Saturday, December 7, 2013

Something to Write About

It's been a long time. No reason really, just haven't felt the need to write anything in a while. A long while actually.

One of those magical moments happened in the classroom, and it's got me at the keyboard.

My students had to do a round of mandated testing this week. Reading, writing, arithmetic. For the writing assessment, the kids were asked to write a narrative about time travel.

Reading through the kids' stories, I was genuinely impressed with the overall quality. One really stood out though.

One of the girls wrote a story about her journey back in time to a small village in Ethiopia to see her mom. She spends the day watching her mom play in the yard with her teddy bear. When the mother is called inside, she leaves the teddy bear outside. My student sneaks in and grabs it, taking it back with her to the present. She gives the bear to her mother, and seeing this relic of her past, she is overwhelmed with emotion.

I was floored by the power of this girl's story. It's the little things like this one story that make teaching such a rewarding experience.

That's definitely something to write about.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Yes, Honey, Your Government Spies On You

My daughters want the radio on as soon as we get in the car. I always check NPR, which elicits the same panicked and comic response every time. It never gets old.

Today's topic was government spying, and I actually made the girls listen for a bit. They both have phones and ipods, they use computers all the time. They need to know what's going on with the technology they use and will continue to use for the rest of their lives.

I hate to say, but Edward Snowden's disclosure that our government is spying on us wasn't much of a surprise. In fact, when our legislators passed the Patriot Act after 9/11, they pretty much told us they were going to spy on us. They told us it was the only way to keep us safe from terrorism, and for the most part, the public went along with it. Most people were willing to give up some privacy to fight terrorism.

Now we have Verizon handing our phone records over to the NSA, and people are starting to say, "Wait a second."

Not to worry though, the government says it's just looking at phone numbers and duration of calls. Obama says that this kind of data collection has protected us from terrorist threats to the United States. I believe that's true. BUT............

How far do we take this? We didn't catch the Boston bombers, so does that mean we should be monitoring even more of our communications? And if we do that, why not check for other criminal activity in the data gathered? That would make us safer too, wouldn't it?

Obama says we need to have a national discussion about the balance between security and privacy. I certainly agree with that. With technology expanding exponentially and making it easier and easier to spy on people, the security/privacy balancing act figures to be an issue that grows with my daughters.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Will Netflix Change How We Watch TV?

Binge-watching: watching an entire season of a TV show as quickly as possible. If that means one uninterrupted session, so be it.

Netflix released a new season of Arrested Development earlier this week, and it was widely assumed that mass binge-watching ensued. My wife managed to stay up past midnight to download the season, and we did watch the first episode.

But then we remembered how lame we really are and went to bed.

We've only made it through the second episode so far, but I'm sure once we get rolling, we'll crank through the season in no time.

This new season of Arrested Development has sparked a lot of conversation about the merits of binge-watching. I personally love binge-watching. I hate waiting a week to watch a new episode of a favorite show. I don't know about you, but my attention is easily lost. If I like a show, I don't want to stop after one episode. Quite frankly, I can't anymore. If I don't have access to that next episode, right now, I'm gone. Life is too busy man.

It seems to me that the only reason I have to wait for my TV shows is advertising, and I'm sorry, that's a 20th century construct I can gladly do without.

I want to consume my television like a good book. At my own pace. I mean, think about having to wait for that next chapter of a book you're loving. If I want to set a show aside for a while, fine, but let me make that choice.

So I applaud Netflix for letting viewers decide how we want to watch a show. I hope we have this choice with more and more shows.

What do you think? Will the Netflix model become the norm or is it just a gimmick?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for..........

Z is for..........Zombieland.

I'm not a big zombie fan. I know The Walking Dead is huge these days. I've done a couple drivebys, but I wasn't hooked.

I generally won't even bother with a zombie movie, but I did enjoy Zombieland quite a bit. I gave it a shot because I like the young actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin.

It wasn't the gore that won me over. There was plenty of that, but it was the sense of humor that got me. I'm probably reading way too much into a zombie movie, but I also thought I detected a little metaphor going on. The teenage experience as a postapocalyptic gauntlet of brain-eating zombies.

Or something like that.

Well folks, there you have it, the last post of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. The feedback has been awesome and greatly appreciated. I was crazy busy with track this month, so I wasn't around as much as I would have liked. Again, thanks to everyone for making this challenge a rewarding experience.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for..........

Y is for..........Yoda.

I wouldn't call myself a full-fledged Star Wars geek, but there are tendencies. I can't tell you the names of all the creatures in the cantina scene or anything, but I will gladly proclaim my love for Yoda. 

I have a giant Yoda poster in my classroom. I tell my students that Yoda sees all and gladly informs me of any wrongdoing I might miss. I also have a few Yodas strategically placed around the class. One is a Yoda Magic 8 Ball, and every so often I'll let the kids ask Yoda some questions. I may or may not answer those questions in a lame Yoda voice. We have a few Yodas around the house as well, and I'm proud to say my daughters love the wise green one as much as I do.

George Lucas gave us two very different Yodas. The Yoda of the original trilogy is broken down, barely able to lift Luke's ship out of the swamp.

The Yoda in the prequel triology is an ass-kicking whirling dervish.

It was pretty cool to see Yoda bust out the light saber and mad fighting skills, but when push comes to shove, I have to go with the original Yoda.

A couple summers ago I discovered a new version of Yoda. Origami Yoda.

This Yoda plays a prominent role in Tom Angleberger's great book The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. The book is a sweet story about a socially awkward 6th grade boy (is there any other kind?) who dispenses middle school wisdom through a perfectly constructed origami Yoda. It's ideal for 3rd-6th graders, and their parents of course.

Angleberger has done a couple sequels, Darth Paper Strikes Back and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie. They're both awesome.

Original Yoda, prequel Yoda, and yes, even origami Yoda. What's not to love? 

Earlier in the Challenge I said The Dude from The Big Lebowski is my favorite movie character of all time. Yoda is probably a close second. I guess you could say Yoda is my favorite nonhuman movie character of all time.

Who's your favorite nonhuman movie character of all time? 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for..........

X is for..........Xtraterrestrial.

This is going to be a short post. I've been crazy busy getting ready for the city track meet this week. I had some posts done in advance, but alas, the Challenge has caught up to me.

So yeah, X is for Xtraterrestrials. A bit of a cop out, sure, but this is my 3rd A-Z, so I'm due for a wonky X.

These are my top 5 movies with Xtraterrestrials:

5) Alien
4) Super 8
3) E.T.
2) Starman
1) Signs

What's your favorite movie featuring Xtraterrestrials?

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for..........

W is for..........War.

There have been a lot of movies about war over the years. I always feel weird talking about war movies. It never feels right to say "I love that movie."

War is not a pleasant subject, and my appreciation for the best war films is different than any other genre. The best war movies shed a light or make a statement. They're usually hard to watch, but their greatness is undeniable. These are 5 of the very best:

5) Bridge on the River Kwai
4) Lawrence of Arabia
3) Full Metal Jacket
2) Saving Private Ryan
1) Glory

What do you think is the best war movie ever made?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for..........

V is for.......... Vision Quest.

Hollywood loves to crank out movies for the teen set. Most of them are crap of course, but a solid number are entertaining, and a rare few are even insightful. I dare say you can learn a lot about a person by their favorite teen flicks.

Every generation thinks their teen movies are the best, and I am definitely partial to the teen flicks of the 80s.

Vision Quest wasn't my favorite teen movie of the 80s, but I did love it. I mean, a gorgeous drifter moves in with a teenage boy and his dad and then falls in love with the kid? That was definitely a plot that worked for me.

To be honest, Vision Quest is really just an excuse to do a top 5 list. My top 5 80s teen movies:

5) Pretty in Pink
4) Vision Quest
3) Ferris Bueller's Day Off
2) The Breakfast Club
1) Say Anything

Got a favorite 80s teen flick? If you weren't a teen of the 80s, what's your favorite teen movie?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for..........

U is for...........Up.

The best animated movies work on multiple levels, and Up is both a fun movie for kids, and a deeply moving film for adults.

The best movies give you something to talk about, and I have had so many great conversations about Up with the girls. One day Scout asked me why Mr. Fredrickson used a walker in the beginning of the movie. This led to a discussion about symbolism. I didn't have to tell the girls why he used that walker. I asked a few questions and they were able to figure out that the walker was a symbol for giving up, and that by the end of the movie, Mr. Fredrickson didn't need that walker because he had decided to enjoy his life again.

Not bad for a cartoon.

What's your favorite animated movie?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for..........

T is for..........Tootsie.

My parents took me to a lot of movies growing up. My dad did all the action and sci-fi, and my mom did pretty much everything else. My parents' different tastes in movies gave me an appreciation for films of all types.

Earlier in the Challenge, I wrote about one of my favorite movie memories with my dad: the time we went to see Raiders.

One of my favorite movie memories with my mom is going to see Tootsie. My mom loves a good comedy, and Tootsie is a damn good one. My mom and I laughed a lot during Tootsie. Sharing laughter with someone is always a good thing. When it's your mom, it's a great thing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for..........

S is for..........Steven Spielberg.

I consider Steven Spielberg the greatest American director of all time. There are lots of other candidates of course: Ford, Huston, Allen, Scorsese. But for my money, and I've spent my fair share of it at the movies over the years, Spielberg is the best.

Just think about the diversity of the guy's films. It's hard to believe the same person made Jurassic Park and Schindler's List. The same guy made Jaws and Lincoln. The same guy made Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Color Purple. You get the point. Not many directors, if any, attempt such drastically different films.

Spielberg has directed 21 films, and had his hand in over 100 others. The thing that amazes me is that his productivity has never gotten in the way of qualtiy. I can't say I love every movie he's made, but there aren't many I didn't enjoy. These are my top 5 Speilberg movies:

5) Jurassic Park
4) Schinlder's List
3) The Color Purple
2) Saving Private Ryan
1) E.T.

How 'bout you, what's your favorite Speilberg movie?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for..........

R is for..........Rocky.

Rocky Balboa is one of the great characters in movie history. I'd say Stallone went off the rails after Rocky III, but whattayagonnado?

I never tried my hand at boxing, but I can't tell you how many times the phrase "Rocky comeback" was invoked on the fields and courts of my youth.

The first three Rocky movies are three of my favorite sports movies, so I thought I'd do a list of my favorite sports movies today.

5) Breaking Away
4) Field of Dreams
3) Chariots of Fire
2) Rocky
1) Hoosiers - my love of basketball was the difference. Sorry Rock.

What's your favorite sports movie?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for..........

Q is for..........Quentin.

Most people know Tarantino's back story. He was toiling away at a video store, compiling an encyclopedic knowledge of film. Then in 1992, Tarantino burst onto the Hollywood scene with Reservoir Dogs.

Two years later Tarantino made cinematic history with Pulp Fiction. Nonlinear story telling had never been done so well, or more importantly, so profitably. Pulp was a game changer for the movie business, and Tarantino has continued to make successful films that defy traditional Hollywood formulas. His combination of violence and dark humor may not be for everyone, but it's hard to deny the guy's talent.

Love him? hate him?
What's your favorite Tarantino movie?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for..........

P is for..........Pi Patel.

Life of Pi was my top movie of 2012. I love the book, and Ang Lee's adaptation was cinematic brilliance. Don't take my word for it, Lee won a little something called the Oscar for his directing. If you'e like me, it might stirke you as odd that the best director didn't direct the Oscar winner for Best Picture. Guess that's Hollywood for ya.

When we first meet Pi Patel he is a young boy trying to make sense of his world. He finds beauty and truth in religion, all of them, cobbling together his own unique spirituality. Pi is thrust into an epic journey, and I was so emotionally connected to this film that I felt like I was taking the journey with him.

Life of Pi was a real family event for me. It was great to watch the movie with my girls, my mom, and in-laws. We went to dinner after the movie, and we talked about Ang Lee's direction, about Richard Parker, about faith, about Pi Patel. It was one of the best movie experiences of my life.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for..........

O is for..........Outsiders.

The Outsiders recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. I know this because I saw tweets from Emilio Estevez and Ralph Macchio congratulating S.E. Hinton. I thought it was pretty cool that those guys are still in touch with Hinton.

I did a post a while back about the best book/movie combos, and even though The Outsiders didn't make the top five, it was close.

I was in 8th grade when The Outsiders came out, and I had only recently read the book. I can vividly remember the night I went to the mall with a big group of friends to see the movie. It was a real event.

Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation was the launching pad for a number of big name actors: Swayze, Estevez, Dillion, Macchio, Howell, Lowe, and Cruise. I'd say all the guys were great, but my favorite was Dillion. His performance as Dallas was the real standout for me. I still bust out a "Let's do it for Johnny man," every now and then.

The Outsiders will always be special to me because it was the first time a book I love was made into a movie I love. How 'bout you? What was the first book you love that was made into a movie you love?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for...........Nemo.

N is for..........Nemo.

Finding Nemo was the first movie that Meg and I went to see with our oldest daughter. Our youngest was only 8 months old, so she hung out with my parents. Even though we weren't a full squad, Nemo was the first movie that Meg and I saw together as parents.

Call me a dork, but I saved the ticket stub.

The Rileys have watched Nemo many times over the years, and it never gets old. I still love everything I loved that first time in the theater: the colors, the characters, the music.

You may have heard that Pixar is making a sequel, Finding Dory. It will be hard to recapture the magic of Finding Nemo, but those Pixar people are geniuses. Whatever they come up with, the Rileys will be there.

What do you think, is Finding Dory a good idea?

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for..........

M is for..........Murderball.

Murderball is a 2005 documentary about the US wheelchair rugby team. The film follows the team as it prepares to play the rival Canadians in the 2004 Paralympics Games.

The movie highlights some of the individual stories of the quadriplegic athletes, and it's hard not to be inspired by these guys. My wife and I were particularly inspired by Mark Zupan. His positive attitude and lust for life make him the movie's star.

When things are tough, I often think of Zupan and these wheelchair athletes. It helps me reset my own attitude.

Murderball is the rare movie that can change lives. I can't recommend it enough.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for.........

L is for.........Lloyd.

Lloyd Dobler may be a fictional character, but I owe him one.

A young woman sat in the now deceased Uptown Bar and Grill in Minneapolis, sharing a drink with a friend on a cold winter night.

She had just met a guy, who the friend happened to know a little bit. The friend said the guy was "a real Lloyd Dobler."

That meant something to the young woman, something good.

Now I'm not saying my wife married me because a mutual friend of ours compared me to Lloyd Dobler.

But it sure didn't hurt.

Ever been compared to a character from a movie?

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for..........

K is for..........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.

I've watched all the movies with the girls, well, the first three anyway, sorry Hilary Swank. 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.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for..........

J is for..........Jack.

When you're the best at what you do, one name is enough my friends.

Love him or hate him, Jack Nicholson is arguably the greatest actor of all time.

Bold statement?

Check out the credentials:

The man has been nominated for acting awards in 5 decades. That's right, 5 decades, from the 60s to the 2000s. He hasn't been nominated yet this decade, but I'm not betting against the guy.

His 12 Oscar nominations make him the most nominated actor of all time.

His 3 wins are tied for the most all time.

So yeah, maybe ol' Jack spends more time at Lakers' games than he does on movie sets these days, but I have a feeling he's got some great work left in him. Looking back on an amazing career, these are my favorite Nicholson performances:

5) The Shining
4) Prizzi's Honor
3) A Few Good Men
2) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1) About Schmidt

Love him? Hate him?

What's your favorite Nicholson performance?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for..........

I is for..........Indiana.

I remember the day I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time.

As soon as my dad got home that night, my brother and I were all over him to take us to see this new movie that everyone said was amazing.

My dad said we'd have to wait a week because things were kind of tight right now. My brother and I begged, like kids are supposed to, but the old man held firm.

Not to be denied, we broke open our piggy banks. When we poured those coins and crumpled bills on the family room floor, we knew we had him.

Dad told us to put our money back, he could probably scrape up enough to take us. Maybe even a little extra for some snacks.

Indiana Jones thrilled us that night, but for my brother and I, we got to go home with the real hero.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for..........

H is for..........Hobbits.

My dad loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Every time we came across one of the Rings movies on TV, Meg and I would joke that my dad was probably watching.

And more times than not, he was.

The man loved him some hobbits. He even told us one time that he'd like to be a hobbit. He figured the shire looked like the perfect place to live.

One of the last Christmas presents my siblings and I gave him was a boxed set of the Rings blu-rays, and the look on his face was priceless. The man was happy to have the shire and those hobbits at his beck and call, and on his prized flat screen, no less.

My dad's been gone a couple years now, but I still think of him every time I see one of the movies on TV.  I haven't seen The Hobbit yet, but Meg and I will watch it with the girls soon. I know it will make me think of my dad, so I know I'll love it.

Any movies remind you of loved ones?

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for..........

G is for..........Gangster.

Hollywood is fascinated with gangsters, and there have been a lot of great gangster movies over the years. I like a good gangster movie as much as the next guy, so today I'm going with my top 5 gangster movies.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. You will not be seeing The Godfather on my list. I hate to admit this, but I haven't actually watched it. I've seen so many bits and pieces, that I'm sure I've seen the whole thing. I certainly know a Godfather reference when I see one. But in my mind, you have to watch a movie from start to finish for an official viewing. Since I haven't done that, I can't include The Godfather on this list.

I know, pathetic. Feel free to ridicule me in the comments.

With that out of the way, here's the list:

5) State of Grace
4) A Bronx Tale
3) Eastern Promises
2) Goodfellas
1) Pulp Fiction

What's your favorite gangster movie?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for..........

F is for..........Footloose.

Definitely not the 2011 remake. I haven't seen it, and I have no intention of ever watching it.

Nope, it's the 1984 original for this guy.

I was in 9th grade when Footloose came out, and my parents had recently told me that we would be leaving Appleton and moving to Green Bay within the year.

I was devastated.

Now, I'm not saying I envisioned myself moving to Green Bay and having to fight for my right to dance, but I definitely connected with Kevin Bacon's Ren, the new guy in town trying to fit in. I will freely admit that I had every intention of being as cool as Kevin Bacon when I rolled into Green Bay.

I remember going to see Footloose a bunch of times with my friend, Tom Huettner. Tom's dad was a fairly strict religious kind of guy, and I think Tom related to that aspect of the movie. Of course, we both loved the music. I remember getting the soundtrack that Easter, along with MJ's Thriller. The Footloose soundtrack was kind of my personal soundtrack for a while.

This might sound ridiculous, but Footloose helped me deal with the move to Green Bay. And for that reason, I'll always love it.

Have any movies ever helped you with a tough time?

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for..........

E is for..........Elf.

I'm one of those people.

You know the type.

The kind of person who peppers conversation with movie quotes.

Who knows, you may even be one of those people yourself.

I'm proud to say that my daughters have become enthusiastic movie quoters. It's like some kind of movie-quoting gene has been successfully passed on to the next generation. My daughters first showed an affinity for the perfectly timed and placed movie quote with lines from Elf. And for that, Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell, I am eternally grateful. Elf is full of great lines, and you never know when one of the girls will bust one out.

I love it every time.

Which movie do you quote most often?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for..........

D is for..........Dude.

If you stopped by yesterday, you know that I love the Coen brothers. How can I not love the guys who created the best movie character of all time?

Jeffrey Lebowski.


The Dude.

Not buying The Dude as the greatest movie character of all time? Well, obviously you're not a golfer.

My wife loves The Dude as much as I do, and we watch The Big Lebowski a few times a year. In between viewings, we quote The Dude all the time. It could be daily. Seriously. For instance, when holding a class of any kind, an activity that does indeed happen on a daily basis, one or both of us is likely to say, "careful, man, there's a beverage here." It never gets old.

I could go on and on, but perhaps The Stranger said it best.

"The Dude abides. I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals."

Who's your favorite movie character?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for..........

C is for..........Coen

I'm a huge fan of the Coen brothers. The first Coen brother movie I saw was Raising Arizona in 1987. I went with my friend Mike, and I remember thinking that I hadn't seen anything like it. My understanding of tone was certainly minimal at the time, but even I could tell the humor in Raising Arizona was something different. Little did I know, it was the beginning of a lifelong cinematic relationship.

I recently participated in Alex Cavanaugh's Top 10 Movie Countdown Blogfest. 2 Coen movies made my list, and two others were very close. I haven't loved all of their films, and there are a couple that fell completely flat for me, but when the Coens make a movie, I'm there.

Here are my top 5 from the brothers Coen:

5) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
4) No Country for Old Men
3) Fargo
2) Raising Arizona
1) The Big Lebowski

Love the Coens? Hate 'em? What's your favorite Coen brother movie?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for..........

B is for Bueller..........Bueller.

Maybe this is cheating, but I wrote this a couple years ago for A-Z. I was going to use Bridesmaids for B, but that voice just kept nagging at me, you know the one. Bueller..........Bueller..........Bueller. So I went back and took a look at what I'd done before and decided it still works.

The 80's gave us a lot of great teen movies, perhaps none better than Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In high school, a bunch of us would act out scenes from the movie at parties. Such was the pull of Ferris Bueller that this often made us the hit of said parties. It was a glorious time indeed.

I've always thought they should make a sequel. Ferris is producing a play on Broadway and Cameron is a banker on Wall Street. Ferris has to meet with an investor threatening to walk, but his marriage has just fallen apart and he can't handle the idea of groveling for money. He gets a message from Sloan, whose own marriage has recently imploded, on facebook that she's coming to the city and would love to get together. Cameron is working on a big project, but Ferris coerces him to ditch work. The three old buddies wander NYC, avoiding Ferris's investor, Cameron's boss, and possibly Sloan's ex. This is just a rough outline of course, but you can see the possibilities, can't you?

I saw this recut trailer for Ferris Bueller a while back, and it's kind of interesting. Imagine Ferris repackaged and marketed as an indie film, full of irony, angst, and epiphany. It makes me wonder if I missed some deeper meaning in the film.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for..........

First day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Here we go.

Before my first post, I would like to thank Arlee Bird for starting the A-Z Challenge. I have discovered so many great bloggers during the Challenge, and I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with this year. A-Z is indeed a challenge, but it's a blast, and it's fun to see it grow every year. You done good Arlee.

A is for..........Aliens.

My dad was a huge Alien fan, so when Aliens came out in 1986, it was a big deal at the Riley house. I can vividly remember his excitement that Friday night. I can still hear him laughing when Ripley busted out, "Get away from her you bitch!" It was the kind of laugh you could hear over everyone else. At least that's how it was for me. I can hear it even now as I write, and it makes me smile.

Ellen Ripley is one of the great female characters in movie history, and I freely admit to having a teenage crush on Sigourney Weaver. A lot of the dialogue from Aliens, especially the banter between the soldiers, quickly became routine in my circle of friends. We were all particularly fond of asking, "how do I get out of this chicken shit outfit?" or insisting that someone "look into my eye," for dramatic effect.

Aliens is a perfect example of the kind of movie I'll be writing about this Challenge. A movie that reminds me of family and friends. Every time I watch it, the memories come flooding back.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's All Worth It

As if things weren't busy enough, I agreed to coach the track team at my school this year. A good friend of mine had been the coach for years, making the team a perennial power, winning the city championship the last nine years in a row. My buddy took a job at the high school down the road, and he asked if I would take over for him. He said he trusted me to take over and keep the team rolling, uphold the tradition. How could I refuse?

With 50 boys on the team, there's a ton of paper work. Managing practices and meets is like herding cats at times. It's a lot of work, and juggling track and teaching is wearing me down. With 6 meets in April, things will be pretty crazy. We're on Spring Break this week, so I'm hoping to be rested and ready to go for the stretch run.

Here's a little story that makes it all worth it.

One of my guys was very upset about being moved up to the C division (kids compete in classes determined by height and weight). That's where his measurements put him, but he didn't think he could handle it. He was particularly worried about the high jump. He was sure he couldn't even jump the beginning height.

At our first meet, he was a wreck. On his first attempt, he just missed clearing the bar. I pulled him aside and gave him a little instruction on his technique, assuring him that he could clear the height with ease. And that's exactly what my man did.

The look on his face was pure joy.

My man cleared the next three heights, and each time the smile got bigger and bigger. I could literally see the confidence growing. It was truly an awesome sight.

Let me tell ya, it doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Top 10 Movie Countdown Blogfest

Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for hosting a blogfest right up my alley. My theme for A-Z this year is movies, so this will be a nice little tune-up for April. There's probably still time to join the fun. Just click the big ol' badge and share your top 10.

The movies on my list are more than just movies to me, they are memories of time shared with important people in my life. And every time I watch them, they have the power to create new and lasting memories. This is a theme I plan on exploring quite a bit during A-Z, the memories that movies have given me. Since I'll probably write about all of my top 10 in one way or another, for this post I'll just go with a basic list.

10) The Empire Strikes Back
9) Stand By Me
8) Raising Arizona
7) Say Anything
6) To Kill a Mockingbird
5) Up
4) Pulp Fiction
3) Wonder Boys
2) Little Miss Sunshine
1) The Big Lebowski

I'm looking forward to checking out as many of the top tens as I can. If you're not doing your own top 10 for the blogfest, maybe you could leave some of your favorites in the comments.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

National Wormhole Day

It's time for the National Wormhole Day hop, hosted by Stephen Tremp, LG Smith, and Laura Eno.

I'm joining the party last minute, but I have to support LG, one of the best bloggers out there. Here's the skinny on the hop:

What would you do or where would you go if you could traverse a wormhole through space or time just once? One safe round trip passage. Would you go back in time and talk some sense into a younger you? Go five years into the future and bring back the Wall Street Journal? See just how the heck the Great Pyramids of Giza were really built? View what the other side of the universe looks like? Kill Hitler?

I'm going with a sports theme for this one. I'm a huge Green Bay Packers fan, and there are a number of great games I would have loved to see in person. Perhaps the most famous game in Green Bay history is the Ice Bowl, so that's where I'd go. Back to Dec. 31, 1967. Back to a balmy -15 degrees, -48 with the wind chill. 

It was so cold that day a bunch of players couldn't start their cars and had to scramble to find a way to the stadium. It was so cold, the ref's metal whistle froze to his lips at the beginning of the game. It was so cold the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse marching band scraped their halftime performance because everyone's lips were freezing to their instruments.

I bet the parking lot was full of people tailgating. That's just how GBP fans roll. 

Starr scoring the winning touchdown
The Packers defeated their arch rival, the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17 that glorious Sunday, securing a spot in the second Super Bowl. Bart Starr scored on the game's final play, sneaking in behind ol' Jerry Kramer. 

50, 861 people were in attendance that day. I'd go through the wormhole to make that 50, 862.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Better Late Than Never

I've been home for over a week now, but I'm still in catch-up mode. I feel like a hamster running on that wheel, chasing the rhythm of normal life. I was able to document most of the trip from the road, but I have one more post to crank out.

Our last day in Israel began with a stop at Qumran, a village near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Our next stop was decidedly less ancient, the Ahava manufacturing plant and showroom. Ahava is a brand of skin care products made of mud and mineral-based compounds from the Dead Sea. The women in my life love the creams and lotions, so this was prime souvenir time for me.

the square is where the Romans camped out
Then it was down the road and back to the ancient past at Masada. Herod the Great established a fortress and built an amazing, terraced palace complex overlooking the Dead Sea. When the Romans attacked Masada, the Jewish inhabitants killed themselves rather than be taken into slavery. This is an extremely important site for Israelis, and one of the more memorable stops on the trip.

my mom soaking her feet while I float
The last stop of the day, and the trip, was the Dead Sea itself. Floating in the Dead Sea was on the bucket list, and the experience did not disappoint. The water is so salty and full of other chemicals that you don't put your head under the water. In fact, you don't splash around in the Dead Sea at all. Just a little bit of the water in your eyes is very painful. You wade out, sit back, and float. It's amazing. After my float, I partook in another Dead Sea tradition, covering your body in Dead Sea mud. I'll spare you the pictures, but that was a blast too.

The journey home was exhausting, but overall, the trip exceeded my expectations. I love it when that happens.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Jerusalem and Bethlehem

It's around 9:00 here in Jerusalem. I would have posted sooner, but amazingly, our hotel doesn't have free Wifi.....anywhere. I needed to facetime with the girls, so I'm paying for a day of access. I'm ready for bed, but I want to get caught up with the trip.

Day 3 of the trip began with a stop in Tiberias, a key city in the Israeli diamond industry. It was cool to learn a little about the diamond industry, but the whole point of the stop was to get us to buy jewelry. I'm sure the tour company gets a kickback from the diamond company, but I could have done without this stop.

can't beat the view, but no Wifi.....seriously?
Our next stop was Beit She'an, another Roman ruin. It was a beautiful day, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the ruins. From there it was a couple hour drive to Jerusalem. Our hotel is very centrally located, and we walked around for a while, soaking the city in.

Day four was the Big Daddy. We started at the Mount of Olives to get a full view of the Old City. Then it was on to the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus was betrayed and arrested. From there we went inside the Old City. Our first stop in the Old City was the Western Wall.

entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
After the Western Wall, we made our way to the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus carried the cross. We made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the sight of the crucifiction and burial. Interesting note about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: security for one of the most sacred sites in Christianity is handled by Muslims. The politics of this area are thick and complicated indeed. Walking the Old City was an amazing and emotional experience. I slept well last night.

That brings me to today. We started with a trip to the Church of Visitation, the place where a pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, and the birthplace of John the Baptist.

From there we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. Talk about a moving experience. Our last stop in Jerusalem was the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed.

hard to imagine peace with this kind of wall
Then things got really interesting. Our Israeli guide drove us to Bethlehem. The city of Bethlehem is under Palestinian control, and security is intense. Israel does not allow Jewish citizens to enter Bethlehem, so after going through the border, we were met by an Arab Christian who guided us to the Church of the Holy Nativity. This was the first time on the trip that I felt a little uneasy. Certainly one of the more memorable stops of the journey.

Tomorrow we go the Dead Sea, where I have every intention of doing some floating. I probably won't have a chance to write again until I get home. I'll do a final post then.

Time to crash.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Galilee and the Golan Heights

We've had two great days here in Israel. I'm writing this post from the Kibbutz Lavi Hotel in Galilee, where the rooms all have free Wifi.

a view from Haifa
We left Tel Aviv early Monday morning. Our first stop was Caesarea, where I saw my first Roman ruins. From there we went to Haifa, Israel's third largest city. The views of the Mediterranean in Haifa are stunning.

Our next stop was Meggido, the place where the final battle between good and evil, or Armaggedon, is supposed to take place. We ate lunch in a town called Akko. Our guide took us to a great restaurant and we ate a ridiculous amount of amazing food. Out last stop of the day was Nazareth. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. We went to a church built on the site of Mary's home, the place where she learned she was pregnant with Jesus, the Annunciation. I have to admit, I was quite moved. I can only imagine how some of the other places on our tour will make me feel. Adding to the atmosphere, as we left the church the Muslim call to prayer began. Our last stop was another church, this one built on the site of Joseph's home. By the time we made it to the kibbutz, we were exhausted.

from the boat on the Sea of Galilee
Today began with a very nice breakfast at the kibbutz, and then we drove to the Sea of Galilee. It's really a lake, but they called any large bodies of water Seas back in the day. We took a short boat ride, and the views from the water of the surrounding area were beautiful.

Back on land, we went to Tabgha, where there is a church built on the site where Jesus multiplied 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread to feed thousands. Not far from there is Mt. of Beatitudes. This is where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount. There is a church at the site now (common for these historical sites), and I watched as a Romanian priest led his group in prayer. This was another moment where I was surprisingly moved. The next part of the trip took us through the Golan Heights.We stopped in Banias, where the River Jordan originates. Coming down from the Golan Heights, we ate a late lunch on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. After lunch we went to Capernaum, the village where Jesus lived with Peter. Our last stop today was the River Jordan again, this time the place where John baptized Jesus. It's common for people to be baptized in this spot, or rebaptized, and it was interesting to watch a couple women being baptized..  

We had a late dinner with the tour group here at the kibbutz, and I'm quickly winding down. We leave for Jerusalem tomorrow, so it'll be another busy day. Isarael seems to have Wifi everywhere, so I'll check in again tomorrow or the next day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Greetings From Tel Aviv

I am writing this post from the lobby of the Dan Panarama Hotel in Tel Aviv. That's right ya'll, I'm in Israel. We traveled damn near a full day to get here, but we watched the sun set into the Mediterranean Sea tonight-not too shabby.

My mom has always wanted to see the Holy Land. She was raised Catholic, and in turn, raised her kids Catholic. Even though I'm what you would consider a lapsed Catholic these days, I offered to accompany my mom to Israel. She took me up on the offer, and here we are. We're like the Irish Catholic version of Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand in that mother/son road trip movie that no one saw. But you get the point.

We'll be hitting all the sights any good Christian would ever need to see. I wish I could tell you what those are, but like I said, I'm a lapsed Catholic. I'm sure it'll all come back to me though. I'll post as much as I can this week to document the trip. We're going to be staying at a kibbutz most of the week. I don't know what the Wifi status will be, but I'll do my best.

Shalom for now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Class Act

I was sad to see one of my all-time favorite Packers, Donald Driver, retire last week. Driver's story is the stuff of fiction. He grew up in poverty in Houston, living out of a U-Haul for a time during high school. Driver was drafted in 1999, a 7th round draft pick from Alcorn State, an afterthought really. He wasn't even supposed to make the team, let alone become the all-time leading receiver for one of the NFL's most historic franchises. 

Driver was loved for his toughness on the gridiron and his charity work in the community. He won over fans, including my daughters, on Dancing with the Stars. The guy even writes children's books. Driver was a helluva player, and an even better person. Just ask this lady. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A-Z is Just Around the Corner

April will be here before you know it, so it's never too early to sign up for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. When I signed up last week, there were already over 400 blogs (I'm officially #418) on the list. I think there were about 2000 blogs last year, and it looks like there will be a lot more this year.

Some of the best writing in the blogosphere happens during A-Z, and I can't wait to see what my favorite writers come up with this year. There's still time to get in on the fun, just click the link, scroll on down and get yourself signed up. I've been cruising the list, and I've already found a bunch of new blogs to follow.

I went random my first two Challenges, but this year I'm going with a movie theme. My idea is to write about the movies, characters, actors, and directors that have contributed to the images and dialogue floating around in my movie-filled mind.

Are you doing A-Z this year? Do you have a theme?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is Teaching

My students had a test yesterday on elements of literature vocabulary, things like protagonist/antagonist, conflict, 1st and 3rd person POV, that kind of stuff. I told the kids that they needed to study. I told them that if they studied, I had no doubt they would ace the test. I also told them that if they didn't study, well, in my experience, they wouldn't do so well.

Before school started, a number of kids came in to tell me that they had studied, and it was fun to see their excitement. They were prepared and they knew it. That's one of my favorite things about teaching, seeing kids who know they're ready. As with any test, I was optimistic. I felt like I had prepared the kids for success. I felt like just a little bit of studying should be enough for all of the kids to do well.

I was grading some of my 1st period papers while my 2nd period was taking the test, and my optimism was rewarded. Sure, there were kids who didn't do well on the test. A lot of them were nailing it though, including many of my strugglers. I was particularly impressed with one student who got a perfect score. And then I focused on what she'd written across the top of her paper:

I studded very hard.

That's right, she studded very hard.

I had to laugh. A teacher's work is never done my friends.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kids in the Movies

I recently watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, and like most people who've seen it, I marveled at young Quvenzhane Wallis. I wanted to like the movie more, but it didn't quite connect with me. I found Wallis riveting though. Her performance perfectly captured the innocence and purity of childhood. She absolutely deserves her best actress nomination, and it would be very cool if she actually won.

Wallis got me thinking about other great performances by kids in movies. A list has been rattling around in my head for a few days, and of course, a top five has emerged. These are my favorite performances by actors 16 or younger:

5) Mary Badham, To Kill a Mockingbird: Badham, like Quvenzhane Wallis, had never acted before her film debut. She was also nominated for an Oscar, at the time the youngest best supporting actress nominee ever.

4) Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider: First of all, if you haven't seen this movie, check it out. There's a scene in this movie that had me bawling like a baby, a scene that will stick with me for life. KCH was nominated for best actress, and I remember being very bummed that she didn't win.

3) Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense: Osment was nominated for best supporting actor for his performance. Could anyone else have made "I see dead people" such a memorable line?

2) River Phoenix, Stand by Me: I love this movie. The scene at the end when Chris Chambers fades away makes me verklempt every time. I miss River Phoenix.

1) Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine: Breslin is like a mini Meryl Streep. She's always good. LMS is one of my favorite movies, and Breslin is a big reason why. You gotta love Olive Hoover.

Let me know what you think of the choices, and by all means, share some of your favorites.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love from LeBron

Without out a doubt, LeBron James is the best athlete I have ever seen. I really want to like the guy, but when he famously took his talents to South Beach, I had to stand with jilted Cleveland fans and cheer against him. 

Then he goes and pulls this stunt. Keep it up LeBron and I might just change my mind about you. It's pretty hard not to like the guy in this video.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Oprah Can't Save You, Lance

You didn't have to be a cycling fan to admire Lance Armstrong. In fact, I would guess most of Armstrong's fans were as clueless about cycling as I was. That's what made Armstrong a true icon, he transcended his sport.

How could you not admire the guy? The man was given very little chance to live, and not only did he survive cancer, he went on to dominate his sport. I have no idea what it takes to win a big time bike race, but it doesn't take a genius to know it ain't easy. 

It also doesn't take a genius to realize the emperor had no clothes.

The world of modern sports is full of cheaters. Performance-enhancing drugs make many of today's athletic feats suspect at best and contemptible at worst. It seems to me the dividing line, as always, is the truth. I don't blame Armstrong for taking substances banned by his sport to gain a competitive advantage. If he'd just come clean when the accusations started flying, we'd be good. Unfortunately, Armstrong went into denial mode, attacking his accusers like a mob boss.

The truth wouldn't go away, so Lance went to Oprah looking for redemption. I didn't watch the interview because as far as I'm concerned, you can't trust a thing the guy says.

And that's what disappoints me the most.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top Ten Movies of 2012

I watched 82 movies in 2012, not including all the bits and pieces I caught while channel-surfing. The first movie I watched in 2012 was Beginners and the last movie I watched was In Bruges. Overall, 2012 was a very strong year for movies, one of the better years I can remember. If you're heading out to the theaters or looking for something to rent, you can't go wrong with any of these films. Unlike my top ten books, I've only included movies that were released in the US this year.

10) Big Miracle: This great family film is based on a true story. Back in the late 80s, a group of people came together to save some whales in Alaska, proving that people with very different concerns and opinions can indeed work together to solve problems. I think the US Congress should sit down and watch this one.

9) The Grey: A plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, and the survivors must evade a pack of wolves as they try to get back to civilization. Liam Neeson is great as the leader of the survivors. Some of the wolf special effects are iffy, but thanks to Neeson, this little action/adventure movie was surprisingly compelling.

8) Bernie: This is the second of three movies based on true stories on the list. Jack Black plays Bernie, a beloved mortician who shocks everyone in a small Texas town. Black's performance is brilliant, and I won't be surprised at all to see him nominated for a bunch of awards.

7) Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: This was a classic case of liking a movie a lot more than I thought I would. A fisheries expert helps a sheik with his seemingly impossible dream of bringing fly-fishing to the desert. While I didn't like the romantic angle of the film that much, it didn't lose me. The unusual friendship between the fish guy and the sheik ultimately made this movie for me.

6) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A group of aging Brits take up residence in a suspect retirement home in India. Score one for the old folks. This movie nicely shows that new beginnings aren't only for the young.

5) The Dark Knight Rises: The Avengers may have won the box office battle, but for my money, TDKR was a much better movie. I didn't like this one as much as The Dark Knight, but it is certainly a worthy conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.  

4) The Silver Linings Playbook: I'm not a big fan of romantic comedies, but this one is quirky, the good kind of quirky. The romantic relationship at the core of this movie is excellent, but it's everything else going on in this movie that makes it so great. Of course, any movie that weaves football into the lives of its characters so thoroughly and genuinely can't miss in my book.

3) Flight: Denzel is typically brilliant as a pilot who prevents a catastrophic plane crash despite being drunk and hopped up on coke. There have been a lot of good movies about addiction, but this may be the best one I've ever seen.

2) Argo: Don't look now, but Ben Affleck has become one helluva director. Dare I say, Eastwoodian. Of course, let's hope we don't see Affleck talking to a chair any time soon. Or maybe we should hope for that. Sorry, I digress. This is another movie based on real events, this time the stranger-than-fiction escape of 6 American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis.

1) Life of Pi: Ang Lee took a beloved book and created an eye-popping film masterpiece. The best thing I can say about this movie is that it will leave you asking life's ultimate question: What do I believe?

Let me know what you think of my choices, and of course, I'd love to hear what you enjoyed watching this year in the comments, maybe some movies to watch in 2013. Your top movie, top 3, 5, 10, whatever works for you.