Slice of Life: A Picture of Nothing is Still Something

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers but is inspired by #ds106’s Daily Create)
Nothing Much
Yesterday, over at the Daily Create (a must-follow, by the way), the prompt asked us to take a picture of nothing. So typical of the Daily Create, to ask us to be creative with the ordinary. But I took the prompt to heart, and turned on my iPad, pointed the lens straight up, and took a shot. Of nothing. Except it was something. Something neat. In fact, this little bit of nothing on the ceiling has some neat compositional aspects to it.

Notice how the support beam moves through the center of the shot, on a slight perpendicular path, and I was really struck by how the light in one room but not the other room completely gave the shot two sides to it (in a strange way that reminds me of Harvey Two-Face from Batman). The speckled paint on our ceilings also give the nothingness a sense of texture that a smooth ceiling would not have done.

So, yes, this nothing turned quickly into something. And here I am, writing about it, giving the nothing more life than it would have normally had. Thanks, Daily Create!

Peace (in the something),


Slice of Life: Musical Notes

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers)


There’s a been a lot of music happening in the past week, so here are three musical slices from my end of the world.

First, I recently dug up an old son that I had written back when my oldest sons were little, capturing that feeling that the world was pulling them away from my influence. This is natural, of course, but as a parent, it’s one of the most disconcerting things when you realize that peers and media and other elements are beginning to influence your children in ways you had not yet comprehended or understood, or planned for. This song — Innocent Boy — has been around in my guitar case for years, but I pulled it out recently and recorded it in Garageband if only to make sure I have it around as a legacy song for my three sons. <sap alert>

Innocent Boy

Second, two weekends ago, with my wife and kids out of town, I grabbed the guitar and wrote a quick song. After sharing it out a bit, I thought: I should send this to Luke and see if he has any interest in adding some trumpet to it. His #nerdlution resolution is get back to his horn. He agreed and wrote and recorded the horn track, and then sent the file back to me. I have not done much musical collaboration like that. We may keep working on the song together. We’ll see. But my bandmates in Duke Rushmore are interested, so this one may become a full band song soon.

Lift You Up (with guest horn by Luke)

Finally, speaking of Duke Rushmore, the other night, at practice, we began working on I’ve Got My Anchor in You, which was a song I wrote a few months back and used as a remixing and reflective activity for Make/Hack/Play. It’s one of the better songs that I have written in some time, and to listen to it come alive with my bandmates – with a real singer, and the coming together of many instruments — is quite a feeling. This video reflection from a few months ago of how I came to write the song is still powerful, I think. If the band records our version, I’ll get that out, too.

Peace (in the muse),

Slice of Life: The Unexpected Text

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.)

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We were just coming out a freewriting session – a quiet space where students can write whatever they want, as long as they are writing. As usual, I opened the floor up to sharing. Usually, with freewrite sharing, the collection becomes odds and ends of unfinished ideas — scraps of poems, a comic strip, a journal entry, a string of sentences that don’t necessarily make sense. My students love freewrite time because it gives them freedom but I can’t say that focus is the key ingredient for many of them.

Still, I let them go. Writers write.

So I wasn’t expecting much for sharing. Even so, I always enjoy this mini-celebration of writing in all of its messy glory because you never know when something interesting might surface. And so it did. I won’t go into deep details on the piece because of the personal nature of it, but one of my students — a solid writer, for sure, but often a surface writer, skimming along the top of the story — raised his hand to share.

What came out was a beautiful personal narrative that begins with him looking out the window at home and moved into becoming a wonderful meditation on dreams and aspirations, and hurdles, and connections to family for support. The class listened in silence as he read his piece, loud and articulate, and when he was done, he looked up and smiled. He knew he had written something powerful, and that he had shared powerful words. We knew it, too.

It was an expected text that changed my teaching demeanor for the day – one of those moments when you realize that you really are in a room of writers, even if they are just 11 years old and trying to find a voice. Here, this student found his voice, and shared it with us. It was a glorious slice of life.

Peace (in the days),

Slice of Life: The #Nerdlution Ends (for now)

(This is a piece for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers).

As soon as I hit the submit button with a comment for Maureen’s blog post about deep learning, I sat back and thought, Fifty Days. If anyone else were in the room, I would have high-fived them. As it was, the dog was looking at me funny, with a tilted head, but he just wanted to get fed. He didn’t realize that the Nerdlution project, which began back in early December, was officially over. I had spent 50 days visiting 50 blogs, leaving 50 comments (one comment per day, although the reality was that once I started the routine, the habit took over and I tried to leave more here and there).

I’m one of those people who can’t quite let go of a project, so even though I know more than a few friends were not able to stick with it for a full 50 days (which seemed like a lot at the start and still seems like a lot at the end), I kept at it. It became a part of how I started my morning, looking for blog posts (ideally, via the #nerdlution hashtag but those started to run out on me, so I turned to related projects as blogs to read).

My aim was to visit blogs that I don’t normally visit, and engage in a conversation with other teachers. I did leave comments but I have not had time to go back and see where those breadcrumbs of words have gone. In fact, early on, I began to worry about this — how would I backtrack? So, I began with a Diigo bookmarking group, and then started to think about how to visually capture my 50 paths to 50 blogs.

I’ve always wanted to give Symbaloo a try, so that’s what I did. I set up a site, and began adding tiles every day as I left a comment.

Check it out:

My goal now is to begin a trail backwards through the blogs that I visited through the Nerdlution, and see what happened to my words and maybe keep the conversations going and flowing. I’d rather it not be a one-shot deal. I’d like to have conversations, and for all the hoopla over the power of blogging, that’s more difficult than it seems because keeping track of comments it not seamless, no matter how you do it (email updates, etc.)

I’m happy the Nerdlution took place and I am a little relieved that it is over, as I move into a few other projects.

Peace (in the goal),

Slice of Life: A Bright Wire

(This is part of the Slice of Life weekly writing activity with Two Writing Teachers)

The other day, I was watching this child just move through the space we were in, all in a world of their own. It was as if no one else were there. And I remembered that feeling, too, suddenly and out of the blue. I had this phrase “live wire” in my head from the last sentence of some New Yorker article, and out of that, I began to write this poem of childhood and adulthood, and the act of observing through the lens of memory.

I used Storybird to use the text of the poem as a picture book (although, I am not sure if work as I wanted it to work. The images don’t quite match up to what I had in my head.)

I also podcasted out the poem, as I often do.

Thanks for reading and listening and observing my poem. I hope you, too, are a live wire.

Peace (in the poem),

Some Warmth on a Cold Day

Yesterday, I received this in the mail (and recorded it in Vine):

It is from my friends Franki and Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading. It’s actually been eight years of reading/sharing for them, and as a celebration, they are planning to spend each month donating to charity in the name of a blogging friend. It turns out that I was the first on their list (humbled and honored), and they donated to a group known as Birthday Wishes, which helps ease the lives of homeless children.

Thank you, Franki and Mary Lee. It’s a pleasure to be in your community and network and more. And such projects remind me of the human interaction behind the digital conversations, too. While I have met both Franki and Mary Lee (at various conferences, including their own Dublin Literacy Conference), most of our time “talking” is online at our blogs and at Twitter. But friendship blooms in all sorts of places.

It’s a frigid day outside (hello, Polar Vortex) but there is some warmth in here.

Peace (with sincerity),

Slice of Life Humor: A Retirement Letter from #Slice2013

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This is for Slice of Life. (You can view it differently here.)

<Here is a letter received from #slice2013 this morning. Please take it under advisement.>

Dear Twitter,

I’ve decided to retire. I know, I know, I’ve been a faithful bit of byte every Tuesday, as I dutifully connect the Slice of Life community together with their writing. You might even say that my role has been to be a thread, stitching together stories across platforms — from blogs to that other social network some people still use to places that I haven’t even heard of before this year. Who knew that my time would come so soon? But here it is, the waning days of 2013, and I realize that my identity as #slice2013 is at the very end of the road.

As per our original agreement, I am expecting some perks for my work all year, Twitter. First of all, that vacation house on the Gulf Coast of Florida is ready, is it not? I plan to pack up my tweets and kick back in the sun and surf, with a bottle of Mezcal by my side. Surely, I’ve earned it. Second, I expect to be called out of retirement for training of the new hashtag. Oh, don’t try to play coy with me, Twitter. I know you have something brewing because … and this is important, so listen closely … the Slice of Life community really needs a hashtag.

Let me give you some suggestions on hashtags for the next year:

  • #slice2014 (the obvious choice)
  • #slicingbreadandwords2014 (too long)
  • #sol14 (too short and obscure)
  • #Lifeinslices (reversed)
  • #justletuswrite (nice but not connected to Slice of Life)

As you have entrusted me with the delicate decision, I have to go with the first hashtag — #slice2014 — as my top choice, reflecting as it does my own personality with a slight change in numbers to reflect the new year. Please bring my recommendation to the Slice of Life Hashtag Authorization Committee as soon as possible. If you act too slow, someone else might come along and grab the hashtag. The last thing we want is a legal battle over a hashtag. The Slice of Life Defense Fun Kickstarter Campaign is going poorly, as you know.

Now, you must let me go, as I have this last and final Tuesday of the year to oversee. You should see some of the writing and reflecting that is going on. It is amazing. The Mezcal can wait! I’m trending on Twitter, and it’s a mad rush.

Your friend in letters,


Peace (as submitted by),

Slice of Life: Notes from the Past

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The other day, I shared out this digital story about our family’s tradition of writing notes to our future selves and stuffing them into glass ornaments. Yesterday, two ornaments broke, and a bunch of our messages spilled out. We huddled around, passing the little scrolls around, reading what we wrote to ourselves years ago.

Here are few things that were on the notes:

  • Our dog’s first Christmas, in which he was everywhere, full energy, wagging tail knocking things over
  • A scribbled one sentence from my son who was five at the time, saying hello
  • A gift wish note from another son, asking (please) for a plastic skunk for Christmas (don’t ask)
  • Two notes from my wife and I from the same year, in which my mom and my grandmother passed away
  • My own note of love to our future selves

We’ll work on this year’s notes soon enough, once the festivities settle down  bit. It’s a powerful tradition, though, writing as the heart of remembering and connecting the past to the present to the future.

Peace (to you),

Slice of Life: In The Reading Teacher

We get a lot of professional publications at our house — my wife is an administrator and I am a teacher and both of us are active readers and learners — so it was just another day at home when I was flipping through the November 2013 edition of The Reading Journal yesterday. I found myself (not surprisingly) at an article about integrating technology called “Love that Book: Multimodal Responses to Literature” by Dana L. Grisham. I was, however, surprised to see my own name referenced in her article, though. It was one of those “hey, I recognize that name!” moments. You know, “that’s me!”

Grisham referenced a Glogster poster project that I had done with my students around Three Cups of Tea, where they used media to present learning from the book and thoughts on their own lives. It was nice of her to include my students’ work as an exemplary, although the irony is that I have completely and utterly revamped the way we read that book. We now use Three Cups of Tea as our source for critical analysis – given that author Greg Mortenson’s veracity has been called into question and main events in the book are in dispute. It occurs to me that I thought I had put a note on that site — — to explain how we were now reading the book. I guess not.

Still, I appreciate shout-outs in a publication like The Reading Journal.

Peace (on the page),