Day One in London

For Spring break, my mom and I went to the UK for eleven days. This is our story. Dun Dun.


The tickets were on sale. Cheap, they were. The kind of cheap that allowed me, a true cheap skate (who is not above walking the Costco samples for lunch), to buy them instantly. The only catch? The flight to London flew out of Chicago. Chicago is three hours away. Four and a half by train.

I always say that a breezy, five-hour train ride is the proper way to begin any international vacation. If you’re leaving before dawn and the train station smells like liquor and weed? Well, that’s even better.

We really did things right.


My mom and I went on the trip together. We were so excited. Sitting in the Amtrak station going over the week’s schedule, we felt like no one alive had ever done something so cool, so… unique. Then we said hi to the people next to us, an aunt (around the same age as Mom) and a niece (around the same age as I am).

Okay, so there were other female duos out there. That’s great! Room for everybody! Oh, you’re going to London too? That’s good. Good for you. Good for us, right? You’re going to Stonehenge? Well, everyone goes to Stonehenge, right? Right? Suddenly, Mom and I realized we were like Lorelei Gilmore hiking the PCT à la Cheryl Strayed. We also realized it didn’t matter one bit.

We were so keyed up for the trip, we thought we’d go from Union Station to O’Hare via the L. Six bags + four hands + public transit = NO PROBLEM. We made it, but some of our knee skin didn’t.

Food from Indianapolis to London: two (three?) Pop-Tarts, Cliff Bar, one cheese/nut pack, Auntie Annie’s cinnamon pretzel, two airplane meals, so much coffee, another couple of Pop-Tarts in there somewhere.

In London, we arrived at this very strange hotel, the Avni Kensington, that would become our home. Not exactly a home in the sense of welcome place, but more like a home is a person—that person being the great aunt you know you’re supposed to like, but you kind of hope you never have to smell again.

We couldn’t check in since it was six in the morning, so we got ourselves on the Underground and went to Westminster bridge and walked around for a bit. It turns out, not much is open at six in the morning. We found a breakfast spot that as far as we could tell was run by exactly one person.


Purchases so far: Breakfast. Touristy London sweatshirt (because I thought it was a good idea to not wear my coat?).

Double-decker bus. Brief fight with the ticket man over printing our tickets. Mom’s phone died, and I only had the confirmation number. I was explaining this to the man, and he walked away from me. Walked away! You don’t know how almost mean we can look like we’re getting until you’re super rude to our faces, sir. It’s the kind of half-committed, near-death stare that makes people rethink their decisions, okay?

London Eye. Waiting in line for hours means getting to watch two nine-year-olds touch (feel up?) and almost knock over a wax figure of Angelina Jolie. It’s only a week later that I question why a wax figure of Angelina Jolie was at the London Eye at all.

The view is gorgeous, even in a little rain.


“Is it fatigue?” you wonder. Or are you really the kind of person who gives a stink eye to the little boy hogging the computer that tells you about the buildings? What does this say about you?

Every wild trip starts out with a 6pm bedtime.

Day Two

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.

Mother’s Day! Yay!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommas out there!

But especially Happy Mother’s Day to my mommy.

I’ve blogged about my mom before for her birthday. I could blog about her for the rest of my life because she’s just that wonderful, but in order to get everyone to brunch, I’ll keep it relatively short.

My mom is a summer gal. (Though she’d say her favorite season is fall for the leaves.)

Every summer she always has a list a mile long of changes she wants to make on the house, gardens to plant, vacations to take, books to read, and, of course, spending most afternoons at the pool. Now, usually this doesn’t all get done. (Sorry, Mom.) However, an amazing amount of this list is accomplished because my mom is always going and always making time for the “most afternoons in the pool” part.

I was going to tell a story about me calling Mom daily from my high school teacher’s phone to apologize for being snippy on the way in, but I actually think that says more about me (though it was probably inherited from her).

Instead, I want to talk about two moms in stories I’ve read/seen lately.

I recently read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I know. I’m a little behind. The prose in this book is incredible, and the characters are amazing as well. (Mom, you wouldn’t like it.)

The mother in the book is sad. She’s sad about her place in life. She’s sad to be a mom. Now, I know I’m talking about being a mom when I’m not one, so feel free to shove the screen away. But I am talking about this from the perspective of growing up with a mom who made me feel really, really wanted.

Now, to be fair to the mom in the book, she goes through unspeakable tragedy in her daughter’s death. (This comes out in the first ten pages.) But it becomes clear throughout that she didn’t want any of this mother business. I understand. Well, the best I can, I understand. Don’t all moms sometimes feel trapped? Feel inadequate? Feel like their kids took everything good from their lives?

(My mom is saying “no” and wondering where this is going. Me too, Mom.)

Anyway, I get that moms don’t always feel like supermoms. But the mother in that story leaves her family. And there was something missing there that I couldn’t figure out. Like, it asked a question, but it gave the “wrong” answer.

Then, yesterday, I saw Moms’ Night Out.

By myself.

At a matinee.

I was the odd singleton surrounded by moms’ groups.

Now, the movie was really cute and unabashedly Christian. (That’s kind of refreshing sometimes.) And there’s a mom in the film who feels very similar to the one in The Lovely Bones. The mom in the movie makes it clear that having kids was something she really wanted, but she’s just not happy.

The mom in Moms’ Night Out feels a similar sense of drowning, of never measuring up, of missing everything good in the chaos, and of making mistakes. A lot of them.

(I should say that I don’t think the film was without its issues, even with the concept. Could they make a Dads’ Night Out movie? Because dads don’t “babysit” their own children. They’re their children! Thank you to Mrs. Denning, Jill‘s Mom, for setting that straight.)

The mom in The Lovely Bones leaves. She decides she’s inadequate.

The mom in Moms’ Night Out decides that she’s been equipped. Every day might not be sunshine, but she’s doing the best she can, she’s loving her kids, and she’s spending her afternoons in the pool, figuratively.

Oh, I know you’re not supposed to compare moms. I don’t mean this in any malicious way. Both stories have their place. Also, the mom in The Lovely Bones went through A WHOLE LOT, and I don’t even begin to know how I would handle something like that.

But I do think that mother represents this question in culture of moms. Both of the moms in the stories ask the question of what do you do when things get rough. One mom leaves. The other stays.

I know my mom must have some of these feelings. It’s a mom thing, right? She would never tell us (or show us) that, but I think it’s normal for moms to feel like they’re screwing up their kids’ lives.

But it’s incredible thing when you get a mom who not only chooses to stay every day as the wrangler of four children, but who also chooses to have fun with it all too.

My mom is not perfect. (Sorry, Mom.) But like the movie said, “I don’t think the good Lord made a mistake in giving your kiddos the momma He did.”

She’s the perfect mom for me, and I can’t believe I’ve been so lucky to have her.

So, after some very convoluted thoughts on motherhood, which I am on the outside of, to all the moms (and especially mine), here is your honest Mother’s Day wish:

I know it’s not always easy. I know sometimes you feel like a failure. Or you feel like you’re kiddos are sucking every ounce of fun right out of you. Or your kids are truly sucking every ounce fun out of you.

But you are capable.

You are loved.

And doing the best you can means you’re the perfect mom for your kids. So breathe and get to the pool most afternoons, figuratively (and literally, when you can).

Or ocean. Ocean works, too.

Mother daughter look at ocean

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

facing failure


What is there to say about failure?  That it’s a part of life? That it’s a big part of my life lately? That it sucks big time? How about that if some silver lining is to be found, it’s that every successful person has failed.  They really all have. Let’s just allow that to sink in for a moment.  Ahhhh

When I was a kid, I (fell) failed at ice skating, I picked myself back up, and I skated until I fell (failed) again.  I’m still terrible at ice skating.  Is there a point to that?  Eh, maybe.  Maybe it’s that this is what makes failure so scary–because there are things, like ice skating, that I’m never going to be successful at.  But, unlike ice skating, I’m willing to work through my failures in other areas of my life, things that are attached to who I am as a person and what I want to do. (I know you’re having a hard time believing that ice skating isn’t my purpose in life.)

I’m going to start referring to failures as “learning experiences” because that makes me feel better. 🙂  Plus, we’ve all met the person who was absolutely wonderful at everything he ever did in his life, and you know what?  He kind of sucks.  So, I say, a plethora failures learning experiences is the way to go.  Let’s jump off that cliff (figuratively) and get wildly excited about things that could be massive failures learning experiences. The success is worth it, I think.  The act of pushing onward with everything in us is worth it, I know.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

Truman Capote

“We are all failures- at least the best of us are.”

J.M. Barrie

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

C.S. Lewis

“if you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail… it takes backbone to lead the life you want”

Richard Yates

“The peaks wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful without the valleys.”

– Mom

saving, spending, and the struggle

I have a problem.  My name is Hilary Miller, and I am a guilt spender.  What is a guilt spender? Obviously, it’s someone who spends money and then feels guilty.  In most cases, this is good.  I can stretch a dollar.  I am a bargain hunter.  I enjoy window shopping, and I’m the one who really doesn’t buy anything at the end.

But when you’re down to two pairs of pants and a single pair of flats to anchor your wardrobe, being a guilt spender is a disaster.  I have to psych myself up to spend money: “I will go into the store, and I will buy a pair of jeans. I will. I will. I will. Left side!  Strong side!”  Three stores later, still no jeans.  Last week, I came close with a pair of khakis on sale for $10, but the fabric looked like it would wear out quickly.  I expect lifetime wear out of my $10.

However, finally, yesterday, I went shopping, and I actually bought clothing.  Frivolous spending ensued!  Spending on what?  Just unnecessary items like pants; three pairs of pants to be exact.  What was the total?  $26 for 3 pairs of pants, including the most perfect-fitting pair of jeans, and if you’re a girl or Boy George, you know how hard these are to find.  After my shopping spree, I had to calmly come to terms with the fact that it was okay to spend $26.  See?  This is what I’m dealing with.  I felt guilty for spending TWENTY-SIX DOLLARS for THREE PAIRS OF PANTS.  What is wrong with me?!

I need to go to the opposite of shopaholic therapy (hoardmoneyaholic therapy?  saveaholic therapy? calmdownit’stwentyfivedollars therapy? guiltspendingaholic anonymous?). Something where they make you pay $200 for the class, and then go out and spend all of the money.  Unfortunately, I am my own therapist (and the diagnosis is crazy), and my first question is, “Hilary, when did these feelings of guilt or shame begin?”  Well, it all began when…

*cue wavy flashback screen and dream sound effect

… I was around fourteen years old.  I’m sure my family would attest that I had a bit of penny-pinching sense before the age of 14, but I at least wasn’t my brother (who probably still has his lunch money from middle school <- and we love ya for it!).  Then, Christmas 2005 I received Christmas money, $100 of Christmas money.  I was rich.  All of the things I could buy: that giant stuffed horse (still a dream at 14), a sterling silver and crystal recreation of Arwen’s necklace in Lord Of The Rings, the West Side Story collector’s set, or maybe a Star Wars convention ticket.  But alas, the possibilities of purchasing would not last, when the day after Christmas we headed to the department store, and I bought a pair of pumas exactly like the kind they wore in The Island (because Michael Bay was cool at this point, guys).the_island_puma_shoes Sure I spent all of my money (by far, the most expensive shoes I owned) and didn’t listen to my mom: “Are you sure that’s what you want?” But I took one look at those strappy, vaguely European shoes, and I knew they were worth every penny.

I showed up to school wearing my new kicks with a smug smile on my face in a glimmer in my eyes.  I had gotten my Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, and I wasn’t afraid to use it.  Then, in choir, someone, who we’ll call Scut, showed up with the same shoes.  No!  Oh, well.  At least they’re both cool.  It’s okay.  I can share the shoe light.  Then, my yellow-eyed enemy explained that he had purchased his super cool shoes at Goodwill, and they cost him… $15.  $15?!  Oh my, I shot my eye out! Just like my mom said I would. $85 down the drain.

Wouldn’t you be more cautious with your money after that?  I’ve never spent $100 on a pair of shoes since then, and I probably never will.  But at some point, I have to get to the Chinese restaurant, eat some duck, buy clothes, and sing “Fah rah rah rah…”


throwback thursday

throwback thursday

In honor of currently visiting family in the desert, here’s a family in the desert. Oh, and the family’s mine, and they’re the best. I’m the little one.

Ps. Mom taught me this trick for the spelling of desert vs. dessert, and for those of us who struggle with spelling, even though it has nothing to do with intelligence, I thought it might be helpful. Dessert has two S’s because you always want more of it. Never mixing those two up again.