Slice of Life: A Day for the Birds

(This is Slice of Life, a writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. We’re writing every day, if we can, throughout March on the small moments of life. You write, too.)

Some days just naturally end up with a theme. Yesterday was one for the birds. Literally.

(image from

I took my youngest son to a Birds of Prey demonstration by a very knowledgeable educator named Tom Ricardi, who runs a rescue operation for hurt birds in Western Massachusetts. He regularly visits schools to talk about endangered species, in general, and birds, specifically. We’ve seen Tom before but that doesn’t ever stop us from gazing with wonder at the owls, hawks and eagles that he pulls out of his boxes. Yesterday’s highlight was a huge Golden Eagle, which is really a magnificent bird — much more beautiful and majestic than the famed Bald Eagle. In this kind of nature presentation, you can see how science can transfix kids, if it is relevant and intriguing.

Then, in the late afternoon, I took another son to see Birdman in the theaters. He’s been wanting to see it for some time, particularly after it won a bunch of awards, and I was intrigued, too. We were both surprised that it was still in the theaters, but I guess that’s one benefit of the awards. We were both blown away by the cinematographic element of the film, which has been edited to seem like one long shot, and by Michael Keaton’s re-emergence on the screen (although my son only knows of him from the Batman movies, appropriately enough, given the theme of the movie of a washed up movie star trying to find relevance while keeping his sanity).

And so, yes, a day for the birds .. but I am still waiting for the bluebirds to zip by my window, announcing Spring.

Peace (in flight),

DeConstructing #25wordstory Writing

DeConstructing 25WordStories

This may not do justice to the writing activity, but a few tweets by my friend, Brian Fay, had me thinking about the #25wordstory concept and why I like it so much. I am not sure if it is helpful or just another comic.


Peace (in the story),


Slice of Life: Not Another Trophy

(This is Slice of Life, where we write about the small moments. The month-long writing activities are facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

TrophiesThe coach means well. Yesterday, at my son’s last youth basketball game of the season, the coach of the team pulled the parents aside, explaining that he was sorry they had not won a game all season and that he knew some of the kids were frustrated. He talked about the hard work and drills he taught them. I don’t think he needs to apologize — it’s youth basketball, after all, and he did teach them new skills — and I think losing at a young age is not the worst thing in the world.

Then he went on to say that he was organizing a pizza gathering and he had bought participation trophies for everyone. He asked us, does anyone have an issue with that? I wanted to raise my hand. I wanted to shake my head. I wanted the trophy train to stop.

These kinds of good-hearted gestures by coaches seem like they have value on the surface — honoring the commitment of young players — but I don’t think getting a trophy just for coming to games on Saturdays really has much value. Instead, what we found with our older kids is that it does the nearly exact opposite: trophies have little value when you have a shelf of participation awards. It’s that old supply/demand concept.

We’re finding the same syndrome at our school. Our sixth graders leave our school to head to the regional middle school, and you would think they were graduating high school or college with the special events that go on. We’ve tried to tone it done over time, but the pull of parents is hard to hold back. So, the yearbook becomes this glossy affair and our Recognition Night is nearly a formal event.

I wanted to say, save your money, coach, we’re good. But he had already ordered the trophies and no other parent seemed even remotely the same way as I did. I could tell. So, I didn’t say a word. It turns out the day of the pizza gathering is a day our family is overbooked anyway, so maybe the trophy will gather dust in someone else’s house. I didn’t mention the trophy concept to my son and he didn’t ask. He’s more focused on baseball now.

Peace (in the award not really an award),


Slice of Life: The Cold Gig

(This is a Slice of Life, a monthly challenge to write every day facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You can join in, too. Come write.)

The gig

We have nicknames for some of the gigs my band — Duke Rushmore — has played over the years. We have the Ice Gig, where the roads were so slick coming home one night after we played at a bar in a very faraway hill town that we were all sure we’d end up in a ditch at 3 a.m. in the morning. There was the Bug Gig, where the outside event turned into a mosquito fest, and we were the main entree, apparently. There was the Quiet Gig, where we played loud but the audience just sat there, like stones in their seats, and refused to dance. There was the Loud Gig, where the engineer for the venue cranked it so loud people had to leave the room.

And now we have the Cold Gig. We played out last night at a brewery that does two-hour tasting (it is a real brewery, not a brew pub) and they have bands entertain the crowds drinking their homebrew beers. It’s a good gig, and we love playing there, which we do a few times a year. It’s a funky space — wide open floors, very little seating. You have to climb five stories of steep steps to get there (although the band uses the freight elevator). You rough it at this place.

Last night was a bit more rougher than usual. The heating was on the fritz (meaning: no heat) and the outside temperature hovered around the single digits. It wasn’t so cold we could see our breath but it was close. It took all of my courage to take off my jacket to play, and my saxophone — that temperamental piece of metal — does not like the cold air. We wrestled all night for the right notes. Oh, and the only toilet in the place wasn’t working, so there were huge buckets of water to use to flush.

Like I said, you rough it.

But we had one the biggest crowds of the year there, with more than 160 people jammed into this tight space, dancing the cold night away to the music, and we warmed up quickly, jumping around and finding the groove, and it was a great night of music. It was the Cold Gig, but we turned up the heat, and it was all right.

Peace (in the gig),

Playing with Mirrors/Palindrome Poems

The Learning Event for Walk My World this week has been “mirrors” and it had me remembering the concept of the mirror/palindrome poems, where the poem reads the same backwards and forwards. I’ve been trying my hand at them a bit.

First, I tried poems about writing and music. A key element for these poems is the use of punctuation to create pauses one way that don’t exist the other way, and the center line as a bridge between the sections.

Two Mirror Poems

Then, yesterday, I had this idea of taking the mirror image even further. I used an online site that will remix text, allowing you to create text written forward and render it backwards. I also wondered how it would sound, so I used another site that allows you to record your voice and then turns the audio in reverse.

Here is my Winter Mirror, Forward poem:
Winter Mirror, Forwards

Voice Recorder >>

Here is my Winter Mirror, Backward poem:
Winter Mirror, Backwards

Record audio or upload mp3 >>

And yes, I am sick of winter …

Peace (in the mirror),

Slice of Life: Lifting Lines to Honor Writers

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(This is a Slice of Life post. It is part of a month-long writing adventure facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Slice of Life: I Lift Lines

I’ve written about my line lifting before … of reading other people’s blog posts, and finding a phrase or line that seemed particularly interesting, and then building out a poem from it, leaving it as a comment in the blog. I hope that folks get pleasantly surprised by it. (or at least, amused.)

Yesterday morning, I wandered to a few blogs via Slice of Life that I don’t visit all that often, hoping to catch a flavor of the writer and maybe a line that I could build off (that sounds like I am using Legos for poetry, doesn’t it?). I was not disappointed, and while my own poem collection is a mixed bag (some hold up more than others), that is the nature of the quick poet at work.

You can view all of the Line Lifted Poems here as a collection on Notegraphy.

If you were one of the bloggers I visited, thank you for lending me your lines. I hope you saw my poem as a gift. I was grateful that Greg, one of the bloggers, sent me my poem back, wrapped up in a lovely PicCollage.

A Line Lifter gets his poem back
Peace (from a line lifter),

Slice of Life: Saying Sensei

(This is for Slice of Life, a writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers. Each day, we are looking at the small moments of life and writing. You write, too.)

saying sensei

(Check out the Word Map for Sensei)

I am doing a read-aloud of a novel entitled Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz with my son. We’re both liking it (although the story starts with a ritual suicide by the protagonist’s uncle as part of a Samurai code ceremony and this unnerved me more than a little bit.) But there is a word in the story that I keep mispronouncing. Maybe you have your own arsenal of words that whenever you see it, you say it wrong.

My current word trouble is “sensei.” I don’t know why this one causes me so much difficulty. When I read it in my head, I hear it just fine. Sens-ay. When I read it out loud, it comes out Sens-eye. I suspect it has do with the spelling of the word. My son called me on the carpet last night. Again.

Him: Dad! (sigh). You said it wrong. Why do you do that?

Me: I did?

Him: Yes. It’s sens-aye. You said sense-eye again. Why are you doing that? It’s so frustrating!

Me: Sorry.

I pause to look at the word. I’ve paused to look at that same dang word many times now. I’ve seen Karate Kid (both versions) enough times to know how it sounds. I put my finger on the word. I keep reading, and when I run into the word, I slow my voice down, carefully pronouncing each syllable. Se-ns-ei.

Him: Dad!

Me: What? I said it right. Right?

Him: Now you’re reading too slow!

Me: (sigh).


This reminds me of a time when I was about seven years old, and I found I was saying the word “very” wrong. Somehow, without my even knowing it, I began saying vurrry (maybe I watched some British show?). A friend finally pointed it out to me (in blunt terms: why are you saying that word like that?) and it was like a punch in the stomach. What? What am I doing? I could not believe it. Then I said “very” out loud and sure enough, it was all wrong.

I practiced that word by myself, mostly because I did not want to be embarrassed in front of peers. I said “very” many times. Very Very Very Very. Now I find myself doing it with “sensei.” Sensei Sensei Sensei.

Me: I’ve got it now. Sensei.

Him: That sound right. Now, can you keep reading?

Me: Hai!

Him: Dad!

Peace (in the pronunciation),

Anatomy of a Tweet

Anatomy of a WMWP Tweet

Next week, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is hosting a Spring Symposium called “Technology, Assessment and Justice for All” and one of the opening events is a series of digital stations with student work (for example, I will have some student-created videos games up for folks to play). We also want to help teachers think about Twitter, and will have a “Post Your First Tweet” station set up, with our WMWP Twitter account ready to go.

In thinking of how to help people see what Twitter is about, I decided to do an “anatomy of a tweet.” I’ve seen others do similar tutorials before, and I kept mine rather simple. We are also hoping that folks already on Twitter will use our hashtag (#wmwpsj) that night and we will be setting up a Twitter Fall of some sort.

WMWP Invite to Spring Symposium

There’s still time to register, if you are in Western Massachusetts. I hope to see you (and tweet you) there!

Peace (in the tweet),

Slice of Life: Getting Ready to Gig

(This is a post for Slice of Life.)
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Lately, I’ve noticed that our mail does not get delivered anymore during winter storms. Whatever happened to “neither rain nor snow …” and all that? I don’t begrudge the mail service, of course, and last night, a friend and I were driving home in some of the worst conditions of the winter: snow, sleet, freezing rain. Things were slick.

And all because my band — Duke Rushmore — is gearing up for a gig this coming Friday night (passing through Western Massachusetts? Come to the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, from 6-8 p.m. — see you there!). We jammed the songs out one last time, worked through a few pieces that are new for us, and then began to pack up the gear that we need to lug to the brewery. (We need roadies.)

Getting ready for the gig

I have some revisions to do on my notes, which I keep handy in the days before the gig to help me stay focused. You can see all the scribbles, arrows, and other handwritten notes that I need to use to adjust my notes. During gigs, I barely glance at them. But before the gigs, I consult them quite a bit, thinking of song keys, solo sequences, changes, background vocals, etc.

Duke Rushmore 2Friday will be here soon and we get to rock and roll. What’s better than that?

Peace (in the gig),


Slice of Life: It’s Allegorical

(This is a post for the Slice of Life, facilitated by Two Writing Teachers throughout March and every Tuesday during the year. You come write, too.)

Yesterday was the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Theodore Geisel has local connections to our area (Springfield, Massachusetts, is right down the road) and so we often do play up celebrations around the author. Yesterday, with all of my sixth grade classes, I read aloud The Butter Battle Book. Only a handful had ever heard of it before, and a few had read it.

The Butter Battle Book is not his best book — I still vote for The Lorax just about any day of the week — but it does give me a chance to do a mini-lesson around “allegory” — a pretty complex literary term for sixth graders. But after discussions around the Cold War, and global geopolitics both of the past and present, we dove into the story of the Yooks and Zooks who hate each other because of how they butter their bread.

Reading the picture book, playing up the voices, asking questions, sparking discussions — it reminds me that we don’t do enough to use picture books for mentor texts in the upper grades. I use them, but I could probably do it even more.

We were hoping to do an All-School Read-Aloud for Read Across America Day yesterday (and Wednesday is World Read Aloud Day), but snow moved in (surprise) and we had a two-hour delay, so that community reading will happen this morning. I am trying to find my copy of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Anyone borrow it?

Peace (in the book),