How We Spend Our Days: Pam Houston

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, beginning today, Catching Days will host a guest writer. To inaugurate this monthly series, “How We Spend Our Days,” please welcome writer Pam Houston:


photo by Russell Kaye

photo by Russell Kaye

The day begins at first light when my youngest wolfhound, Liam, sings a song.  He throws back his head and howls to greet the day.  It sounds a little like a donkey and a little like an elephant.  Sometimes Fenton and Mary Ellen sing along with him.  Mary Ellen’s singing is second soprano, and Fenton’s is practically falsetto.  They sing for about five minutes, and I am grateful the nearest house is more than a mile away.  Sometimes I can go back to sleep but more often than not I get up, and read to ease into the day.  This week it was Margaret Atwood’s new one, another review for Oprah.  The Year of The Flood….a dystopian future where everything is screwed up all thanks to men and their penises.  Very droll in Atwood fashion. Incredible world building.

Greg gets up and makes coffee, this week it is Sumatra Mandheling ordered especially from Stumptown in Portland, and he makes our protein powder and goat yoghurt and banana concoction, which at first I resisted, but now I love.  I look at email, give Mary Ellen her daily pain pill (she only has three legs) give good morning pets to all the pets and dog cookies likewise.  I take Deseo (the diabetic pasofino) a pear with three chromium picolante pills stuck inside, and a carrot each for Roany and the Yellow Horse.

Photo by Peggy Sarjeant

photo by Peggy Sarjeant

After coffee we take the boys (Fenton and Liam) on a walk to the end of the pasture, over the fence and onto the National Forest, up to the top of Lime Creek and back home, about two hours round trip.  There is usually a load of laundry to do, before the thunderstorms boom up in the late afternoon (no dryer here at the ranch, so clothes get hung outside on the line.)  We have a little lunch, usually leftovers from the night before, or, if there are none, a bowl of instant mashed potatoes or peanut butter and sour cherry jam on a spoon.

IMG_0307The afternoon is work time, which means working on my novel, or writing a review for Oprah, or critiquing manuscripts, or writing an essay for an anthology (or a blog) or whatever else is on the docket for any given day.  Some days there is a late afternoon trip to town for mail, or milk, or a fishing license, or a trip to the vet for shots, or a torn ear, or clogged anal glands.  The Rockies come on TV sometime between 5 and 8, depending on what coast they are on, and they are ubiquitous in this house on a summer evening.  Dinner is the one meal I throw myself into, and it is usually fairly elaborate and fresh and full of whole food/no short cut ingredients.  A Thai curry with eggplant and scallops, or a duck with mango ginger sauce, or buffalo steaks with cauliflower mash and sweet corn.  So a couple of hours in the kitchen with the Rockies on in the background is my idea of a perfect summer evening.  Sometimes we take a nightfall walk, sometimes a nightfall bath.  Sometimes we play some chickenfoot dominoes.  We usually take books to bed and read a little, and close our eyes until it is time for Liam to sing again.



Liam, Fenton, and Mary Ellen

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry.  It was chosen for me by Pat Towers, my editor at Oprah, but if it had not been chosen for me, I would have read it anyway.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • I must defer to Henry James, “A writer ought to strive to be a person on whom nothing is lost.”

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • Reading Sports Illustrated in the bath tub cover to cover every week.

Books by Pam Houston:


Cowboys Are My Weakness


Waltzing the Cat


A Little More About Me


Sight Hound

26 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Pam Houston

  1. Lovely post. Was transported to the ranch while drinking Pam’s morning routine along with my coffee. Look forward to reading more in this series.


  2. I was in complete envy until we got to lunch: instant mashed potatoes or PB and Jelly on a spoon. Yuck. But I picked up my envy again at dinner.

    Pam’s day sounds so full of fresh air, good health, and plenty of time for writing. I’m so jealous I could cry.


  3. I’m new to your blog and am enjoying reading your posts so far. This is a wonderful series and I can’t wait to read about the “day in the life” profiles of different writers each month.

    It was a joy to read about Pam Houston’s day. Her life is filled with animals, delicious food, and lots of time for writing. I love how she started and ended the day with reading.


    • Teresa, thanks for visiting the blog and taking the time to comment. I agree about starting and ending the day with reading. I usually end mine with reading, but perhaps I should start with a short passage as well. I hope you’ll be back!


  4. I’m supposed to be driving back home, over the mountains right now. But instead, I’m reading your blog. I couldn’t resist, for obvious reasons. Thanks to Pam, and to you, for sharing this with the world.


  5. I love the quote from Annie Dillard who wrote one of my favorite books, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. And I quite enjoyed spending the day with Pam Houston and experiencing the sensory details of her day and routine. I’m looking forward to more daily glimpses! What a great idea.


  6. Now I have a lump in my throat–that I’ll be missing Pam this summer at the ranch. What a lovely way to start the week though, Cindy. Can’t wait to see what else you do with this series.


    • Christina-we will miss you too! Thanks for stopping in and for leaving a comment. I’m excited about the series too–reading about writers’ days. I’ve enjoyed reading about some of yours on your blog.


    • Kim, I love the visual too and can imagine the audio of the dogs’ singing. There is something of the fairy tale about wolfhounds howling to greet the day–much more fitting than howling at the moon. Thanks for adding to the conversation!


  7. Fascinating! This is a great idea, I’ll be looking forward to the next one. I NEVER watch series on TV because I’m terrified of getting addicted, but after a single episode of your new series, I’m hooked.

    (You’re not going to start running commercials, are you?)


  8. Pingback: Summer Workshop in P-Town With Pam Houston | Text Heavy | Tracy Staedter

  9. Pingback: writing by writers | catching days

    • Hey Carol, your comment went into my spam folder but I found it and rescued it! I’m so glad you discovered the very first How We Spend Our Days post. I love that HJ quote too. And I love Pam’s writing, especially her latest Contents May Have Shifted.


  10. Pingback: wxw: tomales bay 2014 | catching days

  11. Pingback: truth: 152/365 | catching days

Your turn...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.