How Many Birthday Cakes?

How many birthday cakes does a 9 year old boy need?

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One for the football party, 22 boys in the park in the snow playing the game.

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One for Jasper’s class party at school to celebrate his birthday.

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One for the family birthday at home with his aunts and nonna and because Almond Cake is his favorite.

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And lastly, one because he is a Valentine, born February 14, 2004.

So the answer: four cakes for three parties.  His sister, Ana Livia Svenvold McPhee, loves to bake and design cakes and she made them all.  The last cake was actually donated to her class at school because, really, three cakes were enough.

Keep Speaking To Me

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Recently my daughter read Our Town with her 7th grade English class.  From the pages of the book fell an email from my cousin, Charles McPhee, dated 10/08/2009 — one year and seven months, to the day, before he would die of ALS, the illness that had already ravaged him by this point.  The email was written with a device attached to his forehead.  With the help of that device, painstakingly, he had typed his own quite humorous farewell (“As all of you here today know, I never like to leave a party early ….”) to be read by my father at his funeral. And it was. He was 49 years old. In his 10/8/09 email, speaking of other things, he asked:

do you know the last section of ‘our town,’ where Emily has died and waits with the other dead in the cemetery above Grovers Corners. she decides to re-live a day … and when you get a moment re-read it.  it is My favorite description of consciousness. 

I read the play then and again today.  My daughter has just read it.  I had put the email in the book so it would fall out and come to me again, so that he would speak to me again and remind me again and the email goes back into the book now so that I can forget and be surprised and remember all over again — not Charles.  I will never forget Charles.  Rather the consciousness he speaks of and that he understood as a young man and as a healthy man and as a dying man, and that he still speaks of — one year and nine months, to the day, since he died.

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Plowing Up Gold: Montana 1910

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An ad in Polish showcasing the bounty of Montana’s land.  It was created by the Milwaukee Road which the year before had completed its transcontinental line and needed to populate the route.  The word of Montana’s riches was spread across the US and throughout Europe.  It worked, helped by the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 in which the government gave away some 4,000,000 acres of land for dryland farming — if it seems like an oxymoron, it (sort of) was.  Because of a few good years of rain and because of the effective ad campaign, Montana became known as the Treasure State when only a few years before it was characterized as desert in children’s text books.  I just read a wonderful piece by Jonathan Raban, The Unlamented West, published in the New Yorker — May 20, 1996.  It later became part of a book:

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