Pacify or Bust


Have you ever known an addict who just begged you for another hit of whatever they’re into, and they cry and whine and plead and promise things and you just get really worn out from being a sober companion? Do you seriously consider giving in so you can get one freaking evening to yourself without all the crying and calling and yelling already?

Congratulations.  You know what it’s like to break a three-year-old of his precious pacifier.

I know there are probably those parents out there who have not had to fight this particular battle.  Perhaps they just instruct their mild-mannered kids that the Magical Passy Fairy scooped up all the little suckers and it’s all just a glittery land of nod for all.  Or maybe you sliced the big fat plug of plastic with scissors to ruin all the sucking fun and your child just chucked them by the bedside as they drifted peacefully to sleep dreaming of turtles. Or maybe you just went cold turkey and it wasn’t a big deal.  Well right now I’m hating on all you people because this is WAR I tell you, and I’m so losing.  Well I’m winning, actually, because there’s no passy around, but my emotional health and sanity is gone, so who’s the real winner?

It starts off at 7:30, with a lovely hot bubble bath to calm down the soul.  Then we brush brush and off to bed with jammies and smiles spit spot, chop chop, like Mary Poppins on her very best night. My daughter just dutifully crawls into bed with classic novels and turns off her own light when she’s done and I’m sitting in bed reading to my son.  “One more,” he demands.  I give in, because of course reading is always a winner and I’ll just read as much as he wants because vocabulary’s a win and illiteracy’s a loss and so we read about trucks and trains and pigs and sheep and finally after seven books I’m like Mommy’s tired, kid.  Lay the heck down.

But then comes the “please don’t leave me” bit around 8:15 pm, because apparently in another life I abandoned him along the roadside and he was raised temporarily by a pack of gypsies and ended up in Pensacola, so he is deathly afraid I’ll leave him again when the lights go off, so I have to reassure him that I’m sitting right outside and won’t get in my car for a Starbucks run.  He quiets. It’s 8:30, and I’m golden.

Until at 8:32 when he suddenly remembers.  My beloved and cherished passy! It’s miiiissing! Has he told me lately how much he wants it?  Has he screamed at me thirty-seven times to find it, or to look for it, or that the loss of this plug has caused a deep wound in his heart? Apparently not! Yay for reminders! I pour a glass of wine and breathe deep.

9:00 pm rolls around and my son comes wobbling in, exhausted beyond belief.  He just can’t sleep, he says.  I explain that sleeping’s hard when you’re screaming, or yelling for momma, and perhaps just laying there is a better option.  He looks at me like I’m some sort of alien.  Uh, hello there, you moron.  Did I remind you that my passy’s missing?  Yeah. You mentioned it.

So at 9:45, folks, I’m really worn down.  I’ve patted and tucked and loved and kissed.  I’ve convinced him I’m not putting him up for adoption and that he’s not ending up in a van and yes I’ll open the door or sit right here or scratch your back or sing you lullabies and hells bells I have a life please for the love just close your eyes and go to sleep. 

There really needs to be an AA program for passys.  I’m a terrible sober companion. I think it’s just called “growing up,” but seriously.  It seems like a long way away from here.



Fan Mail


So the big important news this week was that Taylor Swift’s fan mail was found unopened in a dumpster.  All those glittery heart raspberry letters wasted, dumped by the used syringes and old saggy diapers.  Someone found them, and THANK HEAVENS alerted the appropriate authorities.  It just really makes me teary-eyed that we Americans [that haven’t a clue about starvation or submission or selflessness or hunger or political issues] stand up for what’s right. Because these letters were found, ya’ll. It’s a miracle. 

So it made me think about what it would be like to get a bunch of fan mail from 14-year-old girls that include pictures of their grandmothers and boyfriends and are sprayed eerily with Bath & Body Works perfume.   I mean, who really likes the smell of sun-ripened raspberry? I say no one.  In an imaginary world, letters to me would go something like this:

Yeah so Amanda:

I like it when you write about your kids throwing up, so if you could tone it down with the Jesus references that’d be cool.  K?

My Dearest Amanda,

Get over yourself.  My kids were killed in a horrific accident and here you go rambling about how you can’t find concealer to cover up your dark under-eye circles and how whiny-bad your cute little life is.  Are your children alive?  Okay then. Find some priorities.  Included with this letter is a bottle of Raspberry room spray to remind you to be freaking happy about your life.

Manda Panda,

I’m 13 years old and live in Nebraska and I just don’t understand all these references to macaroni and cheese, peas, baking bread, and Neimans.  One minute you’re all fun and bubbly and then you’re all “let’s rise from the ashes” and “oh, the suffering.”  And OMG did you really include a recipe for bran muffins? How old are you? Can you have a theme or something? Because I’m getting confused.  #hillpenblog #randomnthoughtsareboring #macaronirocks #ilovehashtags #callme #sunripenedraspberry #Gohuskies!


I think your photo is manufactured and you’re really a robot. Can you meet me Friday in person so we can pick berries together and I can see if you have real teeth?  I’ll borrow a car and we can eat at ihop after.

For the record, I’d be so happy to get these letters to I could personally respond.  After wading through the glitter, I’d write this:

My dear friend:

I hate raspberries.  I don’t like the way they taste or the way they feel in my mouth and if I’m forced to smell one more sun-ripened raspberry I’m going postal on you and writing about squirrels for the rest of eternity.  You’ll have to go through some sort of unsubscribing process, which would take you like 2-3 long minutes.  You want that?  Huh?

And about Jesus.  Well, he’s a dear friend and rules my life and carries me on days I can’t stand, or bake bread, or cover up the circles.  So it’s hard not to talk about Jesus, or God the Father, or how the holy spirit fills up my empty spaces.

But now all I feel is bad because I went crazy on you about raspberries.  And you were so nice to send me the scratch-and-sniff stickers.  Just for being so hateful I’m eating a handful of them right now as my penance, and spraying my 7-year-old’s room with some sort of [insanely awful] spray sent to me from a grief-stricken woman, and hoping that the smell of cinnamon buns comes back into favor. #cinnamonbun2014

So go huskies.  And grief counseling.  And perspective.  Go Jesus and letters and kids throwing up and even raspberries.  It makes up the big basket of life, and that’s good no matter what it smells like.

Love and kisses,


P.S.  I’m not a robot.  Hence the dark circles.

P.P.S.  I only ate one raspberry, because I accidentally spilled the carton on the floor and I couldn’t stand to pick up their hairy, spiny, squishy little bodies.  So I swept them up and smeared red all over the travertine like blood and now I’m angry again.  But I ate one, so let’s just stick with that.


Laugh Until Life Makes Sense


I’m not a big fan of bumper stickers.  I find it odd that people want to display their political sentiments on a used Honda for the world to see.  I find it annoying to have to stare at hateful words about our President at the stoplight in front of the grocery store.  And I’m amazed so many people put stick-figure families on their mini-vans to display how many people and pets live in their households.  Yes, yes. Michael plays soccer.  You have a cat.  Riveting stuff.

My own daughter asked that her school name be displayed on the back of our Chevy Tahoe.  But do you think given my poor driving and bad texting habit I want to announce what school we’re affiliated with and have people stare into the car from afar to see if they know me? You don’t know me.  I’m likely to run into you from the rear by accident or be smirking unpleasantly at your family of stick people.

So it might surprise you that I slapped a bumper sticker on the back of my car.  Yes I did. The very woman who is constantly shaking her head at the stupid Jesus Fish / Darwin Fish debacle.  It’s on there, firmly planted square in the middle.

Laugh until life makes sense.

It’s one of my life mottos.  So when I saw this sticker a year ago, I immediately went home, created a (very often unseen) circle of clean with a paper towel and Windex, and stuck this saying on my back window.

Sometimes I check my rear-view mirror and see my daughter lip-syncing to Katy Perry, or notice that my son has used his squeezable yogurt to finger-paint on the back glass.  But quite often I simply catch the word – laugh. It’s written not only for the cars behind me, but for me to see when I need it most.  There are times I don’t feel like laughing. Times when I’m gripping the wheel in prayer that I’ll make it until lunch.  And yet somewhere in there, there’s a silver lining.

Given enough space and distance from pain, life can be funny.  What other attitude is really worth having? Who wants to hang out with people who scowl all day, eat fiber, and gripe about the lack of comfortable pants?  My oncologist said that people who laugh a lot really do live longer.  From one who’s made it through some rough health patches, I can use all the help I can get.

When my own life gets hard, I lose weight.  I end up putting the coffee creamer in the pantry and buy multiple cartons of eggs.  My dentist tells me that I might need a root canal and I realize my sobbing cry face looks like a hollowed out whale. So I go to the mall to invest in a quart of face cream but catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  How did a homeless woman end up at Neiman’s? Don’t they have security in this place?  Oh, wait.  That’s me, wearing a sweatshirt from high school that says Coca-Cola Classic.

And just like that, on my way to the YMCA to choke out a run on the treadmill, I smile.  It bobbles up and down into a chuckle, which erupts into a real belly shaker, and a few cackles later I’m in full-on snort mode.   Did I really go to Neiman’s wearing sweat pants with a hole in the knee?  Am I seriously going to need a root canal?  Why in the world do I have all these freaking eggs?

This life we live doesn’t make sense.  There is so much killing and suicide and death and mental illness.  There’s chaos and disarray and a dusty, cursed earth.  And yet we are made for more than this.  We are not in this place forever.  The righteous will not be moved, and you can only do what you can do in a day’s time.  And when the really hard stuff hits,  you’ll be prepared.  After a night of no sleep, you’ll wake up to discover you’re out of coffee, your kid’s school uniform is dirty, it’s snack day at your kid’s preschool and all you have is raisins, and some wild animal has knocked over your trash can in the night, strewing trash all over your front lawn.  You  have to fight demons and hurt with friends and heal from grief and now this? Yeah, it happens.  And it’s a tiny bit funny.

Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything.  A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  3:4.  So mourn and sob and weep and sigh.  Take Advil and Zanax and buy more coffee.  But in the end, realize that you have enough eggs to make quiche for the tri-county area, and that’s just downright weird.

As for me and my Chevy Tahoe, we’re dwelling in this season of laughter as long as we both can, puffing and choking and driving toward the bitter end.



Quote “until life makes sense” credit:

Top Ten Ways to Laugh More at Work


I have had my share of crappy, miserable, insanely-awful Tuesdays.  My mornings usually consisted of lukewarm coffee, screaming children, re-heated muffins, and boring NPR stories.  I was stuck in traffic, with bad hair and pants that are an inch too short, and when I got to work I noticed half-done reports and a computer keyboard covered in the crumbs of yesterday’s subway sandwich.  Is that really the day care calling to say my kid as a fever?  Do I honestly have a meeting in ten minutes? It’s only Tuesday for crying out loud.

But sometimes the negative can be turned into the positive. It’s a byproduct of being a writer, I suppose, where I look at life as one huge collection of stories.  But I’ve had to ask myself – was I good about finding the humor at work all those years?  Work is the one place where you hang up your personal, jovial self in the closet next to your blazer and and trudge off to Get Things Done.

I think back through my career.  I’ve snapped at support staff for packets not fully prepared and have been angry at opposing counsel for unrealistic discovery demands.  I’ve worn sour expressions and said so many disparaging things I’m sure my co-workers wanted to slide Midol pills underneath the crack in the door with a note that read “For heaven’s sakes take these pills, eat a cupcake, and come back when you are nice.”  But what do they know?  Work is a place where you Get Things Done.  Where you beat deadlines and answer emails and attend meetings.  Grrr.

But can’t we get some fun up in here?  I’m not talking about the lame birthday cake parties in the break room.  I’m talking about real and honest joy.  Is it even possible given today’s demands?

The answer is yes.  An overwhelming yes.

But you have to go about it the right way.  One particular website suggested that in order to break the tension in a workplace, a manager should bring a panic button into the meeting and tell their staff to “just push the panic button when it gets too stressful.” It breaks up the monotony!  It creates a light-hearted environment!  It’s so darn fun!  If I were in a meeting where my manager brought in a panic button, he’d have about as much credibility as my two-year-old.

Another piece of advice said to take fifteen minute walks, develop games with cube-mates, work puzzles in the break room, and take jokes with you to meetings.  This just doesn’t ring true.  If I was discussing a merger, I couldn’t be all “hold up there, folkzies.  Before we begin this discussion, have you heard the one where the elephant walks into a bar?”  No offense to those people who love puzzles, or elephants.  I’m just saying it wouldn’t work particularly well for me.

But the more advanced I became in my career, the fear and insecurity of being accepted wore off and faded into oblivion.  So I began to let loose and hauled my normal happy self into the office. After all, my shoes are from TJ Maxx and my brain only works about half the time.  If I had a joke about an elephant that I thought was really funny, I’d probably say it.  Because elephants are endearing little things that crush vehicles with their hind quarters.

So here are the Top Ten Things that I learned after so many years that helped me start to enjoy work again. To bring humor back into my working life.  To learn to really live a little:

(1) Don’t take things so darn seriously.  Humor creates a psychological distance.  After all, if you don’t get that report turned in and your boss gets mad, and you end up being fired, you could work at Dairy Queen and eat Blizzards all day.  Think of the toppings!

(2) Get out of the office for lunch.  This is key so your head isn’t buried inside your computer from 7 am until closing time, causing you to be grumpy and lumpy and snappy.  Just leave.  If you aren’t hungry, drive around.  Pick up some iced tea.  Head to a park and walk a bit.  But take a mid-day break.

(3) Think of your commute as a very special time, not some horrible long wasted hour.  Listen to music that uplifts you.  Pray.  Call a friend or check out a book on tape. Enjoy a cup of good coffee.  This is your time, without kids yelling or bosses snapping or husbands talking. How many times do you tell yourself “I have no time for me!”  Well here it is, you whiner.

(4) Be the bearer of silly little gifts.  Everyone brings something different to the table in a workplace.  Some people are more organized.  Others are great with follow-up.   Some are good listeners.  Reward those talents by leaving candy or gum or little treats on their desk with lame, corresponding sayings that you find online or make up.  You’re worth a mint to me (mentos)!  The way you listened to that client was so smart (smartees!) Your organizational skills are worth all the cash in the world (100 grand!) It’s not laugh-out-loud funny and might cause people to roll their eyes a bit (rolos!) but it makes people smile and it helps them see you as a human being and not just a widget (or whatchamacallit!)  Tell me to stop.

(5) At every opportunity, send out poems (Today is just another day, it’s Wednesday in December, but if you have a moment at all, can you call that counsel member?)  I use so much I think they created that site exclusively for me.  Now, instead of simply barking orders, you can bark orders in rhyme, which is far better and makes you more likeable.  Unless you’re firing someone.  Then I’d steer clear of rhyme.  I also like to use unusual similes and metaphors, like “this is similar to fighting alligators” or “imagine this project is a large lion.”

(6) Be a gossip killer.  When someone comes into your office, closes the door, and says “I’m so sorry but I just have to get this off my chest” and then begins to rant about someone with glee, think strategy. It’s fine to listen.  But when they are done, ask them if they often have to replace buttons on that blazer or start a conversation about space exploration.  Don’t give in to employee-bashing.  It’s not helpful, it ruins the office mood, it destroys morale, and it’s hateful.  Hateful humor doesn’t warm the heart. Unless it’s your boss, of course, which is an exception and you can both plot his/her demise in good conscience.  Think of what will be on the gravestone.  Pick the funeral flowers.  Whatever.

(7) Send notes of praise and thanks all the time, to anyone you can think of. Email someone’s boss and blind-copy them.  It makes you feel better, and happier, to give rather than receive.  We learned this as children around Christmas, and it’s so true.  Unless you are receiving a new Nikon 5100.  Then getting is good.

(8)  Smile.  When someone walks into your office, stop your train of thought long enough to let a smile erupt on your face.  Even if it’s forced.  If you hold it long enough, it might turn real.

(9) Despite advice to the country to form “lunch bunches” and all kinds of work pot lucks, I’m not big on dining together with work colleagues all the time.  After all – you see these people enough.  Do you really want to sit together in the break room heating up leftover lasagna?  Find your own space.  This makes everyone happier and more interesting.

(10) And finally, admit when you are wrong.  Apologize when necessary, and embrace your faults.  No one can find humor, warmth, and joy in the workplace if you are constantly trying to fight battles of will, or cover something up, or lie to save yourself.  Be true to your inner self.  The self you were born to be.  The self that wears pants that are sometimes too short with coffee stains.  It’s cool.  You aren’t the only one.

We all have those kind of Tuesdays.


Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

I’m about to head to the coast for a family vacay, so I thought I’d leave you with these thought-provoking things.  Welcome to a week in my life. . .

(1) Stop it already with the swim coaches referring to the freestyle stroke as some sort of exaggerated ice-cream-scooping maneuver.  This is the third swim coach who’s yelled at my daughter to “Scoop!  Lift those arms and scoop that ice cream!”  Who comes up with these hair-brained examples that all swim coaches feel compelled to use? When’s the last time you raised your arms above your head in a swan-like fashion and dug your bare fingernails into a vat of ice cream? Any normal person would use a metal device with much less work involved, put the chocolate directly into a cone, and sit back licking it before it melts.  A normal person would not fervently kick while scooping over and over again, only coming up to breathe.  That person has a horrible bulimic binging problem and needs therapy.

(2) My son this morning decided he didn’t want to wear clothes.  A battle ensued with a slightly grey-haired 37-year-old and a 2-year-old.  I won, but only by a hair.  He beat me on the shoes.  I had to give a little.

(3) My daughter had another swim lesson today.  “Scoop, sweetie!”

(4) My daughter watched a movie this week called “Polly World,” whereby small Polly Pocket dolls come to life.  In this movie, which I assume is meant generally for children since the characters are pink and sparkles come busting out of their behinds, Polly’s mom died and her father was about to get remarried to an evil woman who wanted to ship Polly to boarding school.  Polly lands on stage at the talent show with perfect hair, along with her all-girl band, wearing a strapless dress.  I’m so pissed off at the writers of this movie, whereby I have to explain things like “moms dying” and “not all children get to grow up being in a rock band” and “you can’t wear a string bikini.  You’re five.”

(5) My daughter has announced that for her birthday, she would like every single Polly Pocket set ever created on this planet.  Alert: you’re getting a set of molding clay, an unabridged version of Heidi, and a set of oil pastels.  Deal wit it.

(6) I have a sudden urge for ice cream.  I just want to wallow in it.

(7) Stupidly, I answered a work phone call this week while I had both children with me.  Apparently my son wanted a certain book that my daughter took away from him and he was shrieking for it back and my daughter was holding it hostage. “Excuse me one second,” I said into the receiver.  “Give that back to him right now!” I yelled at my daughter.  “I need to take this call!”  Whatever works to create five minutes of quiet. My daughter gave me the most dejected and panicked look.  “But it’s the New Testament!” she said.  “He’ll ruin it!”  I grabbed it and handed it to my son.  It’s fine.  Jesus will understand.

(8) Of the food items that I’ve packed to go to the beach house, paprika made the list.  Who knew paprika would ever make a list of anything but useless spice one puts atop deviled eggs?  Who knew?

(9) “You really don’t have many wrinkles,” my daughter tells me.  “You have a few.  But you don’t look that old.”

(10)               It’s the weirdest thing.  The Polly Pocket movie has gone missing. I think Polly might be off scooping ice cream in an endless sparking river of cotton-candy with sprinkles.  She’s kicking like a movie star to make it to the other side, where her deceased mother has come back to life in order to hand Polly her first training bra and a designer glitter-bag chock full of inappropriate topics for children.  Yeah Polly!  Scoop that ice cream!  You can do it!

Letters to my agent

Dear Literary Agent,

I wrote a lovely novel, and I have no doubt you’ll clamor over your desk and spill your morning coffee just to reach the phone to hear all about it.  It’s about anonymous letters and love and friendship – tantalizing themes that have never before surfaced in the history of fiction.  I just know you’ll say yes.  I’m at the gym, so if I don’t pick up my phone just rattle off a message.

Love and kisses,


Two months later. . .

Dear Literary Agent,

It’s the strangest thing, because I didn’t hear back from you.  That’s odd.  Did you get the World’s Greatest Manuscript as an attachment to the email I sent? Oh, wait.  Maybe it’s because I work on a mac and it didn’t convert.  And if you’re like all those other fancy-pants agents, you’re probably just on an extended vacation to Italy.  I’ll await your reply, about how much you love my writing and want to meet up for tea.



Six months later. . .

Dear Literary Agent,

It’s me again!  I never so much as received an out-of-office message, or a rejection, or a kind brush-off from you, so I don’t know if you received my novel or it landed in some spam slush pile, never to be revived.  I can’t possibly imagine that four years of my life were wasted, and that you read it but didn’t actually like it. That’s so absurd I’m cracking myself up!  See how good I am at humor?  Well here’s to perseverance.  I’ll try and track down your personal cell phone number and pretend I’m you at the dog groomer to get your home address.  Toodles!


Two years later. . .

Dear Literary Agent,

You didn’t have to get a restraining order, for goodness sakes.  That was a bit extreme.   I was only papering your front lawn with the pages of my manuscript so you’d notice me.  So you’d read my words.  So I wouldn’t be invisible. I love what you did with your spare bathroom, by the way.  White subway tile is really a good choice regardless of your personal style.  And the towels were so nice and thick. Were they Ralph Lauren?  I know I wasn’t technically invited in, but I just really needed to pee so I found an open window.  But we’re old friends, right?  So why in the world did you find it necessary to send me all those strange legal documents about keeping fifty feet back?  What’s that all about?


Well into the future . . .

Dear Literary Agent,

As it turns out I did need all those medications you suggested.  Thanks to your referral to the police, the mental hospital, moving, and for changing your identity.  Finally, I sought the help I needed.  I’ll never again send you a manuscript, because I clearly see now that you don’t appreciate my writing style.  I know it’s not me, really, but it’s just my genre’s really not your thing.  That being said, I do have a project in mind that I’d love to tell you about sometime, if you’re willing. I can tell from your silence that you’re dying to hear more.

You know what’s odd?  This email bounced back the first time I tried to send it, like the address doesn’t work anymore.  What’s up with that?  No worries.  I’ll figure something out.  You know, I might just try another agent.

Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

  • Recipes are helpful.  Like telling me to use large eggs when making a Bundt cake.  I was just about to grab those tiny little quail eggs that I keep in my refrigerator when I had the forethought to double check.  Large eggs.  Wheh.  That was a close one.
  • I abhor having to type in those random letter combinations when I comment on another blog.  The caption always says something like “Prove to use you’re not a robot!”  Who came up with that phrase?  If a robot is smart enough to surf the web, come up with an email address, and put snarky comments on someone’s blog post, shouldn’t we be encouraging it?  Wouldn’t that be utterly awesome?  The phrase should instead read, “prove to me you’re not an internet scammer who wants to download a virus and steal my bank password.”  Or,  “enter in this stupid combination of letters because it’s automatic and I don’t know how to disable the damn thing.”
  • To prove my point about eggs, I went to the grocery store.  They have large and extra-large, and they are all the same price. I think we can quit referring to egg sizes, recipe people.  For those who actually live on a farm where the small ones are common, figure it out.
  • My sweet son is running a fever.  I feel just awful because he was extra cranky a few nights ago and I just might have made statements at dinner with friends similar to “that is so annoying” and “seriously, kiddo.  Deal with it. Just let me finish eating already.” I am heartless.
  • Tonight, our daughter came into our bedroom an hour after we thought she was asleep, lost in hysterical tears.  “I love my last name,” she sobs.  “I love the way it sounds when you say it all together, and someday when I get married I’ll have to change it.”  Uh, okay.  You’re five years old.  Most kids worry about getting a new backpack, and my daughter worries about losing her identity to her future spouse.  “You don’t have to change it,” my husband says, as if he’s disclosing some big secret.  “It can always be yours.  Love’s not found in a name, anyway.”  She is thrilled.  All is well again in the universe.
  • Last weekend, when we were working in the yard, my husband asked me if I’d seen the garden hoe.  I told him we shouldn’t discuss her in public, and especially around the children, for crying out loud.  Show some respect. 
  •  I get so excited when I hear the little ding on my iphone because I just know it’s the sound of an email – THE email – from the one literary agent who loves my novel and thinks it’s a bestseller in the making.  But it’s from Shutterfly, stating that they have new portrait mugs.  Well then.
  •  I thought about changing my blog name today to something whimsical like “graceful waters” or “she who runs with kitchen shears” instead of the super lame hill + pen. It’s like I am a caveman, beating my chest. I am hill.  I use pen.  I don’t even use a pen since I type everything.  But I was lazy and had laundry to fold.
  • Writing can be torture.  It’s lonely and sad, and you feel at times that it has no meaning.  But then you start envisioning someone laughing, or crying, or changing their behavior after reading your words, and you feel like a superhero.  At least that’s what you tell yourself to keep on writing.
  • This afternoon as I went to check the mail, I saw my neighbor and his wife standing in their front yard.  “Nice weather,” I shouted.  It’s what you say to be cordial.  It’s the neighborly thing to do. “Not if you’re digging a hole,” she yelled back.  I smiled and waived.  Yup, it’s no fun digging a – what?  Huh? Should I be concerned?

And it’s just Monday. . .

tennis rocks

I thought it might be fun to talk about my insanely awesome athletic skills.  I’m a Texas girl, and everyone here in the Lone Star State should know how to throw a football, identify an offside penalty, or at least jump a hurdle or two.  So naturally, my parents were ecstatic to have a tall girl like me on their hands.  There were so many possibilities.

But reality came crashing down when I dribbled the ball down the court the wrong way, and broke both my wrists (at the same time) in a very polished backward fall.  And there was that one attempt at softball, where my uniform never got dirty and the opposing team just aimed their bats in my general direction to see the ball land directly next to my ankles.   One summer my parents put me in a soccer league, which required an insane amount of running, of all the crazy things.  They even tried to enroll me in ballet, but I argued with the teacher about why I needed to learn all those silly positions.  I felt – more like deserved – to be leaping across the room in toe shoes after three weeks and fall in the arms of well-muscled men wearing tights.  Duh.

But one day, things changed.  Tennis came along.  This was something I could practice alone and advance at my own speed.  I actually liked it.  Seeing a glimmer of hope that I might lead a normal life and not become a colossal choir nerd, my parents enrolled me in private lessons.  They drug me across town to the country club with the rich kids so I could attend tennis camp and bought me little tennis skirts with blue and yellow stripes. I wasn’t that great, but I stuck with it, and in time I (barely) improved.

In high school, the tennis coach had pity on me and allowed me to play on the varsity team.  After all – I was a funny sort that kept everyone else’s spirits high.  I considered myself the team mascot, since I never won a match but got drug along to all the tournaments.  I kept everyone on the bus laughing and encouraged them to keep on smiling (“It’s just one game!  You’ll do better next time! Tally Ho!”).  Okay, so I didn’t actually use the words tally ho, since that sounds strangely English for a blond Texas girl, but you get the general optimistic mental picture.  I played games occasionally, but no one watched because they always knew I’d lose. But I didn’t care because it was jolly fun to smash the ball across the net and watch my opponent race to catch it.  I’d eventually hit a fly ball or miss altogether, which would cost me the match, but I considered those just minor setbacks.  I just needed to work on my consistency.

The Fall of my freshman year of college, dewy with hope and a youthful optimism, I rolled up my sleeves and hit the court with a bucket of balls and my old tennis racket.  It was a good stress reliever, the weather was warm, and I was suddenly filled with the reality that I could actually play.  It was so clear – like a vision laid out in front of me.  All those years of goofing off and I had a talent hidden underneath that finally blossomed like a beautiful flower.  I was a tennis player.  This was my destiny.   I was born for this.

That wasn’t true, of course.  I totally sucked.  I think it might have been heatstroke.

So fresh with my newfound love of tennis, and the reality that I just might compete at Wimbledon if I darn well set my mind to it, I contacted the athletic department.  I was going to try out for the Texas Tech University Tennis Team.  Yes, I was available to meet with the coach for an information interview.  Yes, I was more than happy to work out with the team.  And yes, why of of course I could play tennis at a very professional level.  State championship?  Well, no.  But I have many, many participation ribbons.  That should count for something.

For a month, I got to eat at the athletic dining hall, and made many friends with people from Sweden and Missouri and other far-off places.  I was fascinated by the whole experience and soaked it up with vigor.  I rolled up my sleeves and ate chicken-fried-steak with the best of them.  I ran laps and said “hell yeah suckahs!” and wore the perfect grimace on my face when faced with a tough opponent.

Then, I had to hit the ball.  Just some simple forehands and backhands and volleys at the net.  Nothing difficult or challenging.  Whoops, I said the first time around, covering my mouth.  How funny!  Did I hit that ball clear over the side wall?   I’m terribly sorry.  That just never happens.  And then began the comedic efforts of one who cannot actually play tennis at the college level, bumbling and running and jumping and missing and having a terrific ‘ol time.  The girl from Sweden just looked at me like I just recently landed on this planet.

The coach was so incredibly sweet, and pulled me aside after a few days to give me the tragic news.  “You didn’t make the team,” she said.  She offered some terrific advice, like perhaps years and years of lessons.  Or an arm transplant.  Perhaps a racket that hits the balls for you.  Or sticking with choir. I thanked her so much, and hugged the Swedish girl.  I smiled my big Texas smile.  “It’s just such an honor,” I said as I held my hand to my heart – not sure why since playing tennis isn’t at all akin to fighting in Iraq.   “Thank you all so much for this opportunity,” I bellowed, my eyes full of tears.  But by this time they had turned their heads, back to playing tennis. Glad to get the crazy girl off the court.

This, my friends, is what happens to a young girl with an inflated since of self-esteem with absolutely no talent behind it.  I went on to do fulfilling and wonderful things in college, like being a Resident Assistant in the dorms (is that pot I smell, mister?), singing baroque music in the concert hall (oh the beauty, oh the harmony), or meeting my friends in the dining hall for chicken strips (how do they make this gravy so yummy?).  I had a very dorky useless boring amazing college life, and I don’t regret for one day my near-brush with athletic fame and fortune.

I think the lesson to be learned here is to never give up. One day, you’ll realize what you’re good at and quit making a fool of yourself.

But what’s the fun in that?

Twenty Random Things I said to my Five-Year-Old this Week

  • No, honey.  Mosquitoes are not amphibians just because their eggs float on top of the water.  That doesn’t count.
  • Butterflies don’t make honey.  That’s a job only for the bees.
  • Where exactly are the heart pains?  Show me.
  • It doesn’t matter if bees and butterflies are best friends and they share nectar.
  • Yes (in response to “did you know that [Hey Soul Sister] is my favorite song?”)
  • I’m on a conference call in five minutes, so this is the last piece of tape I’m going to give you.  The last one.
  • No, you can’t go to [the babysitter’s house] just because you have a fever and can’t go to school and she lets you watch videos on utube.  You’re just stuck staying home with me.
  • Trillion is a word, remarkably.  Ask any government official.
  • You still need to make a get-well card for your great grandmother, despite the fact that “you’re sick too.”  You have a 99 degree temperature, and she’s in the hospital with a broken hip. It’s not the same.
  • Bees.  That’s it.  Those are the only guys that make honey.  Why is that so difficult for you?
  • Yes, you do have sags under your eyes
  • Earthworms are also not amphibians even though they wallow around in mud after it rains.  Still not the same.  But great question; I can see the confusion.
  • You’d rather have chicken-and-stars soup out of a can than this [homemade pasta with fresh spinach and feta cheese and basil pesto]?  So that’s a yes, I take it.  Super.
  • No.  I will not save that leftover two tablespoons of broth for you in the refrigerator for later.  When exactly will you eat that?
  • Please don’t keep giving your brother pacifiers behind my back. It’s annoying. He doesn’t need three of them at once.
  • I just love this necklace of yellow pom-poms and random beads you found in your dresser. I’ll treasure it forever.
  • Why did you leave me a “very special love note” that reads “glow in the dark?”  Oh, you just copied it from that puzzle box over there?  That’s cool.  It works.
  • Did I say it wrong?  The book clearly says “Repunzel.”  Oh, my bad.  “Barbie as Repunzel.”  That’s different.
  • I’m sorry your head feels like a thousand knives are shredding it into pieces. That really must hurt.
  • Right back at ya (in response to her double-hand squeeze plus two taps at the grocery store, which is our special way of saying I love you to each other in public so that it’s not cheesy and embarrassing).

And tomorrow’s only Wednesday. . .

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.