Monday, March 17, 2014

Sixty and the Ides of March

Well, it happened, I reached the ripe old age of 60 and I am here to tell the tale, as my Irish mother would say. Virginia McGeehan O'Farrell would have been proud, I think, to see her kids evolve into their 60s, but sadly she left us twelve years ago and didn't see any of us reach this milestone.

Most of us have heard the warning "Beware the Ides of March" though the date has been good luck for me. On March 15, 1954, I was born, the fourth of seven children, to Val and Virginia O'Farrell. Here's the line-up, oldest to youngest: Michael, Patsy, Steven, me, Ginny, Danny, and Anne. The past six decades have been so full of real life and experience, with memories I wouldn't trade for anything. There have been moments of extremes -- joy and sadness, abundance and scarcity, marriage and single-motherhood, loneliness after divorce and happiness in a new relationship, bad decisions and good choices, taking that first college course in years at age 39 and ultimately earning a masters degree at 55. Through it all there's been one constant -- community: the community of my first family of parents and six siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins, my young family with children extended with in-laws and cousins, the community of loyal and devoted friends, some in regular contact and some less so, but always in my heart. I don't know that I would have weathered the extremes this life has dished out without my very special community.

The capstone of these sixty years was a wonderful party my kids threw on this year's Ides of March, a well-kept secret until a few hours before the guests started to arrive, and then quite a surprise. I'd been away for a week in Florida and Katie and Pete had picked me up at the airport. When we arrived home (I live over Katie's and Bill's garage in a "granny flat") their good friend (and professional chef), Frank, was in their kitchen cooking away. Katie said he was cooking for a small family dinner party she was planning for my birthday the next day, which in retrospect was curious because Katie is an excellent cook and can handle a small dinner party blind-folded. Anyway, I was sitting for my grandsons Friday night, and Frank continued cooking for hours, slicing and dicing and making lots of food! I was curious why a small dinner party would require so much work, and Frank was back early the next day to continue cooking. Bill was moving snow from the driveway creating space for more cars than seemed necessary. I was beginning to ask questions. I told Russ "something's  up!" Late in the morning, Katie said I'd probably been figuring it out, and handed me an envelope that had a copy of the invitation she and her siblings sent out to family and a number of friends, and admitted that this was no small dinner party! I was so surprised, and of course, there were a few tears when I realized how much time and planning my kids put into this, and at the prospect of having so many people I love in the same room at the same time. Russ laughed at my reaction, in an empathetic but happy way. He said "you deserve it," gave me a hug, and I choked up.

Russ had instructions to take me out for a few hours before the guests would be arriving, and when we got home I was overjoyed to see so many family and some very close friends. There must have been 40 or more people talking, laughing, already enjoying food and drink. They all broke into the Happy Birthday song when Russ and I walked in. Frank created an exquisite Pacific Rim menu - I can't even remember all the wonderful dishes, but here are a few: crab cakes, sushi, marinated and roasted vegetables, Kahlua pulled-pork sandwiches, Thai curried soup (so amazing!), cole slaw (American and Asian), coconut shrimp and shrimp stir-fry, chicken and beef satay, sesame noodles (incredible!), and many, many more. He continued to cook throughout the night, replenishing platters of delicious food that were gobbled up quickly. To top it all off, Katie made a GIANT Pina Colada cake, filled with her own pineapple jam, and frosted in buttercream and toasted coconut. It was nothing less than perfect! Many guests said it was the best cake they'd ever had!

There was happy conversation, great food, thoughtful and meaningful gifts, the laughter of small children, and dogs all around, and I loved every second. It was one of those experiences where I was so aware, during every moment, that "this is special" and there's no doubt I'll remember my sixtieth birthday for the rest of my life. There were friends I missed (I would have expanded the guest list, but since it was a surprise…), though my kids did do an exceptional job of making the night so very memorable.  I couldn't have asked for more.

Here are some photos of the evening - I took them with my phone. I didn't have my camera with me (my kids gave me a new one, though!) so these will have to do. Enjoy!!!

Beautiful presentation!

My daughter Meghan and her childhood best buddy, Chad

The O'Farrell Girls circa 1959
L-R: Anne, Ginny, Jeannie, Patsy
(Anne superimposed her baby photo into the picture, far left!)

Sesame noodles - out of this world!

Frank's hand-rolled sushi!

Peter, 3 (left) and Henry, almost 6 (right)

My ULTIMATE birthday cake - Katie's creation - Pina Colada Cake!

It's true. I really am SIXTY!!!!


  1. Such a beautiful post, Jeannie! The food looks wonderful and your family sounds a lot like mine! Aren't traditions wonderful? So happy for you that you've reached this milestone….as my brother in law told me…50 is the new 30! So obviously, 60 is the new 20! You make it look easy! I hope you've enjoyed each and every celebration!

  2. The party was amazing, and I am so glad we could come. You deserve this special party!!!

  3. fascinating that even at age 60 I can still pick you out among your siblings ~~you simply have not changed ~~love that you are celebrating with Sushi ~~who would have thunk it !!!!!~~i simply mist try the Pina colada cake though~~happy 60 th ~~and rest assured it is not that bad ~~i can say that now at 61 ~~smile

  4. Such a great party! Hope you had a great birthday :)

  5. We had so much fun celebrating with you. It was a giant house full of and even some 'fur'. Loved every minute of it! Here's hoping that memories of your special day stay with you for a lifetime. Happy Birthday!

  6. Jeddy!
    Sorry I wasn't able to join this memorable occasion. As you know, I was thinking of you. In the short few years I have known you, you've made a tremendous impact on me. All good!

    You, for sure, are blessed my friend!

    May the next 60 years be even more wonderful for you! :)

  7. Jeannie, You certainly deserved that wonderful celebration. It is obvious that your children follow in your footsteps. They have inherited your talent and kindness. All the food looks yummy. Glad you were able to celebrate the Big "60" in style.

  8. What an absolutely LOVELY post, and party!!! Happy Birthday once again, Jeannie!!!

  9. Sounds like you had a Hawaiian Luau for your birthday. The cake sounds delicious, as does all of the food you described. I am sure your party was as memorable as my father's 90th -- may you live to also enjoy a 90th birthday as he has. Congratulations my friend!

  10. We had such a great time! Your kids sure know how to throw a super party! Happy 60 Jeannie and many more! Lynnie E.

  11. Russ is right, you SO deserved it!!! XO

  12. 60 years of family and friends...such a blessing as well as a gift.
    so glad you are wise enough to appreciate every minute of the party and of your 60 years

  13. Denise Sherman BakerMarch 18, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    Great story! Large families like that are a thing of the past. I have 5 siblings. It is great when we get to see each other and reminisce. Just wish we lived closer and could see each other more often. I'm only 2 years behind you. Life has dished it out, but we have to make something of it. Love your blogs and especially your recipes.

  14. Congrats Jeannie!!. 60 is our new 40. I think you look great as does the rest of our class ( of '72). Its always a great party with family & friends. With big families its kind of hard to invite too many more. Ask me- there's 8 kids on my side, 9 on my husband David's side. We have a ball and now the kids have kids. The more the merrier we say. So glad you have a very happy birthday. We have to do lunch or an after work get together when the weather cooperates. God Bless. Gwen

  15. Great party with wonderful food, family and friends! Enjoys your 60s!

  16. Jeannie, I loved this post about your 60th birthday. So many of us can relate to your life's experiences. Being part of a large family has been a blessing in my life as it has been in yours. You will definitely remember that specific Ides of March for the rest of your life! Sue Dunbar Smith

  17. Jeannie enjoyed reading this >sounds like it was perfect, The food looked awesome ! Glad you enjoyed your 60th with those closest to you !

  18. The Ides of March meets the O'Farrell Clan... Game Over! No holiday on the Roman Calendar, nor the assassination of Julius Caesar, could ever compare to the BIG 6-0 celebration your wonderful family lovingly prepared for wonderful you! Bravo to all, and I can imagine that the Birthday Girl is still glowing!