Adieu to 2010

Kogi's Blackjack Quesadilla and Spicy Pork Tacos.
2010 was the year of (in alphabetical order)

Beach Volleyball
Ed "reform"
Food trucks
Furlough days
LA summer that wasn't a summer
Oregon football
Buttermilk's Chicken & Waffles,
Brick, and Red Velvet Pancakes.
Pole Peddle Paddle
Untagging myself on David's FB
Weddings and engagements
YA Literature (The Hunger Games & The Book Thief)

A tasty delicious year it was!

Dogtown Dogs' Spicy Angeleno, Morning
Commute and Trailer Trash with tots.
2011... let's do this.


Good Hours

A gift of words for Mom, a favorite winter poem along with a few images from one of Mom's favorite artists, Rie Munoz... 

Good Hours
by Robert Frost

I had for my winter evening walk—
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.

And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.

Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,
At ten o'clock of a winter eve.


Thanks and Happy Holidays!

First off, thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has purchased/pimped Through Eyes Like Mine.  It has been an amazing process getting this book out into the world and initial feedback from several of you has been, "Uh, where are the pictures?"

So here are a few Christmas shots of Chet, Laura, Mitch and me for those of you reading the book this holiday season.


Pimp My Memoir: Through Eyes Like Mine for sale

For much of the past year, I've spent hours upon hours editing, revising, designing and redesigning Through Eyes Like Mine.  Much of that work has been done in the early morning hours.  Most of the process has been solitary.  It's what writers do and I'm a writer.  So although it's taken a whole lot of time and energy, I've loved doing it.

Now that the book is out, the marketing has begun. In this process, I'm much less comfortable.  I have to talk to people, email them, follow up with phone calls, and email or call again. I have to ask people to buy the book and that goes against all my socialist tendencies.  But if any of the editors from Penguin, Nan Talese, Tin House, Vintage, MacAdam/Cage, St. Martin's, Holt, HarperCollins, Graywolf, Picador, who passed on my book, had decided to publish it, they would have marketed the memoir so now it's up to me.

I decided to self-publish. I owe it to myself to pimp my memoir, so I'm asking for your help.

First off, to all of you who have already bought the book, thank you so very, very much.  If you read the book, please consider posting a review on Amazon, or as a comment on my website.  I would love to hear what you think, good or bad and to get people talking about the book.  Tell your friends and neighbors.  Write about it on your blogs.  Any press is good press, right?

If you haven't bought it, don't like to read, don't plan on reading it, I should have put this paragraph earlier because you probably aren't still reading, but just in case you are, you can help too!  Please share this post throughout the world of social media.  Even if you aren't so into books, please share with your friends.  Maybe they like books.  Maybe they will read it.  You too can pimp my memoir.

Or you can just chuckle about that little Noriko, (isn't she silly about all of this self-publishing nonsense) go about your day, and I'll simply carry on quietly, oh wait, I'm not supposed to do this quietly. Whatever.  This capitalism thing is hard for me, but I'll be out pimping my memoir, one book at a time.


NaNoWriMo: My Favorite Month of the School Year

NaNoWriMo:  National Novel Writing Month.  It's this insane idea that you can write a novel in a month.  I discovered NaNoWriMo in grad school (another Raymond Johnson contribution) and as a writer, or non-writer, or wanna-be-writer, it has always served me well.  But the past two years I incorporated NaNoWriMo into my eighth grade English narrative unit and it was been my favorite lesson/series of lessons ever.  The young writers program has great curriculum to help students or anyone who wants to try to write a novel.  The first time I saw the young writer's handbook, I wished I'd gotten something like it during my mfa program.  Last year I managed to draft a YA novel, and this year it's historical fiction, but what amazes me most are the stories, the sentences, the scenes from my students.  Here are a couple samples.

from Shattered Glass by Denise:   

At school it was like he wasn’t even there.  Teachers always skipped his name as if they were seeing right through him. 

Sam hated his life he hated the way they treated him like a ghost, as if he was the one who died in the car crash.  

Sometimes he would wonder if he had died and his ghost was still lingering in the real world and he just didn’t realize it. 

from Sports Addict by Hunter:  

Yelling. That's the noise that I wake up to every morning. My parents fight non-stop like two wild dogs. Every time I make a mistake, in school or just “mis-using” my knife at the table all I can hear is my dad and mom yelling. “Clyde Little this and Clyde Little that.” It’s all thanks to my stupid choice and addiction.

These are only a few lines from two of 60 novels my English students worked on last year and there are 65 more in progress right now.   Best of luck to anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year; I really should get to work on mine. 


Through Eyes Like Mine Mix Tape

So I was inspired by Raymond's 50 State Mix Tape and decided my forthcoming literary work (otherwise knows as Through Eyes Like Mine, a quiet book passed on by most major American publishing houses) needed a soundtrack.  So in order to build on a little buzz for the book's release here are some songs to set the tone for the book.

Through Eyes Like Mine starts with an epigraph of the first line from this song.

It's a Small World at Disneyland was the only ride I wanted to ride when I was two and made my first trip to the happiest place on earth.  Too bad I wasn't so happy.

Failure in our family was congratulated with an evil grin and the chanting of "Dunt, dunt, dunt, another one bites the dust."

Chet, Laura and I were in a production of The King an I at a small theater in Bend.  Maybe Anna inspired my teaching career when I was four.

My third grade crush and I both loved Devo.

For some reason my childhood memories of this song aren't of Cat Stevens, but of church on Sunday morning.  We went to St. Francis every Sunday.  Never missed.

The other song that plays pretty constantly through the memories of my childhood is the score from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Chet introduced my whole family to U2 in the mid 80s.  I remember hearing this song blaring from his bedroom.

This mix tape got me really excited about getting back to work on Overdue Apologies, the middle school memoir that's next in line.  There will be some fabulous 80s pop in that one.  Hope this odd collection of tunes makes you want to read my quiet little book.


My Decision to Self-Publish and Why I'm Sticking With It

After finishing my MFA I had a pretty solid manuscript in hand.  It felt done.  It felt different and real and I didn't cringe (too much) as I read over the draft months later.  So I shopped it, landed an agent and thought, there it is!  My book, written, sitting with an agent and she will make publishing happen!

Of course things didn't quite work out that way.  My agent was great.  She got the book to editors at big houses who read it and although they thought the book was beautifully written, it was a little too quiet or not quite what they were looking for.

That's okay.  I didn't write it for any of them anyway!  I wrote it for me.  But I also wanted Oprah to pick my book for her show and now she's almost done with her show and she won't be able to promote it.


But from what I hear, the publishing world is all sort of wacky turvy right now.  E-books and e-readers and Snookie getting a book deal.  Snookie!  And it's so easy to self-publish.  And so affordable.  I can do it on my own.

Except then I have to do it all on my own.

So, I read and reread my book.  I edited, revised, proof-read, read again, reread, reread and still, STILL there were mistakes.  I made more changes.  I printed proof copies.  I shared it with my circle of talented friends who write and read.  I heard from them and I made more changes, read, reread, revised, proof-read, added, deleted read again and again and again and again.

I designed a cover.  I thought I liked it.  I didn't.  I changed it. I liked it again.

I'm waiting on what I hope will be the last proof copy.   I'm really excited.  I'm ready to send it out into the world.  I hope to move 10,000 units.  That's not so much.  Wait, that's a ton.  

I hope you might want to read it.  

It's coming.  It's coming soon. 

Through Eyes Like Mine.  A book.  My book.  By Noriko Nakada.


Who's the Boss? all grown up...

Maybe I haven't given enough credit to Who's the Boss.  I watched a few episodes when Samantha and I were both little tomboys, but as we both grew up, we grew apart.  And although I can still sing the song, "A Brand New Life" from the opening credits, I can't recall the plot of a single episode.  But seeing where the cast is today makes me think back to that show with a little more nostalgia.

It started with Judith Light during that first season of Ugly Betty. Then I joined Twitter and realized that my long-lost bff just might be Alyssa Milano.  She's a sports fan, a Dodger fan, and an animal and human rights activist.  Her tweets are entertaining, helpful and informative. Then, that Tony Danza started teaching.  In a fall rife with teacher-bashing and public school criticism, Mr. Danza's show Teach, helped remind me how rewarding, frustrating and humbling my job is. Thanks, Mr. D.


My take on Waiting for "Superman"...

I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Davis Guggenheim's documentary, Waiting for "Superman" and I wasn't sure I wanted to go.  I'd heard so much bad buzz about the movie's portrayal of teachers, teacher's unions and charter schools, but decided to see it (for free) so I could make up my own mind. I walked into the movie knowing a whole lot more than most people do about education, so I'm not sure what the general public will think, but I hope they'll walk away with this:  ALL OUR KIDS deserve a quality education.
However, the movie suggests that charter schools working outside the constraints of this system will get us there.  But as the movie concludes, most of the students lose out in charter school lotteries. This shows that charters cannot provide a quality education for ALL OUR KIDS.

The movie suggests that the answer is effective teachers.  If we can just get rid of these union contracts and fire ineffective teachers, our students will thrive.  But who decides which teachers are effective and which aren't?  Will superintendents like Michelle Rhee determine teacher effectiveness? Principals? Value-added measures?  And if we can find a real way to measure teacher effectiveness and get rid of bad teachers, who will take their place?  How can we be sure that a new teacher will be any more effective than the old one?

The movie suggests we reward good teachers.  The DC teachers are portrayed as insane when they refuse to accept merit pay based on a value-added measures (VAM).  But what about Emily, one of the film's children, who doesn't test well? With VAM, would a teacher be willing to offer Emily the education she deserves or simply make her a better test taker?  Are we trying to educate our students or just teach them to take tests?  With our students and schools already deemed failures based on NCLB testing standards, do we really want to reward or punish teachers based on their ability to improve student test scores? 

Guggenheim wonders if a movie can change public education.  He attempts to convince the audience to care about OTHER PEOPLE'S kids.  But I don't know if the stories of a handful of poor kids who can't afford private schools will convince Guggenheim's intended audience (people who have already turned their backs on public education) to come back.  His portrayal of schools is simply too bleak and the successes too few to restore hope for those who assume their local schools provide what Michelle Rhee describes as a "crappy education."

From working in numerous "failing" schools, with "failing" students in a "failing" district, I see an awful lot of success.  I still believe that at every school, there are good teachers and at every school (even those charter and private schools) there are not-so-great teachers, but a kid can learn from every single one of them.  A student's experience is what they make of it and rather than abandoning this "failing" system, I'm sticking around. I doubt this movie will bring anyone back to their neighborhood school, but I will continue to work in a local public school. I will work hard for my students and their families.  After all, that is who I work for.  I work for students just like the ones portrayed in this movie: Anthony, Emily, Daisy, Francisco and Bianca. They aren't OTHER PEOPLE'S kids to me.  They are ALL OUR KIDS.  They are MY KIDS and they all deserve a quality education from a quality teacher in a quality school.

The reforms we need will strengthen all of our schools, not just a handful.  They will involve listening to parents and communities.  They will require us working together rather than forcing us to compete for space, funds, teachers and students.

The movie is right.  All of our schools need help and maybe, despite all of its failings, this movie will bring all of our schools (not just a handful of charters) the attention and care they deserve.


The First Day of School

A few years after I started teaching middle school, I walked across the south field on the first day of school.  It was early, before students arrived, but my principal was there and she asked me, "Are you nervous?"

I was still fairly green as a teacher and attempted to sound seasoned.  "Nervous, no, but I'm excited."

"Really?" My principal responded.  "Oh, I still get nervous and I promised myself if I ever wasn't nervous for the first day, I should retire."

Almost a decade later, that principal has retired, but I imagine she's still nervous for all of us heading back to school tomorrow.

So, am I nervous?  Yes, and I'm bracing for the year to come.  I glance at the names on my class rosters. These students are strangers to me, and that is what I'm nervous for.  That is the suspense that will keep my mind spinning with the preparations I still need to make to start the year.  Because by the end of the week, those names will reveal faces and slowly, those faces will share their stories.

As the first day bleeds into the first week, month and semester, many of my 100 students will share bits and pieces of their lives with me and it is these stories that will keep me from falling asleep in the nights to come.  We will make it through that first semester and we will work through to spring. Then these students will graduate and head off to high schools across the city.  These students will fade away and they will take their stories with them.

That's one of the hardest things about being a teacher.  I get this glimpse into so many lives but I so rarely get to hear how the stories end.  Fortunately, I've had the summer to rest up, to reflect on the stories I've heard this past year, and to make room for new ones.

Tomorrow is the first day of school and I'm nervous.  I'm nervous, excited, and anxious to hear the stories of this new school year.


Fertility Update

Last year I over-shared that David and I were trying to get pregnant in Fertile Soil.  Well, we're still trying and this fertility business, apparently, can get a bit tricky.

At first, when we found out each month that I wasn't pregnant we'd celebrate with an "I'm not pregnant" cocktail (usually a greyhound) and toasted the month to come.

But now I'm tired of cocktails and ready to get this next chapter of our lives going.  We're staying positive and taking a look at medical options but that's the news for now.  No news.  And until there's something more exciting to report, here's a thought-provoking video on fertility/infertility.  It sheds light on this struggle many couples face.

What IF? A Portrait of Infertility from Keiko Zoll on Vimeo.


Time Flies

It's already been over a year since I started Noriko's Random Bits. 32 posts and 18 followers later I'm still waiting on that book and movie deal. I guess I just have to keep blogging.

In my first six blogs I got very kind feedback via Facebook (thanks all of you who have been with me from the start) and slowly started to build a readership. Then, with Fertile Soil, I received two blog comments all the way from China! Thanks, Dalian Clan and Ni Hao Flennaugh.

According to my labels I've written most about writing, Los Angeles, middle school and NaNoWriMo but that's probably because of all those New LA Life posts of the YA novel I was working on this past fall and winter. The posts receiving the most reader comments on blog and Facebook were two entries relating to food. "Hot Dog!" ~Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life received 13 comments and Chocolate Chip Cookie Confessional 9. One of my more serious posts, Cockroaches, also brought numerous comments and amazing support. Thank you all for letting me know I wasn't writing or living in a vacuum.

I even started a second blog! These are my sporty reflections on the world and even if you don't like sports you might want to check it out. http://throwingcookies.blogspot.com/

Again, thanks for reading along with me. If you aren't following any other blogs, check out my blog list. There are some amazing bloggers out there and you might discover them before their movie or book deal comes through.


My top 3 LA Food Trucks

It's taken months and months of grueling research, but it was worth it to find a few gems among the food trucks in LA. I still need to track down that shave ice truck and with new trucks starting up all the time this entry will be out of date as soon as I publish it. But here they are: my top three food truck orders as of July 27, 2010 9:50 am. These are the best of the best which means I stalk them on twitter and have to exhibit all sorts of will power not to eat them daily. Seriously. It's a good thing that Kogi line is so long or I might live off those tacos.

1 Kogi BBQ Truck
David always gets their Blackjack Quesadilla (that green sauce is so tasty) but I love the tacos. A trio of short rib, chicken and spicy pork por favor! Something about the kim chee, meat and sauce wrapped in a tidy tortilla makes my brain confused and happy at the same time. Oh and their tres leches is a chocolate gooey mess of yum.

2 Buttermilk Truck
Okay, the red velvet chocolate chip pancakes are so good that it's hard for me not to skip right to dessert every time. But the brick (chorizo gravy, cheese, fried egg, choice of bacon or sausage and hash browns) and the breakfast sandwiches (biscuits with an over easy egg, cheese, and bacon or sausage) are so good I haven't even had the chance to try to breakfast sliders yet. The Hawaiian bread french toast is another dessert option that is oh so tasty.

3 Coolhaus
I love ice cream. I love cookies. I love the Cool Haus's gourmet take on the ice cream sandwich. The only reason they didn't place higher is that I have such a hard time placing my order and I always have sandwich envy both before and after. David loves the snicker doodle with red velvet ice cream and I am a fan of the chocolate cookie with dirty mint ice cream, the chocolate chip cookie with mascarpone balsamic fig ice cream, or the oatmeal cookie with brown butter with candied bacon ice cream. I just saw some new flavors in their site though. Sea salt caramel and coffee toffee will be sandwiched in my mouth soon.

Honorable mention: delicious but easier to resist
The Morning Commute and Fennel Dogs are super tasty.
The carnitas tacos are quite delicious too.

Follow them on twitter or check out their websites for a tasting near you.


London, the Ghost Map and Cholera

My mom gifted me Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map for my birthday this year and I cracked it open while on a trans-Atlantic flight to London. Johnson's nauseating descriptions of city life in the mid 1800s, of cesspools and open graves, made me so grateful for our modern waste management systems. His careful unfolding of overlapping urban lives around London's Broad Street pump during the hot summer of 1854's deadly cholera outbreak illuminates how one devastated neighborhood helps unlock cholera's mystery and saves millions.

Although some parts dragged and others seemed redundant, The Ghost Map shows how early city planning and the sound scientific research of Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead made cities more livable and safe. It gave me a new appreciation for clean drinking water and how long it once took to understand the transmission and treatment of a deadly disease. The crowded sidewalks of those Soho Streets and the paved embankments along the Thames over 150 years later show The Ghost Map's lasting legacy and make me so very glad I am unlikely to suffer from death by cholera.Snow's map marks each cholera victim with a black bar. This geographic representation helped prove that contracting the disease was connected to the Broad Street water pump rather than the foul stench in the air.


"Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world" ~Journey

A few weeks ago, I flew back to my hometown for the weekend. As soon as the cabin doors opened on a cool evening in Central Oregon, it smelled like home. The clean dry air carried the scents of damp juniper and a distant thunderstorm. My eyes watered, I sneezed, and that was spring in Bend to me. I hadn't been back to Bend in spring since the year I graduated from high school but that smell brought me right back to tennis tournaments, track meets, graduations and allergies.

I was in town for the town's annual Pole Peddle Paddle race and for the weekend I embraced Bend's small town culture. I skied Bachelor in May and stayed at my old elementary school that has been transformed into a hotel. I visited with friends and family and walked those same streets that were once my entire world. I tried to imagine my life if I moved back to that small town, where I might live and work, what I might do for fun. And even though I love and miss the mountain views, even though I yearn for the familiar rush of the river running through town, I can't picture a life for myself there.

When I was a kid, I struggled to picture my adult self living an adult life. Maybe every kid struggles imagining their future, but my life in Los Angeles is so vastly different from my life in Bend and maybe that's why the future was always blurry; out of focus.

Friends here in LA dream of escaping the city, moving away from all of these people and the noise to a space where there are trees and wildlife. I understand their yearnings because I miss the high desert, the cold, sweet water and the thin air. But the city is my home now and although I like to visit that other world, Los Angeles is where I belong. One gorgeous weekend in Bend confirmed that.


Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin Eater

I started another blog. It's about baseball. I've posted to it three times and haven't posted here at all in that time. If you can forgive me, and/or you want to read about sports, check out "Throwing Cookies." It's a sports reference. If you throw a cookie (not toss your cookies... that's gross) it's an easy, hittable pitch. So these are little blog-lobs about baseball and other aspects of my sporty life.



10 Books That Influenced Me...

I follow an agent's blog who linked to a New York Times article where the author answered a question posted on another guy's blog about the ten most influential books. Fun game. I want to play!

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Okay, it was the movie first, but it made me think of my life as a story and how I would tell that story. It also made me think my life was boring and who would want to read about a girl who has NOTHING happen to her?

2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The first book to make me think differently about matters of consequence.

3. Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. First-person pov can make me want to spend the weekend with some smart-mouthed teenager from New York and not be such a phony.

4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Vignettes are a beautiful, nontraditional way to tell a story.

5. Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers and Blu's Hanging by Lois Ann Yamanaka. A truly Asian American story, not about the immigration experience, or about life in China/Japan/Vietnam, it's about being Asian in America.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This taught me that just because it's part of the traditional canon, I don't have to avoid it and that I'd been ignoring great stories by ignoring the canon.

7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Nonfiction can still be about scene, characters, story and exquisite writing.

8. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. A short story collection that shifts and shoves the boundary between fiction and reality in order it tell the truth of a collective war experience.

9. Maus I and II by Art Speigelman. My favorite graphic novel/memoir ever. It made me want to draw my story.

10. Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje. Write memoir as beautifully as you write fiction.

Care to share your list or the most influential one or two books on you as a person, a reader, a writer?


To Test-Prep or Not to Test-Prep?

It happens around this time every school year. Testing looms just after spring break and instead of thinking about the experience my students have in my classroom, instead of caring about their love of reading and writing or what they hope for in the future, I start worrying about how well they will bubble. I get fed all of this test-prep garbage and because, "Noriko, accountability is important," I've swallowed it all.

This year I don't want to. I want to go old school. I want to trust that if I've taught my students how to think, if I've done my job and given my students reading and thinking strategies they should do just fine. Am I morally obligated to do our school's test prep program that feeds into an accountability system that year after year discredits our school system, my teaching and my students' learning? Or am I morally obligated not to do the test prep?

Will one year of Ms. Nakada make a difference? If my students do not review the process of elimination, proper bubbling technique and test-release questions this year, will it make a difference to students who know school as a testing factory? I'm not sure it matters in either direction, but would I be failing my students if they got the year off?


Chocolate Chip Cookie Confessional

I love warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven, golden brown around the edges, soft and chewy in the middle with melted chocolate oozing from each bite. When I had a craving, I used to make big batches of these cookies, eat way too many, feel sick, eat a couple more for breakfast and then pack the rest away in little bags away to give away to chocolate chip cookie loving people in my life.

But then I got wise. Why not save the dough, ration it out for the week and savor two cookies a night. So that's what I've been doing. For a couple of months now, as if it were my 2010 cookie resolution, I've been making half-batches of cookie dough, scooping a couple cookies onto a sheet each night and storing the rest in the fridge until tomorrow. I have the recipe memorized.

I know, they sell cookie dough at the grocery store and at CostCo. This is not a completely original idea, but what makes it so perfect is that it's just a couple of cookies a day. Except on the nights when I bake three, or four. But two cookies can't be that bad for you, right? Besides, I work out, and they make the house smell so good, and they are so very tasty. You should try it. No kidding. You can thank me later.


"Hot dog!" ~Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life

If you don't like processed meat, well, this isn't the blog post for you. But after sampling Dogtown Dogs last night I began to compare all of the hot dogs I've ever had. Can't quite rank them just like I can't pick a favorite kid (if I had kids): they are all wonderful in their own ways. 71 days before Dodger Stadium opening day but my mouth is already watering. Maybe this year Gantt will actually take me to the game. Favorite hot dogs, people?

Dodger Dogs. (Dodger Stadium) You have to be there and David and I like them with lots of ketchup and onions.

Nathan's Famous. (Coney Island) Yum. Something about that snap of a Nathan's.

The Stand. (LA) http://www.thestandlink.com/
For those of you in LA, there are a couple of locations and after sampling several from their menu, I've liked all of them. My favorite is the one I ate after my testing fast last year, The Big Red Chili Dog, but anything JP brings on hot dog Thursday at Emerson works for me. Their homemade potato chips are delicious too.

Pinks (LA) http://www.pinkshollywood.com/
Waiting in that long line in Hollywood seems to make these dogs even tastier. David swears by the Huwell Howser Dog and I usually go with the chili cheese but I just saw the LA Phil Conductor Gustavo Dudamel Dog which looks all kinds of yummy.

Dogtown Dogs (LA) http://dogtowndog.com/
You have to track down Dogtown on twitter to find out where they are, but it's worth the work. The Morning Commute: bacon-wrapped all-beef dog topped with a fried egg. So tasty tasty. The tater tots are good too.

Oki's Dog (LA)
On Fairfax by LA High, this spot wraps pastrami, chili and hot dogs in a giant tortilla. Uhmazing. The owner is from Okinawa so it's no wonder I like them.

Puka Dog (Kauai) http://www.pukadog.com/
Kauai sucks, but these hot dogs were a perfect snack on the beach between rounds of mai tais. They wrap polish sausages, bake it in a bread bun and top it with fruity relishes and garlic lemon secret sauce. Mmmmm.

I can't wait to try Let's Be Frank... but any other recommendations from anywhere from Portland to China are welcome!


Julie and Julia

That movie, Julie & Julia, tricked me. Not totally, but enough to catch me emotionally off-guard. I figured it would inspire me to cook amazing food, whisk together French sauces and poach eggs. I laughed and sighed at these two stories about love, food, and cooking.

What surprised me was how both stories were also about writing and publishing. That hit a little close to the quick. That whole, "You're not a writer unless you're published" made me real mad. All those messages on Julie's machine from agents and publishers, whatever.

 I'm still writing. I'm still blogging. I have finished manuscripts gathering dust from the "pass" pile on the floors of major publishing houses. Where is my national following? Where is my publishing offer, advance and movie deal?

No, no, no. I still enjoyed the movie. I still write everyday. I'm still a writer. I'm sure Julie's husband would agree.


New LA Life: Chapter 6

A few other guys from the other teams joined C.J., Alan, Jose, Manny and me for lunch and as we walked out of the park I started to get a sense of these four friends. C.J. had a strong, quiet confidence and would talk to anyone. He'd brought a skateboard and rolled alongside us. He was closest to Manny while Alan and Jose seemed like best friends. I tried to pick up on the inside jokes the four of them tossed around constantly. We were almost out of the parking lot, walking toward a mini-mall with a Jamba Juice, Subway and a Chinese restaurant when and I noticed a three girls sitting at the bus stop watching us.

"Alan! Jose! Where you guys going for lunch?" Yelled a girl with a blonde pony-tail. She waved but the boys ignored her.

"Amber Johnston," C.J. said with a scowl.

"Don't even say the name, that..." Alan stopped himself.

"Uh, you’re the cat who played with that shit last spring," Manny said, shaking his head.

"Shut up, man. We all make mistakes."

"And at least you got some play," Jose piped in as we reached the intersection and waited for the light to change. "So, Erika, where you going? Perry with the homies? Manhattan with the fags?"

I tried to think of the name of the school Auntie Laine mentioned at dinner but neither of those sounded familiar. "Um, I think I'm going where C.J. goes."

"Yeah, my mom is helping her aunt get her into Emerson."

"Well, I guess that's somewheres in the middle," Jose said, "It's a little bit hood, a little bit Hollywood."

"Where do you go?"

"Alan's a Manhattan Beach snob and so am I, unfortunately. Manny's at Emerson too. I was actually trying to see if Mom would transfer me to Emerson but she says it's too far."

The light turned and we strolled slowly across the intersection for lunch. C.J. said he'd get me and gave me a smile that for the first time ever made me feel what it must be to have an older brother looking out for me.

On the way back to the park Amber Johnston and her two friends walked toward me. They wore make-up and street clothes and I felt ugly in my soccer gear. I was still pulling on my sweaty shin guards and a fresh pair of socks on while the boys were played keep away a few yards away.

"Hey," Amber said standing above me so that she was blocking the sun. When I looked up she had her hand stretched out to me.

"Hi," I said remembering what Alan had stopped himself from saying about her as I shook her limp palm.

"I hear you just moved here from Argon."

I smiled, still looking down. "You mean Oregon. It's Oregon."

"Oh, yeah, well, whatever."

One of her friends, a tall girl with brown hair cut into a short bob and a super-dark tan piped in next. "I see you already trying your game with all our guys."

I had to squint because Amber stepped to the side. "I'm not trying my game on anyone. I just moved and I'm just playing soccer." I thought back to Portland, to the complicated web of boyfriends and crushes that shaded every relationship. I was walking into this situation completely blind.

"Okay, well, just be careful." This was Amber again. "Because those boys are a bunch of players. They think going out is just like soccer, a game, and they will pass you from one to the next just like that." She snapped her fingers for emphasis. "Just warning you."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said and moved my focus back to my cleats. I thought they'd all gone away until I heard another voice chime in.

"Mentirosas," the voice said and when I looked up, it was Marisela. "Don't listen to that mess, girl," Mari said loudly enough so the three girls who were walking away could still hear her. "They just jealous you went to lunch with the cute boys." She reached her hand out to help me to my feet. "I know everyone thinks I'll hate you because I'm used to being the chica suprema out here. But I figure if we can both keep up with the boys we ought to stick together."

"Hey, thanks," I said as the whistle blew and we trotted back to practice.

"Entonces," she said, "I can see you have something sad in your heart. You don't need no more enemies."

I smiled, glad that Marisela was on my side. I had a good feeling about her but worried that she'd find out the truth: that I was the mentirosa, and I was my own worst enemy.


Word Clouds

I stumbled upon this site that will make word clouds of text. Pretty neat. http://www.wordle.net/

Through Eyes Like Mine

Overdue Apologies


New LA Life: Chapter 5 continued

At the break I joined up with CJ and his three buddies again and tried to remember the new names: C.J., short for Curtis, tall, short hair, dark-skin. Alan, the cutest of the three with a Hapa baby-face like Uncle Kev, brown hair and eyes that were almost green. Jose, a spiky-haired Latino jokester, and Manny, the shortest one, was serious and sweet.

"Oh, for sures," Jose was saying. "Her and probably Mari. They're the only girls who can fuckin' hang."

I sat down next to my duffle bag and looked for my Gatorade.

"Well, E," Curtis said, sticking with the nickname, "You're auntie don't lie. Girl can play."

I tried to hide my smile and wiped the sweat from my forehead. I was still feeling good, still able to avoid thinking about why I was starting this new life here in the first place.

"So, this is how it works," Jose said sliding in next to me. "They do this little clinic on the first day of camp and then they make squads based on skills. I'm pretty sure you'll be in the top tier with us. Only one other girl ever plays with us and that's Marisela." Jose nodded in the direction of a skinny girl with her hair in a ponytail high on her head. Her hands were on her hips and she wore super long shorts that hung almost all the way to her shin guards. She was talking to this other kid who looked way older than us. His head was shaved and he wore long navy blue Dickies instead of soccer shorts. I learned the word later; he was a cholo. "That G's Ramiro," Jose continued. "They are on again, off again, all the time. Looks like right now they're on." I noticed the way Jose looked at Mari. There was a story there. Just like all of the history between friends in Portland, I had to learn a whole new scene. But as I watched Mari I wondered if maybe she could be a friend. She obviously loved soccer like I did, and I hoped we'd have other things in common.

The coach with the strong Irish accent blew a whistle calling us back to the shade and divided us into groups. They started calling names for the lowest group, placing players onto teams based on high schools in the area: Mira Costa, Avalon, Torrance and Redondo Union. I watched and waited as the younger kids in the group were placed and imagined Jem would have run circles around the kids here, that if he were here he definitely would have made the middle group which was who they called next. These all had college team names like UCLA, USC, Stanford and San Diego. The highest group, the one I knew I wanted was called next and our teams were based on the pros: Chivas, Barcelona, Arsenal and Manchester United. I ended up being called along with Alan and Mari for team Barcelona and Jose winked at me as he went to Chivas. He'd been right, after all. Marisela and I were the only two girls on the top teams.

By the time we finished a bunch of conditioning drills my legs ached. I hadn't played against boys in a while I knew I didn't just want to hang. I wanted to be one of the best. Alan and I partnered up even though I could tell the coach wanted Mari and I to practice together and through the whole session Mari and I kept our eyes on one another. She beat me in the flat out sprints but she and I were toward the front of the whole pack. In the side-to-side and back-pedaling we were pretty much neck-to-neck. Once coach threw a ball into play I noticed she seemed stronger with her left foot and although she was quick, she was also small. If I played a physical game I could always knock her off the ball.

"Nice work," Alan said as we walked back toward our bags for the lunch break.

"You too," I said with a smile, automatically feeling at ease with Alan who, with his height and strong build, would probably play striker.

"We have a mean squad, huh?"

"Yeah, well, we'll soon find out," he said taking a long sip at his water bottle. "After lunch we'll get to scrimmage."