Who Really Makes the Decisions?

This morning, I was supposed to go running. The weather is perfect. But all that work was waiting for me! — a book edit for my publisher in France, a manuscript waiting for completion in the U.S., an article due, an essay due, several business letters and calls I’ve been putting off, etc. The list goes on…and on…. If I went running, I would surely not get half the things done that needed to be done yesterday.

The argument in my head went on for a while. My body / health, vs. my work. Finally, I decided it would be counter-productive to go pounding around the neighborhood while all that work waited for me at home. I pulled out my lap-top and settled in.

Then my son called.

He was at the Vegas airport, on his way home from Denver to pack and leave tomorrow morning for Patagonia, at the tip of South America. Such is the schedule of a world-famous Oscar-winning rock climber.

Each time he leaves on an expedition, I know I might never see him again. I’ve had to make peace with that. All of us know this, of course, every day; newspapers are filled with headlines to prove it. Every time you cross the street, or leave your house…. But my son ups the ante on those odds, by quite a bit.

If I’d gone running this morning, I would have missed his call. (I don’t use my phone while running.) The odds being what they are, today could be the last time I’d ever get to talk with him. When he calls, I always answer.

If I’d been out in the street, running, I would have missed him.

What was it that argued louder in my head this morning to stay home? That mental discussion could have gone either way. This has happened so many times in my life, yet it always amazes me. Did I listen to my gut? Is there some Force out there, guiding things? Some guardian angel-type being making decisions for us, or pushing us toward those decisions? God, or whatever you call that concept? Cosmic circles?

Call it what you will, this has happened many times in my life. I argue with myself, one side wins, I regret the decision…and then I get a call, like today, or an opportunity, or something else happens that would not have happened if I’d chosen differently.

What do you call it?


It’s here! Today! October 1, 2019! The 2nd edition of my French textbook was just published by Cognella Publishers in San Diego!

Allez! Foundations in Beginning French:

A labor of love, this is a book I used in my French classes at American River College for many years, in many forms. Everything in it has been tested and has proven to be immensely effective. My students were regularly surprised at how much French they could use by the end of each semester — always a nice surprise, especially for the teacher!

The first edition, published in 2016, was called

Je Parle Français…un peu:

So much work goes into writing a textbook! Usually there are several authors on a textbook, but I wrote this one alone, since it represents a totally different and very effective approach to teaching languages.

This year, 2019, saw the birth of 2 of my books —

The Sharp End of Life, published May 2019 by Mountaineers Books,

And Allez!

The end of so much work, for so many years!…

Time to get to work on the next book. . . . and the next. . .

Grammar School…Not

When I was a kid, I went to grammar school. The kids in my neighborhood who went to public school called it elementary. But the nuns called ours grammar school – and the name was well-deserved.

Every year, we studied our language and its structure. We learned the parts of speech and how they go together. We diagrammed sentences. We took words apart and studied how they were put together. Every year, for eight years.

Sentence diagramming…an exercise in logic.

The result is predictable: my friends now all turn to me when they have questions about English.

My book about English, which I never could have written if I hadn’t gone to Blessed Sacramento Grammar School!

Schools now do such a disservice to our kids! Grammar is touched on, a little, but mostly they learn ‘whole language’ or how to ‘express themselves.’ Both of those are important, of course – but only later; how can you possibly express yourself well if you don’t know anything about the words you’re using? That’s like trying to build a house if you don’t know what a nail is.

Most of my community college students arrived in my foreign language classes ignorant of their own language, English. They got angry – justifiably – when they discovered how much had been withheld from them in school. It’s not their fault that we have to waste our foreign-language class time explaining English to them; a couple of years (or even a few semesters!) of grammar in 3rd or 4th grade is obviously not enough study time to allow anyone to master their native language!

Everyone knows that English is the national language in the US, even if it isn’t legislated. Every immigrant who comes here knows they need to master English to get ahead. Yet most of my ESL students (those learning English as a foreign language) know far more about English than my American students. How unfair is that?

Is it a deliberate scheme on the part of our government and school districts, to keep us ignorant and thus easily governable? If so, it’s working perfectly. If not, it needs to be addressed. Soon!

Holy Cross School, on 42nd Street in Manhattan

Not an Antique…yet

The other day, as I was leaving a friend’s house, I commented on a small child’s school desk that sat next to the front door, the kind made of wood on a wrought iron frame, with a seat that folds up or down, and an inkwell in the upper right corner of the desk.

I mentioned that I sat at such a desk all through my 8 years of grammar school (what’s now called elementary school). She was amazed.

“I bought this at an antique store!” she exclaimed.

Yep, that’s me – an antique. But not that old! Only in the U.S. would we call a 60-or-so-year-old desk an antique.

The rest of the world has a much grander grasp of time. The U.S., though, is a baby. A teenager. We have only a few hundred years of history. The blink of an eye. So anything remotely old seems, to us, ‘antique.’ In Europe, school kids have to memorize thousands of years of monarchs, wars, architecture, religions, etc. A mind-boggling amount of information, for an American. When they find out how little we have to memorize over here, on this side of the Atlantic, they’re always jealous…and a bit condescending.

When I moved to California (from New York), I was taken aback by the road sign I saw as my new husband and I drove towards Folsom. “Visit historic Folsom,” it said. Founded in 1856, it’s only been a city since 1946. The house I grew up in was way older than that!

An antique? Not quite. It was just my school desk. 🙂

Out of Balance

How’s your equilibrium? About 10 blogs ago I wrote about “Balance and Goals”. Lately, often, I find my mind going back there. Balance is so important!…in so many ways.

Attending the Oscars, on my knee scooter.

A few months ago, I had foot surgery to correct several lifelong bone deformities. The massive event included sawing bone in several places, fusing bones, adding a titanium plate, long and short screws and several incisions. The surgeon took my foot apart and put it back together, better.

Normally I don’t dwell on health issues here. But health is a tricky concept. What does ‘healthy’ mean, for you?

For me, it always meant being able to do all the activities that feed my soul, that make me whole. Running. Biking. Hiking. Climbing. Walking/striding miles and miles…. I’ve been lucky that my life had never been interrupted by my body’s demands.

Until now.

If I knew how all this was going to end, I wouldn’t mind a few months of forced inactivity. A bit of vacation! But that’s the kicker — not knowing. Will I ever be able to walk normally again? Not a given. Will the titanium plate ever stop hurting? Will I ever run again, ever be able to squeeze my foot into a climbing shoe again, and depend on my toes to hold onto a tiny chip of rock to push me higher? Can’t even imagine it, right now.

There’s very little certainty in life. I know that. But not knowing if I’ll ever have my life back…that’s hard.

Have you ever been down with a long-term injury or illness? How do you deal with the not knowing? The interminable, unending waiting, and hoping? It’s been almost 6 months now. Getting hard to maintain hope….

Can’t wait to get back…!

Flag Day / Father’s Day

Happy flag day! Happy Father’s Day! – two holidays that have always blended together, for me.

My father was a Veteran of World War II. He, and all the other men I knew who had been in that war, never talked about it. He had lots of funny stories about the men he served with and some of their antics. About how beautiful Paris was. About the strange cultures he encountered in North Africa. But never about the war.

He was a patriot. He truly loved this country and what it represented everywhere he went. He proudly wore a red poppy

in his lapel each Memorial Day. He never missed the opportunity to vote. He studied our government and the people who work in it, closely and regularly. He talked about it with anyone who would let him. If you’d told him he was a patriot, he would have waved away your words and said something like, “I’m just a citizen.”

Being from a family of immigrants, he understood the underdog. Having grown up in Hell’s Kitchen, he knew poverty and under-privilege. And having served in the war in places so poor most of us here can’t imagine, he knew that the poorest immigrant in America can have a far better life than many ordinary people in other parts of the world.

He was a patriot – but not jingoistic. He would never have uttered the words “America first”, since he’d seen first-hand in Europe what can come of such thinking. He would have been appalled by some of the vitriol being spewed by politicians on television and on line. Disregard for facts or common sense or decency on the part of our leaders angered him.

Humility, compassion and intelligence were his guidelines, in politics as in life. If only we could bring those traits back to our political landscape!

For this Flag Day and Father’s Day, I hope that my father’s life’s guidelines – humility, compassion and intelligence – will once again guide our national discourse toward a future he would have been proud of.

The Loneliest Job, or Book Touring 101

When you sit alone in your house and write a book, you never know how it will be received. Writing is bizarre — you work on it completely alone, then you send it out to be read by the public. Two extremes. It’s hard to guess how someone you’ve never met will react to the words you labored over, so intimately, for so long.

A book tour makes it clear.

The Sharp End of Life,” my most recent book, was published by Mountaineers Books on May 2. For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a book tour — so I thought I’d share some highlights of the experience.

From Sacramento, I went to several bookstores in the Bay Area. Without exception, store personnel and audiences alike were friendly, open, helpful and very receptive. When I drove up to Tahoe City for an event at Alpenglow Sports, I had to drive both ways through the 7,000ft+ pass in blizzard conditions (yes, almost June!). Haven’t driven through that kind of thick, wild snow since I lived in New York!

At this store, Adventure 16 Sports, in L.A., the manager said they’d never seen an audience at any of their events so completely attentive and quiet, so riveted by the author’s story. I guess something about setting massive goals in your senior years, and accomplishing them, resonates with people who — if they’re lucky — are all heading toward their senior years.

Sometimes the signing of books takes place in a crowd scene (if you’re lucky!)… and sometimes a more intimate setting — both equally satisfying. I love chatting with the people who read my work and respond to my adventures with some of their own, either completed or simply dreamt about.

Sometimes there are surprises — like when I spoke at Books Inc., in Berkeley, and the narrator of my audio book, Ann M. Richardson, was in the audience! So lovely to meet her and chat about her craft and my book.

And sometimes, it takes you to the most gorgeous places! When I signed books at the North Face Store high up above Telluride, CO, at the Mountainfilm Festival, I got to ride this incredible three-part gondola about 2,000 feet up from Telluride (seen here far below) to Mountain Village. A breathtaking ride!

I hope you enjoyed your tour of my tour! I’ll leave you with some just plain pretty sights that I got to savor while I was on the road. Books are great, but I always try to stop and smell some roses, wherever I am.


Rose garden in Pasadena

Jacaranda tree in Glendale.


Do you watch the Oscars (the Academy Awards) each year, glued to the TV to see if your favorite movie won? Did you watch this year??

FREE SOLO, the National Geographic movie about my son’s ropeless climb of El Capitan, in Yosemite, won Best Documentary!

I can’t possibly convey, here, the excitement, the intensity, the other-worldliness of the experience of being there for the Oscars…so I hope these few photos will give you an idea what it was like. Never, in all my dreams, did I ever imagine I’d hold an Oscar! They’re very heavy!

The day before, all the streets around the venue were getting ready….

Me and my team, Michelle and Hannah, at breakfast of Oscar day. I had just had major surgery on my foot and was still using a knee scooter, so if these 2 hadn’t come along, I wouldn’t have been able to go. Yay, team!

Lining up on the red carpet…not THE red carpet, where Alex, Sanni and gang got to walk. This one was at the Hollywood Athletic Club, where Fox/Nat Geo hosted the Oscar-Viewing Party for all those who, although invested in the film, were not Directors or Producers or stars. But there were many stars in the room…

Not an athletic club at all (at least, not the part of the building we were in), it’s an immense, elegant venue, and one wall was this screen:

Five minutes into the Awards, Jason Momoa, actor, announced his buddy’s film! Jason is a climber, and has climbed w/Alex, so he had requested to announce the Documentary award, sure that Free Solo would win.

With the winning team — Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless.

The rest was noise, celebration, music, color, lights and lots of emotions! A few random photos to share it with you:

With Alex Honnold, Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Star and Directors). Never thought I’d hold an Oscar!
The proud parents!
With my boys — Alex, and Oscar!
Without Michelle & Hannah, I never would have been there! Yay, team!

Christmas Mystery

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,” says my favorite Christmas carol. Doesn’t that sound like a great idea? The world could sure use a thrill of hope right now.

That carol, “Oh Holy Night,” is playing on my CD player while I put up my Christmas tree, and as usual, it makes me stop and reminisce. All the carols have the power to whisk me back in time. I’m three or four again, playing under our Christmas tree with the little metal train chugging around it; I see it as clearly as I see the artificial one I’m putting together now. I feel my cozy, soft flannel pajamas with the little red reindeer, I can smell my mother’s candles. But mostly, I’m bathed again in mystery. Wonder.

In church, after mass, we walked up to see the creche with the real-looking Baby Jesus. While no one was watching, I reached out, quickly, and touched the straw that stuck out all around the manger. It was prickly, scratchy. I never saw straw in my ordinary New York City life. It was magic.

The electric candles in our window smelled more flame-like to me, in my Christmas world, than any real candle. Every evening, after supper, I waited, excited at my new responsibility: when my mother said it was time, I climbed up on the stuffed chairs in front of the windows and flipped the switch on the tall plastic candelabras. Behind their brilliant colors, the street that was normally so dark on winter nights glowed white with snow. More magic.

When my children were small, they never saw a street transform slowly from wintry black to soft white, one swirling flake at a time. There was no mystery in their world. Everything was reasonable, explainable. Did they always know, or maybe suspect, that Santa Claus was Grampie?

It might be just the nostalgia of my own Christmases past that paints the memories with those glowing, primary colors. My Christmas memories glow with an intensity that time never seems to diminish, and each year, I find myself hoping that my own children have some memories as mysterious, as wonder-inducing and as lifelong as my own. Mystery adds depth to an ordinary life — and can help make anyone in this weary world rejoice.


All my life, I’ve wondered what it would be like to attend a movie première, red carpet and all. Now I know.

“Free Solo,” the film from National Geographic about my son’s ropeless climb of El Capitan, premiered this September, and came out in movie theaters this October. I attended the premières in New York City, Yosemite and Los Angeles. 

First surprise: big poster of my son

at the Lincoln Center elevator:


There really was a red carpet, too — at least in NY and in LA. I’d alway thought that was a cliché.



And photographers! Every time I turned around, it seemed I was bumping into one. Lights, cases, wires everywhere. And people whose faces and names grace all the climbing magazines, extreme sports mag’s, and videos.




The Lincoln Center venue at Columbus Circle overlooks Central Park, and once the sun went down, the view sparkled!

But as overwhelming as it was visually, the most impressive thing, for me, was the thought that all this fuss was about my son. My baby. I remember being embarrassed and annoyed when my mother used to refer to me that way: her baby. At 5’10”, I was hardly a baby! Nor is Alex. But now I get it. They’re always your babies, no matter how old they are, how big, how famous.

My ‘baby’ has done something that most people can’t even wrap their minds around, can’t watch without fidgeting and covering their eyes. His big sister goes on cycling adventures that make people gasp, and changes people’s lives every day, at work. My ‘babies.’

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of a movie première — and that you’ll have a chance to go experience the movie.