So I haven't been writing here much. All my energy has gone into birthday parties and preparing for an upcoming talk I am giving at the University of Virginia. I did a visiting lecture a few weeks ago at a nearby university and had a lot of fun using the word "douchebag" in front of 20-year olds. I showed them that picture of me riding on the bike with the babies and said, "Now if anything I say today blows you out of your seats with the force of my formidable genius, just think about this picture and remember what a total douchebag I actually am." Yesterday I did receive an e-mail from some guy in charge of programming for the annual MENSA conference asking me if I'd lecture for an audience of MENSA members. Is there a more intimidating audience than the people who go out of their way to join a genius society? I do hope I get to do the lecture, if only to preface every factual statement with, "Now, as you GENIUSES probably already know. . ."

But what's been going on around here that's really important? Besides building a snow fort that could have held off Chief Pontiac longer than the original Fort Detroit? Birthdays. I held off writing about the girl's birthday party because my wife knit her an amazing dress and any photos would have revealed it before she had the chance to write a post about it. But she's been working long hours lately and just hasn't gotten around to writing about it, and that means I have been getting "bonus" time with the kids, with the real "bonus" coming at the end of the day when I'm so exhausted I can watch at least six minutes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians before I realize it isn't a rerun of that very special episode of Silver Spoons where Bruce Jenner discovered that Alfonzo was dyslexic.

We pestered the girl for a few weeks before her fifth birthday about what kind of party she wanted. It turns out that's a really dumb question to ask a four-year old, because not only does a four-year old think that a "swimming party with a bouncy castle and a slow roller coaster and a trampoline at the bottom of a slide that lets you jump into the swimming pool with cake and presents but where you can also do gymnastics. . ." is possible, a four-year old thinks that you, as her father, are capable of setting it all up in the basement. "All you need are some engines," she tells me when I express doubt in my ability to pull off such a simple fĂȘte.

At some point she decided a bird-themed party would be an acceptable alternative. The kid has been into birds ever since Zan brought her a bird-watching book and we've spent a lot of time this winter pheasant spotting (they are even easier to see in the snow).

Things to notice in the above photo: (1) for the arts and crafts portion of the evening, the kids painted birdhouses. For many reasons having ten preschoolers painting in the middle of my living room didn't seem like such a good idea, but the only true disasters were the ten hideously-colored birdhouses newly brought into the world; (2) on the window is a painting I did for a rousing game of "pin-the-beak-on-the-pheasant" that the birthday girl totally peeked over her blindfold to win; (3) the 2010 birthday crown made by my wife featuring both a ring-necked pheasant and a male cardinal; (4) pay no attention to the hand-knit dress that my wife is too busy to write about. Just move along. 

For party favors, we filled jelly jars with bird seed and put those little phony birds in the lids. You can see a couple "beaks" for the pin-the-beak-on-the-pheasant on the right:

Then there was the cake. We asked the good people at Pinwheel Bakery to make us a cake with a Detroit pheasant on it. It did not disappoint, and yes, it does read, "Have a Pheasant Birthday." Here at Sweet Juniper, we are not afraid of having a little pun.

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The boy's birthday was yesterday, and if you think we're the type of people to go this nuts for a two-year old, you're sorely mistaken. It was a more low-key affair, with some balloons, party horns, pizza, and just a few neighborhood kids running around the house. Still, we had to have cake, and we cemented our reputation as total weirdos with the bakery staff with this one:

What's that? you ask. A woodchuck perhaps? A hamster? Surely you wouldn't get your son a birthday cake with a rat on it! Sorry, it is a rat. We were walking out of the YMCA a few weeks ago and a rat scurried across our path into some bushes, where it continued scurrying around much to Gram's delight. "Rat in the bushes!" he shouted, "See it!" Since then, Rat in the bushes, see it has become his catch phrase every time we see bushes. So we got him a Rat in the bushes birthday cake. Yep.

They say it's not a party until you're stumbling around in the robot mask your sister made you for your birthday.

Thank goodness she was there to help you blow out your candle, too. A couple more minutes and it would have been embarrassing.

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Does anyone have any advice about what's essential to do or see or eat in Charlottesville? Monticello in winter? Do you live near there and want to come hear me talk about some stuff? E-mail me for details.