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



Slice of Life Challenge day 8 #sol18

Missing the chaos . . .

Placing the car in park, I shut off the engine.  Almost by muscle memory, I performed my routine: grab empty coffee cup from the cupholder between the two front seats; disconnect iPhone from the stereo system; open car door and grab computer bag; sling bag over shoulder; close car door.  Always the same. Always the same.

But I knew today would be different.

I made my way across the driveway as the March sun silently filtered between large maple trees. And as I pushed open my front door, I was greeted by something uniquely unfamiliar- eerie silence.

No Hi Papa! bursting from the tiny vocal cords of a two-year old.

No voices chattering about how to improve the blanket fort.

No Mama, I need a snack! No arguments about saving room for dinner.

No confrontations about setting the table.

No debates about the merits of bathing or brushing teeth.

No desperate searches for favorite water bottles, stuffed animals, special blankets.

No figuring out how to read Boxcar Children to two older children and Goodnight, Gorilla to another.

No requests for bandaids or drinks of water right after the lights are turned out.

No chaos.

None of that.

Just peace, quiet. Choice and sanity.

But I miss the chaos.

And I can’t wait until it returns.


Note to readers:  My family flew to see relatives Tuesday.  I will be joining them this coming weekend.


Slice of Life Challenge day 7 #sol18

Chinese numerology . . .

Chinese Numerology

That table? I thought, feeling a smile cross my face.  As we’d entered the restaurant, my family and I had been greeted by a server who had ushered us to the back.  There, a long table, covered in simple white cloth, elegantly sat, set for our arrival. White napkins folded.  Water glasses already poured.  A reservation. A handful of times we have dined at “The Village,” but never have we been seated at this table; for this, the big table, hosted the larger parties of, say, twelve.  This was the Event Table.  And tonight we were The Event.

Moving around to the back of the beautiful Event Table, I watched as my wife helped my daughters select their seats.  Behind us, our good friend and her son excitedly shuffled in out of the cold and joined us.  Two more friends joined behind them.

“Happy Birthday!” one friend chirped, handing me a bottle-shaped gift adorned in sparkly foil wrap.  I thanked her, so kind.  “You know,” she began, “in Chinese numerology, the number four is bad luck.”  A little confused, I mentally scrambled to catch up.  I knew this line of conversation was going somewhere, but hadn’t yet grasped where.  “In fact, people who are strong believers in Chinese numerology will not even consider purchasing a house if the number four is in the address.  Not even if the house address is, say 13… because three plus one equals four.  The number four is just bad luck.  It’s bad.”  Nodding, I leaned in.  She was serious, and  I really wanted to get this.  But I still wasn’t there.

Smiling at me, my friend continued, “And so, you are leaving your forties.  You are no longer going to be living in a decade with a constant four in your age.  So…Happy fiftieth!  Cheers!”  All the adults lifted their glasses.

Ah, got it.

Reflecting, I thought: Wow, I’m sitting at the Event Table.  And now this.  Gazing at the menu through my new spectacles, I realized I may have a lot to look forward to this decade.