Slice of Life Challenge day 29 #sol17

As soundlessly as possibly, I lowered myself into a chair in the back of the room.  Desks in a circle, some of the eighth graders in the room stared awkwardly at each other, while others bent heads down toward notebooks, silently moving lips to rehearse.  The teacher initiated the discussion. “Okay, fictional violence…what do you think?” she said.

A slight pause.  Then hands raised, a few. A bulky, athletic-looking boy began.  “Well, I think violent video games are fine because they’re labeled ’17 and over.’  The people at the store will not sell them to kids younger than that. So what’s the problem?”

Murmurs ensued around the classroom.

Other hands shot up.  Another boy spoke, “I think video games that are violent are not good because they have no moral value.  I mean, what do they really contribute to society?  All you do in these games is cause violence.  Where’s the value in that?”

More murmurs.

Right next to the teacher, a third boy sat up in his chair.  “Well, one thing that’s good about video games is it provides employment for programmers.”  Fascinating, I thought to myself. I never would have thought of that.

“But these games can be confusing to young minds,” came a girl’s voice from across the room.  “They play the game and think that it’s okay to act like that.”

As a literacy coach, I immediately began to mentally lists strengths, as well as next steps for these writers.  But honestly, I was struck by the intricacy of some of their opinions.  As educators of this age, I was reminded of how imperative it is that we recognize the potential of these students to think deeply and critically about a topic.  The key becomes how to adeptly guide and facilitate students discussion, thinking, reading, and writing in order to foster analytical skills.

Today, the kids scratched the surface.  But that’s an exciting surface to scratch.  I look forward to where they go from here.



Slice of Life Challenge day 28 #sol17

On Sunday, we laid down the vocal tracks in the recording studio…

Entering a recording studio is a magical moment.  This is especially true for those of us who are musicians, but do not have the frequent opportunity to record.  As our lead guitarist and writer pulled open the door on Sunday, I felt a bit like I was walking on air.  Our singer Samantha had arrived already, and our engineer Mark stood ready to go.  Making our way past the gleaming Yamaha grand piano and microphones set up in the main studio, we all proceeded to the sound booth to craft a plan for the day; we would lay down all vocal tracks to the four songs we recorded two weeks ago, as well as an organ solo. Agreed.

Many months of rehearsal led us to this moment.  Samantha, Frank, and I knew our parts, and we all felt excited to overlay our vocal harmonies on the instrumental tracks.  But what is possible in a studio recording is truly amazing- it does not have to only be three voices, it can be five, six, seven, nine, or more.  The possibilities are limitless.  And one by one with Mark’s engineering prowess,  we created not just harmonies, but vocal tapestries.

As we worked, I was reminded of a quote by Lucy Calkins, who said, “It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art, but the selection, balance, and design of those ideas.”  I think of this quote often as a writer.  And Sunday, I thought about this within a musical context. Of course we all could have recorded dozens of tracks. But the spirit of the session was not about the number of tracks we recorded.  This was our chance to work as artists- artists selecting, balancing, and designing ideas together in a musical co-creation.

Everyone left Sunday with a smile.  Personally, I plan to add this experience to the short list of cherished musical experiences.  Because how often is it that we have an opportunity to play a part in turning ideas into art?




Slice of Life Challenge day 27 #sol17

“‘Robots?!’ Papa, can we check this out? Please?” Four sparkling eyes stared up at me with the hope and innocence that only children can muster.  My eldest daughter held out a DVD copy of the 2005 full-length film to me.  Now, the librarian had just handed my library card back to me, and it still hung in midair between my right index finger and thumb.  I looked down at the two of them.

“Are you sure you want to check this out?” I asked.  You see, my daughters have been terrified of full-length films for years.  It has only been recently that the unusual fear of movies has subsided (somewhat), and they have begun to take an interest in them as entertainment.

Briefly, my mind flashed back to four years ago when my wife and I had purchased “Finding Nemo” for a plane ride.  “Finding Nemo”- perfectly harmless, engrossing and innocent children’s movie, right?  Livi took one look at the iPad, saw the blackened screen, heard the ominous tones of an orchestral bass, and that was it. “No!” she shrieked in terror.  Confounded, my wife pushed ‘stop’ and I took a quick glance around the plane- nope, nobody filling out an incident report, yet.  “But honey, this movie is so cute…” we attempted to explain.

“No!” came my child’s voice again.  Okay, that was that.  No full-length movies for years to come.  You see, once our next child arrived, Livi successfully corralled her little sister into this bizarre fear club, too.  So for us, it has been PBS Kids episodes and Scooby Doo circa 1969.  Until now.

“Sure, girls, we can check it.”  I handed my card back to the librarian.

“Yay!” they both exploded, placing the DVD upon the countertop.

Strange how we mark time.  Sometime it’s birthday parties.  Sometimes it’s milestones.  Sometimes it’s teeth falling out.  Sometimes it’s the relinquishing of a fear of movies.

However we mark the passing of time, parents feel it.  And it’s in those moments when we realize our children are no longer who, or how, they once were… that is when we truly feel it.


Slice of Life Challenge day 26 #sol17


Yawning, I crept down to my basement.  Time to try to make a dent in the laundry, I thought.  With a busy family of five, the pile had grown uncharacteristically large.  Stepping off the last step of the staircase, my eyes rested upon the miscellaneous debris. Boxes of my daughters’ drawings, old files, plumbing parts, recycling, and seemingly millions of other items consumed the basement floor.  I sighed.  A new meaning for ‘unfinished basement.’

After switching a wet load of my family’s clothes to the dryer and starting a new load, I ascended the steps to the main floor. Rounding the bend through the dining room, I climbed the stairs to the upstairs.  Placing both feet on the landing, I looked up.  Still that hole in the ceiling.  I sighed again.  Spackling tools, a rubber mallet, and a stool rested guiltily upon the floor in the corner, refusing to make eye contact with me.  An unfinished job. We gotta get to that, I thought to myself.

Quickly dressing, I quick-stepped back down to the main floor, making my way toward the kitchen.  In the fireplace sat the pile of ashes I’d been meaning to sweep out.  Another one. Dismissing that thought, I made my way to the front door and out to the car. We needed milk to make pancakes.  Starting the car, I was immediately greeted by the check engine light, politely reminding me an oil change was due. Gotta schedule that today, I thought to myself.

Returning from the store, I turned to reenter the driveway.  That’s when I spied the large, panelled window adorning the front of the house, and remembered the sills were still rotten.  I gotta get those replaced this summer, I thought with another sigh.

Now back in the house, I could hear everyone was now awake and at the breakfast table.  The aroma of sizzling sausage greeted my nostrils, along with the playful chatter of my three daughters in the dining room.  Iris, the baby, sat laughing in her babyseat as Lexi teased and made jokes with her along with Livi.  Three beautiful daughters, all so young but so happy.  They too are unfinished.  But I think I’ll continue focusing on them. They’re what’s important.

I’ll get that other stuff later.




Slice of Life Challenge day 25 #sol17

  • “Story is the basic unit of human understanding.”  On Saturday, March 18th, Drew Dudley, the keynote speaker for the Teachers College Saturday Reunion, made this profound statement.  And for me, listening to that speech has been the type of experience that has become a lens through which I currently view the world.  Yesterday, I had the good fortune to hear a story of how one person can unknowingly make a profound difference for another.

One of my colleagues has shared with me that her husband now lives with a mental disability that affects his short-term memory.  However, despite this impediment, he still enjoys coaching middle school sports (alongside a head coach), particularly soccer and softball.  The problem is, sometimes he is unable to remember to come to practice each day.  Last fall, one of his athletes, who shall be known as “Andrea” here, took it upon herself to call him each day to remind him about soccer practice.  And each day, he would thank her, get in his car, and drive to practice.

But that’s not the story.

Many months later, my colleague, amidst another hectic day of middle school, was rushing down the hall to a meeting.  Suddenly, she heard a voice from the cafeteria.  It was a parent’s voice.  A quick exchange ensued.  “I’m sorry,” my colleague explained, “I can’t really talk right now.  I must get to a meeting.”  The parent in the cafeteria waved her on, understanding completely.

The meeting ended before scheduled, and upon her return to her classroom, my colleague decided to stop in at the cafeteria…just to see if maybe that parent might still be there.  She was.  Entering the cafe, my colleague engaged the parent, letting her know her meeting had ended and she had a few minutes.  “We wanted you to know something,” the parent began.  It was Andrea’s mother.  “Interacting with you and your husband last fall has changed Andrea’s life,” she explained.

Somewhat taken aback, my colleague felt a bit shocked by this news.  Andrea’s mom continued. “Allowing her to call him every day and work with him as a coach has sparked something inside her. She not only loves him dearly, but now wants to learn more about people with disabilities, how to work them and help them. It’s just amazing. It’s changed the trajectory of her life.” The parent looked my colleague in the eye.  “It really has changed her life. And we want to thank you and your husband for this.”

Drew Dudley, in his keynote address, discussed a second fundamental truth: You never know how your story, your actions, will affect others.  “Do people smile at the mere mention of your name?” he asked.  For Andrea, the mere mention of my colleague’s husband’s name certainly does.




Slice of Life Challenge day 24 #sol17

A sweet slice about a young reader in my life…

Title: “Reader”

I arrived home late last night.  My day had been consumed by participation on an interview committee, and it had pushed my usual return to our snowy driveway well into a foreign hour, around 6 p.m.  Leaving my empty coffee cup and laptop bag in the car, I hurried to the front door, hoping all was well with my family.  It was the ‘witching hour’, and I silently hoped my children had not transformed themselves into little ghouls and tied my wife to the piano.  I exaggerate.  They’re wonderful, all of them. But all parents know how stressful this hour can be.  So I was a little worried. It had been a long day for my wife, and I knew that.

However, upon opening the door, two little kindergartener feet scurried up to me for a warm, hug-filled greeting.  Lifting my second daughter, Lexi, up off her feet, I squeezed her and looked at her face.  All smiles.  No ghoul.  There she was.  Then she was back down, rushing away and mumbling something I couldn’t quite make out.  It sounded maybe like, “…show you something,” but I wasn’t quite positive.  She disappeared into the house.

As I entered the kitchen, aromas of black beans and rice swirled about in the air.  My wife had started cooking.  We began to exchange details of our respective days. Suddenly, Lexi padded in.  “Papa, I want to show you something!  I’m reading this book.  But… what’s this word?”  She held up our tattered copy of Cynthia Rylant’s Henry and Mudge: Sparkle Days, and pointed to the word ‘winter.’


In my best reading-specialist-as-parent voice, I gently instructed, “Well, can we try sounding it out?”

Lexi pointed to the word.  “Win…”  Pause.  “Win…turr.  Winter!”

“Yes! Are you reading this book, honey? Wow!”  Here I must make a confession.  My children do not yet read a ton at home.  Yes, we read every night before bed.  Other than that, it is hit and miss sometimes with reading-as-a-leisure-activity around here.  But I’ve made a  conscious decision not to force my children to read. I believe forcing them to read now could have an adverse effect on them as readers in future years.  I believe they will grow up to be readers, all of them, but coercion and requisite reading time has not yet appealed to me as the route from here to there.  Yet, here was my kindergartener, independently picking up a first grade book and really giving it her all.

Breaking with tradition, my wife and I allowed Lexi to continue reading the book while we all ate dinner that night.  It seemed one of those precious moments for both growth and celebration.  And I was reminded what a miracle reading is, and how fun it is to watch kids improve as readers.  It is truly golden. I thought back to the time- not all that long ago- when Lexi was still working to learn the sounds associated with letters.  Now, here she sat, independently decoding many of the words in a beloved book she had heard many times read to her.

I leaned close to Lexi and whispered, “Are you proud of yourself, honey?”

Her blue eyes met mine.  “Yes,” she nodded.


Slice of Life Challenge day 23 #sol17

I’m just not sure I can muster this kind of faith…

TItle: “Faith”

I placed the loaf of sourdough down on the belt, right next to the pound of grass-fed ground beef, and began to fish in my pocket for my wallet.  The woman scanning the groceries, who I will call Patty, clutched the loaf and pulled it over the bar code scanner.  We both gazed longingly at the overpriced bread. And for a brief moment I felt so fortunate to be able to afford the luxury of buying such a beautiful item as this.  My daughters will be so happy, I thought to myself (they love sourdough).

Patty scanned the rest of my groceries and recited my total aloud. “Sixteen-oh-four, please,” she stated mildly.  With my credit card poised between my finger and thumb, I stood just about to pull it through the magnetic card reader. Suddenly the question came: “Would you like to donate one dollar to ‘Meals on Wheels’ today?” asked Patty, holding her finger over a button on the register.  With her other hand, she pointed to a small sign taped to the back of her register.  It looked something like this:


“Um, yes,” I responded. “I would like to donate.  I guess we’d all better donate before it gets cut from the budget.”

You see, my grandmother is a current recipient of the federal anti-poverty program for seniors known as “Meals on Wheels.”  She spent her life raising three daughters (my mom is the eldest), owning her own business (a beauty salon), and being a generally productive citizen.  She and my grandfather, who worked various agricultural jobs, were not monetarily rich.  But they were both hard-working, honest folks. They attended church on Sunday, and my grandfather sold Christmas trees in the winter. When my grandfather died in 1982, he left my grandmother a modest pension. At age 96, she is mostly able to make ends meet on her own.  Mostly.  But ‘Meals on Wheels’ helps, just that little bit.

So when I heard this program is slated to be part of a series of budget cuts by the new federal government, naturally I was angered. Angered and worried.

“Oh, I don’t think ‘Meals on Wheels’ will be cut,” offered Patty. And she was serious.

“You don’t?” I asked, incredulous. How can she say that?

“Oh no, I really don’t,” she calmly replied.  “And if it is, the states will step up and find a way to fund it.  And if the states don’t step up, then people will band together and make sure it doesn’t go away.”  And then it came: “You just have to have faith.”


I left the store that day wondering three things:  First, with all I’ve seen in our body politic lately, I’m not sure I do have faith. Not like that. Secondly, I’m not sure I should have faith…should I?  Will state governments find a way to help seniors like my grandmother if the federal government slashes all the programs designed to help poor people, like they’re currently planning to do?  Would regular folks really organize to prevent these programs from falling by the wayside?  Should I have that kind of faith?  Really?

But Patty did.  She really did.  So the third thing I wondered was…how can she have that kind of faith?