90th–or Younger– Birthday Party: Another Creative and Clever Idea

 Image result for red chinese take out boxes

Was there ever a milestone celebration that didn’t involve a lot of planning, some surprises (problems), energy and fatigue? And so it was for Laura’s 90th, written about October 18th.

A phone call to Laura to tell her how much I enjoyed being part of her birthday celebration, led to some revelations. Among them, there were “goody bags” for guests to take home as they left the party.  However, in the excitement of the evening, Laura’s adult children forgot about them so guests never got them.  I think they’re another good idea for elders’ birthday parties.

A Chinese Take-out Box Containing 2 Fortune Cookies……is what the guests were supposed to take home, but the fortune cookie messages were not the usual. Examples:
1.  32,872 days old…but who’s counting?
2.  Consider yourself fortunate that your life has been touched by a special woman
3.  The party always begins when Laura arrives

For creative people who are do-it-yourselfers, this link and this link demonstrate two ways to of putting the personalized message in the professionally-made fortune cookie.

Milestone events are clearly special occasions, especially as people age. Birthday celebrations give opportunities for elderly honorees as well as elderly guests to have fun and take away wonderful memories (and possibly a fortune cookie). And shouldn’t these occasions create that extra dose of excitement and connections with others that help parents age well?

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PS. A helpful tactic for the scavenger hunt written about on Oct. 18th: Laura’s adult children used a ploy to enable a thorough search for expired food in Laura’s pantry. By asking Laura questions about the past and the “old days,” Laura’s children were able to keep her far away from the pantry, thus allowing them the needed time to look for food containers with long-ago expiration dates.


Aging Parents: A Perfect Birthday Party for an Elderly Woman


She mentioned the old days with obvious nostalgia, when women were invited to people’s homes for luncheons and teas. The younger woman, B, listened intently. The older woman described how special it was–the friendliness, the sharing, the carefully-planned and prepared food.

The sincerity and vivid recollection made an impact on the younger woman, whose lifestyle included a thirteen-year-old, two college-aged children, and her two difficult aging parents.

The older woman was Sr. Advisor, R, my m-i-l, a remarkable woman whose wisdom, sayings, diet, and way of living life have  provided material for many posts. Recalling times gone by and their sweet moments, these recollections still brought R happiness–more than half a century later. B was moved by the conversation.

That’s the background for the most perfect and meaningful birthday celebration I ever attended.

R didn’t want a celebration for her 95th birthday. This year was different. B, in her 40’s, planned a 96th birthday luncheon. 11 guests (ages 13-96). The hostess’s 13-year-old daughter wanted to be there as did her 25-year-old sister (with a recent ankle fracture).

The large dining room table, simply and beautifully set, was extended to seat all the guests. Stemmed glasses, hand-decorated by the hostess with each guest’s name, replaced place cards. The delicious luncheon was buffet-style prepared by the hostess and the thirteen-year-old. Personal touch and caring were evident from beginning to end.

No commercial gifts–something more priceless: memories, spontaneously requested by the hostess and shared around the large dining room table. A 50-something-year-old guest expressed how fortunate she felt to live across the street, saying after her mother died, she turned to R for understanding and wisdom.

Another shared a time her husband and son were having difficulties and R suggested writing a note expressing her thoughts, instead of entering into an argument creating heated emotions. It works!

The 13-year-old said R was responsible for her New York trip with her class, when her parents were uncertain about financing it. R explained to her mother why it would be a worthwhile experience (and gave the child a bit of spending money for the trip). R was as dear to these younger and older women as they were to her.

Many old women wouldn’t merit this kind of luncheon, but there are also many who would. R lived a long time, making the effort to remain involved, always thoughtful with words and deeds. Living in the same home since the 1940’s, she welcomed many young families and babies to the neighborhood–always with a small gift. The babies have graduated high school and college and new families (like B’s) have filled those homes.

R successfully spanned the generations. There was wisdom and a solid connection to what matters when she talked with you. No wonder she was a surrogate grandmother, mother and wise friend to young and old. (Who else would have a turkey dinner sent to a neighbor’s son at college to share with friends who couldn’t be home for Thanksgiving?)

If we’re fortunate to have a lovely elderly woman in our lives, who values the old days, is this kind of luncheon an option? Don’t many elders prefer a larger mid-day meal (allows time for a nap). And the informal buffet style works. R knew the buffet choices, was asked what she’d like, and someone brought the plated food to her.

And how thoughtful is that–as we try to help parents and the elders we care about age well!

Sr. Advisor R, who died in June, would have been 102 tomorrow.

Related: Celebrating Elders’ Birthday Ideas–To Do and Not to Do (A Once-a-Year Chance)
Celebrating Elder’s Birthdays–What They Want. Not What We Want and Why

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities. respected professionals and selected publications–to help parents age well.

The Damaged Relationship Between Elton John and his 90-year-old Mother

Gossipy posts are a rarity–if ever–on my blog. That said, being an Elton John fan, the Daily Mail’s article interested me, most especially because of his elderly mother’s reasoning which gives clues as to why–at 90– she appears to have aged very well.

Money, of course, helps. While she obviously knows how to dress and look good and throw a party, she is very articulate, still has a good mind, and is certainly in touch with her feelings. When one lives a long life, regardless of economic circumstances, major losses and big disappointments are a part of it. The way they are dealt with certainly affects aging well and happy–or not.

Readers know connections with others are important in helping parents age well. Elton John’s mother, Ms. Farebrother, obviously knows this also and has held onto her connections, even when her son didn’t. Check out her 90th birthday party.

(Note that the author of the Daily Mail’s article, Why my son Elton hasn’t spoken to me for seven years, says Elton’s mother, Ms. Farebrother, “was happy for our conversation to be recorded and indeed has approved every word of this article.”)

Aging Parents: 101st birthday

Birthday card from the staff

R reading birthday card from the staff                      (Click to enlarge)

We stick to our philosophy. We do what aging parents want as long as it doesn’t threaten life and limb and they still have, what Sr. Advisor R calls, “a good head.” R’s birthday was Saturday…her 101st. She didn’t like our original suggestion, thinking our plan of going to La Jolla overnight (which she loved when she was in her ’90’s–she spent summers there in the ’40’s)) would be too strenuous.

Thus, we follow the advice in last year’s post: Celebrating Elders Birthdays: What They Want, Not What We Want. R initially suggested a short drive to the mountains with lunch at a hotel she likes; but she changed her mind saying she didn’t have the energy. Next choice was the club she likes–where she has celebrated past birthdays and the staff knows her. She wanted to make the reservation for just the 3 of us and specify the table she wanted. Plan in place.

The morning of her birthday was not a happy one. Possibly she felt burdened by the responsibility unfolding–the abundance of cards and the phone calls–not to mention things (2 cakes, stew, cookies, flowers), that will require a thank you note. She keeps a list, still thinking she must send a thank you for each one. Old habits die slowly but she decided she would not write notes for local phone calls. She had over 30 remembrances when I spoke to her mid-morning.

Well-wishers’ phone calls made it difficult to get her on the phone. When I finally did, in addition to hearing about the cards and gifts, she had complaints: she’d lost her appetite, nothing was tasting good, she had no energy. When she spoke with her son, my husband (who called from the golf course unbeknownst to me), he heard the same thing. According to him, his response was something like: “you can do whatever you want; whatever you want is fine with us. It’s your birthday and your decision.” 

R was raised to be disciplined. I think that includes “don’t disappoint people” and was the only reason she followed through and was ready when we came to pick her up for dinner.

Our waitress remembered her (as does everyone, it seems). She said and did all the right things. A birthday card from the staff accompanied her cake (pic above). People at the next table hearing it was her 101st birthday (pic below) began a conversation. First, the man sitting nearest, then one of the women left her seat, and came and asked R her aging secret.

Answer: she eats healthy and equally important exercises every day. She may have disappointed the woman by graciously responding to a second question, saying she never drank much, adding she never really liked the taste.

By the time we left evidently everyone had gotten word of her birthday because she received congratulations from many strangers as she walked by their tables. (FYI: R walks with a cane and took the arm of her son–only uses her walker in the house to move things that could throw her off balance if she carried them [eg. pitcher of water to water her plants]).

R not only regained her appetite, she was energized and (as usual) very talkative. While my husband was outside getting the car, R sat inside on one of the chairs near the door. I had stopped briefly. By the time I reached the entry the new young woman who greets guests had left her position behind a desk and was sitting next to R, having an intense conversation. No surprise. People are drawn to her like a magnet. First by her age, I think; then her wisdom and empathy capture them.

I’ve always thought jump-starts are important for older people and adult children should be proactive in this regard. This small birthday celebration shows what a jump-start can do. We take no credit; R made the decision to stick with the plan. Had we insisted, would the result have been the same?

Check out: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities,

plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.


We had the small birthday dinner R requested at her favorite place. Early in the day we got the feeling R really didn’t want to go out, Her mood was clearly not upbeat. That said, she has always been a disciplined person and I guess decided she needed to be a good sport and take the time and go to all the trouble of getting dressed up and putting on her make-up–not easy at 101. 101 BIRTHDATShe said her phone rang all day–I can vouch for that having tried to telephone her. She knew she’d need a nap since she tires so easily, and said she stopped answering the phone in the afternoon so she could rest. We were concerned about how the evening would work out. This photo may give a hint. But details must wait until tomorrow….probably after we fly back to New York. Every day we learn more about helping parents age well. Until tomorrow….

Aging: Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays–Ideas: To Do and Not to Do (A Once-A-Year Chance) —Also 5/14/2017 update on Elton John and Mother relationship–see “Related” below

My mother didn’t want a birthday celebration. We complied. It just occurred to me: I can’t ever remember there being a birthday party for her. I think she didn’t want a “fuss.” I wonder if she didn’t want to discuss her age. (She looked younger than she was–died 2 weeks before her 89th birthday.) Being a far-away-living child, I made a card, sent a gift, phoned–we were all happy with that and I never regretted it.

Dad, on the other hand, enjoyed celebrating so we chose destination birthday celebrations.

Las VegasFortunately my parents could easily travel. I planned every birthday celebration and my brother was happy to have me do it. We 5 (Mom, Dad, my brother, my husband and I) enjoyed action and entertainment at his 75th in Las Vegas.

Dad’s 80th was a change of pace at the beach: La Jolla, California. We 5 (plus Sr. Advisor R) travelled again–enjoying beautiful scenery, the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park, great food. And one of my best friends since first grade, who of course Dad knew, (and her husband) invited us for drinks at their home (a surprise for Dad), then joined us for the birthday dinner. Dad’s 85th, in Arizona, included those who were at his 80th plus my college best friend’s parents (who my parents got to know well during my college years). 10 adults total.

Dad’s 90th birthday was a larger celebration–around 30 people from “back in the day,” in Arizona again. Weather perfect in March. The same 10 adults, plus relatives who flew down from the NW, enjoyed outdoor dining; and another best friend from grade school joined us. This was the “big deal” party. And here’s Dad, preparing to cut his birthday cake inside. Couldn’t chance a bug getting to it before Dad!

Dad's 90th

The cost of destination celebrations does, of course, vary. Dad’s side of the family is large and some of my fondest childhood memories are of the adult, no doubt inexpensive, birthday celebration-picnics for all-age family members.They were sort of pot-luck, as I recall, sometimes at a city park, or one of the 2 amusement parks in town (now gone) that had picnic tables. Us kids/cousins could make noise, run around and have real fun. (I’m guessing the adults enjoyed watching us.)

                                                  Surprise Parties

A friend, Kathy, whose judgment I value highly, reminds me that surprise parties can be highly problematical. She has never forgotten a surprise party she attended as a young adult for a woman in her 80’s. Kathy also reminds me that in those days 80-year-olds were OLD.

This woman was reclusive, with health issues. She had a husband (octogenarian)–and a grown, unmarried daughter, the latter deciding a surprise party was in order. My understanding is that the woman’s husband thought it was a bad idea; the woman didn’t like going out–even without knowing there would be a party. The daughter was insistent; the party was held–with all the “bells and whistles.”

At a certain point the birthday woman excused herself and went to the ladies’ room. After a while, when she didn’t come back, someone went to check on her. The next thing Kathy remembers was the ambulance coming, taking the woman away. She died–either in the ladies’ room or on the way to the hospital.  ‘Nuf said about surprise parties.

                                                  “Shot-in-the-Arm” 100th Celebration

I previously wrote about taking a woman who enjoyed her “drink” and who I’d known since I was 9, to a popular restaurant-bar for her 100th birthday lunch. Check it out, if you haven’t read the post or don’t remember. It was wonderful, memorable and she loved every minute for several reasons. I think the primary one was that she was doing something normal, that she did when she was younger, but wasn’t part of her life any more. Her kids had a lovely, big party for her the next day; but I know our little outing was like a “shot in the arm” for her.

                          Unexpected Celebration Events: Try to Avoid

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

And then there’s the gentleman whose family gave him a big birthday party, complete with a big sheet cake all decorated for his birthday with a shiny icing and 89 candles.

When he opened his mouth and drew a big breath and began to blow the candles out, his dentures flew out of his mouth and slid across the icing. The gentleman was mortified; left the party and wasn’t seen again that night. (Honest! Couldn’t make this up–nor would I.)

Being mindful of the 9 points listed in the last post would, I trust, have averted the surprise party and denture disaster. And isn’t a surprise guest an excellent alternative for those who would hate a surprise party?

As we continue our commitment to help parents age well, birthdays give us many options–only limited by our good sense–for adding stimulation and joy to our elders’ lives.

Related:“Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays:What They Want, Not What We Want”
A 100th birthday luncheon at a Bar
“Two Great-90th-or-Younger-Birthday-Party Ideas”
(One of the greatest ideas ever.)
“Sarah Jessica Parker’s Mother’s 75th party”
Elton John’s mother hires Elton impersonator to entertain at her 90th birthday party 
because Elton wouldn’t attend.  May 14, 2017, click London Daily Mail— Elton wishes his mother (92) Happy Mother’s Day. They’re “Back in Touch.” 
The Best, Most Meaningful Birthday Celebration for an Elderly Woman (96) I’ve Ever Attended

“Newsworthy” (right sidebar) links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus timely tips–to help parents age well.

Celebrating Elders’ Birthdays– What They Want; Not What We Want and Why

98th birthday

98th birthday

9 Factors to Consider

If we’re fortunate enough to have very old parents and grandparents who are still relatively healthy, chances are we become involved planning their birthday celebrations.

Sr. Advisor R will be 100 in  September. We are planning her party, again in her home town. There have been various kinds of parties for her over the years–taking into consideration health issues and energy. Indeed many variables that we might not think about become important for elders’ celebrations.


Comfort level
1.  Do they like large (20+) or smaller gatherings?
2.  Do they mind–or like–surprise parties?
Practical considerations
3.  Do they have the energy/stamina for the large party? the smaller? or neither?
4.  Do they wear dentures?*
5.  Can they travel?
6.  How large is the party budget?
7.  Are invites telephoned, emailed, or snail-mailed?
8.  Gifts or not?
9.  What about family members who don’t get along?

The “Whys” 

Many of us, regardless of age, have preferences for small or large parties. Sometimes, especially for milestone birthdays, we think BIG, when small may be better. Yet energy level and health are major factors that can–and should–determine size. For example, Senior Advisor R had experienced pneumonia followed by lesser health issues the winter-spring preceding her 90th birthday. They sapped her strength; she lost considerable weight. Getting back to normal took many months.

Thus she wanted a small dinner party for her 90th birthday in September: 12 family members plus her best friend, at her favorite restaurant. We complied. It was perfect. We followed up with brunch at our home the next morning, as R agreed that the 4 out-of-towners deserved more than a dinner. It felt like a festive weekend on a small scale.

We initially agreed on a large celebration for R’s 95th birthday, but R nixed the idea after we (she and we) compiled a guest list of nearly 100. Instead she wanted to be surrounded by the people who were meaningful in her life (family, her best friend, and certain young neighbors) at a restaurant.

These neighbors know how to help an old person continue to age well. They bring her newspaper to the door each morning; the mail from the mailbox at the street to the door each afternoon; 2 women call ahead each week when they plan to go marketing, inviting her to go with them or have them bring groceries to her. R says she doesn’t know how she could continue to live independently without them. They mean the world to her and, I think, she to them..

The next year one of these dear neighbors–at her home– gave R a 96th birthday luncheon. No present could compete with the genuine love and caring that was evidenced by that birthday luncheon. We took R out to dinner with her niece and nephew the next night. (Only one big outing a day at age 96.)

R’s subsequent birthdays have basically included family members, her one remaining friend and neighbors at a club that has been wonderfully cooperative and attentive. The staff makes R feel very special in just the right way.  The photo above is at her 98th birthday party there.

We will celebrate R’s 100th birthday in September with a smallish birthday party–at the club–inviting 18 family members and possibly one surprise guest. (A surprise we are positive would thrill her.) Because R finds she gets too tired to enjoy herself when she must talk with too many people, she suggested two small parties. In October she’d like a simple, second party–around 18 guests: the neighbors and meaningful others in her life. In R’s case, it’s divide and enjoy.

We realize it’s not about what we want, or we think R would want. Rather it’s about what we know R wants. While she needn’t plan birthday parties any more, she still has definite ideas about what she likes.
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Tuesday we focus on birthday party ideas, sharing a sample of past celebrations–some really good, one bad, one….well, you’ll need to decide for yourself.



.Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.