2011: A Year in Review

Another year of blogging. How about that. Aside from that dry spell after going to BlogHer, it's been my most productive year of posts. People apparently like to be all up in my fertility as those posts were by far the most viewed, and while this year finally brought some happy news in that regard, 2011 was about more than that. Here is a review of the year on the blog.

Drafting Overdue Apologies, my forthcoming middle school memoir... due out, well, before the baby (I hope).

Reading from and promoting Through Eyes Like Mine.

National Pancake Week!

Reading, critiquing and viewing The Help.

Photo essays using Instagram.

Poetry in April.

Twitter as a #writingpromptgenerator.

A memorial to my cousin Traci.

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting on this random little blog. Here's to good times to come in 2012!


The Closest I Ever Got to Kim Jung Il

In the summer of 2009, I had the chance to visit China where my sister and her family were living. We took a day trip to Dandong along the China/North Korea border.

It was a warm summer day when we left Dalian, but by the time we arrived in Dandong it was raining. If there's one place that makes China seem normal, it's Dandong, because right over there, across the Yalu River is North Korea and just by looking, you can tell things are a little crazy over there.

We walked across the pedestrian bridge. It had been bombed during the Korean War but the North Koreans left the damage so Americans couldn't deny they bombed it (crazy?).

From the dead-end bridge we could spot a Ferris Wheel and what appeared to be an amusement park. How normal! How not crazy! Except it's only there for show. The wheel never moved and we only spotted a couple of people walking through the park.

We then drove along the Yalu to a stretch of the Great Wall. Along the way, the skies cleared allowing us to see to the North Korean side, spotted with guard towers and the occasional armed guard.

Blue skies and this sign welcomed us to this part of the Great Wall. We hiked up the wall and gazed over into North Korea wondering just what life might be like over there.

At the top of one of the towers we could pay to use a telescope to look further into North Korea. A couple of American tourists were taking advantage of the scope but for me, just peering over the Great Wall into North Korea was as close to Kim Jung Il as I needed to get.

Maybe with the death of Kim Jung Il we'll soon know more about life in North Korea, or maybe Kim Jung Un will continue to isolate North Korea and its people with pretend amusement parks and armed borders.


Ice Skating and Spin the Bottle

This week we took a bunch of our students ice skating. For many, it was their first time on skates and on this cold December evening, as I watched my students wavering across the ice, I remembered all the time I spent skating with friends when I was in middle school. Boys and girls raced around the ice, tried hard not to fall, and clung to one another for balance, reminding me just how it felt to be on that edge, constantly teetering along between humiliation and glory. But then I caught two different couples stealing kisses, and it was back to my reality as a responsible adult chaperone.

Funny how things change. I couldn't help but think of this of excerpt from the forthcoming Overdue Apologies: a middle school memoir. It captures one of those ice skating nights from my youth, and hopefully none of those kids I caught kissing will stumble across this post.

Ice Skating

Just before Thanksgiving the first snow of winter falls and the rink at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain opens. Jamie, Robin, Bianca, Kim and I plan to go Friday night and I'm pretty sure Mom will let me go. Anything can happen on a night up at the Inn and I'd be devastated if I missed out. We invite everybody, but Gabe, Cougar and Cody are hunting, so it's just us girls. 

I'm surprised Mom agrees to drive us because there's already a trace of snow on the ground but she takes Robin, Jamie and me slowly through town and pulls up to The Inn. The little rink is lit up beneath a starry winter sky. 
"Have fun," Mom says as we step out of the car and Jamie and Robin thank her for the ride. "I'll pick you up at nine, okay. Don't be late." 

"OK, Mom, bye," I say as I slam the door. I can't get away from her fast enough. I sprint to catch up with Jamie and Robin and hope Mom pulls away before anyone sees our old beat-up car. Our station wagon pulls away and I feel free: three full hours without any adults around, without family watching my every move. The night feels electric with the possibility.

We rent skates and the brown boots smell like dirty feet. The leather is stiff and cold, but I shove my feet in anyway, lace up and wobble out onto the ice. I've skated before, on the pond at Shevlyn Park, and Dad's words echo in my ears, "Keep your ankles stiff; lean into your turn just like skiing." Jamie hasn't been on skates much. She shuffles across the ice with one hand on the wooden wall that surrounds the rink. Robin has actually taken a few lessons. She crosses her feet in the turns and skates backward, peering over her shoulder like a real professional. Robin manages to be the coolest again. I'm somewhere between the two of them, skating around the rink, occasionally pounding into the wooden walls, laughing, and watching the parking lot for Bianca and Kim and anyone else who might show up to tonight. 

The rink fills with little kids and their parents and then Bianca and Kim, and a few other girls from school: Stephanie Troutman, Amy Oliver, Loretta Garretson, and Tara Transue show up. We spot boys from Cascade, not Duffy, but Ryan Combs, Todd Hoffman and Peter Moore. They fly around the rink on hockey skates until we have to clear the ice for the Zamboni. Everyone crowds around the counter to return skates. My feet ache and the warm, ripe room makes me claustrophobic. I yank my feet from the skates and hurry outside.

Robin, Jamie, Bianca, Kim and I walk to the café to get hot cocoa but Jamie and I only have a couple of quarters, so we hang out in the arcade. The boys from Cascade are there too and after watching me beat Jamie at air hockey, Peter Moore and Todd Hoffman challenge us to a match. We slam the slippery disk back and forth and even though I score first, I think Jamie misses on purpose. The air shuts off and Peter and Todd win 4 - 1. 

We head back out into the cold and walk along one of the wooded paths. Kim and Robin follow Peter, Todd, and Ryan off the path to a small clearing in the dark. The tree branches have kept any snow from falling here and we kneel on a bed of springy pine needles. There is an empty Pepsi bottle in the middle of our circle and I look over at Jamie, unsure how to handle this. There isn't anything in that book Mom left about how to handle a game of Spin the Bottle, but Jamie's whispering with Kim about something so I shift on my heels and try to slow my racing heart. I look around the circle. I don't think I want my first real kiss to be like this. I pecked Jimmy Olson, my fifth grade boyfriend, and dreamed of really kissing Duffy or Shawn, but I never thought of kissing Todd or Peter or Ryan.

Robin is bold, fearless, and she spins the bottle first. It lands on Kim. They giggle and Robin pecks Kim on the cheek. Peter goes next and the first time he spins it lands on Ryan. We laugh but Peter immediately spins again. There must be some kind of divot in the dirt because it lands on Kim again and Peter kisses her on the lips. Everyone giggles and oohs. 

It's my turn next. Thank God it's dark so no one can see how red my face is and my gloves conceal my sweaty palms. 

"Come on, Nori, spin," Robin demands.

I spin the bottle fast. We watch as it turns through the dirt and then slows, slows, slows. It stops on Todd and I freeze not knowing what to do but before I can even think Todd leans over, his warm face in mine, and kisses me quickly on the lips before pulling back to his spot. 

"It's 9:00, we've got to go," Bianca says glancing at her Swatch watch. Before there's the chance for any more spins we sprint through the dark to the parking lot. We laugh about what just happened on the forest floor and measure tonight against every other night in our lives. This might have been the best night ever. 

As we reach the skating rink the headlights of our station wagon turn into the lot. We tumble into the warmth of the family car, and the excitement of the night fizzles away. I'm glad we left the boys behind us so they won't see our car. We climb in and Mom asks if we had a good time. 

"Yeah," I answer as I peer over my shoulder to see Bianca, Robin and Jamie smiling in the dark of the back seat.

"Oh, good," Mom says as she navigates the streets of Bend, completely unaware of the girl I am with my friends, the girl who skates fast and hangs out with the cool kids. The girl who plays air hockey because she doesnt have money for a hot cocoa, the girl who plays Spin the Bottle with boys in the dark. 

I grin at my friends sitting in the back seat, all of us trying to hold on to the magic of the night just a little bit longer.


Wishing for Snow

It's been a cold, crisp week in LA and this morning as I drove to work the foothills were dusted with snow. And when I head to Oregon for the holidays, I'll be checking the weather and like the kid in that iPhone 4S commercial, wondering if it will snow. I guess some things never change. Here's an excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine for anyone else who's ever hoped to wake up to a blanket of white.

Wishing for Snow

t sunset, the world grows cold and dark. The red line of the thermometer outside the kitchen window creeps from 34 degrees to 33. I watch the line drop toward the magic numbers: 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 Celsius. It hits 32 and then keeps dropping until it rests in the mid-twenties. Now it is certain. Anything that falls from the dark night sky will be snow.

I look up into the starless sky and wish for a couple of white inches to cover the ugly, dead of winter, the naked tree branches, the brown grass, and the frozen asphalt so everything will look fresh and clean again. The clouds will break and the sun will shine through the clear, cold air. The snow will sparkle as if the whole world is sprinkled with diamonds, such a brilliant white that my eyes will hurt and I will be torn between looking out at the perfect snow and wanting to play in it, to cast snow angels and bring snowmen to life. The next night I'll wish for more snow, enough to cover the imperfections we created that day, to fill in the snow angels and bury the snowmen because even they will look more beautiful covered in a new layer of white. 

"Nori, time for bed!"

I've been staring out the window for an hour and still no snow. I head upstairs, climb into my cold bed and shiver until the sheets warm up. I try to fall asleep but since counting sheep never helps I force my mind to wander through starry skies, away from all the things I should have prayed for. I travel past galaxies and planets and into the vast nothingness of a black hole, and if I still haven't fallen asleep, I sit up and look out the window, hoping that instead of darkness, I'll see millions of white flakes falling like stars from the sky, turning my ugly world perfect and white. Most of the time the world remains dark, barren, cold and dry, or just a trace of snow dusts the trees and rooftops. I wake up morning after morning wishing for more.


Blog? What Blog?

I know. It's been a while. Blogging seemed so much easier a few months ago. I was on summer break. I wasn't brewing a little one. I had so much to say to the world. Now, after eking out 30,000 words in November for NaNoWriMo, I have very little to say except, I'm tired and I can't wait for the holidays. So, I thought I'd post a couple of excerpts from my students who participated in NaNoWriMo this year too. Here is the first: Julia's The Cancer Cloud, along with the incredible cover she designed. I'm a proud teacher, but really, all I did was provide the time and space for creativity.

The next day, we went to the oncologist's office.

My heart sank.

"C-cancer?" Lily stuttered.

"Lily has cancer?" Mom was already in tears.

The doctor, with a solemn look on his face, replied, "Yes."

"Well, is she going to be okay?" I asked anxiously.

"We don't know for sure. It could be weeks before we find out. I'm going to run some tests, and we will see." He looked down.

"It's official. We're dying your hair pink," I said, trying to lighten the mood.

"Adelaide!" My mother snapped. "Lily is staying alive, meaning no alternative hair colors for her."

We all laughed a little bit. I couldn't imagine my identical twin, or either of us for that matter, with pink hair.

"Well, if we decide to use chemotherapy, it's possible Lily will lose her hair," Dr. Simon, the oncologist said.

The slightly happy moment vanished. Lily started crying. I hugged her and whispered that everything would be okay. Then mom started crying. I hugged her too. I sat between them in the oncologist's office, on a tacky purple couch from the 70's.

Then I started crying. It took a lot to get tears out of me, and when I did cry, it meant something real was happening. Something that would change my life for the worst.

And that was the day that the cancer cloud blocked my sunlight.