Mindful thoughts

Dreams are nature’s way of saying take a break. Usually it is not a break within the framework of your life, but into a world where anything can happen. Occasionally it intensifies what is going on in your life and takes you down deep troughs of frustration or up high mountains of creativity. I like to think of dreams as a place to go where I can tether myself to the creative side of me and go out and explore.

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I’ve heard that the best medicine is a smile. When you’re feeling down, when you are hurting, when you just can’t do anything right. Just smile. Well, that’s what they say and even sing about. Remember the song written by Charlie Chaplin: Smile / Tho’ your heart is aching / Smile / Even tho’ it’s breaking / When there are clouds in the sky / You’ll get by /If you just smile.

I know from practice, that when someone gives me a smile, it boosts my day. And there are times when I smile and can visibly see a positive reaction from other people. As a storyteller and teacher, I especially see it with kids.

Smiling and joking can ease the tension in difficult circumstances. It can be a great coping mechanism. However, there are times when it can also be inappropriate and hurtful.

Though my method of releasing tension is through humor, it’s not something you want to do at a funeral, or when someone else is feeling hurt.

Therein lies the dilemma. How do I cope with tragedy to ease my reaction for myself, while at the same time not offend the person who has experienced the tragedy? I have at times found myself swallowing the pain that I need to express, or release, in order to be empathic to others. Without the outlet to release my own sorrow or anxiety it makes it harder to cope.

You also have to be aware of the personalities you are interacting with. Where one person can get an emotional release from humor and smiles, there are others that can’t. It makes it harder if you don’t know the person and you don’t know how to react. Be yourself or control yourself?

On whole, I think that smiling, if genuine, is the best decision to make. Leave the words out, if you feel it is the right way to go. Think positive thoughts, be serious but light and just smile. Hugs and pats on the back, don’t hurt either.

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A Comedy of Errors

It was my 3rd year of teaching. I was teaching 6th grade. I was in the final stages of my Master’s project, which was to teach my social studies curriculum using the theme, “the History of Communication.” Way back in those days we weren’t required to teach a specific curriculum, we only had the recommended guidelines from the State.

My Master’s program supervisor was coming to observe my class at the midpoint of my project to see how well it was progressing.

The day he came, my class, it was completing the culminating research done on different components of communication throughout the ages. The students were to give oral presentations on the topics that they chose. Continue reading

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Dialogue – a talk with me

Writing and Teaching: A talk with myself

As I was cleaning up one of my bookshelves at home, I uncovered an old handwritten writer’s notebook I had kept. In 1979, I participated in the Bay Area Writing Project in my school district. A number of teachers, from throughout the district, met over the summer for three weeks to learn about the writing process. In doing so, we had to do a lot of writing. One of the activities we did was to explore the use of dialogue. We were to create 2 characters (voices) and then free write a dialogue between them. I created two characters both based on myself. HDH and Self. Psychoanalysts might get a good look into my mind by reading such pieces. As I continued keeping journals throughout my teaching career, I would periodically fall back to this technique as part of my writing. It saved me a lot of money on mental health expenses.


Here was my first attempt at dialogue in 1979:

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First Days

As a teacher, I have a plethora of first days of school. Each one leaves an imprint that sets up the tone for a year of learning. As a reflective practitioner, I kept journals of every year that I taught. The night before each first day is spent writing about goals, fears, and expectations for the year. Not knowing what classes I was going to have always added to the fears of what I might accomplish. My goals and expectations were always high. Then the year would begin.

The first day was always a day of introductions, learning names and setting up our environment. There are a number of years in which the first day also set up the challenges I would have to face during the year.

My first day teaching was as a permanent substitute 6th-grade teacher in a school district. I started the day waking up to the radio program “Imus in the Morning”, where he jokingly announcing the time one hour ahead of the real time. Luckily I had a manual, cuckoo clock that showed the real time, so my panic lasted only a few minutes. In my first class, I announced how we could have a tough year or a great year and do great things. As I said this, I accidentally walked into a garbage can, knocking it over. “Like kicking over garbage cans,” I said, without skipping a beat. Continue reading

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As a writing assignment from a writing workshop I am taking, I had to choose from a list of nonsense words, taken from the book, The Nonsense Show by Eric Carle and write something. Here’s what I wrote:


When my mind wanders it is amazing the nonsense that it comes up with. It also helps to have a writing assignment dedicated to nonsense. When I was teaching I was known for bringing up topics that had nothing to do with the conversation that was taking place. One teacher complained that I was giving her whiplash every time I did that. So it became a process in discussions involving me, that I would preempt these kinds of reactions, by just announcing the word “whiplash”, meaning what I’m about to say has nothing to do with the conversation at hand.


It was a dark and stormy night, there was not a cloud in the sky. I was sitting on my porch taking a walk when all of a sudden I saw a very loud noise. It was coming from behind me, so I moved forward to get a closer look. There were 4 square shapes each rolling smoothly across the icy ground toward me, getting farther and farther away. Closing my eyes I could clearly see that these beings, for that was what they must have been, could tell that I was shaking with fear, as calm as a tranquil sea. Continue reading

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Spiral of Time


Spiral of Time

Time goes on. It’s a spiral, ever focusing on an endpoint that you cannot see. The further you get away from the start, the greater the past seems, ever-widening with history and the story of your life. The end point keeps going and going, getting smaller and smaller in the distance, never seeming to end. Never seeming to get closer, though you know it is. Time goes on.

I am both a historian and a futurist. My past and the pasts of others fill me with mistakes made, knowledge learned, and wisdom gained. It provides me with the fuel necessary to proceed. I build with that information and construct my life so as to represent to the world who I am.

My future, though yet unknown, clearly has a path that is followable. It leads me to the goals I have made, to the expectations that I have come to have based on the needs of my mind. For it is the mind that dreams, and the mind that creates, and the mind that helps design those tools and devices that I will use to follow that path.

The future also holds all those detours upon the path that I tread. Those off-shoots that will build upon the spiral behind me of my history, yet still lead me forward. 

Time goes on, yet time stands still as the story that is created becomes the one, the picture, the play, the chapter of time.

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It must be magic.

Oh, how education has changed. In my youthful days of teaching, there were so many things that we were able to do. We had projects that we involved the kids in that enhanced our curriculum. Some of them took a long time to accomplish, especially since we had no technology to rapidly give us information or print out our writing and graphics. We had to be neat with our work that was all done by hand. Even as more technology came out, learning how to type and work with it took time. But that was okay because we had it. Nowadays, that is less possible, because of all of the mandated programs and linear timelines that you have to follow; we are trying too hard to become the same. Creativity is not a mandated curriculum.

Control of your class and have the time to learn more about each of the students and them for each other is much more difficult.

One of the things I learned back then, is that more we understood each other, the more we were able to accept and cooperate with each other. There was a program that my teammate and I used called, Magic Circle.
This tool accomplished all of the above. Each day we sat in a circle. As the leader in the beginning of the year, I would announce the topic to share. There were themes that these topics came in, such as Awareness,  Social Interaction, and Mastery. For example, the topic for today is, “A time when I learned something new.” Now anyone that wanted to share could share. There was no forcing of students to say anything. Following all of the sharing, we would review what everyone one said. “Mr. Heilbrun, you said that you learned how to skate when your neighbor invited you to their rink”.  The focus in review was that you had to speak directly to the person you were reviewing. As soon as you started saying, “She said…” you would be stopped and reminded to talk to the person not about them.

As the year progressed, students were able to take part in the leadership role. I would give them the topic and they would run the Circle. Following the review, I would retake control as the students were allowed to tell the leader what they did well as the leader. 

This had nothing to do with our curriculum. It took about 15 minutes to 30 minutes a day. I only know how effective it was, when I stopped doing it, due to time restraints or when there was too much I had to accomplish before the end of the year. The atmosphere in the class became more tense, with less listening to each other, more conflicts, and the volume of noise increased.

My favorite topic was late in the year when the topic was, “Something about you that I like”. Kids bombarded each other with positive feedback. I made sure that everyone was shared about. And with this topic, everyone had to review not what was said to someone, but what was shared about themselves.

One of my most memorable Magic Circle events had to do with a child with Down’s Syndrome that I had in my class. You can read about it in a previous blog entry: http://www.hdhstory.net/Storyblog/?p=271

I only wish, in these days of progressive education, where the goal seems to be teaching kids how to survive in a frenetic world, that we took the time to teach kids how to listen well to each other, be creative and explore as they learn about the world and themselves. I think education would be a lot more fun.

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Grow Up!

Grow up!

My name was Uncle Itch. I believe that it came about from the fact that my nieces and nephews at a very young age preferred to call me that rather than Uncle H. The name stuck with me and even though they have grown up and now call me Uncle Harvey, I still refer to myself as Uncle Itch to them. As they grew up from infancy to teenage, I was in my 20’s and early 30’s. As far as they were concerned I hadn’t grown up. Whenever I visited them, I was silly. I used strange voices, which I still use in my storytelling, tripped, accidentally on purpose, on numerous objects to make them laugh. I always made up silly stories and sang songs with my guitar. They enjoyed having me around. I was just another kid in the family.

Then I grew up. I met my wife. I had a son. Now I had a lot more responsibilities than I had before. I wasn’t the lone person with no one to look after that I was when I was single.  For me, I didn’t notice the change. I still felt like the fun, goofy kind of person that I was. It certainly didn’t change the way I acted in my teaching life, personality-wise. However, when I went and visited my sister’s family, they could see a difference. I still interacted with everyone, but I wasn’t as crazy. As I said, I became Uncle Harvey.

This is not to say that I’m sad about growing up or at least being perceived as growing up, but it is different. My nieces now are married and have kids of their own. And like me, they have changed a bit too. However their kids can see in me pieces of the person I was, a little more sedate, but still one full of stories and games. Since their kids refer to me the way their parents do, I haven’t had any success in getting them to call me Grunkle Itch.

Inside of me, I still am Uncle Itch. No one said that being in your 60’s means that you must be grown up. In fact, my rule is be who you want to be. If that means having fun and being a little crazy, then so be it.

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A to Z Blog Challenge Reflection 2017


A to Z Blog Challenge – Reflection (What if…?)

This is my second year doing the A to Z Blog Challenge. I will admit that this year was harder than last year.

Last year’s theme I chose was Life’s Choices/Life’s Changes. Though coming up an idea for each letter was hard, the writing, once the idea was thought up, was easy. Every piece of writing was from my head and experience. I discovered mid-way through the alphabet, after reading blog entries from other writers, that adding pictures and cartoons to my writing, enhanced the pieces.

This year, however, it took a while to come up with the theme, What if…? It certainly allowed me more freedom in finding things to write about, however, it also required more research to be done for each piece. Once I came up with the theme, I hoped to get a jump on some of that research so I wouldn’t be pressured when it came time to writing and deadlines. That didn’t work out. I do much better when I research as I’m writing.

Now I needed ideas for each letter. I brainstormed with my family, friends and a lot with the elementary classes that I substitute teach in. When it was time to start writing, here was my list of ideas: Continue reading

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