January 27, 2016
by Kate
10 Comments

quiet

This is the first morning in a long time that I’ve been able to sit down in my tiny office in a quiet house. Last week there was a five day weekend followed by early morning meetings and appointments. The early part of this week was hijacked by strep throat. (Not to mention I’ve been getting lots of kid-time on recent weekends because D needed to prepare for his thesis defense. Which, by the way, he rocked yesterday morning. Yay, D!)

But now I’m hoping that I will be able to move into a quieter and more productive few weeks. I’ve always been an extrovert, so I sometimes forget how much quiet time I need during the day to recharge. Maybe I’m becoming more of an introvert as I age? Perhaps. I just know I need to be able to sit in my tiny office under the light of my cozy lamp and put words on the page. I need the quiet to straighten my desk and to restore a little order to the house (without taking up too much of my work time, of course). I need the quiet to just sit and stare out the window into the backyard.

There is no music in the background of my day; just the low hum of the dehumidifier running in the basement, the occasional rumble of the refrigerator or furnace coming to life, and the click click of Aguita’s claws on the wood floor as she comes into the kitchen to let me know she wants to go outside.

Today, before I head out for my mid-day walk, I will remind myself to leave my phone at home. A walk is the perfect opportunity for a short podcast or a chapter of Coates’ beautiful Between the World and Me, which I’m listening to and loving—but I’ve realized that if I listen to something as I walk, none of that wonderful head-clearing takes place. I’m just adding more sounds, more thoughts—even if they are interesting and moving—to an already noisy place. So today, I’ll take off into the cold air with only the sounds of the city to accompany me. I know it will help.

What helps ground you these days?

January 11, 2016
by Kate
0 comments

write with me

Have you always wanted to write your motherhood stories? Do you need a gentle nudge to get you going and keep you accountable? Are you craving a community of women who write? I’m kicking off a 10-week online Motherhood & Words class on January 27th and there are still a couple of openings.

What recent students have said:

“It was the best writing class I’ve ever taken.”

“It was a great ‘kick in the pants’ to get writing and feel validated that writing about motherhood is indeed real writing.”

“You don’t have to be a serious or published writer to take the course, and who knows, you might just become one by the end!”

“Be ready to write! You will produce!”

For more information click here or email me at katehopper [at] msn [dot] com. Join me!

January 4, 2016
by Kate
24 Comments

Hello, 2016!

We rang in the New Year up at my mom’s cabin in northern Minnesota as we so often do. It was cozy—just D, the girls, my mom and step-dad and me. We cooked and ate and read and did puzzles (in an obsessive way that was somehow still relaxing). The girls and D skated in circles, playing keep-away on the rectangle of lake we shoveled clean. And we skied loops in the woods, our bodies lengthening as we glided through fresh snow. That is one of my favorite things. I love the way I can feel my body stretching out, my back straightening as I get into the groove of pushing and gliding. I love the way my triceps burn as I struggle up a hill. I love the rustle of wind through dry leaves, the brilliant blue of sky through dark branches, the glint of sun on snow. It’s when I take stock of the year coming to a close and whisper my hopes for the next year.

Some years the transition from one year to the next feels seamless. But sometimes I’m really ready to be done with a year and start something new, fresh. That’s how I feel now. Last year was not an easy one for me. There were joys, of course—plenty of them, really. But there was also the weight of not feeling well, finally deciding on surgery, the subsequent digestive complications. There were many moments last fall when it felt as if I was simply trying to stay afloat in the churning swirl of a mid-life crisis. What did I need? Yoga? God? A kick-ass nutritionist?

I might still be in that mid-life crisis stage, but I sense I’m emerging from it. The kick-ass nutritionist helps, and I’m trying to listen carefully to myself, to my body. I don’t have anything figured out yet, but I’m hopeful.

Over the last few weeks, I have more often bookmarked a webpage to my recipe folder than to my teaching/writing folder. But I’m ready to shift gears again, get back to the novel, to words and sentences and paragraphs. I’m ready to start thinking about retreats and teaching, how to help others find a way into the stories they need to tell. And I’ve decided I’ll be here at this blog each week during the next year. I don’t know what I’ll write about, but I’m hoping it will be a touchstone for me. I hope you’ll join me.

What are your hopes for 2016? I’d love to hear them.

November 25, 2015
by Kate
10 Comments

thankful

I would be lying if I said that the last few months (or year) has been an easy one for me. It hasn’t.

I’m still in that place of not-knowing, of guessing and experimenting with food, supplements, exercise—anything.

Still, I’m trying to be grateful for good days. I have a new acupuncturist, and she’s fabulous. That helps. I’ve started doing yoga, something that has never appealed to me, and has in the past caused injuries. But I’m open to it now, again, because I sense that will help me settle and heal. I also have a new food plan—the low FODMAP diet (oh joy!)—and I have appointments with a nutritionist and my gastroenterologist on the horizon. Small steps in hopefully the right direction.

But as I sit with discomfort and not-knowing, I am trying to practice daily gratitude. So today, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I want to name a few things for which I’m grateful: dance parties with my girls (those splits! those funky moves! that infectious laughter!); Donny, for everything; the girls again—their tenderness and sister love and great sense of humor; my dad and mom and stepdad; my sisters and their families; my extended family; my dear friends; our home; work that’s meaningful to me; my incredible students; our health (even though it’s challenging me right now); health care and health insurance; warm clothes; our sweet dog; and books—all those essays and novels and poems that make me feel alive.

And last, but certainly not least, thank you to all of you reading, you who show up here even when I’ve let this blog languish. I appreciate you all. Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving. What are some thing you’re thankful for this year?

October 26, 2015
by Kate
18 Comments

showing up

I’ve started a number of blog posts over the last couple of weeks. Each time, before I could finish the post, things with my health would change and I’d abandon it half-written.

A week ago I was feeling better—not perfect, but better. I could lift a basket of laundry, put the full Brita back into the refrigerator on my own, walk longer distances, and make it through the day without a nap. Exciting stuff, I know. I still had some pain, especially after eating certain foods (likely the result of gallbladder duct spasms), but emotionally I felt so much better. Better than I had in over a year.

It was helpful to read the pathology report, which found that my gallbladder was inflamed, consistent with chronic cholecystitis. Perhaps it’s odd that this made me so happy, but I had been worried that I would get it out and it would look perfectly healthy. Instead, it confirms that I made the right decision.

But then last week I developed some mystery pain on my left side, and I began to worry about all sorts of (probably unlikely) things, and I was right back in that place I had been most of the last year, second-guessing everything. I began to worry that I’d made the wrong decision (not a helpful or productive line of thought).

I’m hopeful that things will turn around very soon. In the meantime, I’m teaching and editing and trying to write a little every day. I’m walking and swimming again. Today was the first time I’d been in the pool in over six months. I was slow, but still, my body remembered how to slice through water, my arms pulling, legs kicking, head turning to breathe every couple of strokes. I felt muscles that hadn’t worked in months come to life again.

So I’ll keep showing up and try to be patient, and hopefully soon I will feel like myself again.

September 15, 2015
by Kate
12 Comments

update

Thanks so much for all your thoughts and good vibes last week. Surgery went well (though geez, I would have happily stayed the night in the hospital. There’s nothing like being rushed home completely drugged up, nauseated and in pain.)

The first night and day weren’t fun, and heck, the second wasn’t fun either. But each day I’ve felt a little more like myself. And then Sunday I overdid it. It was Stella’s birthday (12! How is that possible?) and I was on my feet too much of the day. We had a lovely family gathering in which she raked in lots of soccer paraphernalia. But even with everyone pitching in, I was exhausted by the end of the party.

Yesterday–and today–I woke up in more pain, so it’s clear I need to scale things back again. I’m trying to nap a couple of times of day and I’m being more careful about how much I move around. Of course my to-do list keeps sneaking in, clambering for attention, and it’s difficult for me to suppress that damn thing. But I will, I have to. Part of what got me into this trouble in the first place is overextending myself, so I know I need to be mindful of that.

So, the plan for the day: nap, get up and do a tiny bit of work, nap, walk slowly to the bus stop to get the girls, chat and get them snacks, etc., hopefully rest again, eat dinner, then go to bed early. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? So it goes. It still feels like I made the right decision, and hopefully I will be recovered soon.

September 8, 2015
by Kate
44 Comments

dear gallbladder, goodbye.

I know that I am supposed to want to keep all of my organs, and believe me, I do. I’ve tried, I really have. I changed my diet (and then changed it back), I’ve done weekly (often twice a week) acupuncture, I’ve ingested many herbs and enzymes, minerals and fermented foods. I’ve meditated. I’ve cried. I’ve bucked up.

But still, the pain persists.

On Monday, after my upper endoscopy confirmed that my ulcers were healed (meaning that my pain is, and has been, GB-related), I felt elated (even after the sedation wore off). A weight had been lifted. No more second-guessing what I was eating. No more “Is the pain from this or that? Should I be eating (or not eating) this or that?”

No ulcers cleared the way for surgery. There was a path, a possible end to it. When I showed Donny the brochure about gallbladder surgery (featuring a sad, sad woman whose hand—her fingers splayed ever so slightly—is pressed below her right ribcage) he said, “That’s you! That’s exactly how you look.”

Shit. I look like the sad, sad woman from a surgical brochure. Even worse: I’d looked like that for months. It was time.

But then Tuesday at four am, what slunk back into my fretting mind was the second-guessing. Was it the right thing to do? Had I tried hard enough to keep it? Would it really take care of the pain? (This had been the question all along since my problem isn’t gallstones, which are cured by removal. Ejection fraction issues sometimes are not.) This state of second-guessing was helped immensely later in the day by a very strong differing opinion. But it is my body, and I know what’s best, right? Still, I was waffling.

Before Donny left for work on Wednesday morning he looked crestfallen. “On Monday you were yourself again.”

It was true. For a few hours on Monday I felt like my real self again because there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I needed to find my way back to that clarity. I made an appointment with my regular, trusted doctor, who agreed with my other doctors. Again the weight was lifted, and it’s remained that way. It’s the right decision. I realize that now. So, goodbye, gallbladder.

Added to my general discomfort in recent months, I’ve developed a propensity for styes, those painful little eye infections. (Stress?) My right eye was the one afflicted and after rounds of ointments and antibiotics, and diligent daily warm compresses, it finally cleared up.

But on Friday morning, just prior to my pre-op appointment, the left eye piped up. Like the disgruntled sibling of a memoirist, it just had to be heard. (I don’t need your version of the story, I implored. But no. It insisted.)

We headed up north Friday afternoon and I was going to spend the weekend visualizing being pain free (GB and stye). I was going to BE POSITIVE! And it was working. On Saturday, I determinedly slept in. I went for a walk. I bought a book in town.

Then the weekend was hijacked. I’ll spare you the details because all is fine, but really?

Now the stye is improving and surgery is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow. So I’m back to BEING POSITIVE and visualizing being pain free. If you could send your positive vibes, healing thoughts, and prayers in my direction, I’d be grateful.

I’ll keep you posted.

August 20, 2015
by Kate
4 Comments

fall motherhood & words class

Donny and I spent the last five days painting (or rather emptying, then taping, then painting, then taping more, then painting more, and finally reassembling) our kitchen and my office. It was grueling, but it’s done, and now my office looks like this:

IMG_0064

And now I’m ready to dive back into writing and also gear up for my fall online Motherhood & Words class. There are still spots available, and I’d love to have you in class! Here are the details:

Motherhood & Words Online

Sept 30 – Dec 7  (10 1/2 weeks)

Whether you are a new mom or a veteran, whether you gave birth to or adopted your child, in this online class you’ll learn how to take birth and motherhood stories and turn them into art. Weekly lectures, reading assignments and writing exercises will focus on telling details, character development, emotional distance, strengthening your reflective voice, and revision. (Use Your Words will be the primary text for the class.) You can expect to generate two to three creative nonfiction pieces, and you will have an opportunity to revise and expand one of these into a longer piece. You will receive feedback from your peers and me on what emerges from weekly writing exercises. I will also read and comment on one longer piece (10 pages) and a revision of that same piece. This class is open to writers of all ability levels. Join this online community of mothers who are interested in writing about motherhood!

 

Click here for registration details.

What are you gearing up for this fall?

August 10, 2015
by Kate
12 Comments

noodling

This morning as I headed out the door for a walk, there was a crispness to the air, a hint of fall. I always feel melancholy as summer winds down, and that’s there—the knowledge that another summer is coming to an end, and that fall, then winter are right around the corner.

But mixed in with the melancholy is, I have to admit, some relief. I’m very much looking forward to having the house to myself again, to getting back into my routines: meditation, writing, mid-day runs (hopefully, if my hip and gallbladder cooperate).

But it’s been a good summer—a summer on the patio, a summer with family and friends, a summer of books, a summer of noodling. (Thanks, Levi Weinhagen, for reminding me how much I love that term.)

Last month, I realized I needed to shake up the structure of my novel. Or maybe I didn’t need to, but what if? What if I blew it wide open, introduced another narrator? I thought about it on walks, in the early morning, my head fizzy with possibility, a new voice starting to take shape. But was it the right voice? A sixteen-year-old boy? What did I know about teenage boys? Was I crazy?

So I turned to my Facebook friends, searching for male narrators to help convince me I was on the right track. I ordered every book that was recommended, and Donny and I are making our way through the stack. So much fabulous YA fiction! I can’t get enough of it. Here is some of what I’ve been reading and loving:

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley – I don’t usually read fantasy, but even before I opened this book, I knew I’d love it. And I was right; it swept me away. I fell in love with Aza Ray and Jason. I wept uncontrollably at both the beginning and end, which prompted many hugs from the girls.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – I’m not sure how many times I’d picked this up in the bookstore and turned it over, smiling as I read the inside flap. So when a friend recommended it for my quest, I knew it was time. It’s so damn good. I was giddy as I read, nodding my head, desperate for these two to find their way together. Like Magonia, this book has alternating narrators, and it works so well. So well.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alíre Sáenz – How have I not read any of Sáenz’s books before? He’s amazing, and he’s a powerhouse having written eighteen books, including poetry, novels, short stories, and children’s books. I raced through this beautiful book with my heart in my throat, so worried about these two young men, so wanting them to be okay. LOVE!

Small Damages by Beth Kephart – You know that I love Beth’s writing (which I’ve written about here and here), and though this novel doesn’t have a male narrator, it’s been on my list for a long time, so I was excited to dive into it. I was not disappointed. It’s beautiful and sad and hopeful. I could feel Spain come alive on the page, almost smell the citrus in the air. Just lovely.

I’ll keep going with the pile stacked high on the floor of my office, but now it will be for pure enjoyment rather than reassurance. These awesome books have helped me trust that young man taking shape in my mind. So I’ll noodle about him a little longer and as soon as everyone clears the house and heads back to school, I’ll let his voice spool out across the page.

What are you noodling on this summer?

July 14, 2015
by Kate
33 Comments

summer and taking stock

I’ve been quiet here these last weeks. Part of the reason is that I’ve been busy. In early June we road-tripped to Winnipeg for a couple of days to see the first U.S. Women’s World Cup game, which was incredible and inspiring. The rest of the month was swallowed up with editing and teaching prep, doctor’s appointments, and the girls’ soccer games. Then we were up north with my family for a week before the 4th, after which I headed straight to Madeline Island to teach my women’s memoir retreat. Busy, yes. But part of the reason I haven’t posted in a while is that I’m not sure what I want to say here right now. I’ve been feeling a need to pull back and take stock.

I’ve been blogging since early 2007. I’ve reviewed dozens of books and interviewed dozens of authors. I’ve blogged about teaching and writing and family. I’ve connected with so many all-around fabulous people. I’m so grateful for that. But this last year with all of my health ups and downs—and it’s still up and down—I’ve realized I have to change something. Slow down. Refocus on my own work. Savor the time I have with my family. Read.

Summer is ordinarily a very busy time of year for me, but this year things have opened up, and I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what I need. I need to sit on the back patio in the morning with Donny, cups of coffee in our hands as we chat, admiring the garden and the life we’ve built together. I need to spend long afternoons with the girls at a city lake or a local pool. Maybe I need to scream my way down the zip line, dropping into the pool with a great splash, thoroughly embarrassing those girls. Maybe.

In my tiny pantry office, I have stacks of books I’ve been sent over the years, books to review. For years my to-do list has always included the name of at least one author to interview. I’ve read incredible books and had the opportunity to chat and email with so many talented and gracious authors. But I think I’m done now. (Yikes. I feel simultaneously thrilled and sick to my stomach writing those words—a sign that, for now at least, they are the right words, the right decision.)

I’m not sure what I do want to do in this space, but my gut tells me that I’d like to bring this blog closer to home, figure out how I can use this space to once again feed my creative process, enhance it. A need to turn inward, to listen to my own pulse.

I don’t know what that will look like, but I hope you’ll stick around and see what happens. I appreciate your patience as I fumble along, testing out what feels right.