The 3 B’s


I was having a discussion with some good friends about living better when one friend talked about the 3 B’s. Having the BEST life requires BALANCE. And balance requires setting BOUNDARIES. Now I naturally took that to mean setting boundaries for other people about how you are treated and what another’s expectations of you should be.
This has long been a problem for me. Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t say no to any request. It’s in my nature to be this way, but it costs me in many ways. It can exhaust me, take time away from my family, and even make me resent myself or others. So, when my friend mentioned this, it really hit home.
That idea about setting boundaries came to life for me in an extraordinary and profound way this past weekend. I had a gig with some dear friends that was located some 90 minutes east of Nashville. The set was slated for a 6pm start. Another gig came up that I really wanted to do earlier in the day, and I excepted it because it was going to be easy money playing with someone I love to play with. On Friday,  I said yes to the earlier gig, but come Saturday, I realized that I was never going to make it to the second gig on time, so I called early Saturday morning and cancelled. It didn’t cause any problems for the band, as I was playing percussion.
I spent the day, Saturday, at the high school putting the new wraps on the drums for the high school band. I got a call from my friend at the out of town gig saying that they wanted to push our start time up by 45 minutes. So I rushed through the work I was doing and took off for the gig. There was no doubt about it. I was going to be late.
As I drove, I became more and more anxious. I really started beating myself up, mentally, because I couldn’t get to this gig on time. That’s when my friend’s words really hit home, but not in the way I expected. I realized that the boundaries I needed to set were also with myself.
To just how much am I willing to hold myself responsible? I had turned down desperately needed money to honor this commitment. I had rushed out of the high school, driven well past the speed limit, and fretted over this gig, trying to get here on time. And I was now in a frenzy over being late by 20 minutes. I needed to set a boundary with myself about how much I was going to freak out over things that don’t matter. Once I had this thought, a calm started coming over me. I lit a cigar. I slowed to the speed limit. I said to myself, “I’ll get there when I get there.” I started enjoying the scenery of rural Tennessee, which is quite lovely.
I got to the gig and the band wasn’t ready to start. I was 20 minutes late, and still had 15 minutes before we started. We had a great set. I feel like I played exceptionally well. The crowd and the band were thrilled. All that crazy rushing around and beating myself up was taking place nowhere but in my head. I can be my own worst enemy.
By letting myself off the hook, I was able to enjoy the show, the fellowship of good, good friends, the scenery…the experience. I hope that the lesson I learned that day will stay with me as I strive to be a better person for my friends, my family, my students, and mostly, myself.
The 3 B’s. Living the BEST life by achieving BALANCE through setting BOUNDARIES.


You’re Going to Need a Lot More Water



Five years ago, this wonderful city was flooded like it never had been before. When I saw an arial shot of LP Field looking like a swimming pool, my first thought was that Soundcheck was right across the river. I called many of my musician friends, and my worst fears for them were true. Almost everyone I knew had lost a significant amount of gear. To a man, these amazing people took their losses in stride. “It’s just stuff,” I heard over and over again. I called friends to offer what I had drum-wise and to commiserate. Despite difficult losses, everyone was fine. I have cymbals that I adore. I can’t imagine the pain of losing guitars, amps, drum sets. It was devastating. I’m proud of my friends for realizing that gear never equaled talent. If you want to wipe out my friends’ talent, you’re going to need a lot more water.
Wanting to be of assistance to people, I signed up for Hands on Nashville like, I’m proud to say, thousands of others. My son, Nicholas, the love of my life and the best person I know, asked me if he and a friend of his could come help with me. I thought it was a great chance to teach him about helping your fellow man. He was 10 years old.
We were assigned the job of loading cases of water into an endless supply of vehicles at a high school in East Nashville. When we arrived, we found that there were more than enough people there to handle the job. We all wanted to be more directly helpful. I called my friend, Greg, and asked him what the hardest hit areas were. He directed me to the lowest section of Moss Rose Dr.
We drove until we saw a couple working on their house. We got out of the car and asked them if we could help. They were salvaging what they could; whatever wasn’t completely destroyed. The wife was cleaning and stacking dishes, and the husband was moving furniture. As I walked up the driveway, toward the house, I saw something unusual that really stuck with me and encapsulated the moment. There was a small puddle of water on the ground, about as big around as a basketball. In that puddle was a good sized bluegill and a smallmouth bass. For some reason, that image was very impactful.
We walked into the couple’s house and there was a baby grand piano in the living room that was falling apart. The laminated wood was coming apart. A total loss. I asked the homeowner about it, and he told me that the piano was a family heirloom. I have one of those. I realized that we were meeting these people on one of the worst days of their lives.
It is impossible for me to imagine suffering the kind of loss that this, and so many other families endured at the hands of this flood. The boys and I donned masks and gloves and spent the day helping this couple salvage what they could. This scene was playing out at nearly every house on that section of Moss Rose. It was gut wrenching.
I never remembered the couple’s name. That was never the point. This was the point:
As we were piling into the car to head home, the man of the house stopped me and told me that my son had gone to him to thank him for the opportunity to have been of service to him and his family.
That was the moment that I knew that Nicholas Harrison, that boy who was a little bit Nick Buda, a little bit Nick Blaskovics, and a little bit Nick Capo, was actually one of the best people I would ever know, and that being his father was more of an honor and privilege than a responsibility. I feel that way today, just as I did that day.
I am blessed to have 3 sons. They are they best people I’ve ever known.
Nashville made it through that awful time by pitching in and helping each other. I was proud of my city. I have been to nearly every city in America, and I can tell you that Nashville is as good a place as you will find, and it’s people are wonderful. If you want to wipe out my town, you’re going to need a lot more water.



Literacy is NOT Just the Domain of the English Speaking World


This kid got to this country in January and speaks little to no English. His handwriting is already perfect. He spells every word correctly. He is so smart, good-natured, funny. He does math like an astronaut.
It is so easy to think of Mexico as this poor country where everything is brown and desolate; such a miserable place that everyone there is willing to swim across a river just to get to the U.S. and pick peaches.
This boy is motivated. This boy is EDUCATED. Just because he doesn’t speak English yet, does not make him any less talented than anyone else. At the rate he’s learning, he will be fully conversational in 6 months.
My friend, Mary, and I were talking earlier this year about why educators have trouble taking into account that a student may be literate, and even accomplished, in their native tongue. If they don’t speak, read, and write in English, that doesn’t mean that they are illiterate. I decided that I would no longer treat my students this way. Some of my students came to this country in the 2nd or 3rd grade. I asked them how they felt about having to read books designed for Pre-K or Kindergarten students. They told me that they didn’t like it, and that it made them feel “dumb”. 
This new student of mine lived in Mexico City. I asked him what grade he was in, in Mexico, and he told me that he was a 5th grader. I use a reading program called Reading A-Z. It is very adaptable to many situations. I found a book called “Boats and Ships”. I printed out a copy at a very high reading level in Spanish. He read the book, did all of the worksheets, and took the assessment in Spanish. I also printed him a copy in English, but written at a lower reading level. He read that book, did all of the worksheets, and took the assessment in English. Working to build literacy in both languages allows him to make connections between English and Spanish. 
I want to thank Mary for always being there for me and helping me to think more thoroughly about what I am doing. She’s a game changer!
And, even though he won’t see this, I want to thank this new student of mine for teaching me to reevaluate the prism through which I look at him and his classmates.

Dinner with John

I am very lucky to have a friend like John. John is smart, loyal, morally sound, and possesses as keen a sense of humor as anyone I’ve ever known. He has brought me to my knees and had tears pouring from my eyes more than any human I have ever known. We are both musicians, and have both had very interesting careers, but he has more talent than anyone I’ve ever played with. He plays almost any instrument, but on keyboards his playing is sublime. He is a talented song writer, producer, engineer, mixer…John can do it all. He is one of the few people in my life with whom every phone call ends with an, “I love you.” Mama had taken the boys to Florida on Thursday, and I had a VERY difficult day at work on Friday, the cure for which is cooking something wonderful to eat. So I called John to see if he would like to join me for dinner on Friday night. We were joined by another wonderful musician: my son, Nicholas.

The title of this blog page was supposed to be a play on words. Fedupteacher53 was supposed to be a place where I can write about my experiences as a teacher. If you have read my posts, you can tell that there are aspects to this job that cause me to have a crisis of conscience. Writing about them helps me sort through my feelings about my job, and hopefully sheds a little light on the trials and tribulations of being a public school teacher. But the play on words is supposed to be about food as well. I love to cook. I am developing some skill at it, and there are a few things that I can make pretty well. I wanted this blog space to be a place where I could share some recipes and talk about the experience of cooking.

In that spirit, I offer this little recipe. It tastes amazing and is not difficult to make. Enjoy!

A few pointers before I write the recipe. I like to prepare my kitchen for cooking. All dirty dishes are dealt with and put away or in the dish washer. Any pots, pans, or baking sheets are cleaned and ready for use. Spices are taken out in advance and set on the counter so I won’t forget to add them in the heat of the moment. Knives are sharpened and ready. Steely Dan is put on to begin the session. (I usually start with Countdown to Ecstasy.)

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Kale Salad and Broiled Peaches

kale chicken peaches

Kale Salad

Fresh Kale

Sun-dried tomatoes

Sliced almonds

Dressing: Start by juicing 2 lemons into a glass bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of pear infused white balsamic vinegar. Add 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste with fresh ground pepper.

Remove any thick spines you may find in the kale leaves. They have a bitter taste and a sinewy texture…yuk. Wash the kale leaves and spin dry. (If you don’t have a salad spinner, you should definitely get one.)

Finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes and add to the kale with a handful of almond slices. Pour the freshly whisked dressing over the kale, mix to saturate the salad, and put it in the refrigerator. The salad will not become soggy, but the flavors will blend together, nicely.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

1/2 pound of Boars Head Tavern Ham, thinly sliced

8 oz Gruyere Cheese, grated

1/2 cup All Purpose Flour

1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs

2 eggs lightly beaten.

Salt and Pepper

Melted Butter

Make 2 or 3 shallow slits, length-wise, in each chicken breast. Working one at a time, place each chicken breast in a heavy duty Ziplock type bag and seal with the air pushed out. Working from the thickest part of the breast outwardly toward the edges, gently pound each breast to a uniform thickness of 1/4 inch. Lightly season with salt. Place breast on a plate and place slices of ham on top. Place a small handful of the Gruyere in the center. Fold the sides of the chicken breast toward the center, and roll the breast up like a burrito. You may have to place a metal skewer through the breast to hold it together. Then wrap the breast in cellophane, twisting the ends to make it tight. Repeat for each breast and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. This will help the breast hold form for breading and cooking. This process can be done in advance.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly beat the eggs. Add a dash of pepper to the flour. Coat the chicken breast in the egg wash, and roll it in the flour. Re-coat in egg wash and roll it in the panko, making sure to cover the entire chicken breast in panko. Repeat for each chicken breast. Lightly spray a cooking sheet with Pam and place each chicken breast on the baking sheet. Drizzle each piece with melted butter. This will help the panko brown during cooking, and add a nice flavor. Bake at 350 for approximately 40 minutes. (I always cut my serving in half to be sure that the chicken is cooked through. No pink meat.)

Raspberry Chutney

While the chicken is cooking, I like to make a raspberry chutney to top the cordon bleu.

Take about half a small carton of red raspberries, wash them, and put them in a shallow pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon, a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper, 1/2 a medium sized shallot (minced), and 1/4 Granny Smith Apple, finely chopped. Add 1/2 a cup of water, and cook until the berries fall apart and the chutney thickens.

Place each Chicken Cordon Bleu on the serving plate, top with a spoonful of the raspberry chutney, and slice the piece in half in the center. (Be sure to have removed the skewer, first.) The melted cheese will pour out. It is a thing of beauty.

We ate ours with some roasted, tri-colored potatoes topped with sour cream.

Broiled Peaches

Pre-heat broiler on high

Cut each peach in half by cutting in a circle around the pit and twisting the peach apart like an Oreo cookie. Remove the pit and dig a well where the pit had been using a spoon. Place each peach half, skin side down, on an un-greased cookie sheet. Broil the peaches a few inches from the heating coil for 2-4 minutes until a nice char develops. Keep an eye on this process, because the peaches can burn too much very quickly. Remove from oven. Fill the well of each peach with a tablespoon of Mascarpone cheese and sprinkle with dark brown sugar. Eat. THIS ROCKS!!!!!!!!

     Well, there it is. My first piece about cooking. The meal was very successful. The conversation was wonderful, because the company couldn’t have been better. I hope this was useful to someone out there that loves to cook and to eat well.

Greatness is Always Among Us

alejandroAlejandro González Iñárritu gave the most moving speech after winning his Oscar for Best Director.
He spoke about the hope that Mexico would get the government they deserved and how the Mexican people, living in this country, would get the respect of the people who came here before and built this great “immigrant nation”.
I wonder if he would have scored “Advanced” on a TCAP test when he was 10 years old.
He has created one of the most stunningly visual movies of all time, Birdman.
Is there an amazing film maker sitting in my classroom now? A scientist who will find the perfect alternative fuel source? A doctor who may cure cancer? A roofer who works his body hard to improve the homes that he could never afford, but uses his income to feed and care for his family that he loves very much?

How will that person remember me? Will I be the teacher that read Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 and cried his way through the end of both books, thusly igniting a love of literature that morphed into a life-long love of learning?
Will I be the person who posted his or her “low” reading score on a colorful display in the hallway for all to see?
Some things I have to do for this job really bother me.

The Test

stopYou read the prompt. She listens intently. You ask her the question. She ponders the answer. You can see the effort. She cares deeply and she’s working hard. A few words come out. You press for more.
You see her accessing information. Her forehead starts to wrinkle. You see the stress creeping in. She understands the question. She knows the answer. She sighs, realizing that the words aren’t there.
As the consternation turns to fear, you reassure her with a smile that says, “It’s OK.”
You give her the prescribed wait time. The second hand slows to an excruciating tempo.
The frustration she shows turns to resignation. The words aren’t there. She wants so badly to do well on this, her 15th “important” assessment of the year. She wants to be like the others. She works harder than they do.
You wonder if she will break. Mercifully, you fill in the bubble.
You ask her the next, more difficult question. The process repeats. She processes. She accesses. The words aren’t there. She doesn’t want to appear to be dumb. Each emotion crosses her beautiful face again. It is torturous to watch. You wonder if she will break. The questions get harder with each step. The verbiage has now escalated to where it is difficult for YOU to read. Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a long 20 minutes. You wonder if she will break.
The last bubble filled in, you close the answer book. The assessment is over. She breaks. The tears run down her cheeks; down her triangular face. Your tears stay inside. You pack as much love into a smile as possible. You build her back up. You work slowly but relentlessly. The tears dry up. You get a small smile out of her. You send her back to class.
In the end, your state has spent millions of dollars. You’ve spent countless hours reading the testing procedure training manual and watching the video tutorials. You’ve attended the day long trainings.

Here’s what you know now. Her English is coming along fine. If she keeps working this hard, she will do just fine. Of course, you knew that millions of dollars ago, before you put her through this painful experience.
You watch her walk back to class. You break.
You dry your eyes.
Who’s next?

2014 Highlights


Highlights for me in 2014 include, but are not limited to:

There was a weird gig in Aspen, for which I am truly grateful, with my old friend Edwin.

There were some silly and extremely inappropriate texts and emails sent and received by all of the members of the Eric Hamilton Band, that had me laughing so hard I was doubled over.

Jonny P is ridiculously talented. I can’t believe I get to play with him. His music is uplifting, spiritual, and extremely funky. The band is always filled with musicians with whom I am honored and privileged to play. The production of his recordings is authentic, under the direction of Goffery Moore. Being part of his music is one of those rare opportunities in life that you always want to appreciate. Thanks for having me, Jonny P.


Played a lot of congas this year. There was one night when I may have been the highest paid conguero in the country.


I watched one of Nashville’s best, and my personal favorite drummer, get hoisted up to his drum riser, 50 feet above the stage.


There were funny conversations, with the boys,  about the little old ladies that walk up and down the street carrying a stick. Needless to say, you don’t want no part of that stick!


I worked with some amazing drummers at Hillsboro High. We won a trophy!

I made friends with a volcano of a man who erupts positive energy that is highly contagious. He changes lives, inspires drummers, works with children, and makes Nashville a welcoming place for all who come here to find their musical adventure. He also plays drums for Jason Aldean.


If a special needs student is throwing an angry fit (screaming, hitting himself, throwing chairs, etc.), it may not be anger. He may be very frightened, having been transported to a different dimension where nothing makes sense. If I try to impose my authority on him, saying stern words in an attempt to control the situation, I may look, to him, like a 2 headed monster with blood dripping from my fangs. If I treat him like a frightened child, sooth him, reassure him, show him unconditional love, then I can bring him out of that horrible place and see happiness return to his life. I learned THAT this year.

Some drummers are so respected, revered, idolized, that they are known by one name. Vinnie. Tony. Buddy. Gadd. Dave. Terry. Has there ever been a Nicholas? Well, there may be one coming. He’s living in my house and he’s practicing right now. He may be one of “Those Guys”.


Public education is under attack. This was a realization I had this year. What do you do when you want to destroy a public service and take it over with private corporations…and you have unlimited funds? You rig the game, of course. You attack the work force. You adopt a new set of standards, but give the summative assessment that was written around the old set of standards. Then you use the worthless test results to “grade” the school and its teachers. I don’t know much, but I’m sure that I don’t want “making profits from ruining children’s lives” on my CV if I’m standing at the Pearly Gates.


Kevin Smith released a movie about about a man who kidnaps another man and turns him into a walrus. In the process, he reminded me of the value of chasing whimsey. The movie, Tusk, opened on over 600 screens and did less than a million dollars on its opening weekend. AND IT HAD JOHNNY DEPP IN IT!!! But I liked it.


The Porter Road Butcher shop opened down the street, and by walking in there one day, I discovered locally-raised, grass-fed, dry-aged beef. I had never tasted steak before. Thanks to Alex and the guys for teaching me about eating better and feeling better and having it TASTE better.


It took the guy at Best Buy 5 minutes to talk me out of buying an iPhone. I had been talking about getting one for 2 years. I waited until my Android was obsolete enough to justify the purchase. I came home with an Android phone that I hated. I went back, 2 days later, got my iPhone and have been so happy with it. I vow to be less impressionable in 2015. I KNOW WHAT I WANT!!!

Ben Folds saved a wonderful recording studio known as RCA Studio A. I got to record there, with my band, Crackerboots, on December 1st which was the day it was to be torn down.


My sister has been going to HopePark Church since it was the Bellvue Community Church. By an unusual turn of events, I ended playing drums with that wonderful band. My sister comes in every Sunday, sits near the front, and watches me play. It brings her great joy, which brings me great joy. Lionel Cartwright, the master musician that leads the band, asked me if I knew any alto sax players that could join the horn section. I recommended my son, Nicholas. He stood up there and played with a horn section comprised of grown men…and he hung! What I will never forget is the look on my sister’s face when she finally realized that her nephew was playing with the band. Priceless.


I started a blog this year. This is my second entry. If you have come this far, I appreciate that you care enough about my life to read this. I also promise to write less about me and more about INTERESTING things in the future. Peace.

Making Mistakes


I define a mistake this way: If I had a chance to do it again, would I do it differently? If the answer is yes, than it was a mistake. Not all mistakes require me to beat myself up…some do, but not all. Most mistakes are just excellent learning opportunities. If I make a mistake, I hope to learn from it and move on.

I made a mistake the other day. I was closing out the last day of school. I asked each student to share what it was that they wanted for Christmas. One of my students, let’s call her Betty (and Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al) told us all what she wanted. I didn’t understand her.

At this point it is important to note that I have a certain amount of hearing loss from years of creating loud music. When a student says something to me, it can be difficult for me to understand. Factors like hearing loss and thick accents lead to things having to be repeated. When a students says something and I don’t understand it, I am immediately faced with having to make choices. Do I ask the student to repeat it? Do I pretend to understand and smile and nod? (“Mr. Harrison, you’re an idiot!” – I smile and nod.) Is the misunderstood comment important? Is it part of an assessment? I have to decide how to handle each incident of misunderstanding in a constantly moving, changing environment where I am often the center of attention of 24 children. In this case, I chose to ask Betty to repeat herself, because I wanted her to know that I cared deeply about what she has to say.

Betty is coming out of a period in language acquisition where she has been quiet. She is getting the language skills now to express herself in speaking and writing. While I was checking her science portfolio on cell structure, I made a startling and wonderful discovery. When Betty takes notes in class, it looks like a college kid did it. She writes down everything she sees on the board. She spells every word correctly. Her handwriting is perfect. Turns out, Betty is a worker. She has deep purpose. So, when I didn’t understand what she had said, it was important to me that I show her that it was important to me.

So Betty repeated what she had said before. I didn’t understand. Now, in the do-over situation, I would have smiled and nodded. (“Mr. Harrison, for Christmas, I want your teeth to all fall out.” -I smile and nod.) But I didn’t. I asked the class if anyone had understood what she was saying. In my zeal to show her how committed I am to understanding her, I had put her in a situation where she was embarrassed. Do you see how easy it is to make a mistake in my business?

Betty started crying. This is not what I had planned for the final meeting circle of the semester. I took Betty to my desk and asked her if she was crying because she was embarrassed that she was having trouble being understood. She indicated that that was indeed the case. I comforted her, and another student came to reassure her that most of the kids in the class have been in that situation, and that it would pass. Many of my students are English Language Learners. That is defined by the fact that there is a different native language being spoken in the home. Many of these students were born right here in Nashville. Many of their parents don’t speak English…at least not well. These EL’s, as we call them, have certain traits in common. Most of them are hard working, family centered, and bilingual. They often must act as an interpreter for their parents. They are a bridge between their parents’ country of origin and this new country of opportunity.

Well, the other student and I got Betty settled and the half day of school ended. I spent a little time beating myself up, which was completely unnecessary, but inevitable. I needed to run back to my house to get something before our Christmas luncheon started at the school. My car radio, tuned to NPR, was telling me a story about El Salvador, Betty’s country of origin. It wasn’t a pretty tale.

The reporter was speaking from the morgue. There had been 52 murders in 72 hours. We say “Appalling! Outrageous!” They say “Tuesday.” The details were horrifying. “If they find a head,” the report said, “that’s an El Salvadoran gang. If they find a dismembered body, that’s an El Salvadoran narco-trafficking gang, and if they find a body that was dismembered while the person was still alive, that’s a Mexican narco-trafficking gang.” Then came the stat that blew me away. “If you live in New York City,” the reporter stated, “you have a 1 in 25,000 chance of being murdered. If you live in El Salvador, you have a 1 in 14 chance of being murdered.”

1 in 14. That’s the reality that the people of El Salvador and Guatemala face every day. That’s the reality that weighs on the mind of every parent that put their child in harm’s way, into the care of a “coyote” just to get their child to the United States. Making it to the US used to represent increased opportunity. Now, for these children, it represents survival itself.

I don’t know much. I know that Betty is without parents here in the States. I don’t know why. I will probably never know why. But I know this: WE can all do better. Shame on Fox News. Shame on those people that lined up to scream “Go home!” to the children packed onto a bus. Shame on them for hating with such zeal that they ended up yelling at a bus filled with American students on their way to school. Shame on anyone who supports a school evaluation that requires Betty, and the many like her, to take a test designed for middle class white children to pass, and label her a failure when she does not. Shame on anyone who would use that “failure” as an excuse to hand over an institution (neighborhood school) to a private corporation to correct the failure. And make no mistake…When these private corporations fail at educating our children (and they will, I promise), they will move many of these children into our privatized prison system. How long will it take these private institutions to realize that they should get into the prison business? Shame on all of them.

Betty lives in my heart. She enters my mind so often each day, that I find her directing my efforts, informing my decisions, fueling my passion for teaching, and counting my blessings. Her uncle is a saint! She has never missed a day of school. She has never been late. She has never given me anything less than 100%. How can I EVER give HER less than 100%? She is one of 24 students in my class. They come to me with problems at home that I can’t imagine. But they also come to me with a sense of wonder, a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to better themselves.

I learn more from my students than they ever learn from me.

Stephen Colbert once described the US as a country of immigrants that hate the new immigrants. I say, “If your last name isn’t Running Bear, I don’t want to hear anymore about “your country”.