Author Archives: Katherine

About Katherine

Hi I’m Katherine; I’m a competitive sailor with a gap between my front teeth and especially good plaque-reducing saliva (not a single cavity). I’m the author of a book titled “Who in this Room,” but don’t even try to buy it because you can’t. I’m the Norwegian-American mother of an Africa-American two-year-old who loves Curious George, brushing her teeth and washing her hands. I’m married to Paul, an extremely likeable software engineer with a fondness for roadside furniture and a habit of whistling in his sleep. We have a sweet dog named Norah who has rocks in her head. In 2005, at the age of 31, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Statistically, I was given a 10% chance of living five years. Over the next six months I received 154 shots, ingested 510 pills, and spent 140 hours sitting in the green vinyl recliner receiving nearly two gallons of intravenous medicine/poison. I followed chemo with a bi-lateral mastectomy chaser and washed it all down with six weeks of radiation. Nearly a year after I started, I was declared cancer free and kicked from the sanitized nest of the oncology ward into the blaring sun of life. On May 20, 2010 I will have lived five years past my diagnosis. These days I am what my sister calls self-sustaining high-maintenance. It’s hard work keeping this complicated piece of machinery running. I take a handful of vitamins twice a day; I adhere to a special diet devoid of gluten and soy. I drink tea, distilled water, almond milk and sake (exclusively but never together). I used to be the person who would roll her eyes at the person I have become. In spite of how all this sounds, this blog is not about cancer. Here’s what it IS about.

To Be Four

(c) la luz photography 2011

She plays with her brother like they’re puppies, jumping and hiding, then pouncing and rolling. Her toys are his and she’s willing to share almost anything to make him happy. She dresses herself in the morning and prefers to wear all one color – purple, green, blue, pink. When she’s done eating, she asks to be ‘misused.’ She thinks the ‘pider that lives in her bathroom is cute. She has two imaginary friends/sisters both named Jada.

You have to ask her 10 or 15 times to take her shoes off or put them on. You can’t get her to use her fork or stay at the dinner table. She flits about the living room, all greasy-fingered and ferile while the rest of the family eats. She’d like you to think that she can’t hear you or control her body or listen to what you are saying. But when you ask her what she wants for her 4th birthday, she snaps to attention right at your feet. You squat and she looks right into your eyes and says, very clearly, without any hesitation – a doll house, a princess doll and a remote controlled car – like she’s been thinking about this for years.

Then, just like that was a dream, that girl is gone, and she is once again dancing and rubbing her greasy fingers all over the couch because she’s in a different world occupied by Jadas and spiders wearing monochromatic clothes and she can’t possibly hear you telling her to stop.

Happy 4th birthday to my favorite baby girl.

How We’re Doing

Well, awesome. The readings at Elliott Bay Book Company, Village Books and Nordstrom all had strong attendance and book sales. The Bellevue Square Nordstrom is now selling the book in their lingerie department. I guess it’s kind of like buying a CD at Starbucks. Rumor is that the distributor is upping their order quantity and the publisher is burning through their stock. Thank you for buying copies, recommending it to your friends and spreading the word.

We’ve seen some great reviews and a little love from the online world. Here’s a recap:

Shelf Awareness for Readers, Featured, Starred Review – October 14, 2011

Shelf Awareness Book Brahmin Author Interview – October 12, 2011

The Next Family Blog Post – October 6, 2011

Coffee Jitters Blog Book Review – September 29, 2011

I’ve enjoyed getting your Who in This Room love notes on Facebook and in email. It’s been the best part of this whole experience. Some of you have asked how you can help. If you want to take these love notes and post them to your favorite book-review site, I’d promise to love you and care for you forever.

Since I’m asking for things… In the midst of all this book madness, Hysterical Mommy Network, Who in This Room’s neglected pet fish, is up for a Red Tricycle Totally Awesome Award. You can vote here. I’m late to this party and the contest ends the end of this month!

While you’re at the Red Tricycle site, you can pop over and vote for Josie and Little K in the Red Tricycle Spooktakular Pumpkin Photo Contest. We’re finalists!

Thank you! Love. Forever. You.


My Life at Stack ‘n Stuff

I’m in this weird place right now. I’m kind of on maternity leave, I’m kind of a stay-at-home mom, but I also have this book thing. The official launch date of Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition was October 11th and every day that goes by, my prime book promotion window closes a tiny bit, and every day that goes by, my kids get one day older. There’s a lot I’d like to do on the book promotion front, but it all requires travel or time at my desk, which my 15-month-old will not allow. It’s an age-old parenting story. Like many parents, I want to be all things at all times. I want to be out promoting the book, but I want to be here with the kids. What’s a frustrated, driven, over-achieving mother to do?

Well, here’s one thing I do have plenty of…. Time with a toddler. I have lots of that. What can one do with a toddler? Well, one can organize her junk drawer. Then perhaps she’ll feel so satisfied she can design and install her daughter’s closet with the help of her toddler wobbling around with hammer in hand. Then she can move the spice drawer and re-organize her kitchen utensil drawer. Well, then, there’s only two more drawers in the kitchen that need help and, well, maybe she can do those the next day because it’s supposed to rain and she has this coupon and they’ll go to story time in the morning, but after nap they’ll need something to do, and there’s a playground nearby and it’s covered so the slide will be dry and so that would be just perfect. It’s just the thing!

This happens to be our routine. Morning, play around the house, naptime where I spend a few minutes at my desk, trying to get some shit done. Then afternoon snack and we head to the mall. We go to the playground first so K can blow off steam, and then to Storables so that I can. He has his fun then I have mine. The result: I’m in that store pretty much every day. I should wear a sign that says “Hi, I’m an over-achiever mother who should not be staying at home but is staying at home. Please excuse me (get out of my way before I run you down) K THX BYE! J” But, then I think, why would I need a sign? Is this not self-evident?

At the store, they greet K and me with a friendly smile and a wave. They notice and comment on his cute haircut. I load up on containers and baskets; then I go home and start getting dinner ready. When Paul opens a drawer in the kitchen, he raises his eyebrows and asks how everyone is doing at “stack ‘n stuff” today. We both know that he knows it’s called Storables but I correct him anyway. Everyone at Storables is fine, I say. Thanks for asking.

Then while Josie stands in her cape on the armrest of the couch and jumps to the floor, while K reaches up to the counter to grab whatever breakable or sharp item he can find, I reach into my supremely-organized utensil drawer and let out a contented exhale as I retrieve the forks and knives for the table, because while I may not be able to control my superhero, my counter-reaching monster, or the trajectory of book sales, I can most definitely, control the contents of my kitchen drawers.

Books and Babies

2011 has been a big year for us. Legendary. We met little K in June. Five months later Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition is being published.

Perhaps one could say that in 2011 I was expecting two babies. But there are some very distinct differences. For example, Little K is much cuter than the book. And the book doesn’t ask me to rub its head while I drive. The book doesn’t pee through its diapers at night and occasionally scream out with night terrors. The book doesn’t throw peas on the floor then burst into giant tears when you tell it to stop. The book doesn’t shriek like a baby pterodactyl when it’s tired. And, more notably, the book doesn’t pull up my shirt and try to give me zerberts on the stomach.

Conversely, Little K doesn’t sit quietly on my desk or in a box on my floor. He is rarely misplaced and never forgotten (although I can’t say the same for his shoes). He doesn’t have 139 neatly formatted pages and, so far, he doesn’t have nearly as many words, but I know he will someday.

Really, there is only one baby.

But there are some similarities. Both feel like once in a lifetime events. Both are epic creations. Both bring me joy. I am so lucky, fortunate and grateful that they both exist.

Since becoming a parent, my goals for my children have changed. No longer do they need to be the leaders of the free world. After watching them speak with bits of food falling from their mouths, throw tantrums over already-chewed pieces of gum, and dress themselves in brown polka dotted leg warmers and yellow striped socks, I’ve learned that they are who they are. What will be will be.

Now, I simply hope my children will find things – subjects, sports, activities, hobbies – they like and that they’re good at. I hope they can earn money in an endeavor related to this interest or some other career they enjoy. In short: I hope my children find their place in the world and people that make them happy.

My hopes for the book are similar. WITR had to be written. During and after treatment I was obsessed and consumed by those stories. I thought about them 24×7. I was working it all out, creating art from grief. It had to be done and now that it is done, I hope people discover its strengths and that people connect with it. In short: I hope it finds its place in the world and the people who love it.

That is all.

Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition is out! You can buy it anywhere good books are sold.

Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition Events

The Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition official launch date is October 11th but I hear rumors that it is shipping now. Early!

The launch par-tay is this weekend! Come! And bring friends!

Here’s how the rest of the schedule is shaping up.

  • Bellingham WA – Village Books Reading and Signing
  • Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm
  • Village Books Website
  • Seattle WA – In Living Pink
  • Young Survival Coalition Fundraiser
  • Friday, October 21, 2011 8:00 pm
  • Young Survival Coalition
  • Vashon Island WA – Books By the Way Reading and Signing
  • Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm
  • Books By the Way Website

I’ll be speaking for just a few minutes at the Young Survival Fundraiser. This is the support group that got me though my treatment. It’s a really great cause and a fun party. If you’re in Seattle, come!

We’re also still hoping to set up a reading in Portland. Stay tuned!

Check out the website if you haven’t already That’s where you can find this video and other interesting stuff, like the reading schedule and blurbs for the book.

Like the Facebook page here!

Only nineteen days until the official release of Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition!

Ask 5 for 5

Guest Blogger: Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5

Family photos by Mike Fiechtner Photography

Thank you Hysterical Mommy Network and nearly 150 other bloggers from around the world for allowing me to share a story with you today, during Social Media Week.

A hungry child in East Africa can’t wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we’ll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps. 

At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren’t so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world’s first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.

The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond–or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity’s baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don’t do anything at all.

When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn’t want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother’s hungry child?

My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya–the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, “I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm.” The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. “We don’t have enough food now…our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues.”


Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on–in nine generations of 5x5x5…we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to
help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support,
healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.

I need you to help me save lives. It’s so so simple; here’s what you need to do:

  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (
  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.
  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!

I’m looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at if you’re interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn’t wait. She doesn’t wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn’t wait for us to decide if she’s important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on…please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped–you are saving lives and changing history.
p.s. Please don’t move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you’re life is busy like mine, you probably won’t get back to it later. Let’s not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let’s leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today!

The Foster Mother in My Head

We met our daughter for the first time in an Intensive Care Unit. She was four days old, and a healthy 6.5 lb baby girl who was getting preventative antibiotics. When the nurse placed her into my arms, she was wrapped in a purple hand-knit blanket and had an orange bow stuck to her head. She was the prettiest baby I had ever seen and I wrapped my body around her and told her that we’d been looking for her and trying to get to her for so long, but that we were here now and it was all going to be okay.

I did all of this, I said all of this, while a handful of nurses and social workers watched. These people were strangers to me and my husband but they’d been caring for our daughter in those crucially important first few days of her life. They had grown to care about her and to hope that a good family would come for her soon. They were pleased we were there and encouraged us, but they were WATCHING. They were evaluating us and forming opinions, hopefully positive, about our family.

But, I have a confession; I’m not an appropriate crier. You say the words newborn baby to my mother and she’ll probably burst into tears right then and there. You tell me that my dog just got run over by a truck and I’d probably say something like oh, alright and walk away. That doesn’t mean that I am not sad. I will travel deep inside my head. I will think about this. I will imagine how it all happened and at some point I will cry and cry and cry. But probably not in front of anyone. I don’t cry at sad movies, I don’t usually cry right away when I hear sad or happy news, and I didn’t cry when I met my daughter. Thinking about it now, I want to weep like a three year old who has misplaced her blanket at bedtime, but there were no tears that day. And it was weird. It felt weird to me then and I’m certain it felt weird to our audience. What kind of mother doesn’t cry the day she meets her newborn?

We went through this again with the recent adoption of our eleven-month-old son. Instead of four days of care, K had received eleven months of care. There had been eleven months of people loving this kid. Some of them I know about. Some of them I do not. The last two months he was in nursery care with the adoption agency and his foster parents became very attached. They were there when we met K for the first time along with a social worker we had never met and will never see again.

Then and during the week of transition that followed, I was busy thinking about what was happening, processing his every move, studying and learning him. I did not cry once.

His foster mother spent the week sobbing and sniffling in the corner while we played with K. She had done this exactly eighty-eight times before (!) but, as she said, that doesn’t make letting go any less painful. They were happy we were adopting him and she thought we were the ideal family. But she was protective. As the week wore on, we got to know each other. The transition was going very well. We bonded with our boy but also with the foster parents though I still wondered if, in their eyes, anyone could be good enough.

We’d been advised to stay home in the weeks following K’s arrival, but a week after we returned to Seattle we decided to go to our cabin. The list of reasons is long and we felt like K was doing so well and that this would be the best thing for him and our family in the longer-run. Word got back to the foster mother via email and, yes, the unthinkable happened. She accidently forwarded me a message criticizing our choice, saying we hadn’t “allowed him time to adjust” and outlining how this would be detrimental. The email had been meant for her husband. There it was. The ultimate judgment. Parenting test failed.

In the weeks that followed I felt the foster mother looking over my shoulder. I questioned my instinct. I wondered if what I was doing was good enough for K and if she would approve. I felt less like he was mine and more like I was taking care of him for someone else. As if the new white mother of a black one year old boy needed more pressure.

Then I would scold myself for feeling this way. My experienced-parent, rational voice would say, of course I am right, I am his mother, but the self-doubt was there whether I acknowledged it or not. I tried to remind myself that all we could do was to keep going, continuing, and trying to make the best decisions for our family.

The other day, while I was watching J and K roll around in the grass, I had a hard time convincing myself that he hadn’t been with us since his birth. He’s brought the family into a perfect balance, a natural symmetry. Sometimes, when he melts down at the end of an over-scheduled day or I put him in front of a baby video so I can take a shower, I hear the foster mother’s disapproval. But I’ve learned that the more baby kisses, loves and hugs I receive, the quieter the foster mother in my head becomes. Pretty soon, I suspect she’ll develop a terrible case of laryngitis and be silenced forever. When that happens, you can be sure that I won’t shed a single tear.

Only 41 days until Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition comes out. The launch party is at Elliott Bay Books on October 2nd, mark your calendars!

This Girl’s Motor

Josie’s always been a strong girl. At her 2 week check up, the doctor did a test of her neck strength. She was on her back and he wrapped her little fingers around his index fingers and pulled her into a sitting position. Most newborn’s heads fall to the side but Josie held hers perfectly straight. He said it was “remarkable” and that he’d never seen anything like that before.

Gradually she grew into a chubby baby while retaining that strength. At 18 months she was FAST with no concept of danger or sense of self-preservation. Even as she moved toward three she still had a layer of chub that created a misleading façade, a pink princess wrapper on a V6 engine.

Just in the last few months, Josie has lost most of her baby chub. Gone are the delicious dimpled thighs and, the part I notice most, the creases at her wrists. Gone. There are bones there now. It is SO strange.

Without the wrapper, the engine is on display.

Clearly, I need to find this girl some more athletics. Is training a four year old for an ironman excessive?

Only 50 more days until Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish and Demolition comes out. Get your copy today!

Shelf Awareness

I have a few questions for you…

  • What was your favorite book as a child?
  • Who are your top five favorite authors?
  • What book changed your life?

I’ve been asked to be the Book Brahmin, to answer a series of book-related questions, for an upcoming issue of Shelf Awareness. I love books. This should be easy.

But how ever will I choose? The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao! Refuge! Surely I’m overlooking something. Middlesex! I’ll send it off and realize that I’ve forgotten my favorite book of all time. Me Talk Pretty One Day! And then I will ask if it can really be my favorite book of all time if I had completely forgotten it. Sight Hound! These are the questions that keep me awake at night. OMG Cutting for Stone!

How would you answer? Or, how would you answer for me?

For those of you who don’t already know, Shelf Awareness is a newsletter about books and the book industry. They have two issues, one for trade professionals and a new one for readers. In the readers version, they write reviews and provide updates on books that are coming out that week. If you haven’t signed up for Shelf Awareness for Readers, you should. Right now they’re running a contest. You could win free stuff!

And just in case you’ve forgotten there are 55 days until Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish and Demolition comes out.