Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Summer

Although this summer did not include an epic adventure to Disney Land or a cross country trip to the Grand Canyon I did manage to mindfully collect small moments along the way.

I'll be honest, relaxing over the summer is nearly impossible for me. It's because I'm not sure what "relaxing" really looks like.  Living life as a writer means that no matter where I go or what I do I am always seeking to find the magnificance in the mundane.

Eating breakfast outside on the porch or taking long walks through the woods becomes an epic adventure.  Watching my children jump into Grandma's pool or reading a fantastic book becomes a reflective journey of the endless summer days. Coffee with my wife in the silence of the early morning is surely a gift from God. A slow jog with my loyal dog through freshly mowed hay fields or shooting a rifle for the first time with my son are all pebbles added to the pile of small moments.

Of course there were day trips taken to State Parks and meals eaten at fancy family owned restuarants, but it was the quality time spent with family and friends that defines this summer for me.
So, as I say "goodbye" to summer I'd also like to say "thank you."  Thank you for giving me the chance to collect these small moments and truly finding the magnificance in the mundane.

Below is the digital story of this week's Slice of Life.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Asking Big Questions

Today's Slice of Life gave me a moment to stop, look, and ask myself some pretty big questions. Here's what follows.

There are some critics of the #icebucketchallenge but it all started with one guy on an honorable mission trying to fight the good fight; to raise money, awareness and potentially a cure for ALS.

If I'm being honest I need to say that I didn't really know much about ALS before this all started. Sure, I've heard of Lou Gehrig's Disease but I couldn't really speak to it with any depth.  After watching more than my share of #icebucketchallenge videos I found myself digging a bit deeper and visiting ALSA.org to know more.

I now know:
  • it's a neurological disorder
  • there is no cure
  • it causes atrophy of the muscles
  • that it usually leads to death 2 - 5 years after diagnosis

I couldn't imagine having to go through this or worse, having to watch a family member deal with this. Saying that ALS is heart breaking is an understatement.  However, I'm faced with another truth and that is there are no shortages of heart breaking stories in the world.  ALS has justly received it's due notice and has been placed in the forefront of our lives and in our social media feeds.

Because of this I'm left with a few questions:
  • What will I do now?
  • Will I donate?
  • Will I post a video and challenge others to do the same?
  • Will I contribute somehow to this just cause?
  • Will my behavior and attitudes towards this horrific disease change?
I suppose I will have to wrestle with each of these questions but, I'm once again reminded that there are no shortages of heart breaking stories in the world.  The moment I begin to look at the world through this lens it's pretty easy to find virtually unlimited examples of life as it's not intended to be.

And so... as usual, I'm left with more questions than answers.
  • What am I doing to really help others?
  • How am I really making our world just a little bit better?
  • Am I really using my limited time and resources as effectively as I can be?
These are important questions and like I've heard before from someone far more eloquent than I...

In the meantime, I'm on bended knee seeking answers to these questions that are rolling around in my head. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Generational Hands

My first Slice of Life - wish me luck.  :-)

My father has given me a gift that keeps on giving...the gift of music.

I have vivid memories throughout my entire life of dad sitting in front of the organ banging away on the ebony and ivory keys to a synchronized drum beat and tilting his head back with eyes shut and singing as if trying to raise the roof.

As a young boy I would get lost in those musical moments.  I'd stand behind dad and really listen and watch to see which keys he would press and when.  I paid close attention to the intonation of his voice as he played the low notes and then shifted to the high ones.  In time, I began to understand his melodic stories that would unfold in front of him.

He was sowing seeds that I am now reaping.

After dad turned the power button off and slowly walked away I would carefully crawl up onto the slippery wooden organ bench.  I'd place my fingers over the same smooth keys just like dad did. I'd tilt my head back and close my eyes just like dad did.  In time, I would be able to sing those same melodic stories just like dad did.

I'm 43, married with kids, and still sliding up onto the slippery wooden bench and sitting down to tickle the ebony and ivory keys.  Although I'm singing my own melodic stories now I am clearly reaping what dad has sown.

Often, while I find myself lost in a musical moment banging on the keys with my head tilted back trying to raise my own roof, I slowly look out of the corner of my eye.  There they are!  My own children.  Watching, listening, dancing along with their dad and going on the magical musical ride.

I suppose just like my dad, I too am sowing seeds.  I hope and pray that my children receive this gift that keeps on giving and maybe someday they too can sing their own stories.  

My Sister and I - 1984

In 2010, I had a chance to get a recording of Dad doing his "thang" and for a moment I joined in.

Gavin at the Piano
My Son Gavin - Age 4

Amelia at the Piano
My Daughter Amelia - Age 2

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Firsts, Lasts and Important Events

Some Firsts
Roller coaster ride
Lost a tooth - frisbee
Kindergarten - naps and knuckles
Ice skating on Waneta Lake
Driving the boat alone
Barefoot waterskiing
Trying to waterski
First Day of School
Stitches - foot in Virginia
Bike riding - exploring and going out of bounds
Sledding down Maplewood

Some Lasts
Last Day of School
Saying Goodbye to Grandma
Grandma and Grandpa get married in the hospital

Some Important Events
Graduation at Parris Island
Water Skiing Keuka Lake
Dad playing the organ growing up

One of Lucy Calkins' narrative lessons is to think of firsts, lasts and important events in our lives to generate ideas of what to write about.  The lists should help writers not just come up with an idea but help them discover something that really matters to the writer.  Go deep.

As I was jotting down ideas I was trying to think of firsts, lasts and important events that my fifth graders could potentially relate to.  I of course have vivid memories of my wedding and the birth of my children but would my students benefit from these examples?  Perhaps not.

At any rate, as I was creating the list I was forced to go down memory lane.  I had to reach back into my history and pull little bits and pieces of my past life to the surface and toss that idea around a bit.  The one that sticks for me as of right now is the very last one I came up with; Dad playing the organ when I was younger.

Making music is a big part of who I am and it comes from all the time I spent as a kid listening to my dad playing the organ or the acoustic guitar.  Music is one of the gifts my father has given to me.

So my next post will be the actual narrative I will write about this important event in my life.  For now, it's time to ponder.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Chess Club

During the winter months our incredibly brilliant P.E. teachers started an early morning intramural class. The kids showed up in droves.   The parents dropped them off at school a bit early and they ran down to the gym to join their friends and get a little exercise and have fun before school.  

So I got to thinkin'... during those times when the intramural class is not in session that I could start a Chess Club.  There are a few logistical components to sift out but all in all it seems like a completely doable project to dive into.

Why Chess?
There's plenty of research that clearly shows the benefits of teaching and playing chess. Here are a few bullet points.

  • problem solving skills
  • cognitive development
  • critical thinking
  • creative thinking 
  • self esteem
  • memory
  • organization

The benefits go on and on.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

People of Sparks

Here is the Google Doc I've created for Chapter 10 of Jeanne DePrau's People of Sparks.

Feel free to use it as you'd like.