Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lambeau Leap

This is going to be a long week. For the third time in my life, the Green Bay Packers are playing in the Super Bowl. Sunday can't get here soon enough. To help calm my nerves, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite memories of the Green Bay Packers this week, the most unique franchise in professional sports.

Even the casual football fan may be familiar with players jumping into the stands to celebrate a big play with the fans. Packers fans know this as the Lambeau Leap, and it has been imitated by players on any number of teams across the NFL. I can't knock guys for doing it, but if it's not done in Green Bay, it just doesn't measure up.

One of the all-time fan favorites in Green Bay Packers history is LeRoy Butler. He was a great player to be sure, but diehard GBP fans will always remember him as the originator of the iconic Lambeau Leap. Here he is doing the very first Lambeau Leap on a frigid day in 1993. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Kids These Days

I just realized this is my 100th post. That's a lot of writing, and I have to admit, it feels good to know I've put myself out there that much. I really appreciate everyone who reads what I'm writing, and especially those who are kind enough to leave comments. I probably spend too much time working on blog posts, but what can I say, it's fun.

I haven't written about teaching in a while, but this week has been especially gratifying at school. I know a lot of adults weep for the future, but rest assured, there are a lot of great kids out there.

My school is hosting a group of South Korean students for a month. On their first day, I thought our kids were going to lose their minds. It was like the second coming of the Beatles. Those poor Korean kids were probably terrified, but it was pretty inspiring to see how excited our students were to welcome them to our school. For the last two weeks I have watched our kids ignore the language barrier, forging relationships with the Korean kids. I'm really proud of the way our kids have embraced this situation.

Another cool thing is happening in one of my advanced classes. Every Tuesday and Thursday we start class with a Quickwrite. This is where I give the kids a topic and they write for five minutes, whatever comes to mind. It's OK to go off topic, the goal is to keep writing for the whole five minutes. Every third or fourth topic is what I call a freewrite. This just means the kids can write about anything. One of the guys in my third period started doing his freewrites about the other people in class, saying something nice about each person in the room, including myself. He always volunteers to read what he's written, and it's always funny and creative.

We did a freewrite yesterday, and it's tradition now for this kid to read first on freewrite days. The smiles appeared like dominos as he said something kind about each person in the room. This was already enough to make my day, but then things got really cool. The next kid to read had written something funny and kind about each kid in class too, ending with the kid who originated the idea. Another kid then suggested everyone should write nice things about each person in class for our next freewrite, and the room literally erupted with enthusiastic agreement. There was even talk of just making that the rule for freewrites, writing nice things about each person in class, including Mr. Riley. All I could think was, man, kids these days.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The King's Speech vs. The President's Speech

Early yesterday morning the Oscar nominations came out. Meg and I try to see all the movies nominated for best picture, and so far we've seen six of the ten. We still have to see Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter, and The King's Speech. We should be able to knock these four out before Oscar night no problem. 

I'm on record as saying Inception was my #1 film of 2010, but Christopher Nolan wasn't nominated for best director, so I'd say it has little chance of winning the Oscar. Looks like it's a two way race between the social network and The King's Speech. There's a lot of buzz about The King's Speech right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if it pulled the upset. After Meg and I have seen all the movies, I'll do a post on my Oscar picks.

In a different kind of theater, we also had the State of the Union last night. I thought Obama gave a good speech. I especially liked his theme of winning the future. It wasn't your typical SOTU address, but as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. Our politicians have been getting carried away with the standing ovations in recent years, so I was glad to see them dial it in a bit last night.

I loved the whole date night thing. I'm sure they'll go back to the old seating chart next year, but I was actually proud to see our politicians come together for a change to do the right thing. The most poignant moment of the whole night was seeing that empty seat in the Arizona delegation. Here's to seeing Gabrielle Giffords where she belongs at the next State of the Union.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Dad Was Smiling Down

My dad loved the Green Bay Packers. He had to be smiling down yesterday. The Packers beat their archrival, the Chicago Bears, to reach the Super Bowl. It doesn't get much better than that. My brother and I got to watch the game together, and my dad's spirit was definitely there with us. The way the game unfolded would have been particularly satisfying for my dad.

My dad was a year round fan. One of the biggest weekends of the year for my dad was draft weekend. The last few years we watched the draft together, hours of talking about football and life. Those draft days are really great memories. Two years ago my dad predicted the Packers would draft a nose tackle from Boston College named BJ Raji. I'd never heard of the kid, but sure enough, the Packers drafted this guy. My dad was adamant Raji was going to be a great player for the Packers. My brother and I bought him a Raji jersey for Christmas. I was wearing the jersey yesterday in my dad's honor. I know it's corny to think my dad's spirit had anything to do with what happened yesterday, but I'm going to think it anyway.

I'm not a guy who cries about sports, but big ol' BJ Raji brought tears to my eyes yesterday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blog Love

Thanks to PM Taylor for sending some blog love my way, the Life is Good award. PM's blog, This, That and The Other One, is one of my favorites, so be sure to check her out and become a follower. It is now my duty to answer some questions and pass the award on to another deserving blogger.

I'm going to pass the award on to one of my oldest blogging buddies, David Macauley at Brits in the USA. David's a great writer, and I've enjoyed watching his blog catch fire lately. Give him a look and join his rapidly expanding blog posse.

Q1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this? If you aren't anonymous, do you wish you started out anonymously so that you could be anonymous now?

When I started the blog about a year ago, it never crossed my mind to blog anonymously. Can't say I've changed my mind.

Q2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side. 

You have to be stubborn to teach 8th grade English. We do grammar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and let me tell ya, there's a lot of whining every time I say, "get out your skinny green workbook." The whining only strenthens my resolve.

Q3. What do you really see when you look at yourself in the mirror?

I see gray hair and wrinkles taking over. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I see a regular guy trying to do his best in this life.

Q4. What is your favorite summer cold drink? 

Leinengugels Summer Shandy-brilliant.

Q5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do? 

When I make time for myself I pretty much do one of three things: read, write, or watch movies . There are stretches where I manage to squeeze in some exercise, but not enough lately.

Q6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in your life? 

There are lots of things I still want to accomplish. The first thing on my list is finishing my book. The plan is to be done by summer, and then I can work on getting published. I'd like to go the traditional route, but self-publishing is looking more and more attractive.

Q7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching? 

I assume we're talking high school here? I was not an overachiever, and I only ditched a couple times in high school. I wouldn't say I was shy, but I wasn't the class clown either. I liked goofing around like any normal kid, but I generally liked and respected my teachers, so I never got too out of hand.

Q8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see?

The last time the Packers were in the NFC Championship, my dad and I watched the game at my house. It was just the two of us. We talked about everything as we watched, it wasn't just football. The Packers lost, but I loved spending that time with my dad. With the Packers about to play in the NFC Championship again this weekend, that memory is very strong right now.

Q9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog, or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

I don't have a problem sharing my true self, although I do try to tone down the swearing. 

Q10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

This one is a no brainer. I'm not a big fan of talking on the phone, so it would have to be reading. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Weekend

This was quite the weekend.

The Packers absolutely destroyed the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night. When Tramon Williams returned that interception to end the first half, I nearly lost my mind. I like to think my dad was looking down, laughing at my crazy ass. We're having my dad's memorial service on Saturday, so my brother and I will get to watch the NFC Championship together. Dad will be with us in spirit, and how great would it be if the Packers beat the Bears to go to the Super Bowl?

Yesterday we went up to Phoenix for a feis (that's an Irish dancing competition for the uninitiated). The whole Irish dancing thing is a bit cultish, but I do love watching my girls. They are so poised and graceful. Every time they dance I nearly burst with pride. A really cool thing happened this time around. Scout fell during one of her dances. She popped right back up, and without missing a beat, kept right on going. She had to stay on stage for two more dances, and I was worried she might be too rattled to do her best. She kept her composure and danced them both beautifully. I was incredibly impressed, but hey, I'm the Dad. Apparently the judge saw what I saw. Despite the fall, Scout won that first dance, and she took first and second in the other two. Amazing. Like any good parents, Meg and I preach to the girls that no matter what, you never give up. Words pale to actual experience, so I owe you one Irish dancing.

A couple cool things happened with the blog this weekend. On Friday I hit 50 followers. I know this isn't a lot by most standards, but I can't lie, it made me feel pretty good. I started the blog about a year ago to help with my goal of writing every day. I'm working on a book, but I figured it would be good to take a break a couple times a week to do a different kind of writing. I've been good about posting a couple times a week, but I haven't been as good about working on the book. I blame that on all the great blogs I follow and checking to see if there are any new comments. No one tells you blogging is addictive. When I checked in last night, there was a new comment from PM Taylor. She writes one of my favorite blogs, stop by and check her out. She's given me an award. I was tagged once, but I think tags are different than awards, so this will count as my first award. Thanks PM, I'm honored. This post is getting a little long for me, so I'll officially unveil the award in my next post.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top Ten Movies of the Decade

What can I say? I love top ten lists. If you haven't checked out my other top ten lists, give 'em a look, let me know what you think. Without further ado, my top ten movies of the decade.

10. About a Boy (2002):  I'm not a big Hugh Grant fan, but he was great in this movie. Grant's character is completely apathetic, his life devoid of any meaning. When he meets an awkward young boy in the park, that all begins to change. The movie is based on Nick Hornby's book, so not surprisingly, it's funny and poignant.

9. Once (2006):  This little Irish movie is one of the great surprises of my movie-watching career. In this modern day musical, a street musician and a Czech immigrant are drawn together by their love of music. This is one of the more unconventional love stories I've ever seen, and the music is simply brilliant. Meg and I plan on watching it every St. Patty's.

8. Inception (2010): I had to have a Christopher Nolan movie on the list. The guy makes action movies that challenge his audience to keep up, and I dig that. Memento and The Dark Knight made my initial cut down, but Inception is Nolan's best movie. This is the most recent movie to make the list, but I have a feeling this one will stand the test of time.

7. Finding Nemo (2003): This was my first Pixar movie as a Dad, and the first of two Pixar movies on my list. I've seen this movie more times than I can count, but I love it every time. There are so many memorable characters, but my favorites are the sea turtles, Crush and Squirt. I can literally hear Dory's voice in my head when things get tough: just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

6. Old School (2003): There were a lot of great comedies this decade, most of them starring Will Ferrell, but Old School was the best. The classic lines speak for themselves: ear muffs, you're my boy Blue, we're going streaking in the quad, good times, keep on truckin, maybe a little Bed, Bath and Beyond.

5. No Country for Old Men (2007): I am a huge fan of the Coen brothers (saw True Grit last weekend-awesome). This is certainly a dark film, but its power can't be denied. Anton Chigurh is one of the most memorable characters of the decade, if not all time. The Coens expertly use him as a symbol for the evil that the drug trade has brought to the US.

4. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001): I love all three movies, but I had to go with the first one for this list. The look of this movie is simply amazing, but it's the acting that made this such a great movie. Peter Jackson got his actors to believe that an epic fantasy could be serious art, and you can tell the actors poured their hearts into their roles.

3. Up (2009): This is my favorite Pixar movie - so far. The montage of Carl and Ellie's marriage is some of the best filmmaking of the decade. Up is a rollicking good time for the kids, and an emotional roller coaster for their parents. Every time I watch this movie with my girls we seem to wind up talking about the meaning of life. You have to love a movie that can stimulate minds of all ages.

2. Little Miss Sunshine (2006): The Hoovers are one of the great movie families. When we first meet the Hoovers they're a mess, personal issues threatening to tear the family apart. Turns out all they need is a road trip in their dysfunctional VW bus to come together as a family. I love the closing shot of the VW rolling down the highway. A perfect metaphor to end a great movie.

1. Wonder Boys (2000): Michael Douglas is Grady Tripp, an English professor trying to write a follow up to his bestselling debut novel. Tripp is having an affair with the chancellor's wife, and his agent is in town for the weekend to check on his progress. Over the course of the weekend, Tripp figures things out and in the process helps one of his students. I've been working on my own book for a while now, and I return to this movie often for inspiration.

For now these are my top ten. Ask me next week and I might have a completely different list. I'd love to hear some of your ideas for top movies of the decade. Doesn't have to be a full top ten, could be your top movie, top 3, 5, whatever works.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Most Overused Line In Cinema

One of my goals for this weekend was to post a couple videos. I put the first one up yesterday, and if you're a Pixar fan, you'll want to check it out.

The second video isn't family friendly, but I thought it was pretty funny. My personal favorite in here is Steph from Pretty in Pink. Which clip do you think is the best use of this vaunted line?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Beauty of Pixar

I've been meaning to upload a couple videos for a while now, but I didn't like how the right side kept getting cut off. After much feeble tinkering, I switched to a different Blogger template and that seems to have taken care of the problem.

The first video is "The Beauty of Pixar," a great compilation of classic Pixar moments set to music. I've watched it with the girls a bunch of times and they love it, so be sure to share it with the kids. The second video isn't appropriate for kids, so I'll post that one separately tomorrow. Some time next week I'll have my top ten movies of the decade, so be sure to check that out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top Ten Books of the Decade

I recently posted top ten book and movie lists for 2010. I really enjoyed that, so I've decided to do top ten lists for the decade. Researching books and movies from the past decade has given me something to focus on in a difficult time.

Apparently there is some disagreement about what constitutes a decade. I've seen 2000-2009 as the decade, and I've seen 2000-2010. For my list I'm going with 2000-2010. Curious to hear what others think about this decade thing.

10.  Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand (2001). This is nonfiction that reads like a novel. I am a marginal fan of horse racing at best, but this book is so much more than the story of a horse. Hillenbrand makes Seabiscuit a metaphor for America during the Depression, an underdog you can root for.

9.  The Book of Joe, Jonathan Tropper (2004). This is the story of Joe Goffman, whose debut novel trashed his hometown and then became a huge hit movie. He goes home when his estranged father falls into a coma, and while his return is rocky to say the least, the experience is life-changing. Tropper has become one of my favorite authors, and this is my favorite of his five books.

8.  Blink, Malcolm Gladwell (2005). A lot of decisions are made in the blink of an eye. Gladwell uses anecdotes and scientific research to explore the first seconds of the thought process. This may not sound like the most compelling subject matter, but Gladwell has a unique ability to entertain while explaining complex ideas. The guy can flat out write.

7.  The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon (2000). Joe Kavalier escapes Nazi-occupied Prague and winds up in Brooklyn, where he meets Sammy Clay. Together they help to usher in the Golden Age of comic books. This is one of the great literary friendships. Don't take my word for it, Chabon won a little something called the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.

6.  March, Geraldine Brooks (2005). Let's follow one Pulitzer winner with another. Brooks is a master of historical fiction. Here she imagines the life of Mr. March, the absent father from Little Women, as he serves as a chaplain in the Union army. Brooks creates a fascinating portrait of a flawed man trying to find his way home.

5.  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000). This was #1 on my 2010 list (different qualifications), so it figures it would show up on my top ten of the decade. David Foster Wallace called this a merciless book, and I think that description really fits. Eggers never shies away from showing readers the dark side of grief as he raises his brother after his parents' death. I found this book to be profoundly truthful.

4. City of Thieves, David Benioff (2008). 17 year old Lev Beniov finds himself in prison during the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1942. There he meets an AWOL soldier, Kolya. The colonel running the prison gives them a chance to earn their freedom. All they need to do is find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. Benioff is a screenwriter, so not surprisingly, his writing is very cinematic. I wouldn't be surprised if this is made into a movie.

3.  Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004). This is the first of a three book series featuring Detective Jackson Brodie. As Brodie investigates three gruesome crimes, he also searches for elusive personal resolution. Atkinson made her name in literary fiction, so this isn't your standard crime novel, call it a literary crime novel.

2. The Boof Thief, Markus Zusak (2005). This is a World War II story like no other. Liesel Meminger is a young girl on the verge of adolescence in Nazi Germany. Liesel develops a strong bond with Max Vandenberg, a Jewish fist-fighter taking refuge in the basement of her foster parents' home. Liesel sporadically steals books throughout the novel, perfectly illustrating the transformative power of the written word. I'd say that's what this book is, transformative.

1.  The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006). On the surface this is a dark story. A father and son walk alone through a post-apocalyptic America. They must avoid lawless scavengers and cannibals on their journey to the coast, a destination that may or may not hold salvation. The beauty of this book, and the beauty of McCarthy in general, is that when you dig deeper, there is so much more. At its heart, this book is about a father's love for his son. He does his best for the boy, and hopes he can become a man who walks on his own. That is the story of all fathers and sons.

I enjoyed making this list, but it was tough, a lot of great books were left out. I'd love to hear some of your ideas for top books of the decade. Doesn't have to be a full top ten, could be your top book, top 3, 5, whatever works.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Dad

My youngest daughter took a bunch of pictures at Thanksgiving this year. This is the picture she took of her papa.

This will be the last picture we'll have. My dad died early New Year's Day. I want to thank readers of this blog who sent their thoughts and prayers. Please know that I deeply appreciate the support.

The last three years were one medical setback after another for my dad. He was too much of a fighter to give up, but I'm glad he doesn't have to suffer anymore. There's a lot to say about my dad, but I'm having a hard time stringing my thoughts together right now. Thankfully I have some time to gather my thoughts, write something for his memorial service later this month.

2011 is going to be a tough year. My only resolution for this year, for every year from now on really, is to be as good a man as my dad was. Rest in peace Pop.