Monday, November 30, 2015

Follow-Up Of Holiday Lights, Day Two: Thank The Great Whatever, Too, That I Can Tap The Inner Buddha

Prettier than the photos show.
I am one chord away from being satisfied. I have lights in all windows and the back porch looks like a scene from Close Encounters. I found the sets I needed at Ocean State Job Lot and, because it was a beautiful day, it was great to be outside hanging up the outdoor lights (I even barbecued).

That's the happy note.

The bad note?

What is wrong with people? Holiday shopping is insane. I went to Ocean State to get lights and to return a jacket that didn't fit. When I got in the line, there was a woman with two carts full of merchandise (and I'm not even talking about bulky merchandise, I'm talking about the tiniest things the store sells). She had plastic wrapped forks, stickers, yarn - everything. I asked her, "Are you returning all of these?" She says, "No, I'm buying them." I ask, "Well, why are you in the return aisle?" and she responded, "Oh, I had to return an item and I'm exchanging it for my purchases today."

I looked at her and said, "Really?" 45 minutes went by and the return line began to flow throughout the entire store. This woman questioned every price that the register lady scanned. It seemed pretty evident to me that this woman has some kind of pack-rat issue, as her carts looked like an episode of Hoarders. She spent around $970 on $1 items - it was crazy. And something told me she'd be back tomorrow to return them all and to do the same thing all over again.

Obviously, we who were standing in line were not happy. I was directly behind her and she looked at me and asked, "What's your problem?" I simply responded, "This seems a bit disrespectful, don't you think?" She then went on a tirade of how rude I was.

Whatever. I just kept breathing in and breathing out. I needed to remain calm. I knew I was stopping at Walmart next (and the one in Stratford could easily compete as the most insane aquarium for oddities in the nation). I have to be totally Zen to go in that store.

But it's over. I'm satisfied and now I have no problem sitting in my house in the dark, looking at all the lights in my windows and from the tree.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Holiday Lights and OCD Do Not Mix Well, Especially When Moving Into a New House and Nothing Fits Right

Gleams, perplexed on why I keep going in
and out of the house looking at the
windows. I need to get her a light-up collar.
In all the homes I've ever owned, I've always lit them up for the holidays with white lights. I've also lived in homes with long fences and driveways. Alas, my house has lots of windows, a short fence, and a porch. For the most part I made matches, but there were the strands that all lit up but one row which angers me to know end. Then I went to find matching lights to replace them and, OF COURSE, they are a different shade of white light. Actually, the new bulbs they're making are like spotlights - they are so bright.

I've gone to Home Depot, bought lights, returned them, Walmart, bought lights, returned them, and Targets, bought lights and returned them. I'm trying to find matching shades so I don't have to purchase all new lights. Besides, the ones I have now match the lamp outside and the Christmas tree that Pam threw out and I recycled into my new home.

Such neurotic lighting ceremonies does not bode well for the lists and agendas I made to accomplish yesterday. Rather than get to the tasks on my list, I spent way too much time working on the lights and (ARGH) have still not accomplished the goal. I have two more windows that need lights and, (UGH), I have around 30 feet of fence lights that I need to put out somewhere. Right now I am thinking about lighting up the back porch (just because I can).

The neighbors across the street and the ones next door simply have a candle in each window. I envy that. It's simple, elegant, and smooth. I'm not a Griswold, but I do like to have the celestial feel in my home for the holidays. It makes sipping hot cocoa and reading that much more pleasurable.

I'm also distressed that I can't put my snowman in the bay window because, without a doubt, Glamis will trample on it every time she leaps to her surveillance/sleep spot.

We're getting there, but the house is not there yet. There is nothing I hate spending money on more than Holiday lights that die so quickly. But on a good note, I did hang up a rack so the stockings are up (although not mby a chimney).

Okay, it's Sunday. My day of rest which means I can't continue my neurotic search for two more sets of lights (or can I?)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mystery Solved. Thanks to Constable Bill, His Love of Animals, His 82 Year-Work Ethic, and His Integrity

Around 10:30, Glamis heard a car door and when ballistic in the bay window. I looked out and an old man was walking up my drive way. He was in a big truck that was plastered with "home repair" signs, and my first instinct was, "Whoever this man is, he has the wrong house."

I walked out front and there was this man with a blue collar. Yes, it was the blue collar that has been missing for a few weeks - the one that mysteriously disappeared and made Chitunga and I tear up the house. We had no idea where it went.

"I found it in Wooster Park," the man said. "I walk there everyday and I love dogs. I have three Yorkies of my own. I'm 82 years old and still employed. I am a Notary, work on homes, and do animal calls for the town. I saw the collar and knew I had to return it."

Bill. His name was Bill. He was a police officer for over 32 years in Stratford. He now works on homes and does other miscellaneous work (even told me he'd draft my Will if I wanted him, too. "I've been working since I was 14 years old," he continued. "If a person isn't working and contributing back to the world in good ways, then they aren't worth my time at all."

I could have talked with Bill for hours. He is "The House Doctor" and something tells me he's a surrogate mayor for our Stratford community - an individual who lives his daily routines by offering small gestures of kindness, which include finding missing dog collars and returning them to the owners (even after a month of being M.I.A.).

Yesterday morning started with restoring my faith in humanity. Such a random act, but one that I will hold at the core of my philosophy and purpose. If only all of us could aspire to be like Bill, what a beautiful world it would be.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why Not Blur The Holidays and Make The Next 30 Days One Giant Bonanza? I'm Game. You?

After an evening of radical turkey coma (more severe this year than most), I decided to merge the anarchy of holiday festivals right away so I can keep pep to my step and gallop to my sleigh. Yes, I'm going early this year, too - but hey, they've been playing holiday music in the stores since Halloween. Actually, I spruced up my Facebook page and decided the image belonged here, too. And with that, I'm going to make a Christmas list. Santa may be reading my just never know.

10. I want a Syracuse Flag to hang outdoors for when Cuse plays.
9. I want a Louisville Flag to hang outdoors when Louisville plays.
8. Chitunga dropped one of our frying pans and now it is warped. Could used one of those.
7. I could always use new running shoes, but don't buy me those. I'm too picky.
6. Eventually I need new furniture, but not for a while. Let Glamis ruin the old ones.
5. I want more time on the clock so I can get more done.
4. I want everyone to make donations to refugee relocation centers. Heck, volunteer there, too.
3. It'd be nice to get a presidential candidate than any of us would want in the Whitehouse.
2. I want my friends and family happy. If they're happy, I'm happy.
1. I want to go on a photo shoot with Mike and Cynde, to get us on Mom's hutch.

It's Black Friday. I will not be shopping today. I will be writing, planning, organizing, running, and stressing. Two weeks away means I've fallen behind on projects: reports, papers, research, data analysis, and grants. I need to pick up the hustle again.

Ah, but I can't wait for the week of the 24th! I'm ready for A Flake Like Mike

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Today Is A Day To Be Thankful And I Appreciate So Much About My Life,My World, My Friends, and My Family

I am not cooking today, but did buy beer and wine to bring to the festivities at Pam's in Monroe. Once again, I will not be in Syracuse for this holiday, but came closer than I have in a long while (don't worry, I'll be home for Christmas - you can plan on me). I'm happy to present Pam with the coolest wine bottle cover in the universe...all to thank her for taking me in (and hopefully Chitunga if he gets out of working a double shift).

I spent most of yesterday unpacking from two weeks away and celebrating Chitunga's birthday. I cleaned, fixed the stove (proud of myself for watching videos online and getting the sparks to work again), shopped to replenish the refrigerator, wrote, walked the dog, and ran.

This, of course, was in preparation for today and I'm more than ready to make my thankfulness list.
  1. First and foremost, I am thankful for my Mom and Dad. They brought me into the world and even if I am a pain in the ass, non-communicative at times, obnoxious, and not in Syracuse, I love them with all of my might. I appreciate everything they've ever done for me, most I've taken for granted as a son and much that can never be repaid.
  2. I'm thankful for my immediate family, too. This means Cynde, Mike, Nikki, Dylan, Casey, Dave, Sean, Jacob, Bella and Dixie. Of course this means Chitunga, Abu, Lossine, Abdi, Akech, and Glamis, too. They are central to my world and bring me new perspective and purpose each and every day. I also include Sue here, my Louisville mom. God only knows what I'd be without them. 
  3. I know America is outrageous at times (as Laurie Halse Anderson said, "It's in its adolescence"), but I am thankful for it. I love this country. I'm patriotic and optimistic. I believe in its mission and will argue with anyone to check the privileges we have in this land of red, white and blue. I say be careful of the complaining and criticizing, and count your blessings. We are fortunate. Period.
  4. I love Cookie on Empire. She's up there with Oprah for me. I am thankful that I once loved Darlene on Roseanne (heck, I loved Roseanne, too). I am thankful that I realize such women are figments of my imagination. I know they will never come visit me, but I am thankful that a man can wish.
  5. I'm thankful for my friends - way too many to name here. They are those from childhood, CNS, Binghamton, University of Louisville, BreadLoaf School of English, Cambridge University, Syracuse University, and Fairfield University (including my growing CWP-Fairfield peeps).
  6. Speaking of, I am thankful to the Reading and Language Arts Center at Syracuse University, especially Kelly Chandler-Olcott and Marcelle Haddix who continue to inspire me. This also includes Rebecca Freeland and Isabelle Glod who were the heart and soul of keeping me sane during my dissertation. 
  7. And with heart and soul, I am thankful to Attallah Sheppard who maintains the muses in my aging mind. She, coupled with the National Writing Project, professional friends in LRA and NCTE, and writers I continue to work with, give me tremendous hope for the future.
  8. I am thankful to all the students I've ever worked with in all the schools (especially Brown and Bassick). I couldn't be who I am without Alice Stevenson and Kathy Silver. The Frog needs his Owl. Stripe needs his Yellow.
  9. I give thanks to history. Single stories have been told and there are many more truths than we realize (including the holiday we're celebrating here). I applaud anyone who helps me to question my reality and who helps keep my perspectives in check. Exiting the cave is a beautiful thing.
  10. Finally, I am thankful to The Great Whatever. I'm not sure what happened to turn me from an Eeyore/Charlie Brown figure into Willy Wonka, The-Wanna-Be-Maude, but I am glad for it. Choosing 60 seconds of happiness rather than 1 minute of misery is the secret to living a spectacular life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

And So Today, It's the 20th Year On Earth For Chitunga and, Last Night, A Birthday Party For the Kid

I returned to Connecticut just in time to bring in the celebration of Chitunga's 20th year. I made a quick call to Pam and we pulled together the Monroe crew of Kaitlyn, Derek, and Patrick at our favorite burger joint - The Tavern, in Monroe. Chitunga''s been on his own for two weeks and I imagined he'd be ready for company, family, friends, and togetherness.

I laughed when I walked in the house after being away for two weeks because the house smelled like the same newness when we first arrived last March.

"I didn't clean," he says. "I meant to, but never got around to it."

"Oh, really?" I respond. "It smells so good in here. How'd you do with food the last week?" I asked. "Did you run out?"

"Oh, I got another pre-cooked chicken and I've been eating a 3-egg/milk/protein mix/ and banana conglomeration all week. I'm trying to gain weight."

Um, okay. Everything the kid puts into his body turns into muscle and he can't get the bulk he wants. If only I was that lucky.

"I see Glamis is super excited to see you," I add, while she attacks his face with kisses.

"No, I'm more happy to see her," he replies, soaking in all the dog's love and happiness.

Two years ago today, on the 25th of November, Chitunga called to see if I wanted to do something. It was a weeknight and I was post-run and about to grade student work.  I met the boy at a local high school when I first arrived to Connecticut. I told him the first time we met (he had long dreads and totally looked like the young people I worked with in Syracuse from Africa), "You and I will work together one day." I knew he was relocated, but had no idea whether or not we'd ever meet again. I kept seeing him around school in classes, however, and every time, I saw him working hard. I'd always hand him my business card and say, "You and I should talk. I think we could have a great conversation." A year and a half later, he enrolled in a dual enrollment program at Fairfield University and arrived to my English class. It was his senior year. "Oh, it's you," I said as he walked through the door. "I told you we'd working together one day."

During that semester, which was his senior year, he called to see if I could get him to do something. He wanted out of Bridgeport for the day  I responded, "Why don't we go and see the Hunger Games?" We went and, missing dinner, ate really horrible boiled hotdogs in the theater. He sat at one end and I sat at the other.  After the movie, when I dropped him off, he reflected, "Hey, I want to thank you for taking me out for my birthday. I'm not used to having anyone celebrate it with me."

I stopped the car and said, "Wait, today's your birthday?"

He looked at me and confessed, "Yes."

I did what most would do and said, "Well, Happy Birthday."

Fast forward a couple of years. Driving lessons. Lunches. Dinners. Man-to-man talks. (A C+ in my course). Mentoring. More mentoring. Even more mentoring. Help applying to college. His graduation. Support. A semester off from college. A job. Another job. Moving in. First pillow and first bed. More mentoring. Christmas in Syracuse (Casey sealing the deal with that hug of hers, he says). Community College. Great grades. More bonding. A hernia. A new house. The twins. Summer. A dog. Another Syracuse trip. A broken finger. More conversations. More mentoring.

And last night we celebrated his 20th birthday with food, laughter, and Pam's squad. We returned home to watch the latest Jurassic Park movie (actually, he watched it and I multi-tasked on other items), until he fell asleep (and off the couch, which was funny - it's that 7 a.m. workout schedule of his).

Today, though, is the official Chitunga's celebration - his BIRTHDAY. I have a gift and card from my mother to give him and items I've picked up over the last few months. Glamis is jumping on him and covering him with birthday licks. I'm watching the two of them and thinking, "What a fast three years it's been." I'm also thinking, "Wait a second! How'd this kid end up in my house?" It does feel, however, that it is exactly as it is supposed to be.

I am proud to have this young man in my world: he's a mini-me, a hard-worker, and a semi-dork who is reflective and dedicated to everything he does. Yes, the Great Whatever works in mysterious ways.  I'm not always sure what the real intentions are, but what I do know is that today I celebrate the life of an incredible human being. He has become a part of my family and I'm thankful he chiseled his way into my world.

There are few words, really. There's only what there is...And it is exactly this.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bonus: 24 Hours Back In Syracuse and I Get Dinner and a Slice of Apple Pie and a Scoop of Vanilla. Woot Woot!

Note: this is not a photo of the actual pie. I ate the real
one way too fast.
I'm officially declaring a diet the day after Thanksgiving. I've been eating out for over a week because of the conference and then my mom's house is always welcoming with cookies and potato chips. Tonight, when I returned, I was welcomed with an Apple Pie.

Home Home Home Home Family Home.

It was delicious.

I'd start the diet Wednesday but Chitunga wants to celebrate his birthday at a restaurant and with cake, so I know I'll eat like walrus. Of course, the day after is the turkey bonanza.

I think I will feel better to get back on the road, as there was no time to run in Minneapolis. Yes, I walked multiple steps each day running from session to session, and restaurant to restaurant, but it doesn't make me feel whole like running and sweating does.

So the task will be: stay moderately good until the week of December 24th so I can come home and be a walrus again.

Ah, that apple pie. How can anyone deny a slice of apple pie?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Goodbye #NCTE15. Goodbye #NWPAM15. Goodbye Minneapolis. I Am Leaving On a Jet Plane. Don't Know...

I took one more photo from my hotel window at sunset before I began to settle into my return to Syracuse and then my drive back to Connecticut on Tuesday. I have to say that Minneapolis is a beautiful city and, very clean, is a place that everyone should try to visit once. I was thrilled to see that their was a Vikings game while I was here (although they lost), but more importantly that the city was prepared for the onslaught of English teachers.

They welcomed everyone with open arms.

I have many highlights from the trip but I am most thrilled that I was able to bring so many Connecticut teachers with me to present. I loved the reunions, had a blast doing the presentations, and felt great meeting new friends and old ones.

Now it is time to get back into the hustle and bustle of every day life (where I can do my 5Ks everyday and not eat out so much). I will miss the camaraderie and new learning, the excitement of passionate like-minded individuals, and the dreams and visions that we share.

I am also looking forward to reading a pre-sale copy of Kwame Alexander's Booked that he handed me before he went up to his room to take a nap. November sniffles have both of us wary of what our health will bring tomorrow.

It was a fabulous time and I appreciate of all who shared such kindness with me. The National Writing Project and NCTE people are the best. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

My Single Goal For #NCTE15 Conference in Minneapolis Was Met. Finally Got Face to Face Time with Laurie Halse Anderson

You can't be an adolescent educator without knowing the impact of Laurie Halse Andesron's Speak. You can't be passionate about literacy, upstate New York, and the history of YA literature in school without knowing the influence of Anderson's novels and advocacy in the field of adolescent literacy. Laurie Halse Anderson, in the words of Joan Kaywell, is part of the ABC trifecta: that is books others want to censor in American schools: Anderson, Bloom, and Crutcher, although they are texts young people consume with passion and curiosity.

I discovered Speak when I was a classroom teacher in Kentucky and saw first hand the influence it had on young readers. My personal copy is earmarked with the pages I most love and I even have a torn article from the Post Standard that I use as a bookmark...the one that showcases her gorgeous writing space and the one-of-a-kind cathedral windows. It is a creating space to die for.

 I knew Laurie Halse Anderson was coming this year to receive the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award. Lucky for me, Joan Kaywell saved space at their table so I could have front row seats for the recognition. As a fellow up-stater, I was honored to be in such close proximity. I was also able to deliver the "Diva" and a "Grandmother" tags I nabbed for her when I first arrived (her grandchild was born just a short while ago). I had to flee to another session, but I did get my selfie!

Laurie Halse Anderson is an inspiration. Meeting her yesterday, helped to complete a lifelong goal.

Today, I have my last presentation, but I know the highlight will be that I made this particular dream come true. Here's to the greater Syracuse region, to providing voice to young readers everywhere  that help them "speak" and for the entire organization of NCTE.

I am a better man because of the NCTE experience.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

And Then We Take A Break and Head To Mall of America @NCTE15...Well Worth the Adventure

 Exhausted, the CWP-Fairfield crew decides to take 20 minutes off after the last session to catch our breath, but rejuvenated, we opted to go on an adventure to the Mall of America. With a reputation for its grandiosity, we knew we couldn't leave Minneapolis without a visit. It was cold, but since most of downtown is built like a gerbil cage, we found tubes between building to meander to the rail. Then it was another 30 minutes to the mall (interestingly right next to the airport).

With a spectacular session together (and two of my own), we simply needed to get away from the literacy folks to eat dinner and see what was up. The rail was convenient and the mall delivered all we expected and then some. There are rollercoasters, waterslides, pirate ships, and carnival games throughout and it felt like shopping meets Disneyland meets middle America meets refugee central. Seriously, the refugee population in this city is tremendous and was very obvious at the mall.

We got Mexican food then meandered for a while (and I nabbed a couple of holiday gifts). The real hit, though, was the spectacle watching. Because it is the holiday the glitz and hoopla is even more tacky than usual. We couldn't help but delight in our choice to go (and wondered why we needed see gobs and gobs of English educators with us).

But now it's Saturday and there's still three more presentations to go. David Eggers is speaking tonight and I've set a goal to meet Laurie Halse Anderson (we shall see if I achieve it.

I still haven't run into Kwame, either, but that time will come...perhaps after Marcelle and I present together at 9.

I'm not sure I'd ever make it to the Mall of America on my own, but was glad to pay it a visit while in conference land. I now can say that I've been and, to be honest, I think that's what it is all about. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thank You #NWPAM15, Hello #NCTE15. The Greatest Part of this Work -- Investing in K-12 Teachers

I am so proud of Shaun Mitchell, Kim Herzog, and Megan Zabilansky for representing CWP-Fairfield and our participation in the LRNG Innovation Challenge work. Better yet, it means the world to me to have opportunity to bring Connecticut teachers to NWP and NCTE to showcase the handwork they do in their classroom. We too seldom showcase the handwork, diligence, and excellence of classroom instruction and curriculum.

This morning begins the NCTE part of our trip to Minneapolis and today there is opportunity to feature Ubuntu Academy, Young Adult Literacy Labs, Literacy4Life, and the political writing we did with the CT Mirror. We never know how many we'll get in a session, but we do know that the dialogue with our colleagues across the nation is immeasurable.

I am thankful for having a location where teachers can showcase the excellence of their pedagogy and celebrate the hard work of students who help them to push literacy to the next level. In truth, NWP and NCTE is about them and now, more than ever before, I'm a tremendous fan for building teacher leadership and advocating for what is possible if we invest in curricular excellence.

So, I'm celebrating the next three days of NCTE and riding the high wave of NWP and all the knew knowledge gained from being surrounded by like-minded, innovative educations. We Too Are Connecticut, but We Too Are English Educators in the United States. The work we do matters.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Floating With the Serenity of #NWPAM15 in Minneapolis. Checked In And Read For a Thursday of Writing Friendships

If I wasn't so exhausted, I would have enjoyed my travels a lot better, but even so, I did take in some of the calm and smooth skyline above the clouds as I left Syracuse, New York, on my way to Minnesota.

The day began an hour later than it should have because of delayed flights, but everything caught up with itself and even if I lost my hair product at airport security, the Hilton is conveniently located by a Targets, so I picked up a travel tube rather quickly.

Today begins the 8 presentation marathon and I'm more than thrilled to have CWP-Fairfield fellows with me for NCTE and NWP. I'm looking forward to presenting our research and are work with like-minded folks from across the nation.

It also helps that there's a liquor store around the corner so I needn't host a terrible tab when socializing out on the town. Shoot. We can have everyone in our room if need be.

So begins a day of competitive coffee, lines, and the drive to get caffeinated in conference land. I managed to get bananas and pop tarts in case the morning begins later than expected. I've been to many conferences, but not one has had the amenity of a local Targets. I can't go wrong with that.

And so I'm off. Here's to a fantastic day of presenting!

Throwback Thursday? Hmmm. I've been working with the National Writing Product for almost 14 years. It's the greatest thing that has ever happened to me as an educator. I know my colleagues feel the same. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Welcoming a New American Into Our Nation. So Proud of Abdi Hirabi For All He's Accomplished. #AmericanDream

Abdinoor was a research participant who quickly was brought into my CNY family and became a young man that I knew I was committed to for life. Yesterday, Abdi was sworn in as an American citizen and I couldn't be more proud of being part of the ceremony of his naturalization at Onondaga Community College. I feel fortunate that I was in Syracuse on the date for this event and that I could be there with him to celebrate.

Abdi arrived to CNY in 2006 and I met him at Nottingham High School. Since meeting him and working with him in Writing Our Lives, at the Somali Community Center, and in his English classrooms in Syracuse, he quickly became an adopted son and a young man I will look out for as long as I'm alive.

Yesterday's naturalization was a humbling experience. Over 86 individuals took an oath to the United States and, at least in the case of Abdi, renounced the histories of civil wars, violence, refugee camps, and hatred in their home nations. He is a new father, too, and so his commitment to American democracy means that much more to me.

Times are what they are in terms of global politics and those of us who live in privilege as a result of the greatest civilization in human history sometimes forget what life is like in other nations. Recent refugee plight has caused reason for concern in regard to American and European safety and I understand some of the reservation that comes from the controversy. All one needs to do is watch the nightly news to realize that we live in conflicted time and in the shadow of terror.

This, however, is not the case for the individuals sworn in yesterday. A large majority of the new Americans are already enlisted into the armed forces and they stand as testimony to the ideal of American democracy. Yes, caution is a necessity, but when the United States looks to the 60 million people displaced as refugees, we have to return to the core of what our nation stands for.

I have been working with relocated individuals since 2000, and I attest that their influence on my life has been monumental. The backlash towards refugees with the amount of hatred I've seen posted on social media is alarming and harsh. There are some who may relocate with mischievous intentions, but the vast majority are from nations where safety, security, and opportunity were eradicated. These are people who have been forced to live in total fear for their lives.

I, for one, stand in solidarity with those who struggle to simply have a place on earth to live with a peace of mind. I believe that love prevails and that the union of like-minded, caring individuals can conquer such hatred...this hatred includes the venom being spit by my fellow-Americans and their anti-refugee backlash. Learn history. Understand global politics. Check privileges. And act. Just because we live as we do does not mean others have the same - our world is propped up by a world of corruption, inequity, colonial practices, and violence.

Attending a naturalization ceremony was a life-changing experience and anyone who questions what America stands for should attend such an event. Only 1% of those living in fear of their lives are granted asylum. A majority continues to live in squalid conditions with limited hope for their future.

We live The Hunger Games. We cannot forget this and, as always, we must be in touch with our humanity. This I learned from young men like Abdi. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dog Cousins and Papi Butch - This Is Central New York Family in North Syracuse. We Are Dog People.

Papi Butch is a master of ceremony. Give him a ball and he can keep the dogs entertained. Actually, he's just a pinky...the dogs can preoccupy themselves without the help of human beings. All they need is a room to run in, a few toys, and they can entertain themselves for hours.

I am departing for Minneapolis and I know that Bella will be the secret ingredient for making sure that Glamis gets her exercise, play, and aerobics. It's Laverne and Shirley, Lenny and Squiggy, Cagney and Lacey, and Batman and Robin. All they need are capes and possible Papi Butch to throw them a ball and/or biscuit from time to time and they are all set.

The sad news for Bella is that Glamis doesn't share the same zest for a shining light. Still, socks, balls, Kongs, and bones are equal opportunity distractions for the canine duo. I know, without a doubt, that Glamis will be in good hands with Glamma Sue and Glampa Butch give her romper room time with her cousin.

Bring on Dixie. I can't wait for the holidays where the dogs own the show.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The World is Small But The Responsibilities Are Huge. So Happy To Reconnect With Marino Mauro

I had the pleasure of reuniting with Marino Mauro yesterday afternoon and celebrating his son, Carl, with his wife Rwanda - a doctoral student in Reading and Language Arts at Syracuse University. When I arrived to Syracuse in 2007, I went to LeMoyne to see about possible adjunct work. As soon as I parked, I ran into a Sudanese man and we exchanged information. It was Marino, and he just graduated with his undergraduate degree.

Long story short, Marino entered Upstate to earn his Physician's Assistantship degree and the two of us commiserated over our studies when we had opportunity to catch up during the Sudanese Lost Boys Cow Project. He finished his degree about 6 months after I completed my doctorate.

Time flew by and last December I met a woman named Rwanda who was a new doctoral student in my ol' department. It turned out that she was dating Marino and the two of them were expecting. I got to share lunch, a few beers (and wine for Rwanda) while Carl, Jr. practiced his playing skills with me and learned a little more how to stand up and take steps.

It is amazing to see how much a little squirt can look like his dad. As Rwanda says, "He is his daddy's kid." As expected, Marino is a phenomenal father.

We talked at length about how miraculous his story really is. He came as a Lost Boy in 2001 and in such a short time, he is living the American dream -- buying his first house in Eastwood, actually. With a soon-to-be Ph.D. mother and a medical father, Carl is destined for a wonderful life...the American dream at its best.

I feel rejuvenated seeing the hard work pay off for such a deserving family...and that kid. What an amazingly calm and inquisitive little guy. I look forward to seeing his "next steps" in life. And, as always, I'm feeling older and older, and older!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Pooped Dog Is A Happy Dog - Family Time Equals Social Exhaustion in Central New York

This is what family means to Glamis Marie. It equals a long walk and play time with a cousin, Bella, then an afternoon to relax while Papa Bry putt-putts with Casey, Sean, and Jacob, followed by an SU Football game, and ending with an evening of wrestling and sock-tug-o-war with Bella.

A day of exuding energy means an evening of authentic sleep. This is the pace of Syracuse and the result of much, much attention.

I can't say I met the goals I set out for myself during the day, but I feel satisfied knowing that the pooch is resting and spent from a day of leaping, pulling, chasing, wrestling, running, and walking. Happiness is an exhausted puppy dog who is bound to have an evening of dreams and restless leg syndrome while chasing everything in her sleep.

Let's hope this Sunday can be as exhilarating as Saturday was. It is rare to see Glamis so calm, but well worth the effort.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Another Homecoming: Presenting to SOLER at Syracuse University and Then Attending an SU Game in the Dome

What an honor to be asked to speak to Syracuse University's doctoral students in SOLER about where I've been since doing my dissertation in 2012. It's hard to understand all that is going on when one is knee-deep in the process, but three years later I begin to see how the investment paid off. Yesterday, I discussed my dissertation, but more importantly the influence of mentors at Syracuse University and what they contributed to the work I'm doing now. I was able to highlight the CWP work, conferences, grants, summer programs, and Young Adult Literacy labs with a nod to Syracuse and how my mentorship helped me to see new ways of doing work in Connecticut.

Afterwards, Marcelle invited me to a Syracuse game with her tickets (and admitted she's never been to a Syracuse game). Dumbfounded, I jumped up and down for the tickets and was thrilled to be her companion for a night under the Dome. The team is young, but they are exciting - they have some new skills that might make for an interesting season.

Of course, I spent yesterday doing as I was doing, with little knowledge of what was going on in Paris. Now that I know, my intellectual curiosity has me asking many questions, especially in regard to what is next and how does this influence the way we do America with this knowledge.

I parked in Manley, took the bus to campus, and re-stepped all the paths I took for three years while attending classes and making sense of what I set out to do. I will always see Syracuse as the heart and soul of the intellectual work I do. They influenced me immensely and, returning to them, was a blessing. I hope I'm able to do it more in the future.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Three Roads Diverge In The Woods and I...I Find The One I Have Traveled On. Syracuse is Home.

I grew up in Syracuse. I left, but I returned to do a doctorate. I left again, but I met a Rooster while visiting Syracuse. He was presenting at a literacy conference near the campus, in Liverpool actually.

I brought the Rooster, Kwame Alexander, to Connecticut. I love the guy: his books, his brain, his presentations, his charisma, his personality and his friendship.

I knew he needed to meet Dr. Marcelle Haddix and they were able to collaborate together. Syracuse University brought Kwame to Syracuse last night and I was happy to bring my mom as my date and to snap this photograph of three VIPs in my life all in one setting: home, intellect, and creativity.

There is a lot I'm taking from the 60-minutes he spoke to the Syracuse crowd, especially in terms of the power of language. Kwame deconstructed the word "marginalization," and followed this with an interrogation of the word "slave." He emphasized that the word should not exist, because it was people who were enslaved. People.

This is what I love most about Kwame, the writer, speaker, and thinker. He doesn't let his mind get consumed with other ways of knowing - he is too busy working through what his mind is knowing.

Yes, last night was a great night in Syracuse, New York. What an honor to experience with my mom and to be invited by Marcelle.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Life Takes you To Unexpected Places. Love Brings You Home. I'm Back in CNY Again (and it's not Christmas)

We made the cabinet! We made the cabinet. Marsha! Marsha! Marsha! The middle child finally mad the cabinet!

After a long delay in Newtown having to meander through side roads, a day of heavy rains and fog, and Veteran's Day traffic, I made it to Amalfi Drive for a 7 day romp before NCTE and Minneapolis.

It is always great to return to the core of where it all began and what it is all about: moms and dads and sisters and nephews and nieces and dogs and all the shenanigans that go on with family.

And it feels good, although I've have several nights of little sleep before arriving...maybe excitement from the anticipation.

But I'm home. I'm where the love is. And I hope to absorb every second of it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Shouting Out To Two Incredible Connecticut Teachers: @_Mitchellaneous and @mrsherzogSHS

Last night I had the honor of accompanying two stellar educators from southern Connecticut who also are fellows of @CWP-Fairfield. Both were selected by their districts as "Teachers of the Year" and made it through the State's rigorous interview process to become semi-finalists. Shaun, too, was selected as one of four finalists.

There are not many words I can use to articulate my pride for their accomplishments and the advocacy they do for English, technology, and young people in our schools. They are passionate. They are dreamers. They are hard-working. They are dedicated. And they are change-agents not only locally, but national.

In just about a week, both will be traveling to the NWP Annual Meeting where they will present on LRNG Innovation Challenge work and the CT Mirror Op-Ed Project. They are definitely movers and shakers in Connecticut and I'd be proud to send multiple students their way.

Although they weren't selected for the "grand prize," they definitely are tremendous winners making as far in the selection process as they did, representing their individual schools with awe and our writing project with pizazz.

Here's to the two of them (and may they wear their voice-activated light-up glasses with pride).

Applause. Applause. Standing Ovation. A Few Hollars and more Applause.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Throwing a Bone to the Possum (Do They Like Bones?). I Have Become One Editing POW - Power of Words (3rd ed.)

I typed in cross-eyed and got several, well, cross-eyed individuals. Then I saw the possum. That is what I feel like. When trying to find the perfect metaphor for doing 11 hours of editing work - um, 11 hours of editing 3rd-12th grade work - this is how one feels, looks, and acts.

I'm basically done.

The day part of my day was successful as I went to the office and put together materials for the 8 NWP/NCTE presentations. Everything is in folders, organized, ready to hand out, and efficiently prepped.

Then I returned to the editing part of my day. Teenagers love drama. They love dialogue. They love romance. They love vampires and fantasy, alternative worlds, sex and death. And they love to write. Ah, but editing what they've written so that it makes sense to the reader, that becomes a different animal...a cross-eyed possum...all together. The work and heart is good...the comma placement, lack of periods, and use of dialogue is another story.

But it is getting is the ham in the oven, the potatoes, and the groceries for the house to feed Chitunga while I'm gone for two weeks. The kid better learn to use a knife to cut cheese for crackers or to spread peanut butter onto some jelly. I know he knows how to do this, but he's also used to eating whatever I've left over in the fridge. There will be no leftovers for him. This is one of those places for one to grow!

Okay, enough procrastination. Back to editing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I Need Lazier Ways To Procrastinate. Rather, I Do Marathon Clean-Up Fests and Hyper House Cleaning

Guilt from Friday night (a bar) and Saturday (a road race, art show, and movie) usually deliver me to Sunday feeling like a schlep. Yes, I get up at 7 a.m. and quickly get to writing, but then when the dog is moving, breakfast is served, and Tunga leaves for work, I think, "I should go for a walk." This leads to, "I should also go for a run." And this leads to, "Bryan, the temperature just dropped, you should prep the house for winter."

I mowed the leaves, stored the outdoor chairs, exchanged the lawnmower for the snowblower, cleaned out the garage (well, rearranged Chitunga's crap because he still hasn't sorted through his boxes and bags out there), recycled all the bottles, un-stored the shovels, then came inside to rearrange the furniture so everything got a good cleaning. I didn't settle back to writing until around 7 p.m.

Of course, then I was too tired to think, so I procrastinate by working on presentations for NCTE (which is visual and mindless in a creative way). I think it was the falling temperatures that went from 75 to 55 that got me in the pre-hibernal set-up fest, but I now feel prepared for snow...well, if I get the snowblower auger in the mail that I ordered. I'm do for a new machine, but I'm hoping I can make this one last one more year.

I do miss my wood-burning stove, though, and within minutes of Glamis un-hiding from the clean-up (she HATES cleaning utensils and hides under my bed), she got out every toy and began destroying them all over again. You'd hardly noticed I picked up after her - she definitely is a toddler right now! balls...rubber nuggets...biscuit crumbs...sock pieces. This is her house. I simply am there to throw things to her.

But I'm feeling good: Ginette left chicken Alfredo with broccoli so I didn't have to cook, and that saved a good hour of life. The laundry, too, is caught up.

I'm ready for you Monday. We got this.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

One Way to Earn a Cupcake...a 5K and an Intentional Way to Reflect on One's Writing Intent

Yesterday was the day chosen to be a sandwich for a piece I've been chiseling for 20 years - one written about violence in reflection for other teachers. Although I showed up 3 weeks early to the race, originally, I actually arrived to the Vicki Soto 5K on the right date this time (and man, they were giving out cupcakes...delicious, gourmet cupcakes).

I ate mine. Kaitlyn ate hers. And I brought the other one to Ginette.

It was the perfect day for running and I had a great clip until the 3rd mile when I cramped. I am guessing I lost 60 seconds walking it off and my time would have been even better.

Still, I'm happy. I wanted to break 30 minutes and did. I actually ran in 27 minutes, but could have had 26 minutes if the cramp didn't arrive. No! I didn't eat a cupcake before the race. It was the coffee.

In my 20s, I ran 5Ks around 24 minutes. 22 minutes and some odd seconds was my fastest. Super athletes can do it in less than 20. I'm slowing up in old age, but I'm still kicking forward and keeping a decent pace.

Now, if only I could pick up the pace with the writing! I will get there. It's not the sprint, but the marathon and I've been running for almost 30 years now. I don't necessarily win, but I'm always in the race and that is what counts most.

And here I go. I'm off to my office for a day of writing and printing.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Revving Up For The Vicky Soto Run This Morning, But Last Night The Bernadettes with Friends

And an opportunity for Chitunga, who served our food, to dance with Pam.

A month ago, Pam arm wrestled Chitunga to convince him he needed to work with managers at the Windmill to get us a table to see the Bernadettes in Stratford. He worked his magic, we got a table, and we were able to eat before seeing the 60s/70s cover band.

Of course, my mind was on the 5K this morning and all I could think about was going to bed and getting some shut-eye.

Ginette, a CNY friend was in town with her daughter Melissa, and they joined us for the outing. I simply don't have the energy any longer for Friday nights past 9 p.m. - I'd much rather be on my couch drinking bourbon and preparing for bed. I'm too old for dinner, drinks and dancing on a Friday night.

But I must go. I need to stretch my muscles and run 3.1 miles at the beach. Let's hope the coffee kicks in soon.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Lucky Find On My Run Today. One Washing Machine Later and I Have a New Hat (Also, Syracuse Grads Unite)

There's nothing better than stumbling upon a blue fuzzy hat lying in the middle of the road while running the streets of your neighborhood! That's what happened to me yesterday after I spent the day editing POW!, writing, organizing data, and thinking ahead to a night of grilling cheeseburgers.

It also occurred to me that Syracuse will play St. John's at Madison Square Garden in December and that's just a train ride away. At the same time I had that thought, I remembered that Molly Zarookian, a student of mine in Syracuse and also a participant in the Connecticut Writing Project, introduced me to DaJuan Coleman when she student taught him at Jamesville-Dewitt High School. He was a freshman then. Yesterday, Boeheim announced Coleman will not have time limitations to his game-play this year (his injuries appear to have subsided for the season). I thought, "Hmmm, I bet Molly would want to go the game, too."

So, I sent her a text with my hat on and, lo and behold, she responded with a video made when rehearsing for a special dance that honors her Mother's birthday. She participated in a Flash Mob. I can't help but post her video here. I enjoy finding like-minded people (especially ones I've taught and collaborated with). I think we both should go to the game in costume and cheer the Orange on. Go Cuse!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Some Mid-Week Evenings Require a Spur Of The Moment Feast: Scallops and Gorgonzola Sauce

After a day of working on POW! Power of Words, the summer writing anthology (in November) and meeting with potential partners for a writing project in Bridgeport Public Schools, I met Attallah at Mount Pleasant and we headed to southern Connecticut to pick up my bib for Saturday's Vicky Soto 5K. I looked to Attallah and said, are you hungry? She was.

We ended up at Knapp's Landing and shared a Gorgonzola fettuccini with scallops and an Asian salad with crispy salmon.

Um, there is only one word - delicious.

Yes, it was a mid-week treat, but it was a great opportunity for the two of us to catch up on our worlds and to engage in political, historical conversations like we do.

Meanwhile, the mystery of where Glamis's collar went is still unsolved. It was on her when I hiked with her this morning and Tunga swears she had it on before he left for school. Now it is gone. I've torn the house apart looking for it and I can't find it anywhere. It was rather tight, so I am unsure how she even got it off, let alone where she misplaced in. She looks naked without her necklace and I'm sure tomorrow I will go and buy her another one

Ah, but that dinner. I've even at Knapp's Landing often, but last night's dinner was incredible good...masterful, actually. I am still licking my teeth this morning, even after I brushed my teeth. We ate like Royals in Stratford and it has energized me to be productive today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Updating My Thoughts on African Refugee Relocation With New Numbers From PEW Research Released Yesterday

Yesterday, in a Google Alert, I received news that Pew Research Center updated data on African immigration population in the U.S. as it continues to climb. Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. They conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. They do not take policy positions, but release information so researchers like me can have further context in regard to changing demographics in our schools (among other reports). 

In 2012, I wrote in A "Responsibility to Speak Out": Perspectives on Writing from Black African Born Male Youth with Limited or Disrupted Formal Education" that numerous factors resulted in the arrival of African refugee youth entering our urban schools. 
Unlike the large numbers of immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century, immigrants of the 21st century are relocating from nations undergoing civil unrest and where youth have had limited educational experiences. Nations that were once colonized by Europe began to experience civil conflict in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and have seen tremendous numbers of refugee populations. The U.S., once a colony itself, has played a central role in the political affairs of many of these nations since World War II. American provision and retraction of financial support has added to their national conflicts. Throughout Africa, as evident through recent revolutions in Egypt and Libya, yesterday’s colonial history has become part of today’s reality. With a strong international role in the world, the U.S. cannot shrug off its obligations.
The 2015 PEW report indicates that the rise of such populations has continued since the time I conducted my initial research. The numbers of African immigrants, in fact, have doubled almost every year since 1970, resulting in a 41% increase of African populations entering the United States, often bringing school-aged children to American classrooms. In terms of refugee relocation, the United States accepts the largest number  worldwide under its mission and dedication to freedom and democracy, but even so it is only 1% of the entire group of individuals and families who have fled their homes due to political turmoil, war, and fear of prosecution. At the time of my research (2012), I also wrote,
Currently, almost half of the world’s refugee and displaced populations reside within Africa, and it is likely that these numbers will increase. Civil uprisings like those recently occurring in Egypt and Libya, ongoing conflicts in nations like Sudan and Somalia, and drought within many western African nations will most likely continue to
uproot large populations of people. As this occurs, more individuals will seek asylum,
even though only a very small percentage of those applying will be invited to relocate. According to Bixler (2005), the Congressional Black Caucus voiced their criticisms about the 1980 Refugee Act because only 1,500 of the 231,700 refugees who first relocated were from Africa. Their concerns about equity, and President Bill Clinton’s humanitarian interests in African nations, changed the demographics of who was given political asylum. As a result, the 1980 Refugee Act also widened the doors for individuals undergoing political turmoil in Africa, including Sudan, Liberia, and Somalia – the three nations of my participants. By 2004, half of all refugees arriving were from war-torn African nations. Consequently, Black refugee youth have begun to enroll in U.S. secondary schools most often in urban settings.
This trend, PEW reports, has continued and the relocation is voluntary, unlike the involuntary movement of African lives during the age of the Atlantic Slave Trade which has been at the heart of America's most controversial, historical and damaging social movement in regards to racial relations. The arrival of new migrant populations has demonstrated success in terms of the American dream as reported by many national newspapers who have written the achievement of African immigrant populations in higher education has been astounding.

I haven't read through all the data reported by Pew, but I thought this Wednesday would be a good day to revisit my thinking and work of supporting refugee youth in K-12 schools. The PEW Report is a welcomed update of what I need to know.

I will read it with respect and admiration of the numerous young people I've been fortunate to work with over the last twenty years.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Jeepers! Organizing Professional Development for 150 Teachers is Exhausting! But, Presenting is a Party!

When I was a kid, I always knew my OCD was kicking in when I rearranged my room, dumped my drawers and began to make piles so I could itemize all the materials. Note:  My OCD was never as bad as the photo to the right------->.

That's what it felt like, however, last night when I began to sort all the materials for two rounds of professional development with Trumbull Public Schools on Informative Writing. I have two, three-hour rounds with distinct goals between them. Some of the material will parallel in each session, but there's enough variation that I needed to be organized.

And efficient.

There will be 9 tables with 8 teachers each in both sessions. There's no time to hand out all the goods or it will distract the timing of what needs to be covered. As a result, I sorted materials into 9 piles, making sure each table would have 8 of every item (including chocolate - that is best practice for PD and it was on the 80% clearance rack...nothing like Snickers for 80% off).

I am thrilled, too, to be co-presenting with Nicole Brown of Hill Central as we do a practice round of some of the items we'll discuss at NCTE.

And here's wishing me luck for the day! I'm off!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ugh! It's Monday and the Tomfoolery Had To End. (Boo on Daylight Savings Time)

Leo as "The Beast" / Pam as "I'm a Cake. I'm
a Cake"
It was a weekend of fun, festivity, costumes, and play. That is the benefit of having Halloween on a Saturday night - everyone seems to have a little time in their schedule to allow joy in their lives. As a result, before the clocks were turned back an hour, Mt. Pleasant was the epicenter for frolicking, singing, and dancing. As kids came to the door, they were greeted by beasts, cakes, bombers, Paul Bunyan, and insurance agents.

Then we gained an hour of sleep and lost all the spunk and funk of the holiday. The result? Sunday. And Sunday was spent catching up on all the work that didn't get done on a Saturday of super-play: writing, laundry, printing, copying, planning, organizing, cleaning, running, walking, and football.

And now it's Monday (insert a Garfield cartoon here). Last night, the sun was down by 5 and the thickness (read sadness) of the months to come without extra hours to be outside has fallen upon us.

If I was bad, I could eat all the leftover candy and get a sugar-high to make it through the week, but I've kept that dial turned off and will share it with teachers on Tuesday during daylong professional development (maybe I will sing "Be Our Guest" as I hand it out, channeling Leo's costume and Pam's dancing).

Here's to the week. Temperatures are promising to be abnormally unseasonable, so if I can get outdoors before 5 p.m., I'll still be able to get my Sauconys to the pavement. But, ugh! It really is Monday again.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Last Night's Costume Winners...My Parents In CNY...Going Together For 50+ Years For Trick and Treaters.

I may sneeze away my day today (as I clean up the mess from last night's shenanigans), but wanted to take a moment to applaud my mom and dad for their clever idea of attending a "go-together" Halloween party as, well, themselves. Of course, they went as 50 years of themselves, 1965-2015. That takes the cake.

I think they should have had crowns on their heads, too.

In Connecticut, the best outfits were Leo's Beast from Beauty and the Beast) and Pam's "I'm a cake! I'm a cake."

The best trick-or-treater was this kid who came to the door as an enormous lawn gnome. It was a great outfit.

So, now, I will take day-light's savings time, get my extra hours of sleep, and begin to remorse the shorter days. It's all good, though, because I will head back to the gym and still find ways to make the best use of daylight

As for the World Series....oif. ouch. oof.

There's more to come.