Slice of Life Story Challenge, Day 1 #sol19

Today kicks off the challenge issued by the co-authors at Two Writing Teachers, a challenge that encourages teachers and other educators to live like a writer for the entire month of March. Despite dark clouds, I’m so excited!

Water tasted good.  As I lowered my glass, I thought about how I need to drink more water, I really do.  I also thought about today, the first day of the 2019 Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Today marks the beginning of the challenge issued by all the co-authors at Two Writing Teachers (, a challenge that supports and encourages teachers and other educators to live like a writer for the entire month of March. For 31 days straight, those who accept the challenge must post a small moment story, a “slice of life” story, on their blog, while also offering feedback to at least three other “Slicers.”

Looking out over my sink and through the window, I watched as more late February storm clouds rolled in.  Where do they come from? I wondered.  And also, where do the metaphorical, mental doom-and-gloom storm clouds originate?  I mean, I love writing.  Becoming a Two Writing Teachers co-author has been such a privilege and opportunity.

And yet, as March approaches, the clouds roll in.  I feel some sort of odd, unwelcome dread.

And the clouds talk.

They say stuff like, “Oh boy, now you’re gonna have to get up early,” and, “Sure hope you can think of something to write about for 31 days,” and, “Gosh, March is going to be awfully busy for you.”  And so forth.

Damned clouds.

Gazing out my window, I found myself wondering why humans– well, at least me– are wired up to dread things we actually love doing?

In that moment, I decided that I’m going to intentionally look forward to this March challenge.  Yes! I’m going to take five deep breaths each morning, choose three things for which I’m grateful, set an intention for the day… and write.

I looked down at my glass of water.  It was half full.  So I finished it.  Here’s to a wild and robust March Story Challenge…  I can’t wait!

Lanny’s OLW for 2019

Between the growing challenges of navigating both increasingly complex digital and physical worlds, balancing work and home lives, and parenting three children, I find the sheer pace of life to be something in need of my attention. Something to address, perhaps through one little word (OWL). Here is my choice for this year…

For over ten years now, designer and blogger Ali Edwards has led an invitation to adopt just one word– one little word— as a guide for setting intentions, inviting new things, and/or creating change in one’s life for the new calendar year.  In place of “new year’s resolutions” (something many of us struggle to live up to, me included), the one little word feels like a more accessible, more manageable, more inspirational goal.  Last year, I selected GRATEFUL as my one little word, and I can honestly say this word provided solace, illumination, and sometimes much-needed grounding at some pretty key moments. I found it to be the perfect word for a less-than-perfect 2018.

In mulling over possibilities for 2019, I have found myself considering Ali Edwards’s words about setting intention, inviting the new, and creating change in my life.  These words really resonate with me as I have been contemplating my third year of unofficial participation in the one little word project.  Although intentionally creating gratitude has made a big difference for me this year (GRATEFUL), I will admit to becoming evermore present to the frenetic pace life has taken on; I’m imagining this feels true for for nearly all of us, no? Between the growing challenges of navigating both increasingly complex digital and physical worlds, balancing work and home lives, and parenting three children, I find the sheer pace of life to be something in need of my attention. Something to address, perhaps through one little word.

Therefore, I have chosen the word BREATHE as my one little word for 2019.  BREATHE, in addition to being one of our most fundamental human needs, holds many metaphorical and connotative meanings which I find both fascinating and inspiring:

  • “Breathe” as used in music— As a musician, I have learned that sometimes it is where one doesn’t play that can make all the difference.  The space between the notes helps just as much as the notes themselves to create the emotion, the feel, and the effect of a piece of music. Conversely, when one overplays, the music can lose all of those qualities.  Songs, like all of us, need to breathe.  As I choose this one little word for this year (BREATHE), I realize I need to allow space– i.e., breathing— to take its much needed place as part of the overall tapestry of the song I live.
  • “Breathe” as in something to allow wine to do— When we open a bottle of wine and pour it, we allow the wine to oxidize.  Often this process is called “allowing the wine to breathe.”  This phrase translates to a metaphorical allowance of the wine to “stretch its legs” after being cooped up in a bottle for years.  The connotation of breathing in this context, therefore, could be a positive analogy for releasing one’s feelings and interpretations of entrapment.  I will admit to experiencing such angst both in professional and personal living recently; therefore, for such inevitable situations, breathing will be invited. I will BREATHE.
  • “Breathe” as a component of mindfulness— According to the website, mindfulness is “[the] basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.”  Meditation and breathing are essential pieces to activating and honing such an ability.  This year I hope to practice more elements of mindfulness, with breathing chief among them.

As I adopt this new one little word BREATHE for 2019, I, of course, tip my hat to all of those who came before me, to those who chose this word as their word (such as my former TWT colleague, Lisa Keeler who chose this word in 2017).  And this word, of course, is available to any who believe it to be right for them.  As I said to my beautiful wife the other day when she inquired about “using it too,” the word belongs to everyone and no one.

I want to wish all who are reading this post a happy and prosperous new year.  I am honored you have taken your time to read this, and hope you are able to settle on your one little word in a way that feels helpful and inspiring.  Happy New Year!

Slice of Life Challenge Day 31 #sol18

For the final slice of life 2018, a message of hope . . .

“I started my acting class yesterday!”  The light outside the library windows, still imbued with spring morning color, shone through onto the carpet.  As I stood across from my excited colleague, I observed similar light emanating from her eyes.  Her son, a middle school boy, had recently auditioned for and earned a lead role in a theatrical production.   A few weeks back, my colleague shared this impressive news with me.  In telling me, she literally exuded excitement for him, so pleased that he’d discovered what was for him, a new passion.  Shortly after that, I learned she had enrolled herself in an acting class.  “Just to learn what this acting thing is all about,” she reported.

When she told me this week the class had begun, I immediately thought back to my own theater experience. While working as an eager new teacher at my very first middle school, I had once offered a Thursday theater improv class for interested students.  Every Thursday morning, all teachers on my staff taught an “interest group,” a little course typically outside academics for which they had a passion and an expertise.  Teachers offered such mini-courses as knitting, archery, creative writing, origami, basketball.  I remember this fondly as a time when there seemed to be more time to get to know students, to play a little bit sometimes, to breathe.

As a specialist no longer working in my own classroom, I now see teachers struggling to breathe, struggling to maintain, struggling to balance the many pressures exerted on them.  Teaching is not what it once was, we all know that. We feel that.  Nor should it be, I recognize that, too.  But I am hopeful that the pendulum in our profession will swing back, at least a little.

Chatting with my colleague in the library this week helped me to feel heartened for her.  The brain loves novelty.  And I could see new sparks of inspiration electrifying her in ways I don’t know that I had ever seen before.  My hope for teachers, for all of us really, is that we can find those little avenues in life that not only sustain us, but light us up;  those paths of inspiration that help us come to school rejuvenated and more of who we are.  Because it’s important we stay in this profession.  It is.  This work matters.

And we’ve got to find ways to breathe.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 30 #sol18

A student reached her goal yesterday . . .

Shuffling the assessment papers, I gently tapped them into a tidy stack and laid them down. The smile was beginning to emanate now, I could feel it, forming itself across my face.  I looked across the small, round table at the young lady sitting on the other side, met her gaze.  “Well,” I began, “you passed.”  And with those words, I quietly closed yet another chapter.

You see, as the reading consultant and specialist at my school, I have the privilege of working with those readers who require “tier three” instruction.  This means, essentially, that I provide specialized reading intervention that (hopefully) brings them to grade level.  Now in my fifth year in this position, I have learned that these students vary widely in their needs, that they have far less in common than proficient readers do; which means curiosity must become my best friend when I work with them.

This particular student was no different.  We had been working together a while now, and, like other students that came before, I had come to know her;  hard-working, ambitious, personable, a delight to work with.  But now our journey was ending.  Sitting at that little table in my office, we discussed her progress, how far she’d come.  “Are you proud of yourself?” I asked her.  She nodded.  Yes, she was proud of herself.  She should be, I thought.

And then she was gone.  Like many others that came before her, we said good-bye and I watched her walk out the door for the last time.  This one is going to be okay, I thought.  Next week I will begin working with a new student.

The journey will start again.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 29 #sol18

My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday…


My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday.  Her father’s mother.  And so, predictably, memories of my own mother’s passing came flooding back, like a wave of water finding a crack in a levy.  My wife described her grandmother as gracious and generous, the kind of grandma who went out of her way for her grandkids.  Sitting in darkness last night,  my wife and I huddled beneath hand-crafted blankets.  With the kids finally asleep, we quietly whispered about some of the similarities between her wonderful grandmother and my beautiful mom.  There seemed to be several important and wonderful ones.

Death is a strange thing.  Especially in its permanence.  For me, I find my mom’s departure to be something  I must constantly remind myself actually happened.  That yes, it’s real.  That yes, on that terrible day, April 21, 2017, my father and I had to slowly and reluctantly leave her in a hospital bed- because she had passed.  That she would not be calling anymore.  That she would not be flying across the country anymore toting mounds of presents for my children.

According to my wife, her grandma specialized in small acts of generosity that really made a grandchild feel loved.  My mom, too, definitely specialized in acts of generosity that made all those around her feel loved.  During her last visit, she arrived with an entire suitcase filled with gifts- word searches, crafts, stuffed animals, games.  That morning I held my iPhone in video mode to capture the ecstatic joy she brought to the faces of my little girls.  I watched as they climbed like little monkeys onto the guest bed to embrace their “Tutu” (a Hawaiian word for grandma), so happy for this now rare opportunity to see her.  Although she must have been feeling such exhaustion from the previous evening’s travel, Mom buoyantly greeted them, hugged them, asked them how they were doing.

A year now nearly past, I continue to hang onto what there is to hang onto in regards to my mom.   Her lessons.  Her love.  Her generous way with people.  And I feel so sad for my father-in-law, as he is just beginning this journey; and my wife, who begins her grieving process.

I suppose incumbent upon us in the cycle of life is an obligation, an obligation to carry forward the best of what those who came before us taught and lived.  From these two amazing women, I am sure my wife and I will work to emulate their generosity, a crown jewel of their humanity.  They will be missed.


Slice of Life Challenge Day 28 #sol18

March Madness heartbreak . . .

The odds are against us, and I know that.  But I will admit, every year when I fill out my NCAA bracket, I hope it is my year.  I think it is my year.  I believe it is my year.  After all, who hasn’t been afflicted by the Gambler’s Fallacy at least once in their lives?  For nearly twenty-five years (give or take a few), I have printed out or grabbed a black and white tournament bracket from the photocopied stack in the faculty room; and with hope and a prayer, I pore over the possibilities that will lead me to victory, to the top of a pool of hopefuls.

No, I do not predict game outcomes based on any real knowledge, as time to actually watch much regular season play or develop any informed opinions eludes me annually.  Not that “informed opinions” would help, anyway.  Rather, a belief that my blind selection process will, this year, produce a winning combination always seems to spark a scintillating and seductive hope.  One of these years, it is going to be me, I just know it.  But truth be told, this is a bit like turning off all the lights in an enormous room, throwing a marble, and believing I can walk straight to it.  Yeah,  really not much chance there.

As the kids filed into school yesterday, I saw Mike.  Mike is our man who generously collects brackets and maintains a running score of everyone’s college basketball divinations.  Dressed in his typical sweat suit and sneakers, I noticed him standing in the hallway near my office, further from the gymnasium than I typically see him.  Now’s my chance to glean an update, I thought.  “Hey Mike,” I said, eyebrows raised, hope glinting in my eyes, “how am I looking in the tournament pool?”  Mike turned his head to face me, smiled, and just shook his head. My heart sunk. I swallowed.  “Am I . . . at the bottom?” I asked.  Mike headed toward the nurse’s office.  Over his shoulder, he said, “No.  But close.”

Next year will be my year.

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 6.29.04 AM

Slice of Life Challenge Day 27 #sol18

Sometimes someone’s past can surprise you . . .

The night air made me shiver, and it felt good to step into my friend’s house.  The house, actually a remodeled barn, instantly gave me pause with both its beauty and uniqueness.  I hugged my friend, as it had been a while since we had seen one another. I told him I couldn’t stay, I had to get back to my family. But there in the corner humbly sat his piano, a seven-foot Steinway Grand.  Beautiful.  “Try it out,” my friend invited, gesturing in that direction.  So, unable to resist, I did.

Quietly, I began noodling, playing an old favorite standard of mine, “Song for My Father.”  As I played, my friend, who now leaned on the piano to listen, said, “You know, Leonard Bernstein used to love to play this piano when we lived in the city,” he casually explained.  I stopped playing.  Wait, Leonard Bernstein?  I asked. “Yes, he was my father’s best friend.”  Wow, I said, I didn’t know that.  “Let me give you a tour of the house,” he said. “Come on.”

As we sauntered from room to room, I learned that my friend grew up on the upper west side of New York City.  His father, now deceased, worked as an actor in the city.  The neighbors in the building included not only Leonard Bernstein, but also John Lennon, Paul Simon, and “Betty Bacall”– “Well, Lauren Bacall to you,” he said with a wink.  He named a few others, too.  Needless to say I was stunned at the list.  I was also struck by the fact that I had known this friend for over three years now, working with him in different musical capacities (he’s a producer and guitar player), with him never mentioning such facts.

At the end of the house tour, I thanked him and reminded him I needed to go.  Back out in the night air, I thought about not just the content of what my friend had said, but the way he said it.  He was just a kid, he had explained, and those were his neighbors. How different each of our life paths are, I now thought.  Like the families that lived on my street where I grew up in Gresham, Oregon, those families were just his neighbors. A small boy, socializing with some of the most influential musical minds of all time.  How cool.