celebrated last weekend.
You see, Lee and Costa Rica, – they have this thing. They love each other. He loved Costa Rica so much when we were here three years ago, and was so sad to say good-bye. Anytime I suggested a return for vacation, he declined. “Next time I go back to Costa Rica,” he warned, “I’m not leaving.”
So if I could pick one special place in this world to celebrate Lee, no question it would be Costa Rica.
Of course, it was a challenge to preserve some of our birthday traditions here. Firstly, we always look forward to a birthday breakfast of biscuits and homemade sausage gravy – a treat we only have on birthdays and Christmas mornings.
Thankfully – I have good friends, and they have ovens.
The morning of Lee’s birthday, I started working on the sausage gravy. He came up behind me in the kitchen, “Oh, we’re having sausage?” he asked. “Yep,” I said, and left it at that.
Right on cue, at 8:30, our friend Heidi came to the door bearing birthday wishes and a surprise bowl of hot, freshly made biscuits.
The birthday tradition lived on.
I usually make Lee a cake too, but again, there’s that oven issue. And the fact that some ingredients from home aren’t easy to source in the jungle.
But he found a recipe for a chocolate cake with marshmallow topping that I thought I could pull off, with the assistance of Anna who loaned me her kitchen for the afternoon. I mixed up the batter in the only big bowl they have – a Halloween candy bowl. I love it. It’s very pura vida – around here you just use what you’ve got! The cake turned out well. It was a messy affair to slice and serve, but made the birthday boy happy.
A 40th birthday also calls for a party, and here in Costa Rica, Lee has a soft spot for a private pub up in the hills outside Nosara, the Black Sheep Pub. I couldn’t have picked a more appropriate venue. Joe, the pub owner and our friend, graciously opened just for our party. Joe set aside some special beers for the evening, and Lee brought some of his exclusive stash as well.
It would have been a fun birthday party if it had just been us and Joe, clinking glasses in the bier garten watching the monkeys play in the trees. But instead, we filled the pub with friends. Friends gathered around the bar and spilled out onto the pool deck. The kids took turns climbing the hills around the pub until they were red-faced and sweaty, and then piling into the pool for a fierce game of chicken.
We were there with new friends from all over – from the US, Sweden, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Germany. And they all wanted to celebrate my guy.
Camille and her friend Mason schemed together to surprise Lee with a Happy Birthday duet on their instruments, and did a superb job. I even remembered to bring candles.
The only things missing – and they left a big gap – were the familiar faces we love back home. Oh if I could have transported our family and friends from the states, and brought them with us to the Black Sheep Pub, it would have been a perfect night. A FaceTime chat with family is better than nothing, but can never replace the real thing.
The party did have a pretty perfect ending though. After stuffing ourselves with homemade salsa and guacamole, good cerveza and conversation, Lee and Rob brought their guitars out to the bier garten. The sun had just dipped behind the mountains, so we plugged in little white globe lights, giving the space a warm, low glow.
Then to our surprise, Camille opened her viola case. She wanted to play too. It’s one thing to play a song you know – a song you’ve practiced. But to improvise? For the first time, in front of a crowd? I marveled at her courage.
Before each song, the boys would tell her what key they were in, and she’d choose notes that worked in that key signature. They would strum and sing, and she would pull her bow confidently over her viola strings, swaying and rocking with the rhythm like she does this kind of thing all the time.
A birthday jam session with his daughter. She couldn’t have given him a better gift.
What a joy to celebrate this man, in this place, with these people!