Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 4 #sol19

One by one, we made our way in.  The day had felt long, and everyone seemed to be exhibiting quiet relief as they entered the room, books in hand.  Small conversations, friendly banter, gradually and organically began to bubble up as more of my colleagues sauntered in from the hallways. The aroma of cheese pizza, two of them resting at the center of a table now adorned with a red and white checked tablecloth, permeated the room.

Today would mark our second book club meeting, and I will admit to feeling slightly uneasy.  The book I had selected for us to read, a young adult novel aimed at middle school students… well, hadn’t really ‘grabbed me’ yet; and I worried that others I’d invited to join the club may now be feeling similarly. They may be also regretting their decision to join the club.

Everyone settled in, grabbing a slice of pizza. As they did so I silently marveled at the cross section of our school staff who occupied places around the table: a math teacher, a history teacher, a Spanish teacher, an English Language Arts teacher, a French teacher… “So lovely to see this convening of such an unlikely group,” I thought to myself, even though five others had said they were unable to attend today’s meeting.

But I worried.  And I tried to read faces. Did they regret the decision?

Suddenly, someone said, “I really like this book!”  Another person agreed.  And slowly, it came to be revealed that all but one of them genuinely did like the book.  I breathed a silent sigh of relief.  And as the conversation about the book ensued, I noticed my own tepid affinity for the book began to grow and expand.  Listening to others’ perspectives, ideas, and interpretations of the story– along with the emotion my colleagues were expressing– helped me see the book in a new way.

But not only did I begin to appreciate the book in new ways, I also began to appreciate my colleagues a little more.  This conversation, this unique way of coming together around a common text, seemed to forge new connections between us and broaden our understandings of one another.  Talking about this book allowed us to step out of our typical roles and known personas and relate… differently.  And in doing so, I felt as if all of us in that room not only deepened our thinking about the book, but each other.

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 3 #sol19

Life lessons from the Wigwam Challenge

The door closed.  We were locked in.  Looking around, I could immediately see that all of us- my wife, five friends and I- had clearly passed into another world.  The murals, the foliage- and, of course, the wigwam– that adorned the interior of the “Wigwam Escape Room” stunned all of us with their authenticity.

But it was time to get to work.

“You’ll have sixty minutes to complete your task,” our guide, Lauren had said before we entered.  “And you’ll need to work together. No cell phones are allowed inside.  You’ll only be able to gauge time by the light and the birdsongs you hear.”

Once inside, and at first without speaking, my team fanned out.  Suddenly to our left, an animal appeared.  “A deer!” someone announced.  Lauren, chief designer of this “Wigwam Challenge” at the Institute for Native American Studies Museum and Research Center, had told us we would need to “hunt” animals. “But be careful,” she’d warned, “they ‘scare’ easily.”  Spotting the deer, all of us quickly crouched to the ground, not wanting to “frighten” the fake deer now illuminated in LED light from above.  A quick and unanimous vote established that my friend Patrick would be our hunter.  (Personally, I have never had the stomach for this activity in real life.  Even if the deer was make-believe, I knew I needed a different job in this challenge).

As Patrick grabbed a faux spear and began to creep toward the pretend deer, my eyes scanned the room.  At this point, everyone seemed to be doing the same– exploring, taking it all in.  Finally, over my right shoulder, I promptly noticed something significant.  The Native American backpack!  “Your main job,” our guide had instructed, “is to find and fill the Native backpack with the four items you’ll need for the journey your tribe is about to embark on.”  So this must be that pack, I thought, as a smile crossed my face.

Quickly, while recorded Warblers sang in the background, I motioned for my friend Jamie to join me.  I showed her what I’d found, and together we removed the replica of a Native canteen from the backpack and began searching for a way to fill it.  To my left, I noticed that in short order, my wife and Patrick’s wife were engaged in a different puzzle of some sort.  Something to do with cooking meat. And our other two friends seemed to working on “harvesting” some type of crop.

In the end, our team completed the challenge in 57 minutes.  Success!  Afterwards, we were asked by the staff (who had been watching us through hidden cameras) what we learned through this experience.  Someone said, “Collaborating and working together made the difference.”  Another said, “We played to our strengths to accomplish the overall mission.”  Still another person answered, “When something became hard for one person, another would suggest a different approach.”

Great life lessons from the Wigwam Escape Challenge.

Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 2 #sol19

The Unbearable Lightness of Shoveling

Slowly and sleepily, I roll over.  Using the gentle light of my iPhone, I check the time– “It’s 5:47 a.m.,” the phone seems to say with a long face.

Nope, no delay is coming.  Too late. The call would’ve come by now.  But it snowed… didn’t it?  Sigh.  Okay, time to suit up, I think to myself.

Now downstairs in the entryway, I pull on my old gray ski bib, tattered scarf, Job Lot gloves, my grandfather’s old coat, and the rubber snow boots my mother bought me three years ago. No sound in the house but the swish of my loyal nylon.  Time to shovel.

Quietly, I make my way through the back door and out to the garage.  Looking around for the shovel, winter air whispers to me, coldly in my ears: “I’m still here,” it says.  “I’m not going anywhere.”  I punch the Genie garage door opener, and, as the door noisily rises, I wonder how deep the snow will be on the other side?

As the pale light of the morning illuminates the driveway, I see that less than an inch of snow has fallen.  And it suddenly occurs to me: no two snowfalls are ever alike.  A few weeks ago, the snow, although not deep, had been laminated in thick, crunchy ice.  And the time before that, several inches of wet, heavy stuff had been dumped, piling up high.  Today, a light powdered sugar coats the driveway.  All of the snowfalls, so different. All of them.

Sometimes shoveling snow requires great effort– enormous amounts of muscle, time, and effort, effort that wears me out.  Really “putting my back into it” is required.  Other times, though, this task requires different muscles, different techniques, less time.  Sometimes it falls in between.

Shoveling that morning, I am reminded of what it’s like working with students.  Like snowfalls, no two are alike.  To help kids grow as writers and readers, some require more effort, more time.  Some require different methods, approaches, levels of patience and exertion.  Still others progress more quickly, and teaching them can feel a little like pushing powdered sugar off the driveway.

I wonder if all of us who teach realize this? I think to myself.  We must…right?

Bending down with my shovel, I thank the snow for these thoughts.

Slice of Life Challenge day 10 #sol18

Sometimes movies get us thinking…

There is a saying in the basketball world: “How you play is who you are.”  This adage has been uttered in musical circles, as well.

While putting together some lunch on yet another snow day this week, the song “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” by Billy Joel began to play in my house.  As a longtime fan, I have always loved this song.  But the other night, I watched an incredibly powerful music documentary released last year entitled, “Hired Gun.”  This film, by way of interviews, old footage, and music, tells the story of the behind-the-scenes, unknown heroes of many of our favorite songs over the past several decades.


Being a musician, I know the music industry can be shady. But to hear the stories of such greats as Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel’s drummer for 30 years, broke my heart.  By means of news stories and interviews with two members from Billy Joel’s old band (Liberty DeVitto and Russell Javors, ever heard of them? Me neither.), the movie chronicles the untold story of Billy Joel’s success; and how Billy, after many years touring and recording with his band, decided to suddenly fire his guitarist Javors and his bassist, Doug Stegmeyer for no reason, no warning, and no explanation.  Eventually, DeVitto was fired too- after 30 years of loyal contribution.  The devastation caused by these firings, incidentally, is believed to have been a key factor in Stegmeyer’s tragic suicide in 1995.

Other stories were exposed in the movie, too.  Stories of songs and stars and unsung musical monsters (for those of you unfamiliar, ‘monster’ is a good thing in music).  When the movie ended, I closed my laptop and reflected. I thought about these super famous songs, by Billy Joel and others, that feature the playing of these incredible musicians, these “hired guns.”  And yet, none of us know who any of them are.

Here’s a quick screenshot of the “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” credits from Wikipedia:


Where are the back line guys?  Sadly, this information that is shared with listeners and fans is typical.  It strikes me as odd that  “Format: 7″” takes a place in the credits here, and yet there is no listing of the people (besides Billy Joel) who brought this music to life for generations of listeners.  That takes some searching.

I know as educators, we sometimes feel like the hired guns must have felt and still feel.  Behind the scenes, we work everyday to make a difference.  To help our students be great.  To help them believe in themselves and succeed.  Just like those amazing guitarists, bassists, drummers, and keyboardists worked to make those stars who they became.

I think about that phrase: “How you play is who you are.”  Not sure it applies in every sense of those words.


Slice of Life Challenge day 9 #sol18

Playing with parallel structure and playful frustration today in a poem about snow days…


(above) view from bedroom into backyard, 7:04 a.m.

March Snow

First snow day
Greeted with guilty exuberance
What's one day?
Hot cocoa inside
Family time extended
    books, toys, baking

Fourth snow day
Met with mild resignation
What's another day, right?
Cocoa and coffee inside
Let's try to get out there today
    snow angels, failed snowmen, cold noses

Seventh snow day
Received with palpable consternation
Really? Another day?
Too much coffee inside
Stir crazy children, over-caffeinated adults
    youtube, complaining, lamenting of summer lost

Tenth snow day
Make it stop.

-Lanny Ball