June 5, 2015
by Kate

Let me count the ways…a love letter to River Teeth

For the past four years, one of the highlights of my spring has been the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference at Ashland University. I’ve written about it here on Motherhood & Words before, and all of those things I lauded in the past still hold true. The conference is small, intimate, and chock-full of talks and readings by brilliant writers. Joe Mackall and Dan Lehman and Sarah Wells have really created something extraordinary, and I’m always honored to participate. Plus, I get to hang out with some of my favorite people.

This year the conference kicked off with a reading by Jerald Walker, who blew me away. If you haven’t read “How to Make a Slave,” which he read Friday night, and which is in Best American Essays 2014, you must go out right this minute and get a copy. Walker is the author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, which I can’t wait to read. He’s not only talented, but warm and generous, as well.

Saturday was full of inspiring craft talks, and the day was topped off with a reading by Cheryl Strayed. Over the years I’ve heard Cheryl read and talk at various conferences, but this was the perfect setting, and she was fabulous, full of her usual grace. (And she read new material, which was stunning.)

Sunday continued with more fabulous craft talks and a conversation between Cheryl and Joe, and then wrapped up with a great talk by Steven Church.

(There were so many memorable quotes from the weekend, which you can find on Twitter; just follow #RTNC2015.)

I went into the weekend lamenting the fact that all of my summer teaching was on the chopping block because of low enrollment, but by the time I flew home on Monday I had done a 180. A weekend immersed in thinking about writing was just what I needed to adjust my attitude. Thank you, River Teeth. Now I’m excited to get back to my own work, to spend the summer playing with words. My goal for the coming months is to embrace a slower pace of life, to spend time writing, gardening, running, and hanging out with my family.

How do you want to spend your summer?

May 20, 2015
by Kate

writing retreats

I spent last weekend once again at Faith’s Lodge with an incredible group of women. And once again I was blown way by the amount and the quality of writing that emerged in those few days together. But it’s more than that; it’s community, it’s safety, it’s healing.

Just before we wrapped up on Sunday, one of my lovely students shared this poem, which she’d written Saturday night as a few women we were sitting together, putting down words.


Writing Retreat

By Heidi Fettig Parton

We are not a sisterhood of the traveling pants,

not a knitting circle nor a council

of wise ones. We’re not even a book club,

though we do read together—at times.


We are a half dozen women

sitting together in a shared

and respectful silence.

With but mere presence

we create this sacred space

for the puzzling together of pasts,

sighing our way along,

letter by letter, towards

the points of greatest attention.

There, we string together words,

like sparkling beads,

making beautiful sentences;

these flowing gorges,

that cut meaning

from the stories of our lives.


See how we sit together here,

in an oblong circle,

on the lodge furniture

in front of an unlit fire,

our computers on our laps.


See how we sit together here,

in this community of solitude,

accompanied by the brilliant

May evening night sounds

of mating frogs,

chippering birds, and the

deep voice of a singing wind chime.


See how we sit together here,

writing, writing, the far away;

pulling it in close.


Thank you for letting me share this, Heidi! (It’s cross-posted on Heidi’s blog.)

My next retreat is at Madeline Island School of the Arts, July 5 – 10. Come join in this incredible community of women writers!

May 12, 2015
by Kate

happy (late) mother’s day!

Our weekend was full of gardening and get-togethers and lots of youth soccer. (And Sunday morning fresh berries and a latte in bed along with home-made cards and crafts and lots of sweet hugs from my girls.) It was a perfect day, even with the cold and rain on the soccer field sidelines.

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day! I’d love to hear how you spent it.

I have two Mother’s Day treats for you. The first is the Mom Enough podcast of this year’s Motherhood & Words Reading. It was so much fun. I read a new piece (just written), and Kathryn Trueblood and Kao Kalia Yang were fantastic! (I forgot to repeat the last couple of questions into the mic in the Q & A portion of the evening, but hopefully you’ll get the gist of the questions based on our answers.) A huge thank you to The Loft Literary Center for the lovely space and to Mom Enough for making the podcast possible. Take a listen!




And the second treat is a giveaway. I’m giving away two copies of Silent Running: Our Family’s Journey to the Finish Line with Autism, which I co-wrote with Robyn Schneider. It’s the memoir of Robyn’s family’s journey with autism and running, taking readers from Robyn’s twin sons’ diagnosis of autism as toddlers to their first marathon finish at age 20. You can read a lovely review of it by Caryn Mohr here. I’m very proud of this book, and I hope you’ll like it too!



(Note: This is my first time using rafflecopter. It will eliminate the need for me to write names on tiny pieces of paper and pull them from a hat. Seriously, that’s how I’ve done this in the past. Welcome to the 21st century, Kate!)

Note: Rafflecopter isn’t racking up the entries, so maybe this means I should keep things old-school here. Consider yourself entered if you leave a comment below. Thank you!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I’d love to hear how your Mother’s Day went!

The winners are: Autumn (from the rafflecopter option) and Myrna (from the comment option). I’ll get books in the mail this week! Thanks to everyone who entered!

April 29, 2015
by Kate

when a break is a break

I said I was going to take a two-week break and unplug, and somehow it is four weeks later and I am only now getting around to posting here. Yikes.

The good news is that the break was a real break. I packed up the girls and we flew down to Costa Rica, where we spent a week in San Vicente, the village where I lived in the mid-90s. (It was a decision I made last fall when I was in the thick of my crazy schedule and found out that my host-mother had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Luckily she’s doing well, and I’m grateful we were able to spend time with her and the rest of my host family.)

It took me a couple of days to settle into the slower rhythm of life in San Vicente, but then I embraced it and I felt better than I had in months. The second week of our trip, Donny flew down and met us and we all went to the beach together. It turns out I love spending my days boogie boarding, taking slow runs along the beach, reading novels in a hammock, drinking mojitos and eating fresh-caught fish. It was a true vacation, one that I clearly needed.



Then we came home and my stress level shot through the roof and my ulcers and gallbladder began their squawking again. Talk about a rocky re-entry. But I’ve finally settled back into the hectic rhythm of our current lives, and I’m trying to make space for writing and reading. This last week I’ve been working on an essay about San Vicente for my Motherhood & Words Reading tomorrow night. It’s been a while since I started a new essay, and it’s been fun to muck around in that discovery phase again. It’s also been a long time since I’ve read aloud a work-(very much)-in-progress. We’ll see how it goes.


If you’re local, I’d love to see you tomorrow night. I’m honored to be reading with two fantastic, talented writers: Kathryn Trueblood and Kao Kalia Yang. Please join us at 7 p.m. at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. There will be a reception following the reading. Bring your friends. Make a night of it!

March 20, 2015
by Kate

holding steady

* Disclaimer: This post is full of health-related over-sharing. Proceed at your own risk.

Though I took a small break for Zoë’s birthday festivities, it feels as though once again most of my time is dedicated to navigating my health issues. Last week I had a double colonoscopy/upper endoscopy, which was, um, lots of fun. Really, the actual procedures weren’t bad. (I was happily sedated.) But the prep—my God, people. Not to mention that I was teaching the night before, which involved a half-hour drive to and from a church in Edina. That I didn’t have a messy accident on the way there or back is a minor miracle. Luckily, the class was with a group of understanding and laid-back women who didn’t seem fazed by my frequent disappearances.

The tests showed that I have some “baby” ulcers in my duodenum. (On hearing this, a friend of mine told me that she thought “duodenum” was the most beautiful word she’d ever heard; i.e. “Vittorio liked to serenade the young American señoritas with a duodenum from his home country.”) She thought it would sound like this.

I love that—LOVE it—despite the fact it doesn’t actually make my baby duodenal ulcers any sexier.

Anyway, I’m on omeprazole for eight weeks to try to heal those tiny suckers, but I still have something going on with my gallbladder, so I’m still plying myself with tinctures and herbal supplements and doing my twice-weekly acupuncture. The pain persists on and off throughout the day, and it doesn’t seem to correspond to certain foods or drinks (though the gallbladder triggers, if I “accidentally” eat any, definitely make it worse).

The good news is that my mental state seems much improved. (If you can’t tell from this post, well, read the earlier ones and imagine me writing those with a grimace. Today I’m actually smiling. Really.) I know I’ll find some answers and recover eventually, even if that involves more food testing and giving up more of things I love (which I’m hoping won’t be the case).

But what I need now is a break. A real break. A no-email, no-work, no-computer break. Which I’m taking, starting tomorrow. So I will be quiet here for the next two weeks, but then I’ll be back, hopefully miraculously transformed, dancing to the serenade of a dozen duodenums.

When I’m back, I look forward to doing a book giveaway of Silent Running, which is now shipping from Amazon and has been getting lovely responses from readers. And I’ll also be reporting from AWP, which will be here in Minneapolis for the first time ever. Until then, I hope spring appears at your doorstep.

Oh, and I still have a couple of spots open in both my online Motherhood & Words class that begins April 15th and my spring retreat, May 14th – 17th. Let me know if you’re interested. (Though I won’t respond for two weeks. Just know I’m not intentionally ignoring you if you don’t hear back from me right away.)

March 5, 2015
by Kate


I will spare you a medical update this week to instead write about my sweet Zoë, who is seven years old today.

Last night she snuggled into my lap on the couch and said, “Can you believe I’ve been alive for seven years?”

“Only seven years!” I said. “I can’t imagine a time you weren’t here. It seems like you’ve always been a part of our lives.” I leaned down and kissed the top of her head, and she tilted her face up, smiling that smile, clearly pleased.

Zoë has been counting down the days until her birthday for over a month, and in last week she’s been holding court at the dinner table: “Raise your hand if you’re excited about Zoë’s birthday.” (All of our hands go up. She smiles deliciously.) “Raise your hand if you love Zoë.” (All of our hands go up. More satisfied smiles.) “Raise your hand if you already got me a present.” (Some of our hands go up. She furrows her brow.) “Okay, raise your hand if you are going to get me a present.” (All of our hands go up again, and she giggles, full of glee.)

I remember when I was pregnant and Donny and I were trying to decide on a name for the baby kicking and spinning in my tummy. We couldn’t agree on anything, not until we landed on Zoë. And I’m so glad it’s the one we did land on because there couldn’t be a more perfect name for my daughter who, in all her spunk and sass and silliness and tenderness, seems to embody life itself.

So I’m happy to put my health stuff on the back burner for a couple of days to celebrate my daughter with cupcakes and dinner out, then a weekend full of balloons and cakes and gatherings of friends and family. I’m so grateful for her smiling face and gleeful spirit. Happy birthday, sweet Zoë!

February 25, 2015
by Kate


Well, I’m holding steady. The good news is that I met with a wonderful gastroenterologist on Friday and he did not recommend surgery. He said that in cases like mine, gallbladder removal only improves symptoms in *one third* of patients. One third has the same symptoms after surgery and one third gets worse. Hell no. I’ll keep the thing, at least for now.

The pain is slightly improved this week, but I’m still uncomfortable and still bloated. I’m taking my herbal tincture (which tastes like the floor of a hospital) and enzymes and going to acupuncture and going to sleep super early, and trying to keep things moving through me. But overall, it’s a drag. I’m a drag. Oh I know I should be positive and grateful that it isn’t anything more serious—things could always be worse—but I’m sick of feeling like this. A few of you have commented that I seem to be dealing with it so gracefully, but really I’m not. I want to feel like myself again and eat peanut butter on gluten free toast. (It’s gluten-free, for heaven’s sake.) And some chocolate. And maybe an egg salad sandwich. (We were watching Ramona and Beezus last night and there is a scene in which the girls are eating gummy bears. I almost wept with longing. I haven’t eaten gummy bears in a very long time, and I don’t even like them that much. This is what I’ve been reduced to, people.)

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Danbury, Wisconsin for my winter Motherhood & Words Retreat, and even though I’ll be “on” all weekend, I’m hoping that healing place will work its magic on me. After my afternoon conferences, I might try a slow ski around the pond. And I’ll have a massage after my last conference on Saturday. (The massages are new this year, and I’m very excited about them!)

I always come home from this retreat energized by my students’ stories, by the work they’ve done, but I’m hoping that this year I’ll also come home feeling a little better. Maybe?

February 17, 2015
by Kate

holy gallbladder

Last Tuesday I craned my neck to stare up at the monitor above my head. It was awkward because I couldn’t move my body; if I did, the picture from the gamma camera positioned inches above me might end up fuzzy. On the screen, a white star throbbed like a bright lung breathing in time with me. Periodically it would reach its fingers out across the universe of my organs, and small constellations would appear like white, gold, and red fire sparking then fading into darkness.

What I was watching was the radioactive tracer that had adhered to my bile cells and was traveling from liver to gallbladder to small intestine. Or at least that’s what I was told. I actually couldn’t tell which organ was which or whether they were working as they should. And because my neck hurt from twisting it like that, I spent most of that first hour with my eyes closed, reminding myself to breathe.

This was the fourth in a series of tests to figure out why I’ve been in so much pain, why it seemed my digestive system had suddenly revolted. The culprit, it appeared, was my gallbladder, but the previous tests had been normal. This one, however, would show how that organ—that organ to which I had never given any thought—was really functioning.

I felt fine lying there as still as I could until the second part of the test, during which I was injected with a medication to contract the gallbladder and see if bile was being ejected from it as it should be. For the next half hour, with each push of the syringe into my IV, a swell of nausea surged through me, and pain gripped my abdomen. “Breathe,” the technician reminded me. “Just breathe. It will pass.”

It’s funny how easy it is to take our bodies for granted, to forget how many systems have to work and work well in order for our whole bodies operate smoothly. I’m not used to being sick. Certainly I get sick: colds and sinus infections and the flu. And I have occasional back pain and hip issues that sometimes keep me from running. But for the most part I’m healthy. I exercise, I eat well, I meditate—I take care of myself.

So what’s going on here? Was it the fall, all those stressful days of waking up too early because of that impossible deadline? Perhaps I pushed it too hard. It’s true that I’ve felt irritable, uncertain, and overwhelmed lately, even when I really shouldn’t be. Hello, gallbladder! I’ve learned that according to Traditional Chinese Medicine the gallbladder is responsible for our “passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness.” I guess that explains why I’ve been feeling what I’ve been feeling.

When I left the hospital last week after that test, I felt woozy and unsteady. I was disoriented when I pulled out of the hospital parking lot to find the streets slick with sleet and slush. It had been overcast but dry when I went into the hospital, and now it was again overcast and dry, but clearly a winter storm had swept through as I lay as still as possible watching my organs in that darkened room. It seemed impossible, and I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything but go home and lie down on the couch, where I  slept, the dog next to me in her bed on the floor.

I learned that I do indeed have a borderline problem with the way my gallbladder ejects bile. So what now? I could have it taken out, and that might solve the problem. But it might not solve the problem. I’ve heard that removal doesn’t always take care of the symptoms. And I hate not knowing if I would improve, if I’d be able to run and sit and laugh without pain. If I’d be able to go to my favorite exercise class again without having to slip out after twenty minutes.

So first I’m going to try to heal that damn thing. (And when I say “damn thing” I mean that in the most loving way possible—I don’t want to create any more trouble here, people. I love my gallbladder. I want to take care of it.) I’m doing acupuncture twice a week and have met with an herbalist, who prescribed herbs and enzymes, and I’m now on an elimination diet: Day 6 of 21. I won’t even tell you what I can’t eat or drink (everything I love). But I’m committed to it, and I hope it will help.

And, between my many appointments and all the research I’m doing, I’m trying to figure out how to do what I’ve been talking about these last couple of months: clear my plate, open up some space so I can get back that passion for life, that inspiration and action and assertiveness. I want to feel like myself again.


I have to add a big shout out to my family and friends who have heard WAY too much about this in recent weeks and who have called and texted and taken me out and sat and listened as I talked about that angry organ again and again. I appreciate it so much and I promise I’ll stop talking about it now. I’ve decided that instead I’ll just write about it. (But not too much here. Promise.)

February 2, 2015
by Kate

smashing our fears

I always encourage my students to write towards vulnerability and explore the things they’re too afraid to say out loud. And always—always—I’m blown away by what emerges when they really do that, when they craft something beautiful from digging deep and confronting the things that scare them most.

I love what one of my former students has said about writing her fears:

Writing my fears helps to “deflate” them; I get them out of me and onto the paper, where they have less dimension. I can read them and reread them, and because I am reading them now with the eyes of a writer instead of a scared mother, they have less power. I can reshape them, edit them, or even delete them. It doesn’t make them really go away, but it helps me feel like I have power over them, even if it’s just metaphorical power.

 Writing our fear changes us, and it changes other people too. I’ve written here about facing my own fears, about being honest and real and how important that is not only as a writer, but as a mother. And as a mother to girls, I think about it a lot—in modeling how to speak my mind, own my truth, and walk bravely in the world am I raising Stella and Zoë to do the same? I certainly hope so.

I’m thinking about this today because of Heather Von St. James. In 2005, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given 15 months to live. A decade later, she’s going strong, and today she’s celebrating Lung Leavin’ Day, the anniversary of the day she had her lung removed. Every year, Heather gathers with family and friends and other survivors and they all write their fears on plates and smash these plates in a huge bonfire.

Lung Leavin’ Day is about sharing your fears, about not letting them control you. In solidarity with Heather, you can write your fears on a plate and smash them into your own bonfire (if you have a safe place to have a bonfire, of course). You can write them on an index card and burn it over your stove. Or like so many of my students, you can get them down on the page, dive into them, and by doing so, deflate them.

What are your fears? How do you face them, make sense of them, let them go? I’d love to hear. And if you have time, check out more about Heather and her journey.

January 30, 2015
by Kate

hello, blog!

Well hello, friends. Once again I’ve been absent for too long, but I’m back and committed to spending more time here this year. I’m not sure what that will look like yet but I hope to post about reading and writing and life at least once a week.

It’s taken me a while to check in partly because I’ve felt a little low lately. In my last post I wrote about clearing away things that needed to be cleared in order to make more space for myself and family and writing, but damn that’s difficult to do. This winter I’m juggling lots of smaller editing and teaching gigs, and there are still lots of reviews and interviews that I need to catch up on. And all of it feels more daunting than it should–the constant shifting of gears. So I’ve been thinking about what will help, and I’ve come up with a few things: 1) get more sleep (no staying up late on weeknights to watch a series on Netflix); 2) daily meditation (I just renewed my membership to Headspace, the best $80 I’ve ever spent); 3) begin each workday with the novel; 4) eat and drink healthful things and cut way back on the unhealthful things; 5) get some sort of exercise everyday (a lifesaver for me).

I’d also like to create space to simply play with words. Ideally some of this playful writing will turn into short essays, but instead of focusing on publication, I just want to focus on the FUN of writing. Because it’s fun sometimes, right?

Speaking of essays, if you don’t know about Steven Harvey’s The Humble Essayist, you should. The Humble Essayist is a website “devoted to the personal essay and the reflective memoir, forms that use the personal to shine a light on a truth that speaks to us all.” Each week Steve highlights an essay or memoir and posts a short commentary. I love this website, which is why I was honored when I found out that he was featuring Ready for Air this week. Check it out, my friends.

And I’d love to hear what you do to make yourself feel sane, happy and healthy.