My Teenage Diaries: The Gifts That Keep Giving

Of late, I’ve been mining my teenage diaries as source material for an essay I’m writing. The collateral joy from this process has been surprising.

Because, well, I was an idiot when I was a teenager. I was cruel and bitchy and loving and fun and wishing and wanting and sad and judgmental and snide. Already, I was painfully human.

It’s hard to face one’s foibles, one’s humanity. It’s embarrassing.

Yet somehow, I’m ready to look that younger self straight in the face and reconnect with her. In the past, I’ve cracked my old diaries and thought, “Nope, can’t do it” after a few pages; other times, I’ve considered throwing them in a fire.

I’m so glad I didn’t. Those diaries, now that I’m 49, are important primary documents that link me to who I was, and I find I’m happy to re-meet her, embrace her, own her. Weirdly, this process completes something in me that didn’t know it was incomplete.

Perhaps it’s that I have a teenage daughter now, someone who is extraordinarily distanced from the kind of careening meanie I was. Perhaps it’s because I’m viewing the entries as source material. Perhaps it’s that I have curiosity about the voice in those pages. No matter what the reason, I have been deeply into digging through those jotted notes that remind me of who I was and give me a sense of how far I’ve come.

Along the way, I have become distracted from my purpose, as it relates to the essay I’m working on. Here and there, I’ve encountered sentences that make me snort, sentences that I have shared on Facebook, just so we can all have a chuckle at my expense. After doing that a couple of times, I realized I could compile them into a document and then, hitching my knickers up to my armpits, get brave and submit to a publication I profoundly admire: McSweeney’s.

So I did it.

And, guys?

The editor at McSweeney’s got how some silly snippets remind us all of our younger selves. They accepted the list of excerpts from diary entries I wrote when I was 15, and I am seriously so excited that I need a Baby Wipe. If you are interested in seeing it, please click here: “Notable Reviews from my 1982 Diary.”

As long as I have you here, though, I want to make it reallllly worth your while. To that end, I’ve copied an anecdote out of my diary from 1984, when I went on the AFS program to Denmark, where I lived for three months with a single mother in her mid-thirties (Lillian) and her three young sons (twins Povl and Peder were 5, and older brother Karsten was 6).

Accompany me now to an afternoon in 1984 when I attended a Danish festivity called “Ringriding.”


Page One Denmark Page Two DenmarkPage Three Denmark

Saturday and Sunday we (all five of us) went to the RingRiding fest. It’s a tradition where horseback riders attempt to spear a little ring with a lance-type instrument. All totally pointless and therefore very amusing to watch. Saturday we just walked around and looked at all the rides, but Sunday the boys rode some. Sunday there was a parade through the town with all 459 riders and bands and shit. It was cool.

Afterwards we were all walking down to the fairgrounds when I saw Lee (N.Y. boy). I stopped to talk and when I stopped and looked around, I couldn’t find Lillian. She had Povl and Peder, but I had Karsten. Nothing like being in a foreign country with a small child you are unable to communicate with. Made my day. 

After awhile, Karsten got mad ’cause I wouldn’t take him inside the grounds. He started crying and screaming at me in Danish. People were looking at me like I was some sort of child abuser. Aah, the truth at last. Finally, I stopped two people and asked them if they spoke English. “No,” he said, “What is your problem?”These Danes. They took me to the police station (rather melodramatic) and they sent us to have Lillian paged. Thank God she found us before I suffered that embarrassment!

Why is it that in every town I go to, the police get to know me within a week of my arrival?

After we left Sunday, there was a near-tragedy. A hot air balloon was being inflated, foolishly, right in the middle of all 459 horses. Needless to say, they panicked. 24 people ended up at the hospital and 5 (horses, not people) had to be shot. Hester (flaunting my Danish) were found as far away as Aabenraa. BLOODY CHAOS the newspaper headlines read. 

In Danish, of course.


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Dump It

Dump-It Recipe

She changed me.

Her name is Keri, and although she started out as a student in a few of my classes, she ended up becoming a friend for life, someone whose innate light defeated the chilling darkness of her early years.

Keri was treated as harshly as a person can be.

Yet when I think of her, it is her laugh that comes to me first.

Whenever I think of her, I remember the day she walked into our kitchen–having just returned from running a trail race with Byron–and clapped eyes on the chocolate cake sitting on the counter.

“You want a piece?” I asked her.

“Fuck, yea!” she almost shouted.

For me, an important component of hospitality is bounty. It doesn’t feel gracious to dole out small bits and act as though a tidge is generous. Nay, if I’m handing things out, it seems mean-spirited to be chintzy. Were someone to give me a printed apron, and please, for the love of Martha Stewart, may no one ever give me a printed apron, it might say “LOTS ISN’T HALF ENOUGH.”

That day, I discovered Keri and I are of a mind on this issue.

Without thinking, I cut Keri the piece of cake I would have wanted.

I cut Keri a hefty piece of cake.

I cut Keri a piece of cake the size of a block of expired cheese in a dumpster, a kilo of coke, a glock.

It was the size of my smile whenever she banged into the house holding a little present for my two-year-old. It was the size of my heart whenever she shucked off holding my baby, saying, “Naw, I’d just drop him” before stroking the softness of his pudgy leg.

When I slid the plate towards her, Keri got it. “Fuck!” she howled. “Look at the fucking size of that piece of cake. I love how you’re all not shy about the cake–and look at that frosting. You stood up to that cake and gave it half an inch of frosting. Now THAT’S frosting!”

With the speed and focus that never leave someone who’s been hungry, she downed the entire thing in under a minute.

“Jesus, Keri. You weigh, like, 99 pounds on a good day. How did you manage that?” I asked, happy and impressed.

“Ah, you know me and sweet stuff. I fucking love cake. I just don’t know how to cook it. You make it, and I’ll come here and shove it all into my face, ‘k?”

That piece of cake is something Keri and I have not forgotten.


A good piece of cake should not be forgotten.

That’s why I’m glad I’ve carried on my mom’s habit of recording notes on recipes, tracking when and why they were made. There is no better diary than a few hasty, splotchy words jotted next to a recipe.

With the chocolate cake that filled Keri’s stomach, there is the story of how I was driving home one day when I first heard the recipe on NPR.

Hear the Story

Then, there is the story of how this cake, the Dump-It Cake, affected the life of Amanda Hesser, as recounted in her book, Cooking for Mr. Latte.

And, of course, there are all the notes–mini-stories within themselves–that surround my print-out of the recipe, which lives in a three-ring binder in our kitchen.

6/10/03: “Crisis Cake”–tube pan won’t close–cake everywhere. Paco rolls over, eats rice cereal. Allegra loves neighbor Tyler’s swing. John Colbert here last night-

1/12/05: For Chrissy, Sean, & kids–over for falafel

6/16/05: Made for Grandma’s Marathon party. Paco naps with Buzz & Woody. Allegra helps Byron put patio furniture together

6/15/06: Made as cupcakes for Grandma’s Marathon party. Byron twisted ankle at Oxbow race last weekend. Paco naps with Bat-a-ring (metal one), & Allegra loves swimming class

11/13/09: Made x2 for 10th anniversary open house

Two entries for this next date, one written by me and one by Byron (at least we had our stories straight):

3/24/12: Made for Jocelyn’s 45th bday–Allegra is running track & reading Hunger Games. Tommy & Paco are playing Legos and going to see The Lorax; Byron bikes and runs on early Spring warm day


Made for Joce’s 45th birthday. Always better the next day. I make it today. Paco & Tommy going to Lorax. Allegra running track

Nov. 24, 2015: Olson-Browns coming for Thanksgiving. Leggy skiing at West Yellowstone

For every note written on the recipe, there is also a time we made this legendary cake but neglected to add to the record.

There is no note for the day Keri had her first piece, big as a block of expired cheese in a dumpster, a kilo of coke, a glock–

–that piece of Dump-It cake the size of my smile whenever she banged into a room holding a present for Allegra, who would grow up to love swimming lessons and swinging and putting together patio furniture and reading the Hunger Games and running track and skiing in West Yellowstone. That piece of cake the size of my heart whenever my beloved friend shucked off holding Paco, the little guy who rolled over and ate rice cereal and napped with Buzz, Woody, and a Bat-a-ring and played with Legos and went to The Lorax.

I don’t know why I forgot to make a note on the recipe that day.

I like to think it’s because I was too busy enjoying Keri’s laugh and offering her seconds.


Scone Recipe
The only recipe in our house more legendary than the Dump-It Cake is the recipe for scones in The Bread Bible. Don’t even get me started.
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