Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here's to Asking Beautiful Questions Among Other Things . . .

My favorite 11 and Unders 

In 2015 I resolve to  . . .

Ask beautiful questions - I re-read the book Where the Wild Things Are and wondered in the same vein, where the wild and beautiful questions are.  I miss toddler and preschooler questions and wish I'd had a different mindset about them rather than looking at them as just bearable or tolerable.  My challenge now is to foster not so much the - Why are we here? questioning but more the ambitious questions that can create action or innovation or pursuit or change.  What beautiful questions might you have?

Not interrupt - if there's one thing that gets to my core it's when a question or comment is directed to me, and some other adult answers for me.  My first inclination is what? I'm so beneath you and you're so entitled that you have to cut in and take away my voice?  I resolve to let you have your voice and not interrupt or speak for you. 

Remember my values - values trump rules.  Period.  I mean, we need rules but lets face it: rules are coercive and there are loopholes, and no rule ever created any kind of inspiration in me or the kids I'm around every day.  But sharing beliefs through direct expression like "In this family we value everyone's opinion, that's why we listen to each other's ideas," or by saying, "I value conscious independence which is why you can't say 'Mama' or 'Ms. Naputi' for the next 15 minutes." Values lead to just showing up and doing the right thing.  

Be bold - I used to ski really steep runs and make big hop turns on all kinds of terrain and I'm pretty sure it's how I learned to be bold.  I've been missing that in my life lately.  I have my husband Brad Werntz who never lets me down - always the one to go big even when the vision seems really small to outsiders, to doubters, to the disloyal or the cynics.  Somehow, even if there's a modicum of risk related failure, he fires with a stubborn hope that creates possibility.  That kind of boldness could change my running and climbing performance and definitely, I'll be bold enough and learn to double dutch!  

Get strong(er) - All things matter but what matters most to me are the mental and physical strength required for fierce and fun climbing.  I've been changing it up a bit - working out and training with others in different environments and always always with that Red Bull attitude. 

Remember it's not about Me -  It's about hip hop and soul and Motown and community and purpose and believing that equity requires action and that #blacklivesmatter is deeper than you think it is and that contrary to what people think, #chamorrosarenotasians.

I'm raising my glass on an empty stomach to you all - my precious family and my friends near and far - we're in it together so Happy 2015!

New Years 2015 from Vera Naputi on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Kind Words for Despair, and a New Mission

In 2005, Brad trained for his first Ironman in the midst of a chaotic time in our lives and now with his 4th done and over, we finally have it down. He dedicated IM2014 to John-Pio, and now IM2015 to Team World Vision - a global organization dedicated to bringing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene to communities in Africa. I love what he shares here especially the contrast between climbing big mountains and the Ironman itself - inspiring and hopeful. Grab a drink and enjoy!

A truth learned many times in many different ways: Anything worth doing will at some point lead you through a moment of despair. On this year’s Ironman Wisconsin, for me that moment came exactly where it usually does: Deep into the Second Loop of the bike course, just before the third of the three hills they call the “Three Witches.” This year, my legs forced me to stop at the top of one of the longest and fastest downhills on the course. I could feel that the cramps were coming, and if they hit while I was flying forty-plus miles-per-hour down Timber Lane I would probably not be able to negotiate the sharp left turn at the bottom.

I stopped, and straddled my bike just as the cramps hit. Every muscle in my legs seized with such force I thought that they would tear from my bones. Big lumps moved up and down my thighs between my hip and my knee as if small animals with sharp teeth and claws were burrowing just beneath my skin. I collapsed onto my handlebars, trying to take as much of my weight off of my legs as possible. I told myself that cramps are just the body’s way of purging lactic acid. These would pass, just as they had before.

Which made me wonder: If I knew this from before, why was I here again? Well, in a certain way, this moment - or more accurately the moment just after - is why I was there.

Going to big mountains taught me that big goals all have a certain psychological shape. First, you experience the excitement and fear of reaching beyond yourself out into the unknown. Big goals should scare you a bit. Then, the mundane dailiness of preparation and training becomes calming, and perhaps even boring or all-consuming, in both good and bad ways. (The thing you set out to do takes over your whole life, and probably the lives of everyone around you…) Meanwhile, both anticipation and dread alternate and build as the launch day looms closer. (Expressed best through the conflicting statements you hear from your inner voice: “I can do this!” and “What am I thinking?!?!”) Finally, the day arrives and you are committed. Once you set out, there’s a giddiness born from learning that the going is never actually as hard as you imagined it.

“Piece of cake,” you chuckle to yourself, “what was I afraid of?”

Not long after - if you’ve chosen your goal right, if it’s big enough to stretch you and to ask you to become something more than what you are - you will meet despair.

Many don’t understand that the despair is necessary. It’s not why you’ve set out on this path, of course. There are easier ways to suffer if that’s all you want to do (though many in this world have no choice - despair is part of their lives, not something they visit.) Despair comes either abruptly or after a long grind, but always in that moment when you’re not sure you’re going to make it after all. Any goal worth achieving will bring you to this point, the same moment that has turned many others back. Deciding what happens next determines whether you will succeed or fail at what you set out to do.

After despair, many things can follow. Ultimately, while it’s nice to reach your goals, from a psychological perspective it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or fail as long as you push beyond despair. If you do this, you can experience joy and depression, strength, confidence, fear, exhaustion, and - ultimately, hopefully - growth. (Yes, you’ll grow from failing, too.) If your goal is big enough, you’ll experience all of these things. But if you don’t squeeze yourself through despair’s narrow aperture you won’t get beyond it, and you won’t learn what happens next.

Learning what happens next is what’s driven me for a long time. It’s addictive, because just as you can’t step into the same river twice, you can’t step beyond despair in the same way every time. This is why when the time in my life seemed endless I went on long expeditions. When I began to have less time - and more commitments to family, work, community - I took shorter and more intense trips, often solo. Then I began doing long trail runs alone. These days, I do Ironman-distance triathlons, mostly because they are close to home. We live practically on the course for Ironman Wisconsin. I wouldn’t do an Ironman if I had to travel for it.

This year was my fourth Ironman in the past nine years*. I’ve managed to shave time off of each one, and I’ve finished them all comfortably with some time on the clock. While there have been hard moments, in each I’ve known that if I just keep moving at some point I will reach the finish-line.

Training for Ironman is always hard, and I could do better. The major barrier to performance is my head. I’ve talked to several coaches about it. They agree that for all the physical conditioning that you need to do Ironman is mostly mental, and I just don’t respect or fear this event enough. The event doesn’t scare me into extra training time, or even close to all of what I’m assigned by my coaches to do. Things are busy in my world, and there are a lot of demands on me that sometimes preclude training. At the end of the day, I’m comfortable going out onto the course with perhaps less preparation than others.

There’s a reason for this: Doing an Ironman isn’t nearly as hard as many days I’ve had outdoors. For one thing, there’s so much support: Cheering fans, friends, and family; food and drink any time you need it; and volunteers are stretched out about every half-mile along the course. For another, if something really bad happens - or if an athlete just decides to quit - somebody will be along shortly to pick them up and take them home.

By contrast, the hardest of the hard days I’ve had in the mountains were at remote, hard-to-reach places when I was stretched to my physical and mental limit, sometimes low on food and water, too hot or too cold, and often alone. There were no SAG wagons. If I sat down and quit, probably the next person to come along would be the one who found my body.

Someone wise once told me that you bring children into your life; you don’t bring them into the world so that you become consumed by theirs. This was really good advice, and I’ve always taken this approach to Ironman as well. It’s just a part of my life, it’s not my whole life. I have other commitments and interests, and I don’t want my whole world to be about Ironman. That first year in 2005, I didn’t even tell anybody I was doing it because I didn’t want every conversation for the whole year to be about training and Ironman. Honestly, talking about a two hour swim is quite a bit more boring than actually doing it. Want me to prove it? Here, let me tell you all about every stroke, breath, and flip-turn of my last long swim…

Goals such as Ironman are completely absorbing. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. While you might think you’re focused intently on something outside of yourself - this thing that you want to do - remember that it’s your goal and that you do most of it alone, and for yourself. It feels great to become completely absorbed in what you’re focused on, but with Ironman this focused absorption can easily tip over into self-absorption. It’s important to stay balanced with family, friends, and other interests. Making Ironman just one more thing you do, and not making a big deal about the daily grind, is something I’ve noticed in each of my favorite Ironman athletes. I’ve tried hard to emulate this behavior, and model it for my kids as well.

This year, I noticed that what I was doing daily did not align well with what I would like to be doing with 
my life. While I enjoy and benefit from the training and the event, there are many other important things that I want to be able to give my full attention. The event itself is also out of alignment with values my family holds closely. Ironman is a great thing, and it’s also fair to recognize that it’s a tremendous waste. I would hate to calculate the environmental footprint of just one Ironman event; it has to be outlandish. (Compare this impact against that of a solo long-distance trail run...)  But more importantly: Thousands of people each spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars doing something that primarily benefits themselves. While Ironman can and does change lives, imagine what could happen if this many driven, smart, dynamic people put that much time, attention, passion, and money into something that could truly change the world.

We could change the world.

So going forward, I’ve decided that in order for me to be involved with Ironman it’s important to do just this. Let’s change the world.

In 2015, I am signed up to do Ironman Wisconsin again. I have a number of personal goals for this event (which I’ll share in shorter blog posts over time) but the most important one is this: I will raise a minimum of $5,000 to bring clean water to communities around the planet, working with Team World Vision. Lack of access to clean water brings a different kind of despair to people all over the world, so please help me push through to the other end of that narrow aperture by donating today.

Raising this money is a big goal which scares me quite a bit, and I can’t get there on my own. So thanks in advance for your support. We can do this together!

Brad Werntz is founder of Boulders Climbing Gym and sales director for Buff. He graduated from Northwestern, majoring in Fiction and Poetry. He's dad to Emma, Misa, and John-Pio and a gentle, loving husband to me. He's climbed lots of mountains so if you ever want to know about that just buy him a beer and a salad and he'll share those stories with you. He's also known for doing the laundry, keeping my wine glass full and cooking delicious seasonal soups.

* Brad completed Ironman in 2005, 2008, and 2014; in 2007, he was hit by a car during the final month of training, so under a doctor’s admonition and with broken bones in his leg and stitches in his face he completed only the swim and half of the bike course.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


It's pretty much everywhere and if you're not thinking about the Ferguson decision and all things related, I'm not sure I can talk to you right now. The evening of the decision was disheartening all around and may have been doomed to be so. That evening I faced the fact that growing up, I had an innate tendency to give police officers or anyone in authority, the benefit of the doubt in most situations.  In similar ways that parents and guardians expect me to teach so their kid will learn and grow, I expect police to do the work of keeping our streets safe, which undoubtedly can include degrees of violence and confrontations.  

This unwritten agreement I've had, however simplistic, is just not operable in some parts of American society.  It's certainly not how it's perceived within New York's "stop and frisk" communities or in small towns such as Ferguson where racial imbalances exist between the resident population and the police force.  And Wisconsin, particularly Dane County does not go unnoticed for racial disparities regarding arrest rates, education, housing, and other lifestyle factors. The racism torch shines brightly here - how can you not think about it?


Unfortunately, people read about it and may even witness it, but to actually be it, to have that lived experience is not easy to hear or read about, and from much of what I've been reading over the last several years, it's particularly hard for people to face it.  With reliable sources already available, I won't repeat the numbers that illustrate the racial disparities that exist for arrest rates in particular, but here's the deal:  The galling discrepancy has played out in recent months since the death of Michael Brown on several awful occasions - the worst among them have to be the BB gun shootings of 12-year old Tamir Rice, and 22 year old John Crawford, both in Ohio.  In both instances police officers were operating on admittedly misleading or incomplete reports from 911 calls and confronting young Black males "armed" with BB guns. Crawford's nonlethal BB gun was off the shelf in Walmart.  The likelihood that both of these boys could have been prepping and eating their Thanksgiving meal with their families is deeply troubling.  


The day they were published, I read the transcripts from the Ferguson decision and Darren Wilson's testimony did not clear things up for me as a citizen concerned that an unarmed teenager with his whole life ahead of him could be gunned down in the street.  Anyone who is not concerned or who has turned a blind eye to this police killing and others like it - well, I can't talk to you right now.  Darren Wilson's decision to fire that gun - whatever poor training, racial profiling - unspoken and unknown to the public, rules of policing, even Wilson's own anger and pride, it became fatal. And that terrible unjust and unfair move is something I'm facing today whether I want to or not.  

The first question on many of my students' minds November 25th the day after the grand jury made its announcement was the question, "Did you hear Ms. Naputi?" When I heard that night the first thing I did was explain and inform my own kids what went down, and then I updated my FB status with, "Travesty."  Cause killing is a travesty.  So on Monday I'll be using Phillip Agnew's speech "Two Minutes" to launch us towards What to Do and away from apathy or any potential to mark up our lives with it.


You are responsible for everything you do and everything you don't do.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Climbing: Fam, Friends, Kids

When I was young, my friends and I had ways of sealing our bond of friendship.  We would exchange friendship rings, notes, and heart lockets pledging our undying loyalty to one another.  A few of us became blood sisters -- literally.  My sees'tahs would make a small cut on their finger and then we'd mingle our blood to signify the unbreakable bond between us as “blood sisters.”  


Of course these days my friends and I don't prick our fingers to seal our bond - we profess our friendship in other ways like in . . . 




Here's what went down this weekend.  Two days of climbing at Governor Dodge and a clothing swap at Molly's (dangit, meant to get a picture of the climbing group).  A first time babysitting job for Misa and Jada.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Climbing: 30 seconds of letting go

Set the timer to 30 seconds and gave myself #30secondstospillthebeans . . .

John-Pio's been practicing w/the #realcam

tea not coffee
united nations 
funny people
deep thinking
emma watson
urban art
what's right
brad breakdancin'
people watching 

And climbing.

Here's what went down today on sandstone rock with the fam and Lisa and Tom ...

#savorit  #taketimetospillthebeans

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kicked My Ass

I'm not going to lie about the last two weeks.  My students . . .




For reasons only the public can't even imagine.  Can't even imagine.  Adolescents, in the period of storm and stress, just by the very nature of their beings and being around each other are high maintenance.  I won't go into detail - some of you live with them, some teach them, some hang out with them, some of you are still them - it's just good to know I'm not alone.  And while they kicked my ass, I'll also admit that they also . . .



They did.  We're in the midst of teaching an integrated Language Arts and Social Studies unit called "Warriors: Stories of Struggle and Triumph" and while I led discussions and lessons on Michael Brown and Ferguson, students also studied Ana Tijoux (check out her music, especially "1977" and thanks Ms. Jorgensen for the intro), a Chilean hip hop artist who represents everything warrior-like on the political and feminism spectrum.  They're answering essential questions like, In what ways do others stories and experiences help deepen your understanding of yourself and others? What makes a warrior?  It's no walk in the park - these kids are f'in deep. Which is what makes working late on a Friday night, Saturday and Sunday morning okay - they challenge me to keep it goin' on.  At least that's what I think for now.  All I really wanted though - really, really - was to get outside on this beautiful fall weekend to climb. Thanks to Jamie and Tom, and Misa who wanted nothing more than to hang out with Jada, we made it to Governor Dodge.  And bonus was running into Katie and crew!

SO fun.  Here's what we did.

We bouldered on sandstone. 

Jamie so strong

Tom getting ready to dyno

Which he did really well :)

So many reasons to love climbing outside with this fam. 

She's got the boulder pad hang out thing down. 

These two . . . best friends.  

Jada exploring the forest. This is fall in WI.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to Basics

I'm feeling it - the responsibility of being a teacher.  And a parent. Yesterday after John-Pio and I had a little argument I said with finality: You're gonna get the second to the last word on this one.

#thatwasthat  #parentwin 

Misa and I also battled yesterday and when we finished our talk she hung out by the bookshelf that houses parenting and education books and pulled How to Parent So Kids Will Learn off the shelf. She reminded me that she'd spent a lot of time looking at the pictures in that book, cause the time-out space as a toddler and pre-schooler happened to be in front of that shelf.  She asked, "Do you really believe this stuff?" Cracked me up cause I really don't - I mean, I get why there are a host of parenting books out there, but if she were to reframe the question as,

"Do you really value this stuff, Mommy?"

Then that's a whole different conversation cause deep down, I don't value structural parenting based on prescriptive advice most especially because so many of those books fail to acknowledge culture and the narratives of cultural roots - the stuff my ethnic family and generations of cultural traditions were built on.  So many of those books teach discipline and parenting in ways that are not relevant - in ways that turn people (like me) off because they make me feel like I should be able to relate and do parenting and teaching like they say, but deep down it's discomforting and sometimes I don't know why.

#unabletoescape #whitepeoplevalues #complexities

Those two conflicts with John-Pio and Misa alone were enough to take me back to the basics.  The notion that I am responsible for everything I do, and everything I don't do and that my teaching and parenting must be rooted in my values and the historical traditions and narratives that shaped me, not the values of systems or privilege or entitled attitudes that outnumber me.  So in the spirit of school which starts in a few days - both for me as teacher and parent, no matter the pressures of Common Core State Standards or the upcoming standardized tests or lesson planning, or the stressors related to Brad traveling and having to problem solve child care, anticipate family food prep, listen to the kids' ordinary pains and joys that come from newness, I have to always - always

Remember where I am from, and

Remember where you are from.

#neverdismiss #thesethingsmatter

On a side note, here's a video and story of an administrator makin' it relevant for his students!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


One of my first ever climbing bottoms was branded Verve and I loved them - they were green, tailored for my bod, and comfortable; I snagged them from one of the early clothing swaps hosted at my place.  I still have them, but two babies later and a change in taste to cut off jeans, not to mention a little peri-menopausal action (and okay, there's rice, quesadillas, and nachos to factor in too), my first few pieces of Verve clothing wear are tucked safely away in a drawer with marked memories of places like Wild Iris, Sinks, Spearfish, Shelf Road, Red Rocks, American Fork, Maple Canyon, Devils Lake and my beloved Boulders Climbing Gym - all areas that carry strong memories of really fun climbing.


Tomorrow I start my official teacher contract day and lately I've been thinking about teaching and verve.  Verve is that spirit and psych for life that makes its way into teaching- it's the enthusiasm you bring and foster because you just can't not be psyched!  It works the other way around too - when a teacher is just so psyched about teaching that it makes its way into their personal life because the two transform and enrich the other.  As much as I've basked in a premium summer filled with good quality days and relationships, it's time.  Time to make the 12 week re-charge go to work.


So here are my top ideas for promoting verve as a parent, educator, as a citizen and most definitely, in our kids.

1) Be fresh.  If you're not feeling it then for sure your kids aren't either or they're not maximizing it - yet. In the hip-hop world, being fresh is flipping something out of nothing.  Help your kids blend their instincts with ingenuity and create masterful stuff to get them psyched.  And while you're encouraging them, you may as well do it too - dust off that journal and make your next page a scrapbook of doodles, cut-out pics and quotes from magazines to help raise your verve meter.

2) Ask yourself, what is my new iteration as an educator, parent, student, athlete, friend and colleague? To quote Bettina Love, one of my all-time favorite and dopest hip hop scholars I've learned from to date, "Let the trends of the times be damned.  Ask yourself: How are you going to improve your greatness?  How are you going to promote and tell new stories, stories of yourself that will end up being a gift to others?"  To that piece of verve, I say, don't be shy or subdued or hesitant or locked-up.   Find new ways to represent yourself or uncover what you've been hiding and let it out - every role we play can inform and enhance who we are.


So get your verve on. To start, right now, make a realistic, attainable, fun goal that will be vital to your life, long or short term.  Mine is to climb with a focus for 4 days a week even though I'll be hammered, stressed, sleep-deprived, and lonely for summer, for the next 3 weeks.  Write down yours and tell someone about it!

#thatsmyverve #befresh #newiterationofself

Sunday, August 24, 2014

50 year Birthday Challenge Down

I'm wrapping my head around the concept of warriors because it links me back to my heritage, particularly Sanglo, a Chamorro warrior and it reminds me of different people who matter - warrior type people, people who change or influence me because of who they are.  I've always loved the original Birthday Challenge website and visit it often to reignite my stoke.  I recently went to it as I was planning my next curriculum unit on warriors and was once again inspired by all the people on that site along with the likes of Jack LaLanne and inferences to Bruce Lee - two historical warrior figures in my mind.  Most people who know even a little bit about me know that I've been doing Birthday Challenges since I turned 40, and y'all know I just completed another one having just turned 50.  Above most things, and I mean most of my fitness goals, it's my annual Birthday Challenge and BC's of others (check 'em out here) that keeps me psyched!   

So here's the recap of how my 50th went down.  The tally list.

And here's why I do them . . .  

1) I look forward to that single goal that falls on the same day every year.
2) It's creative.  I take the age I'm turning as the base, think up physical and mental challenges and plan different things in decimals, halves, multiples, fractions - whatever makes it hard and fun. 
3) I want to train. 
4) It brings people in my life together and I get to see the best ones in-person. 
5) It's hard and painful and it's good to model recovery from all things hard and painful. 

Hardly recovered.  I wasn't supposed to run my 5th half marathon 6 days after my 4th, but that's how it worked out.  Ideally, doing 5 half marathons in 50 days put each one 10 days apart which was possible if it weren't for vacations and traveling, not to mention some lazing around which made for some recovery glitches. Thankfully each run was better than the one before and it's what I felt really well-trained to do so I was pretty psyched to end it on a high note. Plus, with my sister Geri and brother-in-law Dan flying in from San Diego to run it with me, I had a bigger stake in it because I wanted it to be fun. And it was! 

After the run and while my dad was prepping traditional celebratory Chamorro food, we headed to Boulders Climbing Gym to climb 50 routes and 50 boulder probs, do 150 pull-ups, 150 push-ups, and five 5-minute planks.  It went as expected which was

long and 

Semi-hard.  That's right.  The hardest things were the pull-ups and the 2nd and 4th planks.  Climbing was hard but it wasn't because the grades were particularly difficult, it was because it was more of a volume rush.  That played on my mind because it seemed to take forever.  The push-ups were more a rest and probably the most enjoyable.  By the end I was wondering if I did more of a workout and not so much a Birthday Challenge!

So what does that mean for next year? It means I get to up the ante.  Admittedly, I realized once again, that I can do more than I think I can.  Vices and all things drinkable, I got to my 5 white sangrias, but not to my cheesy quesadillas which I blame on my dad who made this goodness.  

The week leading up to my Birthday Challenge, I remembered a post about Jack LaLanne that I read a few years ago when he died.  It's such a great read, especially in the end where the author, Steve Edwards, included a list of all Jack LaLannes Birthday Challenges.  Man if you want stoke and psych, go there to get it.  That guy is a true-to-life warrior.  In the end, I did feel super strong and motivated, and I loved having Brad, the kids, and my closest family members right there to witness me living my life so that this birthday was more memorable than the last which is why I started doing these Birthday Challenges in the first place!   

PS:  It's not over 'til it's over right.  My son, John-Pio added 50 free throws to my challenge which arguably was where I felt the most challenged.  Here's a video after I got warmed up . . .

Birthday Challenge Free Throws from Vera Naputi on Vimeo.