Certain moments of my life, I couldn’t imagine ever turning 50. It seemed impossibly far away — and very much old — when I was a child and in my 20s. There were the dark days when I was so depressed before the celiac diagnosis restored my even mind that I honestly didn’t know if I would live to be 50. A terrible car accident that nearly took my life and left me with terrible injuries for nearly 2 years made me wonder if 50 would feel as decrepit and painful as those months in bed.
Turns out I had no idea what awaited me. 50 feels, by far, like the best time of my life.
This past weekend, I turned 50. I’ve spent the last year contemplating my life, digging deeper, dropping everything not necessary, and deciding to act on what really matters to me. Last week, we spent most of our time scouring the house, taking car loads of things we don’t need anymore to the thrift store and the dump. By the time Friday evening at 5:30 finally arrived, I was ready to celebrate this one in style and calm.
And with food. Friday evening, I had a dinner on the back patio of Gravy, my favorite new restaurant on Vashon, with a dozen of my best women friends in town. And my former roommate William, a dear friend, who surprised me by walking onto the patio with Sharon, my oldest friend in the world. So it was really a baker’s dozen of 12 of my favorite women and the honorary gal. (William is fine with this.) That night there was karaoke in an Eagles hall. My brother insisted that Sharon and I do Ebony and Ivory (I had Paul’s lines, of course). We were up until nearly midnight belting Jon Bon Jovi with a very enthusiastic room.
The next day, a clutch of diehard friends joined me at 8 in the morning for a good hike through my favorite forest. The rest of the day meant our yard filled with friends from all around, across the country, and down the coast. My brother’s amp blasted the best songs from 1966, 1976, and 1986. (He stopped after that. Not enough good music, in his mind.) After that, I blasted the Hamilton soundtrack and did a lip synch of The Schuyler Sisters with my friend Bo. And there was food. More food. Great food. Potluck, early August food, lined up on tables in the back of our yard, in front of the blackberry bushes.
And there were guests galore, friends from every decade of my life and every place I have ever lived. There were friends from the Unitarian church, friends from New York, friends who had once been students, and friends from Vashon, of course. There was nothing fancy about this party. We had folding tables, paper plates, sparkling water in cans, lots of ice, a few bottles of wine, and so much laughter. I had the chance to have a real conversation with every group of people who came. I couldn’t stop smiling.
And there were kids. Kids who occasionally needed our attention but mostly ran around the yard squealing with giggles. We had a croquet station, a pool, water guns, a playhouse for climbing, a trampoline for jumping, baseballs and gloves, and an art station set up on the porch. One friend, whose family was able to make it because their trip from Tel Aviv to Seattle happened to coincide with the date of my party, said to me at the end of the day, “I can’t get my kids to leave. The blackberries, the games, the other children. And the size of this yard? I’m pretty sure they think this is the best day of their lives.”
I understood. I felt that too.
Growing up, I always wanted to have the house where everyone was welcome. Where we made too much food in case someone came by. Where friends of my children felt like family and we ran out of chairs for all the people who wanted to sit at our table.
That day, I felt it. This is our home.
This young man, Gabe, who is now nearly 40, was my student when he was 14. I met him nearly 24 years ago. I knew immediately that when he was an adult, we’d be friends. That happened when he graduated high school and we have been friends for 20 years now. He’s like my second little brother. I adore him with all my heart.
Life is long. Every day — especially when you’re in your 20s and even your 30s — can feel so important. So long. Sometimes so full of heartbreak. You don’t have enough living in you to know that life goes on. That everything changes. That there is a rhythm to the seasons and the way life keeps cycling back upon itself. And that you will remember the 14-year-old vividly at the same time that you adore the nearly 40-year-old, and it will all feel like the same moment and impossibly long ago. There’s no need to fret about anything, really. Everything changes. And nothing at all.
A few years ago, someone once wise told me, “Luck is when you know how good your life is, the moment you are living it.” I have remembered it ever since. I feel like turning 50 means there are more and longer moments of knowing how good I have it. Mostly with my friends.
This is Anita. She took most of the photographs here in this post. At a certain point in the party, she realized I wasn’t going to pick up the camera I had set down on a table, intending to document it. She picked it up for me and took most of these shots.
She also brought me a present, even though I told people they weren’t necessary. What more did I need? Anita knew that I needed a new pair of shoes for my 50th year. She’s a fervent Fleuvog fan. She owns multiple pairs and moderates a Facebook page about Fluevog shoes, where people share stories and sell each other pairs. It’s a community. About a month ago, she put out a call for a pair of shoes in my size: not too feminine but not boots, full of character, kick-ass, with non-traditional colors, and an interesting design. She brought the shoes to me on Saturday. If you meet me on Vashon, you’ll see me wearing those green shoes. I won’t be taking them off for awhile. They’re my 50 shoes.
The party that day was only halfway through the birthday celebrations. That evening we had a bonfire at the beach, with friends who brought guitars and dogs and sparklers for the children, who danced in the moonlight. The next morning, we had a rainy breakfast at another beach. That afternoon, we had a pickup baseball game at my favorite park on the island. Our dear friends Steve and Gypsy surprised us there. They had moved back to Seattle from Oakland the day before, so we didn’t think we’d see them. After hitting line drives and laughing, we invited them back to our house for dinner, along with Sharon and William. As we sat in the backyard, picking blackberries, then holding out our hands for the children to grab one ripe warm berry after another and plop them in their mouths, Steve looked around. “This is a little slice of heaven you have here, Shauna.”
Oh yes. And I know it. How lucky I am.
Here I am, at 50, with a husband I adore, an 8-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, the lights of my life. I had no idea how good this life would be someday. I’m so glad I’ve made it here.
And now, I watch my kids playing with the friends they have known since birth or in baby playgroup or kindergarten. They have no idea how lucky they are yet. But maybe someday they will. I have no idea if I’ll be around for when they turn 50. But I sure as hell intend to get as far as I can, loving this life and loving more and longer moments as I live them.
smoked salmon goat cheese spread
This spread was one of the hits of the buffet table at my birthday party. Dan was kind enough to smoke sides of salmon in our smoker days in advance so he could make this. He also used Vashon-made goat cheese from one of our favorite farms. But that was a singular experience. You don’t need that to make a great spread.
Get yourself some good smoked salmon, some soft goat cheese, a little thick Greek yogurt, and a lemon. Mix and season to taste. It’s going to be good.
Make the spread. Put the smoked salmon and goat cheese into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the smoked salmon is broken down and incorporated into the goat cheese. Stop the food processor. Add the juice of the lemon. Pulse the spread. If it feels too thick to you, add the Greek yogurt and pulse until the spread is the consistency you want.
Season to taste. Refrigerate the spread for at least 1 hour before serving.
Serve with gluten-free crackers or vegetables.