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Showing posts from 2015

Protectors.

Last week, when Islamic militants executed a series of attacks throughout Paris, I thought of a picture I have in my house.  It is an old sepia-toned picture of the Eiffel Tower that my uncle took after helping liberate that city from the Nazis in late August of 1944.  The picture is beautiful, the tower standing out amid a mix of fog and an eerie, spectral light.  Looking at that picture gives me hope that our nation and our world can once again defeat a growing evil.
My uncle Raymond was a soldier.  I know very little about his time serving this country in our Armed Forces.  He didn't talk about it much, not to my father and certainly not to the little kid I was when I knew him.  I think he stormed the beaches at Normandy.  I know he was shot and wounded in battle.  I remember a picture of him standing at the end of a dock on a lake in some foreign country, mountains in the background, wearing a cleanly pressed uniform and leaning on a cane.  In that picture he looks like the Ame…

Ben Franklin Run the Bridge 10k

The night before.

I put my well-worn Bialetti espresso maker on the stove and stand there waiting for it to brew.  I run through a mental checklist for the morning: espresso, Cliff bar, beet juice, banana, water.  I peek under the lid to see if it is brewing yet.  I fidget.

I run through a mental checklist for the morning: shorts, socks, shoes, number, shirt, pins, watch, spare clothes.  I lift the top of the Bialetti to see if it is brewing yet; it is not.  I walk back to my bedroom.

I double check the four safety pins, adjust the laces on my shoes for no good reason.  Socks...check, shorts...check, t-shirt...check, bib number...check, Garmin...check.

I go back out to the kitchen, stare at the espresso cup, a gift from my sons with the Philly skyline painted around it.  I turn the cup so the Ben Franklin Bridge is facing me.  I stare at the bridge.  Tomorrow is race day.

The morning of. 

The day starts off well: great temperature, free parking, and actual bathrooms.

The span of t…

Shots Fired

Last Thursday another kid loaded up with guns walked into a place of learning, and killed.
So, the gun debate is back in the media again.  I suppose that is good.  Better control of guns in a country with far too many gun deaths seems like a good idea to me.  I believe in background checks, semi-automatic weapons bans, waiting periods.  I am not sure what the point of a handgun is other than shooting people.  I think even our forefathers would agree that the guns out there today are not the single-shot muzzle loaders they considered when framing The Constitution.  If they could travel through time, I think they would tilt their heads to the side in disbelief, and say The Second Amendment was never meant to protectthoseguns.  But, gun control is not the solution to the problem.  A good idea, yes.  A solution, I don't think so.
The conversation about mental health care is back in our national consciousness again as well.  No doubt that is a good thing.  We have all seen the history…

Why I Keep Running

As another school year has begun, my students have again seen me running.  Some have spotted me in their neighborhoods after school, while others have seen me on the track in the early morning before the first bell.  Several have talked about their shared love of running; more have asked, with a mix of confusion and disgust in their eyes, why I would do such a thing.  Here are some of the reasons.  

I run because running is simple.  In an increasingly complex world, there is something beautiful about a pursuit you can do anywhere.  All you need is shoes and open space.

I run because it relieves stress.  On those days when my thoughts swirl around my head like a giant storm cell growing on the horizon - all lightning and rumble - running takes the charge out of the air.   It allows me to think more clearly and rationally.  Running is my prescription drug: 3-10 miles per day until symptoms subside.

I run because Wards Bakery makes an amazing chocolate-frosted creme-filled donut, and L…

Commencement Speech 2015

I am lucky that as a teacher the structure of my year demands a time of reflection each June and a time of reinvention each September.  This year, commencement speeches became part of that process.  All of my seniors had to deliver ten minute long commencement speeches as their final assessment.  What they came up with was amazing; they spoke eloquently about experiences they have had and the lessons we all can learn from them.  Here is the speech I delivered to them at the conclusion of that project.    

I graduated from high school twenty-one years ago.  That is longer than all of you have been alive in this world.  Still, I remember that heady mix of emotions that comes from leaving the life you have known behind and taking a big bold step out into the world.  On graduation day, I sat in the sun with thoughts of a brilliant career ahead of me -- as a Broadway star.  A lot has changed over the two decades since I sat on my high school’s football field in that silly square hat.
There…

PARCC Spelled Backwards is CCRAP

As a teacher I have been very frustrated by the disruptions caused by the new wave of state-mandated tests.  Here is a piece I wrote for the Courier Post about my observations as a teacher and as a parent of a kid who is slated to take his first round of these tests next year.  He will be nine.

I hope you will take a moment to read what I have written.

PARCC Gives No Time to Learn

Beautiful Funerals

I talk to my grandpa all the time.  Life is busy and there are lapses, but all over the landscape of my life there are markers, triggers that remind me to reach out and get back in touch.  Doughnut holes.  Baseball.  Firetrucks.  Laughter.  I rarely go very long without filling him in, and topics range from my family to the bleak outlook for the Phillies this year.  As a lifelong Cubs fan, he can understand my frustrations better than most.

Just the other day, while playing Go Fish with my two sons, I laughed with him about all the times he brazenly cheated me at cards while we sat with a box of White Hen Popems at his kitchen table.  He always feigned innocence, shocked indignation at my suggestion that he was cheating, before bursting into laughter.  I am sure he gets a kick out of seeing me do the same to my boys.

I have told him about the time my oldest son played with his fireman's hat, his wide eyed stare as I told him about his great-grandpa pulling people from burning bu…

Phones Part II: No Place to Hide

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When I was growing up, I got picked on a lot.  I mean, look at those clothes.  Yes, that is skin you are seeing through that mesh midriff. Not cool.  Not tough.

Kids started small, calling me Crater Face because of the marks left by chicken pocks, Strikeout King because I couldn't hit a baseball in Little League.  By junior high, performing arts had become my solution for a near total lack of athletic talent, and with that came harsher nicknames. Pussy. Fairy. Faggot.  I vividly remember sitting in a History class, mindlessly copying notes, when a kid one row over and one seat back started poking the butt of my jeans with a ruler.  "You like that?" he hissed, "You like that you little faggot?"

Like many typical bullies, the kids who went after me were relentless.  Like many typical kids who get teased, I was resilient.  I was also lucky.  I had no cell phone or computer, no Facebook or Twitter, Yik Yak or Burnbook.  This meant I could leave the torment at the…

Phones, Part 1: Silent Students and Solitary Socialization

A couple of weeks ago, I ended my last period class about six minutes early.  I don't remember why I ended class early that day, but I remember it was sunny and bright in that classroom when I relinquished those few minutes right before the end of the school day.  As host to thirty seniors, I prepared for the deluge of sound, the voices I thought would fill the room.  There were prom dates and prom houses to sort out. College applications were in full swing, and some acceptance letters had begun to trickle in.  Athletes were preparing for games, and aspiring actors for the play.  There were parties to plan, relationships that had formed or ended that week, outfits to analyze, television shows to talk about.  After a full day of classes I was sure everyone was dying to kick back and talk.

What I got was silence.

I am not implying that they all whispered to each other with reserve, trying to keep their thoughts from drifting over to my desk and my ears.  I am not talking about polit…

Pond Hockey

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Pond hockey is a simple game.  Wait for the lake to freeze, find a bunch of guys willing to put on ice hockey skates, buy some Advil and a bunch of extra pucks for all the shots we will miss, and play.  Those of you who have played know what I am talking about.  For those who don't, I am talking about a slip in time that lets you be a kid again.  I am talking about the reality of time travel. 
The excitement surrounding pond hockey begins early in the day, the first time one of us goes out and measures the ice.  Drill in hand we drive the bit into the frozen surface of the lake hoping like children that it won't give too soon, that we will feel at least four inches of resistance before hitting water.  We are dying to send out the text telling everyone that the ice is thick enough to skate, that the game is on. 

Once the news is out, we feel ourselves getting more and more distracted as the day goes on, maybe cutting corners on some task at work or reading a bedtime story a …

28,740.1

Happy New Year everyone.  I only have 14,583 days to live. 

According to the most generous statistics I could find, the average life span for a human born in the developed world is 78.74 years.  That is 28,740.1 days.  Think about that for a second.  30,000 miles on a car is pretty close to a new car.  30,000 dollars in a retirement account will leave you destitute.  30,000 people is the population of a small town.  30,000 words is the length of the average young adult novel.  To travel 30,000 feet would not even take you six miles from your home.  30,000 days is about all most people get; I have already lived 14,157 of mine. 

I came across that fact while reading a book called The Humans.  When the character stated it, it was like I had just been knocked sideways out of my chair.  Incredulously, I pulled out my iPhone to check the math on the calculator and stared at the bleak truth.  Then for quite some time I just sat there.  That is a tiny little number.  Sure, I am a healthy gu…