Hillbilly Elegy

Just finished Hillbilly Elegy.  It’s been on my radar for quite some time but I could not bring myself to pay the new book price for it.  Then, as luck would have it, my “book bub” post that I subscribe to had it listed as a bargain book.  I was able to download it on my Kindle for $4.99.  It was meant to be read at this time.

It’s a memoir. Hillbilly

While I was reading, I kept feeling as if I were reading about the deep south in the sixties and seventies.  But no, the author of this book was born in 1983 and grew up in Ohio.

I also realized while reading about this author, that many of the stories he was telling are happening every day in the lives of many of the students that attend the school where I work.  This is a book about poverty.  A vicious cycle with few positive role models, few options and mostly a life course in daily survival.

For several years I had a student at the school that I was paired up with to mentor.  She came to visit me in my office.  Sometimes she brought friends, sometimes it was just her.  She was in fifth grade when we started meeting.  She had a younger brother and sister and was responsible for getting them up and walking them to school.  She managed to get them all to school before the late bell, but they rarely got there in time for breakfast.  All three of them would start their day on an empty stomach.

I asked her once what they had had for dinner the night before.  She said her mom wasn’t home and so she made Top Raman for her and her siblings.  I was impressed and asked her if she was comfortable turning on the stove and boiling water.  She looked at me funny and said, “you cook Top Ramen?”

The school has since implemented a breakfast after the bell program and is free to all students.

My mentee student dropped out of school and had a baby at fifteen, just like her mother and her mother’s mother. Generational poverty.  Almost impossible to overcome.  This student just turned her grandmother into a great grandmother while still in her late forties.  Last time I saw this student she was grudgingly carrying her son and living with her estranged baby’s father at his step father’s house.  This story is right on par with Hillbilly Elegy.

This past spring I was coaching Junior High tennis.  I had a sixth grader who was new to the sport.  He picked it up very well, had good hand eye coordination, understood that when a bouncing ball was coming towards you to back up and not run forwards as most Junior High tennis players do, over and over as the ball bounces over their heads every time.

We were on the bus to an away match.  I knew that this boy didn’t live with his mother or father.  That he lived with a friend of the family.

I asked him, “Where does your mom live?”

He replied, “Rehab”.

“Oh,” I said.  “How’s that going for her?”

“Pretty good.”

I don’t know much of this kid’s story.  But he and the other student I mentored began their lives far behind the starting line, with little chance of catching up and more likely to continue a cycle of poverty, crime, substance abuse, partner abuse and living on public assistance.

We have advertised several positions at our school.  Cook, classroom aide and a janitor with very few applicants.  We’ve found that people have better benefits without a job than with it.

Hillbilly Elegy asks what is the answer?  How do we break out of this cycle? Having giving trees, coat drives, free/reduced lunches are not helping, they seem to be enabling.  They are expected.  We have such a high percentage of students on the food stamp program, that the state allows us to just go ahead and feed all the kids in elementary for free.

The book says there needs to be a supportive adult role model in a child’s life.  But how do you guarantee that?  How can you have a mother reading every night to her children when she can’t read?  How do you have a father reading out spelling words before spelling test day when he’s out of the picture and fathering and abandoning more children?

Hillbilly Elegy doesn’t give answers but it does open your eyes and hopefully, opens the conversation for a solution or to maybe get off of our high horse as a nation and look to some countries who have figured this out.   I highly recommend this book.




Last Call for the Groover

It’s a cool beautiful morning as the sun rises over the canyon wall of the Salmon River.  The North American River Rats are fully rested and fed and are packing up their boats for another day of whitewater adventures on The River of No Return.  Just as the warmth of the sun turns into the sweltering heat of the sun you can hear the sing-song sound of the River Rat.

“Last call for the groover.” img_0442.jpg

The males look up from the multitude of NRS straps crisscrossing their boats, for it is the male that always takes advantage of that last chance on the shitter.

Casually, they will walk away from their boats, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that they are on their way to take a dump and at the same time, allowing each male ample time to take his turn.

Careful now.  Occasionally, to the unsuspecting male, a female will have missed her morning ritual and will make a run for the groover, passing the male in an all out sprint through the sandy beach.  The female possesses an innate knowledge that, unlike the male, she has the ability to be quick and efficient at excrement relief and will be closing the cap to the hand sanitizer before the male reaches the imaginary waiting zone.

The female does have difficulties in the one river rule that no one can pee in the pooper. Every species knows that the pee or liquid will make the poop expand and no one wants the groover to be full to the top before the end of the trip.

Rare and grainy footage has documented the female in the pee/poop conundrum.  In squat postion, they are able to move quickly several meters to one side and empty the bladder, then while still squatting, side shuffles back to the groover to finish the job.  Although the female bladder never seems to fully empty, resulting in some pee in the pooper.

Once the morning migration to the groover ceases, the groover seat is removed and stored and the lid sealed on tightly as the whole contraption is carried by two river rats to the shit boat for transport to the next camp, giving new meaning to pack it in, pack it out.

Approximately ten thousand River Rats float the Salmon River each summer.  Hauling out your poop is imperative.  And, except for the female pee/poop conundrum, everyone is instructed to pee in the river.

Once again, the males have the advantage of discreetly peeing in the river where there is little to no privacy.  The male peeing stance is commonly recognized, yet still privately executed.  The females, on the other hand, are meant to leave modesty behind and instead bare their behinds.  Bare female asses can be seen along the river’s edge more often than not.  All shapes and sizes and styles of peeing can be observed.  The traditional full on squat is the most common, but variations of this are also used.  The impressive half squat is also seen quite often.  Some females are comfortable with the wide leg, upright stance that works with the dress or skirt while going commando, a popular camp outfit.

The North American River Rat is truly an unusual species.  Having to poop in a bucket with all of the other River Rats for a week is not always acceptable in other migrating groups, but the River Rat has adapted to this behavior and continues to float rivers together.

More adventure stories and a kick ass resource for book lovers can be found at Wild About Books. 




Summer Reading Selections and Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed Retires

You’ve been wondering where I’ve been as you wander aimlessly through the shelves of the library or scan the books recommend to you by Amazon based on your purchasing history or peruse the book table at Costco before going to buy the items on your list.   Perhaps you’ve reread the Wild About Books blogs and caught up on your reading.  Or maybe you’ve noticed the new tab on the website that lists all of the Wild About Books books in one convenient location.

Now it is summer.  Time to take that cold beverage and a good book to the deck, to the beach, on the river or in the air-conditioned living room on the recliner.  Either way, it’s time for some reading material from your favorite source.

Here’s the summer list in no particular order.

1.  Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.  A memoir of Comedy Central’s Daily Show host Trevor Noah who was born and raised in South Africa.  There are some slow parts, but you should persevere through them and enjoy the crazy ending.

2.  Ordinary Grace By William Kent Kruger.  A novel that is a page turner, each chapter leaving you saying “one more chapter then I’ll go to bed”.  Lots of good characters and a few murders to be solved.

3.  A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  A truly brilliant novel whose characters will still be in your life long after you’ve finished the book.

4.  News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  A quick easy novel and an unusual plot.

5.  Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher The Epic and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan.  A true story of turn of the 19th-century photographer Edward Curtis and his attempts at creating an encyclopedia of every American Indian Tribe.

6.  LaRose by Louise Erdrich.  A novel full of intertwined characters and American Indian dreams and spirits.

7.  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it.  I read this before the birth of Wild About Books and have never had a chance to recommend it.  It’s a book that you should add to your “books to read before you die” list.

That should get you through the summer and then some.

So…..who is Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed and why is she retiring?

Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed: A very short story.

Many years ago, before cell phones and candy crush, there lived a mountain bike princess.  She traveled to far away lands crossing borders with her passport tucked into the leg of her spandex bike shorts, hauling her camping gear loaded in a bike trailer, riding with friends through relationship and child rearing debacles.  All of the mountain bike princesses adventures were upon her trustee companion Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed.  A small Giant.  A full suspension mountain bike.  A partner in adventure, riding perfectly positioned between her legs for miles and miles, climbing and descending tens of thousands of feet in elevation.

Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed is seventeen years old, which is ninety-four in bike years.  Bicycle technology has moved at an alarming pace, but Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed has held her own. She had to have her pedals upgraded twice, her chain replaced multiple times, her saddle traded for a cushier model, bar ends added and an unaccountable number of tubes installed.  She should have been replaced many years ago, but the mountain bike princess could not bring herself to part with her old friend.

There was the ten day bike tour on the Continental Divide Trail, in which Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed and the mountain bike princess won the award for successfully leading five men and one woman through the heart of grizzly bear country while menstruating.

There was the time while riding Coyote Coulee, Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed misjudged the spacing between a rock and a tree root while climbing on a side hill and they both went over, head first, down the side of the mountain.  When they finally came to a stop the mountain bike princess had come off of the bike but her shoes were still clipped to the pedals of Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed.

On another ride, the mountain bike princess and Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed were with friends riding Overwhich falls.  After several hours of joyously riding on the single track, they realized that they had no idea where they were.  Luckily, they ran into a hunter and asked him to show them on their map where they were.  The hunter said he was from Pennsylvania and all he knew was that they were in Idaho, which was more than the cyclist knew, as they thought they were still in Montana.  It was dinner time and the tired cyclists were in the wrong state.  The hunter gave them his headlamp and a flannel shirt and pointed them in the direction that he had come from as he headed back to his camp.  The three bike riders split an orange for dinner and headed out on another trail.  It was too dark to ride so they walked the bikes, wading through creek crossings as the night got darker.  Around 9:00 they found themselves on highway 93 just north of Gibbonsville, basically in the middle of nowhere.  Eventually, they flagged down a camper who didn’t have room for them and their bikes.  He took their phone numbers and promised to call for someone to come get them.  He called the sheriff’s office and gave their phone numbers to the sheriff.  The Idaho sheriff called the Montana sheriff and by midnight, as they sat by a fire warming their cold wet feet, help arrived and they were driven home four abreast in the front seat of a pick-up truck.  Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed was not happy about being beaten up by rocks and drug through cold creeks and then thrown into the back of the pickup truck banging against the other bikes, but she was not one to complain.

Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed is still around, she’s even been loaned out and is going to Bend, Oregon next week.  But she has been replaced.  Replaced by Chipsyn.

Chipsyn is a small Salsa.  A full suspension mountain bike with 27.5-inch tires, disc brakes and she’s a single track whore.  Riding up the road and then down the trail is not an option, she wants to ride up the trail as well.  She heads towards rocks and rolls up and over.  She has confidence and finesse and a lack of fear.  Where Mrs. Ecstasy Cubed would freak out and pitch the mountain bike princess cleanly down a mountain, Chipsyn smoothly executes each obstacle as the true professional that she is.  She’s mature and smart and takes the mountain bike princess to the next level.  It was time.




March 2017 Book of the Month

This book is a must read.  It’s an eye-opening experience.

I was listening to an NPR Politics podcast on a walk one day.  It was the listener question episode and one of the questions was; ‘how do we reconcile the political split in our country?’

The podcast host answered; ‘we have to mingle, intermarry.’  You are more likely to marry someone of a different race or religion than to marry someone with opposing political views.  And there’s where the problem lies.  We congregate with like minded people.  We are facebook friends with people with similar views.  We even read books that lean towards our way of thinking.  Remember in one Wild About Books post in which I was reading a book to learn more and understand Mormons, yet the book I choose was about a family who ended up leaving the religion.  “Unveiling Grace”, super good book, but a book to confirm my already set thoughts on the Mormon faith.  Or, another example, I read books that confirm my belief that a vegan diet is the healthiest diet.  I don’t read the books about paleo eating or books about ‘milk, it does a body good’.

We all do it.

That’s why traveling is such a good experience.  You get to see that most people in the world just want to raise their babies in a safe environment with clean water and nutritious food and be happy.  The end.

The book of the month for March 2017 is “Stranger in Their Own Land; Anger and Mourning on the American Right” by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

“In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets—among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident—people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.

Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that these are people who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Instead, Hochschild finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream—and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives. Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels like to live in “red” America. Along the way she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from “liberal” government intervention abhor the very idea?”

The author unveils a way of American thinking that is unknown to me as I live ip1010151n my bubble of like-minded individuals.

This is why we read.  Reading perpetuates empathy and as my Canadian guide on a boat in Mexico said last week; ” We have to love everyone, that’s the best thing we can do.”

January 2017 Book of the Month

January 2017 Book of the Month

When I was in fourth grade I asked my mom how many other black presidents have we had.

She looked at me funny and said that we’ve never had a black president.

And I looked at her funny and asked what about Monroe?

When I was five I went to kindergarten two days a week at the Christ United Methodist Church.  This was before there was public school kindergarten.  We had a janitor who was a big black man and his name was Monroe.

From kindergarten to fourth grade I thought that president Monroe was a black man as well.  This story makes logical sense that a five-year-old would come to this conclusion.  At the same time, this story is amazing that my mom had raised me in the 60’s and 70’s in the south to assume that we could possibly have had a black man as a president.  She raised me to believe that black people are not “black” people, they are “people”.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book recommendation.  Not that I haven’t been reading (and writing; working on my novel).  I’ve read “The Color of Water”  and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  Both great books.  Both memoirs of survivors of life.  I recommend these books.

The pick for the January 2017 book of the month I found on Michelle Obama’s recommended book list.  Her list includes “Life of Pi” (which is also on Barack Obama’s list), “Goodnight Moon”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Song of Soloman” and the book that we will be reading “The Light of the World”.  41vw6kgvyql-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Clearly, I’m on a memoir kick.  This book is written by a poet and it reads like poetry.  Precision with every word, no fluff or unnecessary adverbs.  A  poetic memoir of a woman, her husband, and two children.  No spoiler’s in that description.  Take my word for it, I haven’t let you down yet and if both Michelle Obama and I recommend a book, you can’t go wrong.

If you recall, our August book of the month was actually two books, one from Hillary Clinton’s recommended book list and one from Donald Trump’s recommended book list.  Books that we read at the same time, or in close proximity.  I was hoping to do the same thing this month.  A book from First Lady Michelle Obama’s recommended reading list and a book from the new First Lady Melania Trump’s recommended reading list.  I searched and searched for a Melania Trump list and all I could find were books about Melania, but none recommended by Melania.  I tried to research what hobbies she has and the only thing I could find listed under hobbies was raising her and Donald Trump’s son.

It’s ok,  we will read Michelle’s book only.  Michelle Obama; a beautiful, smart, funny, loving, caring person.  I don’t think we could have asked for a more perfect first lady.  I was proud to have her as a representative of our country.

The lunch ladies at my school were not too happy with Michelle Obama and her input and changes in our school foods program.  They called her bad names and said our kids were starving with the newly imposed chicken nugget limits.  Now, our school foods program offers quinoa, kale, winter squash, and lintels.  No one complains.  And they eat it.  The menu includes new healthy items and cooking from scratch, all while creating something tasty for the kids and staff.  Thank you, Michelle.  We will miss you.

I went to the Darby Community Public Library yesterday.  I was looking for books to help me with the transition taking place today January 20, 2017, inauguration day.  I am reading the book of the month along with these three books that I checked out from the library.  “The Righteous Mind Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathon Haidt, “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris and “Between the World and Me”  by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I’m reading them simultaneously.  I didn’t go into the library looking for these books, they found me.  All three have great reviews.  Look into them if you are in need of something to help you through the day.

For more great book recommendations and to see the blog that includes my letter to President Obama and my letter from President Obama check out the Wild About Books .

November 2016 Book of the Month

The book of the month for November 2016 is written by a friend of mine.  Jon Turk; one of the West Fork Hippies,  living on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. He’s a 70-year-old skier, mountain biker, kayaker, writer and extreme adventurer residing in Darby, Montana, and wintering in Fernie, B.C.   His newest book came out in September and I’ve just started reading it.  My sister was in town when we went to his book reading in Hamilton at Chapter One bookstore. Meg bought two books, one for me and one for her and we had Jon autograph them.  I had to wait for Brett to finish our copy and I believe that this wait was one of those universe controlling events that will make you believe that there is a plan and life is not just random happenings.

Reading this book after the presidential election was the way my life was meant to play out.  I’ve always believed that books seek you out depending on what you are in need of at the time.  If you start a book and it’s not doing anything for you, put it down.  You and that book are not in need of each other.  You will know when you are reading a book at the right time; you can’t put it down.  Life is too short to push yourself through a book.  I tried that with “Atlas Shrugged”, I should have quit after the first 50 pages.

The November 2016 Book of the Month is “Crocodiles and Ice” by Jon Turk.  An adventure book, a life book, a plea for compassion for the earth book.  download

I’ve been to several speaking engagements of Jon’s and he always recites a quote from an elder woman he met in Siberia named Marina.

“If you lose the magic in your life, you lose your power”.

This quote always resonates through my soul and periodically re-emerges into my brain as I try to solve the relevance of this wisdom in my life.   What is the magic?  What is the power?

My sister often says that her goal is to make magic. As a yoga instructor and wellness coach, she is making magic by transforming people’s lives into something they didn’t think was possible.  I describe certain activities as magical.  Moonlight cross country skiing is magical.  All sound is absorbed in the snow so it’s quieter than quiet. The moonlight shining on the snow makes it appear as if you are skiing on fine diamonds.  Magical.  Mountain biking the single track trail on the north side of Lake Como is magical; it’s downhill on the way in and downhill on the way out. Magical.  So how does that magic give us power?

It’s not power like I can kick your ass power or I have more money than you power or more education than you power.

Boulder Falls

Boulder Falls

I believe that the magic is optimism and hope and that the power is having control in your life.   So, if you lose the optimism and hope in your life, you lose the sense of control.

Here’s a story to help explain my interpretation.

Several years ago, I drove to Eureka, Montana on a Friday afternoon to watch my son play a high school football game.  It’s a four and a half hour drive to Eureka, located on the Canadian border.  Nine hours of driving to watch a two-hour football game.  A game in which the Eureka team put in their third string due to the pounding they were handing the Darby Tigers. This is what I do.

As I arrived in Eureka, I stopped to top off my gas tank and go to the bathroom.  Then I headed to the high school and walked up to the ticket booth.  While I was waiting my turn to pay I put my hand in my pocket to pull out the cash I had brought for the night.  It was gone.  I checked the other pocket.  Checked my jacket pockets.  Attending this football game was already a challenge to my income and losing the cash was not helping one bit.  I went to the car.  Looked in the seat, checked the ground just outside the door.  I looked under the seats.  Then I back-tracked in my head where I had been.  I drove back to the gas station, walked up to the cashiers counter and said;

“I think I lost some cash in your bathroom a little while ago, it was like….eighty-six dollars….”

The cashier reached behind her, then put her hand out towards me and said,

“Nope….Ninety-two dollars,” as she handed me my money.

You see, I had the magic and the power.  I could have easily sulked and said, ‘well that money’s gone, nobody’s going to turn in all that cash’.  If I had said that, then I would have lost the magic and therefore lost the power.

“Now we run smack-dab-head-on into that fuzzy line between logic and magic, coincidence and synchronicity.  And ultimately, it’s not a matter of fact versus fiction; it’s about how you choose to view the world – or perhaps more appropriately – how you choose to feel or to communicate with the world around you.” 


The magic is believing that the events in your life will work out the way they are supposed to .  You have to believe it or you’ll get too cranky to be around. There’s no power in cranky.  There is no power with anger and hate.  The power comes with optimism and hope.

I had just started Jon’s book and  had to get up and grab a highlighter.  A highlighter worthy book.  Meaning you will review parts of the book or loan it out and want others to read deeper into  the bright yellow passages because they are that good.  Or…. you want to use these highlighted passages on your blog post.

“Humanity is in dire need of a ‘Consciousness Revolution’ before we can move into the 21st century with a reasonable hope of creating a peaceful, healthy and equitable world.” 

Jon’s style of writing is one of my favorites.  Pulling you in with exciting and life-threatening extreme adventures in remote corners of the world and then when you least expect it, a mix of philosophical input and scientific fact on the future of our earth and it’s custodians.

“Anyone who advocates ‘turning the clock back’ and reversing the course back to ‘the way it was’ belongs on the dismissible delusional fringe.”

Check out Jon Turk’s website for more books, future reading engagements and a link to his TEDx talk.  If you are in New York City on November 18th he’ll be at The Open Center on 30th and Madison at 7:00 pm.  Or if you just want to ride mountain bikes with the West Fork hippies, give me a call, I’ll hook you up.

You can find more great book recommendations and my own adventure writing at Wild About Books.

“If you lose the magic in your life, you lose your power”

October 2016 Book of the Month

I try not to recommend any more World War II books, but I have read another one that is a fabulous story and should be shared.

“The Book Thief”, “All the Light We Cannot See”, “Nightingale”; I recommend them all and now I can add to the list “City of Thieves” by David Benioff.  An amazing story of two young Russian misfits on an unusual mission that takes them on unthinkable and life-threatening adventures. city-of-thieves

You should have plenty of time for reading as you do not want to turn on your tv in these last weeks of political commercials.  I find it hard to believe that someone will watch a political commercial and exclaim;

“Oh! Wow.  I didn’t realize how horrible that candidate is, but according to this informative commercial I should not vote for them and I’m going to change my mind”

Do people do that?  Change their minds based on a commercial.  Maybe the commercials are just meant to justify the decision that has already been made and give people some educational dialog for the office copy room.  I am happy for the boost to our economy with all of this advertising.  The USPS employees and the trash collectors are super busy distributing and collecting the fancy fliers.  The marketing firms and tv stations must be doing well too.    And think of all the drinking games that have increased sales in alcoholic beverages during the debates.  Thanks for sharing the wealth and boosting our economy all you politicians.

My favorites are the commercials with the dark prison looking mug shots of the opponent that the commercials are attacking accompanied by the deep secretive voice.

In Montana, the happy non-attacking commercials always show the politicians fly fishing.  Fly fishing must make you a trustworthy person. But they are all fly fishing so it doesn’t help with your decision.  Assuming that is what you base your decision on.

For more great book recommendations check out the Wild About Books blog.