Nope–you didn’t read it wrong.  Most people have birthday wishes, not fishes…you know, a sweet list of things they’d like to see happen in the year ahead.  Get rich.  Inherit a house.  Win a Porsche.  Make Oprah’s Book Club.

But not me.  Noooo, that would be way too close to “normal”, and the young people populating (and influencing) my life are anything but normal.  They put the “we” in weird.  They put the “are” in bizarre.  They’re unique, in other words.  Meet the members of the this semester’s poetry class:

In true creative fashion, they decided that my 39th birthday shouldn’t be so much about a wish as about a fish.  A whole boxful of fish, to be exact.  They walked into the classroom acting suspiciously normal, then reached into their bags and pulled out an assortment of chocolates and cookies.  I tried circulating the box of cookies, but it somehow kept coming back to my desk.  Of course, I was distracted at the time by the horrendous smell I thought was coming from one of the poets in the class, which somewhat interfered with the whole artistic flair most of them aspire to.  Someone finally suggested that I should be the first to open the cookie box…and guess what I found inside.  Fish.  A handful of dried up, very dead fish, complete with glazed-over eyeballs and contorted tails, whose smell very nearly made me gag.  The subliminal message of my crispy aquatic gift?  “There are more fish in the sea,” Taelyr explained.  Huh?  I guess their birthday wish for me is a man–who I would HOPE has neither gills nor scales.  Thanks for the sentiment, y’all!

Some members of the class were less disgusted by the fish than I was (you need therapy, Laurel!).  I immediately ordered Kristoff to dispose of the hideously smelly fish in the nearest garbage can, and he apparently “misunderstood” my instructions, tossing the fish into the ladies’ restroom instead.  Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Storrs happened to be there to witness the crime, and Kristoff was soon on his way back to the bathroom with cleaner and towels.  The fish ended up in a large garbage can where they proceeded to stink up the entire second floor of the JB, causing staff members to complain, and thereby forcing me to become a “sanitary engineer” (ie. garbage man) and take the putrid-smelling trash outside.  Happy birthday to me.

The lesson I learned?  I’d rather make a birthday wish than receive a birthday fish.  But I wouldn’t trade the 11 poets (a-fish-ionados) who gave it to me for anything!

But my birthday wasn’t over yet.  Beautiful Taylor (aka. Christine) made me the most memorable birthday cake EVER…though she really hadn’t intended for it to be quite so much of an adventure!


The recipe went something like this:

1. Mix all ingredients together and pour into pan.
2. Realize you forgot to grease the pan.
3. Remove batter from pan, wash pan, grease pan, pour batter into the pan again.
4. Realize the eggs that are supposed to be in the cake are still on the counter.
5. Remove batter from pan, blend eggs into it, wash pan, grease pan, pour batter into the pan again.
6. On your third attempt to put the cake in the oven, realize the buttermilk is still on the counter.
7. Remove batter from pan, blend buttermilk into it, wash pan, grease pan, pour batter into the pan again.
9. Cook the confectioner’s sugar into the icing rather than stirring it in later, as instructed.
10. Try to spread rock-solid icing over the cake.
11. Declare it “rocky road” cake because of the hard icing lying in sharp “globs” on the cake.
12. Listen to Michele say, “Hey, it’ll be fine!”
13. And retort, “Good, ’cause I was making it for you!  Happy Birthday!”

This was a wonderful birthday for all the reasons stated above and more!  Renee gave me a much-needed manicure and a moving prayer, Squirt and Ahram made me a fabulous cheesecake which we accompanied by homemade burgers and baked potatoes (no veggies–it’s my BIRTHDAY!), Mari Ellen gave me some beautiful flowers, the best calzone ever, and an MP3 player (I’m officially “with it”), my small group baked a heart-shaped cake and created a beautiful card (I love you, ladies!), Storch sang “Happy Birthday” loudly enough for the neighbors to call the cops, and my mom sent an assortment of fun presents (Running socks?  I feel a guilt-trip coming on…). 


(Long after Squirt and I had adjourned to the couch for a video, Ahram was still eating very Koreanly…!)

As someone who spent the first couple decades of her life wondering if she was A/ worth loving and B/ ever going to be loved, I found myself moved and immensely blessed by the events of my three-day-long birthday.  I know that I am incredibly flawed as a person, a teacher, a believer and a friend, but I am also–for reasons I fail to understand–loved.  And that, my friends, is the greatest (and most eternal) gift of all!

My love and thanks to all the “morons” in my life!



  1. The curly-haired girl MUUUSSSSTTTT be a Brauer. That’s uncanny.

  2. We DO LOVE YOU!! Glad you felt the love.

  3. hooray!!! i love those guys!

    i need to give that shirt to brandon.  it’s slowly shinking in the wash, bit by bit. 

    bummer.  it used to be such a cool shirt, too.

    happy birthday!!! we love you!


    hurling pen and paper

    across room


  4. i’ll write a birthday haiku as well

    dead fish in the room:

    penutbutter spread on bread

    to add some flavor

  5. Happy Birfday Michele!!!! Glad you have such a crazy bunch of people in your life that obviously love you a lot!!!

  6. Wow!  What fun celebrating you!!  You do have some very special adorable younguns in your life!  And they obviously think you are pretty amazing, because YOU ARE!  I love you and I thank the Good Lord for your friendship!  hugs and love, Renee

  7. What’s wrong with eating alone at a table? It’s probably healthier to eat slower. Anyways, did Laurel actually bite the fish? eww….

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