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Thursday was my office birthday celebration, which meant my manager brought in the treat of my choice (brownies!) and decorated my cubicle with the “Happy Birthday” confetti.

This time last year I felt anything but happy. I had never associated turning 30 with “getting old,” but then right before my birthday my hip situation worsened and an MRI revealed a torn labrum. At the same time, an x-ray of my leg revealed a mysterious “thing” in my femur, and I went for three agonizing months not knowing for sure what it was. Before I had a specialist deem it a harmless “bone island” (a true medical term, not the next FOX reality show, I swear), I spent my days making orthopedist and bone scan appointments, experimenting with antidepressants (which lasted for a week; I couldn’t stand the side effects), and having to take anxiety medication to go to sleep. The timing was awful, and I felt like my body was a cruel prankster, making everything break down at such a milestone year of my life.

Yet, even with those setbacks, being 30 turned out OK. The hip thing makes my body slightly more fragile, but I have learned to cope with it, taking my time getting in and out of cars, avoiding pigeon and related yoga poses, and always toting around an ice pack to strap on my side after a long day of walking or a cycling session at the gym.

I know I look older; I can no longer mask a night without sleep–the dark circles under my eyes give it away. I have a few more wrinkles on my face, and I am oh-so-crotchety. I am a 30-something, female version of the “Get off my lawn!”-yelling grandpa. Or a cuter version of Larry David. Either would be correct. Just ask my husband.

But, before I go grab a frying pan and yell at the local youth walking across my grass, here’s a look back at the high points of Year 30:

• I celebrated the big 3-0 down the shore with my sis. It was a great lil’ getaway; we went to Wildwood, a shore town we used to frequent annually as kids but then hadn’t been in years. We did some rides, strolled the boards, took goofy pictures, scared ourselves silly riding ducks suspended on an overhead track, took the “back roads”-way home to avoid an accident that left us thinking we accidentally drove into Kansas, and then sat our sandy and sweaty beach butts down at IndeBlue back home for dinner.

I dorked out seeing Morey's Pier after such a prolonged absence.

Even mannequinns get heatstroke.

Heads up!

I've been on countless roller coasters, but returning to the Sea Serpeant fuh-reaked me out! I'm Death-Grip Donna, fourth row from the top.

• 30th birthday celebration II: Surprise Riversharks baseball game with friends. Bryan coordinated the event with a respectable number of guests; any more and I would have cried. I made it very clear to him that I did not want any big birthday surprise parties!

My kind of crowd!

• Birthday celebration III: Another outing with my sis, which included mango mimosas and omelets for brunch, a random African flea market, and a friend’s production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, during which I was asked to be a part of the cast!

• Birthday celebration IV: A trip to Atlantic City, to redeem Bryan’s birthday gift to me: Tickets to the Season 7 So You Think You Can Dance tour!

Robert and Dominic!

• One of the greatest moments of my 30-year-old life was visiting a Disneyphile’s Mecca: Disneyland! Walt Disney World in Florida is my home base, but our trip to California last September allowed us the opportunity to walk in Walt’s footsteps.

The very first Disney castle!

As an East Coaster my heart will always belong to WDW, but the trip allowed us to see lots of cool things original to Disneyland:

An outdoors "It's A Small World"!

The Matterhorn!

A Monorail that runs through the park!

A Haunted Mansion that switches over to a "Nightmare Before Christmas" theme!

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (does my shirt scream "Geek"?)!

A whole new Disney park–California Adventure!

Totally awesome evening show: World of Color!

• Being in California also meant seeing some really cool sights in the LA area:

Hollywood from the hills

LA traffic

The Walt Disney Concert Hall

A frozen yogurt junkie's heaven

The beautiful Getty Center

Sepulveda Dam, which I thought was so lame at the time. (I have a new appreciation for it, now that I know it was featured on "24" and "Alias.")

• My 30th New Year’s celebration included some awesome rooftop fireworks over Philly, which we may never see again now that our friends who lived in the high-rise apartment complex have moved.

• After maintaining a fairly private blog since 2003, I started this here Flowtation Devices in March!

• After being without a “yoga home” for more than a year, I find a studio right by my office–and a teacher whose classes I love!

• I took time to polish up my resume, reminding myself that I done good.

• I put on my big-girl shoes and drove to Philly by myself so I could start attending 5Rhythms classes in the city.

• 30 became the year of fanatic plane watching:

• One of the best places to watch planes is Red Bank Battlefield Park, which became a go-to spot for Bryan and I on nice days:

• My dad won tickets to a Phillies game–my first time at Citizens Bank Park, and some SWEET seats, too!

• I finally got to bang on my djembe a little more at some rockin’ drum circles:

Facilitator Jim Donovan and Old-Lady Friend Carrol.

• Bryan and I spend the evening with fellow NPR nerds at a live recording of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me at the Academy of Music. Things get even better after Christmas, when Bryan gets me a shiny red iPod Nano and I can finally listen to the podcasts!

• I enter my first sporty competition and complete the swimming portion of a team duathlon.

• A railroad crossing near our house that has been closed since the dawn of time OPENS, meaning we can drive from one side of town to the other without having to make a giant u-turn. I consider this 30th Birthday Celebration V; it was a huge victory in our town!

• Bryan gets a new job that allows him to work from home–more husband time! And weeknight dinners together, too–a brand new concept for the wife of a former newspaper photographer!

• I supervise some kick-ass interns at work. It feels good to work with young, intelligent minds…and even help one score a full-time gig!

Round II of physical therapy for my hip includes some odd moments (nothing like having a male PT assistant glue electric nodes to my “underwear” area), but I walk away from the 2-month endeavor feeling better and armed with some incredibly useful hip and back exercises.

• I take blogging to the next level by joining an online community. Ahhh, commitment!

• While delving into all kinds creative movement, I fall head-over-heels in love with Biodanza during an introductory workshop. (It’s returning to Philly in August!)


…So there you have it, kiddos. 30 was such an odd year for me, because I do the pee-pee dance when I see Donald Duck dressed as a pumpkin (and break down in tears when he walks away before I get a picture), yet I grumble and scowl like an old lady when kids go splashy-splash in the pool during my lap time at the gym. How one can be so much like Dora the Explorer and Dorothy Zbornak at the same time is a mystery…but–yes, thank you Lady Gaga–dammit, I was born this way!

A real-time photo of me transforming from age 30 into 31.

My birthday is in exactly one week, and so far the only greeting card I’ve received in the mail is one from the physical therapy office I attended more than a year ago. Hey, turning 30 last year was bad enough, but now that I’m officially entering my 30s, getting a reminder about how the body breaks down isn’t exactly the most pleasant punch in the arm (although if someone does punch me 31 times in the arm next Saturday, at least I know a place that can help me with any resulting shoulder injuries).

But actually, the sender of that first birthday card isn’t really what bummed me out–it’s the fact that it made me remember that my stash of birthday cards will be one less this year. As soon as I opened that envelope and saw the birthday greeting, my heart sunk. It’s July, it’s birthday time, and there will be no card from my Aunt Adzia this summer.

The cards Adzia sent me were never glamorous in any way; they didn’t come with birthday confetti inside, and they had nothing to do with any of my interests, the way Bryan selects cards with pugs or how my mother-in-law tries to find something Disney related. They were your typical flowery, butterfly-dotted, overdone cursive cards, the ones you can hardly read because the scripted font is so dramatic, the kind that start off with introductory questions, as though the card is making a high school graduation speech: “What is a niece?” I’m not particularly fond of these cards, but apparently my aunt put much thought into them; my grandmom said that whenever she and Adzia went to Rite-Aid to go card shopping, Adzia would stand in front of the greeting card display and open card after card, reading the messages, making sure they were “just right” for each recipient.

Sometimes I’d get two cards–one that was mailed, and another she’d pass along to my grandmom to give to me. This one usually came with a bow taped onto the envelope–and not just any old bow. We’re talking fancy, curly packaging bows, the kind that cost $1.99 at card stores. On days I was feeling silly, I’d tape the bow onto my shirt or in my hair, or just hang it in my cubicle for a week. Sometimes the extravagance of the bows meant more to me than the bank envelope of birthday cash she’d slip inside.

Before 9/11 and a sudden fear among my family that people might try to mail me anthrax disguised as a Hallmark card, Adzia never used to put return addresses on her envelopes. Still, it was no mystery which cards came from her. Maybe it’s because she went to Catholic school and perhaps was scolded by the nuns for bad penmanship, but Adzia would address every envelope by first penciling a straight line with a ruler, using the faint lines as a foundation for her trademark wide and bubbly cursive handwriting. The inside was no different, but here she usually erased the penciled-in lines after signing her name.

Adzia's penmanship perfectionism carried over onto the boxes of decorations she stored in the basement.

For a while, it was odd to see only Adzia’s name on the inside of my cards. I had grown up knowing my Aunt Adzia, her sister, and their brother–who had all lived together–as the gang of three. For most of my childhood, these cards–although in Adzia’s handwriting–would close with “Love Always and Forever, Aunts Adzia, Stasia, and Uncle Cas.” When Uncle Cas passed away, the signature shortened to “Aunts Adzia and Stasia.” Stasia died in 2007, and since then my birthday cards came from one person, with one signature.

Adzia was good with birthday cards–they usually arrived a week before the occasion, right in between the cards from my realtor and chiropractor and those from my immediate family. It would probably be in my mailbox today, in fact. But the cards have been dealt; the time has come for the perfectly aligned greetings to fade into history. I may never see Adzia’s freshly penned signature again, but at least her love is Always and Forever.

Adzia keeping an eye on my sister, as she reads her own birthday card.

When my great aunt died in March, two deaths actually occurred: hers, and the house in which she lived.

My aunt was the last person living in the Northeast Philly rowhome that had been part of the family since the 1930s, when my great-grandparents came to America from Poland. My great-grandfather died early, my grandmother got married and moved to New Jersey, and then for several years the house was occupied by my great-grandmother and her other three children–my Uncle Cas and my Aunts Adzia and Stasia.

By the time I came into the picture, my great-grandmother, Babcia, was very sick. Most of my memories of her involve her sitting in the corner chair in the living room, colostomy bag strapped to her side.

Her English was poor, and she spoke mostly in Polish. As a small child, a very old woman with a pee bag who spoke in a foreign tongue was somewhat frightening, and I hated when she’d scold my aunts for scratching my back and letting me watch the mini-series V.

I was 6 when Babcia died. I remember several events of that day, starting from being at home and my mom asking me if I wanted to go over to Babcia’s house for the afternoon. Of course! I said, because I knew either Adzia or Stasia would give me something cool, like a new coloring book or toy. My mom warned me that Babcia was very sick; I was OK with that. What I didn’t know then as a child was that Babcia was actually dying, and my mom had gotten a call that this was the end. By the time we crossed the bridge and got into Philly, Babcia had died. I was quickly ushered upstairs into Babcia’s old bedroom (which she hadn’t used in years; she had been sleeping in a hospital bed downstairs) and was told to stay on the left side of the bed, on the floor, and play with the Valentine’s puzzle I had just gotten. Everyone was crying and running around the house looking for papers, but I was content putting together my candy heart puzzle in the “purple room,” which until then I had never been allowed in.

After Babcia died, my Aunt Adzia finally had a place to sleep. Until then, she had been sleeping on a mat in the middle of the living room (nevermind the fact that “purple room” remained vacant, but apparently it was viewed as some kind of shrine to Babcia). The front room of the house was eventually transformed into Adzia’s bedroom.

My Aunt Adzia crafted this dress from old curtains.

For years, the three siblings lived together in the house, and every Friday afternoon my mom, grandmom, and I (and eventually my sister) would drive over the bridge to visit them. We’d go out dinner, go shopping (usually at Ports of the World, which we termed “The Biggie” because of its massive size), and then have dessert back at the house in the kitchen.

My aunt would always have cupcakes or doughnuts prepared for us, and my uncle would let me pick his numbers for the lottery cards he bought each week.

My Uncle Cas was a man of mystery. He’d come home from work around 4:30, sleep till 8 or so, and then go out for the night with his fiancee Mary Ellen. I never understood how someone could just be going out for the night that late!

Even his bedroom was a mystery. The door was always closed, and I was warned over and over again not to go into Uncle Cas’ room. To this day, I still don’t know what made the room off-limits. Was it just plain old messy? Did he have girlie posters hanging? Was there porn stashed everywhere?

The first time in 31 years I looked into Uncle Cas' room.

Uncle Cas was the youngest but the first of the 4 siblings to die. He didn’t know it at the time, but when he came to my wedding in 2004 and had trouble eating the food, it was because he had colon cancer.

My Aunt Stasia, the second youngest and most religious of the siblings, was the next to pass away.

Her illness was drawn out for years. At first she refused to leave the house, then the upstairs, then her bedroom. My Aunt Adzia waited on hand and foot. Her bedroom, once a fancy “beauty parlor” in my young eyes, turned into a dark and depressing psychiatric ward. She died in 2007, after nearly 5 years of never leaving the house.

Stasia's drawers were full of colorful costume jewelry, and sitting at her vanity made me feel like a model.

My Aunt Adzia lived alone in the house for nearly 4 years after her sister’s death. Don’t ask me how an 80-something spinster who didn’t drive managed this property–located on a high-volume road just minutes from I-95–on her own. She hired someone to mow the lawn, and my mom and grandmom visited every other week to take her grocery shopping, but for the most part she kept the place spic and span with her own two hands.

The front porch, which was renovated in the '90s after a tractor trailer smashed into it.

Adzia's handicrafts decorated the front windows and rotated holiday to holiday.

Everything she wrote had to be on a straight line. She used a ruler on all of our Christmas and birthday cards, too.


Blast from the past bathroom

Eerie bathroom light

Don't all dining rooms have one of these in the corner?

Adzia was hospitalized at the end of November after collapsing in the basement bathroom.

During the initial stages of her hospitalization she was so concerned about the decorations in her windows–they were still Thanksgiving-themed, and it was time for the Christmas ones.

The deer in the backyard lost its head years ago; my aunt compensated for its loss by decorating the body with a wreath.

She died in March, after almost 4 months going back and forth between the hospital and rehab. She never returned home.

After she died, my mom and grandmom spent several days a week cleaning out the house to prepare it for the market. They removed all the clothes and valuables, but most of the furniture, linens, and appliances are being sold with the house. All the photos pictured thus far are how the house remains for the new owner.

New owner. It’s incredibly odd and profoundly sad to know that in three days this house–where my family lived after moving to America during the Great Depression–will no longer be part of the family. So much of my childhood was spent in that house, from those Friday night visits to weekend sleepovers when my aunts would take me out to breakfast or buy me sugary cereal like Count Chocula that was forbidden at home to late summer nights when I’d dance outside using their vast lawn as my stage. I’d color on the living room floor with the new coloring books Adzia bought for me every week, help my aunts pick out the ripe tomatoes and peppers from their garden, and eat Old London pizza at the kitchen table.

Descending into the basement, where my aunts would smoke their cigarettes and where I'd hang out with them, much to my mother's dismay.


No longer visible is the cloud of cigarette smoke lingering near the rafters or the row of hanging clothes bags against the left wall, where I'd hide from my aunts.

My Aunt Stasia continued to wash her hair in the basement sink, even though the bathroom upstairs had a shower.

My visit to the house this weekend was my first time there since last summer–and my last visit ever. It was so weird to walk through the door and not hear my Aunt Adzia calling, “Jennifer, dollbaby!” I couldn’t decide whether having the house furnished was a good or bad thing–seeing everything the way it’s been forever was comforting as opposed to seeing each room stripped of its familiarity, but at the same time it was so strange to see everything there, minus my aunt.

I wanted to honor the house in some way before I left, and I felt it was most appropriate to dance in the living room, like I always had anytime I visited. Since my childhood, the house had a giant mirror perched behind the sofa; it was like a dance studio! I’d always be practicing pirouettes or perfecting my arabesques, checking myself out. During my younger days, I’d bring my cassette tapes over to the house and perform my dance studio recital numbers in the living room for my aunts, who’d sit on the couch and be my captive audience.

And just like in 5Rhythms, the dance always ends with Stillness.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!



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