I live 3,000 miles away from my entire immediate family. This means that most of the people in my day-to-day life have never met my family. The question invariably arises—Do you have siblings? Yes. I have an older sister and a younger brother. The next question is almost always—Are you close? I don’t really know how to answer this. It’s true that I can go months without talking to either of them, and have, many times. And yet, I know that they are fully in my corner, ready to leap out and get my back at any moment. If I need something, anything, I know they are there for me 100%, and I think they know I am here for them. When I am low, and everything stinks, they are my backstop—two of the handful of people that I know can keep me from completely unraveling. I’d call this close. Maybe others wouldn’t.

At any rate, next week, my big sis is turning 40. And as much as I’d like to make this about me (if my sister is turning 40, that means… I’m next??), she deserves nothing less than a dedicated post, 975+ words, fully delineating her awesomeness. So, without further ado:

The top 10 things you must know (and will probably love) about my sister:

1. No patent leather. Her style is classic, classic, classic. She’s a full-on Audrey Hepburn, Jane Austen, diamond studs mash-up. (But not in a prissy, Betty Draper way…)

2. Expect a care package. Because there will be at least one. And it will be damn thoughtful. And you will probably laugh out loud, gasp audibly, and talk to yourself like a crazy person as you pull out each item, saying, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe she thought of this…”

3. There will be projects. Oh, yes. There will be projects. They will probably include cutting and pasting bits of paper, and utilize her scarily gorgeous handwriting skills. She’s freakin’ creative, and her sixth sense is a razor-sharp aesthetic. If there’s a project, and it’s creative, she will dominate it. She can make your shit beautiful and cheap (most likely from something she bought at the dollar store).

4. As for church hymns… She’s got ‘em down pat. Okay, maybe not all of them (my mom’s definitely got her beat), but she remembers most of those oldies but goodies, and will harmonize each one for you if you ask her.

5. Do you like reading? Probably not more than my sister. (Maybe as much. I don’t really know you.) She reads to get lost in stories, to get smarter, to laugh, to be moved in some way. I know this because she’s also one of those really good sharers about her reading, and I know she won’t recommend something unless it’s actually good.

6. She’s genetically gifted: Her mouth is tiny in a Snow White, cupid-bow kinda way, her teeth are naturally straight, and if you trace the shape of her face, it is, astonishingly, a perfect heart shape. (Meanwhile, if you trace the shape of my face, you will roughly get something that resembles… a misshapen circle. (Cheekbones, what cheekbones?) Sigh.)

7. I hope you’re hungry. Because if you’re around my sister at mealtime—especially lunch—you’d better just thank your lucky stars, sit your butt down and say, “Just make me one of whatever you’re having.” She has a genius way of spreading the mayonnaise just so, laying the turkey ever-so-gently on the bread, and then rummaging around in the fridge until she’s got that pièce de résistance—capers? Thinly sliced avocado? Chopped gerkins with a squeeze of lemon? Your turkey sandwich just got elevated from “lunch” to a conversation that starts with, “Wow. How the f____ do you always make your sandwiches so good?”

8. She’ll give you a ride. At least, she always gives me a ride, and never complained once that I ever heard her. I honestly don’t know why she agreed to take my annoying adolescent self here, there and everywhere for the three years in between when she got her license and I got mine. But I sure felt like a cool kid riding shotgun in the blue Datsun belting out Sinead O’Connor with the windows down. (I can eat my dinner in a fancy restauraaaaaaaaaauunt…)

9. She’s brave. She’d probably snort if she heard me call her brave. So let me just amend that to say that she’s the bravest risk-avoider I know. To write every way she’s been brave in her life here on my blog would be a gross invasion of privacy, but I will say this—She hasn’t always had it easy. And she’s always had the courage to make the best of whatever she had.

10. Her name means Monarch Butterfly. Maybe. Or maybe it just means butterfly. Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything, and it’s just really pretty. At any rate, her name should mean monarch butterfly, and not because of some stupid, “Oooo. She was just a caterpillar and then she magically transformed into an beeeyootiful butterfly” bullcrap. Her name should mean butterfly because she can do stuff that’s freaking hard and scary (like changing her life) even when she knows that there are no guaranties.

Her name should mean butterfly because when you happen upon a butterfly, say, gently settling on a giant purple flower as you trudge sweating through the park, you instantly remember how wonderfully, mysteriously beautiful the world can be. Seeing that, remembering that, feeling that, can transform your whole day, taking it from mundane to sublime. And that’s what my sister does. Everyday. She transforms the mundane into something sublime. She’s got mad skills, and she’s been sharing them with those lucky enough to be in her life for the last 40 years. And nobody deserves a happier, healthier 60 more.

I love you, Vanessa Marie!

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