Flying High


We were sitting in Jean-Georges in New York City, just a bunch of youngsters in suits and expensive hair products, lifting water glasses to our lips like this wasn’t the nicest place we’d ever been.  Like talking with Donald Trump wasn’t the coolest thing we’d ever done.  Like spooning chocolate mousse as billowy as clouds into our uneducated palates was something we were accustomed to doing.  We raised champagne glasses and said Mazel tov through our grinning, sparkling faces. I’m not Jewish and yet I could feel the prickling sensation that we were indeed filled with good luck, and that this night would forever be marked in our collective memories.  This, I told myself, was New York as my mind would forever enslave it.  Buzzing with energy and richness so deep I could barely keep afloat in the pool of it, and sitting there with Trump it all seemed so bubbly and delicious.

But the most memorable thing about my time in New York was the feeling that nothing was an impediment to success.  The world was just one huge shell and all we had to do is pry it open to receive our valued pearl. We were young and fearless.  We would run and dash and climb up stairs in five inch heels whilst whistling and looking over our shoulders at the poor saps beneath us.  And there at Jean-Georges amidst the sparkling lights, Trump gave us some essential wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.  The man’s politics aside, think of his bravado, which is in part ridiculous and narcissistic but in part brilliant and glorious.

“You have got to think bigger.”  He said it many times and in many ways, as if he were imparting wisdom to his children as they ran off into this big, big world.

We were a room of young big thinkers, so we thought, all nodding and soaking it all in, like we were the enlightened few that had made it.  Won it.  Persevered through it.  Earned it.  In reality we earned nothing, and our lives had amounted to very little, and we were just the recipients of good luck and pretty faces, who talent scouts found favorable.  We’ve now gone on to do great things, and we’ve lived a lifetime since that night.  But it was so clear and fresh then like a raspberry dropped into our champagne flutes, the bubbles rising with fury to the top.

The world, my friends, is yours.

I am reminded from time to time of this night, and this phrase, and this challenge.  Am I thinking big enough? Am I reaching high enough? Did I do enough, ask enough, make enough happen? As I sit and wait for publishing houses to decide the fate of my novel, when I re-negotiate legal deals, when I sit at home cutting out construction-paper banners for my child’s birthday party, or when sit through boring dates listening to men drone on about their dull IT career, am I living up to this charge? Did I let the burdens of this world drag me down to the point of no return?

As I slog through traffic on my way to work, I pray that God will open my eyes to a brighter future.  A bigger future. One so vast it seems currently impossible. I pray that He will lead me toward large lofty goals and that I will have the faith to seize them by the horns and ride them. To not allow me the security I so desire but instead throw me off the cliff so that I may fully rely on Him to sustain me.  For then we really start to live, and breathe new air, and really succeed. We all have the ability to put fear in a box and set in the attic for a while, despite our financial situation or our domestic hindrances.  We have the amazing ability to do whatever we want to with our lives, and that reality is both liberating and stifling all at the same time, like we get to pick out any toy in the shop and all we can do is stand there staring. So I prayed for courage and wisdom, and to land on a dream.

Let’s encourage each other instead of tearing each other down to go big.  Go all out.  Grow wings and soar together. For this world has enough negativity.  Enough people telling us we can’t.  That we aren’t pretty enough or talented enough or educated enough.  There are people whose egos can’t handle us, or ladders that don’t have room for us.  There are too many people clinking glasses and saying they are the winners and we are just the remaining lot.

But this world has enough opportunities.  Enough new ideas like pieces of sand on a shore to spread for miles.  There is nothing you can’t imagine. Nothing you can’t grab.  Nothing you can’t find a home for, and a place for, and a dream big enough to hold. Do it.  Be it.  Live it.

March forward boldly in the direction of your dreams.  



Odd and Curious Thoughts (about the 2013 VMA’s)


(1)         Hey Mr.  Timberlake? Can you bake and fix leaky faucets and design rockets to be sent to the moon? Because you can do pretty much everything else. I, along with all other women on Earth (and some on Saturn), love you.

(2)          Taylor, honey.  You’re getting prettier by the day and I absolutely adore your vintage look but please stop dancing like you’re in your living room with a karaoke machine. Just sway and clap and try looking demure when the camera pans the crowd.

(3)          Selena Gomez’ video totally rocked it and I’m pumped she won an award, but she looks like a 12-year-old with boobs and I am just so confused whether I’m supposed to think she’s sexy or call CPS because her mother allowed her to leave the house in a corset.

(4)          I’m looking at red-carpet pictures. Who are these people? Should I have heard of them?

(5)          My dear daughter: Everyone has a rebellious phase. I get it. But instead of going all Miley Cyrus on me where you feel a need to shave your head, dance around in your skivvies in front of millions and gyrate next to overstuffed life-size creepy teddy bears whilst sticking out your tongue, please just write out your heartbreak into best sellers like Taylor Swift so at least your angst has some purpose instead of generating pity.  Plus, Taylor makes more money, wins awards, has trouble finding dates hence the TMI, and wears 1950’s-esk unflattering swim apparel.  That’s a win/win for mom.

(6)          Robin Thicke, we get it that you like sex.  But can we move on from this one song already? The lines are no longer blurry. They’re just making me yawn.

(7)          Seriously, Miley, was your childhood that bad? Because I wanted to invite you to my home, wrap you up in blankets, tell you that you’re special inside, play Mister Rogers, and we can drink hot tea together.

(8)          You know you’ve made it big when you can wear a grill to a major awards show and people are all “Oh.  There’s Katy Perry with gold sparkling teeth.  Coolio.”

(9)          Remember babysitting and after the kids went down you sat on the couch sipping seven-up out of champagne flutes watching Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire on MTV and feeling so freaking cool? Member that? And when the parents got home you were like OMG they are totally going to kill me and think I’m drinking and so I’ll just casually mention it’s just seven-up and that the kids were SO AWESOME and we played ELEVEN games of Barbie wedding and Mackenzie rode on my back like a camel. Well, for some reason I had the same reaction to the 30 Seconds to Mars video.  As in that classic, old-school, rock-and-roll, beds-burning feel.  Not the “oh crap they’re already home from Outback Steakhouse / this was a lame way to make ten bucks / now I have to go home and drink seven-up in a can because my folks don’t own champagne flutes” type of feeling.

(10)          Whatever to the Lady Gaga haters.  I thought her little slow-song hair-change montage was just fine.  Just because she wore some boring wigs and didn’t jump out of a plane wearing a dress made out of skittles doesn’t mean she’s out of touch. She’s sick of all the make-up and wants to listen to music peacefully in her sea-shell bikini. Geez.

(11)          I’m wondering why my youthful rebellion only constituted champagne flutes filled with soda. That is so lame.

(12)          Did Katy Perry honestly just jump rope and then continue singing? I’d be like “hold up there, folkzies.  Momma’s got a side cramp.” I swear –  pop stars are like super humans.  Which is why Justin Timberlake has fans on Saturn. It all makes sense.

Living your best life

I am the last one who should ever judge society for its celebrity-obsessed culture.  For only reading at a fifth-grade level.  For listening to mind-numbing pop music and watching sitcoms about grown men acting like children.  After all, our generation is moving at such a mind-numbing pace with all that facebooking and making pinterest cupcakes in the shape of spiders.  Why make it any harder by struggling through War and Peace, with all those long sentences and foreign vocabulary words? I was on a reality show, for goodness sakes.  I get it.

But I worry about our children’s future.  Hell, I worry about our own future. We are not reading Pulitzer-prize winning literature.  We watch Gossip Girl instead, not realizing there are woodpeckers pecking away in our back woods, their funny little heads bobbing to and fro, or sunsets sparkling through oak leaves in the distance.  There are entire worlds of fiction awaiting us, challenging our minds to weave characters out of nothing but mere descriptions on paper.  We instead stare five feet in front of our couches, settling into our idle, boring life.

I sometimes think about the housewives in the 1950’s through the 70’s– modern conveniences like dishwashers and clothes dryers and microwaves at their disposal.  It freed up so much time and energy.  But for what?  All the energy we have reserved for ourselves by not having to rub shirts against a wash board or sweep up dust that blows in through a log cabin wall – it’s a gift. We should be planning ways how to spend it like hard-earned cash.  And yet we throw it toward wasteful, useless things.

Pretty soon, we won’t be able to hide our laziness, watching our trashy television after our children run off to bed, or sneaking a glance at celebrity gossip thinking no one will ever know. We are addicted to sugar and saturated fats.  We don’t run or walk or work the land. Our reduced vocabulary and lack of insight into the world around us grows.  It rubs off on them.

It rubs off on us.

Our children surely see it.  They can feel the anger that creeps into our days when we aren’t living purposefully.  They taste the bitterness that sets in when we are tired and useless and have nothing else to say.  They hear our dinner table conversation, void of beauty and truth, and will someday either scream with madness or settle into their own life of mediocrity.

I don’t want that kind of life. I won’t want my children to have that kind of life.  I think God places upon us a duty to live our best lives. To excel and work hard and debate established truths with vigor.  To complain less and work more.  It’s not about living a lie so your children have fake memories to hold onto.  Vanity disintegrates at the first sign of rain. It’s about men grunting it out for their families and women not complaining about it.  It’s about singing over breakfast and silly-dancing down the hallway and getting your hands dirty.  Then, when our sore and tired bodies sink into bed, we rise the next day, joyful.

It will invariably rub off on your children, your best life.  Not because you were pretending to be someone you weren’t, but because you were finally embracing yourself, and who God meant for you to be.  Filling your soul with so much richness is hard to contain.  It comes pouring out of your heart and settles on them like gold dust.  Or they might never get it.   They might have to find their own place in this world differently how you imagined it.   Children are their own people, with minds and hearts you cannot control.  They might think you worked too hard, or were too old-fashioned, or didn’t fit into modern culture. They might think you are flat-out crazy.

But it doesn’t matter, really.  You aren’t doing it for them, as it turns out. You are living your best life in honor of the one who created you.   Because you couldn’t imagine wasting all that precious, idle time.  Others can watch sitcoms, but you?  Well you’ll be skipping in the woods, singing with the wind’s natural harmony, laughing with the sparrows.  You will be out there living your best life.  One filled with peace and hope and love.

Maybe there is hope for the future after all.

Cable is evil. And I love it.

We are living in a quirky old rental while our house is being remodeled. The original place was a single room built in the 1800s with walls eighteen inches thick.  The owners and their forefathers kept adding onto that one room, with bedrooms and bathrooms popping from one single hallway like a branch sprouting new shoots.  To go from the bedroom to the kitchen for a drink of water requires running shoes, and there are light switches in strange places that, instead of turning on a light, actually fire up a heater or turn on an attic fan.  I still can’t muster up the courage to head down into the basement.  My dad went.  He said it was creepy.  But I can’t imagine a more perfect place.  My children now think of it as “the 1826 house” like we just picked up and moved there.  The landlords live about ten feet away in a house adjoined with a breezeway, and they are lovely people.  I brought the landlady so much pumpkin bread that she finally had to tell me to stop because she has a gluten allergy.

The most perfect thing about our rental is not the fact that it has a dug-out basement or that it’s quite possibly haunted or that almost every room has a different type of flooring.  It’s not the grand piano or the fact that the décor contains a large amount of arrowheads or that one bedroom in the house is actually referred to as “the Africa Room” due to the collection of safari memorabilia. The coolest thing is contained within the confines of a little blue cord.  Cable. I am in awe of this majestic invention of technology that we do not possess in our actual home.

Cable is something strange and foreign to the Hill clan, and we all gather around the television like cave men, pounding upon the box with clubs and beating our chests with glee.  It causes the Hill leaders to lose sleep and feel compelled to watch long Iron Chef marathons.  After all – we have a civic duty to see what the hype is all about regarding drunken women in New Jersey whose names sound like baby blankets.

I have grown so attached to the food network that I’ve become irrationally inspired.  I see the way chefs manage to put together entire meals from wheat flour, peas, and fresh tuna, and I feel that despite my lack of formal training I, too, could whip up a soufflé if my life depended on it in thirty minutes.  Because it’s a temporary living arrangement, we didn’t haul our entire spice rack over to our new pad, so the only two spices that reside in our rental kitchen are cumin and cinnamon.  But as you know, if you watch the food network, this should not be a deterrent. With cinnamon, some black truffles, goat milk, and a Wolf range, dessert is so completely done!

So the other night, when I’m staring into the refrigerator, I see sausage, leftover rice, and remembered we had a can of black beans in the pantry.  That’s it! I can make a killer Mexican Jumbalaya! After all, we have Cumin.  So what if I’m mixing cultures? Chefs do those things all the time, people.  Think Asian fusion.

My husband came home and I mentioned that we would be dining on Mexican Jumbalaya and tamales, along with some Italian beer and Halloween candy for dessert.  Suddenly, I hear myself speaking. I realize cable has rotted my brain.  Who put this menu together, anyway? Later that night, my daughter was speaking into a fake camera that’s located somewhere in the imaginary world she lives in.  She’s telling the people in television land exactly how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, going into painstaking detail for the television audience about how to slather on the jelly without it dripping.  Then she broke for commercials.

When we move back home, we will not have cable. I haven’t read a book in a month, my daughter is now dreaming of being a TV personality, and I’m inundated with thoughts of buying a hybrid car and a Vitamix.  But I will miss cable, that fancy modern invention, broadcast among the arrowheads in our 1826 home.   Rich housewives and fancy chefs will just have to plod on without this household of viewers.  We’re heading back to the dark ages.  To the days of flipping through magazines and checking our email on our iphones.  Reading books and watching NOVA on public television.  Somehow, some way, we’ll muddle through.

little house, big tears

(my daughter, looking very old fashioned)

When my daughter was sick last year, my mom came into town to stay with her so I could go to work.  The old-fashioned, no-cable, non-Disney people that we are, we thought it might be a good idea to start a lifetime of Little House on the Prairie episodes.  After all, there’s lots of “we’ll totally make it through the winter on one sack of wheat” and “golly pops – a peppermint stick in my stocking is what I’ve always wanted” and finally, “let’s pray.”  I thought it might be a good lesson in family values.  Perhaps force the message that home is really where the heart is.

Between a budget meeting and a conference call, my phone rings.  It’s my mother.

“I have something to tell you,” she said.  My heart sank.  My daughter probably spiked another fever.  Maybe the dog unearthed a dead bird or my china was shattered into a million pieces. She continued, but in a low whisper.    

“It’s about Little House on the Prairie,” she said, her voice barely audible.  I sighed with relief.  What about it?  Maybe Pa and Ma had to stay up late tending to the fields.  Quite possibly, poor little Laura got her chalkboard thrown on the ground and a valuable lesson was learned. I had a call in a few minutes.  What was so urgent already?

“Some man died,” my mother continued.  “On the show, I mean. He was working in the mines.  There was an explosion.  His body was blown to bits.  Pa had to go find the dead man’s child to let him know that his father died in a horrific accident.  He took his wife the man’s belongings.”

Anyone that knows my daughter knows how incredibly sensitive she is.  That she cries for humanity and for lost dogs and for fictional characters in cartoons.  “How bad is she?” I asked my mother.

“She’s sobbing.  We are trying to focus on puzzles.  Maybe she can have some ice cream?”

I’m pissed off.  What’s next?  Is Laura’s mother going to abandon her and leave her at home eating nothing but roasted field mice and corn? Will she have her arm severed?  Get smallpox? Will Ma and Pa get a divorce due to some illicit affair with the blacksmith?  When I got home later that night, I was prepared.  I was expecting to have to answer questions about dying or abandonment or other topics four-year-olds shouldn’t know anything about.

Instead, life was surprisingly normal.  My daughter was wearing stickers on her ears like earrings.  And playing with her new doll house.  She made a book tied together with ribbons.  She danced during her bath and pranced her way into the bedroom for stories.

I suppose there’s a reason why we don’t remember all the negative stuff buried in TV shows.  We only take the good – straining through all the junk to find what’s worth keeping.  In time, she’ll forget about the time this father died in the mine.  She’ll remember Laura’s braids.  And long winters. And gumballs in large glass jars at the general store.

Children see the world in its finest light – hopeful and happy, sparking and new.  They believe and trust.  The Gospels speak of it in this way: “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17).

We can’t shelter our children from this world forever, no matter how hard we try.  We can only encourage them to look backward with joy, remembering the braids. The little window in the top room. Cast-iron kettles and cornbread.

Someday, my daughter will have to battle the same issues with her own offspring. “Back then,” she’ll tell me, “we didn’t have all this stuff to worry about.  Everything was good and honest and pure.”

That’s when I’ll remind her that fathers were blown to shreds in Little House on the Prairie.  That she got to eat cereal for dinner not because I was a cool mother but because I worked and sometimes didn’t have the energy to fry an egg.  And that one time we spent the night at a Motel Six?  Where she got to stay up late and mommy and daddy were having a bit of a loud discussion with strange four-letter words about lost reservations?

You’re right, my love.  Those were the days indeed.

Amanda (from Texas)

Dear Martha Stewart,

Today, my son projectile vomited all over my shirt.  I had to change into a gown at the pediatrician’s office, walking out with a pile of my son’s throw-up still remaining on the little table.  Try getting that out with a stain stick.

Years ago, in your post-prison haze, I took a leave of absence from my job.  I said goodbye to my husband for the summer and jetted off to New York in a vainglorious attempt to work for you.  To impress you.  Befriend you.  After all – it’s ME!  Funny, confident, dancing-in-the-hallways me!  If I could just have a chance to meet you face-to-face, you’d totally agree with my three best friends that I’m fabulous.  We’d toast to our newfound friendship, sewing monograms onto calico pillows while sipping on chai tea.  I’d finally admit that I’m a wretched gardener and we’d have a grand afternoon plotting total world domination.

Okay, so it was reality television.  Not exactly the classiest venue.  But the fifteen folks who joined me in New York were not pond scum, but really successful people, chosen over a million folks to be talking with you about summer bulbs and apricot preserves, vying for a job where we could work with you on a daily basis.  This was my chance.

On day, in the middle of making a wedding cake to be sold at a bridal expo on 5th Avenue, your daughter paid us a visit.  I asked her a question I’d always wondered about.

“What was it like to have a mother like Martha?”

I envisioned parties of grandeur, with sugar cookies piled high with edible flowers and friends dancing around maypoles drinking cucumber water and reciting old nursery rhymes.  Alexis just gave me a flat look and said with hardly a breath that it was hard.  “Once,” she said, “when I was young, I tried to bake her a cake.”  I saw little Alexis running around in my mind in a petticoat, flinging sprinkles around with glee.  “She yelled at me for making the kitchen all sticky.”

Everyone chuckled with nervous laughter, because the reality was too sad to imagine.  We were on television.  5th Avenue, no less!  Let’s not focus on what the woman did years ago.  She’s changed!   So what if her daughter is dressed in black and seems to have a sour attitude, living with the memory that she never could live up to her mother’s standards.  We’re living in New York City.  Street vendors and expensive four-inch heels. Who-hoo!

Now, Martha, let’s be honest.  I didn’t have to meet you personally to realize you’re a big fan of order.  Rationalized numbering.  Labels.  You like steel and grey and windows and white, all clear of clutter and chaos.  You could literally eat on the floor of your office.  Somehow in this imperfect world we live in, you’ve found a way to have perfect rows of cabbage.  I respect that.  The ability to yell at the gardener and demand he remove the one wilted head on the end of the row?  Genius.

But I slowly allowed myself to question the long-standing truth that (1) you would surely think I’m special (2) we would be swapping sweet potato recipes long into the future.   Perhaps you weren’t the person I imagined.  A crack was starting to form in the armor of my Martha-ness.

The thoughts naturally arose – does anything gross happen in your world?  Have you ever accidentally peed in your pants or had to comb lice out of your daughter’s hair or invented a recipe that tasted like goat manure?  Surely once in your life you thought “I’m going to hurl.  I’m totally throwing this out and ordering pizza.”

Weren’t there ever a few moments in life, brief as they might be, that you cupped your hands over your mouth with delight at the beauty of seeing your child try to bake you a cake or make you a valentine or knit you a crooked potholder?  Is there ever a wilted cabbage you just don’t have the heart to pluck?

One morning, we got to have brunch with you in Bedford.  I was so confident you’d finally love me that I casually strolled over to the cappuccino machine in your gigantic kitchen and made small talk about the flower arrangement.

“Want one?” you asked me as the coffee machine hummed and hissed.  I tucked my hair away from my face and nodded.  Just me and a few pals, hanging out at Martha’s.  No biggie.  I was prattling on about how we can’t grow peonies down south, due to the hot weather and all, when I realized by the look in your eyes that you weren’t even listening.

“Are you Amy, from California?” you suddenly asked.

“No,” I stuttered.  “I’m Amanda.  From Texas.”  You briskly walked back in front of the camera to give a lesson on making waffles.  I was hurt and ashamed.  All the while talking of peonies, for goodness sakes.

The moment we left your place, after taking a tour of the greenhouses, hearing about elephant ferns, and watching your brilliant black horses pad around the back 40, we climbed in the car back to our quarters and, suddenly, it was if we didn’t exist.  Just another day in the office.  Just Amy from California.

I suppose the folks we idolize don’t always turn out to be as amazing as we had hoped. There is no pleasing you.  You will always be yelling at the gardener, the sticky child, the producer.  No cabbage or bath towel or applicant will ever be good enough.  I suppose if I get my book published, I won’t be back on your show to promote it, eating those yummy scones and sipping coffee backstage, waiting for hair and makeup.  Which is unfortunate.  Those were really good scones.

I don’t have to be walking along Broadway to feel my lungs fill with fresh air.  I can do that in my own backyard, watching my daughter scoop piles of pebbles into bowls and call it popcorn.  She will come running over to me with messy hands and a popsicle-stained face, showing me a stick that reminds her of a telephone.  My son will someday break a lamp or get motor grease all over my travertine floor and eat so much fried chicken in one setting that he’ll groan with delight, wiping grease on his jeans as he stretches back in his chair.  This is the texture and fabric of life.  It’s not monogrammed.  It’s not in perfect order.  It’s vomit-down-your blouse crazy.

So screw peonies.  I’ll take fields of bluebonnets, swaying in the breeze, my kids on the side of the highway buried in them, squashing the flower heads in their Sunday best.  It’s then, and only then, I realize they have buggers in their noses.

Yours most truly,

Amanda (from Texas)