Friday, January 11, 2013

You Belong In A Zoo

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know I love cool numbers, right? I always see when it's 11:11 on the digital clock.  (Jonathan and I have a deal to think of each other when we see it.) I always see 12:34. Dates are interesting, too. When it was 11:11 on 11/11/11? I mean, that was neat.  This year, we'll have 11/12/13, but that's another blog. 

SO to have a birthday on a fun date, that makes an already special thing even better. (Yes, I still like birthdays, I just don't think of them as chronological. It's like--Hank Day. Not about getting older. which is yet another blog. )When we  were growing up, we used to lobby for birthday WEEK, which Mom, sadly, never bought in to.  Our family's birthday thing was the honoree got to pick whatever they wanted for dinner.

So our dear Terry Ambrose, friends of the Reds has a birthday--today! On 1/11. NIce. even nicer, he has a gift for YOU. Read on. 

by Terry Ambrose

This blog appearance is something of a surprise party. When we set this up, I didn’t realize what day “January 11” was. Then, a day or so later, it hit me. Today is my birthday! 

And that’s not as in going to a restaurant and fudging the day by a few days just to get the free dessert. No, today really is the day.

Once I’d connected the dots, my thoughts immediately went to “what could make this a fun little celebration?” It would be hard to top my favorite birthday, which was a few years ago when we spent time on Kauai for three weeks in January. Now that was birthday in paradise! And, there is a downside to virtual parties. Wee can’t do cake and ice cream. Alcohol is out. So are the spankings. However, I can share some really unusual birthday traditions from around the world with one caveat: I haven’t experienced any of these traditions firsthand…thank goodness.

On Yahoo Voices, I found a 2008 post from Ayanna Guyhto about birthdays in Germany for men who have reached the age of 30. “According to custom, these men are made to sweep the steps of City Hall. Upon finishing this task, the birthday ‘boy’s’ friends toss in some more dirt and rubble to ensure that passing females will see him and know that he keeps a clean house.” Are you kidding me? I can just see his friends cheering and jeering. “The other end! It’s not a pool cue!” What if his arms get tired? Does that make him look like a weenie and blow the whole deal?

On the “Divine Caroline” blog in 2010, Kathryn Williams posted about parents in Lucerne, Switzerland who hire an evil clown to “stalk, harass, and eventually smash a pie in the face of their beloved birthday boys and girls.” This custom would appear to be a bit more popular than expected because you can find these clowns (no pun intended) on the Internet. There’s one who will even stalk your kids for a week. And, of course, I’ve got questions about this whole clown thing. What if the kid’s been good? Do they still do this? What if Johnny is always in trouble? Will the clown consider going on retainer?

Have you ever wondered where the birthday spanking tradition came from? Williams also reported that “In England and Ireland, kids receive ‘the bumps’ on their birthday, which sounds like an STD but is actually a lot more fun. Friends and family lift birthday boys and girls by their arms and legs, raise them into the air, and then plunk them down on the floor, once for each year they’ve lived.” Right. Try explaining that one to Child Protective Services.

There’s even an entire industry built around “unusual birthday gifts.” It seems that everyone wants to give a present that no one else will have. These gifts include things like T-shirts with clever sayings like “Authentic Vintage” and the year of the recipient’s birth. So, tell me, Reds, how many of you would wear one of those Tees?—that’s what I thought.

Celebrating birthdays is different around the world, but it seems that the giving of gifts is somewhat universal. And since the Reds were so kind as to host me on “my day,” I’d like to give something back. I’m giving away a free book to some lucky commenter. Choose either my new release, “License to Lie,” or “Photo Finish.” And, pick either Kindle or softcover. It’s your choice. Just leave a comment to enter and on Monday, January 14 we’ll pick a winner.

HANK: So, Red readers, let’s hear from you. Do you have unusual birthday traditions or customs? How do you like to celebrate those annual milestones?  

And happy birthday, dear Terry!


You can find out more about Terry Ambrose and his novels, License to Lie and Photo Finish, at Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter as @suspense_writer.


  1. Yes, indeed, Hank, numbers are quite fascinating . . . palindromes always capture my attention . . . .

    Happy Birthday, Terry!

    First of all, I suggest we send the evil clown to yesterday’s blog . . . he can make friends with Robert.

    As for birthday celebrations, we’ll pass on all the weird ones Terry so graciously offered for our consideration [and I’ll pass on the tee shirt, too; thank you anyway] . . . . We always do the birthday dinner thing, but there are also parties for all the Little Ones. We also celebrate every child’s first half birthday with one special present but they, of course, are too young to remember this . . . . Nevertheless, we still do it. We’re also fans of celebrating unbirthdays, just because an unexpected celebration is a wonderful surprise . . . and that is always a good thing.

  2. I hate numbers, which might explain why I was not the world's best bond salesman. I can't or refuse to remember my own Social Security number, and often stumble trying to recall my address and phone. No kidding.

    Our only birthday tradition is for granddaughter Angelina, who was born on Christmas Day. We have celebrations several times during the year, including cakes, candles and singing.

  3. Happy Birthday, Terry!

    No weird birthday celebrations traditions here, and no, I wouldn't wear the t-shirt. I miss getting birthday cards in the mail. Birthday greetings usually come via Facebook or email now. Call me old-fashioned, I don't mind.

  4. Happy Birthday, Terry! An Island vacation sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday.

    We've always done fun dinners and trips for birthdays, whatever the person wants. One year the whole family, about 20 of us, packed up and went to Denmark to celebrate a birthday. For another we went to Germany, because Steve had always wanted to drive the autobahn and visit Kiehle (his middle name). Don't ever sleep in a truckstop on the autobahn. Most of our birthdays are pretty tame, though.

    My birthday is Valentine's Day. I'm still trying to find a way to keep it from being a chocolate fest. When we're in Massachusetts I pretend my birthday is in the summer. We drive to Woodman's in Essex for a lunch of fried clams and deep fried lobster. We spend the afternoon at the beach and head over to Gloucester for lobster stuffed with lobster.

  5. My birthday celebrations have changed over the years, but the best birthday present I ever received by far was 18 years ago when my youngest daughter was born--on my birthday. Happy Birthday Terry. enjoy your day.

  6. Hi all, and thanks for the good wishes. Just catching up here since I'm on the Left Coast.

    Joan: I like your idea of sending the clown to visit Robert, but it might freak the poor clown out and then he'd never be able to do his job again...

    jack: That's nice that you do several celebrations for your granddaughter. I'll bet that was a Christmas to remember!

    Nancy Jo: I think those FB greetings are the quantity vs. quality get bunch of them, but how many of the people do you really know?

    Reine: We've definitely postponed some birthday celebrations when there was a trip coming up...I mean, if you're going to miss by a day or a month, what's the difference?

    David: Now that's a birthday present! Just like Jack's granddaughter. Hope your daughter doesn't mind sharing!

    Too soon for cake, but I'll be going to Starbucks for my freebie today and it's going to be a Venti!

  7. Happy Birthday, Terry, and all best wishes for the year ahead.

    My birthday - the first of December, in case anyone wants to put it in their datebook - has a tradition of being forgotten by my family of origin. It often fell during the week after Thanksgiving, and everyone would be gearing up for the holidays, so my b-day slipped by unnoticed on more than one occasion.

    My sweetie makes up for this by giving me a birthday week. Take note, Hank, it can happen if you act hangdoggie enough about not having been celebrated roundly as a child.

    BTW, Hank, what was your birthday dinner of choice? Terry, how about you?

    I like Reine's half-birthday menu -lobster stuffed lobster. Terrific!

  8. I'm thinking that clown stalking thing was started by the mental health industry, as a way to ensure fodder for decades for psychotherapists. *shudder*

    Birthday weeks, even months, are very popular in my family, a tradition that started with my niece. We're in Ohio; they live in California. Jenny's birthday is July 3rd, so they usually came to visit during that part of the summer. She always believed that the fireworks--which do not happen in their part of CA--were in her honor. She's 33 now, and it still tickles me to remember her wonder at how we managed to get such a thing to happen, just for her.

    When I was a kid we were allowed to request a special dinner with all our favorites, plus the type of cake, for our birthday. I always chose fried chicken, mashed potatoes and peas, with chocolate cake with chocolate icing. That was 50 years ago, and I think I'd still choose that same menu today.

    Reine, love the idea of lobster stuffed with lobster!

    Happy birthday, Terry! May you have many happy returns of the day.

  9. Thanks, Brenda and Karen! I don't really have a birthday dinner of choice, however, my birthday dinner place of choice would be Duke's on Kauai. Ocean view, trade winds, warm nights...ahh. However, since we're not there now, tonight my wife has scheduled a surprise dinner. I truly have no idea where we're going, so it will be a surprise until she says, "Pull in there!" This is a special one because we're not only celebrating my birthday, but also the release of License to Lie. So it should be fun!

    When I read about the clown-stalking thing in Switzerland, I thought how weird it was. Then, I started seeing ads for them here! Man, talk about creepy!

  10. I still haven't heard from the Reds as to which ones would wear the T-shirt! I think I know the answer, but could be way off base. :-)

  11. Lately, my tradition has been to try and ignore my birthday!

    I like the one with the guys sweeping the steps. That has much merit!

    Morgan Mandel

  12. You may ignore them, but they just keep on coming...until they don't...and I don't much like that alternative!

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Oh, I'd wear the tshirt. Just not in public.

    My younger sister has a great system--she tells her age, but says she's OLDER than she really is. Then people say wow, you look terrific!

  15. MY birthday dinner of choice? Chinese food. For a few years, at least. We were never allowed to have it, growing up, because my step-father didn't like it. But on birthdays, the system was inviolable.

    So I loved going to Jade East, I thnk it was called-or was that the cologne? Or both? ANd I STILL love egg rolls, though I hardly ever eat them.

    Now I'm suddenly feeling guilty for making him go to the restaurant. I didn't when I was a kid, though.

    I eventually changed to lamb chops.

  16. WINNERS of FONDUING FATHERS! (From yesterday's Julie Hyzy blog)
    Michelle F and Karen B
    Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com with your address!

  17. Have a lovely day, Terry! My younger son's birthday is tomorrow (evening), and I was already in labor 24 years ago today...

    I love celebrating my birthday and had a big dance party in November as I entered the "S's". I did the same thing when I turned 50!

  18. Welcome, Terry! Like Hank, I'd wear the shirt -- but not in public. (Maroon isn't my color ;-) )

    But birthday meals?! Now you're talking my language. In our house the birthday person gets me to cook any meal they want. I make a grilled butterflied leg of lamb with egg lemon sauce that's a favorite.

    For me, it's dinner out. And I guess my all time favorite birthday dish is from Summer Shack (there used to be just one - now there are several) -- their "pan roasted lobster," Jasper White's incredible dish - watch the video on how to make it and you'll see why I don't even attempt it (skip the first 50 seconds or so of leisurely intro...). I'm dreaming of it right now.

    Second choice would be chinese soup dumplings - another thing I'd never attempt - and the best place for it in Boston that I know of is the Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown.

    Funny how all questions lead to food...

  19. OH I LOVE chisese soup dumplings! I can't beleive you mentoned it..YUM. SO nice and soy saucy and bean sprouty and--do you ever go to the Royal East?

    Okay, back to birthdays. DInner out? Or dinner IN? (Out for me..)

  20. Happy Birthday, Terry! Enjoy your day.

    Birthdays at our house have always meant a favorite meal - either at home or out. The theme varies but seems to vary pretty much between Mexican and Italian. Topped off by some sort of really decadent dessert.

    I do usually fix something for Donald as a little surprise - chocolate covered strawberries, or a plate of truffles.

  21. Happy birthday!!!

    I say celebrate for as long and as well as you can, because any day spent seeing the grass from this side is a good day. My favorite was my 50th, in the company of many of my favorite storytellers, who sang to me at midnight. Chuck Larkin had just said he didn't think women under 50 were truly interesting and I replied, "Then I'm about to become much more interesting."

    I have a shirt a student gave me with "50 years ago" Headlines and photos from 1948 "and I was born." I used marker to change to 5 to a 6 a few years back, and I might cover the 0 with a 5 in October, in celebration of Medicare lowering health insurance costs (I hope).

  22. Happy birthday, Terry! I have the "reverse" birthday - 11/1. I always make a big deal over my birthday. Being the day after Halloween there's always a lot of leftover candy to go along with the cake and presents, so what's not to love?
    We also have the tradition of letting the birthday celebrant choose the dinner. A couple of years ago my then-7-year-old son, who has a summer birthday- chose corn on the cob, steamed edamame and watermelon. That was the entire dinner. I think my parents wished I hadn't invited them to that one!

  23. I'm relocated now in Starbucks and enjoying my vente Cafe Mocha. Can someone tell me why they just couldn't have called the large, medium, and small?

    I'm surprised at how many of the Reds would wear one of those shirts...even if it is just in the house. But wait, the mailman has a package for you and he's at the door..what do you do?

    That must have been a long labor, Edith! More than 24 hours, yikes! And did you say decadent dessert Kaye? I'm in!

  24. I love Chinese food as well as Japanese, but it's really tough to find dishes that are gluten free, which is what I need. That makes it hard to find restaurants that I can trust.

    Betsy...edamame? Seriously? A 7 year old? And he liked it? I can promise that's not on my birthday dinner list! Sorry!

    Thanks storytellermary, Betsy, Hallie and Edith for the best wishes. The coffee is great! Even better because it was free!

  25. Happy birthday Terry! Another solid Capricorn:). I have a whopper birthday coming up next week but I would not wear the T-shirt anywhere, in or out:)

    In our family, it's all about the cake. Birthday person gets to pick and I bake it. And yes Hank, we refer to this as the birthday "season", which can stretch on until celebrant is totally sick of the whole thing!

  26. I LOVE it! I want a double chocolate cake with chocolate frosting! What time are you coming over to bake :-)

    Update on the dinner: Kathy called:
    Her—how much gas is in the car?
    Me—enough to go 50 miles each way
    Her—you might want to fill it up...

    SAY WHAT? I think she's messing with me.

  27. Happy birthday, Terry! I'm a January kid, too -- the 27th. My quirky ritual? I don't celebrate my birthday until spring, when it's less gray, the days are starting to get longer again, and flowers are blooming. My friends don't comment anymore. They just say, So we'll wait until around April, Lisa?

    I do buy myself a gift though. I love buying myself gifts! :-)

  28. Lisa, you CHANGE your birthday? I was thinking--I'm a Libra--could I change myself to a Scorpio?

    Oh, I see. You just chage your celebration.

  29. As a kid, our family was loaded with February birthdays. After getting married, I'm the odd one out--Hubster, son & daughters' birthdays begin Oct, 23- and run through Nov. 16th. Mine falls after Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day, so by then we're 'celebrated' out, but currently, birthday person gets to choose dinner and/or restaurant. Only up here in the mountains, there aren't a lot of choices. So I prefer "I don't have to do any housework today because it's my birthday." (Yes, we celebrate Groundhog Day--it has significance for me & the Hubster)

  30. Hi Hank -- yep, just the celebration. But that said, am I secretly hankering to be a fearless Aries or a purposeful Taurus? Hmmm...

  31. I'd say any birthday celebrated is a good one--rather like any day one wakes up is a good one.

  32. Hank, you should totally change your birthday to be a Scorpio (right, Betsy Bitner?). We have the BEST sign and the best parties, too. Just saying...

    Terry, I can't wait to hear about your dinner!

    (And yes, it was a Very Long Labor.)

  33. Happy Birthday, Terry. Oh the food. Better than some creepy clowns. You New England types are killing me. Oh the food!

    I am always looking for new authors to read and your books sound interesting.
    I prefer softcover

  35. When I asked Jonathan--what does "You belong in a zoo" remind you of? He said: animals?

    But you get what I meant by the title, right?

  36. Numbers and birthdays:

    When my husband and I turned 50 (he in June and I in August), our daughters gave us a party in July: "100 years of Don and Denise."

    I gave my sister 60 gifts for her 60th birthday (all mailed -- she lives on the other coast).

    When one of my kids turned some age or another, I wrote a poem -- # of things I love about ___.

    I'm in agreement with "I am alive, let's celebrate."

  37. Denise Ann! That is SO wonderful!

    The sixty gifts is hilarious..what did she do???

  38. I''m back from my critique group. What a bunch of cranky people today! We beat up on everyone...a friend told them it was my birthday AFTER it was my turn...sadly, nobody apologized...waah!

    Lisa, we did that one year for my birthday and waited until May when we were going to be on Kauai! That year, it was Duke's for the birthday dinner.

    Edith, I noticed that you capitalized the words for that labor...yikes! You must have been so ready to get it over with!

    Thanks Joye! Maybe you'll win and if you do, soft cover it will be.

    Hank, I just thought you were referring to my animal magnetism...

    I want to know about the sixty gifts, too, Denise Ann. You can't tell us that without giving us some juicy details to go with it!

  39. My son always preferred pumpkin pie to a cake of any kind for his birthday. :)

    pmettert @

  40. Pen, pumpkin pie is pretty cool! And, it's different. Does he still like that tradition?

    Update on the cake:

    The "cake" turned out not to be cake at all but gluten-free date bars that have candied fruit and coconut and pecan shortbread cookies for the crust. We haven't had these in several years and they are wonderful!

  41. Happy Birthday, Terry!

    Because nobody in my family lives anywhere near me, I rarely have a family celebration. At work we celebrate birthdays, though. I like to bake bownies for the birthday person. To me, a birthday cries out for chocolate!

    I know a family that has a beautiful practice for birthdays: at dinner on the day of a family member's birthday, each member of the family affirms the birthday person in some way. So someone might say "I admire your loyalty to your friends" or "I'm proud that my dad/spouse makes sacrifices to be an ethical business person" or "your willingness to drop everything and help out a friend or relative who has a special need is inspirational to the rest of us", etc.

  42. Brownies... I like to bake BROWNIES...NOT bownies!!! Gee, these old fingers!!

  43. DebRo, that is the NICEST tradition..I'm going to try to to remember to steal it!

    Or maybe we should do it here?

    Terry, I am always impressed with how your brain works! You're always doing a wonderful thing..and planning the next one.

    ANd Lucy Burdette's birthday is soon..that'll be fun!

  44. What fun, Terry! These are some crazy traditions. Clowns are scary enough, but if I had one stalking me, I might go wonkers.

    Both my kids have summer birthdays, and their parties always involved water - swimming, slip-n-slides, water balloons, and squirt guns.

    Being a December birthday, I was never so lucky, and I always seemed to get less for my birthday than the other kids because Christmas was so close. Or at least that's what the green-eyed envy monster seemed to think.

    Enjoyed your post!


  45. Oh, on our way out the door for the mystery dinner! I won't know where we're going until...

  46. Have fun! ANd know we expect DETAILS!!

    Happy Birthday!

  47. Finally had a chance to read all the replies. Sure wish I could be related to any of you! I miss celebrating my birthday in a special way. (Not that I don't celebrate it at all...we do celebrate birthdays at work, and a small faith-sharing group I belong to celebrates birthays, but it's not the same without family. My sibs and I live in three different states,five different cities. Getting together is nearly impossible.) If I could choose any kind of restaurant, it would be Chinese. For a home-cooked meal, I would pick stuffed cabbage as a kid (and I can hear my mom saying "are you sure?" because hardly anyone else in the family liked it...that was okay, because there was more for ME!) The birthday cake MUST be chocolate, with chocolate icing. Any other kind of cake is NOT a birthday cake!

    Terry, I really need to know all about dinner! Was there singing? What about clowns?

  48. The dish on dinner:
    It was a surprise—I didn't see this one coming at all. It was a small restaurant in San Clemente (about 25 miles North, so we were well within our allotted 50-mile limit). It was a little Italian place we'd never been to, but that Kathy had heard about. This is one of those places where they speak "Gluten." As in gluten-free pizza and pasta and they know what does and doesn't contain it.

    No clowns...creepy or otherwise. No singing...but we were outdoors on the patio with the area heaters going. Great food...gluten-free for me, "normal" for the normal one. Friendly service from all of the waitstaff. All-in-all, a place to add to the approved list. It's called Sonny's and they've been in business for 80 or so years...

    Being your basic quick study and math whiz, I'm pretty sure that the original (Italian) "Sonny" is looking down from on high saying "You messa wid my recipe you gonna be sorry!" At least, that's the gist of what I picked up when the waitress described how long they'd been around to the people at the next table.

    Thanks Reds and all the visitors for a great day!

  49. One year, a friend of mine mailed me a cake mix and frosting, with "one birthday cake, some assembly required" written on the outside of the package, because she felt bad that I didn't have a cake the previous year.

  50. What a great idea, Shannon. If she'd have made it ahead of time, it probably would have required a LOT more assembly! :-) I hope it was the type of cake you liked!