Why I Spent Bank on SusieCakes


So, there’s cake, and then there’s CAKE.

Moist, melt in your mouth, full of butter cake, carefully hand crafted, with the soft tears of visionaries and dreamers mixed into the batter (it’s possible). It creates in the mouth a watery meltdown. It shakes the entire body. It renders knees useless.

I was lucky to be sitting down when I tried SusieCakes. The SusieCake ambassador dropped samples by an office where I was freelancing. When offered, I said yes. Yes, I will eat your cake. After that I felt like joining the SusieCake religion. I wanted to bow down and never put crappy cake in my mouth ever again.


This happened to be on a day we were shopping for a very special girl’s very special birthday cake. Luckily, they made a tasting appointment for my birthday girl that very afternoon. We felt called. 

Three flavors of cupcakes arrived with six flavors of icing on twelve mini spoons. They offered us drinks. They brought plates, napkins, and utensils. They whipped out an iPad like they were serious. They were serious about our cake.


Audrey had drawn what she wanted on her cake: a beach and ocean theme, with a dolphin leaping. Every element was carefully discussed and considered. How puffy will the waves be? How much texture? How much flattening? How smooth will the color blending be over the water? Exactly what shade of pink will the beach towel be? Not light. Hot. We want hot pink. Of course. Each design element was depicted for an example, then carefully recorded on the iPad, like a visual order for the magic makers who would actually decorate the cake. Talk about notes.

Finally, the tally. I saw the bill. I nearly fell over. It was twice what I expected. And I expected to pay twice what we paid somewhere else last time. So, it was expensive. I asked for and listened to the breakdown, which was interesting, but really listening was just a way for me to silently give myself secret CPR while the celebrations specialist talked.


I thought about our experience, sipping drinks, and sampling cake. I thought about the darling retro-vintage decor and branding. I thought about how incredibly kind our celebrations specialist had been. I thought about how this cake was twice as tall as others.

Mostly, though, I thought about my little girl, and how this was almost like preparing for some (far distant) wedding, but not so far, not so distant. They grow up so fast. I thought about her, and how much I love her, and how I want to give her everything fancy, personal, delicious, exquisite, unique, fun, lovely, connective, and dear–just as she is. We could start with cake.

So maybe I’m a sucker. But look at this face: I don’t care. We did it. It was fun. Just ordering it was a special date. I hope it does make a splash at her pool party.

Audrey chose a vanilla cake with sprinkles baked inside “The Celebration Cake”, with strawberry buttercream between each of four decadent layers, and vanilla frosting on top in her own design, carefully crafted by loving hands, who sing as they labor, and who have halos delicately wafting above their heads.


For delicious cake, for a lovely boutique ordering experience, for a kind warm and perpetually upbeat celebrations specialist, for care in the making, and for a real shazam moment upon diving in, I recommend SusieCakes. No, they’re not paying me. They didn’t know I’d blog about it. And neither did I.

The motivation here is to consider and to share what makes us buy luxury: an excellent product, disarmingly great customer service, a personal and fun experience, and celebrating in an elaborate way that I’m still contemplating. Maybe it’s this: Every now and then a little spoilin’ feels like a really, really nice hug. 

We all need love and belonging. Maybe we can use a little spoiling, too.




Building Love in Chicago

Everywhere I turn in Chicago there’s a building to inspire, to wonder about, and to explore. It’s easy to feel intimidated. They’re huge. The varied traditions behind them feel unfamiliar, perhaps out of reach. Are buildings like people?

Chicago is known for its architecture. Its Structures. Its Design.

  • The rounded, reflective cool of Cloud Gate in Millennium Park dares the mind to dream.
  • The massive, structural lines of The John Hancock Center, like the Eiffel Tower, majestically ask us what we’re made of.
  • My favorite this trip: The gothic revival Fourth Presbyterian Church, so quiet on the busy Magnificent Mile, calls for reflection. I hear the acoustics are great.

Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

I realized this: Every chest needs a Chicago inside it, a place where loving friends form a solid frame, ornament the windows, and bolster the heart. The history and exquisiteness of dear friends doesn’t intimidate; it inspires. In the most important yet intangible reaches of being, dear friends add structure and elevate us.

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For me, going to Chicago is about more than relating to buildings. It’s about connecting with Phillip, and this time also to Mitchell, Erin, and Bethany, and to new friends, too.

This trip we celebrated #phillipsphortieth, a grand bash with folks arriving from all over the country. Phillip built a giant 40 with lights, the perfect backdrop for his smashing soiree. Here are a few photos from the party:

Email readers, please click here to view video.

Phillip and his friends are particularly fashionable, witty, and brilliant. It skews my view. To me, Chicago is a place of daring ideas, exactingly executed, perfectly styled–with warmth and goodness.

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Surf Because It’s Scary

Mandy Getting Ready

Last summer surf lessons seemed like a fun family experience. I tried to surf. I did. But I was tired. I was distracted. I kept one eye on my son, one eye on my daughter, and one eye on my camera. I got up once or twice. I decided that I should stick to swimming.

Then my gal pal requested surf lessons before her move to the East Coast. I know a good company. I set it up. Four of the six gals in our group bailed. So it was just her, and me. I couldn’t let her down. So I went for it. I thought I was doing it for my friend, whose surfing opportunities are dwindling. But really, the journey is always one’s own.

No kids. I strapped my camera to my instructor. And I got up. I got up over and over again. It was a lightbulb moment. I can, I can, I can. I can surf. I can do this. And it’s fun.

Here it comes

Here’s my story: first I was scared. Then I got excited. I failed over and over. But it still felt great. Really great. I’m proud of myself for saying yes. I needed it. I’m still a horrible surfer. But it doesn’t matter. Every time I’m in the ocean, it’s a good day.

Here’s what the ocean tells me: you can kid yourself all day long, but we’re all going to die. Come on. Look up: it’s gorgeous.


See that? I look ridiculous. But I don’t care. I’m having a great time. 

I hope whatever wave beckons you, but feels too cold, too salty, too enormous, too difficult, too-too for you, that you go ahead anyway, and find yourself breathing on the other side.

Conflicted Dreams of Home in New Mexico

  • Welcome to New Mexico
  • Is it the place? Or the thought of the place?

Have you ever been in love with a place? For an extended period? I read that women start to form a road map for love at age 8. They begin to repeat patterns in men. So maybe at 8 I started loving New Mexico.

In junior high and high school, I used to dream about New Mexican landscapes, the way some girls pine for a football player. The smell of piñon lingered in my brain like an alluring cologne; I longed for adobe; I yearned for our summer trip. I moved to New Mexico after college. Then I moved away.

Recently I’ve thought about buying a place in New Mexico. Not because I can pay cash for it. Not because it would be palatial. Just because every time I go back, or drive through, my heart aches. I think, this is home. I can travel far and wide. I love living on the West Coast. But I need a place to call home. So I started looking at real estate in Albuquerque.

And then I wondered why humans have made it as long as we have.

I love quirky. Supposedly. Buying quirky real estate? Risky quirky? With lifelong consequences? Maybe I don’t really love-love quirky.

Here are images of properties for sale in New Mexico. I’m going to write catty things. Yes, I’m judging. My residence is equally ridiculous. So maybe I’m calling out all of us “normal” folks. Here are people who’ve spent their lives acquiring and personalizing, and this is where they live. This is what they are selling.

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3 Top Activities in Tucson with Kids

Saguaro National Park West

Tucson is a great escape, especially in Spring. The weather is nice, the cacti are blooming, the wildflowers abound. It is ripe for adventure. It’s about a 6 or 7-hour drive from SoCal, and about 6.5 hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico. We went last April. Here are my top recommendations.

#1. Kartchner Caverns State Park

We dedicated one day to Katchner Caverns, run by Arizona’s State Park system. It was about an hour’s drive from our hotel in Tucson. They say no cameras are allowed (unless on a paid photography tour), and I took that a little far by not taking mine in the visitor’s center either. That’s why these iphotos, scandalously clandestine, are so crumby.

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Curiosity and Beekeeping–When Children Inspire Travel

oooh and aaah

When my son was five years old, we read a book about bees, and his eyes lit up like a hornet’s nest. He declared earnestly, with deep seriousness, that we had to get a beehive. We watched movies; we checked out more books. We lived in a suburban neighborhood (with a HOA, with rules) with a concrete backyard. I knew I couldn’t take on a bee hive. But I had to help my son. Day after day he pestered me about bees.

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Luckily as I looked around, one person raised her hand in Missouri. Mica talked to my kids all about honey bees, the grubs, larvae, and pupae, the queen, drones, and workers. Then she suited everyone up in beekeeper suits–in the heat of summer, no less–and introduced us to the fascinating world of keeping honey bees. The kids blew smoke and peered into boxes as Mica lifted layers to inspect her hives.

it was hot

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7 Sanity Savers for Small Children on Airplanes

My Passport


Traveling by air with a toddler or preschooler? I’ve done this more times than I’d like to count. My best strategy is variety and surprise. Kids love anything new, or what they have not seen for a few weeks before the trip. A bag inside a bag is a great way to pack: a few simple toys in the seat pocket in front of you, with the main bag overhead. Bring out one at a time, like a magician. Or find them on the air craft. Here are seven easy, airplane-friendly tips to enchanting young children in-flight.

We're getting in that?

#1 Cup of Ice. A cup of ice is easy to ask for, and to toss. You can rattle it and put fingers in it. It’s fun to slide a piece of ice all over the tray table. The cold is instantly surprising, and may shift the mood of a crying child. Sucking on ice can help with popping ears. Be careful of choking, of course. Otherwise, a simple cup of ice works magic.

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Lessons Learned in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


Last year, I tried to squeeze in a quick side trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument en route to Tucson, Arizona. One authoritative source warned against it, claiming there’s not much to see there, and one can see the organ pipe cactus at other destinations in Tucson, which is fair. On the map, though, it looked like it was practically on the way.

Actually, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s Visitor’s Center is not on the way to anything–except Mexico. Google maps won’t plot a trip to it. It’s not on my GPS. So I found out (the hard way) that it’s about 90 minutes from the Interstate, and that Ajo’s speed limit is 25 miles per hour.

Why, Arizona.

As we left, I found out in Why, Arizona that the fastest way to Tucson was to take Hwy 86 through Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation (for two hours), which might have been a scenic drive by day, but at night, the low-lit, two-lane highway loomed long.

Happy travelers need food and sleep. So arriving at our hotel room after 10 p.m. (with nothing but gas station cookies from the Why Texaco for dinner) was a #mommyfail. We got back on track the next day.


This year I decided to make a very quick trip with nothing but Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as our sole destination.

I learned three things on this trip:

  1. People in Ajo, Arizona love their town. The more I asked around, the more I got sucked in: there’s wilderness, history, art, architecture, and quirkiness. I’ll share a few resources below. Hardly any of the accommodations are on booking.com.
  2. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument recently re-opened an additional seventy percent of the park, making 100% of the park now open to visitors. No wonder many folks bring camping gear and RVs. The border police are profuse. The overall atmosphere feels safe. In the spring, the plants are in bloom, and the weather is perfect-perfect, in the seventies. It’s a place to stay a while.
  3. Not all family travel is full of wonder and merriment, and that’s okay. Sometimes going home is the best part of a trip.
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Travel = the Secret to Living Forever

The beach behind

Admit it. We’re getting older. In Mblazoned’s post on mid-life crisis, she claims a bunch of us are going around with a death age in mind, the age of a parent at death. Hers is 66. It hit me: I did that when my sister died. I took her death age. Which is weird, because she was younger than me. The day she died I felt a sense of doom, like I was living on borrowed time. Mblazoned wrote,

“Basically, we are all just sitting around waiting to get cancer…to find out which flavor we are queued up to fight and then tragically succumb to.”

When my daily life doesn’t pan out, and I feel unfulfilled, absent, at odds with reality, hurt by others, ignored, invisible, powerless, or even failure, I think, hey, cancer’s coming. I should enjoy this miserable day. Because soon I’ll have cancer.

Those are not the thoughts I have when traveling. When wind is whipping my hair down the highway. When I’ve told all my responsibilities to hold until next week. When I have a full tank of gas, a hill to climb, and a couple of honeys who will go with me. In that moment, I am alive. It helps knowing I don’t have to clean the hotel room floors, and that we go out for dinner.

Many things transport us: singing, breathing, a good night’s sleep. Especially travel. When I travel, I feel awake, present, and fully being. In fact, it may be the time I actually exist for myself. It isn’t always epic happiness, but simple awareness, presence. It crystalizes during travel. I feel the vibrations of my travel experience echo in the world, for eternity: this was when one vibrant soul was, and it was enough.

In that way travel heightens being. It elevates. Being fully present reverberates through time and space. It ripples.Through all beings. Forever. It continues. Goodness begets goodness. Nothing is lost. All are one. Perhaps this happens every day, in all situations. But when we get out and go, we find it. We feel it. It happens.

So yes. I know it sounds strange. But I believe, and so can you: travel is a gateway to immortality.

Saying Yes

39th Bday. Photo courtesy of Tonya Staab at TonyaStaab.com.

39th Bday. Photo courtesy of Tonya Staab at TonyaStaab.com.

A high school teacher often said to my class, “There’s nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” We were studying European History. I think we teens were looking for magic answers for greatness. We wanted to point to a certain person in history, analyze his life (it was usually a man), and learn prescriptive lessons for ourselves. Coach Ewart diminished the importance of any single person or event. He focused on ideas, as if no matter who or what had happened, those ideas were ready to bloom, so they did.

It’s true on a smaller scale. It doesn’t matter that I turned 39 a year ago. I doesn’t matter what was going on in my marriage, with my kids, in my career, where I lived, or anything else. It was time. I decided to say “yes.” So at dinner on my 39th birthday I declared, “I’m saying ‘yes’ this year. I’m saying ‘yes’ right now. I’m so glad you came out to celebrate with me. This is me, saying ‘yes.’ It feels good.”

There are many ways I said “yes” all year. I don’t have one particular teacher, friend, or event to thank. I’m grateful for all of them. Many moments were important for which there is no photograph, no date on the calendar: a visit with a friend, a letter in the mail, a good book, a yoga session, a satisfying talk. Nevertheless, like a scholar reviewing history, I want to review a few “yes” moments. I remind myself in new and evolving ways to keep saying “yes.”

Yes to surf lessons. Oliver loved them. Audrey hated them. I found that I really love to swim, just swim and explore, in the waves. I bought a wetsuit. I allowed myself many euphoric swims in the ocean. It wasn’t that expensive. It does take courage every time, though. The water is cold. The current is strong. I always love it, every time.

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