Mom, Mom, Mom, I Love You

“I stood up and got into my truck and drove away from a part of my mother. The part of her that had been my lover, my wife, my first love, my true love, the love of my life.” – Cheryl Strayed, “The Love Of My Life”

There are days when I feel this way about my mom: that she’s the love of my life. I talk to her daily, on average. Sure, there are stretches when we don’t speak. Last week it was two in a row, book-ended by two scandalously short check-ins. But there are also days when I call her on my way somewhere, again on my way home, and just before bed so I can tell her that I love her one more time.

She knows when I’m upset without me saying it. “I can tell you’re feeling homesick,” she says after I ask what’s going on in Indiana. “I’ll send you pictures of the trees… of the dog… of your dad… I’ll skip the cat.”

She listens to me tell her what I think was the funniest part of the day, and she laughs with me. Someone counting calories from a tea bag? She thinks that is as ridiculous as I do.

We speak the same language.

“Who’s the guy in that alien movie?”

“Tom Cruise or Will Smith?”

“Neither. He has those eyes.”

“Chris Pine.”


And then there are other times when I’m wholly certain that this woman is not the love of my life. She doesn’t get me, and if my own mother doesn’t get me who ever will?! (These moments usually occur once a month.) (Hmm.) There are times when she seems completely unconcerned with the “problems” in my life. There are times when I want to tell her that she’s no longer allowed to make fun of herself. There are times when I’m staring at the gaps in my preparation for the world, and I take to blaming her fiercely.

I love her, but the love of my life? Hmm.

Then I take a breath and realize she’s unconcerned with my “problems” because she doesn’t see them as an issue. She’s certain I’ll succeed, certain that there’s a way through them and I’ll find it.

She makes fun of herself because she can, and that’s so much better than the alternative. We’re two Bridget Joneses, she and I, and if we don’t laugh at accidentally calling “adenoids” “gonads,” we’re in for a dull life.

As for the gaps, I’d be worried if she covered everything. There are times when I wish that she had pushed me into books more or hadn’t let me quit track after one day. But she let me discover books. She made me get outside. She prayed and hugged and taught and poured out love and truth. Those are the things that get me through the gaps. Those are the things that matter.

(And if I really wished she’d take one thing back, it would be making me go pick up my sports bra I dropped in the school parking lot on the way to the car.) (Everyone saw, or so it felt.) (I’m not bitter.)

Thad started a tradition in our family that we often use on our parents. It goes like this:

“Mom. Mom. Mom! Mom! MOM!”


“I love you.”

And that’s it. That’s all we say because we don’t know how to put into words what we feel about our mom. We don’t know what to say to this woman who gave us all the important stuff. I don’t know how to write her smell and how warm her skin is and how she’s the face I know best in the world. I don’t know how to describe her crooked thumb nail and golden cross necklace and fidgeting hands and beautiful hair and loving voice. I think “love of my life” is close, but maybe it’s better said with the hugs and the laughing and the hair rubbing and the crying and the talking and the living. Maybe it’s just “Mom, Mom, Mom, I love you” one more time before bed.

Jillian Sodding Denning

bridget jones party

Last week I got to celebrate one of my most wonderful friends.

I remember the first time I saw her. (You know what’s weird: I can remember each time I first saw my close friends.) (True love.)

It was orientation day 2012. I believe she was wearing that crimson dress of hers. The one with the ridges. Her hair was perfect, of course. She sat a table away, and I immediately decided she was a part of the Communication program because writers aren’t that put together… or tall. (Awkwardly tall, maybe, but not fashionably tall.)

It turns out she was in my program (and a really gifted writer).

But we didn’t start out as close friends. We didn’t click immediately.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly Jill went from “a fun girl in my program” to “one of my very best friends.” We were in the middle before we knew we’d begun.

You see, there’s really very little reason Jill and I should be friends. At least, that’s what I thought at the beginning.

She’s tall. I’m not.

She’s on one end of the political spectrum. I’m on the other.

Mockingjay is her favorite book in the series. Can I get a “third book is a DOWNER” in here?

And then, “a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be” friends starting bubbling to the surface. (Are these references getting weird? Good.) Before we knew it, we were planning wardrobe choices for our trip to Prince Edward Island. (Lots of gauze and puffed sleeves.)

If there is a moment in our friendship affair to remember that should be highlighted, circled, and cast in steel for all time, it’s Bridget Jones’s Diary Night 2013.

One day, during finals week, Jill and I found ourselves with nothing to do for two hours and an audience of two friends who always pretend like they can’t stand us, but truly love the entertainment. So we decided to do a dramatic reading of a crappy transcription of Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Important things to note about this evening:

On this very poor internet copy of the script, there were no names indicating who was speaking. It turns out, we already knew who said every line. (This is one of the most impressive things in both of our lives, as you can understand.)

Jill’s impression of Bridget doing an impression of Grace Kelly was Golden Globe, Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical worthy. (She would argue that her introduction to Kafka’s Motorbike should be considered.)

Jill played Bridget incredibly well. I was everyone else, with a special connection to Pamela Jones.

We laughed our cabooses off the entire night.

So last week, on Jill’s 27th year of being fabulous, there was really only one way to celebrate. We popped open the diet coke, lit the candles, and indulged in Rob’s turkey curry buffet. Yes, we threw Jill a Bridget Jones-themed birthday.

We talked and did a dramatic reading of our best scenes in Bridget Jones’s Diary. We laughed and laughed at the accents. We discussed Ethel Kennedy. We ate and talked life and Bridget and Bridget’s life, and I was reminded once again how phenomenal of a friend Jill is.

Jill sees me. The parts that I usually cover up, the ones that are completely and hopelessly uncool, she sees those as my biggest strengths. She’s often more proud of my crazy than I am. Are we all aware that this is what friendship should be? Because let me tell you, having a friend like this, it makes life a heck of lot more fun.

Jill is in my corner, and I’m in hers.

That is more than I was ever expecting when I saw that tall girl supposedly in the Communication program.

So I say we toast: to Jill, who cannot stop obsessing about the Kennedy and Royal families, but who we love just as she is.

bridget jones diary party theme
Image courtesy of Jillian Denning

bridget jones party diary

Mimi is pretty much the best

My mimi is pretty incredible.

I often wonder how much I am like her. I have one of her (five fabulous) names. I have her “pug” nose (or so she says). I can talk a really long time on the phone.

But Mimi is the sort of graceful woman that I’m sure I’ll never exactly be. I make too many toot jokes, and my purse never matches my shoes.

Whether I’m like her or not, I find her stories fascinating (at least the first three times). Did I just slam my grandmother who doesn’t even use the internet? It’s okay. She’d think it was funny. I think.

I was able to interview Mimi for Lydia this week. Check it out HERE.

Mimi has led an amazing life, and I’m so thankful to be a little part of it (and anything like her).



happy birthday, mom

It turns out that writing a post about your mom is nerve-wracking.

I’ve tried to write this five different times. A blog post. Five times.

So let’s just say that this will not be life-altering nor will it convey all of the wonderful, good things I can or want to say about my mom. Okay? Okay.

Now, then, let’s start with a movie because that’s usually a good place.

The Help. That’s right. I’m going there. I really love that movie. My mom and I dragged my dad to go see it, and it was probably one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. I think our theater was full of fans of the book; they were all cheering and laughing and crying (yes, really) through the entire thing. The Miller family enjoyed it, but I’m sorry(?) to report that we weren’t howling like the rest of the audience.

Actually, the biggest impression the movie had on us was a single line.

No, not the “eat my…” one. Although, that was pretty great.

I mean the classic. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Now, at first my mom and I sort of repeated these words back and forth to each other because it was just one of those funny-sounding quotes, like so many in our repertoire.

“I don’t KNOW, Margo!”

“I like you very much. Just as you are.”

“He’s had 152 moles removed, so now he has 152 pockmarks on his face.

The number of people who think he looks like Clark Gable.

The number of people who think he looks like a Clark Bar.”

“Boooon-TT cake.”

“Her shriveled little legs.”

Did I give enough quotes? Oh, good.

The Help line became another in the rotation. Mom would (will) end an email or a card with it, and it’s funny and sweet. I mean, those are lovely words to read. What I realized recently, though, is that this isn’t new.

My mom has been telling me a version of those words my entire life.

Every time she tells me I’m beautiful because of my heart, that I can be anything I want because of my brain, and that she will always love me no matter what, she gives me what Aibileen gives Mae Mobley.

How many people don’t get to hear that? How many people grow up thinking they’re stupid and ignored and unloved? Too many.

My mom is a spectacular mom. It’s not because she’s a brilliant, incredible, intelligent, beautiful woman (although, she is). She’s spectacular because she builds others up. She is the most caring person I have ever met in my life, and I’m so in awe that God made me her daughter. Not everyone gets the best mom in the world; not everyone gets a mom who lets them know how capable they are.

Every little girl, every child of every age, deserves those words, and I’m so thankful that I get to hear them from the woman I admire most.

In case you haven’t heard it today: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Happy Birthday, Mommy!photo 1(1)

star-brother wars

You know that thing I did a couple of times where I related a favorite movie to a favorite person?  Oh, you don’t have my blog memorized?  How dare you.


Well, I wanted to relate a movie to a person, but I almost feel bad connecting this movie to this particular person. However, this person used to put his finger in front of my eyes and repeatedly tell me, “I’m not touching you,” so I don’t feel too bad.

star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menaceImage VIA

Star Wars Episode !: The Phantom Menace.  For a long time I was completely behind this movie.  I mean, up until my most recent viewing in July, I was completely behind it.  I now will concede that it could have been better.  However, to Hil at 8, this movie was… epic.


This was the first midnight premiere the Millers went to, but Mom determined I was too young to go to it on a school night. Mom wisdom strikes again!  I was upset, like really upset.  I remember being at Thad’s baseball game when Mom told me I couldn’t go and thinking about how sometimes life isn’t fair.  I think this says something about how I was as a child; I didn’t get rude that I couldn’t go to the Star Wars midnight showing, I got introspective and philosophical.  I was a joy to be around.

Enter Rhett.


Rhett is my older brother (the oldest of the two). (Also, it was his birthday on Saturday– Happy Belated, bro!) Rhett said he would take me to the movie the next day.  Granted, at this point, Rhett still thought this film was going to blow his mind.  After the midnight showing, the fam was a bit disappointed, particularly the older half who were less impressed with Queen Amidala’s wigs.


Rhett didn’t think it was good either, but he still took me.  I think this says a lot about the person my brother is.  He’s the person who sat through Episode One twice in theaters just so I could see it.  He’s the person who played Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag on full volume just so he could use his whiny voice to make me smile.  He’s the person who helped take care of me when I stayed home sick (including the clean up of the most projectile of all projectile vomits).  He’s the person who would do anything for the people he loves, who is a great uncle, who literally makes everyone’s day better, and who will make a fantastic husband and father someday.


Gear switch. Once, when we were watching The Polar Express, I asked Mom what the four of us siblings would do if the train stopped at our house.  Would we stay? Would we hop on? She went through everyone until she got to me and said that I would do whatever Rhett did.  I can only hope this is true in real life.  I’d love to be anything like the guy I’m so lucky to have as a brother and so proud to have as a friend.

Did I mention he watched Star Wars Episode One twice in theaters?

I’m not touching you!

Photo 1

mia thermopolis, heggie the coolestis

Ahhhh The Princess Diaries.  Weren’t we all a little in love with Anne Hathaway and her frizzy hair in 2001?  Which reminds me, the Anne Hathaway hate bandwagon should really go away.  Of all the famous people to pick on, really?!


Anyway, The Princess Diaries is close to my heart for many reasons.  Let’s explore…

1. Meg Cabot.  A Hoosier and a townie!  (Please see Breaking Away for explanation.)  Doesn’t it feel good when someone who had the same childhood as you (or maybe is just from the same state and school) has success at something you want to do?  I know.  I feel the same way.  Meg Cabot = writer inspiration.  Also, her real name is “Meggin,” and that’s pretty cool.

2. Julie Andrews.  So Ms. Andrews can’t sing anymore, but you know what?  She’s still as fabulous as ever, and I would love to have a sliver of her grace.  I say “sliver” because I’ve got pie on the brain.

3. Hector Elizondo.  I feel like I’m just naming people (because I am), but Mr. Elizondo gets up on this list because I met him a couple of weeks ago!  He came into our store, and I thought, “This is it.  This is when someone finally recognizes that I am the next Julia Roberts.”  Well, it was more like him asking me if we had linen pants, me saying no, and then a little improv bit about how this company doesn’t know what kind of store they’re running. He laughed, and I thought, “He must know I’m the next Julia Roberts.  He’s just letting things simmer while I develop.  Either that, or I should grow out my hair and dye it red.”

4. “Supergirl!”  You know the song: “I’m supergirl, and I’m here to save the wor-orld. But I wanna know who is gonna save meh.”  What a delightful tune that is so catchy, I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing it in my rocking chair as I sip on my morning tea before I pop in my teeth. (I’ll be old, get it)

5.  My SISTER.   I think this might become a thing; where I relate a movie to a favorite person.  My sis, Heather (Heg, Heath, Heathwar), is an amazing, lovely, wonderful best friend for life.  I saw The Princess Diaries when I was ten (and Heg was nineteen) during the summer.  She would have been home from college, and she took me to see it at a sneak preview.  I was on top of the world that my sister, my cool, older, hip sister, would take me (four eyes) out in public to see the movie of the summer before it was officially released.  But that’s just the sort of stuff Heg has always done; she makes you feel like a million bucks.

And I used to think we were so different

One time (probably within a year of TPD), we visited Heggie at school for siblings weekend.  She invited her friends over to her dorm room and we watched Pocahontas Two on VHS (why do I remember this?).  Suprisingly, the sequel wasn’t holding our attention, and when I got pjs out of my bag, Heather saw an opportunity for entertainment.  She picked up a pair of Winnie The Pooh undies, and showed them to all of her friends: “aren’t these cute?”  I. was. mortified.  I ran to the bathroom and was beyond embarrassed and angry.  But Heather, realizing she embarrassed me brought me back to her room, let me pick out a pair of her undies (some with Tigger on them), and proceeded to show them to the entire group.  The group was a little confused, but I didn’t care.  I had (and still have) the best sister in the world.

It’s Heg’s birthday today, and I’m so sorry I’m missing it.  But I’m across the country, and she’s in an emergency room, saving people’s lives.  She’s an ER doctor (just so you don’t think she’s just hanging out in ER’s).  She’s an incredible mom, and I can’t thank her enough for making me an aunt to two of the best little girls.  She’s a great wife (I’m assuming. He seems happy :)).  And on top of all of her “on paper” good stuff, she’s the person I look up to.  The one who paves the way, and shows me I have nothing but good coming my way in ten years.  She loves her family, tries her best at everything she does, and she’s my best friend.  So Happy Birthday, Heg, and “you know most kids hope for a car for their sixteenth birthday, not a country!”  Nailed the callback.


up and a way-cool friend

May I just share with you how much I love Up, the movie?  Okay, good.  I love the movie, Up.
I remember standing on the hardwood floors of my kitchen, helping my mom load the dishwasher, telling her the story of Up.  And I cried.  I really cried telling the story back to her.  She may have cried, too, actually.  And you know what part got us?  No, not when Russell squeaks across the blimp’s glass. Good guess, though.

russell slides

You know what part I’m talking about.


I love Up because it’s about life’s adventures, and how they’re never quite how you first dream them.  Mostly because they’re so much better than that.  I love Up because it’s about having a purpose and friends no matter what age you are.  I love Up because it’s about never being too late to make a change, to go after that old adventure, or to find a new one.

I also love Up because I saw it first, in 3-D, with one of my very best friends, one of my Rachels: the Italian one.  (I have two Rachels.  I love them both dearly (which means I will owe my Norwegian Rachel a post), and I don’t think they know that I call them “my Rachels.” Oh, well)
Why do I love my Italian Stallion (Rachel)?  Where to begin?  I think it’s necessary to point out the fact that no matter how many times I make a donkey’s heiney out of myself, Rachy loves me anyway.  I’m the Carl Frederickson to her Russell.  Although if I’m being honest, I’m probably the Doug to her Kevin.

The first time I met Rach (that I remember), I was in the seventh grade, and I immediately accused her of being in the Italian Mafia.  I’m pretty sure I wrote something about it in her birthday card that year, a birthday I was late for, no doubt.  In fact, I believe for three years in a row, Rachel called me to see if I was coming to her birthday party that started three hours earlier, which, of course, I was.  I just was in my pajamas acting like I had forgotten all about it.  I’m a really good actor.
The moment I knew my Italian sista was a bosom friend and kindred spirit had to be at some point in the eight grade, when we became Australian Olympic Sports Reporters at the lunch table.  So obviously, Rachel and I tied for homecoming princess the next year.
Rachel and I have gone on many adventures together: seen in these blessedly preserved school projects (1 & 2).  And now, she is my neighbor.  Wooo!!  The kind of neighbor that lives an hour away, but still, wooo! She’s the kind of neighbor that brings homemade pineapple salsa to your pool party.

I could go on about Rachel, about how she is a brilliant little artist, and is going to USC for a Master’s in Architecture!  Get it, girl!  Or I could tell you about the time I was looking through old pictures and found a little girl that looked an awful lot like her at my fifth birthday party.  (It was her.)

Or I could say, “thanks for the adventure, Rachel” but that makes me sound like I’m dying (the depressed reader just said: “we all are”) . Maybe I’ll just say, “Adventure is out there!”  And add I’m so glad I have my “girl who doesn’t make me want to hurl” to share them with.  This sounds really sweet in my head because the song from Up is playing (bah-dat-dah-durrr-bat-dat-dah-durrrr-bah-dat-dahhhh-bah-dat-dahhh-dah-durrr)


10 reasons my dad is awesome


I’ve been told that using the word “awesome” as a writer is lazy language; however, this is a moment when the word is entirely appropriate.

10 Reasons My Dad Is Awesome

1. He once ran over our cat on the way out of the driveway on vacation. This fits with the fact that Dad approaches vacations like Clark Griswold, and Clark W. Griswold is awesome!

2. My awesome dad dressed up as Harry Potter for the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows Part II.

3. Dad brought me home after getting my wisdom teeth pulled, and he didn’t make a video about it or ever mention the crazy stuff I’m sure I said, instead he got me a milkshake and drove home.  Which reminds me, Dad will impulsively add milkshakes to drive-thru orders, and it’s awesome!

4. Dad will give you advice on or talk to me about anything; he genuinely wants to be interested in whatever I’m interested in. Awesome dad work!

5. When I got a B- in the fourth grade, Dad wasn’t mad. Thanks, Dad.  You’re awesome.

6. Dad knows a lot about everything, and that’s awesome.

7. Once on vacation, we had to pull over to a hotel for the sole purpose to watch an IU basketball game. IU awesomeness.

8. Dad has these incredible chewing muscles that flex in his forehead.  Yes, I know everyone has these, but Dad’s are like The Rock’s biceps in his forehead.  It’s awesome.

9. It’s because of Dad that I know the storylines of Tremors 1, 2, 3, and 4 and of most Steven Segal, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Willis movies.  Awesome.

10. Dad makes it clear that he is proud of his kids and loves them no matter what, and that makes him the best dad in the world.

Happy Birthday to my awesome daddy-o!