12.30.2015

2015 Blog Review

This is post number 33 for 2015. I hoped to post 4 posts per month, 48 for the year. It's the third most in a year for this blog and readership is pretty steady. Thanks for tuning in, y'all.

My third most visited post for the year is "The End of Our Fertility Journey." It summarizes the long journey David and I took to complete our family with lots of links to previous posts I made along the way. I hope couples struggling with fertility might stumble upon this blog and know that their struggle is one many couples share and that wherever they are on this journey, the only way out is through.

My second most popular post is part of my 12 Days of Blog Posts: "Two Kid Life." I introduce my 12 Days idea and describe the gratitude David and I try to feel as we live out our two-kid dream.

My most visited blog this year and of all time is "Fasting Again..." I've written a great deal about public education and the attacks from the corporate education reform movement. This post summarizes my one-day fast to show support for a school in Chicago. I'm not sure if it is the labels I posted or the desire for people to understand the subtext behind struggles for schools like the one going on at Dyett, but over 3,000 people visited this post, way more than any other I've posted.

There were three other posts that managed over two-hundred visits, so I think I'll link to them as well.  I think they do show that my blog is a little bit all over the place. After all, these are random bits.

"Remembering To Kill A Mockingbird" about teaching, reread, and writing about this classic American novel.

"Back to the Grind" about heading back to work after maternity leave.

"Culmination Address for the Class of 2015" about the end of my journey this past school year.

So, with that, 2015 is in the books. See you in 2016!

12.23.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: Can I Get a Day Off, Please?

Vacation with kids is no vacation.

Vacation with sick kids is no vacation.

Vacation when you get sick from your sick kids is no vacation.

And with that, I conclude 12 Days of Blog Posts! Happy holidays, all.

12.22.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: The Perfect Tree & Two Sick Kids

My mom loved Christmas. Last year, her sudden passing was too close to try to do family Christmas in Portland, so our family trekked to Tahoe. This year, however, we are here in the cold rain of Portland, staying in Mom's home with all of Mom's collected holiday trinkets: snow globes and advent calendars, angels and stockings, but there's no Mom. It's strange. But I feel her presence in so many small moments. When Kiara plays with the dolls Mom kept here for her grandchildren, when Kiara and Gabe squeal at the little snail that all of Mom's grandchildren played with before them, when a squirrel scurries across the backyard fence and Kiara screams, "Squirrel!" And I feel her when I pull out the boxes of Christmas ornaments to decorate the tree.

Mom never seemed completely happy with her tree. The tree I remember from my childhood had colored lights and an array of ornaments. She didn't like tinsel or flashing lights. To me, our tree always looked perfect, but to Mom it just looked alright. It was too crowded, or too sparse, or maybe it was lopsided or crooked at the top. Where I saw perfection, Mom was a realist.

Tonight as I decorated the tree, carefully hanging the ornaments Mom held on to for all of these years, I wanted it to be perfect. But Gabe was clingy and whiney, still recovering from the flu. Kiara puked several times in the course of my decorating, and rather than helping me trim the tree as I envisioned, she curled up in a ball and watched, occasionally complaining that she still felt so sick. But now, the kids are in bed, hopefully recovering from this stomach bug, and I'm gazing up at Mom's tree. She would say it looks nice, although maybe a little plain. I shake my head and think of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: "Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could." In that case, today was perfect.

And then David and I both started puking. Reality within perfection.

12 Days of Blog Posts: Nakada Basketball Reunion

Tonight I drove with Dad out to Forest Grove to watch my niece play basketball. She starts. She's a freshman. She's a baller. She's a Nakada. Well, she's a Flennaugh, so she's already taller than her mom and aunt. And although her height might come from the Flennaugh side, Nakada basketball is in her blood.

I wasn't really sure what that meant, but with her mom, her aunt, and her uncle sitting in the stands I began to see what Nakada basketball is all about. 

We all probably learned this from our dad. Nakadas play tough defense, play point guard, push the pace, drive to the basket, draw the foul, and hit shots. Pretty basic basketball concepts that have served us all well for many years of playing and coaching. And Nicole did that all (although we were encouraging her to do it all even more). 

She played tough d, ran the point, helped break the press, and she hit three threes. Her team won comfortably and the Nakada basketball tradition carries on.

12.20.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: Road Trip!

Gantt and I have been making this drive for sixteen years. Our first drive from LA to Portland, Oregon was during spring break in 1998. That was when David first met my family. We've grown up so much since then. We've lost parents, and taken a long journey to parenthood ourselves. 

Tonight we're taking the trip with two kids in the backseat and driving through the night. We will drive a little slower this trip, knowing all we could lose.

Our winter drives usually coincide with winter solstice and this longest night gives us the chance to think about where we've been and where we are heading. 

With most of the year in our rear view mirror, 2015 was welcoming Gabe and completing our family. It was the awe of Kiara coming into her three-year-old self. It was exhaustion and trying to fit even more into full, full lives. It was absorbing a country at odds over #blacklivesmatter, an international refugee crisis, and a chaotic political landscape that too often leaves me feeling hopeless. 

But this past year's challenges taught me so much about who I am as a mom, a teacher, a writer, a coach, and a human and when we make this drive again a year from now our planet will have made another trip around the sun. Our kids will be one and four and 2016 will be nearly complete. I welcome all of the possibilities. 


12.19.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: Balancing Busy

Mom always said I was too busy; that I work too hard. I'm starting to think she was right. In high school school it was three sports, and school, and choir, and friends. In college it was almost always 18 credits, and work study, and volunteer work. Now it's parenting, and teaching, and coaching, and reading, and writing, and exercise. And all these goals I set, that are actually quite ridiculous, but they provide some structure to what seems to be a crazy life.

Maybe these two can help me find some balance. 
So here is my near-the-end of the year update on those goals for 2015.

Reading: I wanted to read 48 books. I've read 10. I hope to finish 2 more before the new year.

Writing: I wanted to write 20 hours per month. Not close there either, but I wrote plenty for NaNoWriMo which just proves it can be done.

Submitting: 5 pieces this year. 5 rejections. I know I need to get my words out there if I'm going to build this writer-life. I guess I just don't know how badly I want it.

Blogging: This will be blog number 28. It's more than last year. It's 20 fewer than I hoped, but this 12 Days of Blog Posts thing will get me closer.

Exercising: I started biking to work 2-3 times a week which comes to 20-30 miles per week. That along with the miles I've run means absolutely nothing... except I'm getting in the miles and getting to closer the body I'd like to live in from here on out.

So, balance. I haven't found it. Not even close. I'll be thinking again about what I want from this next year, what I really want, and aiming for some balance within my busy.

12.18.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: NaNoWriMo Excerpt on Earthquakes

This year my National Novel Writing Project took an unexpected turn. My realistic fiction piece titled #nerdyjock turned thriller when my protagonist's sister turned up missing.

Here's an excerpt from this work in progress because, to be honest, I don't have the energy tonight to create something new.

Lo on Earthquakes

We’ve been having all of these earthquakes lately. Some people say it’s because of fracking, others say it’s the fault moving little by little which might actually be saving us from the big one. Or maybe, it’s just getting us ready for the big one.

But no matter how small, I hate earthquakes. They jolt me wide awake, send my heart racing and force me to imagine a world of absolute destruction.

None of them have come at school, so no one really knows how freaked out I get, but Mom and Dad have a hint. They try to ease my fears, show me the earthquake preparedness kit, tell me they have a plan for what we will all do if the big one hits and we are at school and work.

The last big earthquake in Southern California was the Northridge quake. I wasn’t alive when it happened, but Dad talks about it sometimes, how he got motion sickness from all of the aftershocks. Mom wasn’t living in LA at the time, so she’s never been in a really big one either.

It’s the pictures that I can’t quite get my head around, how the earth shifted causing freeways to collapse and buildings to crumble. I never pass under a tunnel without thinking about how it would be a terrible place to be during a quake.

And every time we have one, I get a little more nervous and wonder what would happen in my life if the big one hit.

The thing is, sometimes earthquakes aren’t of the fault-slip kind. Sometimes earthquakes shake up your life, hit when you least expect them and leave you devastated. The question I want answered is, am I ready for the big one?

12.17.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: Mandatory Three-Week Vacation

After Thanksgiving break three long/short weeks ago, I started this count down. 15 days. 15 days before a mandatory three-week vacation.

On the last day of NaNoWriMo, I looked at one of my student's names and couldn't remember the student. It took me ten minutes to figure out who he was. I needed a break. 14 days.

I collected 140 novel drafts and scanned for cheaters. Found a few. Read some absolutely incredible work. Worried about the self-mutilation, depression, sex, drug use, suicide attempts, and eating disorders my students wrote about. 13 days.

Reviewed the novel-in-verse Inside Out & Back Again about a Vietnamese girl who becomes a refugee when Saigon falls. 12 days. 11 days. 10 days.

Students submitted their novel covers and excerpts. 9 days.

Shannon Bradley-Colleary spoke with my classes about her experience aiding refugees in Greece. I cried every period, and then coached three basketball games. 8 days.

Prepped students to write essays about the universal refugee experience. 7 days.

ESA at ICE and a few gifts of words...
Students wrote introductory paragraphs about how Ha's story from Inside Out & Back Again relates to the universal refugee experience. 6 days.

Students wrote body paragraphs citing evidence from three outside sources and connecting that evidence to Ha's experience. 5 days.

Passed out field trip slips for ice skating. Students finished up essays. 4 days.

A terrorist threat cancelled school for the day. 3 days.

Passed out field trip slips for basketball games, finished semester grades, and started students creating a gift of words. 2 days.

Two trips to Coffee Bean, passed out a gift of words to every student, and took 70 kids ice skating. 1 day.

1 day before a mandatory three-week vacation to refuel, refocus, and come back to school ready to go again. 1 day.

12.16.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: A Conversation with Mom

Mom has been gone for a year and a half now, and I wish I could pick up the phone and talk to her about my daily challenges and then listen to her advice, her praise, and her take on current events. I knew her well, though, so I can almost imagine what she would say to me. She would most definitely tell me I'm working too much, that I'm a wonderful mother, and that she just can't believe these Republican candidates.

I remember when I was very young, Mom told me she was so happy when I finally started walking. She used to fear something catastrophic happening and she would have to leave me behind because she just couldn't carry me. I never knew how to respond to this, but this year, as the refugee crisis made its way across the ocean and onto our screens, I understood what she meant.

When I held Baby Gabe in my arms, or loaded him into a carrier, I couldn't get the image out of my mind, of a toddler boy's body washed onto the shore. The images of families torn apart as they flee violence and oppression haunt me. I can't imagine what I would do if we had to run away from our lives, what we would take, and then comes the guilt of the privilege I have in this peaceful, stable life. I begin to understand Mom's worry and now, I can't wait for Gabe to start walking.

I recently started rereading Toni Morrison's Beloved. It's one of the books I took from Mom's shelves. I turn the pages she once turned and we continue conversations through the books we both love. I remember us talking about Beloved when we were both college students. She told me I'd have to re-read it once I was a mom. "Then," she told me, "You'll understand." I'm starting to understand.

And if I take the time to listen, I can hear Mom tell me to keep things at work in perspective and to consider saying no a little more often. I can hear her tell me that Gabe is just teething and will get back to sleeping through the night; that Kiara will figure out how to get our attention without whining and feigning injury. I hear her complain about Trump and ask if I'm voting for Hillary or Bernie; to remind me that she has been fighting against war and guns and misogyny and we just have to keep fighting. Then she tells me she loves me and can't wait to see all of us for Christmas.

I hope she's listening too, so she can hear me say I love her too, and that she will most definitely be with us for the holidays. And maybe by Christmas, Gabe will be walking.

12.15.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: An LA Version of a Snow Day

There have been many a winter day here in LA when I wished for a snow day. I prayed for snow days growing up in Oregon, hoped that the thermometer would drop over night and the clouds would give way to several inches. I turned on the radio most winter mornings hoping to hear that school was canceled. I didn't get many snow days growing up, but the few I had were some of the most glorious days of fun in the snow, or lazing around the house while looking outside to say, "Wow, it's really coming down out there. Do you think they'll cancel school again?"

Today, on a cold but sunny Southern California morning, David and I woke up late. We'd had a long night with Gabe waking up around 1:30 convinced it was morning. Although he eventually fell back asleep we were both tired and woke up later than usual. But the kids were both dressed for the day and I was about to hop on my bike to head to work when the text messages started coming in.

LAUSD schools may be closed today.

I couldn't believe it. I was getting a snow day.

David took the kids to daycare and I watched the news for long enough to realize that there was very little to report. So we started to take care of all those last minute errands: shopped for gifts, mailed the holiday cards, and finished the baking. We checked off our list of to-dos and didn't even have to worry about shoveling the driveway or putting on chains.

I am incredibly thankful that the threat posed ended up being empty. But I admit, I found the timing suspicious. Was some super-smart calculus student out there pulling a prank because he didn't want to take a final? And then, partly in jest, I wondered if closing LAUSD schools, (Because they NEVER close) meant the terrorists had won. David and I joked about what trouble our students might be up to home alone on a snow day, and we wondered about this new normal: where school gets cancelled due to threats.

I guess this is the world we live in, one where threats are taken seriously and I appreciate the caution. Even though I have lots to do when I get back to school tomorrow, I'm thankful I'm safe and breathing, and one day closer to winter vacation.

Here's a snow day excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine.


12.14.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: Gifts of Words

Tonight I'm looking at hand-lettering tutorials and printing pages of fonts in prep for tomorrow's gift of words lesson. UCLA Writing Project director (retired), Jane Hancock, introduced me to gift of words at the language arts cadre and she writes about it on edutopia.

It's a great end-of-semester project when all of the work of noveling and essay-exams are over and we have some time to think about letter and words. I love word-doodling and hand-lettering my favorite words and quotes puts me in a kind of meditative state.

I love to give and then let my students exchange them as well. This time of year I usually give Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "Good Hours" because they are so wonderfully wintry.

But this past summer I stumbled on this quote that made me want to create my own collection of words:


So, I gave tried a couple, and I think I need to make better use of a ruler and pencil.



That was all I made time for this summer although I have quite a collection of Kiara and Gabe's names.




Hopefully get another couple done this week. Maybe I'll try to create a personalized bookmark to go with each of my books. (images to be created soon...)

12.13.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: Two-Kid Life

Adjusting to life with two kids has been no joke. Trying again, to find a balance between parenting, working, reading, and writing has left me beyond exhausted. Gabe is an earlier riser than Kiara, so one of us is up early
every
single
day.

Increased coaching duties + an added prep for journalism + an increasingly anti-teacher, anti-public-ed, anti-labor climate + teaching about the refugee crisis = a teacher in tears (more than usual). The pile of books to read in 2015 has grown, yet the year is almost over and I've only finished a dozen of them. NaNoWriMo got me back to the page with one more draft to add to the back-log of manuscripts I need to revise.

But despite so much being all out of balance, I'm going to end the year attempting to make some sense of it all. Maybe twelve blog posts before Christmas will help bring some order to the chaos.

I'm counting yesterday's blog about my brother's punt return as number one, so here is number two and I'll keep posting up until Christmas and hope you'll read along with me. I'd love some company in my crazy.

Two Kid-Life: Living the Dream

Early on in our courtship, when David and I started having conversations about where we saw our relationship heading, we told one another we wanted two kids. Preferably a boy and a girl, but any two kids would make us happy. We would consider adoption, but wanted to try for kids of our own first.

After we got married, I thought I wanted kids right away, but there was grad school, and then there were travel plans, and then we had a new home. It never seemed to be the right time. It took an unplanned pregnancy and miscarriage for us to realize there would never be a right time, and we were ready to start our family.

It took a while, but after four long years, baby #1 came along, and then two years later a miracle conception brought us baby #2. Our little Nakada-Gantt family has been a long time coming, so how were we so ill-prepared for it to be so stupid hard?

After we brought Gabe home, in the chaos of both kids crying as we tried to get out the door we had to remind ourselves: this is what we wanted. This was our dream.

And we feel incredibly lucky. We know not every family gets the chance to fulfill their dream so when Gabe poops all over himself, the carseat, and me before we head off to LegoLand, we try to remember. When Kiara pukes in our bed and then in her bed in the middle of the night, we try to remember. When other parents glance at our chaos and nod knowingly, we try to remember. And when older parents tell us how much they miss that age and to enjoy it because it goes so fast, we try to remember. Within the chaos of our two-kid life, we try to remember just how incredibly lucky we are.

12.12.2015

12 Days of Blog Posts: 30 Years Ago...

Today my Timehop app reminded that 30 years ago my eldest brother, Chet, made a huge special teams play in the Oregon State football play-offs. This week Chet had knee surgery, but like me, even though it was thirty years ago, I'm sure he remembers that cold December night. He has a better memory than I do.

It's been a cold start to winter in the Pacific Northwest, and even though I'm far away, I can imagine the cold, the rain in Portland, the snow in Bend, and that treacherous mountain pass Mom hated to drive.

Here is an excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine of that legendary play. Heal up, Big Brother!


It's cold and the road over the Cascades is slick with black ice. Mom closes her eyes most of the trip but she's even more concerned about Chet riding the team bus on this icy mountain pass.

The drive usually takes three hours, but today it takes almost five. We finally arrive in Portland just before the game starts. Half of the field is frozen and covered in ice. I scan the stadium for Chet. He plays cornerback and special teams so when the Cougars are on defense or when there's a kick off or punt we all stand up and cheer for number 42.

The players on both teams struggle for traction on the frozen field and neither team scores. In the final quarter it's fourth and long for Gresham so they set up to punt.

I spot Chet's number 42 waiting on the right side of the backfield, almost in the other team's end zone. The Gresham center hikes and the punter sends the ball flying through the air, right to my big brother.

Chet catches the ball and sprints toward the sideline.

He gets a block and shakes off a tackle. He runs up the sideline so all that's in front of him is a field of solid ice.

I scream. We all scream, the whole family, the whole crowd. We jump and cheer, hoping Chet won't slip, that he'll make it to the end zone.

I watch my brother. I watch him run like I've watched him my whole life. I've watched him run through snow in the backyard, down a basketball court, and from first to third on a base hit to the right side. He's always been so big to me, but out on that field, with all those other football players, he looks tiny.

Chet runs fast, but as he sprints down that football field, it looks like he's moving in slow motion.

20 yards, 15, 10, 5...

Chet skates on top of the ice for the last five yards and glides into the end zone. He jumps into the air and his teammates tackle him in celebration. We cheer and as the score changes Chet jogs to the sideline.

With Mountain View in the lead, we wait for the final minutes to wind down. The last seconds tick off the clock and the crowd's roar cuts through the frozen air.

 The team celebrates on the field and Chet takes off his helmet. His coaches and teammates slap him on the back and mess up his dark hair. Chet looks up into the stands, searching for us. We wave and yell his name until finally he spots us and waves back.


I can't stop staring because he's smiling. Under the bright lights of the icy stadium my brother's face glows. Chet is really smiling again.