Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Road Trip

Meg finishes summer school today, and then we're off on our annual summer odyssey. Every summer we leave the heat of the desert and head north to visit family and friends in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. We used to leave town the day school let out, usually around May 20, and return a day or two before school started up again, usually the middle of August. With Meg doing summer school the last couple years, our departure has been pushed back, but we still have a ton of time to travel as a family.

The girls are jumping out of their skin excited. This year is extra special for them because they get to hang out with their cousins in Michigan. Meg's family has a place on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We're right on the water; we fall asleep to the waves lapping at the stone shore. The wall the girls are sitting on in the picture is right out the front door. This pose is a bit of a tradition, the girls looking at the lighthouse. We usually spend about 2 weeks there, this year it'll be about three.

After Michigan we'll head down to Madison, stay with friends 4 or 5 days. My favorite part of our Madison time is the pilgrimage down to the Union. We park up toward the capital and shop our way down State Street. I always get some Badger gear for myself and the girls. We wind up at the Union, the kids get ice cream and the adults drink a beer or two on the terrace. We have another photo tradition there, the girls in the big terrace chair. Madison is an important place in my life, I love sharing it with the girls every summer.

Last stop this year will be Minnesota. We'll stay with Meg's sister and visit as many friends as possible. Meg grew up there, and I lived there for 8 years, so we have a lot of people to see. The girls love spending time with their Aunty, she always makes our visit special for them. Meg's parents have a lake place about an hour west of Minneapolis, but I'm not sure if we'll get out there this year. It seems like we've spent less time at the lake over the years, but when the girls were younger, we spent a lot of time out there. The place is for sale now, and even though it's a tough market these days, it will eventually sell. I'm grateful for all the great times we've had out at the lake over the years.

When you're visiting with family and friends, it's hard to find time for writing. The time I do fit in needs to be for the book. I'm at 44K, and the plot is starting to pick up. As Grady Tripp said in The Wonder Boys, I'm at a critical juncture. While we're on the road, my goal for the blog is to post pictures of our adventures, and maybe a written post here and there. Lots to do yet this morning, time to get cracking.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Say Hello To Our Little Friend

We had a little excitement in the Riley house yesterday. We live on an acre of desert, and we see lizards all the time. For the record, the Rileys love lizards. We catch babies in the house all the time, no big deal. This guy was no baby, he was probably a good 8 inches long. When I came across him in my room, right next to my bed, I'm not sure who was more freaked out, me or the lizard. After a brief stand off, our uninvited guest bolted under the bed, and the hunt was on. Nothing like a good lizard hunt to bring a family together. The girls were completely unfazed, they were right in there trying to help, laughing the whole time. It probably took us a good half hour, but we finally caught the intruder. I put him in a garbage can to take this picture. I have a feeling this will go down in family lore. One of those stories that begins, remember the time?

Earlier in the day the girls and I saw Toy Story 3. Great movie. I think the Toy Story movies are all about growing up, and this third installment beautifully deals with the end of childhood. Scout said an interesting thing in the car on our way to Peter Piper. She said the ending was sad, but it's probably sadder for adults because they know what it feels like to miss being a kid. It's pretty awesome to see a movie with your kids that can generate that kind of discussion.

We're having friends over this afternoon, so the girls and I decided to have our last Pizza Friday on Thursday. Peter Piper is a bit of a nightmare, but I've really enjoyed Pizza Fridays with the girls this summer. Before we ate, Scout asked if she could make a toast. We toasted to Pizza Fridays, and spending time together this summer, just Dad and the girls. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Perfect Weekend

The last three days have been such a blast, I'm feeling a little Lou Gehrig tonight.

Friday morning we watched the US/Slovenia match. The girls get a kick out of all my screaming and yelling during sporting events, and I have to admit, I was pretty into the game. I nearly lost my mind when the last goal was disallowed, but that second half was flat-out fun to watch. After the game the girls played while I did a little work on the book, and while I didn't write a lot, what I did write felt good, it felt true. I love that feeling. The girls earned a bunch of free pizza coupons at school this year, and we've been using them on what we creatively named Pizza Fridays. The coupons are for a place called Peter Piper Pizza, and while I'm not crazy about the place, the girls always have a good time, so why not. We play some games when we're done eating, and then the girls cash in their tickets for a bunch of crap they'll soon lose or forget about. I do love watching their faces as they try to decide what to get with their tickets, very serious business for them, kinda priceless. After lunch we stopped at Target to pick up some cards for Father's Day. The girls enjoy picking out their own cards, and they really put a lot of thought into their choices. This year's theme was dogs; the girls were quite happy with their selections. When we got home we swam for a good two hours. I spent a majority of the time judging a "diving" contest. I'll give the girls this, the number of dives they're able to come up with is staggering. Sure, we had best cannonball, smallest splash, but most of the dives were a little more creative: best dog dive, best cat dive, best insert-name-of-animal dive, best trumpet dive, best violin dive, best insert-the-name-of-instrument dive, you get the drift. After swimming we ate dinner, and then we watched Labyrinth. The kids enjoyed it, especially David Bowie, even though they refuse to believe he's the same guy who sings Changes and Golden Years, songs they both love. I remember thinking the special effects were so cool as a kid, but I was surprised by how dated they looked. Meg worked a long day, so she was pretty much in bed with the girls. I decided to usher in year 41 by watching Dream A Little Dream. I admit it, I was feeling a little nostalgic, and nothing like a good Corey and Corey flick to bring back old memories, well, for me at least.

I woke up Saturday to birthday hugs and kisses from my ladies. Meg and the girls gave me a beautiful new leather bag for school, very exciting. Unfortunately, Meg had to go to a seminar, so it was me and the girls most of the day. We met up with my sister for lunch, and then went by to check out her new place. There was another diving contest when we got home, and then we watched another classic kid flick from the old man's time, The Neverending Story. The special effects in this one were so bad, I'm ashamed to have been impressed by them as a kid. We had Mediterranean for dinner, and really, the rest of the night was pretty mellow. Before bed I checked Facebook, and I was overwhelmed by all the birthday greetings. Facebook has its faults, but that was pretty cool. No big party, no drunken debauchery, just hanging out with the family. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Pretty sweet to follow up my birthday with Father's Day. The girls gave me a new wallet, and Meg gave me Dave Eggers's book, Zeitoun. We lounged around the house like any other Sunday morning; it was good to have Meg with us. Meg had to get a few last things at Borders, and then we met up with my parents and sister for lunch at In-N-Out Burger. This is the Riley idea of a fine dining experience. We went to my parent's place for desert, and spent a nice afternoon just hanging out, my dad and I keeping tabs on the U.S. Open. It was great to see my dad enjoying himself. A couple weeks ago the guy was laid up in a hospital bed, so I know today was special for him. It's been a rocky road for my dad after his kidney transplant, and it means a lot to share Father's Day with him.

It's funny, this weekend probably sounds pretty uneventful, boring even. I think it was perfect.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Karate Kid

I was in limbo during the summer of 1984. My mom had taken a job in Green Bay, and as soon as our house in Appleton sold, we would be moving. It was only 30 miles, but at the time, it felt like we were moving to another continent.

There wasn't a lot of fanfare when The Karate Kid came out that June. I can still vividly remember the first time I heard about it. I was playing Dig Dug at Open Pantry. The kids next to me were playing Joust, and they were talking about this great movie they'd seen, The Karate Kid.

I'm not going to lie, I was obsessed with The Karate Kid that summer and fall. I'm not even sure how many times I saw it in the theater, but it was a lot. It got to the point where my friends started greeting me by asking when I was going to see it again. The Karate Kid wasn't just a movie for me, it was like a sign of things to come. I had no doubt in my mind that a bunch of thugs would routinely attack me upon my arrival in Green Bay. I wasn't very familiar with the demographics of Green Bay, but I was sure there had to be at least one old Japanese guy who could train me in martial arts. Thankfully, I fared a lot better than Daniel LaRusso when we finally moved. I know it sounds ridiculous, but The Karate Kid helped me make the transition, and for that, it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Last summer some friends gave me a box set of The Karate Kid movies for my 40th birthday. I've watched all the movies with the girls, well, the first three anyway, sorry Hilary Swank, and I'm proud to say they love The Karate Kid as much as Dad. Not much makes me happier than watching the girls do the crane. Sharing The Karate Kid with the girls is one of those things that makes being a Dad special.

We went to see the new Karate Kid on Sunday, with the same friends who gave me the box set actually, and I have to admit, it's good. A bit long, but definitely worth seeing. Jackie Chan is excellent, and surprisingly, Jaden Smith didn't irritate me. I still think he's too young for the part, but he did a nice job. The girls enjoyed it too, but this morning at breakfast they told me they like the original better. I had to smile, my thoughts exactly.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thank You, Soccer

We've got World Cup fever at the Riley house. We watched South Africa play Mexico on Friday. We were cheering for Bafana Bafana in support of our old friend Mosuwenyana Mokoena. I know how proud he is to have his country hosting the World Cup, and we shared a lot of Mosuwenyana stories during the game.

On Saturday we watched the US tie England. Sorry about that one England. We didn't watch any games today, but I think we'll watch a lot this week. The girls aren't normally interested in watching sports with dear old Dad, so if they're willing to watch, I'm definitely in. Of course, "watching" is a relative term here. Scout is more interested in her book, and Quinn spends a lot of time with her dolls, but they're both IN THE ROOM, and that's progress. I'm hoping soccer will be a gateway sport, and before you know it, I'll have a couple of sports junkies on my hands.

My favorite part of the World Cup so far is the noise. I love those damn vuvuzelas. Who cares if the French players can't hear themselves on the field, they're brilliant.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Life Lessons

The girls competed in the Grand Canyon State Feis this past weekend in Phoenix. The Grand Canyon feis is sponsored by their dance school, Tir Conail, so the girls were very excited. Here they are with their excited little selves.

For the uninitiated, a feis (pronounced fesh) is an Irish step dancing competition. I would try to explain how one of these things works, but quite frankly, I think it might be easier to tie up the loose ends of Lost. All I know for sure is that the girls compete in a bunch of dances, and if they do well, they can win shiny medals. If the shiny medal is a first, or sometimes even a second, they move up to the next level of competition, and that's a good thing.

Scout started out strong in the morning, with two 1sts and two 2nds. I'm always happy when the girls place, but this was big. Scout was shut out at the last feis, and she took it pretty hard. The judges said she wasn't crossing her feet enough, so she worked on that in practice. I think this experience taught her a valuable lesson. When things don't go your way, you can pout, give up, or you can go back to work and try to get better. As parents, we preach this all the time, but this is concrete proof, and now Scout has something to draw on when things don't go as she hopes. Which, of course, happened a lot sooner than any of us expected.

Quinn danced in the afternoon, and she was wonderful. At the last feis, Quinn wasn't her usual energetic self; she just kind of shuffled her way through. We talked a lot about picking up her energy level, and this time around she was bouncing all over the place, big ol' smile on her face. She moved up to Novice in one of her dances, and placed in 4 others. Quinn has a good time no matter what happens with the judges, but again, it was good to have concrete results.

Scout had to wait all afternoon for her last dance, it was a very long day for her. It's the only dance she has left in Beginner II, and she's been stuck there for a while. She needs to place 1st or 2nd to move on to Novice, and it didn't happen. As a parent, I felt powerless. I want to be able to tell her what she can do to get over the hump, but the truth is, all I can tell her is to keep working, and sometimes that sounds hollow even to me. I know it stings when you fall short of a goal, and I was proud of how Scout handled her disappointment. It wasn't long before she was talking about moving up at the next feis in August.

The girls love Irish dancing, and they love competing. What I love is watching the girls improve from feis to feis, as dancers, and as people.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gets Me Every Time

We're about a week into summer vacation here at the Riley house. Meg does summer school, so for the month of June, it's just me and the girls. We're having a blast, being lazy, going with the flow. It's nice to get off the conveyor belt of life for a while.

One of my favorite things about summer is the reading program sponsored by the public library. The girls get a little chart, they color in a shape for every 15 minutes they read: sea horses, seashells, you get the drift. Every 6 hours they get some sort of prize; I think the first one is a temporary tattoo. The girls are obsessed with filling in their charts, so the first week or two of summer vacation there's a lot of reading going on in the Riley house. I don't think they even care about the prizes, they just like filling in that chart, must be the sense of accomplishment. Intrinsic reward over extrinsic reward, does a parent proud.

In a departure, Scout is using a timer this year. She resets it every 15 minutes, it's pretty damn cute. Scout is a freakish reader, incredibly fast and way above grade level. She reads better than most of the 8th graders I taught this year. Quinn is coming along at a more normal pace, and I love listening to her read, helping her sound out tough words. It's really starting to click for her; I can hear the confidence growing in her voice with every chapter. Quinn has a bunch of books checked out from the library, but I doubt she'll ever get to them, we're reading The Magic Treehouse series. Quinny reads aloud to Meg and I, and we just ballpark 2 chapters=15 minutes.

Meg and I are both avid readers, so I'm not surprised the girls love to read. The thing is, I'm surprised every time I see Scout in one of her many reading spots around the house, completely lost in her own little world. I'm surprised every time I listen to Quinn sound out a polysyllabic word or use the perfect inflection with dialogue. I'm surprised how happy it makes me.