Sunday, November 13, 2011


Jesse's birthday may be the most celebrated birthday in our household (at least for now - watch out, Riley). It started innocently enough in 2005 just a few short months after we started dating (if it was even that long). I wasn't sure what to get him... I didn't want it to be too much, but didn't want it to be too lame. We had talked about going to a Wild hockey game, but those tickets are spendy and would have fallen under the "too much" category. We also had this thing where we used the same brand of soap: Pre Du Provence. He noticed that I had it in lavender and commented that his favorite was olive oil, but stated it was impossible to find. So I thought I would get him some soap (if I could find it), but one bar of soap fell under the "too lame" category. At any rate I headed off to Two 12 Pottery where I bought my supply of lavender soap. They didn't carry the olive oil, but were nice enough to order a case as long as I bought the whole case. I wasn't sure I would give Jesse the whole case because that kinda felt like it fell under the "this woman is too crazy" category, but I was convinced otherwise by some friends. I decided I needed to make the gift fun so it didn't come off as weird. My inspiration came from a conversation Jesse and I had. It went like this:

Jesse: You don't tell anyone that I use this Pre Du Provence soap, do you?

Jo: Of course not (self disclosure - I totally told several people this). I tell people you bathe with Lava brand soap.

Jesse: No, no. Just tell people I scrub my body with rocks.

I then wrapped up two boxes - one with the case of soap and one filled only with rocks. I mean, that's what any sane person would do, right? I gave him the rocks first. He gave me a puzzled look. I gave him the soap, and well, he got it (after a slight reminder). I'd like to think that he 'got' my sense of humor and that this was a key turning point in leading to a long life together.

So fast forward to 2006 where I have to prepare for another birthday. I have to admit I was feeling like I had to top the last year, but wasn't sure how I was going to pull that off. Turns out we never made it to that Wild hockey game during the previous year so that seemed like an appropriate gift, but how to make an impactful delivery? Hmmm. I thought long and hard and I all could think about was how Jesse was eating a ridiculous amount of Jell-O at that time. So this is what I did... Make one mold of Jell-O with a balloon inside. Make Jesse eat the Jell-O to get to the balloon where he reads a note hidden inside. It tells him to go to the dryer. He opens the dryer to find a bunch of Jell-O boxes and a note that says his actual gift is on one of the boxes. He's a pretty smart guy so he find the box that feels empty and opens it up to find the hockey tickets. The extra bonus was that it ended up being an exciting game. The Wild won in overtime with one awesome move. Just a side note on this gift - it has inspired many gifts to be exchanged in the dryer. Jesse even used it in his marriage proposal to me.

Now it's 2007 and it's not about topping last year's gift, but just sustaining the fun. I was totally stumped until my hairdresser commented on another client of hers going dog sledding. Yes! Jesse will love this. I did my research, booked a place (Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge) and just had to figure out how to deliver this gift to Jesse. I contacted his friend and former roommate, Eric, who has a dog named Maui and asked if he and Maui could help present this gift to Jesse. I created a invite of sorts that apparently was confusing as it was as if the dog was inviting him to go dog sledding, but Jesse quickly figured it out. We actually had to wait a couple months to go due to openings, but it was well worth the wait. We did the full day excursion and loved every minute of it. Wintergreen is a well run establishment with friendly staff, great food, and beautiful, well-cared for dogs. I can't wait to go back when Riley is big enough.

In 2008 I had to ask for help from one of Jesse's friends again. Amy, who he went to college with, was working part time at REI. Since I met Jesse he has been wanting a particular Arc'teryx coat from REI. Every time we would go there he would have to go 'visit' with the coat. I figured it was time we did something about that. I asked Amy if she had any ideas as to how I could make it a fun delivery... perhaps including the climbing wall they have. She did more than I could hope for. She set up a treasure hunt (with approval from her manager). I simply had to get Jesse to REI and have him notice the sign as we walked in which told him he had to go to the rock climbing wall check in. There he got his first clue which led him throughout the store until he came upon the coat. I have to admit this one was one of the most fun for me. Amy came up with all these really great clues so it was like an adventure for me too.

The next year, 2009, I was pregnant and felt like crap. There was one thing that came to mind and that was that we were going to need to embrace these last couple months without a child. I booked a room at Beacon Pointe in Duluth and then had to figure out how I would present this gift to him. The topic of soap had come up recently so I had this idea of creating a puzzle using soap bars. It had been some time since the Pre Du Provence soap ran out so I figured I buy him another case. That is until I discovered the price had doubled. So I created a collage of pictures around Duluth, grabbed some soap out of the cabinet, and created the puzzle below. The soap was randomly placed in a bag and Jesse had to put the puzzle together to figure out what his gift was. Even though it was November we were able to enjoy a brisk Duluth and to embrace the ability to easily take off for a weekend without a child. Oh, how things have changed since then.

2010 was a challenging year for me. I was WIPED OUT from caring for a child and working full time. Riley was no longer colicky, but she still wasn't sleeping through the night so my brain was often in a fog. Jesse basically gave me a pass this year trying to encourage me to not worry about a gift as he knew what kind of state I was in. He noted that some 'daddy' t-shirts was just what he wanted. So I delivered on three different daddy shirts. He's often commenting on needing new t-shirts so I bought him a bunch of white shirts and iron on transfers. I was going to make some shirts for him, but that just didn't happen. Because I was not happy with this gift I took wire hangers and made the figure below. Yeah it's weird. I also got a baby onsie that said "My daddy's tattoos are cooler than your daddy's". And while he does wear his daddy t-shirts the iron on stuff is still in the closet. Not every year can be a winner.

So this year I was determined to create a memorable birthday especially since it fell on 11/11/11. I was pretty perplexed until my co-worker, Sarah, pointed out a website called The Dating Divas that had a ton of great ideas. I actually combined three of the ideas, but the one at the heart if this was about showing Jesse that he was appreciated. I emailed friends and family and asked them to write Jesse a letter or make a coupon for a day of hanging out.. or anything they wanted to do to let him know how much we all think he rocks. My goal was to have 11 envelopes that he would have to open. I actually had more than 11 letters, but I was still able to make the 11 envelopes work. I then posted them on the wall around a personalized magazine cover I made.

The Dating Divas website had some great printouts (such as the numbers for the envelopes which I added scrapbook paper to) including the below clever idea. I printed them out, picked up the corresponding item and presented them like this:

We each had our favorites (Jesse's was the 'fish' one, mine was the 'soda' one). Jesse was nice enough to offer me the Skor bar as he knows it is my favorite, but I was prepared for this and bought a second one just for me.

A first look at his gift.

Say "cheese". I had to take a bunch of pictures to show to those who contributed. Jesse was not a hug fan of this (especially since we were already in our jammy jams), but he was willing to play along.

Jesse was pretty moved by this gift and how everyone came together to say some kind (and funny) words to him. It may look like he was crying above, but that didn't happen until envelope # 11 when he read the letter from his little girl. She always knows the right thing to say. Speaking of Riley, I had been working with her to learn to sing "Happy Birthday" for several weeks. She would sort of contribute with a "Happy" here and a "daddy" there. So just before she went down for the night she and I sang "Happy Birthday" for Jesse. And when I say 'we' I mean I sang. She didn't make a peep... until I was done and then, as clear as I've ever heard her say anything, she said "happy birthday dear daddy". It was awesome.

And I am happy to report that Jesse said something along the lines of "Every year I think you're just going to do a normal birthday, that you can't keep topping yourself, but you did once again".

Just wait until next year.

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