Monday, November 17, 2014

Hug Perfection - Slice of Life

Join me and others as we write Slices of Life. On Tuesdays I'll be sharing my SOL at the Two  Writing Teachers blog. My class is slicing and linking up as well at and the SOLs are due most Mondays. 

The first hug of the morning is often the best one of the day. Today my four-year-old daughter sleepily opened her door and saw me buttoning my shirt in the hallway. She blinked her eyes in the 'bright' dim light and sleepily wandered towards me. She stopped at my knees and looked up as I reached down. 

"Want a hug kiddo?" Sometimes the answer is, "No," and the last thing I want is a grumpy interaction to start the day. Plus I want her to learn at an early age that she does not need to show affection just because someone else wants it. That's why we sometimes forgo a morning hug or allow her to leave her extended family members without giving them a hug and a kiss if she doesn't want to.

But this morning, she raises her arms and smiles a sleepy smile.

The hug is a perfect moment and I'm glad I did not leave early to workout at the gym. She is warm from sleep, radiating heat as she loops her arms around my neck and lays her head on my shoulder. I wish those seconds of oneness and love could last the entire day and I make a conscious effort to just be in that moment. As the hug ends, small part of me secrets the moment within myself, to be pulled out and wrapped around me, later in the day.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Life's Game Show…What's That Person's Name?

Join me and others as we write Slices of Life. On Tuesdays I'll be sharing my SOL at the Two  Writing Teachers blog. This week, I'm posting early because my class is slicing and linking up as well at and the assignment is due Monday. 

“Max Maclay!” The last vowel sound is drawn out with some extra emphasis and I knew I might be in trouble. Not because it was unfriendly sounding, just the opposite, but what if I didn't remember her name? 

I have a problem with names. I’m great with faces but horrible at remembering names. If everyone in the world went around with name tags, I would be a happier and more confident person. Being part of a lot of large and disparate groups, I “know” a lot of faces but unless I write their name down for some reason or hand them homework back, names tend to escape me.

The fact that she knew my name and said it like she hadn’t seen me in quite while was my first hint. But I had just stepped into the Starbucks and was blinking into the relative dimness and she was backlit by the window so making a positive ID was difficult. I actually was pretty sure who it was even though I had not seen her for seven or eight years but it always pays to be sure before blurting out the wrong name and watching a friendly face fall.

Unexpectedly seeing someone I know goes something like this in my head:  "I know that person…what’s his name? Oh oh…they see me. Think Think THINK!"  
“Hi Max!”
Crap! They remember my name. Why is Max so darned easy to remember?
'Hey…Buddy! How are you?' 
Is he a disc golfer? A former student? Parent of a student? Another teacher perhaps? Think Think THINK!

We should all just wear these 24/7!
And so it goes. I usually remember enough to ask about family, things we’re connected to and the weather is always a safer topic. I hate faking it though because I’m not fully part of the interaction. Part of me is still running through names, or berating myself for considering this person a friend and not knowing their name.

I have a lot of strategies for surreptitiously finding out a name. Playing disc golf, I’ll hand the disc (Frisbee to some) back after they putt out, taking a cheating glance to see if their name is on the back. The danger is that disc golfers do a lot of trading and selling of discs so the name is not always associated with the current owner. Sometimes I just ask someone else but I always have to include some self-depreciating comment and I don’t like doing that too often. I hate when I know it’s a former student, especially if I remember a lot about them. I can sometimes pull the, “You should call me Max instead of Mr. Maclay, and I should call you Mr…um(Please fill in your last name),” trick. My best strategy is when I’m with my wife and often savior. I can introduce her and that usually elicits the correct monkier from my nameless friends. Susan of course just gives me that look that says, “I know what you’re doing but I’ll take pity on you…again.

But today, I’m on my own. The voice steps from in front of the window and I am relieved to be 100% sure of it’s owner; a former student from Olathe, who graduated in 2007, my last year there. Her senior picture is among the many that still grace the filing cabinet in my classroom. I’m genuinely happy to see her and to have the chance to catch up, without worrying about her name.

photo credit: <a href="">jason_one</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall Musings October 21, 2014

Join me and other educator-writers slicing on Tuesdays at the Twowritingteachers website.

Today I am submitting a couple of poems written last week. The first, Idle Autumn, I wrote drafts of with my class while we sat outside on a warm autumn afternoon writing about fall. It went through several revisions and was completed on a plane ride to a wedding in South Carolina. The second, Cirrus Mist, was inspired by watching the sun rise on that same plane flight. I think they could both use some work, but I like them well enough for now. Cheers!

Idle Autumn
I may not cut the grass again
Although it’s predominantly green.
The garden’s skeletal stalks droop
After the best harvest I’ve ever seen.

Leaves garnish the tress in the yard
But enough swirl around to rake.
What chores remain outstanding

At winter’s first snowflake?

Cirrus Mist
The cirrus mist at 36,000 feet
Glows red
Then orange
Inviting me to drag my feet
And create swirling eddies as we pass by.

The grid of squares and circles far below
Is a patchwork quilt of muted color,
Waiting for the sun
To break the fall chill.

Sunlight streams through the window
Warming my chest.

Taken from my seat on the plane!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slice of Life - Too Much Water!

It all came back to too much water. As I lay in my sleeping bag, half-asleep and cozy against the elements, I knew I would be getting up soon. I sneak a peak at my watch, the Indiglo bright searing my squinting eyes just long enough to see it was 2:58. I rolled over again and tried to will my bladder and my brain back to sleep.

As my I continued to awaken, despite my best attempts to the contrary, I thought of all the reasons not to get up.
  • It’s cold out there.
  • The zippers of my tent might wake everyone up.
  • I will have to find my clothes in the dark or turn on my headlamp.
  • There might be scorpions in my boots. 

Scorpions! For as long as I could remember, I had heard about shaking out boots in scorpion country so the little critters would not sting the five-headed monster of a foot entering the new cave they had claimed. Well Goblin Valley State Park in Utah is the desert and scorpions do live here. Had I even remembered to tell my students about shaking their boots out? An old Far Side cartoon flashes into my brain.

I don’t even know what my middle-of-the-night reaction would be to a scorpion in my boot at 2:58 in the morning. Would I scream? Would I be a “good” enough person not to smash it with the boot, honoring Nature’s creatures and all that? Or are those sentiments only reserved for daylight hours?

Too Much Water! That was the problem. Not enough and then definitely too much. With the business of managing twenty-two 10-13 year-olds during the day I had not taken care of myself by drinking copious amounts of water. Then, to relieve the “you’re getting dehydrated” headache after dinner, I had drunk two liters during the last two hours I was awake. I even knew at the time I was going to be getting up in the middle of the night. Heck, at this point in my life, I usually get up at least once anyway, why even worry about how much water I drank?

Another green flash from my watch. 3:04! Not even ten minutes have passed? I was secretly hoped this inner monologue had happened around some dreams and it would be closer to 6:00.

Fine! I’m getting up! Long-sleeve shirt and jacket first, followed by a blast of cold air as I unzip my bag and hurry into pants and synthetic wool socks. I try to quietly unzip my tent, slowly and quietly but my body is telling me now is the time to move a little quicker.

The moment of truth is upon me. I fumble for my headlamp, place it on my head, and squint while my eyes try to mange the bazillion-watt halogen brightness filling my vision. Once I no longer see pure white, I grasp each hiking boot by the toe and vigorously tap the heels against the ground. Carefully I hold them upside down expecting nothing to fall out in reality, but ready just in case because reality doesn’t always matter when it’s dark.

Nothing. I slip into my boots and loosely tie up the laces. As I trudge towards the bathroom in the campground, my headlamp lights up the inches of drying mud everywhere. While it's wet enough that my feet sink an inch or two, it dry enough that it does not squish or splash. However, the low areas where the water collects are quagmires that have already claimed five shoes from my students, who tend not to lace their shoes anyway. I hop across several strategically placed rocks and reach the pavement and begin my walk to the bathroom.

Too much water is the issue. Not only for me but also for this trip. Two days ago, thunderstorms had brought over an inch of rain to this valley that only receives eight inches of rain a year. Yesterday brought a little more and the dry forecast from last week was obviously being revised. Flash flooding had closed roads and made us change our plans on the fly. Instead of climbing through slot canyons, we had gone to Capitol Reef National Park, because a slot canyon, downstream of a thunderstorm, is a very bad place to be. The kids had been great with the changes, the rain and the mud and we had some opportunities to talk about how desert life adapts to life with almost no water and then too much water.

I reach the bathrooms and step inside…SPLASH! The motion-sensing light switch activates and as the fluorescent bulbs blink on. I hear water splashing and am glad that my boots are waterproof as I find myself standing in over and inch of water. Too Much Water! The urinal is running non-stop and overflowing and the drain is in the highest part of the floor and only just starting to capture a trickle of the flood.

First things first. I wade through to the stall and take care of business for myself. Then I start jimmying the urinal handle, hoping that will cease the deluge. No luck. I walk outside and try the service door, knowing it will be locked but imagining that I could turn off the water valve from inside. Locked. Splash back into the bathroom and flip the lever up and down some more in helpless desperation. Nothing. Outside is a signboard about the campground and I hope to find a map to the campground host or a phone number to call. Nothing but a couple of old announcements and a flyer about a few of the animals in the park, including a picture of the desert scorpion. No warning about checking boots though and I wonder briefly if that is negligent of them or if scorpions are just not an issue in the campground.

I’m about to give up and I feel like a not-perfect person for being ready to just go back to my tent and going back to sleep. I’m usually a pretty good problem solver but this seems beyond my abilities and resources for this time of night.

I go back to the bathroom and it’s clear something is different. No running water noise. My boots send ripples across the bathroom and I see that the urinal has stopped. I also notice another drain in the floor, slowly gulping down the water.

Having no idea what I did, or if I actually did anything, I give myself an imaginary pat on the back anyway and head back to the campsite, feeling a bit like a superhero. I feel that way about teaching sometimes time too. Due to unexpected reasons, I’m in the right place at the right time, doing my best but sometimes just flailing away, not really knowing if I’m making a difference. Then after stepping away, I come back and a student has taken their next step, is no longer “drowning” and the sun emerges.

For me though, it’s only 3:16am. Time to catch a few more Z’s and hope the sun does come out in the morning.

The school bus and a very muddy campground as the sun works its magic on the clouds