Slice of Life: Night Train

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

The very first rock concert that I ever attended was the prog-rock band, Yes, and I joined a group of friends and my older brothers and his friends. It was at the Hartford Civic Center and I still remember the feeling of the bass notes pounding through my heart. (Ironically, Yes just came around again, hitting my town a few weeks ago but I didn’t go.)

I mention this because last night, I took my older boys (10, 12) to their very first rock concert. The band, Train, was in town at a theater and I thought Train would be a good intro into the concert experience. I was right. The boys were thrilled, and the band put an a great show, complete with lights, loud guitars and power pop singing. The three of us danced in the aisles together, along with the crowd, to songs like Soul Sister, Drops of Jupiter, Virginia and more. (Their website allows you to take a listen for free to a bunch of songs.)

The band even covered a few songs, so I would bend down from time to time, and say, “That’s Led Zepelin,” or “That’s a song from Van Halen” and “Doobie Brothers did that one, first,” as if I were giving some tour of music that shaped my world as a kid.

A few highlights from the show:

  • Their version of Led Zep‘s “Ramble On” was incredible and singer Pat Monahan was like a replica of Robert Plant. This guy can sing and hit the notes.
  • At one point, Monahan said that he liked small concert halls because of the acoustics. He then asked if he could sing us a song “without this microphone getting in the way of you and me,” and we all cheered. He put down the mic, stood up tall and then serenaded us with no amplification on a powerful song whose name I now forget. I thought that was pretty cool.
  • The band brought a whole lot of fans on stage to dance, and help sing songs, and I thought, these guys are having too much fun. Later, I told my boys that I thought Monahan had a real stage presence and put on quite a show. Not quite like Bruce Springsteen, perhaps, but Monahan knew his audience well.
  • The opening act was Butch Walker and the Black Widows. They were very energetic, too, and I kind of liked them. I always pay attention to opening bands because sometimes, they are the stars of the future.

It was late when we finally left, and with the clock change, I imagine today is going to be a bit of a drag. But it was worth it. Oh, one other funny slice of the event. My sons filled up some baggies with cheese popcorn (they are always hungry), but worried as we walked to the theater that they would be in trouble if they got caught smuggling in food.

“What will they do to us if they catch us?” my 10 year old wanted to know.

What I thought was, kid, you don’t know the kinds of things I have smuggled into concerts in my day. What I said was, “Aww, don’t worry about it. It’s just popcorn.”

No one even checked.

Peace (in the show),

Losing the Jabberwock

Yesterday, I took my older kids to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D, and while I continue to be impressed by the vision of Tim Burton, I wondered about the concept of using the poem “Jabberwocky” as the main narrative device for this retelling of Alice.

This is a spoiler alert, by the way. I won’t tell too much, but still, if you have not seen the movie, you may want to skip me right now.

Each year, I read Jabberwocky out loud to my sixth graders and we have a very interesting discussion about what is going on and what the bandersnatch might be and just who is the hero and why are they after the jabberwock, and how gross or cool is it to come home with the head of your foe (this usually comes down to gender).

Normally, my reading of the poem by Lewis Carroll is the first time they have encountered it, although it surely will not be the last. No more. Now, they will have Alice in their heads and come to the discussion with Tim Burton’s ideas of the poems dancing around, and I am sort of frustrated about that. It’s one last bit of imagination drained away by mass media.

I know that the poem was originally part of the Alice books, so I guess it makes some sense.

It just seems strange to have the Alice movie (by the way, I was smitten by the actress playing Alice — Mia Wasikowska) center around her discovering the vorpal sword, befriending the bandersnatch, and then slaying the jabberwock to save the white queen on what is known as Frabjous Day. I’m all for girls being the heroes, and understand Burton’s desire to make the story fresh and new, but this seemed odd to me.

Maybe I am just too critical and want to keep the possibilities of discovery of the poem to myself and my students.

Peace (in the poems),

Slice of Life: To Coach or Not To Coach

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

Yesterday, I brought my middle son to the Little League baseball evaluations, which often resemble a football combine where coaches walk around with clipboards, jotting down notes as the prospective ballplayers do their best to his the ball, pitch the ball and catch the ball after a winter of not even knowing where their gloves are (yeah, we had a bit of a scramble to find a glove).

My older son is all set. When you get to the “A” level, you stay on the same team, so there is no need to impress anyone. My middle son is right on the cusp — old enough to make the leap to “A” but young enough to stay in “B” for another year. He wants to go up to “A” and I think he is ready (mostly), and if he does go up to the “A” league, he will be on his older brother’s team.

It would be the first and maybe last time the two of them will be on a sports team together, given their age difference. They are always in two different levels, it seems, because they are just far enough apart in age.

My son did fantastic at the evaluations, if you don’t mind me saying.

His pitching was fast and on target, and his form was pretty amazing. He bashed some balls high and far. He caught grounders that came rocketing towards him. A few coaches asked if he was moving up. They were jotting notes down on their list about him. I nodded, but reminded them that he would be “taken” by his brother’s team (there is no way we are going to have two kids on two different teams). A few sighed at that reality.

Of course, it all depends on the draft, where coaches sit around and pick kids for teams. Those kids on the age bubble, like my son, will go last, and only if there are spaces on teams. But if my son is to move up (and it seems likely, as I mentioned), then we know where is going.

Meanwhile, as I was hovering like the dad that I am, I was stopped by the head coach of my older son’s “A” team.

“There you are,” he said. This coach is a serious coach, the coach of the high school varsity baseball team, and his daughter is on my older son’s team. He knows baseball, inside and out, and he has high expectations for the players on the team.

So, I thought: “Uh oh.”

He looked at me. “I need an assistant coach. Could you do it?”

Now, on one hand, that’s a cool thing to be asked, right? But honestly, I don’t know baseball all that well. Not the ins and outs of it. I’ve been an assistant down in lower levels, where my job has been to cheer kids on (that, I can do) and tell them to run the bases, hard, when someone hits the ball. This, however, is a whole other level. Last year, this same coach handed me the scorebook early in the year and asked me to keep track of the game, and I fumbled it to the point where he took it back and did it himself, while also coaching.

I told him I had think about it and consult with my wife.

“I want to be upfront,” I told him. “I don’t really know baseball. You’re asking me to help, and I appreciate it, but I want to be clear about it. My baseball knowledge is very limited.” (I wanted to add, my baseball background is playing Little League, pick-up ball in my neighborhood as a kid and drinking beer at Fenway Park, but I didn’t.)

“That’s OK,” he answered, “I just need a warm body.”

Did he mean that? Or what? So, I think I may do it, if only because I can spend time with both of my sons on the baseball field in spring and maybe, I can bring some fun into the mix. And did I mention I can cheer up a storm? Yeah, I’m good at that.

Peace (in the decision),

Will Newspapers live on at Google News Archive?

I saw this in my reader this morning — another push by Google to digitize text and archive it for eternity (or at least, until the servers crash). Google News Archive allows you to search old newspapers, and there is even an interesting “timeline option” that allows you to go back in time.

“The News Archive Partner Program provides a way for Google and publishers and repositories to partner together and make historical newspaper archives discoverable online. As part of Google News, the News archive search function provides an easy way to search and explore historical archives. For articles already in digital format, we’ve worked with the hosts of these archives to crawl and index their materials. When materials aren’t easily available in digital format, we have partnered with the copyright holder to scan and present the newspaper in a way that is full-text searchable, fast and easy to navigate,” explains Google.

The search is free, but when I searched my birth date (what was going on in the world the day I was born?), I noticed that the search brought me headlines and the first paragraph, but then, most newspapers charge you to get the rest. There are a few that are completely, free, though.

I’m OK with that — if I want the archives, I have to pay, and if that helps keep newspapers afloat for another year (well, I am not buying that many articles, but you get the idea), than that is a system I can support.

Peace (in the history),

Slice of Life: String Theory and Mr. Annoying

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

I know there is already a fully-formed theory called String Theory that has to do with theoretical physics and particles of the Universe. But I also have a String Theory and it has do with adolescents (although, I confess, I am not sure if is a boy-thing, or gender-free).

When I was around 12 years old, I remember reading on my bed one night and wanting to turn off the light. The switch on the wall was not more than a five or six feet away, but I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was comfortable. The light seemed far away. I tried to conjure up some magic powers to turn the lights off. That didn’t work. Then, I started thinking: if I could rig up some sort of system that would allow me to lounge on my bed but still turn off the lights, that would be pretty cool.

So, the next day, I found some string and began an elaborate Rube Goldberg-style system of strings that hung from the doorjams, snaked across the walls and dangled down near my hand. It wasn’t perfect. If I pulled too hard, the whole contraption would tumble down into my lap. But it was good enough. Later, I began to work on a similar idea for opening and closing the door (this was more difficult. Opening was easy enough but shutting required some sort of reverse pulley, a concept I could not wrap my brain around.)

I spent more time and energy on the construction of the invention than I would have if I had just got my butt up and turned off the light each night, but as educators, we know that is beside the point, right?

Which brings us to the modern day household. Last week, I walked up to the older boys’ rooms and there was string everywhere. Plus, scissors and some tape, as well.

“What are you doing?”

” Inventing.”

“Inventing what?” (note: the 12 year old is hard to get info out of, these days. and the 10 year old was following his brother’s lead in his own room).

“A way to turn the lights off.”

“Why don’t you just reach over and turn them off,” I said, looking at the short distance between his bed and the light switch. Literally, he could stretch and never leave the bed and still get his light. This kid is lazy, I thought, before the memory of my own efforts suddenly came flooding back.

“At night, when Duke (our dog) is sleeping, I don’t want to wake him up. If I shift too much, he starts moving. Then, he becomes Mr. Annoying.”

All for a dog …

I looked over his design, noticed that my concepts for Bed-to-Light were stronger (the competitive streak comes out), nodded to him to continue on and walked away. He may not play music, but this kid sure got my inventive gene. Too bad that genetic element rarely got me beyond String Theory.

Peace (in the string),

Slice of Life: A Post-Concert Tally

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

The other week, my school held a Benefit Concert with staff and student musicians. I organized much of it and the payoff was the music itself, being able to jam with a bunch of students and friends, and watching current and former students shine on the stage.

But there was a bigger purpose, too, which was to collect donated books for schools in New Orleans still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina (which was an idea from one of my students which sparked the idea of a concert in the first place) and to collect coins for our school’s ongoing efforts to support the Pennies for Peace organization.

I finally got the tallies of the donations.

First, we collected about $350 in coins that night from the audience for Pennies for Peace. That’s more than I thought we had, but those coins sure do add up when they are counted (not by hand, thankfully, but by bank machine).

Second, we have about 12 large boxes filled with donated books and a few bags continue to show up at my classroom door from time to time. A student and his mother have been in charge of figuring out what to do next, as they are part of a church organization that regularly ships donations down to New Orleans. But my student surprised me the other day by saying that he and his mom were going to personally deliver the books to the elementary school chosen to receive the books.

“How will you do that?” I wondered.

“We’re going to drive,” he said proudly. “And I am going to take my camera, and flip video, and take pictures of the school.”

I thought to myself, that’s a long trip from Massachusetts to New Orleans, but later, his mom said they were looking forward to an April vacation adventure, and I could only think: that will be a cool learning experience for this student who sparked the idea for a concert, played drums on the stage (and whose self-esteem is now rocketing as a result) and now gets to deliver our school’s donations right to the school itself.

“I can’t wait to see the pictures and hear about it,” I said, and he beamed.

Now, I am thinking: this has all the makings of a cool digital story project for him. Hmmmm.

Peace (in the pennies),

Slice of Life: Little Musicians in Speakers

Slice of Life

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

Wacky idea alert!

My youngest was in the middle seat of the van as the older son controlled the radio buttons (there was a long squabble over pop music or the Star Wars story tape which we have listened to “at least 200 times!” and the one closest to the radio, the oldest, won.) That was followed by a spell of quiet listening, and then the little one asked, “Where is that music coming from?”

My oldest son and I looked at each other.

“The speakers, ” I said. “There are two in the front and two in the back.”


“But, who’s making the music? Who’s playing the music?”

My oldest son explained about how music is recorded and how we listen to the recorded music. I could tell, though, that the little guy had this vision of little musicians in the back of the van, waiting to be told what song to play (or, in his preference, what story to tell) before cranking it out for our entertainment.

And I had this neat idea that that concept of little musicians would make a cool comic or graphic novel — a bunch of Beatles-like players just hanging around, waiting for a song to be chosen, playing the song and then, like those clowns in Waiting for Godot, just hanging around, waiting and talking. All inside the speaker box.

Can’t you see that? I can. I can hear it, too.

This morning, as the cat (again) woke me up early and I lay in bed, I started imagining some of the musicians in the box.  The name of the band might be The Pop Rocks. There might be:

  • Shellbean — the guitar player, who is sort of paranoid about someone opening up the speaker and finding them there. She thinks they are just fakers and will be found out. She loves hard rock — AC/DC and Pearl Jam rock her world — and groans when someone chooses John Mayer (“Music for wimps,” she calls it). Shellbean handles the lead female vocals, but reluctantly.
  • Jeff – the bass player, is sort of lazy and goes with the flow. He enjoys the world of the speaker, because most of the time, he isn’t doing anything at all. He debates philosophy with the rest and dreams of someday finding a Tuba in the speaker. He thinks the appearance of a Tuba would be a sign from God. It’s all about the Tuba.
  • Timtam – the drummer and the leader of the group. Timtam is all about energy and spends much of his time trying to get the group to practice. “We got to be ready!” is his mantra, and he imagines something bigger – brighter lights — for them because his theory is that they are being auditioned for something. He doesn’t know what yet, but something. He loves all music except … he hates Abba. Timtam is the lead male singer.
  • “Fingers” Phineas — the keyboard/synth player and sometimes, guitar, too. Fingers has a driving ambition — he wants to write and perform original songs.  Sometimes, during long stretches of songs, he will get the group to unexpectedly insert one of their originals into the mix of cover songs. Fingers is a bit disappointed that this is where he ended up, give his background. “I’m classically trained!” he cries from time to time.

Peace (in the little people),

Day in a Tabloid Headline

I am running a bit late with Day in a Sentence, which asked for a Day in a Tabloid Headline. But here they are, and I was happy that a few of you took me up on teh offer to use the newspaper generator, which is fun to use.

First, the ones on their own:

  • Teacher sets new record for consecutive days of playing catch-up. — Mr. Mansour
    Teachers learn how to resolve conflict and assist healing using restorative conversations. — Shaun
  • Teachers, students – missing! — Tracy (spring break report)

And here are the newspaper headlines, which I decided to share as a Flickr slideshow, but which means that the names of the contributors get left off, so thanks to: Connie, Aram, Lynn J., Lynne C., and Nancy C. for their submissions here (plus, I added my original and a new one).

Peace (in the daze),

Slice of Life: Have a muffin, Mr. H

Slice of Life

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

It was rush-time, the end of the hectic day with the closing bell just lingering in the air and desks slamming shut, when I turned around and almost bumped right smack into one my of students. It was the same student whom I talked to yesterday and again this morning about staying organized and on task and all that.  The same student I worry about when he goes off to a charter school next year. The student who needs so much structure and guidance, it worries me to no end and sometimes drives me nutty.

He held his hands up towards me. They were cupped together with something in it, held gently.

“Mr. H, here is a muffin for you,” he said, smiling.

“A …  muffin?” I was keeping an eye on the crowd near the door, and listening for announcements. I tried to shut all that out and concentrate on the moment. It wasn’t easy, given the commotion around me. But I did.

“I had it as an extra for snack and I wanted to give to someone. I want you to have it.”

“Oh,” I said, “thanks,” and took the twisted plastic baggie from his hand that held a small, corn muffin. I held it up to look at it but really, I was looking at him.

“I want to give it to a great teacher and that’s you,” and he smiled again with a light in his eye. “You’re a great teacher.”

I swear, I could have hugged him right then and there. I almost did. Instead, I smiled back at him and looked at the muffin, and patted his shoulder. “Thank you, xxx, I appreciate that. Thank you for the muffin.”

And then, the kids were out the door in a flash and I was left there, in a quiet classroom, looking at this silent muffin, just wondering about the magic that can sometimes unfold at the strangest of times.

Peace (in the hustle-bustle),


Highlights from the Concert for Change

I finally got time to make a highlight video of last week’s Concert for Change at our school, where we had student and staff musicians put on a live concert to raise coins/money for Pennies for Peace and donated books for schools down in New Orleans. I showed the highlights to my students yesterday, and they loved it (particularly my drummer student, who helped come up with the concert idea and helped organize the event with me). If you make it to the very end, you can see the stage full of students singing the Three Cups of Tea song as a finale.

That’s me, by the way, playing guitar in the first few acts and then bass near the end of the night.

Peace (in the music),