There are a few different inspirations for this post, as I ease my way back into blogging:

1) Olympic Marathoner Shalane Flanagan’s first cookbook just dropped, and it is a reminder that much of what we do as runners/athletes is not just speed work and mileage but how we choose to fuel ourselves;

2) USATF posted an Instagram pic of Olympic long jumper Jeffrey Henderson having his first “cheat meal” in….wait for it…SIX MONTHS, and I can very much relate to that;

3) I have often been asked what I eat from people looking to make a lifestyle change, as I did four years ago, and I thought it might be helpful to some if I write about it now and then; and

4) Writing this down will be a way to generate a resource for myself when I get in a rut about what to make (which occasionally happens when we get rolling with our school year).

I find myself fairly frequently needing to dispel one of two assumptions about what I eat:

A) Well-intentioned friends (and goodness knows, I appreciate people who have my back) and even family have asked via e-mail or in person if I eat enough (I think was more of a concern about two years ago when I hit my race weight target because it was such a change from how I’d been for years, but less a concern now that I am clearly not still losing nor wanting to lose). I have not heard this concern for awhile, and I am glad that those close to me better understand my goals at this point and that I have a deliberate and thoughtful approach/method behind my training/fueling plans.

B) On the contrary it can sometimes be thought that as a runner/swimmer I can eat whatever I want. I wish!! No, no, no if only that were true…Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Alas, definitely not. I eat to honor and fuel my training. Too little and I will never have the power I need to have to be competitive/placement-driven. Too much, and I will never be able to outrun or outswim my fork. I am a calorie counter (the secret to the weight loss for me—when I was losing, I wrote down everything and counted every day). The science of that method works for me, and I can trust it. I still count, a little less formally (I keep a running count in my head versus on paper). Now, it becomes a count more geared toward stabilizing. Some days I am aware of needing to seek out an extra 200-300 cals; but I never really do have “cheat days.” I am always thinking about my next race and where I need to be at.

We’re mostly vegetarian over here. I might talk more about that in another post… Every once in awhile, we have chicken or fish. Katie is a big carnivore, and it is not totally my decision to make for her: if we’re out, she can order the beef if she wants to. I have not had beef since—hmm, it’s getting harder to remember, let’s see—Christmas Eve 2014, when I made a prime rib and Yorkshire pudding and that was that. I craved it quite a bit at first, and now I do not crave beef even a little bit. But why the veggies? Basically, you can eat much more of healthy veggie dishes and feel more full and get more nutrients throughout the day than if you eat dishes that are higher in fat and sugar and so on… There are other reasons that have deepened and extended my desire to stick with that plan, but when I was first retraining my body, the calories/nutrients were the initial reason.

Tonight we had a tortilla espanola:


I served it with white nectarines. Katie likes this very much more than Eric does, but he did pick around avoiding the caramelized onions and at the potato and egg. Katie picked the thyme for us, and Eric scrambled the eggs and parsley to pour over the onions and potatoes.

Here is our general menu plan for this week:

Dinners: tortilla española; baked sweet potatoes with raw coconut, lime, and pomegranate with corn cakes; a curry of some kind—either a green curry with veggies (bok choy, red bell pepper, green beans, mushrooms)…or an apple and chicken curry—going to ask the kids which one they prefer this week); linguine with toasted almonds, parsley, and lemon; black bean bowls with rice, fish (this week), slaw, and an avo-mango-tomato salsa and griddled masa tortillas/masa cakes. I usually serve a salad and/or fruit with the main dishes.

Lunches: We mainly do assembled types of lunches with crackers, cheese, cut and/or roasted veggies, fruit. We make a trail mix about every other week. We also eat leftovers… This week to supplement we’re planning to make a lentil and cashew hummus with baked wheat pitas; caprese kabobs; and a big batch of quinoa or couscous with golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, and grated romano cheese.

*Sometimes I Sunday-prep items. Like today, I made the hummus and the quinoa. The quinoa is my own recipe, and it is really a base: it stands on its own, or that same recipe can become the backdrop for add-ins like roasted Brussels sprouts, or butternut squash, roasted golden or red beets, etc.

Breakfasts: Lots of smoothies, multi-grain protein pancakes/waffles, yogurt with our granola and fruit, eggs, challah or oatmeal bread, cereal, oatmeal…Sometimes I try to make a big batch of muffins to pull out throughout the week—-this morning, Katie helped me make peanut butter and jelly muffins.


These (fairly low sugar) PB & J muffins will be useful to grab this week.

I did not get around to making our weekly bread today. I spent time changing and washing our bedding instead, and I figured that we don’t really need the bread until Tuesday or Wednesday. We were busy this weekend and away almost all of yesterday up near Big Bear for the Green Valley Lake Aquathon:


This was my first swim-run event ever, and it was fun if not challenging at 7200 ft. altitude. I did a photo journal race recap on in my Facebook albums, so I won’t rehash that here. IMG_2130

I was just extremely surprised to place second overall in women and to be the 3rd person to come in. I was 6th woman out of the water (19th person out), which is crazy because I am a passable and dedicated swimmer (about 10K a week, give or take) but not a technically masterful swimmer by any stretch. Still, I made up a bunch of ground on the 5K run.


And I managed to get first in my division, as well. Keep challenging oneself, right?

Anyway, here are some examples of my favorite fuel:


Salad with boiled eggs, avocado, mango, tomato, beans, cilantro yogurt dressing, and Sriracha. I could eat this every day. Sometimes, I do!


Especially kiddo-friendly: homemade edamame dumplings (K and E had fun with that!) in broth with microgreens; Asian style chicken meatballs with hoisin dipping sauce; cinnamon rice pudding balls.


Acai bowl with fruit, homemade granola, chia seeds, and raw unsweetened coconut.  Breakfast! I also eat teff porridge for breakfast often, or bananas with a nut butter, or toast with half a smashed avocado and egg, or a spinach and egg white wrap. Or various other items with big protein hits if I need to replenish.


Some variety: 1) the acai bowl; 2) my first Yule log for Christmas; 3) challah and homemade butter is a favorite for the kids; 4) teaching Katie to make brioche; 5) another breakfast bowl; 6) Valentine’s pancakes for the kids; 7) Good morning, kiddos!; 8) that salad again; 9) Dutch baby for New Year’s Day morning


Sometimes simple is best for my lunch: Cinnamon infused yogurt with fresh figs drizzled with honey


We eat quite a bit of Japanese-inspired cuisine, as well as Indian and Greek.


Fresh summer salad with raw corn, tomato, and tuna with a orange tested vinaigrette.


We go a bit overboard on Halloween, though! (My favorite holiday).


And I still love to bake… I just….can’t so much anymore…not the way I used to. Because I will want to eat it all. So, Katie and I made these pies (mixed berry and apple) to donate to the community breakfast for Thanksgiving this year.


But if I can bake and pawn it off on others, that works for me! As a funny lark, I entered Temecula’s Best Cookie Baker contest around Christmastime this past year….and won. Hungarian butterhorns. Sigh. They are as un-training-friendly as they sound. At Christmas there is a little leeway with the family’s traditional cookies for me, but not much. I am in the midst of half marathon season at that point, trying to drop times and PRs—sugar does not help those goals! Wish it did…


As with anything, food choices are a balance of considerations.It’s been a challenge these past four years figuring out how to cook essentially all over again. I am always learning and trying to research what we need… Going to a heavily plant-based diet with the kiddos took some thinking, and I was super worried at first. I still wonder about it, and that is partly why we haven’t gone full throttle on that score. I also use animal protein now and then if something has become off balance for me. I swear by my mom’s lightened version of chicken alfredo. I’ve PR’d on that meal!

I do drink way too much coffee. The first year, I cut it out entirely and went to tea only. Eh, the coffee habit has snuck back up on me. I do swear by green tea, though. If there is one thing a little off-kilter in my diet right now, especially this summer, it is that I know I should be hydrating MUCH more than I have been. I’ve actually been pretty bad about that the last month or so, and I have started to put some water requirements in place before accessing other drinks.

Because I was such a big foodie before my lifestyle change, I do hesitate to talk much about food—usually only when people ask. Changing my life meant, for me: 1) not watching cooking shows at all for a few years; 2) putting away old cookbooks in favor of new material; 3) not posting much about food socially or looking at food-oriented magazines; 4) trying not to go out to eat. I had to first step away almost completely from my hobby, then relearn how to engage with food-as-medicine-and-fuel, and just the past year or so now I have been a bit more able to phase some of those other elements back in. (The kids and I love to watch chef competitions, I occasionally post what we make/eat if I especially like it, and I am able to hang on in a restaurant (the most challenging places to be, and I’d rather eat at home where I can know exactly what I am eating).

Yet it occurs to me that in having to learn a bunch about healthy food choices these past years, maybe I have some information that could be helpful to others in some way. Who knows? I am still learning, too!

Katie, Eric, and each are keeping a daily journal this year. It’s a prefab journal, with a short prompt every day. You can jump in wherever you are, because the 365 prompts are numbered but not dated. Start on August 2, 2016? You will end a year later. We began ours in June. I am sure there are other journals that do the same thing, but here’s ours on Amazon. It just happened to be what I found.

Yesterday I answered the prompt, “Write three things you would do with a favorite person.” Actually, it said, “Write three things you would do with your favorite person,” but I can’t live life that way—picking favorites, that is, when I think everyone has something beautiful inside to offer the world. As if I have only one favorite, when in fact I have so many favorite people… So I had to cross it out and do a little editing even to begin.

Anyway, here is what I wrote:

“1. Catch up on all of our news this past year, you in your most comfortable yellow chair and I on your couch;

2. Eat tuna fish sandwiches with sweet pickles while the mailman drops off your mail and tennis is on the TV;

3. Wave goodbye to you as we pull out from your driveway, watching you in your garage doorway blowing kisses until we are out of sight.”

We’re a few weeks off from a year this August since you’ve been gone, Nana. I keep wondering when the sadness won’t feel so fresh anymore, the rapids always at the surface of my eyeballs and thick at my throat if I think about how much I miss you for too long.

Too long—or just the space of time in which it takes to write three sentences in a kids’ journal of daily prompts. Eternity, disguised as minutes.

I always suspected, but now know, that I will miss you keenly for the rest of my life.

I won’t begin by stating that it’s been months and months since I’ve used my blog to write anything of substance. Or maybe I will.

And I cannot say that I will write with any regularity after this moment, either. I suppose I felt bogged down by own need to create racing logs and monthly book synopses, realizing at a certain point I could either attempt to keep up or I could allot some of that writing time to other pursuits. As with all of life and its finite time, I had choices to make. Then time just felt too long. Other days, I wanted to write but felt I had absolutely nothing of significance to say. I follow several bloggers who are significant all the time. That’s not me. I am fully open to the reader who says, “Yeah, but who cares?” and passes on.

Yet I find another year (my natural rhythm seems to be to embark on new goals in July, so my personal year is July 1st to July 1st) has just passed, and I have missed public writing a little bit. Or rather, I have missed a space which I am convinced few people read but which gives me the room for just a little bit of a voice. I can never now catch up on a year’s worth of race reports, homeschool months, book synopses, and hikes; so, in this sense, this space feels almost new. I suppose if new readers come to this space, they will have access to all of my archives. Whether the narrative voice in those archives is still fully me with another year of evolution, who can know?

Four Julys ago, I became a runner. We know how this is turning out. That was a physical lifestyle change. Two years ago, I knew that part of returning to my vibrant self post-motherhood was to carve out my life as an avid reader again. Young children had meant a book here and there but with no real plan of attack or direction; and since books and words are as vital to my existence as air (it has often felt), I had to address this off-balance part of my life. So I set a goal to finish at least one chapter book a week, starting in 2014. Since then, I have read 171 books: all of the 2014-2015 set was methodically written up on this blog. I also became a swimmer that year (2014), and as with all three changes I have to say that it helps me to have a tangible, quantifiable goal to pursue. If I have a number, a quantity, an objective, I will prioritize to pursue it. This has turned out to be an average of over one book per week.

I’d like to say I would just be able to get things done, but I know I will procrastinate or get sidetracked unless I have a target or a measurement. It’s unromantic to say “I must read at least one book a week.” No doubt. Very unromantic. But it has also meant when I am mid-way through the week and see how many pages I have remaining, I have to look at my actions and choices when the kids are finally in bed. A target makes me accountable to myself.

The first year I read whatever pleased me. All of the write-ups are here. My only parameter for myself, as always, was to read widely in a variety of genres, mixing up fiction and nonfiction almost if not strictly in an alternating pattern. I read logic, math, science, politics, running books, feminist theory, fiction. I made the discovery—or rather, my friend Steve helped me to discover—Haruki Murakami, now a favorite of my whole life. It was a year of feeling the world completely open again, my mind engaged in ways that refreshed me both for home life and talking with adults. It was a year of feeling in balance again, mind-and-body, and being able to direct that balanced energy into caring for, and teaching, Katie and Eric—as well as entertaining myself and being able to carry on an interesting thought-life with myself when doing the utterly mundane: like folding laundry. Wait. Who are we kidding? I don’t really fold, ever… More like “putting away laundry” and stuffing it in drawers. It is probably bizarre that I would rather iron than fold to begin with.

This year I had a few different rules going in to my reading goals. First, I was going to read mainly whatever I could find at the library, or books I already owned but had never yet read. This was partly to save money, but it was also a ruse by which to force myself into considering books that might not have been on my radar otherwise. Additionally, I was going to seek out actively books that were against any confirmation bias: whatever I might already think about an issue, I was going to read books that challenged my views and presented counterarguments. Finally, I would pursue some of the literary canon I had missed either in high school or college, missed either by circumstance of who taught what or what I had happened to pick up for fun during breaks or not. It’s not possible to read everything, and I had some canonical holes, I felt. Still do…but they are fewer. This later mutated into pursuing works I think will become part of the modern international canon, and I decided at a certain point to start catching up on Man Booker Prize winners. I will have to continue that project into the coming year (now until next July).

I also count all chapter books I read with my kiddos, because I do not make a true line between youth literature and adult literature. Good writing is good writing. Literature is literature no matter the target audience.

So, from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2016:

1. Flora and Ulysses (Kate diCamillo)
2. The Martian (Andy Weir)
3. Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee)—-ugh!
4. Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay)
5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (David Selznik)
6. The Strange Library (Haruki Murakami)
7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)
8. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Mary Roach)
9. Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank (Randi Epstein)
10. 1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think (Raif Badawi)
11. The Story of the World Vol. 2
12. A Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park)
13. The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Jill Lepore)
14. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)—-fell in love with Vonnegut.
15. Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
16. Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder) —all the Wilders are re-reads
17. Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
18. Beloved (Toni Morrison)—one of my favorites now
19. White Noise (Don DeLillo)
20. No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)—also fell in love with McCarthy
21. On the Banks of Plum Creek (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
22. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)—re-read, a favorite
23. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) —re-read, almost yearly
24. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
25. California’s State Parks
26. All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy)
27. Sign of the Beaver (Elizabeth George Speare)—re-read
28. Silent Spring (Rachel Carson)
29. Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball (Haruki Murakami)
30. By the Shores of Silver Lake (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
31. The Crossing (Cormac McCarthy)
32. Find a Way (Diana Nyad)
33. Ben and Me (Robert Lawson)
34. Cities of the Plain (Cormac McCarthy)
35. The Long Winter (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
36. The Quest for the Diamond Sword (Minecraft)—yep
37. Born to Run (Christopher McDougall)
38. The Mystery of the Griefer’s Mark (Minecraft)
39. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)—re-read
40. The Endermen Invasion (Minecraft)—I am a good mom
41. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction
42. And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)—re-read
43. Desert Lore of Southern California (Choral Pepper)
44. Into Thin Air (John Krakauer)
45. Across China (Peter Jenkins)
46. The Longest Trail: Writings on American Indian History, Culture, and Politics (Alvin Josephy)
47. The Mystery of Meerkat Hill (Alexander McCall Smith)
48. Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (Simon Winchester)
49. 140 Great Hikes In and Near Palm Springs (Phillip Ferranti)
50. The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms (Amy Stewart)
51. Akimbo and the Elephants (Alexander McCall Smith)
52. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Eleanor Coerr)
53. Red: A History of the Redhead (Jacky Harvey)
54. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded (Simon Winchester)
55. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami)
56. All the Wild and Lonely Places: Journeys in a Desert Landscape (Lawrence Hogue)
57. Weird California: Your Travel Guide to California’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets—too weird for me!
58. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House (Kate Brower)
59. The Light Between Oceans (M. L. Stedman)
60. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)
61. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)
62. Pedro’s Journal (Pam Conrad)
63. The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
64. Al Capone Does My Shirts (Gennifer Choldenko)—a favorite
65. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning (Lemony Snicket)
66. Soul Surfer (Bethany Hamilton)
67. A Brief History of Seven Killings (Marlon James)—most challenging book this year, Man Booker Prize winner, not at all brief, much in patois, required outside historical research
68. The California Naturalist Handbook
69. Old Yeller (Fred Gipson)
70. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)—re-read
71. Black Star, Bright Dawn (Scott O’Dell)
72. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Daniel James Brown)—made me want to row crew
73. Sing Down the Moon (Scott O’Dell)
74. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Mary Ruefle)
75. Hatchet (Gary Paulsen)—-re-read
76. Game Changer (Douglas Richards)

And that’s that. Instead of bogging my writing down with explaining them all, just know that in person, I LOVE to talk books. I am always on the search for recommendations from others, too. A couple of people recommended #59 to me, and it was one of my favorites this year.

Whatever you do in your life, please do not miss Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Let it affect you and hurt you and change you.

Vonnegut was the voice I had been waiting to find my whole life.

I have many cozy memories of staying up a bit too late devouring McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. One of the most memorable reading experiences of my life.

My wild seat will never make an attempt to climb Mt. Everest. Whatever other trouble I get into, it won’t be up there.

Go Set a Watchman never should have been published.

#64: Proof that some of the best literature in this world is “children’s” lit.

So far, for this next go-round (July 1, 2016 to next July 1st), I have read:

1. Lawn Boy (Gary Paulsen)
2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (e. l. konisberg)—re-read
3. Run the World: My 3500 Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe (Becky Wade)
4. Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)—please read this
5. The Vegetarian (Han Kang)—Man Booker Prize 2016
6. Multiple Choice (Alejandro Zambra)
7. The 13 Clocks (James Thurber)

I finished the last two today (one on my own and one with my road trippin’ family), so I am in that free space of choosing my next book. It is a glorious, free space—but I also always feel the need to know quickly. I usually have a stack or list or know what’s coming, but right now I do not. There’s a Neil Gaiman essay collection I might pursue; there were also some science books recently recommended by Bill Gates. I do need to choose tonight. If possible.

What are you reading right now? Ideas are great!




A couple of weeks into December already? Whoosh! I usually prefer to write up my monthly book lists as close to the 1st of every new month as I can, but this Christmas season has the jump on me. We’ve been Nutcrackering, singing in a parade, baking bread, hitting 50 mile run weeks, swimming, keeping afloat with homeschooling, decorating (I finally finished our outdoor lights a couple of days ago), crafting, and generally trying to put 90 days worth of activity into 30 days. I’ve tried to slow us down a bit this week, refocusing on school, having days without going anywhere except for our exercise.

November seems almost ages ago, and although I enjoyed most of what I read I no doubt will not do any of it justice here. This is going to be quick. I have a small break while Katie works on the next draft of her current essay and Eric has some Lego construction time.

1. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1994)

“So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall.”

2. Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1999)

“Yet it is the narrative that is the life of the dream while the events themselves are often interchangeable. The events of the waking world on the other hand are forced upon us and the narrative is the unguessed axis along which they must be strung.”

I finished up the second and third book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy this month, and I’ve been a bit adrift since. As much as I adore Vonnegut and Murakami, I am left looking to fill a void after these 1000+ pages of both English and untranslated Spanish (putting those ol’ language skills to the test and delighting my brain). It’s true: I’ve been scrounging around for anything to read, aware that nothing is coming close to the experience of these three texts so fresh in my mind.

The epilogue to the last book was, dare I say, on equal footing with The Brothers Karamazov; McCarthy’s language is the marriage of philosophy and literature at its finest.

I finished the last book on Veteran’s Day during a solo outing to a coffee shop, then sat there feeling gobsmacked and changed from the inside out. I had to wait 35 years to find McCarthy’s words, but at last we are united as we always should have been. The Crossing is, as for many people, my favorite of the three. If not now, then at certainly some point in the future, this trilogy needs to be on a person’s “must read” of American literature list. I don’t know of any modern American novelist crafting what McCarthy has created in these postmodern works. They are commentaries on the act of reading, storytelling, and existing—in reality or not—itself.


3. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction)

“These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraphs and kerosene and coal stoves — they’re good to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

We’re almost all of us familiar with this 6th book in the Little House series. Katie and I had read this before, though this was Eric’s first time. It was this text, in fact, which inspired the Button Lamp Disaster of 2010—which left a burned ring on our black kitchen table. Ah, well.

4. Find a Way by Diana Nyad (nonfiction, 2015)
“I have often been asked how I can be an atheist, as someone fully and constantly engaged in life and all its wonders. People often misjudge atheists, think that we are haters lacking reverence, gloomy pessimists absent of hope….I can stand shoulder to shoulder with any devoutly religious person and gasp at the beauty of our physical universe, feel profound love for animal and humankind, live out gratitude for these treasured lives of ours, remain humble to remind myself that I am only one of seven billion people currently sharing this planet Earth, no better or worse than all the rest.”

Nyad’s recent published book about her heroic, improbable, tenacious 110 mile swim from Cuba to Florida so tempted me that I took a hiatus from The Border Trilogy (McCarthy) to read  it. I had been waiting for over half a year for its arrival. Her mind, her will, her utter badassery: she is definitely one of my greatest inspirations, in any sport. She defines in every way what I seek to be not only as an athlete but as a fully engaged, philosophical, completely vital human being. I cannot overstate how much I admire all she represents. Extraordinarily alive. I love her mind, her strong and playful and deep mind. If you are in constant quest to be your absolute best self in all ways, read her book.

Later in the month, I took my daughter Katie to see Nyad speak at Chevalier’s in the Larchmont. Since Chevalier’s is in her neighborhood, she knew many of the people there—her friends already—and those of us whom she did not know, she went out of her way to greet and get to know, as did her best friend and swim handler Bonnie (who also recommended a book to Katie). Of part Greek ethnicity, Diana had stuffed grape leaves and spanakopita served at her reception, and Bonnie had the bookstore play Bob Dylan. Nyad has an exquisite mind and is a masterful speaker: funny, passionate, clear, spellbinding. I was able to ask her about one of the mental processes she mentions in her book about techniques that do not permit doubt to enter her mind before an event. She spoke to Katie a few different times and made her feel included. Rather reluctantly, but spurred on by the more outgoing Diana, Nyad’s other best friend Candace (also a handler and the only woman to accompany her on all five attempts at Cuba) led us ALL in a singing of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” As absolutely compelling as Nyad is, however—and she IS, and I admire her wholly—for me it was Bonnie who captivated me. She is a rock of a woman and one of few words—which, Nyad jokes, is why they get along. You can FEEL the legendary friendship between them, as well as with Candace. Bonnie commands a room—Kate and I watched her help set up for an hour—in a silent, exacting way as no one else does. We understood quickly and palpably, and Nyad fully owns this also, that her achievement is a SHARED achievement. That swim arose from the tenacity of several women, supporting one another. It is my read that they compete on behalf of, not WITH, one another…each one fulfilling a role in the archetypal Hero’s Journey. To see a group of vibrant, confident, compassionate women—human beings—of any age doing what everyone said was impossible to do is to witness a thing of beauty.

5. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by his Good Mouse Amos by Robert Lawson (highly fictionalized semi-biography of Ben Franklin, 1988)

I read this with Katie and Eric as part of Katie’s curriculum. I hate it. I should probably be more professional and measured than that, given my training, but really: I’ve rarely been more glad to be done with a book. I am apparently in the Amazon minority of about 4%, and more than one of those reviews is from a child—probably a couple who may not have even quite understood it/read it all the way. So my review doesn’t bode well for me.

I do understand this book, and I just don’t find it funny or even that entertaining. Whereas some cast it as “delightful” and “educational,” I find Lawson’s Amos character to be nearly intolerable. SO ANNOYING. Considering this history of sentient rodents who help humans (Remy in Ratatouille, Anatole in the award-winning book by Eve Titus/Illus. Paul Galdone, and all the mice in Cinderella), I will say this particular mouse would have been zapped in one of my mouse traps LONG ago.

Too, the author Lawson is WAY too aware of his trope, the language comes across as affected, the liberalities with Franklin’s personality/accomplishments potentially confusing. Why not a nonfiction piece about Franklin in this curriculum? Anyway, Katie’s final project was to write a new episode for the book using the tone of the mouse Amos—she nailed the tone, so that was good.

I will note, however, that Robert Lawson is the illustrator of one of my favorite books, The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf). So, I will try not to hold this against him.

And that’s it. Two pieces of solid literary literature, one nonfiction, a children’s classic, and one I really disliked. I’m a little alarmed that the rate of my reading feels like it has slowed down in November and so far for this month. In fact, this month is looking paltry indeed. I’ve finished one solid, solid new read for me (a nonfiction piece), and a C.S. Lewis classic I’ve read many times in my life (with the kids)…and three modest Minecraft chapter books. If that’s any indication how my book life is going, ha ha!! I picked up a history piece and put it down. So now, I am in the middle of the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction—academic and interesting to a point, but also not exciting me the way I wish something would. The book I look forward to most is the reading Katie and I are doing of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but we aren’t getting as much time per day as I wish for it…and I’ve read it a handful of times already. My friend Jeanne published a wonderful list of recommended books on her Facebook page, and I need the time to get to the library and check some out. Much of my hobby time right now has been spent in other ways this month, so I am feeling scattered with my reading. I spent several days in a row last week reading nothing of my own—which doesn’t feel good. I might need to pick up something light and fun just to keep up with the practice of reading, versus trying to read for content right now. On the other hand, those Minecraft books are pretty light… My discontent with my reading life might come from not having enough heft.

I remember this time of year being challenging in 2014 as well, as far as the book list goes. I should probably cut myself some slack….naaaah. That’s not really how I operate in my life. Ha ha!

Okay, have to go. Essay draft reading time…

Dohp. My title is already too long. Did anyone see that really funny spoof about the marathoner who tells no one about it? Um, yeah: that’s not going on here in this race report.

If you are a runner or even slightly interested in becoming a runner, though, I do promise an exploration of the runner’s mind in this post. I find the mind to be the most important part of the body to train, as well as the most fascinating aspect (to me) about other endurance athletes.

I could talk all day about what I eat (maybe also interesting—and I plan to address this a little bit) and my daily training schedule. (NOT interesting to most people and something I over-post about anyway).

After the Long Beach Half Marathon in October this year, I didn’t have the heart to post much about it other than a collection of photos on Facebook. I consider LB to be my litmus test from year to year; after a PR of 1:29:59 last year on that course, I set new goals and worked all year to achieve them.

And then, I didn’t. 1:31:16. It was good enough that day for a gold medal in my division and 6th place female overall. But it was not a “good” race. I could hardly explain to anyone except my coach-husbanator what my disappointment was there, but he got it. I came in and spent the first half hour crying and mad at myself. All the gold medals in the world—partly a fluke of who else is running that day, or not—don’t palliate an athlete who knows she mentally slipped up.

My body was conditioned—coach and I knew that from my numbers in training. My mind that day was not on point. There were a number of factors that made mental control challenging, and none of them really matter because other runners coped much better, and the responsibility to train my mind well enough to grapple with duress is mine.

The nutshell: Long Beach was hot. Race organizers gave half marathoners the option of starting at 6:00 AM instead of 7:30. The hitch: if you wanted to compete, per USATF rules, you still had to run at 7:30. Okay, fine. The sun shone brutally out there for those of us at 7:30, and we hit a huge challenge down the beach: three miles of thousands of half marathoners and marathoners walking, several abreast. The dodge game took its toll as I struggled to weave and maintain stride length and pace. When I did attempt surges, I felt I needed to shift gears constantly not to take people down.

I also went out way too fast for my abilities over a 13.1 haul. My 5K was 19:19 and my 10K was 40:12, neither of those being PRs. However, the other elite women took those more measuredly and played it smart. I was hurting by the 7th mile and my stomach started to feel sick. I also deviated from my norm and sucked down a gel. That proved to be not a good plan (I never take anything usually), and my throat stuck the rest of the way.

Long Beach this year showed me what it is like not to race smart.


Even at the Expo, I was feeling so nervous and not in much of a Zen state

Smiling, but those who know me well can tell that my eyes are troubled with being hard on myself… Would rather have raced well than have a gold medal, any day.

I had also been putting an ENORMOUS amount of pressure and expectation on myself. I didn’t enjoy anything the night before about being there; all I could think of was my fear of not making my goals and making it to the end and being done. (This latter part is especially key). Stress, stress, stress and adrenaline-ville. Even the night before, I was not in charge of my mind.

It has taken weeks to shake off my annoyance at myself. Miles in the pool I have spent thinking about where and how I went wrong. I’ve had to forgive myself and then decide to dig down again. I’ve spent the past weeks continuing with physical training, but also mentally training.

What is the one thing that is always in my back pocket? What is my strength as a human being? It is the capacity to feel everything—negative emotions, too—and convert it into joy. To adapt. I can run like a nervous stress-case intent on that last mile, or I can run like me…open and feeling, in the moment. I am good at being present. I can say, “Okay, I might fail here…but I am going to live it the heck up while failing.” And be a little less afraid. The opposite of stress and self-fixation is an openness and receptiveness to everyone and everything around us. Take what comes; see it; feel it; go with it.

So I immersed myself in the arts, the conduit of feeling. Bill and I saw the Foo Fighters, a favorite of mine; Katie and I went on a birthday-girl date to see Phantom of the Opera. I took the kiddos to a ballet set to Le Carnaval des Animaux. I read Diana Nyad’s new and inspiring book Find a Way; last weekend Katie and I went to Larchmont Village in L.A. to see her speak and to attend a signing. I started and got mostly through McDougall’s Born to Run and focused on what he has to say about running with purity of intent. I’ve thrown myself into our homeschooling and tried to gobble up all the extra cuddle time I could have with my Katie and Eric—a source of pure joy, to be sure. I’ve savored my husband.

On a whim, I signed up for a local 5K Turkey Trot last weekend, having little time performance or placement expectation other than to race it competitively and just have fun doing so. (I need a whole blog to explain how my view about competing has changed since August, in no small part thanks to the coaching of my friend Michelle, a women’s volleyball coach—I absolutely think now that competing with others in the field and not *just* myself has a place and a role that is extremely helpful and even pure of spirit). I ended up winning it, in 19:29, and taking home the grand prize: an 18-20 pound fresh wild turkey. Although I am not a big meat eater and although I initially looked for a place to donate it (couldn’t find one taking a fresh turkey), I ended up cooking it and holding a pre-Thanksgiving with my family. I’ve powered up all week on that animal protein, and I’ve been tickled about what a good narrative it makes with respect to today’s USA Half Marathon race.


This odd/unique/appropriate prize filled me with mirth all on its own.


Pre-Thanksgiving prep with my family, a sure source of joy


Katie and Eric peel and core the apples for our apple pie


We made a full feast, and my mom brought the sweet potatoes, jello, and oatmeal rolls. We’ve been fueling on this all week—and by this, I mean both the food itself and the festive love here.

So it’s been a journey—a purposeful, intent journey—the past few weeks since Long Beach. And I have had to remind myself that if we can fall down, fail, fail publicly, take ownership of where we went wrong, and then get the heck back up with just as much optimism and gusto, then we are stronger people for it in the end.

Some pictures of the last few weeks:


Foo Fighters date night with my Oneness, the best coach and husband and best friend in the world for me

Ready for the ballet

Mommy-Katie date to see Diana Nyad: first stop, Salt & Straw for a taste of Portland and to try their special Thanksgiving flavors!

This athlete is SUCH an amazing human being and inspiration to me. I got to ask her how she keeps the doubt out of her mind during an event, and she told me that she trusts her training…and that, at all costs, it will not be her lack of will that doesn’t make it. There may be external factors, but she can trust herself. Wow, was that ever on my mind today. I also found motivation in her friendship with Bonnie and in Bonnie (who was there—this is Nyad’s neighborhood, and many of her friends were there) who is a ROCK of a woman. I pictured Bonnie today at one point, when the going got rough. “Find a way” and “Onward” are efficient mantras. Yes: do not give up…find a way. Find it. Seeing her last Sunday definitely helped orient my head toward a good place.


We saw Phantom of the Opera (a favorite of mine, I’ve seen it four times and know the score by heart) together for the first time in October at the San Diego Civic Theater—a block away from where I started the race today! And, this is the 20th year anniversary of the first showing that came to San Diego, which was the first showing I saw with my mom back in December of 1995. I display that ticket stub in my room.


Life is best when we help others. Whatever individual success we have starts with a humanistic love for the members of our species and the other life around us. After their pediatric appointment this week, Katie and Eric helped to shop for a local canned food drive.


But, for that matter: our appointment had some hard news. Katie has a potential (serious) condition that requires us to see a ped ophth as soon as we can. I was in a state on Thursday. There was no way to shut out those negative feelings or get them fully compartmentalized in time for this race…so I chose to feel them today, and funnily enough, they came online right at the most difficult moment of physical transition (between mile 10 and 11 for me, always). I sat inside of them, let them power my core. Whatever my children face, I have to be my strongest for them. That knowledge began my running/lifestyle journey three years ago, and it is more true than ever. We don’t run well by shutting out parts of ourselves. I only run my best when EVERY emotion is given weight, and I let my core feel deeply. So when I say I run with joy, I don’t mean I run pretending the world is hunky-dory; joy does not come, in my experience, from life being perfect. Just the opposite. (Maybe that philosophy needs its own blog entry, too)!

So today was the USA Invitational Half Marathon, Meb’s brother’s race, down in San Diego. Because all the entrants needed to submit a qualifying time, the field stacked with speed. It was won in 1:07….so that tells you something. I am doing three half marathons in three months, working on my half marathon performance. Pros rebound to race pace faster than I do, so this is new territory for me. My favorite distance is 10K, but I have unfinished business here.

We started near the concourse, ran up to the park (and by up, I mean like four miles of rolling UP), then down to the bayfront and along the airport and back almost to the Star of India.

After a year or more of training, trying, falling short, and getting back to work, I finally achieved a 1:26:46. Third place woman in my age group, 11th out of 1316 females, 80th out of 2435. The female winner raced with me—and won—Butte to Butte in Oregon this past 4th of July! How cool is that? I recognized her, and it brought back memories of one of my favorite places and family trips.

I held my pace steady at about 6:38. I used the hills in the first four miles to entertain myself and compete with men while attending to not going too off my pace. I love to play the pick-em-off-on-hills game, which I used during the Turkey Trot.

By the 10K, I was out of hills to play on and knew I needed to make sure I settled into keeping my mind focused on the middle part. My mind can wander. Indeed, it did start to have the barest fantasy of being at the finish line. Too soon for that! I have found that anticipating the finish line 7 miles out is a kiss of death. My body cannot receive signals of being done. I got my mind off of that quickly, reminding myself to run the mile I am in, savor the day, take in the sights, feel the joy of moving my legs.

I came upon some more men and started using my “I had two babies pain-med-free!!!!” line of thinking. If I can do that for eight hours, I can certainly bear with a little 13.1 miles. When I started feeling my stomach turn at mile 8 or so, I thought, Heck, that’s just like when I vomited during transition during labor. If I vomit, I will not lose my stride. It will take more than that. Do not fear it this time. (I did not vomit).
Approaching the line of sight for Tom Hams Lighthouse, a restaurant in San Diego, I thought of my sweet Eric. Bill and I went on a date there before seeing Crosby Stills and Nash the year before Eric was born. It was at that restaurant that we decided to make him (well, er, not at the restaurant—you know what I mean). Channeling my love for husband and children is powerful indeed, because my love for them all is beyond…beyond…

At one point, I chanted “Find a way! Find it! Find it!” Those miles after 10 are awfully exacting. I took nothing to eat on course this time, but did get a sip of Gatorade and water. For the first time ever, I didn’t fall off my pace and start to die on the half. In fact, I was able to get faster.

Probably creeping out everyone around me, I also roared and grunted and barbaric yawped. Growling. It’s like labor; it’s hard. The pain is helped when I let it out. If I can hear my voice being fierce, I can will my mind to keep going. I don’t care what other people think—and in that way, I run vulnerably. So what if making noise is embarrassing? Who else is out there to motivate me but myself? I also told myself out loud, “Get going!!!” and “FIGHT!” I did none of this in Long Beach. But folks, running isn’t pretty. Why pretend? It hurts like heck, if you want nothing left when you cross—and I don’t. I want to know I spent it all.

Also, and my band people will appreciate this: I have been doing some speed work on the track when the HS band practices lately. I developed a trick of matching my footfalls in a certain rhythm to their faster counts of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Bill has not known about this, but I thought I might be able to use it as a tool if I needed to. Indeed. Three separate times, as my mind began to wander off my legs, I started counting eight counts in repeat to pull my focus back. It totally worked to help keep my pace. Once back in focus, I could use other tools.

Most of all, I summoned the memories I have of San Diego, took intentional joy in the beauty of the day, thought about how there will come a time in my life when I can’t run like this—so just enjoy it. Enjoy this, enjoy this. I used my trick: when I hit mile 7, I told myself, oh no, I am halfway done, that’s less time to explore out here, casting it as a fun adventure that would be over too soon and that I didn’t want to end, instead of as a trial. I played games like, “Hm, I wonder where I will be by mile 9 and what I’ll see?” and “You get to start the day with a great run” and “This is the longest you’ve ever held on to this pace—why not see if you can hold on to it a little bit more?” I did not let myself think about my finish time; I did not add up in my head what I was doing. I just chose to think, “Well, I am having fun out here. I know I am doing my best. Whatever happens is going to happen. I am mentally present, and I cannot ask for more. I will be surprised. Just see how long you can hold this. Do another mile.”

5:00 AM this morning, heading toward the staging area… I was calm. In fact, part of me wanted to worry about WHY I was so calm, but I partly knew it was because I was ready. I did not guess ahead or skip ahead to the end in my mind, but I knew I trusted my will. I knew I had done mental prep work since LB. I knew there is no harm in trying, and better to try than to give up.

I was calm last night, too, eerily so. But intentionally, too. I had not enjoyed my night out in LB—and I am with my husband of all people! I want to be outside of my own pressure and self enough to savor him. So I really enjoyed him. I took pictures of the city, what I found beautiful. I let myself BE there, instead of thinking about the next day. Be present. We went to Sorrento’s in Little Italy. I had a kale, goat cheese, orange, and walnut salad and cacio y pepe. The pasta dish was DELICIOUS, but I ate only 1/4 and made myself quit. I ate almost all the salad. In LB, I overate carbs by a large degree—I swear by not doing that, but I wasn’t in total control of my race in LB, starting the night before. I love to run on veggies.  Lots of protein during the week, though, while training.

Cool division trophy! What’s wild is that on Tuesday and Wednesday I was SO run down. My runs both days were nonsense, I was exhausted, I had a developing sore throat, and a 99.4 fever. So I cut out morning running, slept in a bit, diddled with some mileage in the afternoon, worked on tea and nutrition…and kicked whatever it was away by Thursday. I’ve been worried all week! But I felt great yesterday, though. That was a bullet dodged, I guess.

After the race, we enjoyed our hotel room together. Here is the view from the balcony, overlooking the race ending point and the bay. I kept thinking about how much Eric would like all the ships, and I loved watching the planes come in.


And in contrast to the LB Half picture post-finish, here is a candid Bill snapped when I didn’t know it. I am smiling and crying tears of happy joy. There is nothing in the world like trying and working, working, working for a goal for a long time and finally seeing it come to fruition. Today was easily one of the highs of my entire life. Always dream big, and back it up with the work, however long and however much it takes. Keep going, and never give up.

The world is open. We can become whom we want to be. There was a day not long ago (like 2012) at all when I was 62 pounds overweight and could not run a single mile, not even close. And it really isn’t about the weight loss, this message, at all. Whatever it is that you want to become, it is out there and waiting for you. I had gotten myself pretty stuck three years ago, but we are never stuck. We can claw, fight, love, search, and work our way out. We can. You can.

Dream big. Dream bigger than you think you can dare.

Happy October to All!

McGaugh Family at the Peltzer pumpkin farm, October 28, 2015: Locutus of Borg, Steve, Belle, and Little Red.

Fulfilling my lifelong wish of going as “through the town” Belle this year for Halloween, I am excited to portray a character whose love and voracity for reading are so close to my own. Bill, as Locutus of Borg, is my modern sci fi Beast this year; one of our deepest personal connections in our real life marriage has been our utter love of reading widely across genre and discussing the ideas and philosophies in that reading together.

What’s in Belle’s basket?


I have been joking that I am Post-Modern Belle this year. If I had started on my costume earlier, I could have updated her look a bit to reflect a modern sensibility. What would steampunk, sci fi Belle look like?


As it was, I spent nothing new on my costume, which is comprised of: my mom’s old, passed-on dress which had a square neck but which I changed here; my white beach cover up peasant blouse; my long sleeve white t-shirt tied by its arms to make an apron; and my Mock Trial competition shoes, which are currently 18-years-old. Waste not, want not, right?

October has been busy! I am NOT a fan of the phrases like, “I am too busy for such-and-such.” I hear this quite a bit with respect to exercise, though my favorite comes from my friend Lisa, a knitter. She was once told in a bank by the teller who saw Lisa’s knitting that, “I just don’t have time for that.” Well, excuse me. Let me put your hobby/passion down as being unimportant AND give pap at the same time.

Anyway, we all have the same hours in a day and how we allot that time is some magic alchemy of duty, choice, sacrifice, exhaustion, and above all, prioritizing. Time management helps, but sometimes we have to choose one love over another. This month, partway through, I put down my books for almost a week leading up to the Long Beach Half Marathon, choosing to focus extra time on that passion. We’ve also enjoyed multiple trips to a couple different pumpkin patches, hikes, a Foo Fighters concert (Bill and me), a trip to the San Diego Civic Theater (Kate and me) to see Phantom of the Opera, San Diego Ballet’s performance of Le Carnaval des Animaux (Kate, Eric, and me), and quite a bit else. Not to mention the many full days we are putting in homeschooling… Both children’s soccer schedules have kept me hoppin’, and I have been completing full weeks of running and swimming.

So even though I wish I could create a second self to read ALL the time and transmit that knowledge and pleasure into my original self’s brain, I have to take what I can get.

I enjoyed seven books this month, and they were all over the place in terms of genre. I am deeply involved in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy at this point, having finished two of the three novels this month. I want to finish the third and then move onto Diana Nyad’s book, for which I have been waiting for at least half a year.

Therefore, I’d better buzz as quickly as possible through this little blog recap, so that I have just a wee bit more time before the two soccer games this morning to start Cities of the Plain.

The October Seven:

1. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1992)

“It was always himself the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily.” 

Two young men, full of romantic ideals about a dying way of American life, search out the rugged west in Mexico. Once they cross the border in this coming of age story, though, they realize that idealism must often yield payment in blood and loss. This is a book about the cowboy spirit, one I find not limited to the male experience as I, too, feel the wanderlust and hard-working, romantic ideal alive and well in myself…especially at this phase in my life. McCarthy’s novels have entwined themselves into our hikes through Anza-Borrego SP and beyond, through our homeschool studies of Native American life and our focus this month on freshly made masa tortillas and southwest dinners most nights this month. Characters in McCarthy novels are always sharing food as a way of offering a counterpoint to a harsh and unforgiving world. I’ve been reading about the species in the natural world McCarthy describes, often seeing them up close as my children and I have adventures in this world. The Border Trilogy—all about the symbolic lines we cross as we create ourselves—is, in my opinion must-read literature.


Reading All the Pretty Horses around the campfire at Manker Flats on Mt. Baldy, after hiking with my sister-in-love Ashley and the kiddos up to the Ski Hut.

2. California State Parks: A Day Hiker’s Guide by John McKinney (nonfiction, 2005)

In truth, this was only one of the many guide books I’ve been reading and research online I’ve been doing this month as I plan adventures and learning opportunities for Katie and Eric and myself. So when I wonder why I didn’t get more books read this month, I realize I need to remember how many reading hours were put into this type of research. It’s been substantial, something I can do after the kids are in bed at night. I used one of my Tuesday-the-kids-are-in-enrichment-so-I-have-two-hours-at-the-library time and dedicated that to perusing. This guide I actually finished, and I hope to own a copy soon.


I need to check the Muir back out last month—I did not end up getting to it this time.

3. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (historical—kinda—fiction, 1983)

“Bring white boy bird and rabbit. White boy teach Attean white man’s signs.”

This is the second time I’ve this book; this time Eric joined us, as this was one of Katie’s literature pieces. The basic (trite) plot is this: Matt and his father move to settle the wilderness (that would become Maine) in 1763. Matt’s father then departs to get the rest of the family from Massachusetts, leaving teenager Matt alone to guard the cabin. He falls on hard times, makes friends with the Native Americans, and learns to survive.

I just cannot bring myself to like this book, despite how solidly it seems to be ensconced on children’s lit lists. Not only do I find the hackneyed plot a bore, but the way Speare writes the Native Americans offends me. I am not the only one to recognize this; I later researched to discover if other scholars feel the same way. It has almost no modern sensibility, to me. Every page has the feel of some white woman writing caricature. Even in the quote above, this is the stereotypical characterization of Native American speech patterns. She gives the word “squaw” to the mouths of these Native Americans; this word is highly problematic, and if you want to see how a single word can inspire controversy, research the debate about it…

Not my favorite, but I took every opportunity to discuss the effects of the settlement movement on the Native American population. We asked difficult questions while reading. As with any material, the discussion is the key to its value.

4. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (nonfiction, environmental science, 1962)

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will ensure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

“How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Years ago one of my most precocious and rebellious AP students—who could write a “9” level paper on any subject, by the way, despite being expelled from various campuses—carried around Rachel Carson for days, and he recommended I read this book. He was right. Both dated and yet still so relevant, this jeremiad rocked the pesticide industry and machine after its publication.

Carson clearly believes in inspiring a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty around us in order to get us to care. I did appreciate her somewhat moderate approach: she does allow that there is a tricky balance in preventing pest-borne diseases and letting nature run its own courses. She rejects the western religious idea that nature was created to be subordinate to man—an idea that, I, too, think needs to be absolutely jettisoned from our cultural viewpoint. We are PART of nature, and, as the species with perhaps the greatest awareness of the future, we are also the natural stewards of this nature. Human arrogance cannot end soon enough.

5. Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (fiction, August 2015 English trans.)

“We fell silent again. What we shared was no more than a fragment of a time long dead. Yet memories remained, warm memories that remained with me like light from the past. And I would carry those lights in the brief interval before death grabbed me and tossed me back into the crucible of nothingness.”

This book really is two books—novellas—in one. Both were originally published in Japanese in 1979 and 1980, respectively; the first he wrote as an entry for a competition after a mythic moment in which he was at a baseball game and had a vision of sorts that he would become a writer in later life. (Up until that time, he has spent his 20s opening, owning, and operating bars). Reading the press lead up to this release, one understands that Murakami is as aware of creating his own myth as he is of his stories. Visions, birds, serendipity, music, fate—these are themes and motifs in his fiction works, as well.

I’d been waiting and waiting for this release, which had been out of print for more than 30 years: How would an author’s earlier works inform my reading of his later works? After the dastardly disaster that was Go Set a Watchman this summer, you’d think I might be more gun shy of such a thing.

Delightful. A must for hardcore Murakami fans, of which I am one. Even from so early on, though 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are, to me, so much more literary, the nascent Murakami wasn’t so newborn. Here was an author already well developed. In the foreword, I relished his description of his writing process for these (writing in a second language, for example, to force himself to pare down his wordiness). And wells definitely make an appearance!

Even better: our little local library had a new copy!! I had already checked out my books that day when I saw in on the newly released shelf. I scooped it up and checked out again!


Happiness one morning after a run and a swim

6. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1994)

“There is but one world and everything that is imaginable is necessary to it. For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but is a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these are also the selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them. So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall. And those seams that are hid from us are of course in the tale itself and the tale has no abode or place of beind except in the telling only and there it lives and makes its home and therefore we can never be done with the telling. Of the telling there is no end. And . . . in whatever . . . place by whatever . . . name or by no name at all . . . all tales are one. Rightly heard all tales are one.”

Young Billy Parham crosses from the United States into Mexico border three times in this novel, each time building thematically on the time before. This is a book about how tales and the stories we tell ourselves take mythic shape. McCarthy’s prose captivates me. A good portion of the book is in untranslated Spanish, interspersed with English. Grateful for my background there.

There is a torturous beauty in the desolate landscapes he writes. There are stories-within-the-story. McCarthy’s work descends from classics like The Odyssey. I am head over heels. McCarthy, Murakami, and Vonnegut are perhaps my favorite authors of all time.


Reading The Crossing after taking my children to the ballet last weekend

I wish I had read more this month, but it’s not a bad list, all told. I am savoring what I have been reading. Staying up too late. Sneaking in bits and pieces here and there.

7. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction, 1939)

“We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”

One of my least favorite of the series, this one is a bit darker than the others. But I love the cuddle time with my two babies. We are now on The Long Winter...

And here is a sample from ONE week of items I read with my children:

IMG_6343 IMG_6340

So, imagine four weeks of stacks like these! We try to read quite a bit!

Happy Halloween to all. And Happy Reading in November!

Tucked away in my cedar hope chest at the foot of my bed, a gift from Nana when I turned sixteen, amid old journals, first shoes, family heirlooms, and the white blanket in which I wrapped my children on our way from the hospital is an envelope with Eric’s first piece of cut baby hair. Auburn and silky and lovely. A treasure for a mother.

This is completely morbid, yet I own it: because Katie never had a first hair cut, I saved a ball of hair from her comb, thinking that if something ever happened to her, at least I would have that to cry over. Mothers are weird. We want our children to grow up, and we don’t. We want them to go the heck to sleep, and then we stand peering over their angelic faces instead of getting our own hobbies done. We want them to know how to wash their own hair, and then every once in awhile just for old time’s sake, we sit on the toilet and do it for them. With certainty I don’t want more children, but I would love to hold them as newborns one more time. I want to be sometimes needed, but I also want to be not needed at all. The motherhood game is one of holding close and letting go at the same time, a duality we learn to inhabit because we must.

So I have had a ball of Katie’s snarled hair stashed away, for a rainy day. If you think that’s quirky, you really should get to know me. Got more up my sleeve there, I’m sure.

By the time Katie was three, she was adamant about not ever cutting her hair. I saw two sisters get the cutest bobs in our Music Together class and was smitten with all the ways we could style Katie’s golden locks if we cut them, but she did not want to. I love her as she is, and I believed she should have a say about her own hair.

Age four, five, six, and seven… It became a bit of thing for her. “I never want to cut my hair, Mama!” Okay, fine by me. Her hair did need it: she went through a period of hair chewing for awhile, and it got a bit scraggly at the ends. She doesn’t do that anymore, but some of the effects remained.

Last year I learned a bunch of braids, other than my standard French. We had fun with that, but she has a sensitive scalp and after awhile she really wanted me to stop yanking the hair to make the braids compulsively straight and even. Sorry, kid. I hear ya. Moms and daughters in the bathroom getting ready would make an interesting coffee table book.

It became a refrain even without being asked: “Mama, I never want to cut my hair. I’ve never cut it. I don’t think I could ever cut it.” I heard in those words: because I have never done it, now I don’t feel I can. Still I said nothing, other than that I loved her hair as it is, that I would help her if she ever changed her mind, and that it is her hair to decide about. In my assessment, though, I felt like part of her decision was based more on precedent and habit than on total desire.

This summer during a (terribly hot, what were we thinking?) hike up Dripping Springs in late July, Katie talked about “What if I cut my hair very short and dyed it?” and “I really like Amie’s hair and wish my hair could be short.” She went over and over it. Although I let her know that we don’t do dye at her age (heck, I’ve never even done a permanent dye—just hair chalks–on my hair and I am 35), I told her that if she thought about it for a week and still wanted a cut, we would do it.


(Dripping Springs hike, right before we started a descent and Katie started musing about her hair)

After a week, she said she didn’t want to cut it. I kind of sensed maybe not.

Which brings us to today. We were getting ready to go to the local pumpkin patch and she asked, “Mama, do you think you could trim the damaged ends off the bottom of my hair?” Her voice had a hopefulness in the timbre.

I got my sewing scissors. Baby’s first hair cut.

She wanted more than a trim, but not much more. So we evened up and shortened it just a little. She said that maybe if she wanted, could we cut more in a couple of days? I agreed, but told her to get used to this first.

I was about to put the scissors away when she asked, “Mama, what about bangs?” as she pulled some hair over her eyes.

My mom has bangs, and Katie loves Amie completely. Her piano teacher also just got bangs, and looks beautiful in them. They’ve been on her mind.

We fiddled with her hair a bit and I determined whether or not I could pull off a convincing bang-cutting. I thought maybe I could, if I tried. We folded her hair up and tried to see what it would be like. She was eager… I could feel her readiness to shape herself, her glimpse of freedom. After a second of pondering whether she would be in better hands if I made her an appointment somewhere, I thought, this is my child asking for her freedom right now. It’s my job to help her. And I cut.

You should have heard the joy that went up. “I cut my hair! I cut my hair! I love it, Mama, I love it!”

“Isn’t it nice to know you can cut it and that it is okay? You look beautiful,” I said. “Don’t you love knowing you can cut it? You are not kept back by never having cut it before. You are free from that,” I said.


She loves it. She has said many times how glad she is that she has done this. You get the sense that, when she talks, she not only likes how she looks and that she chose it, but that some burden has been lifted from her.

There are many kinds of prisons in life. Most, I think, we fashion ourselves, brick by brick. We think of ourselves in one dimension only, we tell ourselves untruths about what we can do and what we cannot do. Sometimes we give ourselves over to groups or institutions that whittle away at our sense of self. We might hear from well-intentioned teachers or mentors that we shine in a certain area, with the implication that because we are good at one thing we must not be good at some other discipline. Girls don’t play with Legos; boys never wear a princess dress for dress-up. We are nerds, not athletes. We are this party, that party, label, label, label. We fit the gender stereotypes. We think only part of life is meant for us.

All of life is meant for us. Whatever part we seek. Free yourself. Katie, free yourself. There are no limits and rules on what you can do, or be. You can cut your hair. Just because you never have, doesn’t mean you never can. Do not be afraid.


Do not be afraid. Rebel against any and all parts of yourself that keep you glued in an inert place. The main biological mechanism of life is to adapt and survive. Life is about changing and becoming as strong a force as you can be, for the good.

I thought later that we often think of parents, or mothers, as guides, cheerleaders, four-star generals, clowns, maids, and everything all in one. This morning, however, I found my favorite role yet: the rebel. It was an honor to be the one to give Katie that first haircut, that step toward her independence.

If I can teach my daughter how to be in a constant state of rebellion against the fears and patterns that hold her back, I will have done my job.

Katie: question everything that anyone ever tells you, especially if it comes from me. Cut your hair. Read everything you can. Offend yourself. Try something overwhelmingly new. Be a novice. Listen to music that makes people hold their ears. Be smart, be safe, be curious, be demanding in your philosophies. Do not conform unless your eyes are open to your choice. And remember:

“You cannot wake a man who is pretending to be asleep.”   -Navajo Proverb

As I sit to write this, my fingers feel rusty and can barely usher the words out. I often feel as though words flow from some inner source right through my hands, as long as I take myself out of their way. This morning, for want of writing much, that pipeline appears dreadfully rusty. My brain is trying too hard to intervene, instead of just being the conduit.

At some moment late in August, after my Nana passed, I found a need to return to bound paper books. The heft and feel in my hands, the scent of the page: these are the healers, along with Nature. On a whim, I also decided to make a challenge for myself that I would purchase no new books for an indefinite period, at least a month. Or more. (Diana Nyad’s book comes out this month, and I might have to make an exception). I’d read only what I already owned, or better still, I would savor the stacks of the library again.

I don’t think my Kindle is even charged at this point.

That crinkle of protective plastic on the library hardbacks is a music that soothes my mind.

So in addition to Rule 1 (Do not buy any new books), I also decided upon a second parameter: Rule 2: Augment your knowledge of the postmodern cannon.

I’ve read decently widely, but I am thinking in particular of those free response lists on the AP English exams. I also need to catch up on some of my Man Booker Prize winners as of late.

Last year I had an obsessive interest with nonfiction and still do, but it occurred to me that I’ve let quite a bit of canonical fiction remained unexplored.

At any rate, here is my reading list for September:

1. Beloved by Toni Morrison (fiction, 1987)

“Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. And though she and others lived through and got over it, she could never let it happen to her own. The best things she was, was her children. Whites might dirty her all right, but not her best thing, her beautiful, magical best thing — the part of her that was clean.”

Here’s a novel to rend a person into a thousand pieces. Can’t believe I didn’t read it until now; probably couldn’t have begun to receive all it offers if I had. 316 brutally heartbreaking pages. Any discussion, or attempts at disavowal, of the history of slavery and racism in these United States ought to begin with this novel as required reading.

This may be one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read in many ways and now, also, one of my favorites. Between this book and the research we’ve been doing above and beyond that required for Katie’s Native American unit, I am looking more critically than ever at the truth that much of our country was settled on the backs and blood of slaves, as well as the massacre of thousands of natives. These are facts that we know—if we’re able to extract them from the way American history is typically presented/taught in this country’s public school system—yet I have to say that in my mid-30s, everything is much more personal to me now. These narratives shape my perception of current policy and politics, to be sure.

2. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction, 1935)

“There’s no great loss without some small gain.”

We have continued on with the series because Eric has been begging us to! These are the first chapter books with which Eric has truly connected. Although Katie and I have read them before, what we’re doing with them now will be a family memory for the rest of our lives. We’ve been taking all the Little House books with us on our hikes and adventures. We’ve been reading them everywhere and making deliberate, calculated memories of cozy reading. From Mount Palomar to Idyllwild to the Santa Rosa Plateau (where we finished Little House on the Prairie early one morning, by the old adobe house), we’ve tried to forge a connection between the words and the natural world around us. We’ve also been cooking pioneer recipes, making button strings, and dressing up.

3. White Noise by Don DeLillo (fiction, 1985)

“Isn’t death the boundary we need? Doesn’t it give a precious texture to life, a sense of definition? You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry of a final line, a border or limit.”
It’s completely possible to love a book for intellectual reasons and not personal ones, and Don DeLillo’s _White Noise_ (1985) reaffirms this to me. In my quest this year to augment substantially my knowledge of the postmodern canon, DeLillo is essential. Parts I found totally brilliant; however, there is none of the laughter at it all that I find in Vonnegut, nor the playfulness of Murakami. Pleasurable? Prose often excellent and so many many moments of practically cooing out loud “Ooooh, look what he did there!!” with respect to literary analysis. Richard Powers’ forward tickled my mind. You have to be careful with postmodern works, though. Hold them at a remove; otherwise they can become unbearable and existentially critical. Some of the reading experience was painful with this one: probably the point.

I did not enjoy this book as a personal balm. My favorite character was Heinrich, an awkward yet brilliant 14-year-old son of the main character. As a thought exercise? I would have loved to discuss this one with some of my favorite thinkers.

4. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 2005)

“How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?”

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” 

““If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”

“He shook his head. You’re asking that I make myself vulnerable and that I can never do. I have only one way to live. It doesn’t allow for special cases. A coin toss perhaps. In this case to small purpose. Most people don’t believe that there can be such a person. You see what a problem that must be for them. How to prevail over that which you refuse to acknowledge the existence of. Do you understand? When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That there could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way. You’re asking that I second say the world. Do you see?

Yes, she said sobbing. I do. I truly do.

Good, he said. That’s good. Then he shot her.”

My friend Karen M. recommended McCarthy to me after reading my Facebook posts about Vonnegut. I don’t know how it is possible to fall in love so often and so hard all the time with words and new authors. Every month I claim to have a new favorite. Richard Powers! Murakami! Vonnegut!


People are going to stop taking my claims seriously. Perhaps “favorite” does not work as a term anymore!

Powers, Murakami, Vonnegut, and McCarthy all meditate on same kinds of heavy themes: chaos, redemption, luck, destiny, and so on. I could eat these ideas up all day.

Cormac McCarthy’s oeuvre is my newest obsession of the mind. Anton Chigurh may be my favorite “villain” ever written. Where have I been?


5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (post apocalyptic fiction, 2006)

“Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”

This novel haunts me in all the best ways. Couldn’t help but think of the father leading the son as I am leading my children up and around Mt. Baldy to the Ski Hut, or through Doane Valley on Palomar.

Because McCarthy allows breathing room in his words for events to unfold slowly, the reader takes the invitation to think in the spaces. Quite quickly in this book, the reader should become aware that the road is of course the trajectory of our own lives. If we aren’t asking, “What makes life worth living?” within the first couple dozen pages, we are missing the point. Just because the world in this book has been decimated, it is not that much different from our own: we may say there is hope for our future generations because we are not yet on the brink of annihilation…but we WILL be. Even if we human beings do not undo ourselves, surely the Sun is going to wipe us out at some point. Now, we could take the Neal Stephenson Seveneves route; and I hope we do. We need to be figuring out as a species how to get our genetic information dispersed into space.

But the point McCarthy makes—or doesn’t make, and allows us to realize—is that in some ways we go on living our lives as a sort of McGuffin exercise: what is it we’re carrying and why? For the characters in this book, they “carry the fire” inside of them. They carry the good, or so they say. This epic journey shows us parts of humanity in all its forms. These characters purport to be good, but are they? McCarthy also offers room to meditate on altruism, selfishness, and survival.

I loved this novel.


6. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction, 1937)

“One morning the whole world was delicately silvered. Every blade of grass was silvery and the path had a thin sheen…. When the sun came up, the whole prairie sparkled. Millions of tiny, tiny sparks of color blazed on the grasses.”

This happened to be the first of the series I ever read as a child, so I came to them a bit out of order. Plum Creek always was a favorite of mine. Katie, Eric, and I made many good reading memories together with this one in September, including taking it with us to Idyllwild one day.


As we roll into October, I just finished another McCarthy book this morning, and I have been reading up on state and national parks, as well as botany books. I might pause the Border Trilogy for a week or so and try to finish Carson’s Silent Spring, which has been on my reading list for years.

Happy reading to everyone! (I might try to be better about updating my blog this month, too, although I am finding my days packed with all kinds of shenanigans at the moment)!


I have been reading in the library every Tuesday during Katie and Eric’s enrichment classes (choir and art) for two hours. It is paradise. Give me a library for my mind and flowers for my hair above all the material objects anyone could possess.


We spent much of August organizing the house and updating some spaces in anticipation of a new school year. We made space on the fridge for all of my magnetic poetry, which includes a Shakespeare set. We live surrounded by words in this house. There are books everywhere we turn. Our children can hardly turn a corner without running into stacks of words somewhere. I think it is important for our children to see Bill and I reading voraciously, as well. Even though I mostly read when they are sleeping or at an activity or having free play time, I often discuss with them what I am reading. I talk about how much I am enjoying, or not, my current book. They have seen me cry and laugh at books. What are readers like? What are the habits of good readers? How do we interact with a text? How often do we carry a book—even hiking, an indulgence of weight in the backpack—because we can’t bear to be apart from ideas and language? How do we seek out texts that oppose our views and challenge us? How do we push ourselves as thinkers? Nothing is off limits on our shelves for our children: they know that they can finger, pursue, or read any book in the house. All words are for them, when they determine they are ready. All ideas are for them. All knowledge is for them.

So here are my ten for August, an eclectic bunch again:

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Eng. translation 1997, fiction)

“Anyway, it seems to me that the way most people go on living (I suppose there are a few exceptions), they think that the world of life (or whatever) is this place where everything is (or is supposed to be) basically logical and consistent…. It’s like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you’ve got rice pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it’s natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me that’s just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin.”

I didn’t think any Murakami could top his 1Q84, yet Wind-Up Bird may have. Part epic quest, part Kafkaesque nightmare, part historical and political commentary (Nomonhan incident to the end of WWII), Wind-Up Bird follows three narrative lines—all of which explore the themes of physical and metaphysical identity crisis and loss of self.

Murakami writes me into an in-between state in which reality and illusion have no clear demarcation; I have to space his works out to make sure my mind is up to the task of existing in his world and then being able to walk out of it in one piece. How does Murakami manage to get his reader so willingly to suspend disbelief?

2. Get Me Out: a History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank by Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D. (nonfiction, historical science, 2010)

This was a light, readable history good for fun trivia and sparking conversation. Preferring the prose and substance to be more demanding, I found that Epstein relied far, far too heavily on footnotes to convey material. In addition, the author seemed a bit too transparently derisive of childbirth techniques with which she might not personally agree. However, it is the subtext that fascinates: how we have historically fetishized the womb and reproduction, for various reasons. Shocking—even appalling—are the primary source documents pertaining to parturient women. How we view childbirth both individually, and as a culture, certainly reflects a philosophical view of life. Definitely an engaging read, all told. And some parts will (and should) give we feminist mothers/potential mothers the creeps.


(Finishing Epstein’s book at the Newport Beach house during a little mini-vacay in August with my family)

3. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (nonfiction, science, 2003).

“We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.”

So much of understanding life and how to make the most of it, I think, involves trying to understand death. Most engrossing? Her chapter on the potential of using human remains as compost. Ideally, I’d love to donate any viable organs and then be disposed of in an ecologically helpful way. Friends and family have recommended this book to me for years, and they were not wrong.

4. 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, compiled with help by Raif Badawi (philosophy, July 2015)

Forward by the great Lawrence M. Krauss.

Have you heard about this activist and writer? He’s a fellow freethinker in Saudi Arabia brought up on charges of apostasy and sentenced to 10 years, 1000 lashings, and a fine. He received the first 50 lashings in January 2015.  It’s short, at times simple, but I bought and read it (and finished it in a couple hours) as a sociopolitical statement. Reading as protest? Always. Freedom of speech suppressed in favor of doctrine? Not on my watch. His plight is not looking good as of June (debilitated, sick, weakened), but through reading and thinking, we can set his ideas free.

This is a current event and part of a greater ideological struggle between reason and doctrine in our world, a struggle not confined to the Middle East.

5. The Story of the World: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (nonfiction, history, 2008)

One of our summer learning/enrichment goals was to finish both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of The Story of the World series (history textbooks in narrative form spanning the development of civilization). The first two volumes span from the earliest nomads to the end of the rise of the Renaissance. We also have the activity books and, while loose with them, have been enjoying some of the lesson plans as fun activities this summer.  Though finding them a more simplistic treatment, I’ve enjoyed reading these aloud with my children—a great refresher for me, as well. These introductory texts give children a structure on which to hang current events, deeper explorations of history, discussions about myth, and more. I really like these as supplementary materials and am planning on asking for the next volume as a Christmas present—for me! One of my favorite pursuits is reading to my children and learning with them.

(Katie is hoping we get the next one. She loves history. We felt fairly accomplished getting these read this summer, along with so much else!)

6. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (nonfiction, history, 2010)

“Each time, Salva would think of his family and his village, and he was somehow able to keep his wounded feet moving forward, one painful step at a time.”

A Long Walk to Water is the story of Lost Boy Salva Dut, who was displaced from his home in Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. His story intersects with that of Nya, a present-day girl who must walk for miles a day to retrieve water for her family and whose village eventually receives a well from Salva’s Water for South Sudan organization. I read this with Katie and we found this to be an incredibly moving real-life story for middle readers; our discussions have been vigorous and rich ever since. Even weeks later, we are still talking about Salva. I highly recommend this one. Katie and I found it eye-opening, especially for a child in the United States who was born quite lucky and knows little of real hardship—that includes both of us.

For more information and ways to help:

7. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (nonfiction, history, Oct. 2014)

“The fight for women’s rights hasn’t come in waves. Wonder Woman was a product of the suffragist, feminist, and birth control movements of the 1900s and 1910s and became a source of the women’s liberation and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The fight for women’s rights has been a river, wending.”

What do Margaret Sanger, the lie detector test, the suffragist movement of the early 1900s, a charlatan/genius Harvard-educated psychologist, and an unconventional 1930s family practicing polygamy/free love have to do with the creation of Wonder Woman? Suffering Sappho! So interesting. So relevant to now. I love Wonder Woman but did not know ANY of this cultural history, or really, how ahead of her time she was as a character in the 1940s. Lynda Carter will always be my Wonder Woman, but by the 1970s, Wonder Woman was as watered down as the underground feminist movement tried to regain some traction. The original WW is actually even more amazing a character. Fascinating read, for feminists and fans.

8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (science fiction, 1969)

“How nice — to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”

“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

“- Why me?
– That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
– Yes.
– Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.”

I am not sure what even to say about Slaughterhouse-Five or Kurt Vonnegut. I am obsessed—OBSESSED—with Vonnegut right now. I have wandered at last to a writer whose darkly comic observations of morality and life closely mirror my own. I have met a kindred, across all time and space.

How could Vonnegut have existed and I not met him before now? Slaughterhouse-Five has sat on one or more of my bookshelves for years, moving with me once, sitting patiently by while I had children and regained my direction and purpose as an avid reader. To think it was there all this time! Doesn’t it ever thrill you, the way it does me, that words can assemble themselves and just sit waiting for you? What other book is on my shelf, or in the library, right this second that has the power to bring the universe a little more clearly into focus? Or ourselves into more vibrant being?

Is it quaint to love the power of the novel so much?

Is it out of fashion to need and love words as much as I do? I have often said I could not live—like really not live—without books and words and writing and language and authors and novels. Who would I even be? Part of me is here, but for all of my life ever since memory, I have felt that my mind lives and roams among all the pages of the books I’ve fallen into. Literature is the way I have made sense of the world, the first place I go in grief, or in passion, or love.

To be 35 and find an author like this… To be still discovering words and ideas that can thrill to the core…

I guess I should say this book is about the bombing of Dresden. Or try to give a summary that might provoke someone to read it. But it’s not just an anti-war, freethinking, philosophical book. It’s more.

And it sat on my shelf, waiting.

Like the universe opening in words right in my hands.


(Ever see words that make your core behind your ribs glow?)

9. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (fiction, 1963)

“Tiger got to hunt,/Bird got to fly;/Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”//Tiger got to sleep,/Bird got to land;/Man got to tell himself he understand.”

“Science is magic that works.” 

“-I’m not a drug salesman. I’m a writer.”

-What makes you think a writer isn’t a drug salesman?”

“Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.”

“Anyone unable to understand how useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.”

For much of my life I have wondered what words I would ever have permanently written on my body if I were going to do so. It’s just a thought experiment really, and never one I could answer sufficiently to myself! What words, of all the many words I cherish, would be so much entwined with me that they could coexist daily as part of me? There have been some candidates…but nothing—for all my literary passions–has ever felt so much like me as the words of Vonnegut. If I were going to write something on myself, those words would most certainly be either “So it goes” or “Busy, busy, busy” somehow worked into a cat’s cradle design of string.

Oh yeah…this book is about the annihilation of the human race and planet. Have fun!

10. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction/nonfiction, 1932)

“She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

Ha, in a weird way the quote I just pulled actually relates quite thematically to some of the ideas in Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut and Ingalls Wilder are not two authors I would usually put together—but that is exactly why it behooves us to read diversely, in a variety of genres and disciplines, too. When we put words side by side, ideas and thinkers side by side, themes and truths often emerge. The dialectic among all the words is, I think, something that lives and breathes apart from just the context in which they were originally formed.

I read this with Katie and Eric before school began, as it is Katie’s first piece of core lit for the year. She and I have read it before, so this was a second pass. With school rolling robustly, she is now reading it a third time in order to do the lit analysis and activities that accompany it.

Eric loved it, the first chapter book he’s really, really loved. So we moved on to Little House on the Prairie and are now starting On the Banks of Plum Creek. I have never seen Eric so excited to start a chapter book as he was last night.

Deliberately, I took this book with us on a hike up Palomar Mountain to the observatory a few weeks ago. We made an intentional memory of starting this book in the woods and read a couple of chapters that day. We finished LHOP yesterday on another hike near the grass/meadow regions of our local Santa Rosa Plateau. We read the last four chapters of the book sitting at the historic adobe house. Now with OBPC, we will pack it with us to Idyllwild next week—we have a hike planned to go with a science unit/lessons on trees—and we will read part of it by the Strawberry Creek.

(Reading on our hike)


(Starting a memorable book in a memorable setting)

(Then LHBW went to sit poolside at the Disneyland Hotel during a mini-vacation for a few days a couple weeks ago. Words on-the-go are my favorite. Reading is for EVERYWHERE, any time, always).

(When my Nana died last week, I turned to the literature of my youth. Children’s lit is some of my favorite there is. Tomie de Paola, especially. I am this boy, still).


(Eric’s curriculum: look at all of those beautiful books! We actually own many of them already, which is fine since all non-consumable curric goes back to our charter at year’s end. We’ve already discovered a new favorite, though. Of course, we’ll be heavily supplementing with other books, as well)!


(And here is Katie’s official collection for the year. We’ve already read about half of the chapter books in this 4th grade collection, but so much the better for her. I love that she will have a 2-3 passes at each text. We don’t really know a text until we’ve been in it more than once, I feel. The nonfiction selections here are also GREAT, and we’ve been previewing them heavily).

Happy reading to all!

In middle school and part of high school I kept track of every book I read on a growing stack of index cards on my desk bookshelf. I wonder what I did with those? In a box somewhere? At some point, and for some reason, I stopped: my college and home bookshelves could remind me at a glance of what I’ve read.

Not so in the digital age. Our growing and shared Kindle library is a playroom of ideas, but you can’t just look at it easily, as books get moved and shuffled into new orders. And let’s face it: I am a creature of lists. I am more accountable to myself when I write. Keeping reading lists also helps me to track thought patterns and philosophical themes more readily. Do you keep a book list? I am curious about how many people do. My Nana’s neighbor Mrs. Shelly has kept a list for all of her adult life, so I understand. She has been a voracious reader.

My friend Amy posted a anonymous quote on Facebook a few days ago that captures completely the art of reading:

“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”

I would add: A truly great library contains something in it to offend myself. If we’re interested in the integrity of critical thinking, we must read—and often—those books which do NOT confirm us/our ideals to ourselves. We can read for many purposes; I think we need to search out the books which shake us up and clear out our cobwebs. One controversial book this month certainly shook me to my core.

As I did last year, in seeking to balance mind and body, my target goal is still five books a month for the coming year. Why I start most of my resolutions in July (when I took up running, also when I took up swimming, then this book goal) instead of in January, I will never know!

Last year, my write-ups were more extensive, but I want to keep them a little shorter this year. If I spend more down time writing book reports, that will be less time reading, right? Ha ha.

1. Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (fiction, 2013)

“Don’t we all live in our heads? Where else could we possibly exist? Our brains are the universe.”

Katie and I finished the Newberry Award winner Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures together. Put this on your list, though know that its magical realist elements will beg for much interpretation. Flora Belle Beckman is a ten-year-old, unisex, comics-loving girl dealing with her parents’ divorce. She claims to be a cynic, but this is a story about love. A tribute also to poetry, graphic novels, and pulp fiction, Flora and Ulysses ultimately explores how we use words and stories to interpret and come to understand the chaos around us.

2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (collection of essays, 2014)

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”

Do you know the writing of Roxane Gay? She is wonderful. Professor of English at Purdue. Incisive. Humorous. Accessible, angry, bighearted, insightful, intimate, thoughtful, provoking. A feminist for the modern era. I did not want my first acquaintance with this unique voice ever to end, although I finished her essays today. Tackles gender, race, cultural, and political issues with aplomb and made me think, reflect, and ask myself hard questions every step of the way. Totally recommending this one. But you do need to be open to hearing… If you come at this hating the quest of feminism, or believe that racism no longer exists, then this may not be for your stack. Or it may.

Unbelievably, I used to reject the word feminist when I was in high school and even, to an extent, in college. I think I heard the word spoken in various tones of hushed and angry. I thought it meant I had to enter a gender war, when all I want for human beings is to love and respect one another. I associated that word also with a form of political rhetoric, a type of rhetoric that can be disingenuous depending upon who or what entity wants to wield power. Having children—and embracing my own journey as a strong woman—has completely changed my relationship to the necessity of having choices, and to my gender itself. Paradise Island has never looked finer, or more within reach. Though he is older, Bill is the farthest away from a patriarchal figure that there could be: he encourages me to evolve, supports my desire to stick with two children, and has always made it clear that working outside or inside the home is largely my choice. I feel that Gay captures well the messiness of feminism to a woman like me who makes choices both within and without tradition and who wants to pursue freedom and happiness on our own terms. Hers is an incisive and modern feminist voice.

She is one of my favorite currant scholars and thinkers. Glad I met her book in Portland this summer and took it home with me.


3. The Martian by Andy Weir (science fiction, 2014)

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

Page turning sci fi survival story with the most sarcastic, nerdy, and charmingly witty main character, a problem solver stuck on Mars—loved it. Heavy on the real science (YES!) and sharply geeky, this is a story that explores the connection between challenge and purpose/vitality. Narrative alternates between first person and third person; the playful structure enhances the suspense. Took about 2.5 days of various dedicated reading sessions to finish—this one goes down easily. Recommendation from my friends Rosa and Dan. I thought that I would be bothered already by having to picture Matt Damon as the main character: nope. Turns out, Damon will be a PERFECT fit. I could hear the character’s voice merging with his.

Read it before the film?

4. Tom Swift and His Jetmarine by Victor Appleton II (science fiction, youth, 1954)

On our first full morning in Ashland, OR this summer, Katie and I had a date to wander the town and window shop. What a lovely morning! At an antique book store, we found an edition of Tom Swift Jr. These can be hard to come by; Bill read the Jr. series as a kid. The same store had a 1910 copy of an original Tom Swift, which I almost also bought. It was a 1922 Christmas present to a young man from his mother and father with the dust jacket. I came close to the purchase, but Bill never read those.

While sipping Earl Grey, I read this book to my three beloved people as we drove from Eugene to Grant’s Pass. We also had fun also with Tom Swifties (a type of pun/wordplay). We made the most out of memories on the ride to California!


(Reading near Grant’s Pass on the road trip)

5. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child by Susan Wise Bauer (history, Volume 1: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor)

This volume, along with its project book/workbook, is designed to be a year’s worth of history in a homeschool setting. I love it as supplement/enrichment, but ultimately we have chosen a different curriculum this year (Moving Beyond the Page, which is interdisciplinary and may more readily/transparently meet content standards). As with everything, it all depends on how we teach it and what we do with it, right?

For us, we’re using these volumes as a fun summer project of enrichment. We’re currently on the second volume: the goal has been to finish both before school starts in a couple of weeks. There is a third volume, which we will also try to work in for fun. This is an accessible history program, and I am enjoying myself thoroughly, too. We read every morning during breakfast time. I also took the first volume here with us on the road trip, and I read aloud for hours to the whole car. We all felt like we learned something, all of us.

6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (fiction, pub. July 2015)

I have already written about my thoughts here on this blog. To the extent that this publication stimulated conversation about the literary canon, the interaction of reader and text, and civil rights and modern racism, I think it had a purpose this summer. Despite a few standout passages, I also think the style of writing is largely dreadful—forget the part about Atticus—and I cannot believe HarperCollins did not feel that it was fleecing the public. There is a bookstore offering refunds, did you know that?

7. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik (historical fiction, 2007, Caldecott 2008)

“Time can play all sorts of tricks on you. In the blink of an eye, babies appear in carriages, coffins disappear into the ground, wars are won and lost, and children transform, like butterflies, into adults.”

Part graphic novel, part film storyboard, part historical fiction, this book calls upon us to analyze the illustrations just as much as we do the text. Set in 1930s Paris, the narrative involves a boy and an automaton and mysterious passageways. This book is a memory from Portland, a little bit of Powell’s. Great for analysis with the kiddos!


(Reading Hugo Cabret at E.A.T. one morning after swim lessons)

8. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (fiction,2005)

“That leads me to memories of the sheep man and the beautiful voiceless girl. Did they really exist? How much of what I remember really happened? To be honest, I can’t be certain. All I know for sure is that I lost my shoes and my pet starling.”

Took in the most recent translation of a favorite author, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, in a day. The Strange Library reads as classic Murakami: his subterranean fascination persists, as does the moon motif, his surrealism, dark humor, and his text that leaves us with more questions than it can begin to address. The packaging of this one is itself art: it came shrink wrapped, uses a typewriter font, and deploys different illustrations in the U.S. than in the U.K. Truth be told, this is more short story than novel—and only Murakami could get away with selling a short story at novel price right now. This one is weird, gnarly, and difficult. It really only makes sense, though, in the context of more of his oeuvre.

I am on a Murakami kick right now. He and Richard Powers often duel it out for the status of my favorite modern author. Right now, Murakami is winning, but just. I am also obsessed with looking at his desk.


(Design of The Strange Library)

So that’s July’s library, plus various other print material and children’s books. If I had to pick a single one of these to read, I would recommend Bad Feminist. We need to have the conversations she raises. The Martian is also great fun.


(One of my post-run/post-swim treats in the morning on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday this summer has been to pull under my favorite tree at a close park and ready from about 7:15 AM to 8:00 AM and then go home for breakfast with my family).

Happy reading to all! Let the mind play!

Sarah McGaugh

Sarah McGaugh


© 2011, all rights reserved Sarah McGaugh, every post.