Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cat Lap - Slice of Life 12-9-15

As my middle school students start to write some Slices of Life, I had better get my blog going as well.

During the winter months, my cat seeks out lap-warmth whenever I sit down the couch. Oh, she is relatively affectionate during other times but once the furnace has to kick on and a blanket is on my lap, it is usually a matter of seconds before fur-padded feet make a beeline for me.

With a meow, a circle, and a show of an upraised tail (usually from the backside, thanks cat) she snuggles into my lap. Petting is acknowledged with an upraised chin and purrs, so long as I don't rub her belly. Every fifteen minutes or so, she will roll over or turn around to put a cold part up against my legs or request some extra attention. It's cozy, comfortable and I feel only a little less guilty of getting up and disturbing her peace then I did when my daughter would fall asleep on my lap as a baby and I would avoid getting up for all but dire emergencies. It's not uncommon for my wife or I to excuse ourselves from the work of the moment or to ask a favor because, "I have cat lap." That explains it all for the other.

Below: a picture of daughter-cat-lap as we all cuddled and watched Doc McStuffins last weekend.

Monday, August 31, 2015

SOL September 1, 2015 - Back in the Thick of it!

It's the start of another school year and today will be the fifth day of actual school with my amazing students. This year is somewhat of an Even-Steven year for me. Counting my graduate degree, gained while teaching, I have eighteen years of education. I am starting my eighteenth year as a classroom teacher. I taught public high school science for nine years and am starting my ninth year as a core classroom teacher for 6-8th graders at a K-8 private school. I'm very curious to see what this year brings and what the next steps are for me as a teacher and learner.

It has been a very fun start to school and I'm feeling an excitement for teaching I have not felt in a few years. Everything goes through some ebbs and flows and it feels like things are starting to "flow" a little more easily right now in the classroom.

My class consists of twenty-three students 6th to 8th grade. I have thirteen students who have been in my class for one or two years already and ten students new to my class, although they are mixed across all three grades. I am their teacher for language arts, science, social studies, art, and most importantly, their individual units. They will have pull out math and electives a few hours each week that will cross over some of these topics, but most of their week is spent with me and my teaching associate (or co-teacher if you will). We do lots of hands on projects, go on trips to experience the world, and hopefully delve deeply into our passions, all while hopefully creating a safe community to be middle school students.

Here is a list of a few things we have done so far the first four days:

  • A little writing activity outside on the front lawn on the first day
  • A trip to the Botanic Gardens for some group time and field journaling
  • Set up blogs to create an online reading and writing community
  • Built aliens/superheroes with the other two middle school classes that both move and have special powers to help us this year
  • Had some time with our buddies, a class of 7-8 year olds in the classroom below us
  • Created a jumbo craft stick 'cobra' that stretched well over 100' around the class (see the video below)
  • Learned a couple of magic tricks to go along with the class unit of "Behind the Curtain." We will consider what something looks like on the outside, or things that could be magic, and then pull back the curtain to reveal what's really going on. Organisms on a cellular level, politics and spin, and asking/answering questions about things we don't actually understand.
Coming up we will start short stories, research individual units, and meet with the teachers who take the students on field trips related to their individual units.

It is wonderful to be this excited as I look ahead at the entire year! I hope all you teachers out there are having a great start to your respective school years as well!

Here is the craft stick video. A student went home and told his parents, "We learned about potential energy, kinetic energy and teamwork! It was awesome!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 14, 2015 Haiku Poetry

Three haiku poems by Max


Tulips bowing deep
Cherry blossoms shaking loose
Banners are flying


Sunlight to flower
Flower becomes cottontail
Snake swallows itself


The first spring petals 
Contrast brightly on snow when
Vibrant blossoms fall

photo credit: via photopin (license)
photo credit: Everyday Is A Winding Road via photopin (license)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

SOLSC March 31 - Time is a Treasure

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

"I think that's Drake and one of his daughters over there," Susan commented.

After checking the traffic in front of me I stole a quick glade to my left. Sure enough, two lanes over, was Drake and his teenage daughter in their white minivan. The name Meghan floated up from the depths of my brain and attached itself to the face that was several years older than when we had last seen it.

I gave my horn a couple of quick toots but they did not look over. The traffic slowed at a red light and  I had to pay closer attention to the cars around me. I gave one more try with the horn but they were engaged in their own conversation and that silly car moment of recognition and connection was missed.

How to spend the treasure that is time?

Drake's wife, Elizabeth, taught at the same school as Susan and Meghan was in Susan's class for fourth grade. Elizabeth and Drake were our walking buddies and we used to meet regularly at the park between our houses and walk a few mile-long laps on around the lake. We connected well, had some travel stories to tell, and laughter was easy and often. We shared the occasional meal with each other and they invited us a few times to their family's house in Grand Lake.

Then things changed because life changes. First the school where Susan and Elizabeth worked closed. This lead to Drake and Elizabeth's family moving to ensure the schools they wanted for their daughters. While they moved only ten minutes farther away, meeting at the park was not as convenient. We went over to their new house several times, even doing some walks from there around the big high school and parks in the area. Then Susan was pregnant and the walks could no longer be at the brisk fifteen-minute mile pace we were all used to. We had Clara the next summer. After all that, there were a couple of the mandatory baby viewings but them we were busy in a new way and our connection was too easily lost.

There is now a disc golf course in the park near their new house. I have been playing a round with friends there on Sunday afternoons. While I'm there I steal an occasional glance to see if they are walking along the path that winds along the edge of the course. I know it's a long shot since they are morning walkers but things do change.

Seeing Drake yesterday makes me think of all the people and things that are important but need the time taken to stay relevant. I'm lucky to have had a lot of friends but sadly, with most, I know what's going on with them due more to social media than due to getting together. I've had over a thousand students in my classes that I have loved and worked with and watched grow, and they too become faded memories all too quickly unless we keep a connection going. It's almost April, which means there are nine students of my twenty-three, who will soon be leaving my class for good. Four have been with me for three school years and the others are in their second year in my class. That's a lot of real-time hours we've spent together in the classroom and on trips, that email, Facebook and the occasional visit can not replace.

Today is the last day of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. It's the second year I've participated and completed it. Again, my students have blogged like stars and there are many who wrote for thirty-one days straight along with, and often ahead of me. I feel a lot of pride in myself and even more in them. I know I would not have done it except to be a model for them. It's an example of how my students continually push me to work at my own writing skills, the craft of teaching, and to be a better person.

Last year I did not keep writing as I wish I had after the SOLSC. I don't know what I will do this year.  As with many important things in life, I get to make the choice what I find time for.

I should find the time for a walk with Elizabeth and Drake.

photo credit: Time Pieces via photopin (license)

Monday, March 30, 2015

SOLSC March 30th - First Cast

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

The creek's simple music played upon my soul as the sun, not yet hot but warm in the cool breeze, heated my back. Some of the first butterflies wafted by, highlighted against the traces of left over snow on the far bank; water ouzels flew low along the creek, chirping their distinctive cries.

I tied on an elk hair caddis, basically a bushy bundle of elk hair on a hook, in the hopes that this attractor pattern would bring a spotted brown trout to the surface. Brown trout, especially under twelve inches, like the ones that inhabit this section of Bear Creek, are so pretty with their yellow tinged bellies, dark tops, and yellow and red spots. They tend to be voracious, good fighters, and they are always a wonderful first fish of the season.
Learning to tie a fisherman's knot.
After attaching the red and white bobber, I stepped back and smiled. The first cast belonged to her.
First cast of the season!

The fisher people take a rest to enjoy the music of the day!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

SOLSC March 29 - What's in a Name?

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

One night, three years before Clara was born, I had a dream. I heard footsteps come down the hallway, our door opened slowly and a child's voice gently called out, "Dad?"  I woke up immediately, full of emotion and hope, because my wife and I had been trying, for several unsuccessful years, to conceive. Eventually, with the help of medical technology, were blessed with Clara and there was finally someone to call me, "Dad," in the world.

Throughout my life, I've been called a lot of names; not just nasty ones but many variations of my own name, which is Max. Actually, my whole name is M-A-X. Not "So it's just Max," but it IS Max. Max is by far the most common moniker for me but I've also be called: Maxmillian, Maxwell, Shmaxwell, Max Headroom (I did grow up in the 80s), Mad Max, and even Beyond Thunderdome. Only a few people are allowed to call me 'Maxie' and they include my parents, my wife, and oddly, the catcher on my college baseball team. Everyone else who tries to call me 'Maxie' gets politely shut down.

As a teacher, I also get called a few names by my students, again, not just the nasty ones. For the first nine years of my professional life, I was called 'Mr. Maclay.' That was a little odd at first and while I would have preferred Max or even Mr. Max, that was not an option. Now I'm called Max by my students because our school is on a first name basis. But fun and slightly awkward moments arise when I get called Dad or even Mom by my students. And that brings us to an interesting point.

My daughter calls me Max. 

She knows I'm her dad, and did call me Dada early on. But when she was three, she found out that Mom and Dad had other names that were Susan and Max. She still calls Susan 'Mom' most of the time although she will pull out 'Susan' when she really wants her attention. 

But me, she calls Max over 90% of the time. 

She is the only person in the world who gets to call me Dad and I'm Max to her. It was somewhat cute at first, but at this point I wish I was Dad in name and not just in action. It doesn't really matter in the long run. I am her dad and she knows it. Our relationship is not any less special because of it; you might argue it's even more unique, but it does gnaw at me a little. Ironically, she mistakenly calls me, "Hey Mom! Ooops. Sorry...Max," more often than she calls me 'Dad." 

I guess that's just the way it is. She gets to be her own independent person and as long as she doesn't start calling me those other, nasty names, I guess I can live with it.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

SOLSC March 28th - Yard Work and Blood

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

Today was the start of spring break and my task was to create a chicken run for our four hens. During the fall and winter, they had plenty of time strutting and digging around the backyard. But now that the flowers are coming back and the garden is sprouting, the hens seem to peck at everything green. So to give them some real space beyond the small run attached to the coop, I extended their run.

The chicken tunnel and our four hens
Clara and I hit Lowes for some wire and stakes and while she played, I started laying out the addition to the coop and the small existing run. Actually, I made a small chicken tunnel for them along the back fence from their coop and once they got into it, they seemed pretty happy.

It was a fairly easy job but I did have to dig up a row of irises and do some manipulating of the wire fence to bend it into a nice tunnel. All seemed to be going well until the last bit. 

I attached the wire tunnel to the chicken wire wall on the coop. Now all I had to do was make a door. Grabbing my trusty wire cutters, I started snipping the chicken wire from the inside of the coop, trying to be careful of the sharp edges. I was feeling pretty pleased that I had bought some new work gloves since my old ones had holes in the fingers and I could now bend the sharp thin wire with relative impunity. 

Guess I should have worn less nice shorts
Crouched in the coop making the last snips, I looked at my leg and saw several spots of fresh blood. I checked my forearm and there near the elbow was a bloody mess, about the size of a chicken egg,  half-dried and sticky. I never felt a thing but obviously I had gotten sliced by a stray wire edge somewhere. Since it didn't seem to be bleeding much I finished the job, called my wife over to see the hens use the tunnel for the first time and as a bonus got to show off my wound. 

As the hens raced and scratched in their new digs, I went inside to wash my elbow and inspect the damage. It's amazing how much blood can weep from a tiny scratch and this was no exception. It was barely the width of my pinkie nail in length and could be passed off as a mild cat scratch if necessary. Even my wife was disappointed when I showed it to her.

Our hens don't really care about the blood sacrifice I made today, but they like the run.

Ginger, Cinders and Snow White  

Friday, March 27, 2015

SOLSC March 27th - White Board Mustache

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

At the start of the year, I put a green, stick-on mustache on a corner of my white board. I usually reserve a corner of the white board for some sort of daily student art and I was curious what faces would be drawn about the mustache. To my delight, students did indeed start using it within their drawing but they quickly progressed beyond faces and started incorporating the mustache as wings or hair or feet or any number of things. Only just recently did I start taking pictures before erasing the drawings but here are a few of the ones that have been created this year. I enjoy watching them get drawn or be surprised by a whole new art "installation" while I've been gone from my desk working with a student.  

Enjoy the Art of the Green Mustache!
By Max and Kam's students

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SOLSC March 26th - Thursday Means Staff Breakfast!

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

On Thursdays during the school year I get a few extra minutes in my morning. I may hit SNOOZE an extra time, shower for a few minutes longer, or make a special breakfast for my wife and daughter and sit with them while they eat it. I don't eat it with them though.

Then, after arriving at school hungry, I walk down the tiled hallway, leaning against my messenger bag filled with my laptop and homework, anticipating the door to the teacher's lounge. Thursday breakfasts are a bit like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

We have sixty-five wonderful people on the staff of my school and take turns providing breakfast each Thursday. A sign up sheet goes around at the first preservice staff meeting, and people choose a Thursday during the school year to be in charge of breakfast. Each week it's a little different and the tenor of the breakfast or the week leads to more or less people hanging out and eating before school starts. 

The counter is often graced with tablecloths and decorations, depending on the season and music often adds a new lovely ambiance to the whole room. Plates are provided or we are encouraged to bring our own to wash and be a little more environmentally conscious.

Staff members grab a plate of food, wait in line for coffee and chat at the tables. Others come by for a quick hello, an easily carried item for their desk, and are off again. For the 30-45 minutes before school, most of the staff will come by and at least get something to nourish their bodies or conversations and smiles to fill their souls before heading off to work with the kids in their rooms.
photo credit: Raisin Bread French Toast via photopin (license) 

We have some pretty typical breakfasts like:
Various carb treats and fruit
Potato/egg casseroles
Breakfast burritos (pre-made or create-your own)
Cereal bar or granola with yogurt
Meat and cheese
Or often a mixture of the above.

Some people go all out and bake amazing treats, or bring homemade French toast or waffles. Others make regional or cultural fare that are special for the recipes and this uniqueness. Tater tots are always a popular addition to any breakfast and it's not uncommon for a large bowl of M&Ms to be siphoned off by the staff throughout the day.

Every once in a while, disaster strikes and someone forgets it's their turn, or there was an unnoticed, blank Thursday and no one filled it. The empty lounge and counter are extra bleak and people hungrily poke their heads in before checking their mailbox and rummaging through their desks and cabinets for the ubiquitous snacks we all stash. But heroines and heroes are made on those mornings when someone makes a quick run to the store and saves the day. Other times, someone notices a blank spot the day before and an impromptu potluck is created via emails, with everyone pitching in.

Today is Thursday, and I can't wait for those few extra minutes I save at home not eating breakfast, and the camaraderie of our staff as we break bread together. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SOLSC March 25th - This Week

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

This Week

This week 
I got to school early twice 
to make copies
and plan assignments.

This week
I bought soda, flowers and a book
as rewards for slicing
as things to draw
to read for my class spring trip.

This week
I apologized to two students
because I had not done it right
even if I wasn't 100% sure what needed to be done
I would have, could have, should have, 
done it better,
and I knew that.

This week
I coached an Ultimate practice
and a game
and emphasized  
love of each other
the beauty of a disc in flight
and the wind!

This week 
I felt betrayed by a coworker's comments
by other things beyond my control;
that are old enough I should be over them
and I still feel angry
and sad.

This week
I planned a lesson
and then reworked it during the passing period
so it would be better
because it needed to be for the next group
and for my own professional pride.

This week
I sliced three times, 
wrote some comments
(but not nearly enough...I'm sorry)
posted, linked, checked, reminded, and encouraged.
My class is slicing like pros!

This week 
I did no homework one night
to visit with my out-of-town family
and felt guilty for wanting them to leave
and felt guilty for the work I put off until tomorrow;

This week
I had wonderful discussions
with my students about their work
and their passions, their futures
and I am so proud of them and 
need to show it and say it more often,
and better.

This week 
a former student came by 
ready for college 
ready for change
and it was awkward and wonderful
to see her.

This week
the change around me is obvious
new teammates, associates, students
in the wings for next year
while the current ones still have 
a hold
on my heart.

This week
Is just two days old.

SOLSC March 24th - Roundabout Racism

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

photo credit: Round-About Sign via photopin (license)
My morning drive is a relatively tame, five miles, with six traffic lights and a Starbucks along the way. The traffic was light since Aurora has a spring break and the couple of schools I passed along the way were empty, without children, parents and lines of cars. But the last part of the drive is the most challenging because of the roundabout.

It's a two lane roundabout with some very specific rules. There are signs at every entrance visually describing that the inside lane exits on the second or third exit but not the first. The outside lane exits on the first or second exit. Like many things involving humans, it works very efficiently when everyone is on the same page, and breakdowns in the pattern happen often. Several times a month I see a fender bender, I've had a few close calls myself, and today was the closest call yet.

I entered the roundabout cautiously, extra aware of the other drivers but confident that I'm doing it correctly. I was in the left, or inside, lane and a white car was next to me on the right. I watched him carefully since it's not uncommon for drivers to forget that there are lanes in the roundabout and drift across the lines. 

We passed the first exit with no issues and I glanced up at the entering lanes to make sure no one was jumping in front of us. My destination was the second exit and according to the rules of the roundabout, the car next to me should be heading out that way too...or there was going to be a problem.


As I started to turn right across the outside lane to my exit, the white car kept on going. Brakes squealed, my horn blared (I'm always ready on the horn in the roundabout), and our cars came to a stop, inches apart.

He was about my age, had dark hair, and a brown Hispanic complexion. As I gesticulated excitedly (without use of single digits) that he should have exited and I needed to go around him, my heart was pounding and adrenaline surged through my body. I was angry because: he was in the wrong, he almost hit me and broke my car and he probably didn't even have insurance!

Wait? What?

As I pulled around him and continued on my way, I was ashamed. I don't think I'm 'that guy,' but in that moment of fear and frustration, that was the ugly thought in my head. Lots of people drive without insurance, and lots of Hispanics are responsibly insured. 

I guess I'm not always doing it correctly in the roundabout.

Monday, March 23, 2015

SOLSC March 23rd - Pick, Pick, Pick

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

The other day, I noticed a thin splinter under my fingernail. It's narrow, dark and right up against the underside of the nail and doesn't (or at least didn't) hurt at all. I'm pretty sure I got it while cleaning the chicken coop on Saturday.

But just because it didn't hurt, doesn't mean I left it alone. Instead it's been pick, pick, pick, trying to lift it out with my other nails. I pull the skin away from the nail and see the tempting black dot that is the top of the splinter. I've scraped out a few hundredths of an inch so far but have been unable to gain a firm purchase. As the last couple of days have gone on, I'm picking at it a little more and now it's starting to get sore.

I know I should stop, but at this point, it's on my mind enough that I really want to grab a needle and do a little digging. Doing that would have certain satisfaction but I know it would cause more pain then letting it just work itself out like a lot of things do over time.

My one-track mind can get that way a little more than it should and I will keep after something long after I should have stopped. Backing off from doing more harm, just for the satisfaction of achieving my aims on my terms, is tough for a problem-solver liked me. But it's going to be hard to stay away from that needle.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

SOLSC March 22 - Lucky vs. Good

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

I'd rather be lucky than good

I've heard that statement a lot and even said it a few times, especially playing while disc golf (Frisbee Golf or 'Frolf' to some people). Luck is always an interesting factor on the course. A great shot hits the basket and then roll away fifty feet. A wayward shot nicks a tree perfectly and floats back into the fairway. Wind, hills, rocks, trees, bushes and hardness of the ground all play a part in the luck of each round. But through it all, I'd rather be good than lucky. Actually, I'd like to be good until the moment the disc leaves my hand and then I want to be lucky. Because if I'm good on a certain day, or round or shot, I can handle whatever luck, good and bad, comes my way.

Take my round of disc golf today. Today I was pretty good. I played a tag match with fifty players in my local club and came out tied for the best score. But a few shots really made the difference and luck did play a factor. 

About two thirds of the way through the round, I stepped to the tee looking at fairly wide open shot, slightly downhill, about 320 feet. I did all the parts that made me good before I let it fly: Choose the right disc, consider the landing area, the wind, angle of how my disc should land, and lots of other mental calculations I may not even notice. I gripped it, ripped it, and let it fly...right towards a fifteen foot pine tree. 

Go Luck GO!

So I talk to inanimate objects, especially discs in the air and every once in a great while, they listen. This pine tree was well right of my intended line but I could tell that if I somehow missed it, due to the speed and angle of the disc, I could end up with a decent shot of saving a par (3 for this hole).

"Get through it!" I snapped at my disc. The blue piece of plastic listened and just nicked the top edge of the tree, seemed to not break speed at all and just tilted a little more to the left, which was towards the basket. 

The four other guys in the group gave little noises of disbelief as my disc sailed on, curving towards the basket, even if it was obvious it would land well short.

"Skip hard!" I extolled. My disc, landed on its edge on a packed patch of ground, skittered forward and left, rolling an extra fifteen feet for good measure. The group laughed, gave me some high fives and the, "You lucky SOB," head shakes as I turned to them with a big grin on my face. The disc had ended up twenty feet from the basket instead of 200, like we all expected the moment it left my hand. That was the luck.

But the good came when I sank the putt. You expect to make most of your twenty foot putts but they are far from automatic (for some of us anyway). I used my putting routine, got my birdie-two, converting my luck into another stroke off my score!

So overall, I'd rather be good because it covers up a lot of bad shots and even bad luck. But it sure is nice to be lucky once in a while.

Here's an example of me being good (result of the shot) after being pretty bad (result of the previous shot that went out of bounds), at a tournament in 2013. 


Saturday, March 21, 2015

SOLSC March 21 - Spot in the Garage

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

My wife is off on a weekend business trip and the house is strangely empty without her. 

Spot in the Garage

The garage is especially large without your car.
The house is more silent. 
Clara's voice rings just as loud, 
but echoes a little 
without your love and presence 
absorbing it too. 

The cats and chickens are fed and fine,
our daughter is full,
for now.
She is happy and singing
while making potions 
of sand and dirt to feed the chickens.

I remembered to close the bedroom blinds last night,
but my feet travelled to your side of the bed
searching for your comforting presence,
missing it in the 
familiar dark.

The weekend chores will happen
but without your efficiency.
Which one will I be finishing Sunday,
as your car fills the spot in the garage? 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SOLSC May 20th - Spring Rain

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

Spring Rain

The first spring rain

Tap-taps on the roof
Gurgles through the gutters.

Cars susssssssssh by
Wipers rhythmic on windshields.

Drops pop against the umbrella.
Robins and flickers call noisily.

I step carefully around
Silent worms.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SOLSC March 19th - Drive to the Chiropractor

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

If it's Wednesday after school, I'm driving across Denver to a chiropractic appointment and my daughter Clara is in the car seat behind me. My wife tutors one of her students and I always enjoy the consistent father/daughter time in the car. Clara's four and a half and we have a variety of conversations during the thirty minute journey through traffic. The drive is familiar enough that we can anticipate various landmarks and she can tell if I start exploring alternate routes around traffic slow spots. Here are the things we almost always notice together.

We count school busses. She counts in Spanish and I count in English and the running total is of all the school busses she has seen during the day. Usually, she's somewhere around eight to twelve busses by 3:45 and the start of our drive, and we add another four to seven.

We read street signs. I'll ask what street is coming up and she will usually get it right. She's not phonetically reading them yet, but she has a great memory and she just remembers the streets that go with the first letters on the sign. She has figured out that the streets go in alphabetical order although they go backwards on the first part of our journey and she doesn't follow that yet. I just like that she's learning the street names in Denver and some landmarks around them.

We read business signs. She recognizes the chains that she goes to with her grandparents like: Subway, Burger King, Red Robin, Starbucks Coffee (that one is mostly with me), Wendy's, McDonald's, Costco, King Soopers, etc. She can also read Pizza no matter where it is and she's figuring out Liquor too. I point the last one out since it has a 'Q' in it and they are everywhere.

We look at gas station signs and know that a shell goes with Shell, a green dinosaur goes with Sinclair, and Conoco has the same shape letter for the Cs and Ns, just tilted.

It really is a big literacy lesson but there is more than that:

We wave at dogs being walked by their owners.

We notice that the sun is no longer in our eyes as we drive west, and that it's not getting dark yet. This leads to a talk about seasons and astronomy.

We noticed crocuses last week and I'm looking forward to seeing what flowering trees we will find in the coming months.

We wish good thoughts for first responders in emergency vehicles and the people they are going to help, lights flashing, sirens blaring as vehicles in front of them part like The Red Sea for Moses.

We nod to homeless people on street corners and give them bottled water if we have it in the car. Clara waves, I smile and I work to meet their eyes like just another person instead of showing pity. We have discussions about why they are begging.

We record messages for Mom, using Voxer, asking about dinner, or making plans for the evening, or just talking because Clara likes to replay the messages and hear herself.

We hold hands at red lights, my spine twisted slightly to reach across the space between us. She knows to let go when the light turns green so I can put two hands on the wheel. We also work to magically turn the lights green by blowing at them, although I have to keep some conversation going and try to time our breaths just right.

We look for airplanes, birds and shapes in the clouds.

She reads the big red Chiropractor sign on the side of the building as we pull up and is excited to talk to the receptionist while I get adjusted.

Today, Susan's tutoring was cancelled and I made the drive by myself. I stopped trying to point out all these things after the first few blocks and I saw less on this drive then on any other.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SOLSC March 18th - Chasing the Northern Lights

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

photo credit: Northern Lights (Iceland) via photopin (license) 
Right now, I am sitting in a Barnes and Noble, hot chocolate and laptop at the ready. It's 7:40pm, I'm missing bedtime and I'm supposed to be writing rubric evaluations for student/parent/teacher conferences that start on Thursday. But what I want to be doing is chasing the Northern Lights.

Today, the power at school was out for a couple of hours in the morning and I heard it might be due to the wind, construction nearby, or the fact that there was a massive solar flare happening. I know that a solar flare means the Earth's atmosphere starts to go haywire as electromagnetic particles slam into it and the poles get the aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights.

So far, I've missed them the few chances we have to see them here in Colorado. Or they have missed me because the predicted solar flares have lower intensity or there is cloud cover. I may have sort of seen them one night while attending Grinnell College, in Iowa, but it was so faint I wasn't sure. But right now, there might be the smallest chance the lights will come down as far south as 40 degrees latitude and maybe, just maybe I could see them if I really tried.

 photo credit: Aurora 2013-5 via photopin (license)
The reality is, I want to jump in my car, drive northeast for 35 miles to get away from the city lights, find an old farm road and park pointing north. Then, bundled in whatever clothes and blankets are in the car, lay on the roof and watch the sky, the cold seeping slowly and interminably into my core. Too tired to stay awake but too cold to sleep, I would observe satellites cross the sky, wish on shooting stars and wait for the dancing colors I have seen in pictures, in videos, and in my mind.

The other reality, is what will happen. I'll schedule this blog to post, write up some rubrics, and check the Space Weather Prediction Center website a few times an hour in the hope that things get exciting and the lights are moving south. As the B&N closes, I'll step into the much colder air, be slightly glad I'm not freezing out in the country somewhere, and look north the whole way to my car in a vain but hopeful attempt to see what isn't actually there. After going to sleep at home, I'll wake up around 3 AM (like I do most nights) and after going to the bathroom, I'll peak through the blinds of a north-facing window in one last hopeful moment.

Someday, I will really have to go chasing these night rainbows!

p.s. I did at least observe and recognize Jupiter and Venus high in the sky on my way to the car.

Monday, March 16, 2015

SOLSC March 17th - Sunday Morning Comics

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

photo credit: The Sunday funnies? I AM the Sunday funnies via photopin (license)

I remember reading the Sunday comics with my dad and it's special to read them with my daughter now. It's always a special slice of my weekends.

Each Sunday, my daughter, Clara, and I shuffle outside in our pajamas and slippers to get the newspaper. It's usually sitting in the driveway in an orange plastic bag. Depending on how cold it is, we either enjoy a few deep breaths of the morning air, or scurry back inside quickly. With appropriate reverence, we turn the bag upside down and allow the paper to spill out, splaying all over the living room floor.

While this may seem a little haphazard, it's a great way to get all the sections separated and spread out. The newspaper people hide the Sunday comics inside of an advertising section and sometimes we spend up to five minutes looking for them.

Once located, we spread the comic pages out on the floor, lay down and I proceed to read her the funnies. She usually points to one and says, "Read me this one," or, "We haven't read this one yet Dad." I then give it a quick skim and may point out the characters involved, their facial expressions, or give cultural background so she has a chance to understand why it's funny.

Her favorites are the comics with children (Family Circus, Peanuts, One Big Happy) or animals (Sherman's Lagoon, Garfield, Marmaduke). She almost never asks me to read Dilbert or Pearls Before Swine which is good because the contextual humor and sarcasm associated with those are a little above her four and half years. We often read our favorites of the morning over again and have an extra laugh, especially since Clara says she knows why it's funny now.

SOLSC March 16th - Brother, Do You Remember?

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

Brother, Do You Remember

Do you remember
Riding the broken old tractor in front of the neighbor's,
Going everywhere the inaccurate maps in our heads
Could take us,
The road dust rising with the
Occasional passing car,
Adding a layer to our grime and,
Spice to the smell of summer?

Do you remember
The chain coming off my bike,
As we raced on the same dirt road,
And you didn't believe me
When I said I couldn't stop?
You were surprised and angry
When my bike bumped yours as I bailed off
And landed in a cloud of proverbial dust.

Do you remember
Winning; for once,
When you pushed me into the laundry basket
By the laundry room?
You were lucky dad was there
To keep me in the
Turtle-on-its-back pose
As I fumed in embarrassment?
Do you remember if I got you back?
I'm sure I did
But I don't remember;
I'm sorry.

Do you remember
Dad burying
At the base of the rock,
As our childhood pets died,
And we made crosses from sticks,
Crying real tears into the dusty soil?
Some pets just never returned,
Like Ginger and Horse,
And we mourned their loss just the same
But with less finality.

Do you remember
Our road trip to New Mexico
Racing thunderstorms across the San Juan Valley
In the Toyota pick-up,
The smell of sage, rain and dust
Belonging only to us because of the
Absence of our parents?
At the Sand Dunes you drove
On the Primitive 4x4 road,
Even though you were just fifteen.
Do you remember the guilty joy as
We drank a smuggled Dos Equis
In our hot tent?

Do you remember
Telling me Annie was pregnant
Unsure, scared,
Growing up faster than
Any of us expected?
Do you remember me
Years later, having those same feelings,
Telling you IVF was our last hope,
Jealous of your beautiful daughters and family
In a way I had never been jealous before?

Do you remember
Going fishing for fishless days,
Exploring the world together again
As adults,
Finding that watching sea otters,
Crossing mossy trees high above rivers,
Wearing the same brand of shoe,
For the same reasons,
Bridges the too many years of
Missed adventures?

Do you believe
In the dust of our childhood?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

SOLSC March 15 - Off the Cornice

Join me as I participate in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Other "Slicers" can be found among my students in the comments of my class blog. There are also several hundred teachers participating at

Uh Oh!

I was leaning way too far forward, my speed seemed to be increasing exponentially, and all of my weight was on my leg with the bad knee. As my body tried to recover, my brain implored, "Don't get hurt!"
Off balance after landing. Will Max recover or will he wreck? 

*  *  *  *  *
"Don't get hurt," was the last thing my wife said before I headed up skiing for the day. There may have been a "Have fun," and "Love you," thrown in there but it was 5:30 in the morning and she was still warm and sleepy while I was starting to sweat in my long underwear and ski pants.

I was excited! It was my first day up on the mountain this year and I would get to ski with my uncle and cousin who were finishing a week-long Colorado ski trip. The plan was to go meet up at A-Basin, ski, eat ribs cooked by my dad in the parking lot and have a fun day! The weather would be perfect for some low key skiing, even if the bright sun and bluebird skies meant sunburns and some icy snow before things got warmed up a little. 

Don't get hurt was a good thing to keep in mind. I tore the ACL in my left knee fifteen years ago and have had one other sugery on it. At this point, I have some cartilage damage and my orthopedic doctor tells me it's likely I'll need a knee replacement, eventually. I wear a brace when I do athletic things, don't jog any more and still, my knee gets tweaked every few months and hobbles me for a day or a week. Despite the fact that I ski only a couple of times a year, it's like riding a bicycle and after I warm up, I'm almost as good as I ever was. And I baby the knee a little, trying to put myself in good situations and not pushing myself by doing big jumps or lots of bumps.

The Basin was just as expected. We cruised around looking for the best snow, even hit a couple of double diamond runs, steep, bumpy and narrow. Lunch was tasty, the sun brilliant and the only three colors were white snow, green spruces, and blue sky. Now we were on the West Wall, a ridge along one side of the ski area, with a cornice along the top of it that dropped off two-to-eight feet into the steep run. I've been jumping off this cornice since I was five and have full confidence in my ability to land.

"You going to jump off Max?" my uncle asked.
"Want me to take your picture?"
I handed him my phone and showed him where I'd be jumping off.

Take 1 - I skied along the top, took a quick speed check and gave a little hop off the cornice, mugging for the camera with a smile and a tiny mule kick. I landed cleanly after dropping 6-7 feet, turned quickly to the right and skied across the hill until I slowed and came to a stop.

"Missed it!" my uncle said.
We skied to the bottom and went up for another run on the wall because the snow was so good.

Take 2 - After showing my uncle how to just hold down the button for continuous shooting, I started down again. And now you're caught up.

Uh Oh!

I was leaning way too far forward, my speed seemed to be increasing exponentially, and all of my weight was on my leg with the bad knee. As my body tried to recover, my brain implored, "Don't get hurt!" I also didn't want to wreck in front of my uncle and cousin since it could be a potential yard sale where they would have to collect and bring me poles, skis and whatever else, if I "bit it." Plus, I might get hurt.

Bending my knees, I fought to get my weight on my uphill, and right, ski. With a lower center of gravity, I was able to eat up a couple of bumps and get my skis across the hill, slowing down one hundred feet lower than the last jump. My heart was pumping and my bad left knee throbbed. Breathing heavily, I did a systems check to determine if it was injured or just a little tweaked. Definitely tweaked but not injured.

Bob came over and said, "You were a lot higher than I expected. I might have missed it again." Looking through the pics on my phone, I found one of the bottom of my skis and the next showed me off-balance, fighting to remain upright.

Some good air and a cheesy grin (out of frame) 

Take 3 - We skied down to the lift and I tested out the knee. While it was a little painful I was sure I was fine. A little ice that evening and I should be good to go. We decided to give it one more run and I really wanted a picture so I decided to jump off the cornice again. I was confident I could hop off in a controlled way to stay safe, even if my wife's words Don't get hurt were ringing in my brain.

It went off without a hitch and my uncle finally got me nicely framed cheekily smiling at the camera before I spotted my landing and made an easy turn across the hill. A day later, my knee hurts a little but it's the kind of pain that will go away over the next couple of days and is well worth the great day and this final picture!