The last few weeks have been marked by a variety of celebrations.
The most obvious of these was an early surprise party for my birthday a few weeks ago. Heidi can attest to the difficulty in letting anything escape my perception. I’m not as good as Sherlock Holmes, but it gets pretty close at times. However, she managed to fool me completely and arranged a party with 20 close friends and relatives at Cafémantic. I won’t go into the details of how she pulled off this caper or the beguiling ways she took care to delay me when I wanted to arrive early, but she deftly produced genuine astonishment from me.
We had never eaten at Cafémantic before so this was an exceptional treat. The dinner was served family style with several different courses including caesar salad, meat and cheese plates, mussels, jerk chicken, spinach and artichoke dip, mac and cheese, and dates wrapped in bacon. Most of the food is sourced locally and it was all delicious. I love the mix between the usual and unexpected when it comes to a comprehensive meal.
Afterwards, the party moved to Willimantic Brewing Company (Willibrew, for short) for karaoke. Heidi grabbed the mic to serenade me with “Happy Birthday,” along with the whole bar, and our group dug into some fantastic cupcakes from A Cupcake for Later. It was a fun evening of singing, dancing, drinking, and eating. There hadn’t been a gathering of so many close to us since our wedding. Things like this should happen more often in life. You know it was a good night when you have to retrieve forgotten jackets for more than one person.
My birthday isn’t until mid-November and it will be my 30th, so it was nice to be surprised early and avoid the expectation (or inevitable depression) that will accompany the official day. Also, Heidi has parent/teacher conferences on my actual birthday, making any plans or surprises relatively impossible.
We had been to Willibrew for their Annual Craft Brewers’ Oktoberfest Beer Tasting the week before (where apparently Heidi was able to secretly arrange some of the planning right under my nose). I’m quite thankful for the recent rise in craft beers and the availability of tastings such as these. We’re all used to thinking of tastings being associated with wines and wineries, but for someone like me who can’t tell the difference between a Riesling and a Pinot noir, beer tastings now exist. I think wine will always feel more cultured and sophisticated, but I think beer has lost some of its lowbrow stigma and there is certainly more variety than ever before (proof: I tried a jalapeño beer, the Machu Picchu Jalapeño Farmhouse Ale to be specific, by Black Pond Brews).
There are about 20 breweries represented along with a buffet and lots of raffles for shirts, mugs, hats, and all kinds of swag. We have a pretty good sized group attend so someone nearly always wins something. It’s odd to tell people, “Oh yeah, I went to the beer tasting with my wife, parents, and brother,” but it’s true. There are some good friends who came as well and it’s a great way to say goodbye to summer with everyone and hello to the dark beers of the dimmer months.
These festivities and the change of pace also accompany my volunteer work with the Norwich Community Cinema. This time of year marks the end of our summer outdoor films and the movement back to our indoor space at the Donald L. Oat Theater in Norwich, CT. We have plenty of reasons to be jubilant as we acquired a new projector, audio/video mixer, and Blu-Ray player to start our fall films. However, the best part is the ease in arranging the indoor films.
As much fun as it is to have open air films on a warm summer evening, it’s accompanied by a long evening followed by a week of back pain. To make these summer films happen we have to pile equipment into our vehicles including the inflatable screen, speakers and projector, haul it out, show the film, stuff it all back in and only then can we call it a night. We’re attempting to secure a trailer for next summer to streamline the process, but for now it’s a sigh of relief to put the equipment into storage and show films in a place where the screening and sound apparatus remains permanently fixed, and the only physical work involves unlocking doors, flipping breakers, snapping power strips on and off, and pushing buttons on remote controls.
Ultimately, what we’re celebrating is autumn. We live in New England where fall reigns supreme as the favorite season. The weather is mild, leaves are turning, cider is abundant, and everyone on the whole is a bit friendlier before cabin fever sets in. All these events have confirmed that indeed the seasons are changing and winter is about to settle in.
Some of our friends even hosted an autumn party. Though I was working at the screening that evening, Heidi attended. These friends are constantly involved in all kinds of projects involving growing and raising their own food, including a comprehensive garden and livestock featuring rabbits, chickens, and most recently, goats. Heidi reported that the food was great (and jealousy inducing) including venison chili and roasted squash, to name a few highlights. The drink of the evening was cider with mulling spices on the stove. They had a bonfire outside and one of the guests who had recently begun fire breathing was convinced to give a demonstration, which made for an especially unforgettable evening for those there (sorry I missed that!).
There is a bit of warmth still left in the air. The owners of The Stomping Ground, where, as we’ve mentioned before, we regularly play open mics, are expecting in a few weeks and recently had a wonderful baby shower at their beautiful establishment, which was unique as it allowed the extended family of musicians, customers, and friends to congratulate and participate in sharing the joy. Heidi’s parents and my brother celebrated their birthdays these past few weeks. It is a marvelous feeling to be in the orbit of so many fantastic individuals.
It’s a good time of year (although there is no wrong time of year) to be grateful for a lot of things and gatherings are always a pleasant and welcome experience to remind you that there are some relationships that remain the same (and improve) in the best possible ways no matter how much time passes or whatever change occurs.