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Kathryn Cleveland

Before returning to the West, my writing consisted of semi-amusing family Christmas letters. When my husband was diagnosed, I graduated to semi-inspiring emails about our journeys through his cancer. Writing became my way of making sense of the world of fear and caretaking. But I didn’t consider myself a writer and still hesitate to identify myself as such. After his death, I moved from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to South Dakota. I found Bear Lodge Writers at a book festival and came to learn the craft of writing and enjoy the fellowship of good chocolate.

In the past five years, I have maintained a sporadic blog, written for a travel magazine and been published in a regional anthology. In the works are a collaborative effort for a poetry/photography book and a memoir/self-help/healing-from-childhood book.  I write about life transitions of loss and new beginnings, doubt and faith, suffering and joy. I am a recovering urbanite living on a small acreage outside Hill City, South Dakota. I’ve been part of the annual Hill City Writers’ Workshop since its inception and love to travel to other literary events. I try to arrange any trips to include seeing at least one of my four children, who live geographically scattered from Seattle to New Jersey. My three (soon to be five) adorable grandchildren provide plenty of joy and writing inspiration.


 My writing reflects my deeply held spiritual beliefs and values. My goal is to share my journey and my writings, to bring life and perhaps healing to others.

Excerpts of Writing (from my blog):

December 2015-

It had been a dark fall, inside and out. The sun set at 4:30.  I’d eat and then, for several hours, stare at the walls or into the flickering fire. Reading made an eye injury throb.  I was isolated, cold and slipping fast.   My doctor prescribed a new and nasty medication.  For a few weeks, constant yawning and waves of nausea accompanied my irrational thoughts and bouts of crying.  Thanksgiving was a reprieve thanks to a sisterly intervention. And gradually, my new medications began to work.

But I was still nervous approaching Christmas.  Would I cry in front of my children? Would I want to retreat and escape the chaos of the three adorable grandchildren and four other beloved children, all under the age of ten? What if Christmas wasn’t perfect?  In my four years at the cabin, this would be the first time my family would be together for the holiday.

If it wasn’t perfect, if I wasn’t perfect.... they might not want to come back.  They might reject my quiet life. They might reject me. This is my mind without sunshine.  Even on medications.  Even with the assurances of my children that they will decorate, they will cook, they will.... help. I hate needing help.


I did a modicum of my usual frantic preparation. I thought about meals but I didn’t make a food flow chart.  Or shop for food. Thank heavens for Amazon or there’d have been few gifts.   From the basement, I hauled up a couple of the boxes I haven’t looked at since I sold our family home on the East Coast.  The amazing sister brought me three small trees, a cool piece of greenery to stick on the mantel and general moral support. I added a few family pieces; had to have the Holy Family. I pulled out a couple more nativity scenes.   

Then I hid all the Baby Jesus, just like I did when my children were young, when they were the ages their children are now.  I stuck some cheesy Christmas clings onto the front window, hung holiday art a son created in 1987. It began to feel more like Christmas, in all the good ways.


My daughter came first, with two of the adorables. And they were.  They ran to me yelling, “Bebe!” Their hugs were sweet and laughter contagious. My daughter looked around at the dirty house and said, “Wow, I thought you weren’t going to decorate. It looks great.” Really?

We pulled out the big Christmas tree and stuck it on the porch outside the great room window (as there was no room in the inn), piled logs on its base to keep it from blowing away in a strong wind and plugged it in.  No ornaments. The adorables jumped on the couch and squealed with delight as they peered out at the lights.  That’s all it takes?

A son showed up and we shopped for food. Another came with his family and everyone cooked and played games and it snowed. The three adorables flew down my barely sloped yard on cardboard boxes and plastic sleds and shrieked with laughter.  Hmm, that was simple.


My children and friends didn’t resent caring for me. They didn’t miss the all the decorations or preplanned meals.  They commented how they appreciate our low-key gift exchange.  They showed me that their father's and my parenting was successful as they lovingly parented their own children, even if their ways are different.

We laughed and took photos, we shared meals and napped; then bundled up the children for yet another foray into the snow. The men hiked the hills and the women talked as we walked through crunchy snow on a local trail.  People tried borrowed cross-country skis and snowshoes.  

It was Christmas at its finest. And I hadn’t expected it.


At some point in the haze and sadness leading up to the joy of the season, I had laid down my expectations. Mostly my expectations of myself—I would be energetic all the time. I would want to play complicated strategic games, when I could hardly remember the day of the week.  I would be totally prepared for any contingency from fresh nutmeg to head cold remedies. 

Part of my angst comes from living ten miles from a limited grocery store, but part was just my desire to have life so perfect here, they’ll return for another Christmas. Perhaps, too, I needed validation for my choice to live here. 

But returning to the cabin is their choice.  My choice is to be kind and gentle and compassionate to them when they are here but, just as important, to be kind and gentle and compassionate to myself.  Have an open heart to the adults and kids, but listen as well to my own need to retreat or to call for help, to be ok when I have to rely on others.  It was easy to extend an invitation to include another family; I must also extend and expose myself and risk rejection in that attempt....


The entire blog with pictures-

Publication Credit

Anthology- Granite Island, Amber Sea: Writings from the Black Hills and Plains Paperback – October 26, 2012




Hill City Writers’ Workshop -

Who is Kathryn?

Quotes I love (or made up): 

“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”  Joan Didion


“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” 
 Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“The internet is a fabulous rabbit hole— oh the things you’ll learn; oh, how much time you can waste.”  Kathryn

Fun Facts: 

I was born in Alaska. I’ve visited all 50 states except New Hampshire and Vermont. Hmm, I feel a road trip coming on.  I love road trips; I love driving. In the first six months of 2016, I had an extended road trip and slept in thirty-two beds. Only four were hotels. As a military widow, I know people everywhere.

I’ve lived in the western United States, in Naples, Italy and Okinawa, Japan, and the south, which can be like a foreign country. I love the energy of big cities but I can’t live there. Now I cocoon in a log house cozy with old mementos and ready for new memories. I love food and cooking for guests (when I’m home...)

I’m embarrassingly proud of myself when I succeed at anything mechanical. I’d rather be reading.

One word to describe me:  Curious

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