- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

Julius Caesar may have had reason to be wary of the Ides of March. But my challenges always have come in April. Each April, I am confronted with the triple whammy of filing my income tax return, cleaning for Passover and acknowledging that I have passed another birthday. On really special years such as this one all three events land in the same week.
Of course, I could avoid or at least limit this vernal collision of the worlds if I better managed my time. Filing taxes sometime earlier than five minutes before the midnight deadline would be a good start. But for me, spring doesn't begin until I make that last-minute, adrenalin-pumping race to the post office.
This year was especially pitiful because the deadline was extended by two days. But, wary of risking my until-now-ironclad lock on a place in the procrastinators' hall of fame, I was still struggling with my computer tax program on the evening of April 17. I was doing fine until I became ensnared in the losing end of a battle of wits with my computer. I wanted to allocate my deductions between the two states where I resided in 1999. The computer program insisted on putting all my deductions on both returns, giving me large refunds from both states.
"Do it," my husband urged, more out of concern (he said) for the encroaching deadline than for the unearned windfall. Instead, I made a crazed dash to the nearest office-supply store, looking for an alternative tax program.
"We ran out of that last week," the clerk said as he gave me a pitying look and glanced at his watch. "This is a bit late." Yeah, rub it in.
I finally filed for an extension and decided to not think about it until the Ides of August approached.
This was the year when I also thought I had solved my annual Passover cleaning crunch. Cleaning early would be counterproductive because I would have to shrink-wrap my family and the house to preserve my efforts. I arranged instead for a whole team of cleaners to descend upon my home just hours before the holiday began at sundown. It was a brilliant plan because I could close the door on a clean house just minutes before we headed to my mother's house for the holiday celebration.
There was one small flaw in my plan: I had to thoroughly clean the house for the cleaners (for fear that if they saw it in its raw state, they would never return). I left the house for just a few minutes to restock cleaning supplies. I made it back a half-hour before their scheduled appointment. They, however, had arrived an hour early and left me with a note and a broken heart.
My birthday this year was easy. I had a glorious day with family and friends and netted some wonderful and thoughtful presents. But when I was small, I dreaded the years when my birthday would coincide with Passover. Since all leavened products were forbidden during this eight-day celebration, that usually doomed me to a flat, tasteless matzo-flour creation that my mother tried to substitute for a traditional birthday cake. It did not even live up to the phrase, "It's the thought that counts."
This year, even though my birthday was well-celebrated before my extended family gathered on Passover, my mother wanted to mark the occasion belatedly with a cake. She finished her shopping early and asked me if I could bring a big cake with me. I found one at a large local market, and it was a beauty. Things certainly have changed from when I was growing up, I thought as I looked at the tall, multilayered cake covered in rich, dark chocolate.
At the end of our Passover dinner, my mother asked me to bring in the cake. It evoked oohs and ahhs from the two long tables of Seder celebrants, and everyone looked forward to diving into it. I received my piece first and took a bite.
It tasted like gasoline. This couldn't be, my eyes told my mouth. It looks so delicious. I took another bite. It was even worse.
I looked around the table, and all were assiduously avoiding eye contact, their forks poised above their plates with that second bite in their mouths. Everyone was thinking the same thing and waiting for someone else to make the first comment.
"This is awful," I said, freeing everyone to concur. We finally decided the unmistakable taste was garlic. It wasn't the good kind of garlic, either, the kind that wafts up from my mother's roast chicken. It was the very bad kind, the kind that oozes from my uncle's breath after a lunch of pastrami with a pickle.
We all laughed and decided to turn the cake into a family memory the Passover we ate a chocolate-garlic cake. Surrounded by family, I relaxed for the first time in weeks. My taxes were (almost) done, my house was (almost) clean, and my birthday was decidedly celebrated. I am ready for May.
Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail (hunkerc@erols.com). Her column also can be found on The Washington Times' Web site (www.washtimes.com).

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