Slice of Life: Writing with my students

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) We were able to sneak in a bit of freewriting in class yesterday. For about 15 minutes, the room was mostly quiet as my students worked on stories, poems, letters, comics and whatever it was that they decided to write about. My only condition for freewrite is that they are writing and they are quiet. The condition I set for myself is that I write along with them.

Yesterday, I had an image in my mind from last weekend, when some thick fog rolled into our area as the warm weather hit the cold earth. It was an eerie experience, like something out of Stephen King. My son and I noticed an old tobacco barn that had fallen down over the winter (there was a lot of that around here), and that scene of slow destruction amid thick fog was pretty amazing.

I tried to capture that in this poem.

Abandoned Barn
(listen to the podcast)

Soft light flickers through
the veil of fog,
Shimmering off the old barn
and seeping into my mind.

Boards, beams
and advertising banners announcing the sale
of tomatoes, turnips
and summertimes along the roadway

lay scattered on the ground,
a graveyard of wood and iron
and seeds.

The shotgun blast of rubble
instills in us a sense of fear, awe,
and curiosity.

I lean against the weight of winter –
the remnants of snow, sleet
and falling rains –

but it’s an illusion, too,
in this cloud cover that is as empty
as mist.

Spring warmth wrestles winter’s fury
and then, beneath the stillborn chaos,
a flower blooms:
slow, sturdy and strong.

Peace (in the poetry),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Roald Dahl-ish Day

Slice of Life 2011Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. I had never heard of it until Donalyn Miller tweeted about it. How can you go wrong with reading out loud to students? I carved out some time our day yesterday with all four of my classes and pulled out a Roald Dahl collection. From there, I entertained my students with some craziness that only Dahl could conjure up.

I read out parts of The Twits, and then James and the Giant Peach, and then The BFG and finally, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My kids loved it, and the section from The BFG went over the best — it’s the part where he is telling the girl about how he collects dreams in glass bottles and then blows them gently into people’s heads at night.

At home, I read aloud a lot to my kids, although the oldest has mostly lost interest (except for when he pretends to be petting the dog but is really listening) and the middle son comes and goes on the couch. But the six year old is now at the perfect age. We just finished up, as fate would have it, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (see my review and a review by a student of mine), and have now moved on to a Spiderwick Chronicle book.

I love the closeness of the experience of reading a book out loud. I love how he reads me chapter titles now (which he couldn’t do just a few months ago), how we both get excited about the story, and how telling him stories is activating all sorts of things in his brain. I’m already feeling wistful that he will be last one in the house to sit for long spells with me. But I have a few more years with him, and I have my kids at school, too, who still love to hear a good story read out loud.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Microloans, the World and Me

Slice of Life 2011

This morning, I realized that today was International Women’s Day, a way to celebrate the amazing role that women play in our world and the struggles that so many still face in so many places. I also realized that I had some credit in my Kiva Microloan account – money which had been paid back from previous loans.

The two ideas are connected this morning because a good percentage of the organizations that I have donated to via Kiva over the past two years have been either women-run businesses or women collaborative projects. I remember reading in Three Cups of Tea a statement that Greg Mortenson makes about the importance of supporting women, as they are more likely to use donations and other forms of assistance to raise up the family rather than use it for themselves. It’s a sad fact, perhaps, but I believe there is truth in that idea.

(my loans on the map)
kiva loans 2011

So, this morning, I added my $25 credit to a project to support a restaurant in a part of Africa (Uganda) and I tallied up my donation into the Kiva Group called Shift Happens, which is made up of educators. That group of teachers has collectively donated out more than 400 microloans to the tune of $13,000.

The funny thing about microloans is that it seems so small, but I always feel good about doing a small part of something larger. If you have never tried Kiva, give it a look. It will make you feel good about yourself, and when that one loan gets paid back, you turn it around and help someone else. And on today, when we pay attention to the success and plight of women in the world, perhaps Kiva is one option to reach out beyond your bubble and impact the world. And be sure to join our Shift Happens group, and add to the shift.

Peace (in the change),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The End of Bassman

Slice of Life 2011Last year, in a bit of a hiatus between the collapse of my longtime band (The Sofa Kings) and the start of a new band (no name yet), I started to tap into the world of rock and roll bands with a webcomic called Bassman. I have always wanted to play bass in a band (even though I am only so-so — my main instruments are the sax and rhythm guitar) and the comic allowed me to explore this interest.

I worked on about 20 comic strips and then lost interest. The other day, I stumbled on Bassman again (and sent the link off to our new bass player, who is so incredibly talented) and realized that I needed to bring the comic to an end, and what better way to end the story than with the band falling apart and the members wondering what is next.

Yesterday morning, with the gift of a two-hour delay in my school (but not in my sons’ schools), I wrote out and then created the final comic strips in the Bassman series. If you know any musicians in a rock band (or if you are one yourself), you may recognize something in the characters.
Bassman25
Bassman26
Bassman27
Bassman28

Peace (in the dissonance),
Kevin

Slice of Life: At the Movies with Rango

Slice of Life 2011It was a rainy post-winter/pre-spring day yesterday, so I grabbed my middle son and a friend and went to the movies. The place was mobbed. I suspect they were all feeling as we were: get out of the house.

The movie we chose was Rango (with voice by Johnny Depp as Rango the lizard) and I have to say it had to have been one of the oddest animated movies I have seen in quite some time. I’m not sure if it is was for kids, or for the parents. The story opens in a way that brought me right back to college, when I was completely taken by the Carlos Castaneda series of Shaman Philosophy books about finding oneself by metaphorically exploring inward (peyote apparently helps).

“A man can’t walk out of his own story.” (or something like that)

This quote came and went throughout the movie as the protagonist (who calls himself that at the start of his adventure in a sort of meta-nod to the audience watching) is thrust into an Western adventure where water is a commodity in short supply. And it rambled around  in my head.

Rango is filled with references to many movies and books that completely escaped the kids. Here are some that stuck out with me:

  • Greek drama (some birds sing out the Greek Chorus)
  • Chinatown (“control the water”)
  • Wizard of Oz (the hawk/witch gets killed)
  • The No-Name Westerns of Clint Eastwood
  • Shane
  • Any old-time Western movie you have ever seen

I’m not saying Rango was great. It was interesting. My son and his friends didn’t like it. I tried to explain that what I liked was how it didn’t feel like a Disney movie — it had a different style.

“It’s not Disney, dad, it’s Nickleodean,” my son grumbled.

Peace (in the hot sun),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The First Comic

Slice of Life 2011I completely missed the boat on this year’s Slice of Life Challenge with Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers. It’s March; It’s Slice of Life. I didn’t make the connection and I must have zoomed past their call for writers in my RSS or something. Thanks to my friend, Bonnie, the Slice of Life is back on my radar but I think I will only do it periodically.

What is Slice of Life? It’s a feature in which folks write about a small part of their day, and then share it out. It could be a little nugget of something that seems larger in reflection. It could be something that happened. It could be a quiet moment. It could be whatever you want it to be.

Join the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers.

So, here’s mine for today:
Rowan's First Comic March2011

I was reading the newspaper yesterday morning, when my youngest son (6 years old) came up and jammed a piece of paper in front of me. He had dug it out of his kindergarten backpack.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“My very first comic,” he answered slowly, proudly, closing his eyes and raising his head for dramatic effect.

I took a  look. Before I could ask, he said, “It’s Star Wars and Batman. See?”

He then went into the whole story behind the picture, which (to be honest) I had a bit of a difficult time following. But I nodded my head, pointed out various elements of the comic and gently encouraged his excitement.

“Great job,” I said, hugging him.

“I know,” he said, walking away, leaving me with the comic.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Backyard

(this is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers)

We had some visitors over to our house for a gathering of our families. We were just finishing up dinner of grilled meat and salad on our deck when one of them noted how much he likes our backyard.There were five kids scrambling around the place, with us shouting out our mantra of: “Put down that stick. You’re going to hurt someone” to apparent kids-with-short-term-memory-loss because we had to keep saying it over and over again.

It’s funny, though, how sometimes it takes another person’s view to remember why you like something. When our visitor said that, I looked at our backyard. I do like it. It has a short fence to keep the kids (and the dogs) in (mostly) and it’s a good size for small games of ball.  Whiffle ball is best. There’s a maple tree that continues to grow like its on some Mother Earth steroids, almost to the point that we are getting a bit worried about the tree’s size, and a small vegetable garden that my wife tends, fighting the good fight against the onslaught of weeds. I remove myself from that action, since I can’t stand dealing with weeds. A rope swing on the maple tree is a place for the boys to gather and play. Or squabble, depending on the day or the hour.

I was out there in our backyard yesterday, mowing, and thinking about a neighbor down the street who does not mow at all. He and his wife let the flowers and weeds take over, so that their property is a pretty interesting mix of all sorts of growth. During the height of flowers season, their space is a canvas of color, and a field of bees. I was wondering about why we mow our yards. Who was the first person to do that? Oh well. I do like the look of it when I am done with the cutting. The trimmed grass makes me want to grab a baseball and toss it around.

Yeah, I like the yard. It’s home.

Peace (on the deck),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On the Charles

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

I woke up this morning, my brain still running with thoughts from a conference I am attending around technology and learning, and I drew open the shades of my hotel room. There, before me, lay a most beautiful and tranquil scene. The Charles River. My hotel here in Boston overlooks the Charles and I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a room on the ninth floor overlooking this river that weaves through the city, but I am not complaining. I get up early most days anyway and the orange tint of the sunrise glittered on the Charles this morning. Even at that hour, there were a few boats already sailing. Last night, as I strolled to the hotel from the conference, there were teams of rowers — full Regatta-style longboats cruising down the river as a team, all oars in motion together as the voice of the leader echoed out across the top of the water — gliding across the surface of the water. Across the river from me, there are a few majestic brick buildings that make up Boston University and at night, the lights of Fenway Park are visible in the distance. It’s a nice way to wake up and get the day started here in Boston.

Peace (in the slice),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Refuge from the Rain

Slice of Life(This is the last part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

The rain has been unbearable the last two days or so. Just deluges of downpour and along with keeping an eye on the rivers — the one down the street is near the edge of the bank — and the flow of water into my basement sump pump — it’s churning out a near constant stream, worrying me about the motor — we are just plain bored out of our skulls. And the kids have been at each other’s throats, too, as we wait for what they say will be record-high temperatures and sunny days ahead.

So, last night, we went to Blockbuster and rented The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which one of the few Roald Dahl stories that I don’t think I have read, although all three of my boys know the story of the wily fox who is torn between being the “wild animal” that he is and the family member he has become.


I love stopmotion movies and I sort of like Wes Anderson as a director, and while I was not blown away by Mr. Fox, it was rather quirky and likeable, and it definitely had that Wes Anderson feel to it. His movies always seem off-balance to me, in a good way.

It was nice just to have the four boys hanging out in the living room, with us cracking jokes and watching the flick. (My wife is away this week). I realized later that we never got the popcorn going. What I thinking?

Peace (in the last slice of the month),
Kevin