The New Conquistadors

I went to Machu Picchu over the summer and it was spectacular. It did what travel does better than vacation, which is to enlarge your puny mind. I gained an appreciation for Peruvian culture and some guilt for having exploited it — a strange juxtaposition which I will attempt to explain.

I grew up dreaming of going to Machu Picchu.

My mom went there in 1968 when she was nineteen years old, and she reminisced about it so many times I came to know the story by heart — how her parents decided to take her at the last minute (and during finals week, no less!) How they traveled twenty hours from Lima to Cuzco on a bus full of chickens. How she and her 21-year-old brother hiked unmarked paths in the mountains and got lost in the maze of ruins.


The cutest 19-year-old Mother!

That’s why when my in-laws invited us to go, it was a no brainer.

I didn’t do a lot of research or trip planning. Instead I mostly daydreamed about the picture my mother and my father in law (who also saw Machu Picchu in his twenties) had painted in my head.

For convenience, I ordered a fanny pack. For safety, Scott bought a water bottle called a LifeStraw. We packed our carry-ons with essentials — Nikes, travel-sized hand sanitizer, a Spanish 101 book, and were on our way.

Most of what follows is taken from notes I jotted on my iPhone.

When we land in Cuzco we are greeted by the travel guide my in-laws have arranged. As we exit the airport, a Peruvian man begins snapping photos, grapevining in and out of our group, paparazzi style. We giggle nervously, surprised this was part of the deal until the man walks away and we realize it wasn’t.

Paloma, our guide, takes us to see Inca ruins all over the Sacred Valley. As we drive, we spot them everywhere — massive terraces cut out of the sides of the Andes, so high I can’t fathom how they got up there; we can barely manage the climb in our rented 10-passenger van.


For a little perspective — each of these terraces is 2.5 humans tall

Paloma educates us on Incan architecture, pointing out pyramidal angles and the way each rock is cut into perfectly interlocking shapes — like Legos, she says — all to protect against earthquakes.

Notice how perfectly they all fit together. Legos!

Photo taken by my brother in law, Zac Taylor, who should work for National Geographic

She tells us the Incas built lavish temples out of stone and covered the most sacred ones in gold leaf. They ruled their empire from the capital of Cuzco for hundreds of years until the 1500’s, when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded. It was guns against spears, men on horses versus men on foot. It wasn’t even a fight. The Spanish tore down every Incan structure and built Catholic churches in their stead.

The jerks tore down every single Incan structure — all except for one.

We visit a textile factory inside an adobe home in a cobblestone town called Chinchero. The air is thin at 12,343 feet and the surrounding mountains are solid brown.

There are five women in the factory, all wearing traditional garb, shockingly bright. They all have the same hairstyle — long black pigtail braids hanging over each shoulder. The older ones have faces like the apples I used to peel and let shrivel at Halloween.

We sit on thatched benches in a semi-circle as one of the women, we’ll call her Camila, walks forward and begins to show us how they make dyes. Red from a parasite that lives inside a cactus. Purple from purple corn. Green from coca leaves.


Another stunner taken by Zac

She grabs a root that looks like ginger and grates it over a bowl of water, creating a shampoo they use to wash alpaca wool, and also — she points to one of her braids — the women’s hair. She works the alpaca with an easy, habitual motion, pulling the gunk out of it, then shows us another bowl that contains already-cleaned wool — the finished product — like it’s a cooking show. The two women with apple-doll faces walk up on cue, spinning cleaned wool on what look like Peruvian yo-yos into yarn. She tells us how the women can do this all day, even when chatting or dancing!

She tells us baby Alpaca is the softest of the wools, and that you should only buy it in this factory because elsewhere, it’s probably not even real. “It’s not baby Alpaca,” Camila says, “it’s maybe Alpaca!”

Camila’s presentation ends and suddenly three more women emerge to sell us their textiles. After what I think is successful haggling, I buy a beautiful blanket for gobs of money. I won’t tell you how much, for I am ashamed.


Cloaked in the blanket I am certain can be purchased at Urban Outfitters

In the coming days, each of us finds our spoils being sold by street vendors. I beg Scott to not find out how much our blanket is going for, but he can’t resist, and the answer is that we have been severely ripped off.

We laugh to keep ourselves from feeling stupid. After all, we are educated people! We have traveled! We are not used to being had. Their presentation felt so sincere and lovely, I don’t like thinking it was a sham. And I really don’t think it was a sham — I think it was a hustle. I want to feel good about supporting these women, but the blanket I now must smother into my already-packed carry-on feels like a token of American naivete.

After more hikes and markets and unbelievable ruins, the time finally comes to make our pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. It will be the most incredible thing I have ever experienced, but to earn it we first must go slowly through hell.

We take a train that descends into Aguas Calientes, a tiny town built for the sole purpose of housing earlybird tourists eager to make it up the mountain by sunrise. My father in law tells us the town didn’t exist when he came here forty years ago. I am sure it wasn’t here when Mother came either.

The Andes seem different in Aguas — less arid, more jungle. Less of a rambling mountain range, more individual peaks jutting out of the ground; a cluster of granite push-pops covered in green.

The air buzzes with anticipation. Everyone seems to be speaking a different language; zip-off pants abound. We stroll up the main, only road as locals peddle llama keychains, llama paintings, bags, scarves, and hats featuring llamas, and selfie sticks. They speak fifty words of English and two of them are selfie stick.

I have so much trouble with the selfie stick.


I have dozens of these photos. DOZENS!

After dinner we head back to our hotel. We see a four year old boy dressed in the traditional garb of the mountain towns. It’s the cutest thing we’ve ever seen until he starts scrambling towards us shouting, “photo! photo! photo!” and we realize he is not dressed but in costume, sent by his parents to help make a buck.

We do take a photo of a traditionally-dressed family, and pay them a handful of Soles for it. It’s what they’re at the market for, will surely help feed or house them, but it still feels a little gross.


Don’t miss the baby strapped to her back. They’ve been doing this way before those solly baby things.

We go to bed at 10 PM, too wired to really sleep. The men get up at 3:30 AM to make the bus line by 4 AM. The women go to meet them at 4:30 AM and are dumfounded by how far we have to walk to find their spot. Together we stand in the pitch black for two hours until finally it’s our turn.

We board the bus at 6:30 AM and scale one of the push-pop mountains, zigzagging sharp switchbacks on a narrow dirt road. We exit the bus and see that we have not made it yet — there is yet another line to enter the park. At seeing it, my mother in law Norrie despairs, “It’s like Disneyland!” 

While in line I notice that my ticket says I am a 59-year-old man. Norrie is supposedly 27. All of our tickets are somehow off, two are even scheduled for the wrong day. We fret for thirty minutes that we won’t be able to get in, but at the ticket house they let us through without a word.

As soon as we’re through the gates, Scott and I run up the uneven steps to the Guardhouse, anxious to get there before all the tourists. We call them tourists, as though we aren’t.

I snap a few people-free photos, and can now breathe enough to take in this view.


Photos have never been more useless

The sun breaks over the mountains in rays of light so defined it looks like a kid painted them.

I am so overcome, the only ways I can think to describe it are awful cliches like ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘on top of the world.’

I wonder how I got here. I mean, I know — there was the flight to Mexico, then to Lima, then to Cuzco, the bus ride to Ollantaytambo, the train to Aguas Calientes, the lines and the buses this morning. But still — how did I get here? How did this get here?

Norrie and I marvel at what can only be called the majesty of the Andes. We apologize to the Rockies where we both grew up, but a higher bar has been set.

A new tour guide, Mario, takes us through the ruins. He goes over all the theories about Machu Picchu, which we’ve heard by now — most historians think it was a sort of summer cottage for wealthy Incas. Other theories say it was an agricultural center. Apparently someone even wrote a book arguing it was an ancient Playboy Mansion.

Mario speaks almost reverently, tells us the reason Machu Picchu is in such pristine condition is because the Spanish never found it. It was discovered in 1911 when American explorer Hiram Bingham set out to discover a different set of ruins.

Fun fact: Bingham was outfitted by a little company called ABERCROMBIE & FITCH.

Fun fact: Bingham was outfitted by a little company called ABERCROMBIE & FITCH

The native Peruvians didn’t know about the ruins Bingham sought, but they did know about a city up in the mountains, which a young boy led them to.


The Peruvian boy who escorted Bingham, next to the Sundial or “Hitching Post”

Aside from being part buried and part overgrown by the jungle, it looked basically identical when they found it to the way it does today.




Mario tells us he’s been giving tours for thirty years, but this year has the biggest crowds he’s ever seen. He tells us legally they are only supposed to let 2,500 people in but he’s seen up to 8,000.

(Later Scott and I will find it’s more like 5,000-6,000 a day, but STILL.)

We get the Christmas Card shot.20160802_07-1-34-48

We find my favorite tree.


We figure out the selfie stick, and promptly embarrass ourselves.

us being tourists

We have a “Machu Picnic” on my blanket — tangerines and pancita smuggled from our hotel breakfast, plus a can of Pringles my rumbling stomach demanded I overpay for. We get to the famed sundial or ‘hitching post,’ and my father in law tells us he has a photo of his mustached, 23-year-old self sitting atop it. It is now roped off.

We are there for seven magical hours before it’s time to head back. But after everyone’s gone down the steps, Scott has to come back for me because I can’t stop staring.

The journey back proves as arduous as the one there — in line for 1.5 hours. Bus down switchbacks. Hour wait amidst a crush of people to catch the 2-hour train back to Ollantaytambo, then 3-hour bus ride over roads so jostling they add 8,000 steps to Norrie’s fitbit. We are more tired, more happy, more spent than we have ever been.

It is on this bus ride that I begin to have all the feelings, which I have since sorted out to be something like this:

I think the beauty of Machu Picchu is its remoteness. I think what makes it so stunning is maybe not the ruin itself but its setting — it’s the wondering how you got to be standing on top of the world. It’s the having gone through hell to get there. Machu Picchu makes an explorer out of everyone who visits her, and yet there’s a part of the equation that’s off.


My mom and her brother got quite the scolding after my grandmother got this film developed - "You could've gotten yourselves killed!"

Mother says she got quite the scolding after my Nana developed this photo

I think it’s the Disneyland part — the selfie sticks. It’s 8,000 people when even 2,500 is too many. It’s the capitalization of a place that otherwise felt sacred.

I think of the way my mother and my father in law talk about this place forty years ago. I get cynical or maybe ungrateful and start wishing I’d seen it the way they did — not one in a throng of tourists, but in solo discovery. I think it’s the way it was supposed to be seen. You don’t build a summer cottage on top of an unscalable mountain if everyone’s invited, do you?

I think about Machu Picchu herself, and wonder if she is annoyed — for so long she had peace! For so long she evaded discovery, and now we march all over her, 365 days a year, like so many conquistadors wearing Nikes.

I am torn — so enamored by my transcendent experience, I want to tell everyone in the world to book a ticket. Today! And yet a part of me feels that in Bingham’s discovery, something was lost.

What is fascinating about the Incas is the mystery surrounding them — how they built what they did, without any modern technology, without even using the wheel. I loved learning the many theories, hearing each guide’s speculation, because it gave me a sense of wonder.

I haven’t felt that sense of wonder in a long time. Why would I, when I can Google every question that has ever crossed the human mind? I think we’ve created a myth that everything is knowable, and in so doing have forgotten what it feels like to be in awe.

We’ve gotten used to fabulous pictures of faraway places, of living through others vicariously that when we feel awe ourselves, what we register is cliche.

But what I felt standing on Machu Picchu was good old fashioned awe. It filled me up, then it made me feel very small. It was a sacred feeling.

Once home, Scott and I will try to research tourism in Peru, attempting to grasp what it has done to the country, but the information is so scattered and varying it’s hard to find a through-line.

Yes, tourism has boosted the economy and lowered unemployment. Yes, there is bribery, corruption, and disorder (aha! the tickets!). Yes, our footprints are wearing the place down and they are taking precautions to preserve it. No, the numbers show no signs of slowing down.

Almost done posting photos I promise.

One more in case you forgot how magnificent she is

Seeing Machu Picchu in real life was more stunning than any of my daydreams. I will remember it forever and recommend it to anyone who asks.

But part of me secretly hopes Bingham’s original theory was right — that the first city he sought is still hidden in the Andes, maintaining the mystery of the Incas, leaving something to make us wonder, to help us remember the feeling of awe.

Christine and The Queens

Since I’m constantly hunting for new music (especially with this new yoga thing), I decided I’m going to share some of it here.

I’m loving Christine & the Queens lately. Something about her voice — and her French — just really gets me.

I played Jonathan at the end of yoga the other day and it was perfect.

Her whole album is good, but some favorites are Science Fiction and Paradis Perdue, a Kanye West cover if my ears are working correctly??

I recommend listening on full volume while in traffic. Enjoy!


Into The Current

August means Bear Lake — the week of heaven my now-massive family looks forward to all year, every year. We spent our days boating on the impossibly turquoise water. (Is boating a Utah term? I am too enmeshed to know.) We waterskied and surfed and made sandcastles and ate homemade cookies out of bucket-sized tupperware.

But that is besides the point.

The point is something I noticed on an early morning waterski run. (7:30 AM, 48 degrees, yes I wore a wetsuit). My dad is an expert boat driver. He knows how to find the smoothest water. He can guide the bow within inches of the buoy when it’s time to anchor. He and my mother have a little routine — when she’s done skiing she gives the signal and he whips her around, then cuts the engine so she ends up right behind the boat and can hop back in.

But here’s the thing about steering a boat — it won’t move any direction unless it is also moving forward. Even my dad, in all his experience expertise, is bound by that law.

My 67-year-old father in his element

My 67-year-old father in his element


It’s science, right? Or engineering, I suppose. The steering wheel turns the rudder, but it is only when water moves past the rudder that it has any effect on the boat’s direction.

The more years of adulthood I get under my belt, the more I realize that I may never know the exact direction in which I am supposed to move. I’ve gone through bouts of paralysis, crippled by questions of who I am or what is “right” for my life. I have struggled against the realization that I actually have very little control over what happens.

But I can move forward.

It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over, each time pleading with myself not to go and forget it again. But see the problem is I get so comfortable. I am logical to a fault and prefer security over risk, which means that when it’s time to move I usually get so scared I stop in my tracks.

In one such six-month period of paralysis, I read this quote (most often attributed to Goethe) daily.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

There is power in beginning, in ‘definitely committing’ to the task at hand. The universe will conspire to reward boldness.

Every time I read it, it was as though I added a layer of resolve, shaved a teaspoon of weight off of my heavy feet. And then finally I took a step, and then it was as though I was walking downhill, my momentum building until it was an all-out sprint.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the only time I’d had to learn that lesson?

The last few months have been full of change. We moved. We both quit our jobs. (Ha! I still can’t believe it.) I have been excited and scared and have spent a few days in the depths of a depression that hits whenever I feel I’ve lost purpose. But I have tried to keep moving. They have been slow, ugly steps, one foot plodding in front of the other, but I’m starting to see the nose of my boat pointing in a direction.

This week I got hired to teach yoga. I actually did, I can hardly believe it, after over a year of baby steps in that direction. I am giddy with excitement, can’t think of an occupation more opposite in its level of positivity than what I’ve done for the last few years.

I got a copywriting gig for a brand I love that will allow me time and space to continue writing the things I really want to be writing.

Both are new territory, both freak me out a little, but I am trying to picture the jade-colored water moving against the white of the boat, creating the necessary drag to make it turn, to remember the lesson I have learned so many times:

Push down on the throttle.

Keep moving into the current.

It’s the only way to get anywhere, and I have too many places I want to go to spend time sitting idly in still water.



In 7th grade, I took a Ballroom Dance elective. I’d never been interested in Ballroom before, but it was a cool class, one “everyone” took, so there I was.

We only ever danced to two songs — an awful, breathy Britney Spears remix of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and Sammy Davis Jr’s The Candy Man. It was a disjointed playlist, but efficient: one song for the Cha Cha, the other for Swing.

It’s Cha Cha time, and in a stroke of luck, I’ve been partnered up with an 8th grader, a really cute boy with an Italian name so perfect it could be on a pasta box.

I stand there, worrying my hands will be slippery when he goes to hold them. I am annoyed, because they were perfectly dry before I started worrying about this.

The teacher begins demonstrating the Cha Cha, which requires the girls to move their hips a little. Hip-moving comes naturally to me, I know this from my other dance classes, and I wonder if he’ll notice. He does. My hands become slippery-er.

He starts joking and flirting as we step forward, cha cha cha, backward, cha cha cha — star-crossed partners amidst a sea of peers in a brightly lit gym on a Tuesday. He comments on how well my hips move, saying I’m such a natural dancer, it’s like he is “tresmatized.”

I stop for a moment, breaking our rhythm, because tresmatized is not a word. I know which word he means, of course, and cannot tell if he is joking or not.

He’s not joking, and I wonder if I should correct him. It feels like two paths are appearing before me.

I don’t correct him. How can I? He is Marco Niccoli.


A Love Letter for La La

Like all fabled love stories, we hated each other in the beginning.

I was a bright-eyed baby fresh out of Dodge and you were larger than life. So complicated, so distant and, although the sun was always shining, somehow so cold.

I came to follow my dreams but instead you gave me nightmares. You acquainted me with deep disappointment and sometimes depression — things I’d known existed, but had never known.

You did your best to run me out of town but I dug in my heels and said sorry, I’m staying.

And I did. And it was awkward. But we tolerated each other, then got used to each other, then one day wondered if we might like each other, though neither of us would admit it. You showed me the secret spot at Ocean Park, the beauty of Temescal Canyon, you fed me the most delicious food. You taught me to cook Broccolini and do yoga, and gave me just enough cloud cover to accomplish my morning run without a sunburn.

You gave me friends I found family in, who filled in so many cracks.

I clumsily grew up, became more independent — stopped needing your approval so much. And then when I thought I was done with you, you gave me Scott. And I finally told you how I felt when I married him on your turf.

Because he married the me you turned me into — the one who knows bad things will happen and that she will survive them. The one who is less idyllic but a little more real.

I had no idea what you had in store for me when I came here, had I known I wouldn’t have come.

I’m so glad I didn’t know.

I love you, Los Angeles, despite the fact that STREET SWEEPING IS A LIE.

Here’s to five years.



An early and very heavily-filtered LA-gram

When Breath Becomes Air: A Book Report



Ten pages into When Breath Becomes Air, I started texting friends, Have you read this? You have to read this! It is beautiful and thought-provoking and haunting, but one of the most powerful takeaways for me was simply how important it is to tell our stories.

Over the last year I’ve begun reading more creative non-fiction, and I’ve developed a love for the art form. Maybe partly because it feels validating to someone who writes mainly, uh, about herself.

Yes I’ve written about other things, for work I’ve had to write about many things I am not necessarily interested in, but I’ve found that my best, most motivated writing is usually about me or my life. At one point I got into my head the worry that this is narcissistic, and it’s been hard to shake.

I’ve started asking, why do I have this urge to turn my life into an essay? Or a short story or a blog post? Do you think your life is that interesting? A mean little voice asks. I don’t know that I think people need to read it so much as I need to write it. It is how I make sense of the mess, how I flame my creative spark.

As I read When Breath Becomes Air, what struck me most was the author, Paul Kalanithi’s voice. It had this rapid, breathless pace. It felt so focused, and I wondered how he’d had the restraint to only tell the most pertinent details and leave the rest behind. Because he leaves a fair amount of details out. (I think, let’s be honest I read it too quickly and too tired because I couldn’t put it down) His wife and family, while at the heart of the story, are given fairly little air time. I gobbled it up, as many have, and when I got to the “ending,” I came to understand his voice.

I say “ending” because before he can really finish writing the book, his body is consumed by cancer.

And the reason for his writing in the voice he did was because he was actually racing death.


In the Epilogue, his wife says how when she reads the book, she sees a part of Paul, but not all of him. She says we don’t quite get his sense of humor, or his tender disposition. Perhaps that was a choice he made — perhaps he didn’t have time to develop it.

We all inhabit different selves in space and time, she says. And that is just what makes his story so powerful. That only he, at that time, could have written this book, this raw, wondering psalm that asks more questions than it answers. It is the story he had to tell. And I am so glad he chose to tell it.

As the book is coming to a close, Paul writes:

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them, where, as at the end of that day’s Sunday’s reading,

‘the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.’

We need each other’s stories to understand life, to approach truth. None of us can sow or reap everything — we have to take turns. I reaped so much from Paul’s story, but I hope to never sow it. In turn I can write what I have sown, and maybe someone else, or maybe just me, can reap a nugget of insight from it or maybe just a laugh.

This book has validated for me the special relationship between writer and reader, and the importance of telling our stories. I feel newly inspired to get over my laziness or procrastination and put words on a page. Case in point I am writing a non-sponsored book review on a blog I don’t even check the analytics on, but I needed to write it! And maybe someone needed an extra push to read this amazing book.

Like I said, not a sponsored post. But I’ll just help you out and tell you to click here.


Things My Mother Taught Me

It’s the title of a church activity coming up next week.

The little yellow flyer is trapped under magnets on my fridge. Please come with stories to share of things your Mother taught you!

At first I thought, ooh! Maybe I’ll write a listicle where I spell out all the great things Mother taught me and post it on my blog! I started trying to list them but found it impossible.

Because when I thought about the tangible things she tried to teach me, I felt like a failure. She taught me to sew, but it always seemed cheaper and easier to buy my clothes. She tried to teach me to cook, but so far I’ve ruined a lot of her recipes. I knew my mother taught me a lot, so why couldn’t I make a blog post out of her life lessons??

Recently, I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (yes I know I am behind the times). If you haven’t read it, a) you must and b) as background, it is a memoir written by a girl who was raised by two perhaps well-meaning but incredibly negligent parents. After I finished, the friend who lent it to me asked which parent I thought was more hurtful to the kids and without any specific reason, my gut answered, “the mother.”

There is one gut-wrenching scene in which the four children are literally starving, it’s the dead of winter, they are living in a shack on a hill with no indoor plumbing or power. They have to scavenge for food while their dad continues to drink and mom stops going to work.

One evening when Dad was away and we had nothing to eat and we were all sitting around the living room trying not to think of food, Mom kept disappearing under the blanket on the sofa bed. At one point Brian looked over.

“Are you chewing something?” he asked.

“My teeth hurt,” Mom said, but she was getting all shifty-eyed, glancing around the room and avoiding our stares. “It’s my bad gums. I’m working my jaw to increase the circulation.”

Brian yanked the covers back. Lying on the mattress next to Mom was one of those huge family-sized Hershey chocolate bars, the shiny silver wrapper pulled back and torn away. She’d already eaten half of it.

I think I experienced the seven stages of grief after reading that scene. Because I do not know how one survives being raised by that mother. I do not know how that Mother is real. I am angry at her. I am sad for her? I can’t seem to understand her. Mostly, I feel guilty that I got to be raised by my mother when Jeannette Walls had to raise hers.

The scene got me thinking – what is the duty of a mother? Can it be defined?

Is it reading or cooking or knowing how to do french braids?

Is it working? Is it staying home?

And the one that always lurks under the others — will I ever feel up to the task?

In this day and age it feels as impossible as it is unwise to try to define the role — and yet there is something that seems requisite for those who occupy it — something that is the reason we are so harrowed by the thought of a mother who devours a Hershey’s bar while her children are starving.

I thought again about my Mother. How she laughs, how she always runs into friends at the grocery store, how she gardens. How everything in her presence seems to flourish. She wasn’t perfect, no one is, but I always knew she loved me — wholly and selflessly.

I thought about friends’ mothers, or aunts, or women at church, who have become second mothers to me, and it fills me with hope to realize that selfless love is not limited to a biological mother. The selfless love of dear friends has gotten me through some dark times. Jeannette Walls’ siblings love saved each other from their parents. But the truth is, they shouldn’t have had to. They should have been loved by their mother.

I cannot list the things my mother taught me — they are too thoroughly blended into my DNA. I can’t remember all the facts she told me because I don’t think in the end they were the point. I don’t think it was what she taught me so much as how. 

I can’t list out the things my mother taught me. But I do know that she loved me, and that seems like more.


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Baby me with Mother, back when Sunday hats were still cool

I’m Gonna Be 40


I have a birthday coming up. It’s still a few months away, but I have been stressed about it since one very ordinary day in December when I was shampooing my hair and it hit me–I’m gonna be older, again.

I thought of Sally:

“And I’m gonna be 40!” 



Why is this birthday so stressful, I wonder? It isn’t a major milestone. It’s not a number where people will supply the party with black streamers and over-the-hill paper plates. I will not feel the need to start wearing spanx more often or buy anti-aging cream. But still, I am getting older, and I am starting to not like it.

I remember when I was 15 and my ballet teacher thought I was a sophomore in college. (Was this because I was twice the size of all the other girls and had boobs? Possibly.) I remember when I was 17 working at a restaurant in a college town and a customer asked what my major was.

I remember getting my first big-girl job and having people find out I was only 23. “What are you doing here?!” They’d exclaim. “You’re a baby!”

I was so impressive then, so far above the bar my age had set for me. But now people can sort of guess my age–late 20’s.

Late. Not early. The end instead of the beginning.

Yes, I have heard that 29 was the best year of so-and-so’s life, and that another so-and-so says you don’t have to have anything figured out until 30. I am aware that my body still functions and looks all right, that I have a job and a husband who loves me and you know what? I am still just a little bit sad.

Because I am feeling very, what’s the word, average? When I wanted to be special! At 28, I am generally where I should be in my life and career. There are things I wanted to accomplish that are taking longer than I thought they would to accomplish. Maybe I don’t even know exactly what it was I wanted to accomplish, but jeez I wanted to do something! Something that I could look back and say, “I did x when I was only twenty-something.”

I’m feeling those gorgeous 20’s slip away from me. And I’m looking ahead, staring into 30’s and budgets and suburbs and child bearing and mortgages and spider veins. It feels like an abyss.

I know at some point I will talk to friends who will tell me that we are each where are supposed to be! and that age is just a number! and I will make myself feel better and come out with some insight, maybe genuine, maybe not, that will help me cope.

But lately, I feel like I’m gonna be 40, and that someday feels like it’s tomorrow.


Happy Birthday, Hot Stuff

It’s my first kiss’s birthday today. Skylar, with an A.

We were at his house cuddling on a lopsided LoveSac. His friends were there playing pool. The lights were mostly off except for a bright blue TV screen, remainder of a movie.

I wore faded boot cut jeans without back pockets, a suede belt with big metal grommets from The Buckle, and a soft tan shirt that hugged my padded bra perfectly and just barely covered all of my stomach. My hair was waved.

Skylar was hot. That was pretty much all I knew about him, and that he had kissed a lot of girls already.

I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to call him Sky.

He kissed me on the bean bag and I pretended to like it, but what I was really thinking was, GROSS.

And, This can’t be right.

Why have they made all this fuss?

Do I have to do it again?

Smile, look pretty, you’ve been kissed!

Sky and I ‘went out’ for a few months maybe. We kissed twice.

And the reason I remember his birthday every year is because of the gift I tried to buy him. I went to Target to get something, with my mom because I couldn’t drive.

I found this tacky bright red t-shirt with a red pepper that said, “HOT STUFF” on the front. I thought it would be a funny gift. So I bought it, along with something else I can’t remember (cologne?) but ended up getting too nervous to give it to him.

Would he think it was funny? Would he get me?

So began that years-long quest.

Can I make this joke? Can I be me? Will he get it?

I kept the shirt shoved up in the highest, unreachable shelf in my closet, in case I wanted to give it to someone else at some point. But most of the time it was best to not take the risk. Smile and look pretty.

A few months before getting married, Mother demanded I finally clean out my closet, and in the midst of stuffed animals and book reports we found the shirt. She started giggling. “Remember this?”

I did.

“Do you want to give it to Scott?” She tossed it to me.

I laughed as I looked at it again. Would Scott think it was funny? Scott gets me.

But I found myself disgusted by the thing. Perhaps because the joke is 13 years old, or maybe it wasn’t that funny in the first place?

Maybe because it is a remnant of a thankfully bygone era, one of braces and padded bras and school dances, and later make outs and break ups and witty banter over text message, of trying to find the version of me that could catch whatever Him I was currently chasing.

I gave the shirt away, but I think I may always remember March 15th.

Happy Birthday, Hot Stuff.

I Brought My Phone Into The Bathroom And Now I Don’t Know Where To Put It

Why did I do it? Such a poor decision.

I think I wanted to look at Snapchat. Yes, that was it. But then the volume was on and I frantically had to turn it off but it was too late because the person in the stall next to me definitely heard it. Then I had to wait for the person next to me to leave because who brings their phone into the bathroom?

And now I’ve reached that point where the phone needs to be put down.

But where to put it?

The floor? Gross.

The little ledge on top of the TP dispenser? But it sort of slopes and I can just imagine my precious device crashing to the floor, or worse…

What if it got flushed? What about all my friends?

Maybe I could stuff it into my back pocket while I button my pants? NO WAIT! I’VE TRIED THAT ONCE! I failed, and my poor phone spent the next two days trapped in a bag of rice.

Once I saw a girl emerge from one of these stalls carrying her laptop. How in the world did she maneuver that?

This place is a cellular mine field.

And the worst part of this whole dilemma is that I’ve had it before, so many times.

Why do I keep doing it?

Why has my phone become an appendage?

Ah, but suddenly I know what to do: I will put it in my teeth.

I turn it horizontally and bite down, hard, the muscles in my face straining under the clench, don’t drop it don’t drop it, don’t drop it, and now jeans are buttoned and zipped and my hands are free.

I take my phone, slide it lovingly under my arm, like a little chick under its mommy’s wing, and emerge from my stall, victorious.

I will forget again, I know it. Maybe next time I’ll bring my laptop.