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For my 35th birthday I invited five of my friends to go out with me to dinner and the casino. But to make it more than just an ordinary girls' night out, we dressed up in ball gowns and rode in a white super-stretch limo. We ate dinner at a regular family restaurant, but in our dresses we felt like royalty. All that was missing were the paparazzi! My friends loved it as much as I did -- and when else do you get to dress up like that as a grown-up?
Cheryl Pope, DetroitQueen for a Day
I always take the entire day off. I sleep in (the later the better), enjoy a leisurely breakfast, then hit the spa for a good massage or a luxe pedicure. In the afternoon you can find me lounging on the couch catching up with a great book or taking a relaxing nap. Then I end the day by going out for dinner with friends and family. It's such a good excuse for a total me-time day.
Lindsay Lopez, New York CityThe Bucket List
In the days before my 29th birthday, when the realization hit that next year I was going to turn 30, the first thing I felt was regret. How did I let all those years just pass me by? What did I have to show for it? At that moment I launched the 30 Before 30 project. I made a bucket list of things I'd always wanted to do but kept putting off and vowed to complete them all before my 30th birthday. And I did, from bungee jumping to learning to surf to seeing the Grand Canyon to partying at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I even ran the New York City Marathon. I never thought I had that in me, so crossing that finish line was both a reward for my efforts and a revelation of what I was capable of. With every challenge I take on, my definition of who I am just keeps expanding.
Celine Novenario, New York CityFarmville for Real
In 2011 I launched a business and was working 18-hour days, so on my 40th birthday I desperately needed a break -- and I wanted to do something really memorable. I dragged six city slicker friends from our home in San Francisco to Silver Springs Ranch, a working farm. We had the best time! We groomed goats, played with chickens, and bottle-fed baby calves. It may sound ironic but getting away and working on the farm was exactly what I needed as a well-deserved breather from my "real" work. I loved it so much I went back again this year for my 41st birthday!
Heddi Cundle, San FranciscoGifts that Keep Giving
I'm an event planner, so people always expect me to have an amazing birthday party. But when I turned 38 I wanted to do something for someone else. My family and I wound up spending the day doing 38 acts of kindness. We passed out water bottles to joggers, fed parking meters, gave doughnuts to a crew fixing power lines, brought balloons to the hospital, and dozens of other little things. My favorite was buying a gift card at the grocery store, then turning around and handing it to the woman behind me. She burst into tears! I was so touched by her reaction that by the time I got to my car I was crying, too. I ended up blogging about my day and so many people were excited about the idea -- and wanted to do their own acts of kindness -- that I started The Birthday Project (thebdayproject.com) to encourage people to celebrate their big day by helping others. So far I've gotten 80 requests to start chapters in eight countries.
Robyn Bomar, Destin, FloridaA Fresh Start
Since my birthday, which is in November, marks a new year of my life, I treat it like most people treat New Year's and set a big goal to accomplish for the year. I always write each one down and carry it around with me in my wallet, so every time I see it I'm reminded of what I'm working on and why.
Dawniel Patterson Winningham, Katy, TexasGrown-up Playdate
I usually spend my birthday morning working out. It gives me a chance to quiet my mind and think about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past year, along with my hopes and dreams for the next one. It's therapeutic and wonderful -- and sometimes unexpected things happen. My favorite was last year, when I turned 45. While I was jumping rope a couple of young girls came up and asked me if they could use it. Next thing you know we were all playing double Dutch together. I haven't done that since I was 12! It really was the most fun I've had in a very long time.
Lisa Zwick Richens, Laguna Hills, CaliforniaPaying it Forward
Two years ago I weighed 50 pounds more than I do now. Would I love to drink a few margaritas and eat cake with friends on my birthday? Sure, but I've worked so hard to live a healthy lifestyle that I decided to do something fun and physical instead. So last year I started what I call my "Happy Birthday to Me Fundraiser." My friends and I did a two-hour dance-athon and raised nearly $2,000 in donations for a local animal-rescue group. (I'm a veterinarian.) This year we did a boot camp for pet owners and their dogs that raised $2,500 to pay for wellness exams for pets owned by Meals on Wheels clients. I haven't chosen my nonprofit or activity for next year's birthday yet, but I know that my goal will be $3,000 -- or more!
Susan Culp, Austin, TexasNatural Wonders
When I turned 50 I treated myself to a day of writing in the woods at Carl Sandburg's estate in Flat Rock, North Carolina. As a poet and a lifelong lover of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I consider that holy ground. I took a journal, a pen, a camera, a chair, and a picnic and found a secluded spot in a clearing under centuries-old pines and hemlocks. I absolutely wallowed in hours of precious alone time. Since then I have returned for as many birthdays as possible. It costs me nothing and feeds my soul like no tangible gift ever could.
Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, Greenville, South CarolinaCheer Leaders
I always loved that in high school we decorated lockers for our friends' birthdays. But as you get older, all of that goes away. So a few years ago I told my friends, "If I can't decorate your locker then I'll do the next best thing!" Now when one of my pals has a birthday, a group of us go to her house in the wee hours and decorate the yard with balloons, streamers and pink flamingos. We bring her a cake and flowers, too. We even dress up in plaid PJ pants and pink baseball hats. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But midlife demands some laughs! And it's spreading: Other people in town have been inspired to celebrate the same way.
Colleen Sheehy Orme, Great Falls, VirginiaA Total Treat
When I turned 40 I realized that I was tired of using makeup and skin-care products that didn't really look good on me (and that I didn't know how to apply), so on my birthday I headed to the department store cosmetics section. I spent the day going from counter to counter, trying products that made me feel special. It's been my birthday tradition for 13 years now. Sometimes I want a completely new look, sometimes I want to feel refreshed, and sometimes I just want that moment to take care of myself. Getting a makeover is a chance to focus on me-time. (Even better, I look great for my age!)
Patricia Ann Gibbons, San Antonio, Texas
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2012.