Sunday, March 31, 2019

Metaslice - 3.31 #sol19 Story Challenge

What have I noticed after writing 31 days straight for the fourth year in a row?

I have renewed appreciation that changing habits is hard, especially upping a routine given that hours in the day are finite. I suspect I stole time from my book-reading bucket this month to facilitate writing, viewing others' slices, and jotting comments. I can already imagine how Monday will feel like it has a hole in it: "Wait, I don't have to write today? Is this an April Fool's prank?" Then, Tuesday will follow with its next chance to hop back on the slice-writing horse.

And speaking of habits, I found myself posting later on Tuesdays during this year's Challenge whereas my weekly efforts usually land on Monday nights, soon after the invitation goes out in my timezone. The late-night slot meant I could maximize the chance something slice-worthy happened that day. See, I don't tend to be someone who starts his slices in advance; rather, they're composed extemporaneously once I sit down, on deadline. I look forward to getting back to weekly rhythms for the next 11 months, which afford me at least six whole days to trawl for slice-of-life catches.

I realized being on spring break during the Challenge's closing week proved simultaneously more and less conducive to finding writing topics. In other words: Thanks, patient readers, for indulging my deep-dive into skiing slices. I also discovered I can't totally trust the Blogger Android app when trying to post, literally, on the road. In the world of slicing, technology giveth and also -- at least until subsequent trouble-shooting -- taketh away.

Lastly, I increasingly embrace the Slice of Life Story Challenge isn't just about the slicing itself, but also the commenting (See Amanda's insightful observations.) and community-building that emerge from the concerted efforts of hundreds of participants. Thanks, leaders behind Two Writing Teachers, for creating this space and fostering the efforts of writers who spend time here, in March as well as throughout the year.

Desperation tanka - 3.30 #sol19 Story Challenge

On the road again
near end of Story Challenge,
struggling for a slice,
drafting at Thai restaurant
by interstate, pressing send.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Breakfast treat - 3.29 #sol19 Story Challenge

With spring break winding down right alongside this month-long writing challenge, I'm going to use this slice to celebrate and remember, simultaneously, an obvious sign of vacation: the tray full of freshly-baked M&M cookies that has appeared soon after 7:00 on the motel's breakfast buffet the past two mornings. Whoever made this unexpected magic happen, the pocket of my ski jacket thanks you.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Fielder's choice - 3.28 #sol19 Story Challenge

It's opening day for professional baseball, and that reminds me of a story.

I'm in high school, undersized and un-athletic, yet required to play sports as part of the program. So, I'm part of a baseball team -- the third team of three my school offers. The coach is leading fielding practice, hitting ground balls to each position. I'm at second base because it requires the shortest throw over to first. The ball I remember coming my way is hit hard. It's in the air rather than skittering along the ground, but I can see it's going to bounce just in front of me: the one-hopper I've heard so many radio and TV announcers ruefully name. I'm already positioned in front of the ball and crouched with my glove grazing the grass, ready to vacuum up what should be rolling its way. This stance, though, is less than ideal when the ball ricochets up and over my right shoulder. Reflexively, my right-hand shoots out; the ball slaps it, then sticks. ("Bare-hander!" I hear the imaginary announcer call.) My eyes and mouth both make wide, incredulous circles as I throw to first. I look down at my stinging right hand to see arcing welts, redder than the seams on an actual baseball. In my memory, they don't hurt at all.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Three chairs - 3.27 #sol19 Story Challenge

Today brought numerous new chair-lift experiences:

Chairs with LED gatekeepers, the lights switching as in a racing video game from red to green when it was time for me to slide forward and have a seat.

Chairs with room for eight passengers. (Picture a big couch, except now it's whizzing uphill, hanging from a metal cable dozens of feet off the ground.) Furthermore, this flying couch featured heated seats and bubble domes, the latter of which retract automatically when time to disembark. Being outside has never felt less like being outside.

Chairs -- not heated for the record -- though still warm enough to melt flurrying snow. This necessitated my wife and I simultaneously reaching back to wipe down our sit spots as the chair swung into position, causing our helmeted heads to knock inelegantly together. While that collision didn't concuss us, it did make me recall this comic from my childhood:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What skin wax is - 3.26 #sol19 Story Challenge

"What're you up to tonight?" my wife asks.

"Well, I still need to write."

"What do you think you'll write about?"

"I could write about our time outside today."

"Like when you got too far ahead, and I had to put on skin wax all by myself? You know, it's better to put on skin wax when someone else is there."

Me: silence

"And if you write about that make sure you tell them what skin wax is."

p.s. After waxing apart, we enjoyed this view together:

Monday, March 25, 2019

Cloud, nein - 3.25 #sol19 Story Challenge

Fun ski days have been subjects of slices earlier this month. Today offers a different take.

Spring weather means spring skiing conditions, which usually means predictable cycles of melting and re-freezing. A skier who is in sync with this pattern can enjoy soft, slushy slopes; a skier marching to the beat of a different drummer would've been me this morning.

In truth, I blame the stubborn cloud cover for delaying the sun's arrival on the scene. As a result, the snow-pack remained frozen and crusty for longer than expected. Mostly undaunted, I took multiple runs, my molars vibrating in my jaw as my skis scraped their way down the tenacious ice. At first I insisted I could find something worth skiing, but several chattery tries only left me feeling more daunted. So, I bided my time inside for a while.

Still, no sun. The day, though, continued to warm incrementally, and the snow relented a bit, especially at lower elevations. Then, after noon, the clouds started to fray, revealing wisps of blue, and soon the full-strength sun itself. All over the mountain, the snow could fully relax, and so could I.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Second close car call - 3.24 #sol19 Story Challenge

I saw the speed limit sign that announced 55, following a long stretch at 75 miles per hour. A short distance later, I saw the next sign indicating 40. What I didn't react to promptly enough was the 25, which I registered simultaneously with the police officer I passed, his vehicle cruising into the road behind me like a shark -- except sharks don't explode in tell-tale cacophonies of flashing light (and if they do, it's better I don't know).

Polite, terse exchange of words ("I pulled you over for your speed." "Yes, officer."), then documents. Short wait that felt longer than it was. More brief dialogue ("As you can see by the sign next to you, speed limit's 25." "I understand, officer." "Just going to give you a warning." "Thank you, officer."), and then back on the road where I matched the posted speed precisely at each change of its pace for the rest of today's journey.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Worlds don't always collide - 3.23 #sol19 Story Challenge

Dear two people I passed this morning on the multi-use path down by the creek,

I find myself still thinking about you this afternoon. You wore sporty clothes, shorts and tank-tops that revealed an abundance of colorful tattoos along your extremities. You each carried slim packs on your backs. Both gleaming in the sun with platinum hair, you looked purposeful, driven, tautly strung like two bows.

That's the message your words sent, too. One of you said to the other who was fingering the screen on a personal device: "Let's go, honey. We're on the clock." To which 'Honey' replied (grimly, to my ear) while slipping the phone into her arm band, "We are now." Then you both ran off in the opposite direction I was walking.

To where? I wondered. And why?

Someone whose day was likely considerably different from yours

Friday, March 22, 2019

Appetizer - 3.22 #sol19 Story Challenge

I enjoy cooking -- or what I like to call: procrastinating in the kitchen. Thus, I tend to suck up most of our household's culinary oxygen, and ingredients.

That's why my wife's words just now merit a slice of their own. Amid a half-head of lettuce, a handful of carrots, and six eggs she'd already transferred from fridge to counter, with me hovering nearby, she announced, "Don't worry. I've got this. I've been watching cooking shows."

So I left to prep this small spoonful of writing instead.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Over and out - 3.21 #sol19 Story Challenge

Talked to my niece by phone this afternoon on the occasion of her birthday.
Among the gifts that brightened her day was a pair of walkie-talkies.
Each required three AAA batteries, she informed me.
She was scouring her house for these while we talked.
She thought she could scavenge some from a karaoke-machine remote control.
(She figured she'd just use the buttons on the machine in the short term.)
That controller, though, only offered up a pair of batteries.
She reminded me that she needed three.
She recalled her family had purchased a 24-pack, but she had no idea where to find that mother-lode.
Then, she had her next idea: a trunk of spare pieces and parts.
In there, she found one more battery.
She now had enough portable juice to power one walkie-talkie, half way to her goal.
She sounded persistent, which I expect will eventually pay off, in batteries or other ways.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence 6 - 3.20 #sol19 Story Challenge

File this one under irony: Less than one hour after a history-teaching colleague dropped by my classroom to share a conversation he had facilitated with eight-graders this morning about dynamics of compliance and resistance among specific subgroups in Europe during World War II, I found myself in a lunchtime meeting doing the due-process dance that involves force-fed logistics in advance of annual state-wide testing in reading, writing, math, and science for three days next month, circumstances that left me weighing the costs and benefits (a.k.a. risks and rewards) of myself complying, resisting, or seeking alternate ways to those two forks in this particular road.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hall pass hall pass - 3.19 #sol19 Story Challenge

As per a school directive, I keep a clipboard in the classroom next to the hall pass hanging on a lanyard. I expect students to sign in and out when they use the hall pass, noting the times of their comings/goings. For this purpose, students jot their information in one row of a blank table, printed double-sided on sheets of paper.

I was reminded today of a quirk in this system: The number of students who will try to squeeze their details into the white space below the table, once the last row is occupied, or who will even try scribbling details around other margins, is a predictable surprise.

I've demonstrated for students, with mock theatricality, being the hero who flips the full side to its pristine reverse or (even more courageously) rotates a sheet with no more room to the back of the clipboard stack. All to no, or minimal, avail. Perhaps it's a developmental issue among middle-schoolers, a path of less resistance from their vantage. I'm pretty sure, based on other observations, that it's not a bid to conserve resources.

Monday, March 18, 2019

More rhyme than reason - 3.18 #sol19 Story Challenge

In a chair at the barber's, my eyes go wide
reading on the counter the glass jar just spied.
Plain white print spells out: Barbicide.
Below that, "Disinfectant, Fungicide & Virucide."
Inside, Jolly-Rancher-blue juice looks undignified,
though no doubt strong stuff, I must confide.
While my hygiene habits constitute no guide,
can't help pondering with a hit to my pride
what's crawled through my hair, then died.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Worth waiting for - 3.17 #sol19 Story Challenge

Patience paid off Saturday, twice.

First, a recreational ski day began with constrained terrain while patrollers navigated steeper slopes -- loaded with snow from a recent storm -- to assess safety and, in some cases, to trigger purposeful avalanches with explosives. Word trickled our way by early afternoon that Kachina Peak was open for hikers, so we joined a line of ants, numbering in the hundreds, to follow the kick-steps along a lengthy ridge to the top of the mountain. The way up demanded 45 minutes; the way down, less than 10. As I've written about earlier this month, it was worth it.

The ski day done, that night found us at a recommended restaurant nearby. Crowded with diners, the small establishment already had an hour-long wait, but it was well-equipped for the scenario with outside space. We pulled a few vacant chairs into a circle of people around a fire pit. We stayed warm and made fast friends, three of whom we ended up dining with when our eventual tables proved adjacent. The New Mexican food, by the way, was delicious.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Animal xing - 3.16 #sol19 Story Challenge

Driving conditions around 8:30 on Friday night are ideal, more or less. In the 'more' column go dry roads, light traffic, ample visibility. All of these permit a high rate of travel, near the speed limit of 65, certainly not under. In the 'less' column land the four elk abruptly lit by my high beams. I inhale, short and tight.

"Why did you cross the road?" my mind dumbly wonders wanders as my right foot mashes the brake. Though sudden, the subsequent stop proves controlled and (frantic calculating) not quite short enough -- the tires avoiding screeching or skidding; the implacable animals keeping shuffling. I aim for the probably-bigger-than-car-sized gap between two of them who are still on my side of the road. Rewinding the moment, it feels analogous to bizarre miniature golf: vehicle as colored plastic ball and golden specimens of Cervus canadensis as thick, slow-rotating windmill paddles. My foot still pressing the brake, the seemingly nonplussed elk maintaining their cadence, we roll through the space in their ranks, all of us unscathed this time.

Then, the voice from the passenger seat: "You want me to keep my eyes open for a while?" I exhale, long and loose.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Ups and downs - 3.15 #sol19 Story Challenge

Language is perception, not to mention imperfection. It packs symbolic power to capture specifics even as its connotations make its meaning sometimes slippery, elusive, or imprecise. Language use is also a habit.

Those abstracts thoughts circled through my brain as I walked to catch this morning's bus. I was reflecting about recent difficult conversations having to do with students' course placements for next school year. That process is underway currently, and one particular quirk of language has come up often. Most offerings where I teach are divided into two levels: standard and honors. That leads to habitual use of phrases like "moving a student up" when we recommend placing a student who has been in a standard class into an honors one. When we recommend moving a student from honors to standard, we often say we are "moving the student down." That's come into focus for me as a language problem for us and our community -- not merely as an issue with semantics, though, but with perceived realities our word choices have created.

An article from Choice Literacy I read this morning crystallized that thinking, sparking me to wonder how small changes in our choice words (hat tip, Peter Johnston) may hold farther reaching power than we realize.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Admission - 3.14 #sol19 Story Challenge

The unfolding scandal surrounding college admissions got me thinking, many moons ago, about when I applied to college. Then, here's what scandal amounted to...

I spent winter break during my senior year of high school in Florida, visiting relatives. I had college applications to finish, which involved (in that era) filling out forms on paper. That meant I needed a typewriter. It didn't make sense to lug one from home, and purchasing a Sunshine State model to lug back or even stash with family in the South hardly made sense. So, I bought -- or more likely my supportive parents bought -- a basic electric typewriter that I proceeded to put through its paces for the next several days. (For "put through its paces," read: hunting and pecking.) Once the job was done, I returned the typewriter to the vendor, noting my displeasure with some function or another, and secured a full refund.

See what I mean? Scandalous.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Push comes to shovel - 3.13 #sol19 Story Challenge

I live in an apartment, so my snow shoveling responsibilities are minimal to nil. In fact, in the last decade, there's a good chance I've scooped more snow out of pits dug to scope back-country snowpacks during skiing forays than I have snow from stoops or sidewalks. Late Tuesday night, though, my brother-in-law relayed a message that his property needs shoveling love while he's away (or else he risks a municipal fine for neglecting his responsibilities).

As sweet, sweet justice would have it, the current storm is a nasty slushy one. I can only hope my efforts on his behalf will also amount to digging out of my own karmic hole.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Snow days I have known - 3.12 #sol19 Story Challenge

Once, I had an extra-long commute, and I learned of the call to cancel school only after I had survived the harrowing drive to my workplace.

Once, a gas leak led to a day of no school even as the late winter weather featured sunshine with temperatures in the 60s.

Twice, multi-day closures having nothing to do with snow occurred due to crises of Old Testament proportions: namely, floods or contagious illness.

Once, a snow day landed the same day colleagues and I shaved our facial hair to mimic Civil War generals, leaving us suddenly, embarrassingly with no place to go except out in public.

And today, the sheer force of the forecast has inspired a cancellation announcement at 5:18 p.m. for school tomorrow, depriving the superstitious of their opportunity for meteorological influence.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Virtual actual teamwork - 3.11 #sol19 Story Challenge

Today, at the school where I teach, teamwork is on my mind: the forms that will unfold if shifts in staffing announced today lead to more team teaching next year; the forms we aim to elevate among middle-school students' norms, though they seem to be the exception rather than the rule currently; the forms that sometimes pop and other times fizzle when colleagues and I try to navigate together through uncertainty... If nothing else, an in-service day does get me thinking.

To add to that mental momentum, I invite your comments below. What thoughts (or resources) about growing team teaching or honing collaboration skills can you share?

Sunday, March 10, 2019

When an hour's not an hour - 3.10 #sol19 Story Challenge

If 365 days
in a typical year
total 525,600 minutes,
how it can be
that the 60 of those
(tiniest fraction of one percent)
that I fast forwarded through
when I wound ahead countless clocks
laid me so slow
based on the lethargy
that hung over me
when my alarm sounded
in this morning's thick dark?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Tide game - 3.9 #sol19 Story Challenge

Are the rhythms of my reading life natural? Do they ebb and flow like ocean tides? Or are other complicated elements -- intrinsic, extrinsic, implicit, explicit -- influencing what I read and when?

I'm thinking about this after an email exchange with a parent whose child is in eighth grade. She shared a familiar story of a student whose reading life has been at low tide for most of middle school, after surging through elementary school. I wonder: What's different now? What might turn the proverbial tide?

For that matter, what might turn mine? I was juggling three brain-focused books earlier this month: Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, Talent Code by Dan Coyle, and Performance Cortex by Zach Schonbrun. I've finished those, and I'm casting about for what to read next. Sure, I've got a to-read list, but nothing there is calling to me at the moment. Sounds like Sunday should feature a library or bookstore visit to go fishing...

My reading life, I realize, is the product of my priorities that become habits. Next week, I'll ask my student about his and how well they're serving him.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Snow business - 3.8 #sol19 Story Challenge

An unprecedented stretch of Colorado snow
triggered many slopes to go.

One avalanche reached the interstate,
which wasn't great.

Then, an inbounds slide at Breckenridge
scared skiers a smidge.

Until we change channels on this jet-stream episode,
the touchy snowpack's under load.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Giant pane - 3.7 #sol19 Story Challenge

This slice starts at some vague point in the fall of 2017. It should've ended today.

Windows where I live, including some beefy patio doors, had been replaced. Cut to the summer of 2018, and one of those sliding panels wasn't sliding as effortlessly as one might hope. Scuffing became apparent on the frame and glass of the fixed pane, which precipitated a call to the installer while still under the warranty's umbrella. An inspection revealed warping of the frame. That meant a replacement in 6-8 weeks, minimum. With some difficulty, that appointment got scheduled, only to have the crew arrive and diagnose within five minutes that they had the wrong colored part, black and dark brown being unsurprisingly close in hue -- though not so close one wouldn't notice. Two months later, give or take, presented the next attempt, this time the crew lacking a requisite tool to do the job without causing more damage. "We'll just leave the replacement fixed panel on your patio," they said, "and we'll arrange to come back." The third time, the alleged charm, was slated for today. The issue on this occasion turned out to be a sliding panel with the wrong measurements. We haven't pinned down the date for a fourth try yet, but open-the-windows season feels like it's hurrying near.

To be continued, not necessarily via slice-of-life blog.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Diagrammer/Die, grammar- 3.6 #sol19 Story Challenge

As part of eighth graders and I delving into intricate, under-explored worlds of sentence structure, today I dusted off diagramming as a visual way to make sense of grammatical conceits like parts of speech, subjects, verbs, phrases, clauses, etc. I then asked students to go find an "interesting sentence" in their choice-reading books -- one that made them stop to admire it, made them think, "Haven't seen a sentence like you before" or even "I'd like to write a sentence like you some day."

Here's the first one a student shared from a book about professional hockey player Connor McDavid, all 37 words of it:
On Oilers Now, a local sports radio program dedicated to discussing the team, Bob Stauffer fielded call after call from tortured fans despondent for Connor, the Oilers, their own suffering, and the second-unit power play.
Initially flustered, students started working through the basics of it and puzzled over next-level obstacles. Come to think of it, the experience reminds me now of how my wife taught me to ski: Try something foolishly hard, so the next challenge feels not-so-brutal.

When you're ready to play along, click through to see our solution. Comments welcome.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Fried-dough-jà vu- 3.5 #sol19 Story Challenge

On the bus to school Tuesday morning, I read Susan Kennedy's delightful slice about pączki. [Editor's note: I was going to type 'pączkis,' but I think that'd be redundantly plural...] I had one question by the end: how to say the name of that Polish pastry. So, I left my query as a comment on Susan's blog.

Fast forward about seven hours and, during the last passing period of the day, the health teacher (ironically) walks down the hall carrying a square red-and-white box, just like the one Susan pictured. It contained two uneaten pączki. "Want one?" he asked. "Or part of one?"

I said, "No, thanks, but I was reading about these this morning." His eyes widened. "How do you pronounce the name?" I asked, and he pointed to a phonetic version on the side of the box: pawch-key. My word-nerd brain left the exchange satisfied, if not my tummy.

p.s. Susan, I since caught up with your reply and the video link I overlooked previously.

Monday, March 4, 2019

GoToMeeting - 3.4 #sol19 Story Challenge

I attended at least three meetings today: The first was with a team of educators whose focus is student support; the second involved an appointment after school with an eighth grader making his first office-hours appearance this semester; the third meant sitting around a conference table with the school accountability committee.

None of these gatherings began or ended on time. In many professional worlds, this is neither new nor unique, yet it's a problem -- one with cascading consequences for managing finite time and maximizing productivity in the face of infinite work.

What did I (re)learn from today's tangle? The importance of a decisive agenda with defined purposes. The need to tailor that agenda to match allotted time. The value of a timekeeper whose responsibility is keeping the group safely within the guardrails of the agenda's timing. The responsibility to communicate one's own comings and goings responsibly, proactively to larger groups, and then stick to one's scheduling guns.

What have exemplar or disastrous meetings taught you?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Snow day - 3.3 #sol19 Story Challenge

Early this morning, I tweeted this in response to comments about winter weather woes:

Ten or so inches had fallen at that time, and another eight stacked up over the course of the day. Roughly 11 hours after slinging characters on Twitter, I can report the skiing was indeed top-notch. Powder days are rare birds, in my experience, and this was among the rarest.

For non-skiers among you slicers and readers, imagine dancing lightly through soft, white space in a way that feels simultaneously slow and thrillingly fast. Or picture a three-dimensional maze where all paths lead somewhere good. Today felt like that for me.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Unfiltered filter - 3.2 #sol19 Story Challenge

The school district where I teach is subscribing to an additional Internet filter and device-management platform called GoGuardian. My understanding is the move is partly in response to community concerns about less-fettered technology access. The program works as a browser extension in Chrome as Chromebooks have become ubiquitous in my school and district. That means students logged into their school accounts and using Chrome, even at home on personal devices outside school hours, will have this service running in the background. (For the record, there's an opt-out process for GoGuardian filtering after school and, of course, plenty of individual work-arounds involving alternative accounts or browsers.)

My only experience with GoGuardian, to date, is a group of middle schoolers simmering Friday about their privacy being invaded. They may have a point, though their arguments aren't fully formed yet. One student asked if I could give him a quotation about GoGuardian for an article he plans to contribute to a digital 'zine he self-publishes with classmates. "A quotation about what?" I asked. "What's the story you're covering -- your angle? What questions are you seeking answers to?" At that point, the unplanned interview fizzled.

Here's a question for you, though: Anyone else have slice-of-life experiences with GoGuardian, or comparable programs, to share -- good, bad, or otherwise?

Friday, March 1, 2019

Live to slice another day - 3.1 #sol19 Story Challenge

First time I undertook the Story Challenge, I had no clue. I winged it as one does.

Second and third times, I was on it. I'd watched and learned (and read) from wiser souls who'd gone before. As each of those Marches rolled around, I lovingly arranged a month's worth of pre-dated blog templates, titles and topics to be determined.

This year, March ambushed me: Friday morning, I scrambled to line up 31 empty blogs -- an optimistic nod to completing this challenge though it's barely begun -- and now I'm logging my first entry 14 hours later, grimacing slightly that I almost bumbled the challenge though it's barely begun.