Slice of Life Challenge Day 13 #sol18

I saw my father this weekend…

I rang the doorbell.  Inside emanated the familiar barking sounds of an old basset hound, the lock on the door slowly unlatching.  Setting down my worn green suitcase, I straightened up.  Waiting. The door opened.

“Oh, there he is! Hello, son!”  Onto the slate tile floor inside the house, I stepped inside to embrace my father, my father who lives in Portland, Oregon.

“Hi, Pop, how are you?” I gently whispered into his right ear.  As he held me close to him, I detected a slight choking up in his throat as he uttered words about being glad I was there, it had been so long. I smelled the familiar cologne on his neck, and I suddenly thought back to those many times when I was a boy asking my father through a smile, “Dad, did you have a peanut butter sandwich today?”  Because I could smell the peanut butter.  He would just laugh and say, “Well, Mom might have fixed me one.”  Always a scent with my father. Always a smell- grass, cologne, the dogs, gasoline…peanut butter.

Standing embraced with my father, I closed my eyes, realizing I was still working to get used to this new reality.  No, my mom would not be turning the corner to greet me, would not be bustling down the tiled hallway to hug me.  We were alone.

Dad and I stood in a father-son embrace that seem to hang, suspended in time.  “I know Dad, it’s been a long time.”




Slice of Life Challenge Day 12 #sol18

A short but sweet vignette of a beautiful scene from the weekend.

The sun shone down as eight cousins chased each other through the sand, scooped water in shoveled holes, piling onto one another in playful glee.  A rare sight, an unusual and beautiful scene.  My daughters- all three of them – soaking up time with their cousins.

I stood and watched. Smiling.



Slice of Life Challenge Day 11 #sol18

We all have ideas, right? What if we believed in ourselves? Tried them out? Went for it?

“Can I ask you a question?” My colleague and I had just finished up a conversation about a student, and I looked up to discover lunchtime had arrived. Slightly unnerved, I silently wondered where our conversation was headed. Her tone exuded marked seriousness, and I immediately discerned that our upcoming exchange would involve a topic outside the realm of our normal work together. It’s funny how working with someone over the years can aid in developing a more acute listening.

“Of course,” I responded.

“Well,” she began, “you know how you’re always encouraging me to write? Like, start my own blog and stuff like that?”

I absolutely remembered. In fact, just this last fall I recalled discussing what topic or organizing concept she might start a blog around. But I knew she hadn’t started writing yet. At least, I didn’t think she had. “Yeah, I remember” I quipped.

“The truth is,” she continued, “I’ve been writing. I really haven’t told anyone here at work, but…I’ve got a story. It’s a book, actually.” She went on to describe a little of her inspiration for the book and a few of the issues her book addresses. As she spoke, I detected an uncertainty, a tenor of self-deprecation. It was familiar to me. Yes, this was in her nature, but I recognized it as part of mine as well. Creeping into her description of her writing and ideas seemed to be, for lack of a better term, doubt.

“That’s awesome!” I gushed. “But…what did you want to ask me?”

“Well, I know we are going to be hosting our guest author, Lynda Mulally Hunt, in just a few weeks. Do you think…”she paused. “Do you think I should…or could…do you think maybe I ought to ask her about her process? Like how she takes a story and gets it published?”

As you can imagine, I answered in the enthusiastic affirmative. “Absolutely you should?!” I answered. Because that’s what we need to do. We need to be there to encourage each other. To be a voice of belief for the unsure. To cheerlead one another’s ideas. Because who knows? Who knows where ideas might lead?

As my colleague exited my office that day, I thought about the fact that, well, we all have ideas, right? What if we believed in ourselves? Tried them out? Went for it? Found people who believed in us? Pushed past all the “reasonable” notions of why we can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t. It’s that “reasonable” thinking that holds us back. Why not try unreasonable? Why not be unafraid to fail? How many times have I let that thinking hold me back? My loved ones? My students?

I hope my colleague pursues the publication of her book. I really do. And I also hope I can hang onto and spread this new resolve.

Because who knows where it might lead…

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.