2017: A Photo Tour

I have a hard time telling a story when I don’t know the ending.

I don’t usually plot out stories from start to finish. I’m not one of those writers who knows what happens on page 112 before I even begin writing. But I always have at least a vague idea of the main thread. I know the big twist. I can see the movie poster in my mind. I know the questions I want discussed. I just don’t know the details. On my current project, I didn’t know what my main character did for a living until I started writing. Meanwhile, I painted a mock cover for the book almost as soon as I had the idea.

The book cover (fan art?) gave me context, and I like context. I don’t have to know the bits and pieces, but I like to know the packaging. This extends beyond writing. We all need the punchline before telling a joke. That makes it difficult to talk about 2017.

I don’t know how to package a year like this. In many ways, it feels like a year in the middle. A combination of things big and small and great and bad. A year of questions without total answers.

I had a professor in grad school who said that the first step in storytelling was creating glitter. Plotting, then, was placing glue on the paper and throwing the glitter at it to see what sticks. I’ve been trying so hard to put into words what this year in the middle has been, but I don’t have the glue for 2017. So I’m not going to package this story, not yet. I’m just going to share a little of the glitter.

Here’s a photo tour of my year. Strap in because I took way to many pictures.


Winter struck me differently this year. It was my first back in Indiana, and I’d forgotten how barren and stark and sharp everything looks.


Writing Project #1: I edited my book about hillbilly robots.


Indy, 2001-2017.


Then: “I love my new hair!” Later: “Can we just fix the front?”



Trip #1: Dallas, TX. I met the cat that makes me wish I were a cat person.



We created blackout poetry in English 12. March was the month thought that I was really starting to get the hang of teaching. (It should be noted that I only had students for two weeks due to Spring Break.)





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Trip #2: England and Scotland! You can read the long version here. In short, I loved it.

I took pictures of my outfits so that I could choose clothes quickly, but Mom made fun of me for it, so I’m sharing that shame with you. (Run-on sentences don’t count in blog posts.)

Not pictured: Getting ultimately rejected from every agent EVER or so it felt. The meltdown from this. The rise from this.


I became obsessed with creating all of the delicious foods from the UK trip. This faded slightly when I spent hours making scones only for them to turn out as biscuits. However, I’m a master at clotted cream and hot cross buns, thank you.

I went roller blading, which quickly turned into realizing that I can’t really roller blade. But I can work the camera timer on my phone!

Baseball season began. Someone had to eat all the hotdogs.


Am I stepping on that duck’s foot? Maybe. These were the “first” ducks. Yes, there were second ducks. I’m not ready to talk about it.


Trip #3: We went to Megan’s Dallas Pets Alive! photography show and spent a total of 16 hours in Texas.



I chaperoned prom, but my hair still thought I was in Texas.

School came to a close with a pie in the face and a teacher-of-the-year award. I decided that if you don’t cry at every graduation you attend, you don’t have a heart.

I became the person I always want to be during the first days of summer break. This person loves dogs and crocheting and fishing and is a general ragamuffin.


Running again. Writing again. Everyone knows: selfie or it didn’t happen.

Writing Project #2: The grandma screenplay that was so. much. fun.

More baseball.


The “second” ducks.


Trip #4: Westerville, OH. Katie and I laughed and talked and wrote and got tatted. Her tattoos were much cooler and less ridiculous than a millennium falcon.



Professor Hilary

Someplace old (Bloomington), someplace new (Mooresville’s lavender farm), somethings borrowed (library books), and something blue (that July sky!!).

Writing Project #3: Othello Novel


I decorated my classroom and got excited for school to start.



Too excited.



Trip #5: Cape Cod, MA, for Rob and Jill’s wedding. I loved my flower crown. Can you tell I loved my flower crown? The last picture is me in pajamas and my FLOWER CROWN.

Now you might be distracted from the flower crown. You might actually be thinking, “Hilary, a bathroom selfie? Really?” I’m not proud. I’m not proud, I say!

The blurrier the photos, the better the time. Seriously. Jill‘s wedding was personal and lovely and there’s just nothing like watching someone you love marry their person.




This was an actual outfit I wore to school, and it took me until lunch to realize the state of affairs.


I chaperoned the dance, which really meant spending the dance taking notes on ridiculous teenage behavior and going home with an entire pizza.


I attempted to capture the space station. (It turned out to not be a strength of mine.)



Okay, so I was very proud of myself for getting the crockpot full of chili in the car without spilling, especially considering I did it in the dark. I drove to school, got out of the car, and was greeted with this mess. Me, to myself: “Oh, honey.”

Trip #6: Fall break in Los Angeles, CA. I expected to feel sad going back to California, to feel like I was missing out, but honestly, I was just thankful–thankful for the time I had there, thankful that it still feels a little like coming home, and thankful that I got to laugh and hug so many dear friends.


I became this person for about twenty minutes.


I traded in Indianapolis Indians baseball for old movies at Franklin’s Artcraft Theatre.


“Mom, will you take a picture of me with my popcorn?”


I found a lesson planning approach that works for me. It is in no way practical and in every way fulfilling to the deep parts of my soul.

Writing Project #4: Rom Com novel.



I need you to know that this exists in the world.


Sigh. Christmas, at last!


Trip #7: Destin, FL. I’m still here, actually.

I’m here and enjoying the glitter of these “middle” moments. Loving them, really.

And now we’ve made it. To be honest, I wanted to give up in April, but by golly, I persisted (even if it did take entirely too much time).

Happy New Year!




Moving home is hard.

I won’t pretend that it’s not hard, that there aren’t times when I see myself getting further (mostly geographically and a little figuratively) from my dreams and wonder how in the world I got here.

I won’t pretend that there aren’t times when I wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t left California.

I won’t pretend that I don’t sometimes yell at the garage code that refuses to work and curse the dogs running from the yard and begrudge the grey skies that seem to go on for weeks without end like they’re making money from anti-depressants.

But, I also won’t pretend that this is what I do often.

I expected to do it often.

I expected to come home and feel like I was missing out, to weigh the pros and cons and finally decide that moving back to Indiana was worth it in the end. I expected to get a little sting in my heart when I visited California, when I heard news I could’ve been a part of, when others forge ahead.

But, it’s not like that. I won’t pretend it is.

Instead, it’s like this.

I call a local bookshop, the one I follow on Instagram, the day before the John Green book comes out. (I just know I’m way too late to get a copy.) I chat with the owner and tell her I love her Insta and she invites me to a midnight party and says she’ll save me a signed copy for tomorrow even if I don’t come.

I get my haircut by the same person who asks how my classes are this year. I begin talking about the TV show Supervet, and she kindly informs me that I told her about it and that tragic episode with the St. Bernard puppy last time.

I talk to my students about farriers, how I didn’t know what one was until I worked there. (They’re the blacksmiths who do horseshoes.) When a kid asks me what I thought they were called, I answer, with a shrug, “Horseshoe man? Feline cobbler?” I realize my mistake instantly. About three other kids do too. I find myself laughing all day about it.

I make pasta for my family. It’s a big, communal production, and at the end of it, my nieces actually eat the broccoli. We carve pumpkins with teeth and smiles and give them voices and names.

It’s Friday night, and my mom and sister and I are heading to Sense and Sensibility at an old theater that plays the national anthem and WB cartoons before the movie begins. There are four hundred other women there who cheer for Alan Rickman when he comes on screen, who laugh at Emma Thompson’s comic genius, who clap at the end of the movie.

This is it, and it’s not how I imagined. I don’t weigh the pros and cons because I don’t have to. This doesn’t compare. This is so much better.

I don’t feel a sting for something else, and that doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped working my butt off.

It just means I’m home.

Pitch Wars Introductory Bio



Hi! I’m Hilary.

My manuscript, HERE AND THERE, is a YA-retelling of OTHELLO in the vein of TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. It’s told from a different perspective each of the four years of high school. Peter (Othello) shuns music and his girlfriend, Mona (Desdemona), when his best friend (Iago) tells him a lie. It’s a decision that leads him away from the things he loves and into a mental health battle.

HERE AND THERE includes:

  • Show choir drama
  • A love story
  • Swim meets
  • Mental health struggles
  • Awkward bus rides
  • Trailer parks
  • A controlling boyfriend
  • Water slides
  • Racial prejudice
  • An unabashed love for movie musicals
  • Quirky minor characters that one only finds in rural Indiana

Books that I think are similar:

  • Julie Murphy’s DUMPLIN’
  • Rainbow Rowell’s FANGIRL

MS aesthetics:



Information about me:

I aim to be myself even when it gets weird. I once put a joke in a cover letter about pooping my pants. That is the kind of person I am. At the risk of a major #humblebrag, my cover letter resulted in an interview for Conan, which only encouraged poop-joke behavior.

I also try hard. In 2013, I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop. I was a second-year grad student in screenwriting, but writing a book still felt like an impossible task. When two friends and fellow writers convinced me to go, I did what any sane person would do: I wrote a MG book in five weeks. (I had no idea what I was doing.)

When the very kind agent who ran my workshop informed me that my first ten pages were total crap(!), I knew I had a decision to make: bring in ten other pages (that were largely written the same way as the total crap ones) or rewrite the beginning of my manuscript overnight. So I did something I never do: I stayed up late.

When I brought in my new beginning the next morning, the agent loved the pages, but she also loved that I tried something new overnight. I learned never be afraid of a revision just because it was going to be hard. I learned that I am a person who goes for it completely, fails big time (usually in memorable and embarrassing ways), and gets back up to try again.

Since that workshop, I’ve written four more manuscripts and several screenplays. Earlier this year I queried a YA manuscript that had several full requests from agents. I’m so close. But I’m not there, and I need a mentor’s help.

Even after five years of being critiqued in grad school and by my LOVELY writers group, getting my pages ripped apart isn’t my favorite thing. It sucks, but it’s also completely necessary. As a writer, I’ve learned to pick myself up again. I know that failing in front of people is survivable. I love writing enough to get better, and for that, I inevitably need help. That’s where a mentor comes in. I promise to be open and to work hard, to participate fully in making my manuscript as good as it can be, and to be the kind of mentee who isn’t afraid of a poop joke.

Oh, what? This was supposed to be ten words long and I just wrote seven paragraphs? Well, you see why I need your help then.

Day 10, 11, & 12: Omega

(Start at Day One?)

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Day Ten:

Me leaving Edinburgh:

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I don’t know how I feel about that GIF since she’s leaving Ireland and not, erm, Scotland, but I think it’ll do.

Bad Things on Day Ten:

  1. We left Edinburgh.
  2. We spent the whole day on a train or in a train station, which isn’t as romantic as it sounds, especially after an hour.
  3. I came down with a cold.
  4. I had what can only be described as a total mental breakdown.
  5. The mental breakdown was induced by a rejection on my manuscript from a top agent. You see, I totally went for it and queried a bunch of literary agents before the trip, and THE DREAM AGENT requested a full of my novel. On day ten of the trip, I got a rejection from that agent, and it hit, hard. And maybe it was my cold and traveling too, but all I wanted to do was cry and eat and sleep.

Good Things on Day Ten:

  1. Mom discovered luggage trolleys, making us look more sophisticated and less sweaty.


  1. Mom, sensing the total mental breakdown, brought us Chinese food.
  2. My mom makes everything better.
  3. Supervet was on television.

Day Eleven:

We go back to Raison D’etre. Why did we ever leave?

When we get there, the tables are full except for one that says it’s reserved.

“Hello, sweetie. Good to see you.” It’s good to be back with this charmer.

“Looks like you’re busy this morning.”

He points to the table. “No, reserved for you.”

The total mental breakdown is mostly forgotten.

Tube to King’s Cross. We’re actually pretty good at this whole metro system.


King’s Cross Station.

Future job: running Platform 9 3/4.

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Mom and I planned this really wonderful last day in London, which included a seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. From what we’d heard (and read) seeing a play at the Globe was a harrowing experience. The seats are uncomfortable, and since it’s an open-air theatre, it’s super, super cold.

No fear! Mom and I packed layers for the occasion. I wore long underwear under my dress (see the photo above for evidence), and I brought my winter coat and scarf. Mom was dressed in a similar, multi-layered outfit. We spent the day being very hot in our multiple layers. No matter! We’d be warm during the play!

We arrived at Shakespeare’s Globe and were ushered into an adorable, quaint playhouse. An indoor playhouse.

Surely, we were in the wrong room.

It was supposed to be an open-air theatre.

Then, someone explained that this Jacobean-style, INDOOR theatre is used during the winter to avoid the weather.

Because we had non-adjacent seats, Mom and I had to endure the shame of this misunderstanding separately, sweating in our several layers next to perfect strangers.

Outside of this mishap, Othello was lovely. Emilia! The woman who played Emilia made Emilia the kind of character I always want to see in a play. Emilia!

Anthony Bourdain has a list of “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”

Over a year ago, Jill and I ate at number thirteen, Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue in Kansas City. I didn’t know about the list until then. I still think about the food at Oklahoma Joe’s, so it made sense then, to spend our last night eating at Bourdain’s recommendation in London, the number one spot, St. John.

Unfortunately, we didn’t know all of the details before we made reservations. (Are you noticing a pattern? Is there some sort of diagnosis for being a slight idiot? I’d like to call it Bridget Jones syndrome if I could.)

You see, St. John is a “nose to tail” restaurant with an emphasis on offal. Sounds great, we–who suffer from Bridget-Jones-pox–said. We arrived to discover that “nose to tail” was less of a whimsical tagline, and more of a literal philosophy. We also found out that offal is another name for organ meat.

Basically, St. John believes in using every part of the animal, which is really great until your choice of starter is bone marrow or duck heart.

Despite this minor hiccup, Mom and I were able to find foods that we could deal with. I’m sure that in the world of St. John, we ordered the equivalent of chicken fingers and fries, but to us, it felt adventurous-ish. (Adventurish?)



(A note on offal. Please don’t misunderstand. I’d like to think I’d eat entrails if it were truly necessary, but aside from a bite of braunschweiger ball at Christmas to be polite, the occasion has never really called for it. Please see photographic evidence for braunschweiger here.)

Day Twelve: The Longest Day in the World

We fly into Chicago on a plane full of teen girls going on a ski trip to Colorado. Many of them have never skied before. I have a couple of things I want to say about this:

  1. Are the Rockies really the place to learn how to ski? As someone who couldn’t move her arm for four days after falling on a bunny hill in Southern Indiana, this concerns me.
  2. Aren’t the Alps a lot closer?
  3. That’s all.

We spend the next 26,000 hours trying to get back home. Eventually, we do, and I’m stuck between loving the feel of my own bed and missing someone asking me if I’m “in the queue” and answering back in a fake British accent. (I only did it once. Okay, twice. WHATEVER IT WAS VACATION.)

And that folks is the end of my vacation, posts. A little–cough–late on updating (considering we got home in April and it’s July), but we got there.

For never was a story of more hysterical laughter & people acting a bit dumb 
Than this of Hilary and her mum.

Arthur’s Seat Hike


I never imagined that hiking would be my sport of choice.

I’m still not sure it is.

But if there’s a place where I can go and be still and come back a different and slightly better version of myself, that place is on a hike.

I’d rather have my place be a Chipotle, but some things choose you, you know?

Hiking chose me in California. Before then, hiking was most definitely not my place. Hiking in girls scouts meant me at the back of the pack, struggling to keep up, and generally tripping over my own feet. Hiking as a young adult meant fearfully clutching my shaking legs and saying, “No, you guys go on. I’m good here.”

Then, I went hiking by myself in Malibu, and it was wonderful: peaceful, relaxing, exhausting, and life-giving.

Other people are the problem is what I’m saying.

When we planned our trip to the UK, I knew I wanted to do some munro bagging. If you don’t know what munro bagging is you obviously haven’t been doing your civic duty–that duty being following Sam Heughan on Instagram.

I built it up in my head that I was going to go to Scotland, be a badass, and bag myself a munro. (I’m slightly confused on the nomenclature.)

But time constraints meant that I had to settle for a large hill instead. I’m sorry, Sam!

So on a morning when I reaaaaaally didn’t want to go to “my place” and become a better person because I was pretty good with being the person who slept in, I strapped on my sports bra and… realized I did not bring appropriate footwear. No matter, I was going on a hike.

The hike was lovely. At first.

The grasses and hills distracted me from the sense that I was quite possibly on the brink of dying due to my general (and surprising) lack of physical stamina and the steep edges of the trail. I took as happy of a selfie as I could manage in case I died, so my mom could have one last picture of me, forever etched in her mind:


Close to the top, I slipped, and this gentleman–who was not struggling–stopped to watch me scramble up the rock face. When I got to the top, he said, “Well done.” I’m mostly indifferent about this encounter… I should probably delete this paragraph because who cares if a guy watched me scramble and I’m so boring boring boring.

(I’m just going to leave all of that messy editing business there because guys, sometimes we are just not very nice to ourselves. (And also, it makes me laugh, even if it only serves to confuse you. #PersonalBlog))

And then, I was there. At the top.


I think something really wonderful happens when we do something we don’t think we can do. We get to be a little better than we are, even if it’s just for a moment.

But not so much better than we’re above asking someone to take our picture.

I stared out at the waking city and the sea and the hills, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my life, for that moment. I got to be here. I’m quite often not thankful for where I’m at. I’m usually too obsessed about where I’m going to be thankful for where I am. I fill out my planner and set goals and troll social media and I fantasize. I wish I were somewhere else most of the time. Wouldn’t it be great if…

I love that about myself, just to be clear. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to set goals and go after them. I love imagining possibilities.

But I also think that spending my time without any thankfulness for where I’m at equals a life that’s a lot less joyful than it could be, than it should be.

In that moment, I was really, really thankful for my life. And it wasn’t just because I was in Scotland (though, okay, duh, a little of that). It was because my life really is pretty great, warts and all, and I like it.

There. I said it. Doesn’t that seem almost a foreign attitude? I like my life.

I like my life now as I sit on an old couch in Indiana with seemingly few hikes to conquer. I still want so many things in the future. I could get lost thinking about them, but I’m also content right here. I’m thankful for right here.


So I left the hill with a shot of the medicine that is gratitude, and this enormous joy overwhelmed me. So much so, that I had to dance:

Walking down the mountain like a lady

A post shared by Hilary Miller (@miller_hilary) on

Well, how do YOU walk down a hill?

A post shared by Hilary Miller (@miller_hilary) on

Hiking. I think it’s my place.

Day 8 & 9: We Are Not Fancy People

Read from Day One here.



How do I accurately convey how I feel about Edinburgh?

Do I tell you that I spent every night in Edinburgh and many nights after reading about the Ph.D. in Writing program at Edinburgh University?

Do I explain that I when I was there I read an email where one of my students asked me a question and somehow I got that question to relate to five paragraphs of bragging on how great this city was? (I didn’t send the email. I realized at some point that it was the work of mania.)

Do I say that Edinburgh felt like a hometown? Like, the kind of city we all want to live in where people are kind and funny and there’s history and culture and families?

Do I tell you that somehow for this introvert, everyone in Edinburgh felt like a potential friend?

Yeah, I loved Edinburgh.

I loved the cobbled streets and little cafés and fearless humor and charming accents and antiquated buildings and the sea and hills and the actual castle that is in the middle of the freaking city.

London was rushing. Rush to see the sights. Rush to catch the train. Cram cram cram. Edinburgh was slower. It was moseying along and taking the trail without looking at our phones. It was not knowing exactly how the day was going to go. Relax relax relax. It was lovely.


I’m stopping myself now, but if you also love Edinburgh, please send me an email (hillymillerblog@gmail.com). Let us gush and squeal together.

Day Eight

Both Sides Now: Breakfast at Mimi’s Café

Clotted cream and jam light as air
And sun streaks through the window there
And delicious coffee everywhere.

I’ve looked at breakfast that way.

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1: How far is the castle?

2: Six blocks…

1: We can do that.

2: … Uphill.

1: I’m really full.

2: Me too.

*Eye contact is avoided. She opens her phone. She pulls up Uber.*

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I didn’t even say, “Have fun storming the castle!” #MissedOpportunity

We shopped on Princes Street and ate the most delicious Indian food and slept for two hours and ate pizza. Life is good.

Day Nine:

I could make my morning hike its own post. Heck, I’m going to just do that, okay? You have my word. By the end of the day tomorrow, there will be a post about hiking Arthur’s Seat. Prepare yourselves.

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Breakfast: They made a sausage patty out of barley. I think that tells you everything you need know.

We are not barley people.

Also, I know we’re Americans and therefore trained to think JUMBO-SIZED is normal, but this is some sort of sick joke, right?

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Shopping!! You mean the kind of shopping you did yesterday with plastic keychains and teapots that you hesitated to buy because who knows if they have lead or mercury in them?

No no no.

This is NICE shopping: handmade afghans and glass jewelry and breakable ornaments.

What’s that? A Scottish wool sweater? TAKE MY MONEY AND GO.

Afternoon tea at the Dome.

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1: This is so fancy.

2: Soooo fancy.

*Attempts to eat tea sandwich. Attempt goes poorly.*

*Drops spoon.*


Room service for dinner with my new favorite soda. We are not difficult people either. EDINBURGH, DON’T GO!


Read about Day Ten here.

DAY SIX & SEVEN: On the Road Again

Read from Day One here.

Oh, you thought I’d fizzle out and never return to these posts?! You were almost right.

A Man with Yellow Teeth (a poem in-progress)

A Man with Yellow Teeth
Never stopped talking a beat.
He sat in front of us
On the bus,
And made us realize
That even England could become nightmarish.

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Warwick Castle was everything you’d expect from a castle owned by the same people who run Madame Tussauds: gimmicky and touristy and wonderful.

The Greville family owned the castle for generations and threw massive parties with medieval set pieces. Imagine going to a 1975 rager at a medieval castle where liquor is served in a forty-gallon, cast-iron pot. If anyone knows of a good book about this family, just like a prayer, take me there.

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or as our tour guide would probably call it, Heaven.

Our tour guide was an acting school graduate who retold this sketch beat-for-beat. He also gave the “to be or not to be” line ten times, putting the emphasis on a different word each time. You know when a comedian (or a sibling) does something funny and then they do it enough and it becomes super annoying and they press on until it becomes funny again? That was this guy.

Also, once you’re in the room where Shakespeare was born, you’re kind of like, well, this is a bit gross, isn’t it?


For the first six times I listened to Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill,” I thought he was saying, “We watching the sunset over the Cotswolds.” Of course! Ed gets it. The magic of the Cotswolds! The wool churches! The hills!

It’s “the sunset over the Castle on the Hill.” That’s the name of the song. (You all knew this, huh?)

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Where the Inklings would meet NBD.

Like so many places we’ve visited, I could spend weeks (months?) in Oxford. I get this pang when we visit because Oxford University used to be my DREAM college. I spent ages 10-17 convinced that I was going to go there. So, what did I do fall of senior year?

That’s right. I didn’t even apply.

And I remember this when we we’re walking those cobblestone streets and seeing Hogwarts buildings, and it isn’t regret exactly that blooms in my chest. Instead, it is this immense sense of responsibility–a responsibility to go after life with all that I have in me. There’s so much we can’t control.

Seriously, there is so much we can’t control.

But we can turn in the application. We can always try. We have a responsibility to try.

Another pub. Another dark beer. Another wonderful day.

Early morning. I’ll get delicious hot cross buns before we leave! It’s only a mile away!

*Walks there*

*Realizes upon arrival that businesses aren’t open at 6:30 am on a Saturday*

*Takes selfie to document idiocy*

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All-day train to Edinburgh.

“Is this our stop?”
“Maybe this one.”
“This one?”
“The next one.”
“This one? Oh, this one. Hurry!”

Mom and I have the most lovely hotel experience of all time, which is to be expected in the most perfect city of all time. More on that later, but look at these photos for now:

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Mom and I walk up the Old Town street past bagpipers and magicians and street performers.

“Oh, the Museum of Childhood. We’ve got to go in there, right?”

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“Let us never speak of this again…”

We see the sight of my future wedding (half kidding), St. Giles Cathedral, and we sit and marvel and admire.

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Dinner: The World’s End Pub.

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A couple of beers in, without food…

Waiter: What would you like?
*I look at Mom. She looks at me. I look at the waiter whose face is right by my face.*
Me: I’m sorry.
Waiter: That’s all right. We can just stare at each other, if you’d like.
Me: Oh. HAHAHHAHAHA. I think we’re lightweights.
Waiter: What?
Me: When you can’t hold your liquor.
Waiter: You’re Americans. Are you Chiefs fans?
*I look at Mom. She looks at me. I look at the waiter whose face is right by my face.*
Waiter: American football.
Me/Mom: Ohhhhhhhh.

I’m going to like this place. I definitely like the haggis.

Read about Day Eight here.

My First Year of Teaching

I’ll probably have a lot to say about this year. Like, a whole lot, but this was on my mind tonight, 10 school days before summer:

At the beginning of the year, I would have said my favorite part of teaching was talking stories. All day long, reading and rereading and dissecting and gushing and arguing and editing and writing and recommending and comparing and living in fairytale land. Dreams do come true!

I still love that part, but it’s not my favorite part.

My favorite part is watching a kid who usually answers with “I don’t give a dump” say that the Lord of the Flies is a book about everyone wanting to be a leader no matter who they hurt. My favorite part is begging a kid to stay in school with tears in my eyes and finding them in his too. My favorite part is googling some inappropriate name and laughing because I couldn’t figure out “dixon cider” on my own. My favorite part is the girl who tells me she’s got a learning disorder and never liked English class until now. My favorite part is the quiet boy who can barely ask me a question write the most in-depth analysis of Jay Gatsby you’ve ever read. My favorite part is hearing “yes, ma’am” or better “yes, Mom” to a request. It’s seeing the F to C+. It’s hearing the speech. It’s her dissenting voice in front of her friends. It’s the unabashed British accent when he’s reading Shakespeare.

My favorite part is when I’ve done my job and a student is no longer a too-cool, confused, angry, hurt, apathetic teenager; my favorite part is when for a brief flash they become who they always were supposed to be—silly and smart and loving and brave and vulnerable and oh-so-very kind. My favorite part is not the books. It’s the kids.

It took me a whole year to figure that one out.

An accurate depiction of first-year teaching, thank you.

Day Five: Are We Dead Yet?

Start at Day One here.

blog day 5

TUBE: Gloucester Road to Embankment. Embankment to Waterloo.
TRAIN: Waterloo to Alton.
TAXI: Alton to Chawton. Chawton to Alton.
TRAIN: Alton to Ashford. Ashford to Guildford. Guildford to Gomshall.
TAXI: … nonexistent at Gomshall.
TRAIN: Gomshall to Guildford. Guildford to Waterloo.
UBER: Waterloo to the hotel, as fast as you can, please.


A conversation with Rhett upon our return to the USA:

Rhett: So, you went to Jane Austen’s House Museum?
Me: Yes.
Rhett: That was fun?
Me: Yes!
Rhett: You saw a dead lady’s house–a dead lady who probably didn’t have a happy life and it was just the house and that was what you went to see?
Me: Yes! It was a blast, okay? We practiced calligraphy! And made lavender bags! And we SAW HER WRITING DESK!!
(Rhett dies of laughter because he is heartless and doesn’t get it, but you do, right?)


Pub, Alton. Let me say something about the pub across the street from Jane Austen’s House Museum. The place knows what’s up.

We didn’t go to the Jane Austen-themed tea room across the road. I read poor reviews online, and besides its name (Cassandra’s Cup), it didn’t really sound like anything was very Jane Austen-y. I don’t need a Darcy impersonator (or do I?), but if you’re going to have a Jane Austen-themed tea room, the least you can do is make a bit of an effort, right? “Emma’s match of scone and clotted cream.” “Fanny Price’s spooky tea” (weak tasting). Something.

So, we went to the pub instead AND IT WAS AMAZING. Imagine a super-old, classic English pub. Got it? Now fill it with female patrons over 50. Add the soundtrack to every Nancy Meyers movie ever, and you have yourself the best pub outside of London.

I guess I should say take this moment to point out that our waiter was almost cute and somewhere in his twenties. (Looking back, I bet he got amazing tips.) It’s important to note that I am not good at talking to people I find mildly attractive. (Exhibit A.) This is exacerbated by the fact that we are across the street from Jane Austen because honestly, was there ever a more perfect meet-cute moment?

Mom: What’s your soup of the day?
Almost-Cute Waiter: It’s roast vegetable.
Mom: What?
I have to take charge. He has to see that I’ll hear him even when my mom doesn’t.
Me: Root vegetable, Mom. He said root.
Waiter: No, roast. I said roast vegetable.
Me: Oh.

Mom and I break into giggles because it’s how we cope when one of us is an idiot. The waiter sort of slinks away, and magically another waiter has been assigned to us for the rest of the meal. I start feeling bad because obviously this dude thought we were super rude and we hurt his feelings. He’s probably trying not to cry. Look at him. He has to bite his lip when he pours the beer–he’s that overcome.

I start thinking about how this boy is probably super embarrassed because the girl he’s falling in love with made fun of him with her mother. The poor kid. I knew I had to do something. Anything!

Me: Hi, there. It’s me.
The one who you can’t stop thinking about.
Me: My mom and I were hoping you could call us a cab to get to the train station.
Waiter: Sure.
Gosh. Worse than I thought. He’s so… broken.
Me: Look, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.
Cute. He’s pretending not to know what I mean. Bless him and his almost-cute face.
Me: For the whole root/roast thing. I’m so sorry.
Waiter: Oh, well. Roast vegetables are roasted like you’d roast meat.

He pantomimes putting a roast in the oven, and my heart. just. drops.

Not only is the almost-cute boy (who should be lucky I ever LOOKED his way) not hurt by the roast/root saga, but he thinks I’m the kind of dumb person who doesn’t know what a roast vegetable is. That’s, like, beyond Lloyd Christmas dumb. Suddenly, I want to die.

Me: Right. I just couldn’t hear you correctly. I’m sorry. It’s my ears and I’m not used to your accent.
Waiter: Okay?
Come on. At least look like this breakup is hard on you too!
Me: We’ll just, uh, wait for the cab outside.

Mom and I finally get back on the train and go to Gomshall for the sole purpose of heading to nearby Shere to see the town where The Holiday was filmed. (I’m not proud.) We expected to take an Uber to Shere. We got off at Gomshall in the fading afternoon light and… uh, where are we?

In the middle of nowhere is where.

Exactly one other person gets off at Gomshall, a station without a conductor or a real station at all. It’s more like a block of concrete next to the train tracks. The other person is a red-haired teenager who must be laughing his rear off when these two American women frown and say, “I don’t see any Ubers nearby.”

I call the advertised cab company. “We can have someone there in about an hour and a half. Maybe two.” Click.

Me: Well, hey. Shere’s only a mile and a half. I bet we can walk it. Right, Mom? Mom?

We walk into the bustling downtown of Gomshall (two pubs), and I decide that we will not be walking to Shere. Light is fading. We don’t know exactly where we’re going. Oh, and the train back to the train back to our hotel only leaves once per hour. So, we do what we do best and eat.

Then, it’s time to walk back up the hill to the train station, and here’s where our overactive brains take a detour. Mom is worried about it being dark at the station, which makes me worried about it being dark at the train station. We try to time it so we won’t be staying at the creepy, almost abandoned train station in the middle of the woods for very long.

I get so scared of getting mugged that I steal a fork from the restaurant in case I need a weapon. (Current Hilary to past Hilary: Um, really? And also, why not a knife?)

When Mom and I make it to the train station without dying (by some miracle) there are two adult men waiting for the train. Were those our soon-to-be rapists? We were convinced they were. Mom takes short breaths. I grip the fork in my pocket and my eyes dart to follow their movements. If they want to charge, they’ll have to charge me head-on. And then,

the train arrives and we get on and they get on and we have zero problems whatsoever our entire way home.

Read about Day Six here.

DAY FOUR: Notting Hill, Paddington, & Kensington

(Looking for day one?)

blog day four 2

17,000 steps. (I almost killed my own mother.)

We took a morning stroll through a rainy Notting Hill. I was only a little sad to miss Hugh Grant, but comforted myself by singing that Bee Gee’s song that plays during his sad-man montage:

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We bought Mom a hat. It’s adorable.

Blog day four

Breakfast: We stopped at a quaint bakery, Gail’s. We found out later that Gail’s is a chain, but it was soooo delicious, I didn’t care. I’m convinced the scrambled eggs were made by someone who really loves what they do. Mom had delicious porridge. We also had a hot cross bun, which was the first time I can really remember having an actual hot cross bun. I loved it so much that I made them for Easter from a recipe Gail’s published here.


Paddington Station just because.

My parents love Paddington Bear, and that inexplicable love has rubbed off on me. (Okay, embarrassing aside: I thought of Paddington as the British Pooh Bear for quite a while before realizing that Pooh is also British.)


Victoria and Albert Museum. I love Victoria and Albert. I think it’s one of the most beautiful love stories. They navigated completely foreign relationship dynamics! She mourned his death for forty years! They had a million children!

That’s why it was a surprise when we finally got to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and instead of seeing Victoria’s gowns and Albert’s love letters, I saw signs for “Art Deco” and “Asian Fashion.”

Me: This is probably the stupidest question in the world.

Museum Curator: You’d be surprised.

Me: Is there a section of the museum on the actual Victoria and Albert? Because that’s kind of what I’m erm well here for.

MC: There are a few things on Floor Five.

Me: Well, that’s a relief.

Twenty minutes later…

Me: Mom, I made us walk here for a bust of Albert (that was rejected by Victoria) and a five-minute montage of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

We walked from there to Kensington Palace. We got a little turned around in the gardens, but eventually made it there. It’s hard not to be just as enamored by the wildlife as the palace, honestly. There were so many swans.

From there, we were hangry, so we made our way to Goat’s Tavern.

We walked home, tired and full and tired.

Days Six and Seven