Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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

Before I had kids I wasn't much of a zoo person. I do have a few fond childhood memories of trips to the zoo, but they're pretty faded and worn now. Way back in the recesses of my cluttered memory, I can see old Samson, the giant 650 pound gorilla from the Milwaukee Zoo.

I did work at a zoo the summer after freshman year in college. That was a wild experience, one that might make a pretty funny book one day. A coming of age story with elusive spider monkeys, wacky co-workers, raccoons on leashes, and hissing badgers. Years later I spent a memorable afternoon with Meg at said zoo. We watched in sociological awe as a family straight out of Deliverance got peed on by a lion they were harassing. Meg and I have gotten a lot of mileage out that story over the years.

We have a nice little zoo here in Tucson. You can walk the whole thing in about an hour, which makes it perfect for quick visits with the kids. When the girls were little we had a membership, and we went just about every weekend. First came the stroller years, when Meg and I could dictate the pace and enjoy some time out of the house. Then came the toddler years, when we let the girls walk on their own, herding them through all the sights. Finally, we reached the point where the girls could walk slightly ahead of us, Meg and I able to have a little adult conversation while the girls checked in with all their favorite animals.

We don't go to the zoo much anymore. I wouldn't say the girls outgrew it, but other interests have taken over. Every once in a while they'll get excited about going, maybe to feed the giraffes. I miss the days when a trip to the zoo was a major family outing. I'm sure we'll make at least one visit during summer vacation. I hope the girls will have fond memories of our trips to the zoo. I know I do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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

I love YouTube. I like checking out the latest viral videos as much as the next guy, and I can't tell you how many times YouTube has bailed me out at school.

Kids, today we begin designing our catapults.

Blank stares.

How 'bout we check out a couple YouTube videos to get some ideas.

Happy shiny faces.

I don't subscribe to Youtube channels yet, but that may not be far off for me. It's quite possible that YouTube will be instrumental in how I access a large portion of my entertainment in the future.

I can foresee a situation where creative types have their own channels and you'll need to subscribe for new content. It's my understanding this is already happening, but I'm still pretty ignorant when it comes to YouTube.

One thing seems for sure. YouTube will be a big player in the entertainment world in the foreseeable future.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for..........Xenophobia and Xenophilia

To be honest, I was just going to skip X this year. But then something happened this morning. Every Monday I give my students a vocabulary packet, and when I flipped to this week's unit in my trusty vocabulary book I had to laugh. The words all include the suffixes phobia or philia. One of the words is xenophobia and that was my very first X back in 2011. In 2012, I went flip side of the coin and did xenophilia, a word that, quite frankly, was new to me at the time. So as I made my copies before school, I decided I wouldn't skip X after all.

I certainly prefer Xenophilia, an attraction to foreign peoples, cultures, or customs. The opposite of xenophobia if you will. I love learning about foreign cultures and customs, and some of my very favorite people hail from other countries. I may be making up a word here, but I would even consider myself a xenophiliac. 

As you can imagine, my students weren't particularly happy to see their weekly vocabulary homework coming at them this morning, but this little X coincidence put a smile on my face.

Hey, at least one person in the room was happy.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

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

Arizona is a fairly transient place, not a lot of born-and-raiseds. Talk with someone long enough and the question of where you're originally from comes up.

That's always been a tough one to answer for me. My family moved around a lot, but I guess when it comes down to it, I consider myself from Wisconsin.

When I tell people I'm from Wisconsin, a cheesehead reference soon follows. Which is cool. I am a cheesehead.

But there's more to the story. I lived in four Wisconsin cities, and each one left its mark, making me the person I am.

Port Washington is a small fishing town on Lake Michigan. My childhood there was idyllic, very Tom Sawyer. I remember summer days waking up before the sun, heading down to the creek (very definitely pronounced crick) for full days of fishing.

We moved to Appleton when I was in 4th grade. Appleton is where the hormones kicked in and girls started to matter. Appleton is where I met friends that have stayed with me over miles and years.

Green Bay was only 30 miles north from Appleton, but when we moved there my sophomore year, it felt like another planet. Green Bay is where I learned to fit in again, miraculously finding people who got me, and still do. I graduated from high school in Green Bay, and I suppose one never forgets that.

Madison is a college town, and a great one at that. Madison is where I figured out who I really was, wanted to be, the place where I started to become a man.

Port Washington, Appleton, Green Bay, Madison. All these places are Wisconsin. And when I tell people I'm from Wisconsin, this is what I mean. I haven't lived in Wisconsin for a long time. Nearly twenty years now. But these places remain, they are in my blood.

Friday, April 25, 2014

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

Way back when, the girls had a sleep over. There'd been a lot of junk food earlier in the day at Quinn's end-of-the-season soccer party. We made the mistake of taking home a nearly full tub of Red Vines. Over the course of the night, the girls polished that baby off. At the time I didn't think much of it. I mean, sure, it was ridiculous for 4 girls to eat that much licorice, but not unprecedented.

Of course, every time I saw Quinn grabbing a bunch of Red Vines, I assumed she was just being the considerate young child I know her to be and sharing with the other girls. Umm, not so much. Turns out the other girls weren't that into Red Vines, so Quinn took advantage and ate the whole lot. Even when we figured out that she'd pulled one over on us, I kind of had to chuckle.

My attitude radically changed around 4:00 the next morning when those Red Vines exacted their revenge. Quinn woke us up to tell us she had to throw up. We tried to get her into our bathroom, but it wasn't to be. Quinn puked her way to the bathroom, leaving a remarkably vibrant red trail. After pretty much emptying the contents of her stomach on the carpet in our bedroom and the tile in the bathroom, Quinn informed us that she had thrown up in her room as well.

There was so much vomit in Quinn's room, it was a small miracle that her friend was untouched. We moved the girls out to the living room and feebly attempted to clean up. I tried the stain remover we had in the house, but to no avail, those stains weren't going anywhere. Meg and I finally gave up and went back to bed. We'd been talking about replacing the carpet in the bedrooms anyway, so we figured this had to be a sign before drifting back to sleep.

We still haven't replaced the carpet, and by now we barely notice the red spots anymore. Actually, I kind of like those red stains now. They crack me up. Parenting is a funny thing. It can turn a night of prolific vomiting into one of those family stories that will stand the test of time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

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

Undefeated is a brilliant documentary about an inner city football team. If you're a sports fan, this a must-see. Not a sports fan, you say? My wife could care less about sports and she'll tell you, this is a helluva movie.

In the tradition of great sports movies, it's not really about sports. It's about the people. It's about the relationships.

I'm not gonna lie, this movie choked me up multiple times, and one scene in particular almost had me sobbing. I tweeted something about the movie back when I watched it for the first time, and one of the guys in the movie retweeted my comment. That was pretty cool.

I really can't recommend this movie enough.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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

It's hard to believe, but I've been teaching for 18 years now. I started out teaching at an alternative high school in Minneapolis. That was a wild three years, but it was an extremely rewarding experience, and really, nothing shocks me after all the craziness I had to deal with in that job.

Meg and I moved to Tucson in '99. My first teaching job here was a 6th grade gig at one of the more challenging middle schools in town. It was a tough job, but I would have gladly stayed. There were only bilingual positions open at the time, so I moved to a different middle school on the other side of town. I finally got to settle in at a school and I was there for 10 years. This is where I came into my own as a teacher, where I honed my style. I like to tell people my teaching style is Father Flanagan mixed with Bobby Knight.

I've been successful in my career at raising test scores and five years ago I was offered a chance to participate in a federal study to see if teachers who get positive test results in one school can replicate that success in underperforming schools. There was a bonus involved, and I made the move. That first year was probably the worst year of my teaching career. I was seriously second-guessing my decision. Fortunately, the second year was the complete opposite, reaffirming my love of teaching, perhaps making it stronger than ever. I stayed for a third year, but the commute got to be too much, so I returned to my previous school, where I currently teach 6th grade language arts.

Teaching is a demanding profession. Each day in the classroom is a microcosm of life. Every day good things happen, amazing things, profound things. But bad things happen too, and you have to be able to learn from them, bounce back from them, leave them behind.

It's not the best time to be a teacher in the United States. We don't seem to have a lot of allies out there nowadays. The one thing Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is that schools are failing and teachers are the problem. I would say the politicians are the real problem in public education, but that's a whole other kind of post my friends.

I could go on and on, trying to distill the essence of teaching, but I probably wouldn't do a very good job. Let me leave you with a story that nicely illustrates why I love teaching.

I ran into a former student recently, a young man, now 21. He told me what he was doing with himself, and then he surprised the hell out of me. He thanked me for teaching him how to write. He said he learned to love writing in my class, and he was really happy to have the chance to thank me.

That's what teaching is all about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

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

I have two daughters, Quinn and Scout. Quinn was the inspiration for my Q post the other day, which means today has to be Scout's day. It was hard to choose just one picture, but I thought this one nicely captured Scout in her adolescent glory. Can you feel the disdain?

When Meg and I found out we were having a girl, it didn't take long for us to decide on a name. We both love To Kill a Mockingbird, and when I suggested Scout, Meg was game. It's funny, Scout is very much like her namesake: adventurous, smart, inquisitive, kind, wise. Scout may be an unusual name, but it fits her perfectly. 

Scout is a talker. Ask her how her day was, and no one word answers from this kid. If you've got the time, Scout can deliver a play by play like you wouldn't believe. The cool thing is, she's also a great listener. She loves to know what other people think about things.

When Scout does something, she's all in. She did a family history project for her social studies class this year, and the amount of time she put into it was amazing. She was working on this thing Friday and Saturday nights for a month. During the week, we had to pull the plug at a reasonable hour or she would have kept working long after we went to bed. The final product was impressive. My mom was so moved, she took it to Kinkos to get a copy made for herself. I mean, the thing is bascially a historical document for our family now.

That's what comes to mind when I think of Scout. A kid who takes pride in her work and is willing to work incredibly hard to get results. With that kind of work ethic, the sky's the limit. I can't wait to see what this kid comes up with in the future.

Monday, April 21, 2014

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

Reading keeps me sane. I mostly read fiction, but I read a good deal of nonfiction as well. Even on my busiest of days, I have to read. It may only be a few minutes, a few pages before bed, but it calms my mind and helps my body wind down.

Then there are the days when things come together perfectly. A chunk of time and a book that I can't put down.

One of the things I'm most proud of is that my daughters love to read. Meg and I are both big readers, and undoubtedly our habits rubbed off on them. They read all over the house, and I love seeing them in one of their spots completely absorbed in a book. I enjoy having the girls tell me about books they're reading, and it's even more fun to talk about books we've all read.

Those kinds of conversations will happen more and more, and they will certainly add to my love of reading.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

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

Quinn, Quinny, Q-bird, just plain Q. It's hard to believe my little girl is 11 years old. Not so little any more. There are a million reasons why I'm crazy about my kid. I won't go on and on, just a few highlights.
Q for President!!!!

If Quinn had a theme song it would be Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." The girl is full-on, all the time. I've had the privilege of coaching Quinn's soccer team the last 3 years, and watching her play is one of the great joys of my life. The girl gets after it people. I mean, she never stops. One of the parents told Quinn recently that he was so happy his daughter was on her team because she makes everyone a better player. I can't think of higher praise for an athlete.

Quinn is also a kid who cries hysterically whenever we see one of those help the animals commercials. I'm talking heaves, sobs. We can be flipping channels and just the slightest glimpse of one of these commercials sets her off. It's hard not to laugh sometimes, but then it's hard not to cry right along with her.

Quinn is a kid who thinks it's fun to waitress when we have people over to the house. You're never without a drink during Quinn's shift, and she takes such good care of her customers that she is always tipped well. Sure, she likes the money, but she'd do it anyway.

Quinn is a kid who throws herself into her hobbies. She is currently obsessed with Rainbow Loom, a plastic toy loom used to weave colorful rubber bands into bracelets and charms. She watches videos on her ipad to learn new and more intricate designs all the time. She post pictures on her Instagram of her favorites. Everyone who visits the Riley house leaves with a bracelet in their favorite colors. Quinn wouldn't have it any other way.

If you're still reading, thanks for putting up with the ramblings of a Dad who's head over heels for his kid. I'm sure there are a lot of great Q words I could have gone with for Q, but sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Friday, April 18, 2014

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

Earlier in the Challenge I wrote about Breaking Bad, what I consider the greatest TV show of all time. My favorite current TV show is Parenthood.

I'm a sucker for ensemble family dramas.

Parenthood follows the lives of the Braverman family. Zeek and Camille are the patriarch and matriarch. Their kids, Adam, Sarah, Julia, and Crosby each have their own families, and the show does an excellent job of showing how all of the characters struggle to keep balance in their lives.

I don't necessarily relate to everything that happens in the show, but there's a lot that hits home. Over the show's five season run there have been plenty of times when my interest has waned, but something always happens to keep me hooked. It's usually some kind of parenting or sibling or son moment that floors me. I'm not ashamed to admit it, the Bravermans have had me choked up quite a bit the last five years.

I read somewhere recently that the show's ratings aren't doing so hot this year, and NBC is still on the fence for a sixth season.

I hope NBC brings the Bravermans back.

I've got Parenthood, what's your favorite TV show these days?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

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

I've always been fascinated by owls. I lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota for most of my life, and while I'm sure they were all around me, I never actually saw one in the wild until I moved to the desert. Now I see them all the time.

Our first house in Tucson was in the middle of town, so I didn't see any there. Our current house is on the outskirts of town, near a National Park. All the lots in our neighborhood are fairly large, with natural desert yards. We get a lot of owls out here.

I saw my first owl about a month after we moved in. I was turning off the lights outside when I noticed this little guy. He just sat there staring at me. I'm sure the poor guy was paralyzed with fear. I had plenty of time to get Meg and the camera. That was eight years ago now, but my eyes still go to that spot every night when I close up, hoping for a return visit.

We see Great Horned Owls quite frequently. I don't have any pictures to share, but man, they are so cool. Our neighbors had this dead tree in their yard, and the Great Horneds loved to perch at the top, surveying the land for prey. They would just sit up there, hooting away. The neighbors took the tree down a while back, and unfortunately we don't see as many Great Horneds these days. 

I remember lying in bed one night and the hooting was particularly loud, it was like the owl was in the room with us. It sounded so close, we went outside to look for it. A giant Great Horned Owl was right on the old TV antenna directly over our bedroom. It was so cool we got the girls out of bed to check it out. 

This little guy is around so much we had to give him a name. We named him Horatio, but at some point the girls decided we should add Papa to his name in honor of my dad. So now our little friend is Papa Horatio. I believe Papa Horatio is a Western Screech Owl. There's a hole in the brick he's on, and there are normally birds nesting there. Papa Horatio shows up every so often for a feast, hangs out for a while, and then he's gone. This owl spends so much time at our house, I've actually toyed with the idea of getting a falconer's glove and trying to train it. I told the girls I was thinking about training Papa Horatio one time and they nearly lost their minds laughing. Yeah, guess I'll just settle for taking pictures.    

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for..........No.

I wouldn't say I have a hard time saying "No," but I do like to do whatever I can, personally and professionally, to help people out.

I've gotten myself spread pretty thin over the last couple years. It's not a situation where I'm doing things I don't want to do. Everything I've said "Yes" to is something I wanted to do and have enjoyed doing. It's just that I'm starting to feel like I'm doing a lot of things, but none of them as well as I would like. So I'm feeling more stress, and that's got to change.

Time to start saying "No."

How 'bout you? Have a hard time saying "No?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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

I came across a cool video at one of my favorite blogs, /Film, that chronicles the history of movies. Scott Ewing put it together and had this to say about his work:

"This montage began as a labor of love and quickly became an obsession of mine. Many days and hours were spent researching clips, downloading and editing. The following montage chronicles the evolution of film from its conception in 1878 by Edward J. Muybridge to the Lumiere brothers in 1895. Georges Melies a trip to the moon in 1902 was a total game changer and from there we go to the first theatrical releases starting in 1920-2014 … this portion of the montage is chronological."

I'm always interested to see which movies and which scenes people include in movie montages. I think Ewing did an excellent job. A list of all the movies Ewing used is under the video.

1878 – Eadweard J. Muybridge – Pioneer of Motion Photography
1895 – Auguste & Louis Lumière- Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon
1902 – A Trip to the Moon – Viaje a la Luna – Le Voyage dans la lune – Georges Méliès
1920 -The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari
1921 – ‘The Kid’ – Charlie Chaplin
1923 – Harold Lloyd’s SAFETY LAST!
1924 – Sherlock Junior
1925 – Gold Rush
1926 – The General
1927 – The Jazz Singer
1928 – Steamboat Bill. Jr
1929 – The Broadway Melody
1930 – All Quiet on the Western Front
1931 – Frankenstein
1932 – Horse Feathers
1933 – Duck Soup
1934 – The Man Who Knew Too Much
1935 – Bride of Frankenstein
1936 – Modern Times
1937 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
1938 – The Adventures of Robin Hood
1939 – The Wizard of Oz
1940 – The Great Dictator
1941 – Citizen Kane
1942 – Casablanca
1943 – Phantom of the Opera
1944 – National Velvet
1945 – The Lost Weekend
1946 – The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 – Out of the Past
1948 – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1949 – The Third Man
1950 – Cinderella
1951 – A Streetcar Named Desire
1952 – Singing in the Rain
1953 – Roman Holiday
1954 – Seven Samurai
1955 – Rebel Without a Cause
1956 – The Searchers
1957 – The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 – Vertigo
1959 – North by Northwest
1960 – The Apartment
1961 – West Side Story
1962 – The Man who shot Liberty Valance
1963 – The Great Escape
1964 – Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
1965 – Thunderball
1966 – The Wild Bunch
1967 – The Graduate
1968 – 2001 A Space Odyssey
1969 – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
1970 – The Aristocats
1971 – The French Connection
1972 – Deliverance
1973 – The Exorcist
1974 – Chinatown
1975 – Jaws
1976 – Rocky
1977 – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1978 – Superman
1979 – Apocalypse Now
1980 – Airplane
1981 – Raiders of the Lost Arc
1982 – E.T: The Extra Terrestrial
1983 – The Right Stuff
1984 – The Karate Kid
1985 – The Goonies
1986 – Top Gun
1987 – The Princess Bride
1988 – Who Framed Roger Rabbit
1989 – Hoosiers
1990 – Misery
1991 – The Silence of the Lambs
1992 – Reservoir Dogs
1993 – Jurassic Park
1994 – Speed
1995 – Apollo 13
1996 – Mission Impossible
1997 – The Fifth Element
1998 – The Big Lebowski
1999 – The Iron Giant
2000 – Cast Away
2001 – Ameile
2002 – Minority Report
2003 – Kill Bill
2004 – The Incredibles
2005 – Batman Begins
2006 – Children of Men
2007 – No Country For Old Men
2008 – Tropic Thunder
2009 – 500 Days of Summer
2010 – The Social Network
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Skyfall
2013 – Gravity
The Amazing Spiderman 2
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Edge of Tomorrow
Captain America – The Winter Soldier
X-Men: Days of Future Past
22 Jump Street
The Lego Movie
Bad Words
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Maze Runner
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Muppets Most Wanted
Transformers – Age of Extinction

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for..........Language Arts

I teach 6th grade Language Arts. We don't call it English in middle school, it's Language Arts nowadays. Not sure why, but hey, I'm just a humble public servant. The powers that be can call my class whatever they want. Like my main man Will once said, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Or something like that.

My job is to teach 11 and 12 year olds how to read and write better. This may come as a surprise to some, but a good majority of today's youth are not particularly excited about reading and writing. As if the gig isn't hard enough, many of my students come in working below grade level. I've got kids who read and write at a second grade level, 4th grade level, 6th grade level, even a 9th grade level, all in the same class. I have 140 students this year, and my challenge is to help them all improve. All this is to say, teaching kids to read and write is a daunting task.

There are days when it feels like it's all a big waste of time, like nothing I do makes a difference. My students are at a critical juncture. If they can't read and write, what chance do they have in this world? I try to have the kids read and write as much as I can, but I only have them for 50 minutes a day, a little more than 4 hours a week. Factor in all the absences and wasted time dealing with disruptive kids, and it's just not enough. Sometimes I feel like my job is impossible.

I can't give up though. It's just not in my makeup. I may have chosen a quixotic profession, but I love it. I love when a kid figures out how to correctly combine two sentences into one. I love when a kid volunteers to read out loud because he's finally confident he can do it. I love when a kid writes an essay with an obvious thesis statement and ideas to back it up. I love when a kid tells me the book we're reading in class is the best book she's ever read (thank you Watsons go to Birmingham). I love when a kid who would make you cross the street writes a poem that can break your heart. These are the little victories that keep me going.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

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

In 2008, we set up an account with Kiva, a non-profit organization that allows people to loan money to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Kiva works with regional microfinance institutions to distribute member donations. Kiva has loaned over $550,000,000 to small business owners, many of them women, all over the world. If you are interested in learning more, just click on the graphic to go to Kiva's website.

We have made 27 loans to small business owners all over the world. 19 have been paid back in full, 6 are ongoing, one loan was refunded, and one loan resulted in a slight loss (less than $1) due to exchange rates. We get an email every time a payment is made on an outstanding loan, and when there is enough in our account, we look for other people to loan the money.

We started with an initial donation of $150, all of which we loaned to Comfort Anima in Ghana to help her buy supplies for her store. As Comfort repaid the loan, we in turn, loaned that money to other entrepreneurs. I may be oversimplifying, but the way I look at it, our original $150 has become the $850 we have so far loaned through Kiva. As our loans are repaid, that number will continue to grow. We have enjoyed our involvement with Kiva, and as a family, we look forward to helping more people.

Friday, April 11, 2014

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

I went to Israel with my mom last year. It was an amazing trip, with the obvious highlight being Jerusalem.

Our first day in Jerusalem 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.

Our second day in Jerusalem 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.

Even though I'm a very lapsed Catholic, the power of Jerusalem's sights and history were palpable and profound. Being able to share that experience with my mom, seeing her check an item off the bucket list, that may have been the best part.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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

My daughters convinced me to put Instagram on my phone, and I have to admit, it's pretty cool. I enjoy seeing what the girls post, it's kind of like a digital diary for them.

They get to express themselves, and I get to see what's going on in their heads. They feel empowered, and I get to be the nosy parent they wouldn't tolerate under just about any other circumstances. Works for me.

I don't post much myself, and other than the girls, I don't follow a lot of people, mostly family members and a few friends. I follow a couple University of Wisconsin accounts, and National Geographic posts a lot of great pictures.

Like all social media, Instagram can be addictive. There are days I check the thing way too many times, but overall, I'm a fan.

How 'bout you?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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

Since this is my fourth A-Z, I have reserved the right to repost some of my favorite posts from previous challenges. Some may say this is cheating, I call it sensible. So full disclosure, this post first appeared in the 2012 Challenge.

If you ever have reason to be near Rhinelander, Wisconsin, keep an eye out for a hodag. Some would say the hodag is a mythical creature, kin to Sasquatch and the chupacabra.

The Rileys are believers though, and every time we drive through the area where the hodag is said to roam, our eyes scour the woods, hoping to spot the elusive beast.

The town of Rhinelander has embraced the hodag, so much so that the hodag is the high school mascot. The first time I heard of the hodag was when my high school played Rhinelander in the state basketball tournament. Only years later, when we drove through Rhinelander for the first time, did I appreciate the awesomeness that is the hodag.

A local author even has a cute series of children's books chronicling the adventures of Happy the Hodag. I'm sure you could google Happy the Hodag and get your hands on some if you'd like.

I think the hodag would make for a great monster in a campy horror flick, plucking off Wisconsin teens as they take to the woods to drink and whatnot. I'm kind of surprised they never did a hodag episode on the X-files. I mean, they had that chupacabra episode, and the hodag is way cooler than the chupacabra. Seriously, if they can do a reality show called Finding Bigfoot (which the Rileys fully support), where's the love for the hodag?

There are a number of hodag statues in Rhinelander, and we usually stop to get some pictures. Of course, on our way out of town, we always keep our eyes peeled.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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

I'm not obsessed with gadgets or anything, but with two digital native daughters, there are certainly plenty of gadgets in the Riley house. Walk into any room and you'll probably spot some kind of gadget pretty quickly.

I swore I'd never be one of those guys who's always chasing the next hip gadget, and for the most part, I've been able to keep that promise. 

I will admit to having very strong feelings about my flat screen TV, and it would be hard to imagine life without my iphone at this point. 

But like I said, I'm not obsessed or anything.

How 'bout you? What's your favorite gadget?

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for..........Fantasy Football

My fantasy football team's name is the Desert Lombardis. The picture on the right sidebar with Vince Lombardi's head floating in the desert is actually my fantasy football team logo. My friend, Jane, made it for me, and it is literally one of my favorite things in the world. Jane rules.

So like I was saying, uh yeah, I'm in pretty deep when it comes to fantasy football.

I've been playing for over 20 years, and it's amazing how things have changed. I fondly remember the old school days, when a bunch of us would gather at a local restaurant, smoke cigars, and take our sweet time drafting players. Those drafts would go on for hours. They were glorious.

Now everything's done online. The league I was in this year had guys from all over the US. Instead of meeting in a restaurant, we meet online for our drafts now. It's still a damn fun time, as guys chat smack back and forth.

In my all years of fantasy football, I've won a couple titles, won a few bucks. Nothing to write home about. It's the camaraderie that keeps me coming back. The back and forth with the guys, and gals sometimes too, is the best part of fantasy football. My wife laughs at how much texting goes on during football season. And she's right, it is pretty ridiculous.

But it's also brilliant.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for..........eegee's

eegee's is a chain of restaurants here in Tucson. They serve a good sub, and their french fries are brilliant. We're talking an institution.

While eegee's is the name of the restaurant, it is also the de facto word used for its most famous product, sickly sweet flavored ices. As in, "let's get an eegee."

Just about every kind of social event, especially if kids are involved, will include eegee's. You can get buckets of the stuff. And they're cheap. Perfect for thirsty desert dwellers.

The eegee's are a little too sweet for me, but the girls love 'em. We make a lot of stops after practices and whatnot.

When friends visit from out of town, alcohol has been known to find its way into the adults' eegee's, and that always seems to please. It's a very diverse product, don't ya know.

However you enjoy your eegee's, one thing's for sure, eeggee's is an iconic Tucson treat.

Friday, April 4, 2014

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

Every year during the Oscars, Hollywood pays tribute to people in the business who died over the past year. And every year they seem to muck it up.

This year there were a number of omissions, but the one that riled me up was Dennis Farina.

I love Dennis Farina. 

I mean, how could you not love a guy who did Old Style commercials? Farina was a cop in Chicago for 18 years before becoming an actor at the advanced age of 37. He started in television, making a name for himself on Crime Story and Law and Order. He eventually became a fixture in movies. With his experience, it's no wonder his forte was cops and bad guys.

Farina was in some great movies: ManhunterSaving Private Ryan, Get Shorty, and Out of Sight, to name a few. But it was Midnight Run when I first fell in love with Farina. Jimmy Serrano is one of my all-time favorite movie characters. So I leave you a montage of Dennis Farina as perhaps his greatest character, mobster Jimmy Serrano. 

Dennis could deliver an F bomb like nobody's business, so if cursing isn't your thing, you probably want to skip the video. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for..........Common Core

April is a big month for me, and I'm not just talking about A-Z. April is the month we take our standardized tests here in Arizona. The results of these tests have become the primary evaluation of a teacher's skills, so whether I like it or not, and I most definitely do not, they're a big deal.

Next year, everything is going to change. We will still be taking standardized tests, but instead of each state using their own tests, most of the country will be using a test based on the Common Core.

The Common Core is basically a national education curriculum, and the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is the standardized test that accompanies it. States have been given the choice of adopting Common Core and PARCC. Arizona is currently one of the states to buy in, so we have been preparing here for implementation next year. I've even gone so far as to install a Common Core app on my phone. That's dedication my friends.

However, nothing is set in stone. New York has already used the PARCC and the results were a nightmare. Scores dropped dramatically in both math and reading, challenging the validity of the test. Liberals and conservatives alike are mounting protests.

Common Core is coming. For how long, I have no idea. How will it affect my job? Who knows. As a teacher, I've learned to roll with the punches. I'm like the penguins in Madagascar: Smile and wave boys, smile and wave.

How bout you? Any thoughts on Common Core?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for..........Breaking Bad

Meg and I finally got around to watching Breaking Bad in 2013. Thanks to Netflix, we started in late August and had ourselves ready to watch the finale in real time with the rest of the show's devoted following.

Watching 62 episodes of a TV show in little over a month is no small feat, especially for parents with 2 daughters vying for their own viewing time. Breaking Bad is most certainly not a family show, so we had to banish the girls from the family room more than was customary. There was plenty of complaining, and our youngest even went so far as to dramatically declare, "Breaking Bad is ruining our family."

Not even that pronouncement could snap us out of our obsession.

Don't judge.

Not only is Breaking Bad as addictive as Walt's baby blue, it is the best TV show of all time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

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

As a child of the 80s, a good chunk of my time was spent in arcades trying to get my name on the high score list of various video games: Ms. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Dig Dug, Joust. The list goes on and on.

I remember perfect Saturdays. Taking the bus downtown with friends and seeing how far our allowances could take us. We usually did some half-hearted shopping, someone buying music or maybe a pair of shoes if there was a little extra cash. There was really only one choice for lunch, and so we all came to appreciate Burger King.

Then it was time for the arcade. I can still remember the thrill of feeding bills into the change machine, scooping out the tokens that would help me achieve video game immortality.

You lost your sense of time in the arcade. The only thing that mattered were the tokens. As long as you had tokens, you had time. If someone ran out of tokens, it was an unwritten rule to pitch in and keep them in the game. With empty pockets, we gathered around the last person playing, hoping the game would never end. When that last game ended, we reluctantly made our way back to the bus stop.

Dreams of next Saturday already in our head.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A-Z: Up to the Challenge

It's Spring Break here in the desert, so feeling pretty good on a Monday. It's also St. Patrick's Day, but despite being a proud Irishman, I don't get too revved up on the 17th. I'm more than happy to let everyone else get their Irish on, so if you're so inclined, I hope you enjoy a nice beverage or two today.

I haven't been posting much on the blog over the last year, but I've never thought about stopping altogether. I've been focusing on work, and this teaching thing is pretty demanding if you do it right.

April is almost here, and that means it's time for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. The current state of my blog suggests I'm not up to posting 26 times in a single month, but I've done the Challenge the last 3 years, and I am not one to break with tradition easily. So as soon as I'm done with this post, I'm off to sign up. I did a movie theme last year, but I'm going back to random. Since it's Spring Break, I'm going to try to write as many letters as possible this week to make things more manageable come April.

If you want to sign up, click on the big ol' badge. Hope to see you around the Challenge.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Top Ten Movies of 2013

Probably getting a little late for an end-of-the-year list, but what the hell. I'm still ahead of the Oscars. I watched 65 movies in 2013, down from 82 in 2012. The reason for the drop is simple: Breaking Bad. Meg and I binge-watched the entire series and that dominated my viewing time for quite a stretch. The first movie I watched in 2013 was Ruby Sparks and the last movie I watched was The Way Way Back. If you're heading out to the theaters or looking for something to rent, you can't go wrong with any of these films. I'm changing things up a bit with the movie list this year. The movies aren't necessarily movies released in 2013, just movies I saw for the first time in 2013.

10) Hunger Games: Catching Fire: I liked it better than the first one. I mostly enjoyed sharing the experience with my girls and that's why it made the cut.

9) Monsters University: Glad Pixar chose to do a prequel for Mike and Sully. Another fun movie experience with the girls.

8) Prisoners: Very dark. Never really thought of Hugh Jackman as much of an actor, but his performance was riveting.

7) Mud: Matthew McConaughey had a great 2013. Dallas Buyers Club is getting all the attention, but his work here is excellent as well.

6) Zero Dark Thirty: What made this movie particularly interesting was the woman behind the search for Bin Laden.

5) Lincoln: Spielberg could direct Daniel Day-Lewis reading the phone book and it would probably be good. Give them an iconic figure like Abe, and of course you have a great movie.

4) End of Watch: One of the best cop movies I've ever seen. The relationship between the two cops was unique and endearing.

3) American Hustle: I love all the actors, and it's certainly an interesting story, but I haven't quite been able to figure out what Russell was trying to say with this one.

2) Undefeated: Amazing documentary about a struggling inner city high school football team and the coach trying to build something against very tall odds. I'm not gonna lie, I had tears in my eyes more than once during this one.

1) Gravity: Yes, the special effects are amazing, even better than I was expecting. What really got me though was the story, a beautiful metaphor.

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.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top Ten Books of 2013

I'm a big end-of-the-year list kind of guy. I read as many as I can, and I've enjoyed doing my own book and movie lists. I haven't been blogging much lately, but I feel like the top ten lists are a tradition I need to continue.

I read 46 books in 2013, down from 58 in 2012. No real reason for such a drop, just the way it went I guess. The books on my list weren't necessarily published in 2013, just books I read this year.

10) behind the beautiful forevers, Katherine Boo:
Journalism at its best. Boo examines the effects of global capitalism on the lives of Indian slumdwellers. This book captures the purity and determination of the human spirit.

9) The Book of Jonas, Stephen Dau: The only debut novel on the list. Jonas is a young Muslim boy whose fate is tied to an American soldier. Their story provides an unflinching look at the cost of war on both a personal level and a societal level.

8) Transatlantic, Colum McCann: The beautiful journey of a family that brings to life the fragile, random, unrealized connections that bond human beings over time, space, and history.

7) May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes: The main character, Harold Silver, may not be an admirable man when we first meet him, but he's not giving up on the possibility of becoming one.

6) The Round House, Louise Erdrich: Set on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, this is a coming-of-age story reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird.

5) Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg: Men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in this country, and Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, offers advice to empower women to reach their full potential. This book wasn't without controversy, but as the father of two daughters, I found it incredibly important.

4) Son of a Gun: A Memoir, Justin St. Germain: The first book on the list that I read digitally, on my phone. St. Germain's mother was killed by her husband, and this powerful memoir details his struggle to find peace and keep her in his life.

3) Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple: Great story of a woman fading out of her own life and the love that brings her back.

2) The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Jonathan Evison: This is the second book I read on the phone. Actually got it as a free download from Starbucks. Ben Benjamin is a lost soul who finds a way to keep going with help from some very unlikely sources.

1) The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer: This is Great American Novel stuff.  Wolitzer chronicles the lives of six unique and, dare I say, interesting, characters. This is the kind of book that uses the lives of individuals to comment on broader society. It's not easy to pull that kind of thing off, but Wolitzer does it brilliantly.

Let me know what you think of my choices. I'd love to hear what other people enjoyed reading this year in the comments, might give me some ideas for 2014. Your top book, top 3, 5, 10, whatever works for you.