Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow in the Desert

We woke up to snow this morning. Scout literally screamed when she saw it. There wasn't much, and it's already gone, but it's kind of cool to see snow in the desert. It's not uncommon to get snow in the mountains, but we rarely get any down here. This is only the second time we've had snow on the ground since we moved here in 1999. Here are some shots from the first snowfall in January '07:

View from the front of our house

View of the neighbor's yard

We don't really have the clothes for snow

Wow, I haven't looked at these pictures in a while. The kids look so much younger. They actually cancelled school that day. It was a little embarrassing, being from Wisconsin and all, but I swallowed my pride and enjoyed the day off. The girls had a blast. They filled a ziploc with some of the snow, and we actually still have it in the back freezer.

The girls made sure to get a bag of today's snow to keep the '07 snow company. There wasn't as much snow this time around, and it's not as sunny, but still fun to see a little of the white stuff. The smiles were a little brighter than usual this morning:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Oscar Winning Boston Movie

It seems Boston movies are their own genre these days, and if you're like me, that's a good thing. Here's a funny mashup of Boston movies to get you in the mood for the Oscars tomorrow.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Very Stylish

I want to thank Kate at Calamity, Kids, & Other Stuff for giving me The Stylish blogger Award. Kate is a woman with a lot on her plate, and the way she handles it all is quite inspiring. I'm honored that Kate would think of me for an award. I have to share seven things people might not know about me, and then comes the best part, passing the award on to 7 other deserving bloggers.

1) My parents were both in the Navy, and I was born on the Naval base in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

2) My first concert was Hall and Oates, and yes, I am very proud to admit it.

3) I was an altar boy until I was 15.

4) I had pictures of Molly Ringwald and Siguorney Weaver on my wall in high school.

5) One of my favorite places in the world is the Student Union at the University of Wisconsin.  It doesn't get any better than having a beer on the Terrace.

6) When I lived in Minneapolis, I ran into Walter Matthau at my local grocery store. He was in town filming Grumpy Old Men. We were picking out melons together.

7) I will never forget the look on my dad's face when he got a hole-in-one on the last golf hole he ever played. Priceless.

Here are 7 stylish blogs you should really check out and follow:


Artful Nuance

The Writer's Kaffeeklatsch

Munk Davis

Selina Kingston is Forty

Beyond the Diapers and Spills


Monday, February 21, 2011

Blog Tag

I've been tagged for the second time in my blogging career. Thanks to Nari at narislife for thinking of me. Nari is doing really cool things with her blog, and I always enjoy reading her work. Check her out and give her a follow.

When you're tagged in the blogosphere, you have to answer some questions about yourself. In this case, quite a few actually. Before I do that, I need to tag four other bloggers. I love all the blogs I follow, so with no particular rhyme or reason, here are four interesting bloggers worth reading and following:

Otter Thomas at Life of a New Dad

Austin James at Austin James Here

James at Luke, I Am Your Father

Yat-Yee Chong

Now on to the questions:

1) If you have pets, do you see them as animals, or are they members of the family?

We adopted a dog this summer, and she is most definitely a member of our family. She came to us with the name Riley, so it's like that old Little Caesar's commercial around here, Riley Riley.

2) If you can have a dream come true, what would it be?

Like most of us, I have any number of unfulfilled dreams. The one that jumps to mind right now is going to Ireland as a family.

3) What is the one thing most hated by you?

I hate how polarized American politics has become. The art of compromise appears to be on life support, and it's hurting us a country.

4) What would you do with a billion dollars?

I would set up family and friends with homes, cars, college funds, the works. I'd do all the traveling I've always wanted to do. I would establish a foundation focused on helping kids go to college, and that would be my life's work.

5) What helps to pull you out of a bad mood?

Just the sight of my girls brightens my mood, and one of their hugs can bring me out of even the darkest places.

6) Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone?

It is a blessing to truly love another person. Life is incomplete without loving others. I am truly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life to love.

7) What is your bedtime routine?

I lock the doors and turn on the microwave light. On the way back to my room, I check on the girls. I love seeing how peaceful they look. I brush my teeth, turn on the kids' old sound machine, and then read a bit. I can't end a day without doing some reading.

8) If you are currently in a relationship, how did you meet your partner?

It sounds like a bad movie, but I actually met my wife at a bar. Friends of mine had a band, and we met at one of their shows. We went to a party after the show, and I was pretty lit. Good thing my wife found my drunken antics amusing. The rest, as they say, is history.

9) If you could watch a creative person in the act of the creative process, who would it be?

My initial impulse was to think of an author I admire, but I think watching a great director would be more interesting. Watching Martin Scorsese create a movie would be fascinating.

10) What kinds of books do you read?

I try to read a healthy mix of fiction and nonfiction. I prefer literary fiction and biographies of historical figures.

11) How would you see yourself in ten years time?

Ten years from now I'll probably still be teaching. That means I'll also be struggling to find a way to pay for two college tuitions. Who knows, maybe the writing thing will help pay the bills. At the very least, I plan on having some books out there.

12) What's your fear?

My greatest fear is that I'm not living life to the fullest. I have a tendency to put things off, thinking there will always be time. I have to remind myself to live in the moment, carpe diem as they say.

13) Would you give up all the junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to visit space?

Sure, why not.

14) Would you rather be single and rich, or married and poor?

I love being married and scrapping by, so being married and poor probably wouldn't be that different.

15) What's the first thing you do when you wake up?

I shuffle my way to the kitchen, pour myself a bowl of cereal, and then sit down to read at the computer.

16) If you could change one thing about your spouse/partner, what would it be?

I have just consulted my wife for this answer, and she actually came up with a pretty good one. She falls asleep way too early on the weekends. I like to watch late night movies, and she can never stay up.

17) If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be?

In honor of Jeffrey Lebowski, my new name would be "The Dude."

18) Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done?

I doubt I could ever forget, but I hope I'd have the capacity to forgive.

19) If you could only eat one thing for the next six months, what would it be?

This one is easy. Goldfish. To be honest, I don't think this would even be much of a challenge.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Sounds of Reading

A lot of my students tell me they don't like to read. I tell them that's impossible, they just haven't been reading the right books. They scoff, but I bet them they'll like the books we read in class. That's one of the great challenges of teaching 8th grade English, choosing books that even the most resistant readers will love.

I'm currently reading two such books with my students, and I'm having a blast sharing them with the kids.

My two advanced classes are reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This is one of my favorite books of all time, and if you haven't read this one, I highly recommend making it your next book. The aspiring writer in me marvels at what Zuzak did with language in this book. At 550 pages, there was some initial whining about the size of the book. As we read the prologue, I could hear the kids being hooked in their silence. After we read the first few chapters, one of the girls said the book was like poetry. There was much enthusiastic agreement around the room, and I had to admit, I couldn’t have said it better myself.   

My other three classes are reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you haven't read this book, you really should. Twenty-four teenagers are thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death, the whole thing broadcast on live TV. My students are literally begging me to skip everything else so we can read the entire period. The kids follow along in their copies as I read aloud, and the sound of 25 kids turning the page in unison stirs this English teacher's heart. When we stop to discuss what's going on, kids who don't normally participate in class are answering questions and making predictions. I joke with them that they actually sound like they know what's going on. One boy told me last week that this is the first book he’s ever liked. That's the best sound of them all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Lanes and a Burger Joint

I love to drive. I inherited my love of driving from my dad, and I'm fairly confident that love will transfer by osmosis to the girls. We've been throwing the kids in the car for long hauls since they were babies. Most families don't consider 7 hours in the car quality family time, but the Rileys are road warriors.

We made our annual pilgrimage to Albuquerque this weekend for the New Mexico State Feis (that's an Irish dance competition for new readers of the blog). We normally spend a couple days in Albuquerque, but they changed the weekend, so we drove over Friday and came right back yesterday.

Meg and I really enjoy the drive to Albuquerque, especially Hwy 26 from Deming to Hatch. We discovered Hwy 26 on our first trip back up north after we moved to Tucson, and we've been taking it ever since. Hwy 26 is only about 50 miles long, a short cut between Interstate 10 and Interstate 25. There is very little traffic, and if you do have to pass someone, it's never a problem. Hwy 26 is a classic two lane road, and the scenery is fantastic: wide open, big sky country. It's the kind of road that makes you feel like you're driving in an older America, in a simpler time. It's the kind of road that just makes me feel good.

Right before 26 ends at Interstate 25, you hit the town of Hatch. We've talked about stopping since the very first time through, but this was the first trip we actually did it. Hatch claims to be the chile capital of the world, the chile fields drawing nourishment from the Rio Grande. Like the road that connects it to civilization, Hatch is a throwback to another time. A time when America was dotted with quaint little agricultural towns. Being in Hatch is like being in the past, but with cell phone reception and wifi.

We stopped on the way back yesterday to eat at Sparky's, an old school burger joint with a Southwestern twist and a Hatch institution. Sparky's was hopping, and I have feeling it does pretty well, Hwy 26 funneling hungry tourists through its doors. The food was just OK, but it's not about the food, it's the experience. We bought t-shirts for the girls, and they're very excited about wearing them to school this week. Meg bought some chile powder at one of the many places selling a plethora of chile products, and we were on our way.

It's always fun to drive a road like Hwy 26 and catch a glimpse of small town life in a cool place like Hatch. There are a lot of great roads and small towns in the US. Got any you want to share from your neck of the woods?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Must See TV

I'm not a huge TV guy, but there are a few shows I make sure to watch every week. My favorite show is The Office. I'm bummed out that Steve Carell is leaving after this season, but I'm hopeful the little run-in between Michael Scott and the random British guy by the elevator means Ricky Gervais will take Carell's place. I'm not holding my breath, but that would be awesome. If the writers choose to replace Michael with one of the existing Dunder Mifflin gang, my vote would be for Andy. Carell is funny, but Ed Helms routinely induces bouts of uncontrollable laughter. Whatever happens, I would love to see the Nard Dog get more screen time.

Another comedy that has me completely hooked is Modern Family. I love the ensemble cast, and the writing is whip smart. My favorite character has to be Phil Dunphy. He's like Michael Scott with a family. With Steve Carell calling it quits, Ty Burrell may soon be the funniest guy on TV. Modern Family nicely mixes in some poignant moments here and there, which makes the humor that much better.

I'm a sucker for a good cop show, and Southland is a great one. I find it hard to believe NBC gave up on this show, but I'm glad TNT gave it another shot. The writers have more freedom on cable, and the show is really hitting its stride this year. Meg and I love Regina King. Of course, if you were in Jerry Maguire, you can do no wrong in my book. King's character is one of the strongest female characters I've ever seen, on any size screen. Her work alone makes Southland worth watching. I also love Cooper, the drug-seeking gay cop who doesn't take shit from anyone. The dialogue on this show is brilliant, and it's full of action and suspense. This is probably my second favorite show right now, with a real chance of being my favorite by season's end.

I generally avoid reality TV, but my wife has gotten me into Storage Wars. We actually watch this one with the kids. We love watching the guys buy abandoned storage units, sifting through the junk to find hidden gems. We love to hate Dave. His "Yep," has become a frequent refrain in the Riley house. Our favorite is Barry. He's funny and quirky, and we enjoy his hipster sensibility.

There are other shows I watch, some with more frequency than others, but these are the four I look forward to watching. I'm sure there are other great shows out there. I'd love to hear what other people are digging these days.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vince Lombardi and King George VI Walk Into A Bar

The world is arguably a better place now that the Lombardi Trophy is safely back where it belongs. I wish I could have been in Green Bay today for the celebration.

Football Sundays are a light at the end of my weekly work tunnel, and it always takes a while to adjust to life without football. I love college basketball and my Wisconsin Badgers, but nothing quite matches the anticipation of Packer Sundays. I'll revel in the glory of another championship for a while, but it won't be long before I'm jonesing for next season to begin. I know the blog's been a little football heavy recently, so this will be last football post for a while.

The Super Bowl wasn't the only cool thing about the weekend. Meg and I went to see The King's Speech with my mom Saturday night. I knew going in I would like the movie. Say what you will about the Oscars, but a movie doesn't get 12 nominations if it isn't damn good. I don't normally love British period pieces, but this may very well be one of my favorite movies of all time.

Colin Firth is brilliant as the King, and Geoffery Rush is every bit as good as his unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The history was fascinating, but when you get right down to it, this is a movie about friendship. There have been a lot of great freindships in the movies: Sam and Frodo, Butch and Sundance, Chris and Gordie, Thelma and Louise, Andy and Red. Now we've got Lionel and Bertie.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Not Like Any Other Town

Green Bay is different than other sports towns. Most people know that the team is publicly owned, the only nonprofit organization in professional sports. It's more than that. The team is an integral part of the community. If it's not the biggest employer in town, it's up there. The money the team brings in is crucial to the local economy. That's why Brown County voted for a tax increase to renovate the stadium years ago.

I finally got to see the renovations last year when I went back to see the Packers play the Cowboys, and let me ya, they did a helluva job. The glass atrium facing Lombardi Avenue is a thing of beauty. If you're a sports fan, you need to see a game at Lambeau Field. Even if you're not a sports fan, you should check it out. I went to Wrigley Field with my brother-in-law a few years ago, and even though I'm not a baseball fan, certainly not a Cubs fan, I remember the experience vividly. Wrigley is one of those places, and Lambeau is too.

When I lived in Green Bay, the population was probably 85-90,000. In a town that size, you can't help running into players. I used to see players out and about all the time. I remember seeing James Lofton shopping at Kohl's. I worked at Hardee's during high school, and I remember Larry McCarren routinely coming through the drive-thru. When I would come home during college, I used to see players all the time at the few clubs we had in GB. In Green Bay, you get to interact with the players and coaches in a way you just don't see anywhere else, and it makes the bond between team and town unusually tight.

My favorite Packer story involves one of the coaches. My buddies lived next to Dick Mojoleski, the defensive line coach at the time. We were playing Trivial Pursuit one night, and for one of our sports questions, the answer was Dick Mojoleski. I don't remember the question, but I do remember our excitement. We ran next door and showed Mr. Mojoleski that he was the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. He laughed and thanked us for showing him. We told him to keep the card, and I could tell he was touched.

Everyone who has ever lived in Green Bay for any length of time has these kinds of stories. Just this morning I came across a great article written by Paul Gigot, an editor for the Wall Street Journal. He lived in GB in a different era, but his experiences are the same. Check him out, he does he a much better job of explaining the unique nature of Green Bay and its team than I do.

Friday, February 4, 2011

You Never Know

I was going to do all Packers posts this week, but Mother Nature threw me a curveball, with some unintended consequences.

It's been in the teens the last couple nights here in the desert, uncharacteristically cold. Like most desert homes, we have a lot of exposed plumbing. We thought we'd adequately insulated the exposed pipes we have, but I came home yesterday to discover water pouring out of the pipes on the west side of the house. Lots of people had pipes burst, so plumbers are scrambling to get to everyone. Half the schools in town were closed today because they didn't have water, including the girls' school. My school managed to stay open (lucky me), and thankfully the in-laws were able to watch the girls. The girls love hanging out with them, so that was good thing. Regardless, I was in a foul mood when I left the house this morning. Then wouldn't you know it, life got all beautiful on me.

We had our student of the month breakfast this morning at school. Each teacher nominates one kid to be their student of the month, and we invite the kids and their families up to school for breakfast and a little award presentation. My student was the Quickwrite kid, and it was great to hang out with him and his mom. She's a single mother, and the love between Mother and Son was palpable. Watching them interact, it was impossible to be in a bad mood.

Any remaining angst and frustration was squashed first period. We had an assembly to say goodbye to the South Korean kids. One of the kids got things started by playing the piano. He wasn't very good, but our kids were a perfect audience, wildly cheering when he was done. There was a slide show after that, and then the South Korean kids brought the house down with a drumming performance-very cool. The assembly ended with each South Korean kid being called on stage to receive a parting gift from our student council. Our students went nuts for each kid. The whole thing was so cool, it just made me feel profoundly happy.

This was the kind of day that just goes to show, you never know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Me and the Punky QB

With the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl this weekend, the blog is all about football this week. It has to be this way:

I grew up in three different Wisconsin towns: Port Washington, Appleton, and Green Bay. My family moved from Appleton to Green Bay in 1985. We lived about a mile down the street from Lambeau Field. We didn't have season tickets, but we went to games here and there. When we did go to games, we just walked over to the stadium, no big deal. Looking back, being able to walk from your house to a game was pretty cool. I took it for granted back then, but I realize how special it was now.

Regardless of how bad the Packers were, the Bears game was always a big deal. A buddy of mine from Appleton was a huge Bears fan. His family had moved up from Chicago, so I didn't hold it against him. His dad got him a couple tickets for the game, and he came up to GB for the weekend. I remember walking up Lombardi Avenue to the stadium, talking about selling our tickets for the right price. We half-heartedly bargained with a few guys, but ultimately we decided to go in.

We were inside well before kickoff, so we went down to the front row to watch the players warm up, see if we could get some autographs. At the time, the only thing separating the field from the stands was a waist high fence. There were swinging gates that led onto the field, and the one nearest us was wide open. There was zero security, so we just walked right onto the field. We were on the Packers sideline for a bit, but my buddy really wanted to check out the Bears. We're talking the '85 Bears here, so yeah, I abandoned my team.

We wandered around the Bears sideline, checking out all the guys you'd expect: the Fridge, Singletary, and of course, Sweetness. The guy who stood out the most though was Jim McMahon. Watching McMahon walk up and down the sideline, randomly screaming at the top of his lungs, he seemed more like a mental patient let out for the day than a premiere quarterback.

We eventually took a seat on the Bears bench, and we just sat there, soaking it all in. Right before kickoff, someone from security finally busted us. The guy wasn't mad, he just sent us on our way. We went to our seats and watched the game.

The game itself was especially memorable. It's one of the most notorious games in the Bears/Packers bitter rivalry. It's the game where Ken Stills laid out Matt Suey. It's the game where Mark Lee and Walter Payton went crashing into the Bears bench. It's funny, Lee and Payton ended up pretty much where my buddy and I had been sitting. How great would it have been if we'd been run over by Walter Payton?

There is no way something like this could happen nowadays. Security is way too tight, even in little ol' Green Bay. If you did manage to get on the field, you would certainly be kicked out of the stadium if they caught you. I had fun that day, but I certainly didn't appreciate what a unique experience it was. I do now.