Slice of Life, Chapter 17

 Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I was heading out to the mailbox to get the newspaper. On the corner, near the driveway, sat our trash cans and recycling containers, awaiting the Monday pickup. I noticed that the trash can was knocked over and thought about the vicious thunderstorm the night before. It must have been the wind, I thought.

But then I saw something black, moving near the trash can. A fuzzy butt poked out from behind the container. Oh, I thought, it must be out neighbor’s dog. No, wait a minute, our neighbor’s dog — a big black furry thing — died last year.

Uh Oh. Bear.

Sure enough, there was this medium-sized bear rummaging through our trash like some FBI agent, ripping open bags and digging in. It had a collar, so it was clearly being tracked by the local environmental folks as it perused a path through the neighborhoods. Bears are very common in the place I live, and over the years I have seen all sorts of creatures: deer, fischer cats, and even two moose wandering around our stretch of suburbia. But it still takes me by surprise.

I yelled at the bear. It looked at me and kept right on munching. I went inside to show my son and my wife whistled at the bear. Nothing. I went out and honked the horn on the van. Not interested, the bear seemed to indicate, turning its back on us. My wife finally started up the van and backed down the driveway and the bear jumped up with a start and then lumbered away, moving towards a neighbor’s house.

It’s funny how a brush with nature can remind you that we inhabit this world with others, even if we don’t often act that way.

Peace (in the wild),

PS — I have a picture that I will try to share with PhotoFridays this week.

Memoir Mondays: Rain, Rain, Go Away

I used to be afraid of the rain. Terrified, really. I barely remember it, but I know it to be true. The fear is no longer there. I love the rain, although I get sick of too many days of it, just like anyone else. But I now know the rain cannot harm me or my things. I didn’t know that as during this phase of childhood.

I don’t remember what began this short-lived childhood paranoia of rain. Perhaps it was simply the strange and unexplained phenomenon of things falling from the sky. And then, these things falling from the sky are hitting my head (hmmm, see earlier Hammer and Tree Fort memory for more falling objects on my head). Or maybe it was the connection of rain to the thunder, which always seemed unsettling to my childhood ears.

Yesterday, I was watching a neighbor build a little plastic tricycle for his son and it somehow brought back memories of this childhood anxiety. The connection is the vehicle. I used to have a little metal push-pedal go-cart that I adored  and loved. I remember one day, as I was cruising around the parking lot of our apartment building, it started to rain and I just completely lost it. Freaking out is a better way of saying it. I screamed. I yelled. I couldn’t move. And what kept me in this state of panic was both a desire to get out of the way of these falling watery objects and to protect my go-cart. I could not do both at the same time and as a result, I didn’t do either. Thus, the vocal chords were in full bloom.

I finally made it home but I left my go-cart outside in my desire to get the heck out of the rain. This abandonment had me screaming even louder. I was sure my go-cart was doomed. My mom finally had enough (my voice was ringing through every corner of our apartment complex) and after unsuccessfully telling me that if I wanted my go-cart, then I should get it (no way), she sent my brother out to get it. He did so reluctantly, shaking his head at the folly of his foolish younger brother. But he did it.

Somehow, I eventually got over this fear. I even remember running barefoot in thunderstorms with a neighbor of ours and how joyful it felt and how free it felt, even as our moms were shouting to us to get our butts back inside before the lightning started in and we’d get ourselves zapped. There is some real irony here as to who was now doing the shouting at whom. Suffice it to say that my friend and I took our sweet time, mouths open, filling up with water from the heavens before shuffling back.

And my go cart, you’ll be happy to know, was tucked safely at home.

Peace (in rainy days),

Days in a Sentence

(I created this header with a cool site called Spell with Flickr)

It was another fantastic week of receiving your sentences and words through Days in a Sentence and we continue to have a trickle of new writers in the group. I love the sense of slow growth that happens in this sort of project. So, welcome to anyone new to the project this week and if you are just lurking, please consider joining us next week or sometime in the future. Your words are welcome!

Here are your days in a sentence:

Bonnie has been busy with work at the Hudson Valley Writing Project, which is in the midst of its Summer Institute (same here in Western Massachusetts).

“A second exhilarating and exhausting week of our summer institute 2008 and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, it’s a great ride!”

Tracy is finding beauty in the quiet things of life, which is a nice reminder to all of us to “see” the world through such eyes.

“Grateful for my present setting: the sun and the garden, my dog teasing the ball at my side while I listen to music, read, and play all day long.”

Ken had what he called “a day of love” with his daughters and once again tapped into his poetic talents (of which he has many) to compose a sort of poem in a day in a sentence.

“Look for the simple thing, that’s where it’s at –
On one brief syllable so much depends –
Value its presence; know the sign off pat –
Each joy is a jewel and sadness ends.”

Mr. Mansour (a new friend) seemed to be juggling many different things, including family and connections with his neighbors.

“After filming a wedding and reception all day Saturday, I spent the rest of this week uploading all the footage and figuring out how to mix SD and HD video while also taking care of my 13 month old daughter, putting together a new website for a presentation to some teachers in training, and attending a neighborhood meeting on energy conservation.”

Lynn J. confronts the past in the clean-up routine as material goods spark something deeper.

“Clearing the clutter takes me deep into sorting through old memories before I can take the clothes to the Salvation Army, donate the hardback books to the public library and turn in the paperbacks for used bookstore credit.”

Ben D‘s plate has been full with the Writing Project work (see reference to Bonnie above).

“This week has been spent digesting the pedagogical casserole I just finished (a.k.a. the Red Mountain Writing Project).”

Jane S. has found beauty in the pounding of nature.

“The process of releasing the natural pigments found in flower petals, leaves and even grass to fabric or paper by pounding with a hammer creates a fun floral project but it also provides an outlet for those crazy days when all you want to do is hit something.”

Janice has caught her breath. Finally.

“It has taken until now for me to relax, and realize I have the opportunity to completely waste away hours, if I so desire.”

Susan had an eye-opening experience in a retreat with the Writing Project.

“Returning from a week engaged in collaborative learning with NWP colleagues, I keep thinking: It’s all about POWER!”

Nancy, the new mom, has already discovered one aspect of her new life. Sometimes, it feels like Groundhog Day.

“My week: sleep, feed, change dirty diapers. Repeat. )

David says, and I agree, that a beer sounds good right about now.

“Crushing deadline, aching limbs, need more water, could do with a few beers…”

Matt is finding time with loved ones to be beneficial.

“Enjoying a week spent with visiting family.

Illya sent the kids packing and now eager awaits their return. Just like a mom.

“I’m sitting on an anthill waiting for my boys to return home from 2 weeks of camp. One is back, now just two more to go.”

Stacey went for a hike, but in the wrong shoes. It must have been one of those days.

“I cannot figure out why I ruined a perfectly good pedicure by walking over three miles in dressy sandals.”

Kristi (welcome!) has some advice that might be used for kindergarteners, but can I say that it works well with sixth graders, too? (And maybe some adults)

“I teach kindergarten and my Day in a Sentence (or even my year in a sentence) is most often “If it’s wet, and it’s not yours, don’t touch it.”

Deb has a sentence that is short, but powerful.

“Don’t take family love for granted!”

Elona has gratefully found some time to gaze skyward and in good company, too.

“This week my granddaughter and I spent time doing things like lying on the grass at the Credit River and looking at clouds and finding one that looked like a hippopotamus. )

Talk about meandering minds! Sara fills us in.

“working at my local plant nursery is the perfect summer teacher’s job – the plants stay where i put them, no one supervises my watering, there’s an utter lack of lesson plans (yippee!!), and my mind wanders down any path it cares to, getting lost in tasks like deadheading petunia baskets for hours.”

Break is over for Anne but I bet new adventures await her and her students.

“This week has been rather a crazy, hectic and time-consuming week, as our school settles in to the first week back after a two week break.”

Mary (who I believe another newcomer and so, I welcome her, too) has some mixed emotions this week.

“Happy thoughts of new faces and smiles. Sad thoughts of summer ending.”

Peace (to all of you),

Bound by Law: Copyright Comic

This was an interesting find and very helpful. It came out of a discussion going on in a listserv that I am part of with the National Writing Project around fair use of material and the copyright law, which I find rather onerous (even as someone who writes and publishes in a variety of ways) and not at all in sync with the flexible era that we now live in.

Some professors at Duke University put together a very engaging comic explanation of how the copyright laws work, and why they are in place. Also, the short book advocates for some changes to make the fair use aspect of materials more manageable for artists in any medium (including the use of Creative Common licensing).

CSPD Comics

Cover of comic, superhero with video camera and creative commons shield

The comic unfolds around the story of a documentary filmmaker trying to determine which footage that she shot of New York City might be troublesome for her movie and along the way, the book gives very good examples of how other movies have run afoul of the copyright laws. For example, there are situations where corporations try to extort (my word) $10,000 from a young filmmaker who accidentally captures a snippet of a copyrighted song in the background of some footage. Ridiculous.

The book was published by Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain and is available for relatively cheap and it is even cheaper if you purchase class sets (four bucks a piece). More information about buying the book is here.  Or, in the spirit of this whole endeavor, you can get a free digital download of the book in any variety of styles (flash version, html, pdf, etc) by going here. They even provide a way to remix the book, if that strikes your fancy.

This comic is worth a look if you work with students still trying to get a grasp on why you can’t just take any thing in the world and remix it and put it on YouTube. Or why some songs are just off limits for some projects. And if you are like me and believe in your heart that all art (music, paintings, books, etc.) should be free and accessible to anyone (even though you acknowledge this is not reality — people want to get paid for their creative time), it is still valuable to know the law and this comic gives a great overview of the legal aspects of copyright protection.

Peace (in trademarked symbols),

Photofridays: The truck shots

Bonnie has been overseeing a great feature called Photo Fridays, in which folks are invited to share a picture through Flickr. There are 35 people as members of the Photo Fridays group and many, many wonderful photographs.

You’re invited, too. Come into the Photo Frodays project.

This my photo from this week:

I like this shot because it captures a parallel between my son’s toy truck (which used to be mine) and our family van.

Peace (in pics),

Scott’s shortshortshort book review contest


Scott McLeod has launched a contest of sorts at his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, in which folks are asked to write a book review by adhering to the Twitter-concept of 140 characters. That is not a lot of words, so how you pack meaning into your choice is crucial.

Go ahead. Give it a try.

Here is mine:

The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America
By David Hajdu
The Ten-Cent Plague, by David HajduMy review: The innocence of millions were lost to comic books, or so politicians would have had us believe. Yet the genre survived intact – thankfully.

Head on over to Dangerously Irrelevant and post your own.

Peace (in brevity),

Using Google Sites

I discovered Google Sites this week. You know, it was one of those applications that I read about when it launched, scrolled through some posts about the merits of it, and then never checked it out. Instead, I kept using Google Page Creator for some school website projects, which has been fine and dandy and all that.

But this week, I finally explored Google Sites, which allows you to create an entire website that feels a bit like a modified Moodle (with not nearly all the bells and whistles) and just like so many other Google applications, it is relatively easy to use.

The downsides?

  • I love Google but they are giving this away to increase their own content on the web under the banner of Google
  • The URL of your site defaults to a Google Site extension
  • There are limited themes and options

The upsides?

  • It’s incredibly easy to use
  • You can set up a website in minutes
  • You can replace the Google Banner with your own
  • I have not seen any advertising anywhere on my Google Site (always a concern with freebies)
  • You can control what features are active on the site (such as comments, etc)
  • You can share administrative control and collaborate with others (similar to sharing in Google Docs)
  • Easy integration with Google Video, Google Docs, etc.
  • You can layer pages in different ways, such as under a parent page or not

All in all, if you are searching for an easy way to make a classroom website, Google Sites might be one option to consider. (Here is an example of a teacher website that used Google Sites). I worked with Weebly to show students how to begin to make a website last year, but I think Google Sites might be easier and have more flexibility for kids.

So what am I creating? It’s an eZine for the three youth programs that the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been running this summer. We’ve never done an eZine before, but we wanted to showcase the writing and movies that were created by kids at three different sites this year.
This file has been created and published by FireShot

You can take a sneak peek at our site, if you want, and any feedback on it would be most appreciated as we continue to build it in the next week or two (one camp is still running).

Peace (in development),

Days in a Sentence

Welcome to Days in a Sentence — an ongoing Web 2.0 feature in which teachers and educators and others from around the world boil down their week or their day into the essence of a sentence and then share it out via this Weblog or a guest site.

It’s a great way to connect and share your writing with the world.

Please consider joining us this week. To do so, just:

  • Think about your week
  • Write your sentence
  • Share via the comment link on this post
  • On Sunday, I will collect and collate all of the sentences and publish them all
  • Come on back and read what others have written

Here is my sentence this week:

Why haven’t I used Google Sites before? is the question I pose to myself as I pull together my first attempt at an eZine for summer youth programs within the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. — listen to the podcast

Peace (in your days),

Slice of Life, Chapter 16

 Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I spent the weekend with a group of friends that I have known for at least 20 years: shooting billiards, debating politics, playing music and catching up on various aspects of our lives. (We also “compete” in what is known in our small circle as the Pool Championship of the World, complete with trophies and heartache and glory. I haven’t won in years. Darn it.). We’ve seen ourselves get married, have kids, get divorced and all sorts of things. Once a year, we gather together (usually in Connecticut, but not always) for a long weekend of re-connections and reminders that friendships don’t need to die off — they need to be nurtured and drawn upon, even when separated by geographic distance.

This weekend, as part of our gathering, we also went to the nearby military base, where two of my friends serve the country and work, and we all toured both a helicopter hanger (one of my friends is a pilot of a Chinook Helicopter) and the air guard base (where my other friend is part of the security detail and a small arms instructor). All of us got to sit inside the helicopter and check out the controls. It was pretty impressive to consider the amount of details that go into flying such a craft. Over at another part of the base, we handled rifles and machine guns (which I have shot before when I was in the National Guard many years ago).

But sitting in the pilot’s seat and feeling the cold weight of the guns also reminded me that we are a country at war. Both of my friends have done tours overseas in military hot zones (one year, we made a video of our annual gathering and sent it along to one of our friends who was in the Middle East on assignment) and the helicopter pilot is off in February for a year-long tour in Iraq. He seems non-plussed about it and says it is what he is trained to do, but the rest of us are nervous for him. This made our late-night discussions about world affairs (we are pretty much a divided group among Democrats and Republicans) interesting and heated and all the more important. We didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we sure as heck got deep into the issues.

Peace (in peace),

Memoir Mondays: Remembering Tom

This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers

Remembering Tom

It was in the first week of school last year, and I was right in the middle of a lesson, when (out of the blue) one my students yells out: “Hey, Mr. H. Your friend, Tom (last name), says to say hello.”

It was one of those jolting moments that comes right out of the blue. All I could say was, “Oh. Tell him I said hello, too” and then I moved on with the lesson while a picture of Tom floated in my head. Later, I pulled my student aside and she said Tom was her counselor and he had told her that we had both been in a rock and roll band together.

We sure had.

In our band, Big Daddy Kiljoy, Tom was one of the lead singers, a fanatic bass player and my fellow songwriter, and when the band broke up, Tom and I spent many hours together, writing songs and thinking about this world of music and what it means. It’s not quite right to say that Tom and I were kindred spirits — we were pretty different people — but I found his inquisitiveness about the world and his love for writing and playing songs such a wonderful thing.

When it come to listening to songs, Tom didn’t pull too many punches. If he liked it, he told you. If he didn’t, he’d let you know, but then he would encourage you to consider this chord change, or this instrument, or maybe even revamp the entire thing into something completely new. You could see the wheels spinning as he talked.

He played bass like he thought: full speed ahead, thumping like a madman and drawing up energy from that fretboard. His bass lines were like a railroad car, just on the verge of crashing and yet always right on track. I loved that sense of abandon in his playing.

Later, Tom built a recording studio in hopes of creating some sort of collective of musicians that could come in, record songs and demos and even commercials, and that would be his gateway into the music industry. I worked for a while with him on that project, but it never really went anywhere. He also had plenty of tales to tell of his younger days in rock bands and some brushes with fame that never quite went anywhere but still infused him with a love of the scene.

Then, as things in life do, Tom and I moved in some different directions and I only saw him now and then. I’d see his daughters around town every now and then, and I run into his ex-wife periodically, too.

This weekend, after a long illness, Tom passed away and I feel a bit as if some music died, too.

I’ll have to pull out the Big Daddy Kiljoy CD that we made as band in the days before everything imploded and fell apart on us, and maybe I can find a few of the other demo tapes, too, and give it a listen and remember Tom in all of his glory.

Somewhere, Tom has an electric guitar plugged into an amp and he is writing himself one doozy of a song. I just know it.

Peace (in bass riffs and rock and roll),