My birthday celebrating started early this year with a dinner at John Besh’s Domenica with old friend Richard Dreyfuss and his lovely and amazing wife, Svetlana. Over the 25 years we’ve known each other, Richard and I have worked on 3 movies together, collaborated on a Katrina relief project and he even wrote the foreword to my book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career. The menu from Executive Chef Alon Shaya, 2015’s James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South award winner, provided a delicious take on some traditional Italian dishes as well as offering show-stoppers like the Squid Ink Tagliolini with blue crab & herbs. We finished the meal with 3 beautiful and decadent desserts selected by our charming server, Cristina. Each dessert was decorated with a chocolate birthday banner. We were there for hours enjoying fabulous food and great company with perfect service. I’m definitely going back for that squid ink pasta dish.
The next birthday dinner was with my family. My mother and stepfather flew in and my husband took us to Cajun Seafood to pick out goodies for our seafood fest. Crabs are my favorite so I focused on those. The shrimp were huge, the crawfish tasty and everything was super spicy like we like it since tourists don’t generally eat there. One of my favorite things about being a summer baby has always been the fresh seafood.
On my actual birthday, Mom and I went shopping for a new dress at Trashy Diva and found a beautiful blue one for the next birthday dinner – Commander’s Palace. The James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurant award-winning restaurant was established in 1893. Between the elegant dining rooms, the synchronized ballet service and the outstanding modern-methods-applied-to-traditional-recipes menu by James Beard Rising Star Chef and Best Chef – South winner Tory McPhail, the restaurant is easily my favorite place to celebrate. Sometimes we go just to celebrate being hungry. My uncle, who lives overseas, joined us and we all enjoyed catching up.
Mom and the gang headed across Lake Pontchartrain to see their sister, my aunt Norma. Next week she’ll be 91, but she can still put her leg over her head. Spending time with 4 people over 75, the lesson seemed over and over to be – use it or lose it. Eyes and ears tend to go no matter what, but flexibility and strength are things you can carry with you through the years. Long ago, Norma wrote a journal of her first year as a widow. I took the diary and turned into a “how to” book, How To Be A Widow: A Journey from Grief to Growth. I’m currently recording the audiobook version. Norma was featured as a “cover girl” on a local magazine this month and the 2-page article featured the story of the book. I surprised her with the published book Christmas 2011. Seeing how much joy it brought her and how much the book has meant to people experiencing grief, I now think everyone should do this for someone. People, especially older people, have stories to tell and wisdom to share and so little of it is recorded. I recommend it as a particularly useful and potentially powerful Random Act of Kindness.
Leaving my aunt’s, I realized I had no cash for the Causeway toll. My mother had always told me to stash a $20 as “mad money” in case I was ever on a date and got mad. I scrambled to find it and pulled to the window. The toll woman pointed to the SUV pulling away and said, “She paid your toll.” After 18 years in the social shark tank of Los Angeles and 3 years of the indifference of New York, I was floored. It was a completely Random Act of Kindness. The toll woman smiled, “Yeah, so have a nice day!” I felt blessed.
I called my mom and my stepfather answered so I told him the story and wonderful man that he is, he said, “So you paid for the person behind you?” No. It hadn’t even occurred to me. When I got home, a musical card from my dad and stepmother was waiting with a check “to defray the cost of snoballs.” So, I decided to do just that. I used the money to take a dozen girls from the Raintree House for snoballs at my favorite stand, SnoWizard. Nearly 100 years old, Raintree Children and Family Services provides services for foster children and the families that care for them. The group-home fosters about 14 teenage girls. Though there are different girls nearly every time I visit with them, I always enjoy spending time with the girls and they bring me right back to that hardest of ages – an excellent reminder of that I don’t want to be young again. I finished the day with a bath full of rose petals pulled from the birthday bouquet my husband gave me along with a stack of awesome puzzles.
I know that I’ve been neglecting this blog but I’ve been hard at work writing book 3 of my local bestseller Charlotte Reade Mysteries series. I’ve managed to crank out 16 chapters (of 23) since mid-May and am set to have The Missing Ingredient ready in time for Christmas shopping. I’ve also been busy recurring as Marlene on this season of Queen Sugar. I always love working but it’s been an honor to be a part of this Oprah Winfrey/Ava DuVernay project. After over 20 years and well over 100 projects of only working with 2 female directors, every single episode of this inclusive family show is directed by a woman. It’s a wholesome-with-an-edge family drama about a sugar farm in Louisiana and as a fourth generation Louisiana tree farmer, I feel very connected to the story. Tune in on OWN.