And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

People react very differently to the word “reunion”, and particularly “high school reunion”. Some, especially those who still live in the same place and are still completely connected to those that were with them in school, are delighted and happy to get together. Some respond with curiosity, wondering what happened to everyone. And others react with pure horror.

I tend to belong in the horror camp, mixed with some curiosity.

My high school years, and really, the years before that, were unsteady and bizarre. My father worked for the federal government and he was transferred often as he worked his way up the ladder. I went to kindergarten in Berkeley, Missouri, outside of St. Louis. For first through fifth grades, I was in way northern Minnesota, in a little town called Esko. Sixth grade through sophomore year in high school, I was in Stoughton, Wisconsin. First semester junior year, I was in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. And second semester junior year through graduation, I attended Waukesha North.

High school was particularly rocky. My father was transferred to Milwaukee when I was in the eighth grade, but our house didn’t sell until I was a sophomore. My parents decided, this time around, to build a house rather than buy one, so they chose a spot in Waukesha. Near the end of my sophomore year, while the house was partway built, my father had his first heart attack, and all construction stopped while we waited to see what would happen. He was, I was told, the first recipient of open heart surgery in Milwaukee. Because he wasn’t completely recovered by the time school started, the house also wasn’t complete, and so we stayed with an aunt in Cedarburg, and I went there for a semester. At Christmas break, we moved into the new house and I finished high school in Waukesha.

But high school was also a nightmare for other reasons. I was born with strabismus, which caused my eyes to cross, and so this led to years and years of what we called “teasing” then; now it’s called bullying. I don’t know why my eyes made such a difference to people, but because my eyes made a difference to them, they made a difference to me too. I was in my late twenties before I could lift my head and look people in the eye. Early on, I was called Clarence, after Clarence the cross-eyed lion, in the television show, Daktari.

I hated that show.

I had five eye surgeries, the last two taking place in my sophomore year. When we moved away, I was relieved, thinking that, with my eyes as corrected as they were, I could make a new start in the new school. That seemed to be the case when I attended my one semester at Cedarburg. I seemed fully accepted, went to parties and dances, got my first boyfriend. After moving to Waukesha, however, I was totally crushed when I overheard a girl in my biology class saying to another, “That girl in class with the crossed eyes? She said she’ll share her notes with us.”

My eyes immediately returned to the floor.

In 1988, for the ten-year high school reunion, I contacted those in charge of the Stoughton reunion to see if I could attend. I’d been with the Stoughton school district the longest. And truly, I wanted to go for one major reason: I wanted to find the boy who made my life a living hell and punch his lights out. I wanted to show the entire class that I’d turned out just fine, thank you very much.

But when I attended, I was totally shocked when people began coming up to me to apologize. And when I found out that the boy I looked for died at age 19, it pretty much brought me to my knees.

People change. People grow up. And that had to include me. My eyes raised from the floor. I left Clarence behind.

(I wrote a personal essay about this, that appeared in Wisconsin Magazine, then published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That piece is still taught today, some thirty years later, in some high school English classes.)

And so now. My 45th reunion. I wasn’t planning on going, but my sister, who lives in San Antonio now, came back for it, so I decided to go along. A raffle was included in the event, the proceeds of which were to be donated. I offered a basket of my books, crossing the breadth of my work: a novel, a short story collection, a collection of essays, and a collection of poetry.

Believe it or not, I had fun at the reunion. I spent a lot of it, peering at nametags, trying to figure out who everyone was. And they peered at mine. But watching the crowd, I saw an amazing thing. All of the classic school groups, the popular kids, the jocks, the nerds, the weirdos, all blended. Everyone hugged everyone. Everyone talked.

No one was left out. Not even me.

My books were won by someone who was delighted to have them. I’d already signed them, but she asked me to personalize them. I have to say, I don’t think I was ever asked to sign her high school yearbook. But I was delighted to do this.

At one point, my husband leaned over to me and said, “You were at the cool kids’ table!”

And I found myself laughing.

It turns out that high school, and the effects of high school, don’t last forever. Would I like to go back to those days? Oh, hell no. But am I happy to be where I am now, and where I was last Saturday night?

Oh, yes.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My high school graduation photo.
My article in Wisconsin Magazine, published in the late 1980’s.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

When you’ve been gone for three weeks to a place you absolutely love, it’s really, really hard to come back. This was my first year being there for 3 weeks; I usually go for 10 days to two weeks. But this year, I decided I truly needed the break. And so I went.

As the time got closer for me to pack up and leave, I found myself feeling heavier and heavier. My day to day life is typically chaos, and I was heading home to chaos on steroids. I was supposed to land at 4:50 p.m. on Saturday, and by 7:00, I was visiting a book club who read my novel, If You Tame Me. Along with my usual work, I am also the program chair for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, and we are heading into the final stretch of planning before it begins on November 3…which means this is when things tend to blow up and fires need to be put out. And I was heading back to just my regularly scheduled program, which means that my time for writing, rather than being spread out throughout the day, was compressed into a few hours in the afternoons on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. And sometimes those afternoons are taken up by other things – on Monday, my first day back, I had a book festival meeting smack dab in the afternoon. In fact, on that first day back, I had six clients and a class to teach, plus that meeting. There was no writing that day. I managed to write on Tuesday. Not on Wednesday. And other than this blog, not today yet either. The new book sits, waiting.

There is no easing back into my daily life. As soon as my plane touches down, I’m back in, up to my neck. But it’s a life I’ve chosen and it’s a life that I love. Writing is, of course, my number one love. But teaching is right behind it. Helping people create their poems, stories, short memoir, novels, book-length memoirs, collections, is just the greatest thing. Helping writers along the way…amazing.

But diving in completely underwater on my first day, no, my first moments back…difficult.

While I was in Oregon, I drove into Waldport, just a short bit down the coastal highway, every day to get my afternoon latte from a little roadside hut called Espresso 101. Until last year, I used to drive every day all the way in to Newport to Starbucks, a 20 to 25 minute drive one way. To make it worthwhile, I would bring a book, sit in the familiarity that is Starbucks, have my grande iced cinnamon dolce latte with only two pumps of cinnamon dolce, read, and then drive back. It took a significant chunk of time out of my day, but it was necessary. I had to lift my head away from the computer, get out, be with people, and then go back into isolation. Two years ago, the little hut opened up, and I could go through the drive-thru (there are no indoor seats), grab my drink, go back to the little house, and take my reading break on the deck, in full view of the ocean. The little hut has what they call a French Toast latte, made with maple, brown sugar, and French vanilla that is out of this world. So I’ve started going there.

The day before I left, when I was feeling this heaviness, one of the young baristas asked me if I was moving there, since I’d been there every day for just shy of three weeks. I said no, and explained what I was doing. She exclaimed that she loved reading, and asked what I wrote. I told her, and then told her the basic plot of Hope Always Rises – it’s set in a special gated community in Heaven, that is just for people who have chosen to end their lives.

I saw her face drop, and I saw a flash of sadness.

I explained that I wrote the book because I was growing so angry with the judgmental attitude that is so predominant toward those who made this decision.  The accusations that someone who chose this must be selfish, must be a monster, must be crazy, must only care about themselves.

And I watched her face grow sadder.

There was no one behind me in the line. The drive-thru window is set low, so they can lean far out and into the cars. This young girl knelt by the window, rested her arms on the sill, and folded her head on her forearms, like a child about to go to sleep. “Can you tell me,” she said, “where to get this book? I’m like…” she hesitated, “…I’m like one of those people.” Then quickly, as if to make sure I knew she wasn’t one of the ones who fling judgment, she added, “I could go to that community.”

I quickly reached out and grasped her hand. “Me too,” I said. “And I’m still here. Right here. And so are you. That’s such a good thing. I’m so happy to meet you.”

I gave her my business card.

The next day, after loading up my rental car, I stood on the deck of the little house and looked out where the ocean was supposed to be. Everything was socked in with fog, and so I couldn’t see her. But I called goodbye anyway, bowed my head, and said, “Thank you.” Then, promising myself one more French Toast latte for the road, to ease the ache at being pulled away from this magical, magical place, I drove down the road.

My barista was there. She gave me my drink on the house, and on the lid, she wrote, “Be safe, Kathie.” And then she told me she ordered the book, and it was due to be delivered in a few days.

“You have my information,” I said. “Email me when you read it.”

She nodded, and then, in an echo to my own words to the ocean, she bowed her head and said, “Thank you.”

I drove away from her, from the ocean, from Waldport, from Oregon, with the ache digging in deep. But I drove away happy.

I’ve always said if I can just reach one person, I’ll be happy. It will make it all worth it. The digging, fighting, struggling, hair-tearing, loving, playing, enjoying while writing a book. The worry over whether it will be accepted for publication, and then the worry over whether it will sell. The hard work of doing everything I can to make sure it does sell. Sometimes, the numbers tend to overshadow the actual act of writing, the absolute importance of the words. But…if I can reach just one person…

I know I’ve reached many. But that reminder, that girl, her face, her words, “I could go to that community,” followed by, “Thank you,” means the world.

I’m fully back in my life. And I’m happy to be here.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The little hut.
My coffee break space in Oregon.
My usual view in the morning when I’m there. But the last day…
…this was all I could see.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Today is my last full day on the Oregon coast. Tomorrow, I drive for 3 hours to Portland, stay overnight, and then fly back home on Saturday. This has been my first time staying here for 3 weeks, as opposed to ten days or 2 weeks. And it’s been amazing. I’ve begun waking up in the morning actually ready to get up. The exhaustion I felt in the weeks (months) before I came here is gone. I finished the first draft of my next book while I was here, and I’m into the second draft. The first draft was my goal. That first draft is now sitting with my publisher, and I’m chewing my fingernails off, waiting to hear if it will have a place in the 2024 calendar year.

I think the crowning moment of this stay happened last Sunday, with the arrival of a pod of whales right outside my window.

Now, I’ve seen whales here before. On my very first trip here in 2006, I drove to the Sea Lion Caves. While walking down the steep incline that would take me to an elevator that would drop me several stories down and let me see the caves where the sea lions barked, belched, and argued, I heard a shout. Looking over the railing, I saw the broad back of a whale, and then the accompanying spout. I was transfixed and nearly decided not to go to the cave, just in case there was another whale sighting. That afternoon, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to poetically, lyrically, beautifully say that I’d seen a whale.

I finally decided that being a woman from Wisconsin, it was enough to simply say, “I saw a whale!” and to have the experience.

In several trips since, I’ve seen the backs and spouts of whales. Olivia and I took a whale-watching boat tour on one trip here, for my birthday. The captain of the boat decided to go onto the open ocean, despite the choppiness of the water, and while Olivia and I both saw the broad back of a whale, we also both got seasick. I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, nursing a glass of Sprite, and dreaming about whales.

I’ve also seen whales here, swimming by the little house. It’s been amazing every time.

But this moment.

Many wonderful things have happened in this spot. There are some, who believe in “the veil”, who would say that the veil is thin here. I don’t know what I believe. I only know that when I’ve asked the ocean a question, I get answers.

In 2016, when I was here after the publication of my novel, Rise From The River, I was in bad shape. I was horrified over my own gender’s response to the 50 Shades of Gray books, and the movies, and the relative lack of attention over my own book. My book revealed the truth behind why a woman can’t just give a baby who is the result of a rape up for adoption, and what she faces if she keeps it. I was totally up to my neck in depression and anger, and when I got here, I shouted at the ocean, “What do you want from me? I’m doing all I can!” And then I asked the ocean to give me a whole sand dollar if I was on the right path, if I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. A week later, an old man appeared out of the fog, came right up to my face, and said, “Have you found a whole sand dollar?” And he gave me one.

In 2018, when I returned here after having to take a year away while in treatment for breast cancer, I asked the ocean to let me have another whole sand dollar if I was going to be all right. But, I asked, this time, let me find the sand dollar. On my last day here, as I was standing and saying goodbye to the ocean, I felt a bump against my bare big toe. And there was a sand dollar.

A friend came here when I was in treatment for cancer and he said while he sat by the ocean, he thought of me. He also felt a bump, looked down, and found a sand dollar.

There have been other things too. But on this trip, as I wrote about, I walked out to the ocean when I arrived. I didn’t run. I was so, so tired. And so, so discouraged. I told the ocean I didn’t know what to say, I had no questions. And that I thought this was my time to listen.

So this past Sunday, I was sitting here at my writing desk, working on the studio’s ledger, as I do every Sunday. And I was bemoaning the fact that I decided to be here for three weeks this year, because when you have your own business, you don’t get paid unless you’re working. Three weeks without money coming in is a big hit to the bank account, and I told myself how selfish I was being. How impractical, how irresponsible. What a really, really stupid thing for me to do, taking these three weeks.

And then I glanced up and saw the broad back of a whale, followed by a spout. And then there were more. It was a pod. And I could see them, from my window, with my bare eyes.

Even so, I ran to the deck and grabbed the binoculars. For the next two hours, I watched all these whales. I saw whale backs, whale spouts, whale noses, and whale flippers.

And then the most incredible thing. What I thought was a flipper kept going out of the water and became a whale tail. And then more whale tails.

In all my time here, I’ve never seen more than a back and a spout.

And have you seen the cover of Hope Always Rises? A whale tail. In the book, Hope meets God at the edge of one of Heaven’s oceans. God knows that Hope always wanted to see the ocean, and she always wanted to see a whale, with the classic whale tail flip. In Heaven, sitting next to God, Hope sees her whale.

I’ve always wanted to see a whale tail too. That scene in the book was so important to me, I asked an artist to create the cover, complete with the whale tail. And now…here they were. At a time that I was supposed to be listening. And I did.

I had to keep wiping the tears away as I watched. As my title says, hope always rises.

I’m coming home awake and ready to get back to it.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Company on one of my morning walks. See the boat?
Here, even weeds are beautiful,
One of many sunsets.
And again – the cover of Hope Always Rises.



And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I am still on the Oregon coast and will be for another week and two days. It continues to be amazing, though the week started out badly with a bird die-off. Dead and dying birds everywhere. According to some locals that I spoke to, it was “Tis the season.” A season of dying birds? I’ve been here in August and September before and I’ve never experienced anything like this. I had to turn back from my morning walk because I had to keep watching my feet to make sure I wasn’t stepping on or kicking a bird. I watched a man club a cormorant that was in his final death throes. It was a horrible way to die, but faster than what it was already going through.

At one point, I called Michael, sobbing, saying I wanted to come home.

By the next day, the beach appeared swept clean. Between the buzzards that showed up en masse and the tide, it was like nothing happened. And then this was followed by an incredible whale sighting, with a whale that was joyfully sending his spout way up high into the air, and another two sea lions who chose to swim beside me as I walked.

I guess nature isn’t always pretty. But every time I think of that cormorant, I turn my mind instead to the whale. And the joy.

One evening as I walked, I came up to a man who was standing with his walking stick propped in the sand. He had his camera out and he smiled at me and said, “Looks like the clouds took away our photo opportunities.” The clouds had swallowed the sun, and the sky, instead of turning blaze orange and red, became gray. I agreed and we talked about the birds. He asked what I was doing on the coast, and I explained that I come here to focus solely on writing.

“Wow,” he said. “Are you famous?”

I immediately looked away. “No,” I said. “Of course not.”

He asked for the name of my latest book and then he looked on Amazon, right there on the beach, and said, “There you are!” We talked a few minutes more, and then went our separate ways. He lives here, a transplant from Idaho.

I pondered his question, “Are you famous?” and my response, “Of course not,” for the rest of the evening.

The next evening, when I headed out for my walk, there he was again, standing beside his walking stick. “You were awfully humble yesterday,” he said. “I looked you up. Fourteen books! And what you’ve done with your studio!” He shook his head. “I ordered some of your books,” he said. “You are famous!” He looked out to the ocean. “You never know who you are going to meet on the beach.”

“But you didn’t know who I was,” I said, “when I walked up to you yesterday.”

He smiled. “I know you now. And look what you’ve done!”

We stood side by side for a little bit longer. I pointed out the pelicans that were flying like a roller coaster. He pointed out another sea lion. And then we said goodnight.

I’ve been struggling a lot with writing this past year, and with my own choices in this life. I’ve found that I no longer believe that I will answer the phone one day and it will be Oprah Winfrey calling for me. I no longer believe that I will open my Sunday paper and see my name on the New York Times bestseller list. These beliefs have been a part of what has kept me so focused and so single-minded for as long as I can remember. But as these beliefs have dropped away, and as I’ve questioned why I sit down at my writing desk almost every day, I’ve continued to sit down at my writing desk. Almost every day.

And I come out here, to the Oregon coast, by myself, walking the ocean, sitting at the desk overlooking the ocean, my books by my side, placed there by the women who own this little house. Who are proud of the fact that I come here to write. They display my work like it’s something. Something important, something to be shared, to be seen. To be read.

It is something.

Several times, when I’ve come here, it’s been during moments of unrest and I run to the ocean as soon as I get here and I shout questions. They’re almost always answered. This year, I set down my suitcases and I walked slowly out to the ocean. I stood there in silence for several minutes. And then I said, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any questions. Just feelings.” I walked alongside the ocean for a while, and then I said, “I guess maybe it’s just my time to listen.”

And I’ve been listening.

“Look what you’ve done!” the man with the walking stick said. “You’re famous!” he said, even though he didn’t know me at all.

I finished the first draft of my next novel the very next day. My fifteenth book. My eighth novel.

I’ll keep listening.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

On the very far right, you’ll see the small figure. That’s the man with the walking stick. I doubt that he knows how much our interaction meant to me.
The sunset on 9/5, complete with a single seagull.
Part of my path as I walk.



And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

If you’re a reader of this blog, or if you follow me on social media, or if you just happen to know me, then you know that I landed on the Oregon coast last Saturday. So I’m sure you would expect This Week’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News to be about:

*the ocean, as constant outside my window as my own breath;

*the sea lion that swam alongside me on one of my evening walks;

*the incredible sunsets, and the beauty that is this place, even when it’s too overcast for a sunset;

*my accomplishing more in three days of writing here than I did in the last month at home;

*and I could go on and on. But…nope.

This Moment is about the shower.

Now, I have been crazy about showers for pretty much as long as I remember. I even remember my first shower, taken in Esko, Minnesota, in the standing shower stall that was built in our basement when it was transformed into a rec room. I was young, maybe eight years old? And I stood there in that hot stream and just reveled. Granted, it was in northern Minnesota, where anything that created a blast of heat was to be revered. But it imprinted on my brain and led me to always seek out showers.

My parents, for whatever weird reason, insisted that I only wash my hair on Sundays and Wednesdays. On those in-between days, I was relegated to the bathtub with dry hair. During the hormonally greasy teenage years, this was just awful. As soon as I left for college, the first thing I did, literally that very night, was start showering every day. I hated school breaks, as it meant returning to the Sunday/Wednesday schedule. But my parents moved away to Michigan between my freshman and sophomore year, and so I stayed with others during breaks that never heard of the Sunday/Wednesday rule.

Whenever we visited hotels, I soaked in the shower, where the hot water never ran out. Some folks look for comfy beds in hotels. I look for showers. The first thing I test is the strength of the water pressure.

When we built our condo, I spent most of my focus on our bathroom. OUR bathroom, not shared with three teenagers and a little Olivia. No rubber duckies. I insisted on a jetted tub and body jets in the shower, and when I went to the bathroom showroom to choose what I wanted, they measured me, so that one body jet, when it’s straight out, hits me at the base of my neck. The other one hits that little divot at the base of the spine. I slam those babies on and stand there until the water runs cold.

The year Olivia and I took the Amtrak Empire Builder to Portland, once again for a retreat on the Oregon coast, I chose a sleeper car so that I would have access to a shower on the train. This intrigued me to no end. While the actual experience was somewhat less than stellar (rocking from side to side, falling through the flimsy shower curtain), seeing the water drain through to the rails below was unforgettable. I even wrote a short story based on that experience. “Clean” was published in Prairie Schooner and nominated for a Pushcart.

But then there’s here. Waldport, Oregon. My favorite spot on this earth, at least so far.

The house I stay in is very simple, very basic, which is often what my overheated mind needs once I get here. The ocean is stimulus enough. But…the shower.

Showers, actually. The shower has two heads…one behind and one in front. So there is no time, absolutely no time, when any body part isn’t being hit with hot water. I can twist and turn to my absolute delight, and I’m still getting soaked. And the hot water lasts an amazingly long time.

There are no body jets. It’s not a standing shower, it’s in a bathtub. A 1980’s gold bathtub.


At home, due to rising water bills, I’ve stopped showering every day, and instead follow an every-other-day schedule. Which I hate, almost as much as I hated Sunday/Wednesday. But here…every day, baby. I get up, have a leisurely breakfast before checking my email, complete with a strong cup of coffee and a good book. And then…and then…I stroll to the bathroom, set both showerheads (they have separate controls) to asbestos, and I soak. Until the water runs cool.

I’ve yet to figure out how to make both of the heads run out at the same time. I typically end up shutting off one, and then standing under the other until it’s cold too. But that’s okay. It’s lovely.

And when I step out of the shower…I hear the ocean. After dressing, I look at the ocean.

There’s just nothing better.

Can you imagine a shower in the train with two shower heads and body jets??? I must call Amtrak.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

(If you would like to read my short story, “Clean”, go to https://prairieschooner.unl.edu/excerpt/clean)

Sunset on my first full day here. Glorious.
But overcast sunsets are amazing too.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

At 7:00 tonight, when I gently hang up the phone on my 6:00 coaching client, I will be on a break for three weeks. Three weeks! On Sunday, I fly to Portland, Oregon, then climb into my rental car and drive three hours to the Oregon coast…and to the little house I stay in that sometimes feels more like home than home.

I started going to the Oregon coast in 2006. It was the furthest I’d ever traveled, and certainly the furthest I’d ever traveled alone. At the time, I needed to just get away, to a place I’d never been, to a place where no one knew me, and to a place where no one else was.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with the little house, with the ocean, with Waldport, Oregon. When I pulled into the gravel parking spot right next to the house, my windshield became filled with blue. Multi-blues sky trailing down to multi-blues ocean, the white-capped waves and white clouds each reflecting the other. I didn’t even go into the house at first; I climbed up the steps to the back deck and just marveled. The ocean was my backyard.

I think most people, if they saw the little house, would wonder why I love it so. It’s small. It doesn’t have a dishwasher. There is only one bathroom, and the tub isn’t jetted, like mine is here at home. But there is something really special about having your every need met in such a small space. I had my choice of beds, from the queen-sized bed up in the loft, to the double-size lower bunk in what I call the second bedroom, to the queen-sized bed in the master. My choice was never in question; the master bedroom L’s out into a special writing nook, with windows looking out onto the ocean. The women who own this house have created it to be a writer and artist space. The loft is for art.

But that writing space. It is a haven. To my right, when I sit at the desk, is a bookcase. And featured on their own shelf are my books. This means that I am here, even when I’m not here. The woman who wrote those books lives here.

Since 2006, I’ve only missed returning there a few years. In 2017, I was in treatment for breast cancer and I couldn’t go. In 2020, we were all frozen by the pandemic. But otherwise, I’m there, and each time, it’s like going home. The women store my paints in the attic and they bring me a special table to paint on every time, before I get there. This year, they’re lending me a keyboard so I can keep practicing the piano during my time away.

I’ve never met them face to face. But these women are so special to me. And this place is so special.

While some might call what I’m doing when I go there a vacation, I don’t. It’s a break from my day to day life, for sure, but being there causes a shedding of roles until I’m just me. The core of me, I guess. The essence. When I’m there, I’m not a wife or a mother. I’m not a teacher or a coach or an advocate or a business owner. I am a writer, and that’s the core of me. That’s who I am. And being there allows me to embrace that fully.

I write throughout the day. If there’s a day I don’t want to write, that’s fine, because I know there’s the next day to work. I sometimes write late into the night, but mostly, at night, I paint. With my busy schedule at home, these times in Oregon have become the only time that I paint. It’s a joy. I walk the ocean, at least twice a day, sometimes more. I sleep. I read frequently, during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, during coffee breaks, in bed before I go to sleep at night. I don’t read to edit or critique, though I sometimes find myself doing that anyway. But I mostly read to revel.

I look out the window and watch whales spout as they go by. I watch pelicans mimic waves as they flow up and down over the water. Last year, as I was walking back to the house, I noticed a brown head poke up out of the water, and then swim parallel to me all the way back to where I turned to head up the steps to the house. A sea lion. I’ve seen starfish and crabs, jellyfish galore. And of course, seagulls, which I don’t much care for, but they tend to leave me alone. There was one memorable moment where a flock of seagulls flew toward me over the sand as I walked, and instead of going to one side of me, they split, and went past me to my left and my right, their wings whistling, and me totally freaked out. When they were behind me, I turned to watch them go, and I thanked them for not hurting me.

And the whole time I’m there, from the moment I get there to the last goodbye as I climb back in the car to return home, I talk to the ocean. I call her Ms. Pacific, and she has given me more gifts and more answers than I’ve ever received elsewhere.

Today, my mind’s eye and my heart are filled with visions and memories of this place. I know I will pull it on like a favorite sweater. I will breathe a sigh of relief and of great joy when I get there.

I can already hear the ocean.

Looking ahead makes my Moment for this week. By next week, I will be fully immersed.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The Wavecatcher – the little house I stay in.
The view from the writing nook, where I work.
See my books?
My backyard.
Painting in the loft.
My whole writing space.
One of many incredible sunsets.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Buckle yourself in; this is going to be a rocky ride. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can write about this week’s Moment when the Moment that has been sticking most in my head and following in my footsteps has been sad. And honestly, it’s hard to talk about, because I think so many people will consider it silly. Even I keep telling myself it’s silly, but in my own little universe here, it doesn’t feel silly at all.

So last March, I met Richard Thomas, who played John Boy on the television show, The Waltons, created by Earl Hamner, and preceded by playing John Boy in the made-for-TV movie, The Homecoming. The Waltons has long been my favorite television show, even though I never watched it when it originally aired. Instead, I sat up at the desk in my room, writing in my journal, listening to my family on the floor below, watching The Waltons, where John Boy sat at the desk in his room, writing in his journal, and listening to his family on the floor below, listening to the radio. The sense of community I felt was just so…amazing doesn’t even begin to cover it. But I felt like I connected with someone, in history, who loved writing as much as I do. Who embodied writing the way I do. Later, when I watched The Waltons in reruns, after graduating with my degree in creative writing, I connected with John Boy even more. When he learned that his novel could sit on a publisher’s slush pile for months without being read, he shouted, “That’s barbaric!” On my couch, I raised both fists in the air and shouted with him.

It led to owning the show on video, and then on DVD. It led to owning Waltons paraphernalia. It led to visiting the real Walton’s Mountain and meeting Earl Hamner’s aunt, who showed me what a trailing arbutus was. And I corrected the Walton’s Museum tour guide – she was so wrong. It led to naming my daughter Olivia. It led to Earl Hamner “friending” me on Facebook. And truly, I think it led to my creating AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, a community for writers.

And it led to my meeting John Boy, Richard Thomas, last March, standing in the cold outside the stage door where he was playing Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. He was so gracious and kind. He signed the poetry book he wrote back when he was John Boy, he accepted my gift of a copy of Hope Always Rises, and he asked, after hearing my story, if he could hug me.

It was such a stellar night. And I admit, the part of me that can still dream, that still holds on to goals that I set for myself when I was oh so young, goals that I see falling away unaccomplished now, well, that part of me thought, Maybe he’ll read the book, love it, show it to his agent who will pitch it to a streaming channel, and it will be made into a series, with Richard Thomas playing my version of God.

I told you it was silly.

But I dreamed. And then the months went by. I didn’t hear a word. For all I know, my book was set down in his hotel room and forgotten. And so I became sad. It’s been a year of realizing that dreams are fading away. That time is running out. And it just added sad onto a sad I was already feeling. I’ve been told I’ve accomplished a lot – 14 books and counting, and AllWriters’ – and I will acknowledge that I have. But the big dream is still far, far away. And slipping beyond the horizon.

But then this week, after watching the Barbie movie, a post appeared on a Facebook page that claimed to be owned by Richard Thomas. It shared an article about Ann Roth, who played an old woman on a bench in the movie. She is a legendary (though she doesn’t want to be called that) costume designer. I answered the post, saying that it was one of the most moving parts.

And about 20 minutes later, I received a private message on Facebook from Richard Thomas. He thanked me for my post, said he hoped I was doing well. I reminded him that he’d met me and when, and he said, “Oh, of course, Giorgio!” Then he said he had to go, but if I wanted to talk further, I could see him on Google Chat, which he said was more private and protected, which was important to him because of who he was.

Now I’m not gullible. Really, I’m not. But I went to Google Chat. He’d left a message for me. But he kept calling me Giorgio. I reminded him that this was my last name. And then he said other things that didn’t make sense.

I went back to the Facebook page. Under the “About” section, I looked at “Transparency”. And discovered that the page administrator is from Nigeria.

I shut down all communication. I tried to contact Facebook about it, but if you report that someone is faking being a celebrity, you are supposed to say who, and click on the correct page for the celebrity. Richard Thomas does not have a Facebook page. So I couldn’t click on Submit and report it.

I felt so betrayed.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dreams. How dreams get us through, keep us reaching for more. In the Barbie movie, the message is that while Barbie (the doll) told girls they could be everything, it didn’t allow girls to just be themselves. Your “be” had to be huge. You had to excel.

I have always, always worked hard at excelling. Even when I was told by my family that I was just wasting my time, sitting at home, pretending to write the Great American Novel. I did write the Great American Novel, dammit. 7 times over. Working on 8.

But that one dream…well, not so much.

So it’s been a sad week. I’ve glanced at the shelf where I have a photo from the night I met Richard Thomas and the signed copy of his poetry book, and told myself that it’s not Richard Thomas who is my hero, but John Boy, the character he portrayed and Earl Hamner created, and Richard Thomas is not John Boy. John Boy wouldn’t have left my book behind. Richard Thomas might have.

But then something else happened. Because I knew I was going to see the Barbie movie, I posted on my own Facebook pages about my novel, In Grace’s Time, published in 2017. Grace is a character who has lost her son, and she was never allowed to play with dolls as a child. Virgil owns a doll shop and hospital. And they go on one hell of a journey. “For those of you Barbie-ing over the Barbie movie (we’re going to see it tonight),” I said, “you might want to know that my novel, In Grace’s Time, has Barbies in it, as well as many other dolls.”

And beneath that post, comments began to appear.

“A lovely story!”

“I really enjoyed this story!”

“One of my FAVORITE books!”

And then:

“Kathie Giorgio, it helped me when my son passed.”

It helped me.

I helped her.

Well, you know, that was always my very first goal.

Some dreams, I realized, have come true. Some goals too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

(If you want to read In Grace’s Time, you can find it at https://www.amazon.com/Graces-Time-Kathie-Giorgio/dp/161296897X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1692292107&sr=1-2 or from your favorite bookstore, or from the publisher, or from me. I’d even sign it! )

My novel, In Grace’s Time. Published in 2017.
Me with Richard Thomas, on that cold, cold night.
My shelf with some special things. The Waltons lunchbox. The Waltons board game. A copy, now signed, of Richard Thomas’ book of poetry. And the photo with him.





And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

A year ago, I started taking off one day a week. The days alternate – Monday one week, Tuesday the next, then Wednesday, and so on. Doing this allows me to keep my full client and class load, but gives me a breather every week. It’s worked well.

This week, my day off is today, and I started it by sleeping in until noon. Last night was a particularly wonderful sleep, with very few awakenings. My windows are open and there was a lovely breeze blowing in. The garbage men came yesterday, so there weren’t any loud crashes as the condo dumpsters were emptied. The studio phone is still a landline, and I remembered to unplug it last night, so there wasn’t a phone ringing. I just slept, and it wasn’t a heavy sleep that usually leaves me feeling logy.

I spent a good portion of my time today wandering around outside and inside the condo, watering plants and talking to them. The classroom plants were already watered this week, so I ignored the first floor, though I did wave at the plants as I went through the classroom with my dog, Ursula, to take her outside to do her doggie business. One of the plants in the classroom is a Christmas cactus, given to me as a surprise by my husband Michael. In the movie, The Homecoming, which gave birth to the series, The Waltons, the mama, Olivia, brings up a Christmas cactus from the root cellar at Christmastime, and says to the family, “Who wants to see something pretty?” Michael said the same thing when he gave this plant to me. On the second floor, I watered two orchids. They’d been blooming like mad, but now the blooms are gone and they’re kinda ugly, really, but I would never tell them that. On the second floor deck, I have this huge big-leafed plant that I don’t know the name of, with several blooming plants at its base, and another flowering plant in the corner. Notice I don’t know the names. The big-leafed plant just unfurled a new leaf, a several week process, and I praised it for its hard work. Upstairs here on the third floor, I have the two hibiscus, of course, and they are named. Carla has been around for several years now, and Lolita is new. The hibiscus spend their winters in my office. I also have two amazingly large begonias, a three-tier raised garden with geraniums and pansies (I think), a palm tree providing a jungle to my concrete lion, Little Literary, and an outdoor clock holds three small pots of flowering plants. In my office, I just transplanted an Easter lily given to me by my son two Easters ago, and I seem to be having success with an African violet, which is blooming madly right now.

As I finished watering, and as I wrote that last paragraph, I stood back and thought, Who the hell are you?

I always thought I killed plants.

I’m not sure where that thought came from. I never really had any, beyond two Wandering Jews given to me by my high school biology teacher and a miniature evergreen that I decorated for Christmas in my college dorm. The Wandering Jews lasted through high school, college, and until my first child was born, when my attention got diverted. I don’t remember how long the evergreen lasted.

But my mother was crazy good with plants. Her house, inside and out, was one big controlled jungle. Even the bathrooms had plants. She spent time every day on these green folks, and kept bottles of special water for different types in the basement. I lived in terror of when my parents would go on vacation and I’d be asked to take care of the plants. I guess that’s where the killing thought came from, because I always lost one or two.

As a side note, my parents also fed birds, and asked me to fill the feeders while they were gone. We all know how I feel about birds. Truthfully, I would stand at their back garage door and fling handfuls of seed toward the bird feeders, never getting near. Right before my parents’ homecoming, I would insist my now ex-husband come out and fill the feeders. I probably lost a few of those too.

But now…here we are, and I suddenly have plants on every floor of my condo. I talk to the darn things, and the ones that do die, I grieve. Carla, my longest-living hibiscus tree, is especially dear to me. She’s named after my student, Carla, who died of cystic fibrosis in her thirties. The day I learned of her death, I was in Menards, and without warning, I had tears streaming down my face. I passed a floor display of hibiscus trees, and one of them reached out with a branch and caught me. I picked her up, put her in my cart, and named her Carla.

And so I wondered why I’d let plants enter my life. One or two, sure. But multiple plants on every floor?

Then this weekend, we moved my daughter Olivia into her first apartment. She graduated from college last spring, and now she’s moving on to graduate school, still at the same college. But now, she’s in an apartment on the college grounds, and not a dorm room. She likely won’t be coming home every other weekend. She won’t have to leave her apartment behind during school breaks, like she did with the dorm. We bought her grown-up things, like a toaster, a crockpot, an air fryer, plates, bowls. Silverware.

It feels very different.

There is one spot in her apartment, next to her kitchen cabinets, that looks like it should have something in it. I said, “Maybe I’ll get you a plant. A nice standing plant.”

“Make it a fake one,” she said. “I kill plants.”

And I stopped right there and looked around at the reality of this young woman, my last child, standing in her own apartment.

The plants have been adding up in my condo over the last four years. The years she was in college. And now, with Olivia in her own apartment, my condo is full of plants.

For me to take care of. Tend to. Talk to.

Well, they don’t talk back, but they do bloom, like this child has. And they are little (sometimes big) green breathing things that I am responsible for. As my responsibilities for this child, and my other three children, fade away.

I think I’ll go buy Olivia a plant, so she can see that she won’t kill it. And I think I’ll buy myself another one too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia and her diploma from Mount Mary University.
The third floor deck.
A bloom from Lolita.
A bloom from Carla, with begonias in the background.
The 2nd floor deck. You can barely see the statue next to the big-leafed plant. The statue is a baby lion…Baby Literary.
Easter lily and African violet.
The blooms from the African violet.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

My 63rd birthday was this past Saturday, and my family surprised me with a trip just over the Wisconsin border into Illinois to see a show and visit the stables at the Tempel Lipizzans. This is a very special breed of horse that I’ve loved since I was a kid, and I was thrilled.

As we waited for the show to start, sitting on the front row of bleachers outside the show ring, my daughter Olivia said, “I didn’t realize you were a horse girl.”

I was stunned. I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. I was never a “horse girl”, meaning that I had my own horse. I was more of a horse girl wanna-be, getting as close to horses as I could whenever I could.

I can’t say for sure where it started. When I was in elementary school, I perused my Scholastic Book Club flyer every month with a passion. I looked for books that were interesting, of course, but I also looked for illustrated books with great pictures that I could trace with carbon paper and then rewrite the storyline the way I thought it should be. One of the first of these books, and one of the last I was to purge from my library as an adult, was a book called Flip by Wesley Dennis. From there, on a trip to the public library when I was in second grade, the children’s librarian recognized my reading ability and brought me from the children’s room to the young adult section. She introduced me to Walter Farley and the Black Stallion series. I can clearly remember sitting there on the floor, pulling book after book from the shelf, and bringing them all home. I read tons of Marguerite Henry books, Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal, and Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague. I still remember the grandfather in those books singing, “Oh, they’re wild and woolly and full of fleas, and never been curried below the knees!” And of course, there was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, and Green Grass of Wyoming, My Friend Flicka, and Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara. And National Velvet, by Enid Bagnold. Like Velvet, the main character in that book, I began to cut out pictures of horses, creating my own stable that I cared for with great love and respect.

In the little town of Esko, Minnesota, where I lived from when I was six years old to twelve, they had a little tiny fair every summer. There was a concession stand and a small ferris wheel and high-flying (to me) swings. And a horse show. I sat on the edge of that show ring too, and barely breathed as those great horses trotted before me. I still remember one called Blue, who was actually white, and then, of course, years later, when I fell in love with the Waltons, there was a white mule called Blue.

There are connections everywhere.

But when I was twelve years old, I went head over heels for the writer Mary Stewart, and I read all of her books. But the one that I read repeatedly was Airs Above The Ground. Airs Above The Ground is the traditional dance performed by the classic Lipizzan stallions. And I was hooked. I wanted to see these horses up close, and watch them dance like big four-legged ballerinas. But I never had the chance until last weekend.

I began to buy Breyers model horses, until I had an amazing collection. I sold them when Olivia was a young girl, and now, of course, I wish I’d kept them. Horse-racing entered my life and Triple Crown winner Secretariat became my hero. I had entire scrapbooks dedicated to him. And of course, I met him when I was 23. For Mother’s Day this year, Michael gave me a huge book that shows all of Secretariat’s progeny. One of the new items in my bucket list is a trip to Pennsylvania to meet Trusted Company, a resident at Bright Futures Farm. She is the last living daughter of Secretariat.  I would like to see her before that generation is all gone.

As I grew, I went out of my way to make friends with girls who lived on farms that had horses. I’d go to their homes as often as I could, to ride. I joined Girl Scouts for the sole purpose of getting to go horseback riding. I never had a lesson, of course. I just went by what people told me to do. In the saddle, I was in heaven. I remember riding a friend’s horse up to the top of a hill. The sun was going down, and I sat there, one hand on my knee, the other resting on the reins, and that horse and I watched the sunset. In my imagination, I struck a regal silhouette, the horse’s mane and my hair gently lifting in the breeze, our faces aglow from the evening sun. In reality…I was a kid on a horse.

But I was so happy.

So then this past weekend. I sat again ringside, not on a horse, but a keen observer. And the horses danced. Afterwards, we were able to tour the barn, and I walked from stable to stable, talking to each horse. Two stood in open doorways, held by their riders, and we could pet them and talk to them.

I did. For the first time in decades, I smelled of horse.

I was so happy. The only thing that could have made me happier was if I was up in the saddle myself.

Maybe someday. Because yes, Olivia. I am a horse girl.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

This is the book, Flip, by Wesley Dennis, that may have started it all.
Airs Above The Ground, by Mary Stewart, that introduced me to Lipizzan horses. I no longer have the book…but I might try to find it again.
The only photo I have of me as a child with a “horse”. This was a ride at a fair, where I sat in a carriage that was pulled by a carousel type horse. I look like I’m having a good time. Maybe this is where it started?
Secretariat, the day I met him. The groom who showed me around let me feed Secretariat an apple and touch him.
Me with a Lipizzan.


And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Over the last weekend, Friday through Monday morning, I was in one of my favorite places, La Crosse, Wisconsin. I’ve been going to La Crosse regularly for years now, starting in 2010, mostly to meet with a book club, appear in the bookstore, or teach a class at Kinstone in nearby Fountain City. Whenever I come, I try to spend a few extra days, mostly so I can be close to the river.

Not any river. THE river. The Mississippi.

This time, my break came on Sunday. I went to Starbucks, got my favorite drink, a grande cinnamon dolce latte, with only two pumps of cinnamon dolce, thank you, and iced, and took both the drink and a book to Pettibone Park. This simple park, with a beach by the river, and I have a history. And so it’s where I go, when I want to be closest to the river.

My first time in La Crosse happened a long time ago, way back in the 1990s. I was there for a weekend away with my first husband. We came without our three children; it was sort of an unspoken last ditch effort to see if the marriage could go on. If either of us wanted to save it. My husband found us a nice hotel, right by the river. Directly across the river was Pettibone Park.

I found things for us to do. A trip to an antique store or a bookstore. A drive up Granddad’s Bluff. A visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. A riverboat cruise. The river itself. But he mostly wanted to lay on the hotel bed and watch sports on the television, without anyone to interrupt him.

Discouraged, I went down to the hotel pool by myself and wandered between pool and hot tub for a while. Later, I wrapped myself in a towel and went out on the hotel patio. Across the river, I could see the beach and the happy sounds of people playing in the river.

I had no idea you could play and swim in the mighty Mississippi. I rarely heard the name without the “mighty” in front of it, and “mighty” didn’t seem conducive to playing. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was stand in that river. Feel the water swirl around me, going deliberately, purposefully, somewhere. It knew its direction, even if I didn’t. I’ve never been good at geography.

At dinner that night, I pointed the beach out to my husband and asked if we could stop there on our way out of town. It wouldn’t interrupt his sports-watching; we’d be on our way home anyway. He wasn’t happy, but he agreed.

We found our way across the bridge and when I saw a sign for Pettibone Park, I pointed it out. Sure enough, there was the beach, and a little beach house. My husband sat at a picnic table and crossed his arms, looking back toward our car and checking his watch. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants legs, and carefully, nervously, walked into the river.

I needn’t have been nervous. I felt welcomed. The water swirled around me as I’d imagined, and I stood and watched it roll away under the bridge and off into the distance. I went out as far as I could, without getting my clothes wet.

And a feeling came to me there, in that river. With my husband glowering and tapping his foot behind me, I looked away. I knew, without a doubt, in that beautiful river and no one with me who wanted to share it, that the marriage was over. But I also realized, watching the river sleek against me and then moving on, that it was just one thing that was ending.

My life wasn’t. There was more to life than this particular marriage.

I came out of the river, dried off, and we went home and moved on.

I didn’t come back for years and years. But when I did, I searched out that park. I went to the same hotel, looked across the river, saw the beach, and found my way. And then I came back, again and again. Almost always, I bring Starbucks with me, and almost always, a book, and I sit at a table and read, all while listening to the river. And I stand in it, even when it’s really cold.

One stand-out year, 2014, as I walked around the beach house toward the river, I heard a whoosh and then a wing opened in front of me. I shrieked and stepped back and something else shrieked too and I followed it as it landed in a nearby tree. It was a bald eagle. I’d nearly been walloped by a bald eagle as we both went around the same corner. It wasn’t malicious; we were both surprised.

I stood there and watched him for a while. He watched me. “I’ve only seen bald eagles in zoos,” I told him. “You’re amazing.”

I’m scared of birds. I wasn’t scared of him. Eventually, he flew off, I admired him, and then went to stand in the river.

I went to the river the year I had breast cancer in 2017. I stood in the water and knew I would be okay.

And so last Sunday, I sat in the sun, drank my Starbucks, and read a book. Then I went and stood in the river. I thought of how baptisms happen, sometimes, in rivers. And when I’m there, standing in that particular river, with all of our history swirling around us, I feel baptized over and over again. Not sure by what or who, beyond the river itself.

But it was all it took to make me happy last week.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

At Pettibone Park last Sunday, with my Starbucks and my book.
Sunset of the Mighty Mississippi.
On the La Crosse Queen, a riverboat, for a dinner cruise on the Mississippi. A student took this photo. I spent most of the time on my feet, watching the river.
The bald eagle that nearly flew into me in 2014.