Author Archives: Damien Riley

About Damien Riley

I'm a married teacher with 3 kids. I also play guitar and write songs. I've been blogging since 2005 to network with others and remind the universe I'm here. Email me at rileycentral at gmail dot com

Work Your Fingers to The Bone, What do You Get? Bony Fingers!

We’ve been working our fingers to the bone over here at the Riley house, most specifically, my inlaws have been but my family is helping however we can. The vision is for a retaining wall at the back of our property, done, a pergola, almost done, and a paved stone area with a firepit, also almost done. I’ve been keeping my pool up. It had some really aggravating algae in it after sitting all year. Now that temperatures up to 106 some days here in the high desert, it’s great to have it cleaned and balanced with chemicals.

My father in law is doing the mainstay of the work on everything else. I’ve even been teased for being the lazy one on the computer but I’ll tell you that is an out and out lie. At any ratem just to get the pool ready for the summer I’ve spent close to $1,000 on various sundries and chemicals for the pool. After a couple months of fighting the pool, can I tell you I’m done? Almost. Actually with pools, you’re never done. You just get smooth spots.

I had a 6th grade teacher who brought bluegrass instruments and players into class one time. They played a song for us called “Bony Fingers.” That’s where I got the line for the title. If you thik about it, it’s easy t get a bad attitude about physical labor. It can physically hurt. Most the time it’s just uncomfortable. Looking back at the weeks we’ve been working on the backyard, I can tell you it has been quite uncomfortable at times. My wife’s birthday was in May and in lieu of a gift she asked her parents for a new backyard. They rose to the occasion.

They’ve been great but of course there is a small element of strain with your inlaws in your backyard. If were anyone but them, I might have objected. As it is, it feels like a trip to the lake every weekend, we even jump in the water most every day. When the process is complete it will have been worth all we put into it. My wife will have her wish of a new backyard and I can make me up some roasted marshmallows and hot dogs in the firepit.

See all the photos at my living album on flickr.

There’s something to say for relaxation. But there’s something much more important to say about bony fingers!

This post is in response to Stream of Consciousness Saturday and The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Festivus for the Rest of Us.”

Artistry of Being a Student

dorms-622I learned a lot in college, both in and out of class. The bills, the jobs, the bosses, the coworkers, the professors, etc. yadda yadda. Everyone who went to college can recall I am sure. I remember one of the coolest things I learned in college was keeping a schedule. I’d start with a 3×5 card and neatly write in a weekly schedule with all my classes and their room numbers. Walking around campus, I often referred to it when I wasn’t sure of my next destination. It sounds weird but I miss that. The feeling of being a small fish in a big pond trying to get from point A to point B and pass all my classes. The best tome was the beginning of a semester. I’d have fresh notebooks, paper, and pens and the chance to excel all over again. I learned a lot of college tricks that worked for me.

One system that I used n college was the manila file folder system, so called by me. Instead of notebooks, I used manila a separate manila folder for each class and kept them in my satchel. I used a clipboard for the class at hand and filed all my notes into the file folder and then stored it in the satchel. This was a great system! I liked it a lot, especially because it broke with the “norm” of carrying a backback around. Although I hated college sometimes, I do miss the artistry of being a student. Most students don’t realize what they are capable of until they go through the challenge of college. You learn where all the 99 cent menus are in town and a million other little tricks to help you get through. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done but I do miss that challenge to be creative and make things work every day.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fifteen Credits.”

Things I Hope to Accomplish This Summer

the-99cents-store-in-jess-ranch-just-rocks_14252379877_oBloggers love lists. They can be short and sweet or developed as much as one chooses. They are also great for task management. The Summer can be a time for me to “Vege out” and not accomplish anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, As Neil Young says, “There’s a lot to learn from wasting time.” Still, it helped for me to sit down in a straight-backed chair and write in my paper journal the things I hope to accomplish this Summer. Sharing them as an online diary is helpful to me and hopefully entertaining if not helpful to someone reading this.

Today I am participating in Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. This is one of her suggested topics for the week.

This summer I hope to accomplish the following things, not in order of importance.

  1. Rest and rebuild. This sounds like the opposite of accomplishment to a workaholic but it isn’t. In fact, the more you stop to sharpen your axe and the better sharpened it is determines how productively you cut trees down. The brain needs rest. Of course it must always stay challenged but there’s a lot to say for stopping and tending to your body and mind over the Summer.
  2. Journal at least weekly about innovative ideas for running my classroom. A few creative, well-placed ideas can improve the learning environment immensely. I am not so much worried about the kids who misbehave in my class as about those who try to do the right thing but are hindered by the kids who make wrong choices. I want the class to be a sanctuary for learning and I need to create and innovate some new ideas to that end. Summer is the perfect wide-open thinking time to do it.
  3. Take my wife out at least weekly. I’ll need to coordinate with my son’s work schedule and plan dinners for the kids when I take Sarah out to the places where she can relax and have a good time. Sometimes when I get so into my routine, I forget to show her how valuable and attractive she is to me. I do not want this to happen over the Summer.
  4. Swim, get sun and Vitamin D. This may seem like part rest and it is but ot is something else as well. The sun grows vitamin D in our bodies. My being in the sun a sensible amount of time, we build our immunity and overall health. Not to mention that I spend so much time and money on the pool, Summer is the time to use it.
  5. Blog once a day or more. My blogging life has stretched and contracted over time. It has stretched again and even gone into hiding at times. I’ve learned it is something I cannot ever quit. It fits me. It’s become a natural tool where I sort out my thoughts and make connections with other bloggers. Like I said, the way I blog has undergone many changes as has my routine. Over the Summer, I plan to blog once a day. I hope to do a Daily Post prompt each day because I find it an effective networking device. In fact, so far the best I have found for the sort of online diary blogger I am. I am also checking out two other days of writing challenges: Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop of Thursdays or another day I choose, and SOCS, Stream of Consciousness Saturday which I have participated in a few times and very much enjoyed. Anything beyond this will just be regular posts I may feel so led to share.
  6. Attend Summer Institute for my teacher’s union at UCLA. I’m scheduled to stay in the dorms there and study website and communications. I’m not overly thrilled about leaving my wife and kids for a week but I feel the training will hugely benefit my teachers union so I’m doing it.
  7. Go to Laguna Beach. I just love this place. Sand and salt water here I come! If I go twice it’s a huge accomplishment.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Fruitvale Station

5/5 stars
fruitvale_stationI’ve been telling myself lately I should watch more multi-cultural movies. Fruitvale Station could fit into that category. Beyond that however, it’s a portrait and celebration of life. The subject matter may not always indicate that but a study under the surface does. I was happy to see this one on Netflix streaming. I think it’s so cool that I can get great movies here at home on my tv for the base price I pay for Netflix every month. The film starts out with a protagonist trying to make it in life with a girlfriend and child of his own. He’s only 22 so it’s no wonder he faces obstacles. We travel through 3/4 of the movie with him facing these obstacles with mixed success. He loses his job at the grocery store for being late and yet helps a customer get the fish for her party the very same day. He has a good heart but he is hindered. We find out at the end it is a true story. It can stand as a true story for so many young black men trying to make life work for them.

You cringe at what he does just like we all cringe at what young men we know do or say. It’s a product of their age and frustration. Young black men face obstacles unique to their ethnicity. But our protagonist is faithful to his girlfriend, at least after some mistakes, and even tells her he wants to start off new with a clean slate after telling her he lost his job. To get a more rounded view of the world, you can use the tool of movies lie this one. Young black men will identify. The rest of us get a window into the world of a young black man. Along the way we peer into the perspective of those who love him: his girlfriend, his mother, and sister. To watch and learn from Fruitvale Station is to be human. I give it the full five stars because it 100% succeeds in what it sets out to do: tell the story. Fruitvale Station is a very riveting and touching human movie.

All Things Merge into One and a River Runs Through it

imageI’m moved by beauty in nature every day. The last time it brought me to tears was when I re-watched the movie “A River Runs Through it.” The nature in the movie is as you would expect, a river. Interwoven into that nature are the words of loved ones in Norman Maclean’s memory. The protagonist is at the end of his life out fly fishing. Though the people in his life have all passed, he sees life as a place where all the people come together and a river runs through it.

His brother Paul was always living in big brother’s shadow. He took a shortcut to wealth by gambling. Time after time in the film Norman paid his bail after fighting or being drunk in public. One night, the worst happens and the father says in his sermon, “We can love completely without complete understanding.” The story of these brothers along with so many parables drawn from the Montana forests works together to bring out emotions I found hard to subdue. We can learn so much from nature. So many of life’s questions can be answered when we spend time in nature. When the answers come, they often lie too deep for tears.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Moved to Tears.”

I Love Summer 4 The Sun, Time off Work, and the Photos

i-dont-always-do-vegas-but-when-i-do-i-take-a-selfie-by-the-pool-_14381027689_oSummer is my favorite time of year. I have vivid memories of doing stuff with my family of origin over the Summers. I remember washing cars and going places where we bought sodas like Mountain Dew from vending machines. I remember lakes and liquor stores where I’d buy Star Wars cards and candy. I remember jumping in freezing cold water and laying out in the sun on a towel or even a rock to dry off. All of it was amazing. Now as an adult, let me tell you three reasons why Summer is still my favorite season: the sun is good for me and builds vitamin D, I am usually not working, and I get to take lots more photos than other seasons of the year.

the-99cents-store-in-jess-ranch-just-rocks_14252379877_oFirst, the vitamin D. Feeling the sun on my skin has to be one of the best sensations I have. I can feel the sun healing me from ailments as I dry off. I’ll always love that coconut scent of milky white suntan lotion. Nowadays with our kids, we buy the spray kind and it doesn’t usually ave that aroma but I still remember it and when I can smell it at the beach, it always brings me back to my childhood. Speaking of the beach, I’ve been to may but these days my choice is Laguna Beach. There are few rocks along the shore and it’s really a natural cove that allows for smaller waves. I once heard a professor of marine biology share that the composition of seawater is almost exactly the same as the amniotic fluid. She went on to say that some people say when they go in and out of the ocean it’s as if they had been reborn. I’ve always liked that analogy.

soak-city-am_14473327774_oSecond, I usually don’t have to work. I wrote a full post on this the other day and why I make no apologies for being off for the Summer as a teacher. I chose this job because it would allow me to explore my small hobbies and interests while still being able to provide for my family. I learn so much about blogging every Summer because I apply myself to reading, writing, and learning. I also read up on the latest teaching theories and get ready all Summer log for my forthcoming class. My family usually takes vacations but this year we’ve been fixing up the backyard so we’ll likely be staying home and enjoying the pool more than driving long distances.

14671045452_55f63cb94a_oThird, Summer is the best time to take pictures. I’ve taken thousands of photos, most of which I have archived on Flickr. People are more likely to pose in Summer and the lighting and backgrounds are better than other times of the year. People are relaxed and that’s the best way to capture their images. I have a Canon DSLR and of course an iPhone that takes pretty great pictures. I have both nearby at all times during the Summer so I can get the good stuff to share on social media and enjoy with family later.

imageIn conclusion, I enjoy Summer for a myriad of reasons. It is the time I build myself back up after a year of being up and down in the struggle to meet the demands of a teaching career. When I sat down to write this, I could see there were clearly three main reasons I love Summer the most: the sun is good for me and builds vitamin D, I am usually not working, and I get to take lots more photos than other seasons of the year.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Surveying Stakes

I was 8 in Mission Viejo, CA. Those days consisted of exploring, to every extent of the word. The biggest example was exploring down the creek. We found wonders in mud and pieces of trees that had fallen and broken into branches and driftwood.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Early Years.”

20130809-4826K-Mission-Viejo-0009-CMYK7-300x200We’d get into trouble with our mother who many times had to hose us off before we went into the house. We trudged through sludge looking for some hidden cave or passageway we could discover and call our own. We were peaceful kids, never fighting down the creek. There were a couple incidents however I do recall where slightly older kids got into some semi-violent stuff. Some boys who lived on another street had tied up a frog by it’s hind leg and shot it repeatedly with a bee bee gun. Even after it was dead, boys took turns aiming and pelting. We weren’t there but ;ater heard the story and every kid who heard it could verify it by visiting the scene. I was repulsed by this, the same way I cringed when kids would set off firecrackers.

Another group of kids were struggling once, or so I heard, to pull up a metal grate. It must have weighed 100 pounds. The story went that these kids pulled it up and a particularly thrill-seeking type kid went down the underground ladder. They accidentally dropped it on his leg and there was a lot of blood. Days later we would travel to that grate that the police and the paramedics replaced and see the stains that we thought were surely blood. I swear I saw a piece of leg meat. I remember thinking how mean those kids were. We walked back home that day picking up surveying stakes pretending they were daggers. Construction tape and ties were always being laid for new suburban homes. It was a lot like ET if you’ve seen that movie and remember what it looked like.

Some of My Reflections on the Museum of Tolerance

socs-badgeInformation that was, is, and will be is the topic of this post. I think I know a thing or two about it considering all the years I spent in college extracting it from books and computers. Now, as a teacher and blogger, I’m always on the lookout for information, but only good information. There’s the line!

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. If you’d like to learn more about the prompt or write one yourself, please visit the link.

I spent the last two days at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. It was loaded with a ton of information I hadn’t thought about much prior to my visit. Most people are familiar with the Holocaust. Hitler and his Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jewish race. Thankfully, they were not successful. At the museum you learn how they duped a nation into thinking the Jews were the problem causing the depression and all of Germany’s social issues at the time. We learned that Jews made up only 1% of the population in Germany. Hitler gave propaganda to the people which was bad information. It made people vote for him as leader and enabled him to start his plan to destroy the Jews. This photo of an exhibit inside the museum shows a recreation of the two corridors the concentration camp victims were forced to choose from. If they were “Able Bodied” they could work probably 5 more months without starving to death in work camps. If they were women and children, their corridor led directly into the gas chamber. They looked to the sign for bad information. What signs do we look at today leading us to death and hate? More importantly, who is making those signs?


This kind of thing is still happening today. There are white supremacist websites and hate groups. There is even music that has hate-filled lyrics about restoring a perfect race. Along with the good information of the internet, there are tons of sites disseminating bad stuff tat can potentially cause killing and torture through brainwashing. That’s why it’s important to sort through bad information and cast it aside. There are things people can do to hinder hate in our times. If you’ve ever seen candlelight vigils after a hate crime, this is one way. It is like a public shaming against the killer. When Matthew Sheppard was killed for being gay, people came out in droves to a candlelight vigil and it was on all the news stations. It was one way of telling the killers “we don’t agree with you, your information is wrong.” In many ways, all of us are prejudiced but if we stop to recognize that, we may be able to get rid of some of it.


There are many ways to tell if information is bad or good. Sometimes just looking up the source can reveal a lot about it. That’s a positive aspect of the internet. If you publish a blog, be sure and speak out against the information you know to be false. Some people may ask why this applies to me. I will tell you it doesn’t apply to me directly but indirectly I see it does affect me. When someone in the world is killed in a hate crime, they lose their liberty. If one person’s liberty is snuffed out then my can be as well. So, for that reason, I am speaking about liberty for myself just as much as for them. We should do it because it’s the right thing to do of course but also for this reason. We all need to be holding the equivalent of a “candelight vigil” more often when we hear of these atrocities of hate. Always be wary of bad information. It can kill. Good information on the other hand can heal.

The Dancing Goats

imageBlack gold is my secret ingredient to living well. I use my French press in the morning to blast off and usually have an afternoon Starbucks Cafe Misto. Legend says a goat herder was minding his herd when they began to nibble on coffee beans growing there. The goats began dancing. The herder boiled some and it became the first cup of joe.

Whether it’s true or not, coffee is my secret ingredient and I am like those goats.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ingredients.”

Dr. Seuss: Quirky is Good

04_seuss37_dI’ve written about many of my heroes on my blog but none of them are quite as special to me as Dr. Seuss. Maybe it’s because he is a proponent of reading or maybe it’s because he is a bit left-of-center. Whatever the reason, I get inspired by Dr. Seuss and inspiration is the most valuable thing when you’re setting a goal for greatness. You are doing that aren’t you? Check out his life:

When Theodor Geisel was a young child, long before he would become Dr. Seuss, he used to mark in books. He had a set of books he had made his own by putting drawings and writings in. This should have been a clear indicator to his parents that one day his books would change the world. I am sure in their wildest dreams they never would have imagined what this young boy would one day do. Letting his imagination run wild was the first thing he did to set his dream in motion. These pictures made him happy. Following what made him happy would eventually make millions happy.

When Theodore got older and graduated college, he decided he wanted to write children’s books. He spent a lot of time and energy making his first book, an ABC book. No one published it. He felt rejected. He did not write another book for four years. This is identical to the experience of another great artist I have written on, Charles Schulz. Neither gave up altogether though. Both rose to great acceptance after a major rejection. I think this is very important for us to note. Have you been rejected at something? How many years will you let pass you by before trying again. While we’re at it, can you imagine how cool it would be to have a copy of that ABC book that got rejected? Something to remember when people reject your work.

In 1936, Dr. Seuss was on a boat to Tudor. He heard the engines “talking to him” in the sounds they made. Standing there at the engine he “heard” the idea for another book attempt. This is probably one of the most quirky stories I have ever heard. That’s why I love it so much. I am like that. I hear my car creak and talk to me, I hear lots of strange sources of inspiration every day. I am also quirky. Are you? Don’t look at it as a bad thing.

The quirky book that was borne out of the engine sounds was And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Now 50 years later it is one of Dr. Seuss’ most favorited book by children all over the world. After that is time in a blender history. Dr. Seuss has published hundreds of books since then, as you likely already know.

Theodor Geisel had a goal: he wanted to write books that were easy to read. As he worked for that goal he brought millions of people happiness and taught millions to read: including me as a young child!

Currently set for release is Horton Hears a Who. A major motion picture created from another Dr. Seuss masterpiece. When millions watch it they will be seeing a product of a quirky writer who had a vision and kept at it. The message of this book is that even the smallest person can make a difference. What a message!!! We all wish he could have given us more. He is a lesson to me to never stop giving. Read one of his books and start making your crazy dream happen!