An Observation

Costco is a battlefield. I entered Costco on Monday morning armed to the teeth with a membership card, a shopping list, a shopping cart and a corporate credit card. Nothing could stop me from accomplishing my mission and returning to the office within an hour. I followed the route I had planned out in my head: produce, dried goods, refrigerated section. Bing bang boom. Three cases of Arrowhead, four selections of fruit, 150 plastic cups and five non-perishable bulk-sized snack items later I could hardly push my cart. I steered my tank to a short line guarded by two cashiers. Before I knew it they were grabbing items and pointing their laser-powered bar code reader at my cart. The lead guy asked if I had my membership card with me. Of course I did! I quickly handed it over and he looked at the picture on the back of my card. A split second later he asked me a question that would disarm me completely. “Is this your husband’s card?”

Bang! I’m dead. I had come to conquer Costco and instead I was reduced to smithereens. This guy had mistaken me for a guy. Better put – he had looked at a picture of me and thought I was a guy. (Can you believe that?) I replied, “That’s actually a picture of a girl.” I chose that phrase after it barely edged out an alternative dripping in sarcasm: “Yeah, my husband’s name is Amber.” (My full name was printed in all caps to the left of the photo.) I thought if anything he would apologize after realizing his mistake. Instead of dropping it he said, “Oh wow, that doesn’t look like you at all,” and then showed his buddy my freakishly hideous Costco membership photo. To my horror they laughed and remarked how “well-used” my card was as they tried to pinpoint how a picture could go so wrong. “It just really doesn’t look like you.” I didn’t know what to say (“Thanks…?”) and I didn’t want to be accountable to them for having a bad picture. I didn’t want to tell them that the picture had been taken in 2006 only weeks after I returned from my mission. I didn’t want to explain that sister missionaries were allowed to be hideous. Most of all I didn’t want to laugh it off and say, “Yeah, I know, my forehead’s huge, isn’t it?”

2006. Those were the days. I returned home from the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North Mission on July 30th, 2006. I stayed in my hometown for four short weeks before moving back to P-town to finish my undergraduate degree. Back in those days I always developed photo prints at Costco. I have nearly 400 photos chronicling my first year back in the states. On Monday night I flipped through my photo albums and noticed something very curious. From August 2006 to August 2007 I was carefree. I was just a 23-year-old kid finishing college. I was relaxed and content to be with friends and family. I planned to head straight to graduate school and therefore was going to dodge the “real life” bullet for another two years. I didn’t have to fend for myself or hunt for jobs. At least, that was the original plan.

In July 2007 things started to change. I decided it might be worth putting my heart on the line and putting off school if it meant I could find that thing called love. I tried it twice and failed both times. I can pinpoint the change in my face as I flip through the pictures. Suddenly there is a guarded edge in my expression, a forced curve in my smile. Eyes that once sparkled with optimism were now steeped in solitude. I wanted something more and it showed in my face – especially in the pictures of two wedding receptions I attended. If the loneliness didn’t do me in then the sheer realization that I was going to leave all of my friends in a few short weeks certainly did. The following flurry of social events and summer’s end socials found me longing for more time and one more chance at happiness.

On August 12th, 2007 I got one more shot, or so I thought. My friendship with a certain someone took a quick turn in the “relationship” direction. When I found out he wanted to attend my graduation ceremony I was elated. The pictures of that day show two unmistakable types of pride in my face – one stemming from academic achievement, the other from vanity. “Look at me. I have a guy. Look at me and my cute guy.” And so it was for the next several weeks. I was supposed to say goodbye to my Utah friends and move back to California but I didn’t. I was supposed be in graduate school, safely sheltered from the throes of Corporate America but I wasn’t. Instead I was in Utah indefinitely, looking for a job indefinitely, dating someone indefinitely.

From August 2007 to December 2007 I can spot each up and down in my relationship with “my guy.” I can see forced smiles trying to convince the casual observer that everything was fine in my life. I can see the white flags of surrender acknowledging that everything was all wrong. Somewhere in the middle I see the look of resignation that I would have to continue the search that I thought had ended when I fell in love with that boy.

My evolution from soft “RM” (returned missionary) to August 31, 2011 is unmistakable. The guys at Costco were right. I look nothing like my picture. That girl was all eyebrows, all blunt features, all forehead. Today I am a piece of hard-hitting artillery with a sharp jaw, protruding cheekbones and hollowed-out cheeks – not to mention spindly limbs, a curtain of bangs and a wall of hair all designed to distract from my face. With each new batch of pictures I see another piece of me has disappeared, another cushy layer of contentment has receded from the surface of my face. Apprehension wells up in the place once occupied by lightheartedness. The search goes on with no end in sight and I am only left with an observation: “Change is the only constant.”


Writer's Block

My mind is finally blank
The racing wheels are still
Please tell me who I have to thank
For drying the ink in my quill

Words once fell on me like rain
Trapping me in their flood
Then they seeped into my brain
And flowed through me like blood

At first the current was thrilling
Pushing me to write along
But then I wasn't willing
To sing its woeful song

Closing my eyes was even worse
I saw words of every kind
I never imagined such a curse
Could drive me out of my mind

Fleeing words wore me out
They won each time they chased
Instead I prayed for a drought
And soon they were all erased

At first bareness was splendor
I could write each lost story
But there was no hope to explore
Ten thousand years of glory

White parchment mocked me so
I hated each clean page
Every leaf was my foe
I tore each one in rage

Since when do wishes come true?
Since when do I get what I want?
A wordless world can't renew
A mind so thirsty, twisted, gaunt

At first words imprisoned me
Now freedom ain't worth a franc
What good could my life ever be
When even my mind's gone blank?



Oh me, oh my, I bought a bicycle. This was all part of the 10-year plan but it came about a year earlier than expected. Let me explain.

I decided earlier this summer that I should wait until next summer to buy a road bike. That would give me time to save money, do research, and write my will. The only problem was I didn’t stop looking at used bikes on Craigslist and KSL Classifieds. (Note to self: “If you look, you will buy.”)

Bicycles and I have a long, somewhat complicated history. Here’s the run-down:

A Quick History of Bicycles

First (circa 1991) I inherited a light pink vintage girl’s bike with a banana seat from my sister’s best friend. I was eight-years-old when my dad taught me how to ride. We went to a construction area in my neighborhood where a brand new elementary school was being built. The area was deserted and after several trials and many errors I was riding like a pro. I was amazed that with the right momentum the bicycle would just “go” by itself. When I felt confident enough to go home and show my mom what I had learned I underestimated the difficulty of steering on a sidewalk. The bike made its way out of a driveway and, as my parents watched, I was nearly hit by a car. Talk about a great beginning!

A year or two after the new school was completed I found myself getting teased a lot for having such an old bike. One day I went to Burger King with my mom and the lady at the drive thru handed us a kid’s trivia booklet. I filled out the booklet and mailed it into Burger Kind headquarters as the instructions indicated. The number of questions answered correctly determined the number of times participants were entered into a drawing for prizes. A few weeks later I got a letter from Burger King congratulating me for winning a bike kit. I had no idea what it that could include but I hoped and prayed it meant I had won a halfway normal-looking bike.

As I counted down to the delivery of my mysterious “bike kit” I rehearsed for a school talent show with my best friend Naomi. We did a skit where I sat on her lap with a sheet covering me up to my neck and a table in front of me. I kept my arms out of sight while her arms were visible and acted as though they belonged to my body. The table was full of objects and Naomi had to blindly find them and use them as I recited a monologue my mom had written. I specifically remember putting on lipstick and getting a tin pie pan filled with whipped cream squished in my face. It was really fun and it was great to know my mom was in the audience.

Our performance happened to coincide with April Fool’s Day. When we got home my mom said we did a good job. She also told me there was a surprise in the garage. I thought, “This is it! I might have a new bike!” Naomi and I rushed into the garage and found a large cardboard box addressed to me. I was disappointed there was no bike but we took the box into the living room to open it up in front of my mom. She had a huge smile on her face. I carefully cut the packing tape, opened the box and reached inside. I grabbed a handful of cushioned nylon material and pulled it out with my eyes closed. When I opened them I was very puzzled to see a very familiar sight – one of my old taupe snow boots. Worst thing was, there only one. Or perhaps the worst thing was my mom bursting out in hysterical laughter.

This is probably a good time to tell you my mom is a big jokester. She once forged a letter from the First Presidency and sent it to her friend to inform her that all full-time missions were being extended by six months. Her friend’s identical twin sons, who were about to come home, were instead going to miss a third Christmas at home. The poor woman was devastated until my mom confessed her prank and assured her that the boys would be home in time for Christmas.

Back to the boot. My mom was laughing, Naomi’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and I was wondering if the entire Burger King letter was one of my mom’s scams. I was really sad. Before I could start crying in earnest my mom pulled out a box with a much more official postage label. I hardly trusted it to be the real deal. My mom swore it was. This time the box revealed a pair of biking gloves, a helmet, a water bottle and a Haro sports bag. I was thrilled and for a long time I considered it one of the best days of my life. The only problem was none of the modern, streamlined items coordinated very well with a floofy, frilly light pink bicycle.

Second (circa 1995)

I remember trying to bargain with my parents. “What if we sell the pink bike and use that money to pay for a new bike?” They replied that it was wrong to sell a gift. Instead, years passed and I finally outgrew my bike. Hallelujah! Seventh grade was right around the corner and my parents took 5’2” me to the store to buy a new bike. We found something well under $100 and thoroughly less embarrassing than the pink bike. My new bike was dark green with thick tires, four gears and magenta accents. I also got a new Bell helmet and with that I was ready to ride. I rode the bike to middle school with Rosario countless times but there was a problem – I kept getting flat tires. That left Rosario with a difficult decision to either ride on without me or walk beside me and my useless bike. She was a great friend and always stuck beside me unless I insisted she go ahead without me.

My dad fixed all of my flats and even though we bought special tubes they still got punctured. The combination of constant flat tires and increasing social pressure at school led to a decrease in my riding. During this time my dad was getting into mountain biking and although my sister was brave enough to go with him a couple of times I could never gather the courage to ride with them. I knew that it would be easier to pick up the hobby early in life as opposed to waiting until I was grown up and brave enough. However, as my dad came home with bruises upon bruises, cuts and even broken ribs, I became cemented in my refusal to ride. By my sophomore year of high school my bike had turned gray with a thick layer of dust.

Third (made in 1987, bought in 2011)

The last time I rode my green bike I was probably 15-years-old. There is a certain amount of guilt associated with wanting something so bad, finally receiving it, enjoying it for a while, and then abandoning it as soon as it becomes incompatible with your lifestyle. I had begged for that bike but in the end the pink bike had been a steadier companion. When I began browsing for my current bike I wanted something with a solid reputation – something I would be proud to sit on. I eliminated the cruiser category because I wanted to get something light enough to lift. I eliminated the mountain bike category because of my deeply burrowed fear of getting injuries like my dad’s. That left me with one traditional category: road bikes. And so the search began.

I am usually very meticulous when researching a big purchase. I am usually positive I have enough money before handing over the funds. I figured that buying a bike next summer would be the way to go, but when I spotted a used red and white Bianchi Premio on Craigslist, I lost all control. I was disheartened to see that the seller lived an hour and a half away so I decided to calmly send an email and see if the bike was still available. (It had been posted three weeks prior.) Over the next 24 hours I pushed it out of my head and prepared myself for disappointment. When I found out the bike was still available, I started carving out time in my schedule to drive to M-town the next day.

When I arrived at the seller’s home I caught a glimpse of the bike leaning against the frame of the garage door. As much as I wanted to hold onto all of the $20 bills I had just taken out of the ATM, my heart jumped at the mere sight of the bike’s brilliant red frame and worn white tires. It had to be mine. The seller was very patient with me and worked with me for almost an hour as I learned how to ride, turn, shift gears, and stop. One time I panicked and forgot where the brakes were and was well on my way to crashing into the neighbor’s fence before I bailed. Before I left the seller gave me a small rock with an angel painted on it to keep me safe. That day I drove home with a few bruises, a bike in the back of my car and a huge smile on my face.

Present Day

I completely underestimated how hard it would be to “learn” to ride a road bike. Either my 12-year hiatus from riding bicycles is to blame or I am the biggest chicken in the world. A month ago I was only willing to ride on deserted residential streets in a gated community. I’ve made progress thanks to patient friends and their contagious taste for adventure. Three practice rides with friends and two solo rides later I can honestly tell you I have a love/hate relationship with my bike. There are moments when I’m convinced I’ve done the right thing and I might be a roadie for life. I dream of my next bike – most certainly a Bianchi, preferable painted Celeste – and think about participating in some kind of triathlon. Then there are moments when I want to call it quits, snap a photo of my bike and post it on Craigslist before I get in a wreck.

Today I was walking my bike along the side of the road to a stoplight where I intended to begin my first ride in two weeks. Another cyclist passed me and asked if everything was alright. I told him I was just learning and didn’t want to begin my ride in the street. He wished me well and continued on his way. An hour and a half later he found me again. This time we were on our way down the canyon and I was hating life. My hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck were all exhausted from braking during the constant descent down the canyon. We rode and talked for a while and he clued me in that even though the experienced cyclists make it look easy, it never is easy. It is always hard. He encouraged me to keep at it and not give up.

Although my rideology might fluctuate between ends of the spectrum during the course of one ride, one thing is for certain: Good things in life are hard to come by and once you get them it is a fight to hold onto them. Sometimes our own guilt, regret and fear rip our dreams right out of our grasp. Other times it is the mocking glances, whispered rumors and pointing fingers of our peers that reduce us to sniveling messes. Whether the opposition is physical or social, inflicted or self-imposed, real or imagined there is no doubt our bodies, our courage and the people that surround us can fail us. The part that matters is whether or not you hit the brakes and bail. For me, there only seems to be one choice. “Ride On.”