Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Funny thing happened on the way to work

One blog topic to which I resort happens to be transportation and commuting since riding a public bus to work affords unexpected grist for this mill. Today's slice, though, finds me behind the wheel of my own vehicle about 14 hours ago.

It's the first day of school, and I'm a solo commuter -- one more drop in the fast-rising traffic waters where I live. Then, just a few minutes from home, I spy my science-teaching colleague at another bus stop. No cars behind me, I flick on the hazards, roll down the window, and make an unscheduled stop. "Want a lift?" I ask. Once the incredulity clears from his face, he accepts. Our first point of conversation is whether we'll see our history-teaching colleague, another sometime bus rider.

At the next stop, we do. So we gather a new passenger, and now we have a spontaneous carpool. We dispel nervous energy en route to meet our new students.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer reading 2017 recap

Now that professional responsibilities have formally resumed, I suppose summer reading must lose its seasonal qualifying adjective. To mark that occasion, here's a list of books I finished since Memorial Day (along with parenthetical notes)...

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (soft-spoken picture book inspiration)
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (first tome in epic -- yet intimate -- fantasy trilogy)
Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom by Douglas Fisher et al (Hattie's effect sizes explored, applied)
The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser (still topical, alarming inspection of Internet's influence)
Waking Up by Sam Harris (meditations on meditation)
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (more sweet than bitter MG ride with plucky young hero)
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (memoir where cultures collide, sometimes causing cliches)
The Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus (in-depth look at often overlooked insects and the industries/people trying to harness them)
Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee (YA sci fi takes on mixed-martial arts)
ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes (early adopter on minimizing grades and maximizing project- or problem-based learning)
Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Ruby Powell et al (YA verse novel inspired by mid-20th century interracial romance)
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (intersection of US aeronautics industry's launch and related rise of brilliant mathematicians who were black women staring down Jim Crow)
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd (think twice about assumptions re: teens and tech; question pervasive, pernicious cultural forces)
Translanguaging with Multilingual Students by Ofelia Garcia et al (make room for multiple languages to fuel learning)
New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Shakespeare's Othello re-imagined in 21st-century elementary school; aimed at adult readers)
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Saab story re: Swedish curmudgeon hiding heart of gold)
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Anthology of mind-expanding essays about still-expanding universe and its phenomena)
Why?: What Makes Us Curious by Mario Livio (Look at brain science and historical paragons fell short of stoking my curiosity about this trendy focus)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dizzying adult fiction about three-plus Dominican generations across five decades)
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by AKR (Actual text presented as amusing interactive hypertext, with musings loosely inspired by various school subjects/tropes)

This list comprises eight works of fiction and a dozen nonfiction titles. I consumed seven as e-books, one as an audio book, and the rest as I-turned-actual-pages paperbacks or hard covers. Of the latter, two I owned and the rest I borrowed from the library.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Risky business

I signed a waiver that I did not read. In my lame defense, the whole waiver transaction was electronic, without even a copy linked for perusal. I strutted past the signs that proclaimed, "Helmets mandatory." I saw nary a protected head, so I figured my baseball cap would suffice. I read the posted caution about getting off the alpine-slide track if it became wet with rain. ("How?" I should've thought to wonder even as dark storm clouds slid over the sun, making my neck cool.) I felt the first fat drops fall as I rounded turn six. By turn seven, the skies opened; the sled's brake no longer proved effective. I spent the next third of the ride traveling with -- not on -- my sled, experimenting with alternate ways to stop. I also had my camera available (for posterity, I like to tell myself).

The eventual self-arrest came at a reasonable cost: a little skin from one hand, one elbow, and one knee, along with the soaked-through backs of my shorts and shirt. I clambered out of the track with my sled just before the next rider whizzed past -- the last one before the slide closed temporarily due to weather. I considered the possibility of walking down the rest of the way. My escape, though, fueled new hubris, and my scrapes didn't sting much. I dropped the sled on the track, hopped backed on, and finished the ride.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mesa Verde verse



Crabbing my way
through a low stone entry
polished pearly
by 800 years (nearly)
of hands and knees,
I feel simultaneously
part of and dwarfed by
history.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Floating an idea

I'm sitting in a raft on the Cache la Poudre River, snugly tucked near two friends with whom I used to teach. Their young sons perch at the bow, bubbling more with excitement than nerves. Our raft floats in an eddy on one side of the river. Across the way, seven other craft in this morning flotilla show varying states of preparedness.

"How come they're not ready yet?" asks one boy, pointing his paddle towards the far shore.

Joey, our guide, clicks his tongue philosophically. "Everybody has their talks," he says, encompassing his fellow guides in that pronoun. "Me, I figured out just to tell people what they need to know. Extra stuff just confuses them. We can figure out the rest as we go."

Something in the hibernating caves of my teacher brain stirs; I decide to carry this wisdom back to the classroom in August.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Self, propelled

If getting there is truly half the fun, I glean more than my allotment when moving under my own power -- trail running, hiking, backpacking, bicycling, ski touring, or just walking.

My fun cup runneth over during summer when five of these six modes of transportation are abundantly available. (Skiing, your time will come again.) These pursuits encourage me to appreciate the good health I must not take for granted; the public lands in need of stewarding through which I move; the companionship of friends and family; the unexpected encounters with anyone called outside no matter age or experience, whether we're going the same way or in opposite directions.

And it occurs to me I've left off another essential mode of transport: reading. In its way, it moves me too, during summer and all year long. It stretches my mental and emotional faculties; it reveals literate lands in need of their own stewarding; it introduces me to countless others, real and imagined, like me and not.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Two unique people I met this week

a.k.a. Writing short to keep a slicing streak going

Johnny, who replaced my windshield. He's been working on auto glass for 38 years and takes exceptional, laudable pride in his work, no matter the project before him.

Bill, who is in the midst of running a marathon in every United States National Park. He just tallied the last one he needs in the Lower 48 at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Click here for his story.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

DIY recipe

First, watch one or two YouTube clips. Next, mistrust video learning, so browse a few pages of home-improvement books at the library. Confirm most of what you watched online. Draw up a vague shopping list of necessary supplies. Head to the hardware store and spend at least an hour, dizzyingly considering the pros and cons of products for stripping wood finishes, the relative merits of competing stain brands, the incremental arrays of sand-paper grains, just the right brushes for the job, and so forth. Tell a parade of employees who ask if they can help you that you're doing fine. Return home, exhausted and amply equipped.

Lay down newspaper in the work areas because you're marginally responsible. Stir stripping goop a paranoid amount and brush on. Wait. Scrape off the goop along with (most of) the former finish. Discover, through trial and error, the sweet spot that achieves this purpose without gouging the wood. Wait again for surface to dry. Remove lingering bits of tenacious finish with three different flavors of sand paper. Not only does this buff out many gouges, you'll learn it also opens the wood for subsequent stain absorption. Vacuum up sandy residue. Brush on wood conditioner, which will promote even staining. Wait while conditioner dries. Brush on stain. Wait for more drying time before applying second coat.
Now the big wait: over night for stain to dry thoroughly before applying finish.
The next day at dawn, three thin layers of finish go on, requiring at least two hours of drying between each. (Incidentally, this makes a fine excuse to read, which will help you put a dent in any magazine piles lying around.)

And the payoff, from before:
To after:


That unsightly hole in the screen will be gone soon when the window is replaced to do its refurbished sill justice. That, by the way, will be a job for professionals.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bubbling up

I'm in the middle of reading The Filter Bubble, written by Eli Pariser and published in 2011. It's about the consequences -- both intended and not -- of technology that increasingly personalizes experiences for users. So far, I've highlighted a few juicy quotations such as:

  • "[W]hat is good for consumers is not necessarily good for citizens." (18)
  • "[M]edia that prioritize importance over popularity or personal relevance are useful--even necessary." (75)
  • "Innovation requires serendipity." (96)

And speaking of serendipity... On an unexpected drive today, I heard a radio item featuring Mr. Pariser. Turns out he's the co-founder and CEO of Upworthy.

Now I'm trying to discern if this is a case of "If you can't beat them, join them" or whether Pariser envisioned Upworthy in its hey-day as a filter-bubble busting site. Or perhaps it's just that much can change in six years.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Catch my drift(s)

I rode my bike in the Rockies yesterday, and it was lovely. Mostly. Brilliant sunshine and gusty winds insured that the day sparkled. At the highest elevations, snow patches still stood out against the dark peaks while scattered wildflowers splashed colors down lower. Temperatures in the 70s meant streams gushed with run-off.

I picked a stretch of the Colorado Trail that I had ridden before, which meant I started pedaling up a dirt road to access the trail. About an hour later, I hooked into single-track and started a stouter climb, happy for the trees's shelter from the breeze. A thrilling, jouncy descent brought me to a bridge and across a creek. I knew that meant more climbing in order to escape that drainage. What I hadn't anticipated was how high I'd have to go. As the trail crossed 11,000 feet in elevation and curved around a ridge to a cooler, shadier aspect, snow patches started to appear with more frequency. Drifts of varying sizes encroached on the trail. Footprints and tread marks told me I wasn't the first person to cross these hurdles. The next hour was a grunt, offering short, dry trail stretches between squishy obstacles that necessitated carrying my bicycle. I felt enough frustration to consider turning back, but made enough progress to press on until the aspect and elevation changed in my favor.

Lesson mostly learned: While being in the right place at the right time can deliver abundant joy, a few subtle changes (say: direction and elevation) can send that moment sideways, toggling those rights to wrongs. At the time, the stubborn Capricorn in me offered up a silent serenity prayer, then kept pedaling; or walking; or, in a few chilly cases, post-holing.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Something old/new/borrowed/blue

The #sunchatbloggers are a loose affiliation of reflective educators and, yesterday, one of them (Marilyn) suggested devoting blog space to musing about the school year's end. I'm going to combine her inspiration with the weekly Two Writing Teachers invitation and one old-saw structure to package four slices in one.

Old - I'm an avid reader who, for a long time, has aimed to champion choice reading with the middle-school students I teach. The recently concluded school year was the second in a row that I made a concerted effort to bolster what I value with time. Students started each class reading something they chose for at least 10 minutes, making for a pleasant soft opening to the period and affording me the chance to check in with a few readers each day. In year-end feedback, many students told me they value this time, too.

New - I took cues from several in my professional learning network and experimented with new grading/feedback dynamics in 2016-17. Rather than following a more conventional rhythm of tests and writing assignments within prescribed units, students continually updated an electronic portfolio in which they justified their mastery of course standards. Students could draw on our work together as proof and also from reading, writing, speaking efforts they made in other classes. My responses involved confirming their mastery evidence, coaching them singly or in groups toward needed next steps, or planning whole-class follow-up when warranted. Grades were derived quarterly from the ratio of standards mastered and confirmed. This likely counted as one of my riskiest endeavors as an educator, and it proved an uncomfortable leap for many--me included! By March, feedback from some students, parents, and the principal necessitated that we navigate back to more familiar ground. That, too, was a new experience.

Borrowed - Students and I cribbed several gamification moves this school year, playing Breakout EDU in actual and digital forms. These days palpably lifted the classroom energy. I appreciate Breakout's open-source ethos that encourages borrowing and fosters creativity.

Blue - I've been fortunate to have my own classroom for the past two-plus years. It's a space with one blue wall, the rest being cream colored. In May, I learned that I will need to vacate the space in 2017-18 to facilitate other needed changes in who works where and why. The upshot is I'll migrate between two rooms (and perhaps one office). Anticipating feeling like an interloper in colleagues' spaces initially made me a little blue. Now, though, I'm starting to see opportunities in the change. The clouds are parting; increasingly, the blue I'm noticing is the open summer sky.




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Funathlon tritina

Saturday, grab a paddle;
carve the river water like a sharp ski.
Down Arkansas rapids, we ride.

Sunday, a short car ride
leads to snowfields, wide as a paddle,
softening in the sun to ski.

Monday, after that delicious ski,
time to ride
bicycles; each pedaling foot, a flagging paddle.

Three days in Colorado outside: paddle, ski, ride

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hair today, gone tomorrow

But at my back I always hear / Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near --Andrew Marvell

Carrying out the barber's mission,
Scissors snick with cool derision.
Down in my lap, I smirk to see
snipped silver locks,which came from me.
My thoughts turn dark, my smile galled:
Will I first go gray -- or just bald?



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I'd like to thank the universe and the library

I live around the corner from a public library, which is a blessing and a curse -- but mostly a blessing. Monday, I stopped there heading home from school because I needed two items.

I checked out a To Kill a Mockingbird DVD. It will be the viewing prize when (if?) students crack a book-related digital breakout. I also borrowed both copies of Go by Chip Kidd, to use as in-class resources during a design project that culminates our study of symbolism, literary or otherwise.

Heading for the exit, I followed a woman ambling into one of the library's gallery spaces. She was, to my eye, joining co-workers in the process of mounting a new exhibit. Her voice giddy with enthusiasm, she said, "This is the most beautiful, inspiring library I've ever been in. And that's just walking to the bathroom."

I smiled and silently thanked the universe for reminding me of such blessings.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Beating a dead (grading) horse

Here's another idea collage, cobbled together from recent reading.

About two weeks ago, in the May 2017 Atlantic, I read a review of new-to-me poet, Patricia Lockwood. One line in the piece touted Lockwood's flair for Pun Lightning -- "that jolt of connection when the language turns itself inside out, when two words suddenly profess they're related to each other, or wish to be married, or were in league all along." (28)

Yeah, I needed to spend more time with this writer. So on a foray to the local library last week, I tracked down a poetry collection of hers; therein, I found "The Hatfields and the McCoys" and this bruising bit:

I chuckled and wondered: Are grading exchanges truly feud-worthy? These lines nevertheless packed extra punch since, just the day before, I had received an email from a student. It was a response to my prior alert that the student's grade (for the moment) might look distressingly low due to missing work from absences accrued while on a school-sponsored trip. "I want to avoid any unnecessary panic," I had written and gone on to sketch out the requisite catching-up steps. The message I got back: "Thank you for the email. I am currently panicking as I write this so I will be coming to office hours to solve this." At first, I wondered if there was dry irony to be gleaned from this note. Knowing the student, however, I was skeptical. Turns out a panic attack actually precipitated the student writing to me.

These two messages - Lockwood's and the student's -- juxtaposed in 24 hours strengthened my resolve to keep seeking alternatives to grades's scarring influences in schools; to help learners see grades as fungible, not tattoos.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New way to write short about something old

At the tail end of National Poetry Month last week, I encountered a new verse form from Korea, called a sijo. I put it to use to capture a quirky, mundane Monday moment.

My welcome mat today held, unexpected, a thick phone book--
this annual anachronism that signals spring, even as time
(in certain unfathomable moments) seems stuck in amber.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Worship & testify

Things I believe in: serendipity, coincidence, the brain's ability to create connections where they may or may not exist.

That's why, when I happened to pluck a dusty Bruce Hornsby CD off the shelf on Sunday and noticed a track called "Sneaking Up on Boo Radley," my students and I gave the track a spin 48 hours later as part of studying To Kill a Mockingbird. That's also why after two online interactions connected me to this text and this one in the past week, I'm slicing about them now.

Six days ago, math educator Dan Meyer reminded me (and anybody else reading his blog) to "testify." The context for this exhortation was advice to educators who present formally, but I took the charge to apply to any interactions with learners. Each time in front of students, for example, to what truths must I testify? This bar feels high and essential and worthy.

"Testify!" was still pinging around my skull almost a week later when a #BFC530 Twitter chat pointed me to author David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College. It's called "This is Water." Near the speech's end, Wallace tells the imminent graduates: "You get to decide what to worship... There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship." (7) Of course, there's religious worship, but that's one type among many. The challenge, Wallace warns, is that outside religion, "pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive." (7) Worshiping, it turns out, tends to elevate absurdly lofty ideals.

Cue, the connecting brain, which concludes: In worshiping, I aspire, knowing I must inevitably fall short; in testifying, I tell stories of the journey, so that others may learn and progress farther down the road.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Towards a definition of innovation

About 140 sixth graders pinballed into an auditorium two days before Earth Day. They staked out tables to showcase potential solutions they had developed for problems facing our planet. In the wake of this inaugural Innovation Fair at my school, I've been wondering. Students certainly displayed curiosity and enthusiasm yet, to tap into prevailing buzz, how innovative were they?

Circulating among tri-fold cardboard panels and glowing Chromebooks, I found myself bucketing most projects in one of two ways:
  • Imaginative - such as the picture-book story about dwindling bee populations and what people can do to help
  • Informative - like the well-researched display about burning trash for energy and recycling subsequent ash byproducts for road resurfacing
These categories obviously blur. Imagined stories can be inspired by research, and research projects can involve making something imaginative to showcase findings.

To varying extents, the projects that I grouped this way recapitulated existing know-how. Then, I came across what felt like a quirky outlier. It was a simple paper-and-pencil cartoon that might've been, at first glance, a robot whale. More lay below this surface. The drawing's creator envisioned a new bio-engineered organism that could miraculously and naturally clean the oceans by feasting on waste as it swam about. Compared to the lion's share of fair projects, this one felt more dream-like than feasible. It also felt more innovative: the moonshot what-if touted by many breathless web videos. By pushing his ideas past envelopes containing what he already knew, this student sparked new, unexpected questions.

Given how widely the term 'innovation' is being tossed around nowadays, including in the title of our recent school fair, I've started picking at its use as a label. That's led to this conclusion: To qualify as innovation, three conditions must be met -- newness, difference, and creativity.


Newness by itself is just the latest loaf of sliced bread; difference, the latest bread-flavor sensation; creativity inspires slice shapes we haven't seen before. While these qualities can appear in pairs, too, it's not until all three synergize that innovation emerges.

Schools can tend fruitful ground for such synergy, though this often requires changing systemic, student, and familial habits and cultivating new ones. Otherwise, our learning fairs will look like they have before, no matter what we call them.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughts to make my first-draft musing better: What's your take on the increasing innovation buzz?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence, #2

Just cracking -- today, for the first time -- David Elliott's clever verse novel Bull, with its mashed up mythology and rap rhythms, I'm tickled by the word play, the story spinning, picturing legions of Rick Riordan-crazed mythomaniacs in middle school to whom I might make an ecstatic book recommendation until I abruptly confront (on page 6) the first eff bomb dropped, and I find myself needing to re-calibrate the giddy expectations from a moment ago; or do I?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Season's greetings

Sundown Monday night signaled the beginning of Passover, so my wife and I gathered a group of friends for our first seder in years. We truncated the traditions, focusing mostly on food ones; meanwhile, our friends delivered, potluck-style. Besides good fun and the breaking of (unleavened) bread, the night treated me to one vivid memory of my grandfather.

Growing up, I sat around numerous dinner tables where he occupied the head. I remember how he would slowly look around the gathering, before the meal was served, making eye contact with each person there. (This proved easy when it was just my brother, me, and our grandmother for a casual Friday-night dinner; more challenging at, say, a bar mitzvah with a roomful of a hundred people.) Then he would say the same seven words. "I'm glad everyone who's here," he'd proclaim, pausing once more to sweep the room with his eyes and a small smile, "could come."

Looking around our table last night, those words felt apt -- as they always have. I kvelled (my grandfather's word) that his memory could come, too.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April showers quickly sour




Snowplows in April
grate like the brutal scraping
of nails down chalkboard.



Tuesday morning's wake-up view

Friday, March 31, 2017

Covering ground - 3.31 #sol17 Story Challenge

"Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot." --Bill Bryson, A Walk In the Woods

I've been reading and enjoying the book quoted in the epigraph above. Just now, my wife and I went for our own walk on this cool, cloudy, slightly drizzly day. We ambled through an area that caught fire less than two weeks ago.

We meandered and spied some of spring's first splashes of color: pasque flowers.

Though the blackened landscape still smelled of smoldering, we marveled at the green healing before our eyes.

That nod to nature reminds me that it is not in my nature to write every day. However, for the last two Marches, I've given it a go, one metaphorical step at a time.

Thanks, Two Writing Teachers, for hosting this annual party; and thanks to the participants in the Slice of Life Story Challenge, first-timers and long-timers alike, for your contributions to a supportive, welcoming community.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You can't win if you do play - 3.30 #sol17 Story Challenge

Guess what I saw when I flipped down my tray table on Tuesday night:


Considering myself an introvert, I refrained from pressing my flight attendant call button. I did, however, establish meaningful eye contact with the next attendant who walked past during pre-flight maneuvering.

"I'm a lucky guy," I said, wedged into the middle seat in one of the plane's backmost rows. (Irony is rarely lost on me.) I pointed at the sticker and gave a winning smile. "I'm ready for my prize!"

The attendant may or not have rolled his eyes. If he did, the gesture was tasteful in its subtlety. "We'll see if we can find that prize once we're in the air," he said and moved on briskly.

I reverted to introversion, losing myself in Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. No more mention of prizes the rest of the flight; my champion must never have found one. Still, I felt plenty lucky -- having won several days of celebratory family reunion and a ready-made slice.

Another day, another list - 3.29 #sol17 Story Challenge

Uh oh. Two list blogs in two days must mean I'm getting near the bottom of the barrel for the 2017 Story Challenge... I'll lay the blame for this one at the feet of TWT's Kathleen Sokolowski, whom I've dubbed Inviter-In-Chief. I'm here because of her, in short. Earlier today, she reached out to me and others via a Twitter-Flipgrid combo, asking, "What does the Slice of Life Story Challenge mean to you?" This is what I wrote and recorded in response.


Top Ten Things SOLSC Means to Me

10. My wife sometimes looks at me funny. ("You're writing what?")
9. My repertoire of writing purposes stretches beyond workaday routines.
8. I write daily in March -- and I'll have you know it's a pretty short list of things I've done every single day this month.
7. I read others' writing each day, neither to evaluate nor grade, but just to respond.
6. I'm part of a writing community hundreds strong, with operatives around the globe.
5. As I search for writing ideas, I notice what I'd otherwise overlook.
4. It's opened an unexpected line of communication with my parents.
3. I don't just teach writing. I'm a writer.
2. Unexpected learning, from insightful quotes to recommended reading to classroom moves to cooking recipes.
1. It's a writing sandbox, a place to play with words. Thanks for the opportunity, Two Writing Teachers.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lunch list - 3.28 #sol17 Story Challenge

Nine things I learned from Mrs. Gilbert, the proprietor of the restaurant where I ate lunch today:
  • The Publix grocery store around the corner is the second busiest in the state.
  • American Express issues a black card for celebrities who prefer to keep their names anonymous.
  • Her customers prefer pureed split-pea soup to the whole-pea variety.
  • McDonald's sells chicken noodle soup.
  • Guantanamo Bay continues to operate as a detention center.
  • SWAT team officers have to sit in booths on the ends because the weapons holstered at their hips prevent them from bending their knees.
  • Provisioning a yacht can be more easily done near Davie, FL, than in the Florida Keys.
  • Leaving your red Bentley in a lot where a second red Bentley may already be parked inevitably creates confusion.
  • Grilling over natural gas, versus propane, yields a better burger.

Monday, March 27, 2017

For the birds - 3.27 #sol17 Story Challenge

I walked on the beach today. I watched sandpipers scooting along the tide line. They darted here and there, pecking at tidbits I could not see, stamping forked footprints in the damp sand. Their flitty pace wore me out. 

This scene made me recall the recent Pixar short, "Piper." It's an imaginary animated look at the lives of such birds, one in particular who fears the water. I figure I aped the movie makers in attributing all sorts of anthropomorphic shenanigans to the birds I spied. As one article put it, "All animal animation straddles the fine line between reality and caricature, as directors must create convincing and expressive characters out of their real-world counterparts." That description applies not just to animal animation by the way, but rather most close encounters between me, the amateur naturalist, and creatures in the natural world.

Life can imitate art, sure, and vice versa too -- whether drawn, painted, CGI'd, or even sliced.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

How we roll - 3.26 #sol17 Story Challenge

My wife and I, we're in the land of cars, this particular one having sidewalks, plus shoulders on some streets for biking. So, this morning, we walk a couple of miles from the hotel where we're staying to my in-laws. (The time difference being in our favor means we're up early.) We borrow two bicycles. We pedal a half-dozen miles north to a brunch reception, the last scheduled event in this wedding weekend. (My taste buds report the brunch fare tastes extra-delicious; I credit our effort.) Then, we pedal back south. Our behavior proves atypical among the reception guests.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Milestone² - 3.25 #sol17 Story Challenge

Here's an interesting coincidence (and one that enables me to produce a slice expediently): Today, 10 years to the day that my wife and I got married, we're attending the wedding of another member of our family. What better way to observe a milestone occasion than by celebrating a new milestone occasion?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Fodder for stickler - 3.24 #sol17 Story Challenge

In a hotel tonight, I noticed this sign:






For the record, I'm skeptical my safety is that important to you if you're going to speak of it so cavalierly.

Spelling does count -- at least, sometimes.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Probing question - 3.23 #sol17 Story Challenge

Yesterday, I finished a book called We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman. (It was a serendipitous find in the public library's e-book collection. Click here for a review from Common Sense Media.) This short nonfiction combines text and photographs to tell a riveting tale of college students in Germany who organized against the Nazis. As I read, I found myself uplifted and horrified in equal measure, learning about a moment in history I hadn't met before.

Among the ideas and remembrances I'm taking away from the book, there's one paraphrased wondering that stands out. A main character asks, "How should a responsible citizen act under a dictatorship?"


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slice about something slice-able - 3.22 #sol17 Story Challenge

The student with whom I sat to read aloud was eating an apple. He took one more crunchy bite, leaving the fruit looking like the perfect cartoon core that had been gnawed all around. I could see his mind turning, weighing: "I can't keep eating this and be able to read aloud clearly." His mouth working noisily, his eyes scanned the surroundings for an apple landing zone. He contorted himself and set the apple on the shelf behind us. The apple rolled off, but he deftly caught it in midair and replaced it on the shelf. He turned back to me, ready to read. My eyes, though, we're still on the apple. "That's going to be there all day, isn't it?" my brain told me. We went on reading. (An excellent fluent rendition, by the way, with top-notch comprehension from our young apple eater.) We then proceeded to other business; an hour later, our period over, we parted company. It was five hours later when I rediscovered the now brown apple in otherwise unchanged repose.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Would you rather? - 3.21 #sol17 Story Challenge

Would you rather have an uneventful, unremarkable day, just like any other, or one that has quease-inducing ups & downs?

Say, a day that featured a great classroom moment like the student who's so excited finally to hold the printed text that accompanies his audio book, and then an exhausting moment when a knot of students temporarily lose the battle to stay focused; the chance to celebrate by email with the family whose child shows dramatic growth and to celebrate in person with that same child, followed by a gut-punch conversation with a different child about all that's not working in that same class; the simple joy of three kids in one period each checking out books from the classroom library, and after school the simple frustration of trying to corral a dog who'd rather be sampling poop than jogging trails; or, in the evening, digesting a litany of professional shortcomings via email chased by a glowing compliment shared by blog.

You can probably guess the kind of day I had. Now, I'm ready for an unremarkable one.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sucker! - 3.20 #sol17 Story Challenge

I'm fortunate to lie in a professional bed largely of my own making. That said, the bed has drawbacks like the fact that it's taken me just under two weeks to review the latest round of student work from the end of third quarter. I aimed for a one-week turnaround, and my estimate was badly off.

This work amounts to a digital portfolio where seventh- and eighth-graders are presenting evidence to justify they've met course standards in reading, writing, and speaking. One of my roles in this process is to confirm their mastery or to send them back to the drawing board with guidance. The upshot: I'm doling out more feedback and fewer grades. There's a lot about these dynamics that I like. That said, it has not been an easy path. New approaches rarely are.

So, I was disproportionately happy just before five this afternoon when I rewarded myself with a treat. I unwrapped a Blow Pop that had been sitting on my desk, waiting for just such a pick-me-up moment. I would enjoy it while reading through the last portfolio. And then, having opened that file, I found I'd already reviewed the work; I'd just overlooked entering the requisite grades.

My sigh of relief was almost as sweet as the sucker's synthetic taste of watermelon.


p.s. Follow-up from Sunday Slice: Wildfire danger appears to have been contained for now.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Sound of Sirens - 3.19 #sol17 Story Challenge

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence"

Hello dryness, my old friend,
You have parched earth's sandy skin,
And now a fire softly creeping
Spread its flames while I was sleeping
And the smoke that was drifting o'er the plain
Still remains
Amid the sound of sirens.

Living in most parts of the western United States means fire danger, so I'm not totally surprised when I crack open a bathroom window this morning before taking a shower and smell smoke. A few minutes later, I learn of the wildfire about a mile away, and that my home sits in a pre-evacuation zone. In other words: limbo. I gather the few valuables I claim, go on with the day. Periodically, I check updates from the city's Office of Emergency Management or peek at the smoke leaking from a nearby canyon. I notice how the usual ambient noise is studded with aircraft fly-bys and siren songs. Thanks, police and fire crews. I wish you an uneventful evening.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Change of plans - 3.18 #sol17 Story Challenge

Today was a beautiful day where I live and, in between grading binges, I intended to enjoy it. I made a plan.

Plan A ~ Ride mass transit south for 15 minutes to hook into a trail network through the foothills that would enable me to trail-run back home. The journey on foot would be about seven miles, and this was within the realm of reasonable for me these days. All proceeded as planned until I hit the first trail closure sign. Due to maintenance stemming from severe flooding back in 2013, the Mesa Trail wasn't open to take me back north. I needed a new plan.

Turn around? Not my bull-headed style. My inner GPS started rerouting: I can still do this, I calculated. It would just be slightly less comfortable without water and food. Sure, it'd be farther, but I'd be okay.

Plan B ~ I shifted gears, mixing in running and walking as a means of conservation. I kept going west, up near the summit of Bear Peak, at 8,400 feet, notably higher than Plan A called for. I'm glad I walked. I caught my alternate route north, down the west ridge of Bear Peak and up to a saddle below Green Mountain, down to Flagstaff Mountain, and then one more stretch of trail back to town.

About four hours and 11 miles later, I drank several glasses of water, ate a banana, collapsed on the couch, then woke up to write this. Since pictures are worth thousands of words, here's a map, with Plan A in blue, B in purple, and the infamous closure in red.