Road Trips SOLSC 16

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Road trips are:

  • Packing and double-checking, knowing you’re going to forget something anyway
  • Airing up and topping off
  • Deciding on snacks, coffee, and a playlist to get started
  • Setting off with the early-morning sun in your eyes
  • Turning it up and singing along
  • Gas stations and fast-food restaurants
  • Eating what you probably wouldn’t eat at home
  • Driving on, long after the conversation wanes
  • Stiff backs and a sigh of relief when you’re there
  • Hugs, handshakes, and hellos
  • Just a quick trip down the hall
  • Love, laughter, and catching up
  • Quietly mourning those who were here last trip, but aren’t here now
  • Sleeping in a not-quite-like-at-home-strange bed
  • Missing those who couldn’t make the trip
  • Packing and double-checking, knowing you’re going to forget something anyway…then working your way back through the rest of the list again
  • Home, sweet home

Football and Kittens SOLSC 15

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Throughout this Slice of Life Story Challenge, I’ve been determined to tell stories that are, indeed, slices of my life. I know a lot of writers lean toward the introspective (and I really like what they’re doing), but I’ve tried to keep it light. What’s going on within the last 24 hours? That’s been my goal.

Yesterday I wrote about relationships. Current relationships, yes, but while I met my time span goal I definitely felt as if I’d wandered away from the light side of things. As I wrapped up that piece, I decided then and there that I’d write about something more carefree today, like football, or kittens. One of my commenters (thanks, y’all!) said she was hoping for football, and another was leaning toward kittens, though football and kittens together was okay with her. Encouragement. I’m lovin’ it!

Full disclosure: I’m not playing football right now, nor have I done so in the last 24 hours. Heck, only a few times in the last 24 years, truth be told. And I don’t have a cat, much less a kitten. Not that I wouldn’t want to play football, or have a kitten, or have any combination of two, but I don’t now.

Quick aside: Can there be more than one combination of two things? I guess it would be a matter of degrees. Watching football while holding a kitten would work, I suppose. Watching a kitten while holding a football is a possibility, but I have to confess that it doesn’t have the same appeal. Playing football with a kitten? Best not to go there.

Football. When the topic comes up, I always enjoy letting people know that I lettered in high school. Really, I did. When pressed, I’ll add that I lettered in Orchestra. Cello, all four years. Why muddy the waters, though, with details? While I’ve been well over 6 feet tall for most of my life (tallest kid in elementary school), I have always lacked just a few of the things a football player needs, namely speed, strength, skill, and desire. I do enjoy watching a game now and then, and tossing a ball around the playground with the kids is always fun, but that’s about as far as I go. It’s some sort of cosmic twist of fate that I was raised in Ohio State Buckeye territory and came to live in Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide. Perhaps you’ve heard of those teams.

And kittens. Cats in general. I enjoy holding cats that belong to other folks. We had a cat for 17 years, but one was enough. My wife was pregnant with our first and really, really, really wanted a kid Right Now. The joke was on her–who knew they lived that long? That first kid of ours? She’s got three cats, so I can get my fix whenever I need to.

As I’m keyboarding this, by second daughter is driving as we’re passing through northern Kentucky on the way to Ohio for a visit with my folks. Tomorrow’s writing should have a northern feel…without cat hair.

Relationships SOLSC 14

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Occasionally, I’ll sit at my desk for a few minutes and watch my students as they go about whatever routine it is they’re involved with.

Just a quick thought: I’m a teacher, writing for an audience that is, in all likelihood, mostly teachers.  The phrase, “I’ll sit at my desk” is difficult to type without thinking that someone, somewhere, is probably poo-pooing the idea that I’d actually sit at my desk while my students did their thing.  To those few teachers I say that eventually you’ll hit your thirties and understand.

Another quick thought: That first thought was my attempt at humor. Please, just accept me.  I like me…you can like me, too.

Okay, where was I?  Right…watching my students while I drink coffee.  (Darn, I did it again!)

Watching students as they develop the ability to develop relationships is a difficult thing.  At any given time, I want to walk over and stop them with a, “Hold on there sport, you’re screwing things up,” or a “Really, do you really mean to talk to your friend like that?” “You know that’s not a nice way to put that, don’t you?”  “I think you should figure out a nicer way to say that, don’t you?”

Relationships are hard, especially when you’re 9 years old.  Or 52.  34 isn’t too easy, either.  No one says it’s a piece of cake at 45, and I’ve never heard that being over 60 makes it any less difficult. Nope, relationships are hard.

So, Tim, how is this a slice of your life?  I’m getting there.

Last night I was at a friend’s house.  He’s the artist I mentioned a few slices ago.  Here’s the weird thing about the first sentence in this paragraph: “A friend.”  As a guy, I have a lot of people I call friends.  We talk school, or football (I’m not a fanatic, but conversant), or woodworking, or families, but honestly, there’s not a lot of depth to our friendships.  But this guy, the one I was hanging out with last night?  He’s a friend, an actual friend.  With depth.  I don’t have a lot of those (as in, I can count them on one hand and have fingers left over), so this is pretty cool.  As our conversation went on, I was thinking about how our relationships (we’re both married with daughters) took effort to maintain and nurture.  Effort we both gladly give, but effort nonetheless.  Even if you’re not a third-grader, relationships take work.

Just before I left to head home, my phone dinged the Facebook Messenger ding.  I don’t get a lot of those (not a big Messengerer), and when I do it’s oftentimes someone I haven’t heard from in a while.  One of the joys of having an uncommon name is that I’m easy to find on social media.

I said my good-byes to the family, got in my truck, and pulled to the end of their driveway before reaching for my phone.  To distill a really long story into just a sentence or two or three, this was a message from a friend from 20-plus years ago (not uncommon for us retired military folk).  Up until this point in time, I’d only heard (second hand) his ex-wife’s side of the story of their separation 15 years ago. Kinda out of the blue, he was telling me his side (a difficult story, but told succinctly) and asking if we could reconnect and be friends.  In essence, would I accept him?  We could be friends if that’s what I want.

Relationships are hard.  I told him that my response to their situation is that I’m sorry for the heartache they both must have gone through.  That’s it.  Of course I accept him (though those weren’t the words I used–this is a long-story-short and all that).

We are who we are, and what else could I say?  This wasn’t the time to be philosophical or theological or even entomological (levity to ease my tension).

We’re fortunate to have people in our lives to help us through our years.  Love the ones you’ve got.

Tomorrow’s slice is going be about football. Something easier…maybe kittens.

Cables SOLSC 13

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I haven’t seen the television show Sesame Street in years, but a snippet of it flashed through my mind this morning as I sat down to write this slice.  As I remember it, there was a time during each episode where it was announced which letter and number sponsored the show.  “Today’s show is brought to you by the letter “r” and the number “3.”  Or something like that…it’s definitely fuzzy.

Today’s slice, with a nod to Ernie and Bert, was brought to me (and is brought to you) by cables.  Cables.  


I’m not the oldest slicer you might read today, but I’ve been around long enough to remember getting a pager.  (Don’t judge.)  Part of maintaining that little gem of technology was making sure it had a fresh battery.  A single AAA battery was tucked into the back, and it lasted for quite a while as I remember it.  Then…a phone.  300 minutes on the plan because I’d be doing some traveling.  In addition to the phone, we got a charger with a built in cable–no more buying batteries.  

Technology has, of course, marched on, and our usage has tried to keep pace.  About the time my wife and I both got phones (we shared the first one; one of us used the pager), we moved on to flip phones.  Then I got an early smart phone, and then she did.  We both started to “upgrade” at the same time, and within the last few years we’ve moved into tablets as well.  (We were late adopters, and if those wily service providers didn’t start to bundle them into plans we might not be where we are today.)

Then, miracle of miracles, my school district started to make a more concerted effort to get handheld and portable tech into the classrooms.  Enter the Chromebooks and more IPads.  

My wife and I are empty-nesters, but at any given time we might have 10 or 15 computers in our house.  10 or 15!  The desktop, the laptop, our kindles, our phones (probably our most powerful computers at the rate we upgrade everything else), our tablets, my school tech that comes home to install apps, and even a smartwatch thrown into the mix.  Okay, this is a little bit crazy.

And the cables. Oh my gosh, the cables.  My wife just went Apple (I still love her dearly), so our chargers aren’t compatible and the number of them effectively doubled. I can’t throw away an old charger (what if we need it?!), so we’ve got boxes with “extras” on three different shelves, sitting there with a few loose tendrils of plastic-sheathed conductors peeking out of each one.

Stop. The. Madness.

Full stop.

Okay, I’ve gotten up to let the dog out (the dog, by the way, who is not wearing a smart collar) and I’ve calmed down a little bit.  Now I’m thinking about my next slice, and pondering the idea that over the last 13 days I’ve composed on no fewer than 7 different devices running 4 different operating systems uploading through hard lines, WiFi, and cellular service.  And commenting on the slices written by others?  It seems like every time I do so another old blogging profile (Google, Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Weebly, etc.) of mine is popping up.  Sigh.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go recharge myself…

Friends SOLSC 12

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As I’ve written my slices over the last 11 days (we’re on day 12–wow!), I’ve become more aware of the small things that are going on all around me.  Things that are worth taking a few minutes and committing to paper (well, the digital version) to help create a record of sorts, hence, I’m sure, the term “Slices of Life.”

Yesterday, we had friends over for the afternoon and dinner, which led into the evening.  Before they arrived, the thought crossed my mind that certainly something would happen that I’d be writing about tomorrow morning.  And I was wrong, but right at the same time.

We simply enjoyed several hours of each other’s company, a meal, several cups of coffee, good conversation, and more than a little laughter.  We talked about our kids, our different endeavors (we’re teachers, artists, museum directors, and tax accountants), our hopes for the future, and our experiences with the past.

Nothing significant, yet almost everything, all at the same time. I hope the same for all of my readers this day.  Thank you for sharing this with me.

My Lot in Life SOLSC 11

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It’s not an uncommon thing for me to laugh at school (I teach third graders) and have one of my students ask what I think is so funny.

“My lot in life,” I’ll tell them, “My lot in life.”  I mean that in the best way, really, I do.  I wouldn’t trade where I’m at and what I’m doing for anything.  Okay, maybe for something, but what that might be doesn’t spring to mind right now.

This past week I emphasized cause and effect in my reading lessons.  I especially wanted to help my students understand how an effect can serve as a cause which leads to another effect which can, in turn, serve as a cause and so on. (Bonus points next week if they can remember “causal chain.”  Such a cool sounding phrase.)

I’ve said all that because just this morning I stood in my bedroom and chuckled as I picked up a leash I’d recently made.  My chuckle wasn’t the belly laugh that my students usually hear; rather, it was in quiet amazement at some of the relationships and situations I’m a part of. The leash wasn’t a dog leash–it was a raptor leash, something I’ve made to give to one of my friends who is an environmental educator working with birds of prey.

Several years ago I attended an environmental education conference on a whim.  I’ve always loved nature and the outdoors, but this was something different and out of my comfort zone.  I’ll skip over the causal chain, but now I’ve got several friends who work with birds of prey ranging from tiny screech owls to majestic bald eagles. I’m not even a novice with raptors, but through these relationships I’ve worked with and held several of these incredible birds.  Being literally eye to eye with a great horned owl or red-tailed hawk is an experience that leaves me in awe every time.

The friends I’ve made and the ability to work with rope has led me to stand and chuckle, letting a few feet of leash run through my fingers.

My lot in life, indeed.  My lot in life.

New Life SOLSC 10

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I’m enjoying how this Slice of Life Story Challenge is helping me to put the little things in my life into words.  I’ve always noticed the small and simple things around me (at least, I’ve noticed them as much as I’ve noticed them, if you know what I mean), but it’s been great to share them with others through these short works.

Early this morning I went out into my backyard to give the chickens a little free-range time before my wife and I headed out for the day.  They barreled out of the run to go do their chicken thing, and I took the opportunity to walk around a bit to check on our recently planted trees and shrubs.  With our early spring weather (though snow is forecast for the weekend), they’re starting to bud.  The established stuff has been in bud for a while, but the new is just starting.

The new.  That story–how the new came to be here–rose in my mind as I stood there, looking at the dozen or so plants around me.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I attended a presentation on native plants here in north Alabama.  My wife mentioned that she wanted a paw paw tree (yes, they’re more than just a line in a kids’ song), and a gentleman standing near us said he had some we were welcome to.  Just like that, “I’ve got plenty if you want them.”

A drive, a pleasurable two hours digging around his nature-preserve-like yard, and we were on our way home with way more than just a few paw paw trees.  He gave freely, and I stood there this morning, looking at the new life giving testimony to his generosity.  That, I’m pretty sure, is a parable.  Thanks for sharing it with me.

Old Dogs and New Tricks SOLSC 9

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Like many (probably all) of the slicers participating in the SOLSC, I hope that I and my students will be lifelong learners.  That phrase–lifelong learners–means different things to different people, I suppose, but for me it means that I’m always looking to be able to do or know things I couldn’t do or didn’t know before.

I’ve been someone who enjoys working with my hands since I was very young.  Woodworking, gardening, drawing, painting and even sewing have been pursuits of mine through the years.  Lately, a new term has come into use for people with my (and many more) varied interests: Makers. The “Maker Movement,” as it’s come to be known, embraces traditional do-it-yourself activities as well as today’s technology.  Simultaneous to the emergence of this movement has been a rise in the number of “You-Tubers” publishing videos showing their techniques and methods. (Some say the two occurrences have fed each other.)

Anyway, about the slice of my life.

The other day I was watching a video about how to turn large pieces of wood on a lathe.  The young guy (I say as one in my 50s) had a large, thin paper pattern and laid it on his wood to transfer the shape he was going to cut.  As I was watching him, I thought that there was no way he was going to be able to accurately trace paper as thin as the stuff he was using.  To my amazement, he didn’t trace it.  He laid the pattern on the piece of wood, reached for a can of spray paint, and painted around the edge of the paper, creating a negative silhouette that he was able to use as a cut line.  Wow!  I mean, Wow!  Some of my readers might not think this is a big deal, but for me it was pretty darn incredible.

Last night I was in my garage shop working on a baffle for the post of a birdhouse (the better to keep animals other than birds out of the house).  I needed to cut a piece of wood into the shape of the inside of a piece of flexible stovepipe. The shape was almost, but not quite, a circle, and even if it was, I couldn’t accurately measure its diameter.  Normally, I’d take a pencil and reach down two feet through the pipe to attempt to trace the shape. And, normally I’d be frustrated by the effort since I’d undoubtedly bump things out of place.  Not last night, though!  I grabbed a can of spray paint, shot a quick burst of paint into the pipe, moved the pipe out of the way, and voila! The shape I needed to cut was there on the piece of wood.

Old dogs, new tricks, and all that.  I love it.

Just a Thin Slice SOLSC 8

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As a rule of thumb, I rarely trust women who ask for “just a thin slice” of any type of dessert.  That has almost nothing to do with today’s writing, but since I’m only offering a thin slice it came to my mind.  “Why?” you might ask. Because they’re usually going to want some of mine…

Stepping out my back door this morning, I was totally overcome with the sensory explosion that has led to today’s slice.  I was heading out to make sure our chickens had food and fresh water for the day (my chickens are a story for another day, I’m sure), and was wearing my traditional cool weather garb of sweatpants and a pull over-fleece.  My upper body’s toastiness was quickly offset by the 39 degree Crocs that I slipped my bare feet into on the porch.  Now fully awake, and I mean fully awake! I started down the steps into the yard.

And was totally blown away.

Within the span of a few seconds, I became aware of the birdsong that surrounded me.  The chickadees were loudly admonishing me for not yet putting up the birdhouses sitting in my garage.  The mocking birds were staking out their territory in the neighborhood.  The robins were doing, well, whatever it is robins do.  And two Canada geese flew overhead, honking loudly as if their volitation depended on it. (Mary Oliver also whispered in my ear, as she oftentimes does, “You do not have to be good…”)

Within the same few seconds, I was aware of the new colors surrounding me, standing out against the browns and grays of the winter backdrop.  The lime-green new grass was emerging, the bright pink cherry blossoms next door called for my attention, the white flowers of the volunteer Bradford pear trees behind my yard caught my eye, and the vivid pink blooms of the redbuds stood out starkly against the brown of the deciduous trees further on.

But, most dramatically, within those same few seconds, the Sun rose from behind the house to my east.  I only imagined the “pop,” but it seemed all so real as the trees, the chicken coop, and the rest of my yard was instantly bathed in the golden morning light. The blue sky, the crisp air, the clamor of the birdsong, the colors that surrounded me, and the instantaneous sunlight: All of them worked in concert to leave me briefly speechless.

Just a few seconds–I suppose that’s a thin slice–but oh, what a rush of flavor.  Enough to share.

Cabbages, Yes Cabbages SOLSC 7

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“There he is!  There he is!  Mr. Gels, Mr. Gels!”

I’d put my students on the bus some 15 minutes earlier, and I was walking back to my classroom after standing and talking with a co-worker.  Now, it’s rarely a good thing when I hear my name echoing through the hallway, and it’s even more rare for it to be good when what looks like the entire after-school-day-care safety patrol contingent is the one doing the echoing.

“Mrs. M— is looking for you!  Mrs. M— is looking for you!”

My assistant principal was looking for me.  It’s with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek that I say this was quickly going from bad to worse. I ran through the usual list: I was supposed to be at an IEP meeting…nope.  I’d missed a parent conference…nope.  I’d said I’d take someone’s duty and forgot…possible, but duty should be over by now.  I was lost, but I fell into formation behind them and made my way down the hall.

As I came into Mrs. M’s line of vision, I saw her break from a conversation and give me that look that says I’m glad to see you because there’s something that needs to be done. Okay, at least I didn’t forget anything (as I, ahem, sometimes do).

“There’s a truck here for you.  You’ve got a bunch of cabbage plants.  Get with the front desk and they’ll let you know where he’s at.  We told him he had to leave because there wasn’t a available door during dismissal.” And just like that, she went back to her other conversation, apparently confident that I knew what she was talking about.

I did, but it certainly wasn’t an expected development in my afternoon.  The Bonnie Plant Company has a program where they provide third grade students with a cabbage plant every year.  It wasn’t something we’d done in a few years, but I was familiar enough with the program that I knew what to expect.  As a quick aside, I love Bonnie’s brochure that comes with each plant; it shows a picture of a smiling kid with a ginormous cabbage plant (we’re talking beach ball-sized).  The plants at our school rarely make it out the door alive.

Anyway, after making a big dent in my day’s step goal, I tracked down the plant guy as he pulled back into our parking lot after apparently delivering to another school.  He was a great guy, new to this distribution route.  Some small talk, a few trips in and out of the building carrying flats of cabbage, and a brief paperwork exchange saw him back on his way and me in possession of 144 cabbage plants ready to go home with students tomorrow.

Sauerkraut, anyone?  Just give me a few months.

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