Saturday, December 31, 2011


For my last post of the year, and the 100th of the year, just five pictures that described 2011:

Goodbye 2011, hello 2012. And happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Spring forward?

The weather this December here in Salt Lake City has been odd. We started out with a crazy wind storm that blew shingles off our roof, followed it up with an early inversion (a pollution event in which a quiet weather system stalls over the valley and traps all the smog between the mountains -- we usually don't get them until January) and have gotten barely any snow all month. In fact, this has been the driest SLC December in recorded history. Today capped off the weird month -- it felt like March.

The sun wasn't out too much today, but it was still warm. We took Popcorn for a long hike on the dog trail, and when we got back to the car, the temperature gauge said it was 62 degrees outside. The thermometer does skew up a few degrees, but my guess was that it was indeed close to 60, which is a good 20 degrees above average. Tonight around 9 p.m., Lori's clock that gets a signal from a thermometer outside said it was 54. The sun went down and it barely cooled off. I threw a heavy sweatshirt on and took Popcorn for another walk to enjoy the mild weather and I actually started to sweat.

It's supposed to cool off to normal over the weekend, but the temperature is scheduled to climb back into the high 40s next week, with no snow anywhere in sight. I'm generally not a big snow fan, and I'm not sad that I haven't even had to take the shovels out of the garage yet (much less use them), but this is bad -- the valley needs snow in the mountains for our water supply. Last year, we had record snow, so this drought won't hurt, but it surely won't help. I'd be happy with rain and mild weather down here and snow at the higher elevations.

I'm going to enjoy the mild temps while they last. With my luck, we'll get the snowiest March ever and I'll be shoveling then, right when I want it to stay warm.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nobody did it better

After Lori recorded it on our DVR, I finally got around to watching A Football Life: Walter Payton (link shows a clip from the show) that aired on NFL Network. It brought back some good memories.

In 1977, as a second-grader, I started watching football for the first time. I collected football cards. I remember not only watching the Bears in the early game, but watching late games, usually on NBC, after the sun had gone down that dark November and December. My first lesson in my NFL education was an amazing one: Witnessing Walter Payton's incredible 1977 season in which he rushed for 1,852 yards (in 14 games) and helped the Bears to the playoffs.

CBS gushed over Payton all season, setting his runs captured by NFL Films to song: Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better." I hear that and still think back to that late fall and winter. I don't know how much local radio played the song (and this was a memorable winter for music), but CBS was all over it.

I remembered many of the Payton moments featured in the show, and I recall many that weren't. There was the game he passed Jim Brown as the NFL's all-time leading rusher. There was the game Doug Flutie threw a touchdown to Payton in the end zone, and Payton responded by passing the ball into the stands. There were a few passing touchdowns. There was the game in which he played fullback, giving rookie Neal Anderson (Payton's heir apparent) a chance to play halfback, all the while delivering intense blocks to the defense. There was the way Payton would get tackled, extend the ball as far forward as he can, place it on the ground, then spring up before the tacklers would even get to their knees. There were all the receptions -- he caught 492 passes, more than any player in Bears history (in five years, I bet Matt Forte breaks this record). There was his last game, a loss to the Redskins in the playoffs, with the Washington players patting him on the back as the last futile plays were for naught, knowing they were witnessing the end of a sweet career.

I've been wanting to read Sweetness, the recent biography that doesn't exactly paint Payton's life off the field, particularly after he retired, in a positive light. He was incredible yet mortal, human, at the same time. Thirty-four years after my first season of watching the NFL, watching clips of Payton's prowess still makes me want to cheer.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's the end of the year as we know it

I have always found that the distance between Christmas and New Year's is not long enough. You get so focused toward Christmas, it passes, and you only have a week to reconcile yourself to the fact the year is ending. Many people judge the passing of time by the new year (as well as birthdays and anniversaries, of course, and I also get reflective every summer solstice). This is the week you get end-of-the-year recaps, end-of-the-year countdowns, best-of lists and all other things commemorating the fading year.

So yes, I'm surprised 2012 is almost here. I'm not surprised how 2011 went so quickly, though still a little amazed at how time seems to zip by -- I was reminded of that tonight when I realized we've owned Popcorn for almost five months now and Maggie for nearly a year.

What do I think about 2011? After a rough start (both cats dying), it was good. We have two new family members in Maggie and Popcorn, the boys are thriving in school, and we had a lot of fun. 2012 doesn't need as many milestones as it needs good days. The milestones will come naturally, but good days are something to strive for. We enjoyed plenty of good days in 2011. Can we top that in 2012? The quest to do so begins at 12:01 a.m., Jan. 1.

Century mark

This is my 96th post of 2011, making it by far my most prolific year of this blog. My goal is to make it to 100, hence, this post simply announcing that I'm trying to make it to 100. How's this for a goal for 2012: 200 posts. After all, I had some dry spells in 2o11, including the last three months. To reach 200 posts, I have to write about four posts a week. I should be able to swing that. Not only that, I should be able to swing that. Until the next filler entry to get to 100, I've hope you've enjoyed this post.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Yuletided out

We enjoyed a nice Christmas two days ago. The boys woke us up far too early, and I had to work that night (and last night as well), but the holiday was enjoyable nonetheless. My favorite present might have been a banner displaying five classic Chicago Cubs logos (no, Steve Bartman looking sullen isn't one of them). Lori made a good Christmas meal, and I stuffed myself on ham before work.

And just like that, Christmas was over. Is might be terrible to say this, but hurray! Christmas was wonderful. I'm glad it's Dec. 27. In a few days, we'll take the trees and lights down, and we'll go headlong into the new year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The eve

Our Christmas Eve was somewhat uneventful today. With our niece coming into town, we prepared the house for her arrival. Michael and I took the dog for a long walk, and I watched football in the afternoon. We went to church -- the children's Mass, which is still as long as a normal Christmas Mass but geared more toward families (including it's 4 p.m. start). We came home for dinner, watched a little bit of "It's a Wonderful Life" and put the boys to bed. Lori started wrapping presents while I picked Dakota up from the airport. Here I am, the last hour of Christmas Eve, blogging before I go to bed.

Even after two months of holiday music, it's still difficult to believe it's already Christmas. The lack of snow hasn't helped. Make no mistake, I prefer no snow to lots of it, but I can deal with it around Christmas, particularly after weeks of hearing "Winter Wonderland" and "Sleigh Ride." Instead, we get a brown Christmas here in Utah. That's OK -- it's still Dec. 25, the boys will still wake up far too early, and I haven't had to shovel.

Every December, I think I hope for some idyllic, 1950s Christmas complete with shopping trips in some large downtown, perfect snowy nights to frolic about in (that might be more 1890s out of some Carl Sandburg/Norman Rockwell collaboration) and no stress. That's a different era, perhaps a different reality. The present Christmas is even different than the holidays of the 1970s and '80s. Times haven't just changed -- I've changed. Christmas is still joyous, but from a different angle, one of a parent instead of a child. Tomorrow morning, none of that will matter when Michael and Ben excitedly open their presents. That's their angle, and I hope they love it for as long as they can.

About this time on Christmas Eve, I prefer hearing the religious Christmas songs as opposed to the Santa/winter/New Year's tunes. Looking out the window into the cold, dark (though not snowy), I can't help thinking of the songs commemorating why we celebrate Christmas. Maybe I'll hear "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" as I try to fall asleep tonight.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A long December

I don't remember December being this crazy.

Of course, when I was young, December wasn't crazy. It dragged as Christmas approached. As a high schooler, I was in between cross country and track seasons and never had much to do in December. In college, after finals ended (around mid-December), I had a whole month, either at home or in Milwaukee, and even though I worked, December was time off. After college, December was a mildly busy time at work, and we might travel for Christmas for a couple days, but that was it.

Then I had children. December has never been the same.

Possibly it's just crazier because we have a son whose birthday is in December and we have to plan that as well as Christmas. Perhaps it's just nuttier because we have a puppy and technically still a kitten who need attention. Maybe it's because Lori has blasted through a busy month at work and I've had freelance projects all month.

The boys have been off school all week (their break started rather early), and I hoped this would mean life would settle down a little. Nope. Starting the week off with a cold didn't help, but I got over it quickly. All the Christmas shopping and grocery shopping and work and errands are done. It only took all week.

We did have fun this week, visiting Santa, seeing "Arthur Christmas," taking Popcorn for a long hike and looking at Christmas lights. The inversion that has been polluting the Salt Lake Valley finally cleared out, giving me a little more incentive to get out. And all the preparations this month, for Michael's birthday and for Christmas, has and will be worth it. It's just been so tiring. Were my parents this tired every December? I can remember the joy in their faces every Christmas morning as we opened our presents; what was the rest of the month like?

It could have been worse. For December, we've barely dealt with any snow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


With November over, with a busy November over, with the first week of December that has been just as busy over, I am resuming my blog. It's been a busy six weeks ...

-- I got about 16,000 words into Nanowrimo before I surrendered. I started off strong, then got sidetracked by a cough that was keeping me up nights (and tiring me out too much to write the subsequent day), a steady stream of freelance work and the usual craziness of being a parent. With about a week to go, I realized I'd never have enough time to make it to 50K. I was somewhat happy with what I wrote, and when I really got going, I felt I produced some good stuff. So though I didn't write a 50,000-word novel in November, I'm happy I made the effort. Any writing I can undertake is worthwhile.

-- These last few days have been especially crazy. Michael's birthday is Friday, and we're trying to get ready for his party Saturday.

-- Oh, it was my own birthday last month. I had to work, but we had a nice lunch at Sweet Home Chicago (a Chicago-style pizza restaurant in SLC's suburbs) before I went in.

-- The cough I've been dealing with was a pain in the throat. Usually, I get a cold, it travels into my throat, I cough there for a couple days, then it settles in my lungs. This malady included no cold and stayed in my throat for two weeks. I'd get a tickle in my throat overnight and not be able to stop coughing and resume sleeping. Finally, the combination of gargling with salt water and antibiotics my doctor prescribed seemed to tame the cough. Alas, the antibiotics made me break out ...

-- Soccer season ended for the boys, and basketball season has begun.

December might not get less busy, even after this weekend, but I'm going to find time to blog again. It's good to be back.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Writer's block

November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo challenges would-be authors to write a 50,000-word novel entirely in the month of November. The novel doesn't have to be good and is not even published, but the goal is to simply write something, with the idea that many people want to write a novel but never buckle down and actually do it. NaNoWriMo is the effort to knock out 50,000 words and worry about things like editing after November.

Two years ago, I wrote a novel via NaNoWriMo. After years -- really, a couple decades -- of wanting to say I penned a novel, I finally did it. My novel wasn't that great, but when I go back into it now, besides the irresistible urge to start editing, I still feel a great sense of accomplishment, as well as see what I did well. Reading it again reminds me that though I'm an inexperienced novelist, I may not entirely suck at it.

Last year, I jumped into NaNoWriMo again with a great idea that I'd been kicking around for years. Then, November happened. I got hit with a lot of freelance work that I can't afford to turn down. I turned 40. We went to Texas for five days. I had a few good writing sessions, but I never got beyond 2,500 words. And I can't pick up where I left off -- the spirit of NaNoWriMo is such that you start from scratch every November.

So here I am, six days before Nov. 1, wanting to try what I failed at last year -- writing another novel. I just went to the NaNoWriMo website and logged in, and as I did, my excitement level rose a little bit. I want to knock this out again and feel as satisfied as I did two years ago. I just have one problem: I have no idea what I am going to write about.

Sure, I have some abstract ideas, but nothing with an actual plot attached. After reading the Song of Ice and Fire books, I'd love to do something medieval fantasy-related. Bright Lights Big City explored young people getting utterly lost in the 1980s in New York, and Less Than Zero did the same with L.A. -- why not try that with the Midwest (and maybe the early '90s)? Gen X is around 40 now -- I thought about writing something akin to a written version of "The Big Chill" but with my generation instead of my parents' generation. I like all these concepts and a few more swirling in my brain, but I can't get beyond the concepts themselves and into a flowing plot, with a beginning, middle and end.

Two years ago, I had everything ready to go before Nov. 1 -- index cards with my characters, what each chapter would contain, and so on. I deviated from that original plan often, but at least I had a destination. This year, I don't know if I can come up with a destination in five days. So I'm debating winging it, potentially setting myself up for frustration or discouragement if it goes nowhere. However, the goal is 50,000 words -- I can wing it and massively adjust the plot later. Or, I can commit to blogging like crazy next month -- and hitting all the big blog ideas I've been putting off -- instead of writing a novel. With the latter approach, at least I'd be writing something.

No matter what, my goal for November is 50,000 words. Ask me how it's going, encourage me, and harangue me. Just don't be disappointed if you were expecting a novel and got blog posts, and vice versa. I need to remind myself of that, too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Real deal

The boys didn't have soccer games this morning -- the league they are in takes this weekend off because of the mini-fall break Utah schools take this week. So what did we do on our Saturday? We went and saw a soccer game.

OK, this morning, we were mostly lazy, but we were just gearing up for the game! Not really, but it was a nice, low-key Saturday for once. Real Salt Lake played at 7 p.m., and Michael was going with his teammates, while Lori, Ben and I had our own seats in another part of the stadium.

Michael had a lot of fun. His coach took them for pizza first, then got to the game early so the boys could enjoy all the events outside the stadium. Michael made out like a bandit, with free giant foam fingers, wristbands, doo-rags, tote bags and, the big score, a bobblehead of the RSL goalkeeper for being one of the first 5,000 through the gates. I hope he watched enough of the game, especially how the goalies played -- he's been playing keeper for about a half for the last four games, and he likes the position.

Ben had fun, too, though he didn't get quite the score Michael did (no bobblehead). I'm not sure how much he followed, and it didn't help that every time a big play would happen in front of the goal (we were seated behind it), everyone in front of us would stand, sending me scrambling to pick him up to see the play.

Alas, Real Salt Lake, after leading most of the second half, gave up a goal in extra time and tied the Portland Timbers 1-1. I can watch a pro soccer game and appreciate it, but I can't get into it enough to want to get season tickets -- I'd rather take that route with the Jazz or even the minor league hockey team here in Utah. But based on this one game, I could see us going to more than one match a year, even on non-bobblehead nights.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy trail

The boys are on a five-day weekend for the annual Utah teachers' convention, and though I love the fact we get a few days off with them, it's been a less-than-perfect couple days. I've been swamped with freelance projects the last week (now finished), and the boys and dog have been a little stir-crazy. Yesterday was an errand day: Kohl's, flu shots, Costa Vida, Costco, soccer practice and puppy kindergarten. They were driving me crazy this morning, but one good fall hike put us all in a better mood. Popcorn has been able to do some longer hikes with us, and though our trek today was no more than three miles, we enjoyed our adventure on a sunny, warm autumn day.

Our evening adventure was Garden After Dark, a Halloween event at Red Butte Garden. Unlike other Halloween doings (like Boo at the Zoo, which I don't recommend), this one gave out no candy, instead giving kids the chance to do some fun, glow-in the dark crafts. The boys colored owl masks, made shooting stars that glowed in the black light, designed their own paper-bag mushrooms, painted a pumpkin, traveled through an enchanted forest and created fake roses that also glowed. We got there before the sun went down, did all the crafts, then did another lap around the gardens to see everything lit up.

After getting home, I pulled out the binoculars so the boys could get a better look at Jupiter in the eastern sky. We let the boys watch the ninth inning of tonight's World Series game (go Rangers! -- I really just don't want the Cardinals to win) and got them to bed after a long day.

Tomorrow is another day off, another day to find some adventures. We are going to the Real Salt Lake game Saturday, I work Sunday, and then the boys are back in school. Did I complain about this break? It's going too fast.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tangled webs

Michael has been bugging us for a couple days now to get our Halloween decorations out. He was disappointed to discover today that, well, we really don't have that many Halloween decorations. A skeleton, these aluminum pumpkin cylinders that hold candles, a trick-or-treat sign ... and that's about it. The best Halloween decorations are the ones you have to buy again every year -- pumpkins and those stretch fake spider webs. We stopped at the store on the way back from Ben's soccer practice, got some pumpkins on sale, some webs and a two-pack of glow-in-the-dark spiders, and finished decorating our front yard.

Besides the pumpkins, my favorite decor is the pumpkin candle holders. Even with small tea candles, the flickering flames provide a nice, mildly spooky, definitely autumn touch. When the city installed a street light in front of our house, it unfortunately took away from the effect of the candles, but it still looks cool.

Fewer than three weeks until Halloween, less than a month until my birthday. Fall is moving fast.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Forgotten fall

I possess an unusually strong recollection about things one wouldn't think were that memorable. Never mind I forget people's names 10 seconds after I meet them, or that I forget to move clothes from the washing machine to the dryer (which, I better do right now). But I can connect songs, events, emotions, places, and even odors to specific momenst in time. You can see much of that crazy memory here in my blog. My boys are already developing this, too -- I don't know if I'm passing it on or if my genes are passing it on. They remember something I wouldn't think they would remember, I'm surprised by it, and Lori reminds me: "Joe, they are your kids."

I already blogged about the memorable summer of 1981. That post got me thinking about the fall that followed, and this, given my abnormal memory, is what distresses me: I remember almost nothing from September and October 1981.

I know I started sixth grade in Mrs. Lynch's class, but can't picture specific moments from that beginning.

I know some of the music from that fall, but much of it was held over from the summer. Indeed, my spring/summer 1981 playlist (yes, I make playlists specific to years and seasons) is comprised of 84 songs, while my fall 1981 mix is only 39 songs. Many of the songs on the fall playlist tie me to memories after October or were songs I encountered years after 1981 that I just added to the mix because it was the proper time frame. The few songs that should be September/October 1981 songs (e.g., "Let's Groove," "Private Eyes" or "Urgent") don't take me back, even just a little.

I'm sure I did typical fall things in those two months, but I can't recall any of it. I know I saw a Monday night Bears game, but when I looked it up, they didn't play the team that, for three decades, I thought they played. I knew my memory had lost that Halloween, but I was surprised to realize it lost the entire two months. The funny thing is, I remember so much about the rest of sixth grade. I got an Atari 2600 for my birthday in early November. I remember what games I got for that Atari that Christmas. I remember playing basketball and who my teammates were that winter, and going on vacation to Florida. I remember starting baseball the following spring and the field trips our grade took. I remember the fuzzy-head pencil I owned, and the comic I drew in art class based on that pencil (which, by the way, was a Jay's potato chips pencil; do those still exist in Chicago?). I could rattle off every Number One song, every video game I discovered, every book I read, and plenty of moments from what was perhaps the most fun grade from my K-8 years. So why am I missing these two months.

If I went through the entire 1980s, I bet I couldn't come up with a two-month span where I couldn't come up with one random recollected moment. But finally, I did remember something from the fall of 1981: a girl in our grade died.

Our grade took a field trip to the Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago. My mom chaperoned that field trip -- it might have been the only one of my field trips that either parent chaperoned. I don't remember much from the actual field trip -- an arboretum for sixth-graders probably was a little boring. We weren't supposed to have food in the arboretum, but I do remember my mom pointing out to me that two girls were sneaking cookies to each other under the guise of a whispered messages (one girl put her hand to the other girl's ear, and the other girl put her hand to same ear to "hear better" but really take the cookie). And that was it.

The next day, we learned what happened after school. A girl who had just transferred to our school and grade that fall tried crossing one of the nearby busy streets (nowhere near the crossing guard), tried turning back and got hit by a bus. She lasted a few days before succumbing to her injuries.

Continuing the lack-of-memory theme, I don't remember being sad this happened. Maybe a little stunned, but kind of resigned to the tragedy. I don't remember if any of my classmates were sad. It was early in the year and she was the new girl -- did she make any friends who would have been sobbing over the fact she died? I think her homeroom teacher was in her first year teaching -- how terrible that must have been for her: You start your career with a dead student. I don't remember if our class went to the funeral, or if the school held was a memorial mass for students to remember her (and that's not unusual at Catholic schools; two kids died while I was in high school, and there was official, very heartfelt mourning).

I don't even remember the girl very much, except for this: When my mom, after hearing the news, asked if I knew her, I related the only interaction I had witnessed. She was in my reading group, and in one of the first classes as we got our textbooks, the teacher asked a question, and the girl replied, a little snottily, something to the effect of "I sure could answer if I had a book" because she inadvertently didn't get one when they were passed out. Telling my mom this, I probably sounded callous (and I think my mom was a little shocked I was speaking ill of the girl) , but I wasn't trying to be. She was the new girl, and she unfortunately wasn't there long enough for many of us to form much of an opinion. My response was simply matter-of-fact then, just as it is while typing this now.

Soon, she seemed to be out of our collective memory. At graduation a couple years later, there was no mention of her. Sixth grade continued, and again, it was the most fun year many of us had despite the tragedy. The city put up a ridiculously placed stop sign where she got hit, but that got taken down once the busier intersections around school finally got traffic lights.

I'm not saying her death blocked out everything from my memory of that fall. It simply didn't affect me enough to do so. As I grew up, I would learn of classmates' and acquaintances' tragic deaths and feel more numb than I did in 1981. And I'm, well, not glad, but perhaps comforted by the fact I didn't forget that a classmate 30 years ago tragically, suddenly died, because such terrible events shouldn't be forgotten. I only wish that wasn't my only clear memory from those two months.


Friday, September 30, 2011

The daily show

I have been too tired to write lately. I'm not sure why -- perhaps I'm still settling in to our school year routine, even though it's already a month in. My other theory is that after a bunch of long, sweeping, sometimes nostalgic posts, I'm not always in the mood to do another. I should be doing another and even write some in advance when I get into these funks, but dealing with that is another issue. For now, I need to write about something today. When I originally started blogging, one goal was to record the events of the day -- a sort of journal. I got away from that, recapping busy, important days and glossing past the mundane. Well, maybe on days like today, when I lack the energy to write deeply, I need to just recap the day. Here it goes:

I got to sleep in a little bit today while the boys were at school. I picked up Ben and two of his friends midday and we went to a park for a little while, launching Stomp Rockets. Ber and I went to lunch at Einstein Bros., came home, took Popcorn outside, then ran a couple errands to the bank at Costco. Michael got home, and I took them for haircuts. I made wiener rolls and tater tots for dinner. The boys played with their friends until near 8 p.m. (they don't have school tomorrow), and we watched epic fails, Weird Al Yankovic and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (Nee!) videos on my phone while we waited for Lori to get home from a baby shower. I watched a couple DVR'd shows and took Popcorn for a walk before coming downstairs to blog.

That was mundane. But it was our day, and always well worth it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Popcorn love

I've alluded to our new puppy a few times recently, and for those who haven't seen the pictures we have posted on Facebook, here is Popcorn:
We've owned Popcorn for about a six weeks now, and it's been a fun adventure. We decided to start looking for a dog after vacation, but we didn't think we'd get one so soon after we got back. One afternoon, I took the boys to a couple shelters just looking, thinking we wouldn't find a puppy. And we wanted a puppy -- this is the only time the boys will be able to enjoy a young dog while they are still young (we adopted our kitten last February with the same mind-set).

After visiting one shelter, we arrived at the Humane Society, and in a pen it the lobby were two black puppies. They were pointer-lab mixes names Popcorn and Izzy. The pups never spent time in the shelter, instead being fostered after their mother had given birth (they were only being adopted through the Humane Society). Lori came down to take a look at the pups, Ben chose Popcorn, and two hours after we walked through the Humane Society doors, we were dog owners.

Popcorn was named by the woman fostering the pups -- it was her favorite food -- and the boys liked it enough that we kept the name. After a month, she's become an integral part of our family, just as Maggie, our cat, did last winter. Popcorn has adapted well and hasn't pooped in the house in weeks (we're still getting some pee accidents in the kitchen). The dog and cat are co-existing, with Maggie finally realizing this is a friend she can play with (and taunt).

I have loved taking Popcorn on walks and am looking forward to when we can take her on longer hikes and on runs. We have just started taking her to an off-leash dog trail, which has been fun a little crazy -- she tends to get swept up in dogs going in the opposite direction as they pass us, leading to a little chasing by us.

But my favorite thing about her is how genuinely excited she gets to meet new people, especially kids. A trip to the boys' school to pick them up is a tail-wagging, attention-mongering expedition. I hope she doesn't lose that enthusiasm as she grows older.

With her name, I have had New Edition's "Popcorn Love" in my head for a month.

The boys love this song now since I began mindlessly singing it. They also love their new dog.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Timelessly perceptive

Back in the 1980s, before MP3s and around the time 45s stopped being practical, I was religious about taping songs off the radio for future listening on my Walkman. I still possess most of those tapes, and have even converted several to MP3 format.

This post isn't dedicated to those tapes. It's only about one song.

On the day before Thanksgiving in 1985, I was off school on a rainy, November day. Sitting in my room, listening to Fred Winston's show on WLS-AM. The Big 89 at this point was starting to play less and less Top 40, so it shouldn't have been a surprise when an "oldie" came on the radio. The song in question: "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" by Dr. Hook. I must have recognized it right away, perhaps thinking "Wow, I haven't heard this in a while," because I went over to my boombox and hit record.

Over the years that I've listened to that tape, I must have remembered where I was when I recorded that song. That's true with many songs that I hear today -- I can remember where I was, or what the next song on the tape was, of the fidelity of the song. For example, "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" wasn't in stereo on my tape because I taped it off AM.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a classic American Top 40 from 1979 online when "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" was streamed. And yes, I remembered the tape that I originally recorded the song and the circumstances around it. In 1985, I must have thought the six years since the song first was a hit must have been a lifetime.

Six years a lifetime? I know now, six years is nothing.

I think I've known that for a while, but hearing the song on a 1979 AT40 and remembering taping it in 1985 just reinforced the notion. Six years to a teenager is a long time. Six years to an adult, especially one with kids and who just turned 40, is a blur.

With the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 this month and the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 Olympics coming up, the blur seems blurrier than ever. Reading my blog posts from 2007 and wondering "Was that already four years ago?" doesn't help, either.

So why does the perception of time speed up as you get older? Is it merely that as kids, we can't wait to grow and it doesn't happen fast enough? And as adults, we don't want to get older, much less our children, that we notice the speed at which time passes?

Is it just perception? And if so, can we think of time like a child again? Can six years -- six good years, and not six years, say in prison -- be a lifetime once again?

Hopefully, it won't take six years to come up with an answer.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten years after

As I type this post on the night of Sept. 10, I know exactly what I was doing 10 years ago. I was at the newspaper working, waiting for the Monday night NFL game to end. Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey broke his leg during the game. That was big news.

Twelve hours later, Ed McCaffrey's broken leg would become an afterthought.

A phone call woke me up on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Lori had already gone to work and knew I had worked late, so I couldn't fathom why she'd be calling so early (here in the Mountain time zone, the early events in New York were really early in Utah). But the caller wasn't Lori, it was my mother-in-law asking if she was home. Barely awake, I mumbled "Mom? Irene?" and told her Lori was at work. She figured that, but was calling to make sure we weren't flying anyplace this week because two planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center.

That woke me up. I turned on the news to begin watching the horrific events of the day unfold. I called Lori and my mom to see if she was watching what was going on. I watched the towers collapse. I listened as stunned newscasters started relaying reports that there had been an explosion at the Pentagon.

All this before 9:30 a.m. Aside from the horror I was witnessing, I had an odd thought -- I better put gas in the car before prices spike in a panic. I drove to Sam's Club and did a little shopping. The few people in the store seemed as dazed as I was.

I returned home and watched the coverage for the rest of the day. I had Tuesdays off back then, and though I called in to see if the newspaper needed help, I got to keep my day off. I don't think I made it out of the apartment the rest of the day. Lori eventually came home early -- no one was doing business this day.

The Onion put it best in a headline in their first issue after the attacks (pardon the language): "Holy Fucking Shit!" At some point, I should have just turned off the TV and given myself a break. Maybe because I'm a journalist, and maybe simply because it was impossible to turn away that day no matter how shocking all of this was, I didn't.

Besides the obvious horrors I witnessed on my TV screen that day, this is what I remember from watching that day.

-- The news scroll, such a staple at the bottom of the screen on news and sports channels, inauspiciously made its debut on Sept. 11. Probably because you can't take copy editing out of the copy editor, I couldn't help but notice spelling mistakes in the scroll.

-- At some point mid-afternoon, ABC aired video some guy on a bike had taken and was interviewing him. He had ridden to the remnants of World Trade Center and shot some footage -- the first footage taken at the sight -- of the remaining standing frame from the towers. For some reason, Peter Jennings (rest in peace) wasn't understanding what he was watching and asking some odd questions, and the guy finally declared something to the effect: "This is it, this is all that's left of the World Trade Center." Looking back, the newscasters might have been as freaked out as the rest of us, because Peter Jennings wasn't getting it.

-- Speaking of newscasters, one thing I kept noticing that morning was that Katie Couric looked hot. She was sporting this summery look that was too cute. Before that day, I had never really formed an opinion on Katie Couric's attractiveness. Why that morning? I can only think that the brain does odd things to defend itself from mental assaults. Watching everything that morning, was my brain trying to lessen the impact by suddenly deciding about how she looked? (FYI, later on, Paula Zahn looked good, too.)

-- At about 10 p.m. MDT, CNN aired video from Battery Park of the second plane hitting the south tower. This was the insanely close-up shot of the plane going in, and you didn't see it much in the days after, with the major news organizations realizing it was just too intense (just like videos of the jumpers never are aired or come after a warning). I think that's when I finally turned off Aaron Brown and CNN.

I crawled into bed and turned on the radio, hoping some sports talk would help me fall asleep, help me not think about everything I'd watched that day. But the only thing on sports radio was talk of terrorist attack. There was no place to escape. I don't remember specifically what I dreamed about that night, but I know the images of Sept. 11 crept into my mind after midnight, Sept. 12.

I was numb the rest of the week. Work was odd -- so many sporting events were canceled that there wasn't really much to do. I got to leave work early that Saturday night because no college football was played that day, and our usual 70-column Sunday section had been dropped to fewer than 30. No sports were being televised either, but ESPN did make me smile that Saturday night. The network, without anything else to televise, aired the NBA specials recapping the 1997 and 1998 NBA championships, in which the Bulls defeated the Jazz. Watching Michael Jordan play through the flu in one game and shoot over Bryon Russell to win the '98 title cheered me up, especially in an office full of Jazz fans.

I left work that Saturday and met Lori and some of her friends at Port O' Call, a bar in downtown Salt Lake City. It was a little crowded, but not overflowing. I drank a few beers, and we met a guy who also moved to Utah from Madison and talked with him for a while. For about 25 minutes -- for the first 25 minutes all week -- I had not thought about what had transpired the Tuesday before. My brain, filled with images of smoke, the CNN logo, debris, planes, misspelled news scrolls, explosions and sadness, finally took a break.

What's in a name?

When I first started thinking about writing a blog in the mid-2000's, my wife was concerned about putting details about our family on the web. This was at a time before Facebook exploded and all your friends knew so much of your life.

I finally entered the blogosphere in 2007, but referred to my family as Wife, Eldest and Littlest so as not to give away any intimate details. With generally only my friends reading this blog, and me plugging the blog on Facebook (where everybody knows the names of my family anyway), I've decided to stop using nondescript monikers. When writing about my family, it feels more natural to use their names, and I have to catch myself to use the nicknames -- sometimes slowing my train of thought. I've also resisted posting pictures of my family, even though I've posted dozens of them on Facebook. Realistically, I think my little blog is more tucked away then Facebook.

So blogosphere, here is my family: Wife, Eldest and Littlest, aka, Lori, Michael and Ben.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ready for some football

As I type this post, I'm watching the NFL season opener: a wild game between the Packers and Saints. The last four weeks or so have been dominated by three things: the kids starting school, the new puppy and fantasy football. After days of research and podcasts, the season has at last arrived. My NFL focus won't only be fantasy football; at work, I'll be putting together the NFL roundup every Sunday night for the Monday newspaper, just as I have been almost every Sunday for several years now.

The one thing I haven't been doing is blogging about the NFL. After four years, I stopped writing my NFL blog. I hadn't been as serious about posting over the last year or so, and even after trying to reignite my enthusiasm for back in the spring, I found myself slacking off on it again. I enjoyed the blog when I was actively posting, but it had become too much of a chore. And these past few weeks, I haven't missed it. In past years, I'd avoid too much outside analysis and opinions so as not to cloud or influence my own original posts. This year, without the blog hanging over me, I've been free to research like crazy. And I have researched like crazy, and it's paid off: I'm happy with the five fantasy teams (yes, just five this year) I ended up with.

By December, my NFL buzz will subside, just like my baseball buzz dwindles by late July. The buzz doesn't completely subside, particularly if I have a fantasy team or two in playoff contention, but by then, my enthusiasm for putting the NFL roundup together will wane and I'll be looking toward the end of the regular season. But that is weeks off. For now, I'm ready for Week 1 -- checking my fantasy stats, doing that first roundup, and enjoying a game that is synonymous with fall.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer's going fast, nights growing colder

Yes, my post title quotes Rush ("Time Stand Still" if you weren't exactly sure which song). Astronomically, summer has a couple weeks remaining. But with Labor Day ending in about 45 minutes as I type this, summer is perceptively over.

Back in May, I calculated that summer would last 102 days. Well, 102 days have passed. Did we get the most out of our summer? I think we got as much fun out of it as we possibly could. Yes, there were some lazy days, and I never did make it golfing, but as a whole, Summer 2011 rocked. And of course, it went too fast.

Here's a testament to the quality of this summer: I haven't worn socks in at least a month. Between working a part-time job in which I don't have to dress up, the warm weather, and not being able to go running in the past weeks (thanks to the time taken up by the new puppy and bruising my ribs on a roller coaster at Lagoon), I have not worn socks since Aug. 1 -- the last day I went running. Before that, the only socks might have also been running or working out. The few hikes we did I wore my new Keens, which are rugged enough for milder trails. The picture above is from the Michael Franti concert -- an event more than any in which shoes are discouraged. The whole summer has been like this.

But the barefoot/sandal streak is bound to come to an end, and I'll be visiting the sock drawer daily. After enduring hot weather before we went on vacation, humid weather on vacation, and more hot, dry weather in August, the heat wave in Salt Lake City finally broke last week. Evenings are a little cooler again, and though the temperature is warm, it hasn't been above 90 and won't be all week. Sunsets are getting earlier. School has begun. The NFL starts this week. I capitulated on listening to the August/September playlist on my iPod and enjoyed hearing The Police's "King of Pain" and Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" on it.

The end of summer is bittersweet, but the season is meant to end. I wonder if residents of Key West or Hawaii or some other warm clime discern between summer and the rest of the year. All my life so far, summer has ended and fall began, followed by winter and spring, then summer again. I'm looking forward to this fall, and not just because it was inevitable. I'll look forward to next summer as well and try to extract as much fun, memories and nostalgia out of it as I can. And as much as I want that summer to arrive, there's no hurry. There's fun, memories and nostalgia to find in every day until then. Why should I rush that?

Monday, August 29, 2011

The plunge

The line for this water slide isn't too long. I'm guessing we'll be able to go in about five minutes. I look at the sign for the ride: "Cliffhanger." It used to be called "Shotgun Falls" before Raging Waters was taken over by Seven Peaks and renamed all the rides along with renaming the whole water park. Eldest is asking me about that name change as we stand in line. I'm barely listening, instead focusing on the mountains in the distance and the incredible knot that has built in my stomach.

Some of you know this and some don't: I was seriously afraid of water when I was younger. I didn't learn how to swim until my 20s, and I didn't develop the confidence to swim in deep water until the last few years. And it's not that much confidence: Every time I jump into deep water, I need to psych myself up a little and remind myself that I will surface, I will be able to swim back to the side, and even if I can't, the lifeguard will jump in and help. I can do that in a controlled situation like jumping off a diving board. A water slide dropping me into a deep pool is another story ...

We get to the short staircase that leads up to the platform. I look for Wife and Littlest on the other side of pool and slide complex that Cliffhanger overlooks, and find them sitting wrapped in their towels in an effort to warm up Littlest, whose lips are blue from the cold water. The line is moving, not slow. I tell Eldest I'm going to take the left slide, because if I freak out after splashing down, the side of the pool is closer than swimming across by a few yards. I'm already thinking about my escape route.

There are a few last frontiers in overcoming my fear of water. I won't ever not be nervous in deep water, but I have come a long way. I've jumped off a diving board, I've swam across a deep end of a pool, and I can stand next to the deep end and not fear I'll fall in and drown. Though I'm never going to do an open-water swim, jump off a cliff or even tread in a wide-open lake without a flotation device, I do want to eventually be able to jump off a 3-meter board (not a 10-meter, let's not introduce my fear of heights to my fear of water), feel comfortable treading in a deeper pool for more than a few seconds, try tubing on a lake (not water skiing), take a tube to the deep end of a wave pool, and be able to ride water slides that end in deep water. On Saturday, I took a giant step on that last goal.

Eldest and I get to the top of the stairs. For the first time, I get a view of the slide from the top, after previously only viewing others' splashdowns from below. Wife and Littlest have walked over and see us on the platform. It's only a matter of time now ...

A couple years ago, I went on a toilet bowl body slide that drops you into a small, 8-foot pool. I had to psych myself up for that, but it was fun, even if I didn't control how I entered the deep water. I quickly swam to the side, pleased with what I accomplished.

Shotgun Falls, now Cliffhanger, is different. The drop into the water is from higher up, the water is a little deeper, and the water in this pool is colder (at least Saturday, it was). Here is someone's YouTube of this ride (not mine, the last thing I was going to attempt was video):

We've been to this water park before, and we've had passes all summer, but I hadn't got the courage to ride this slide, no matter how much I wanted to. Summer is coming to an end, I was running out of time.

Only a few people are ahead of us before our turn. The lifeguard notices a smaller kid waiting in line and tells him he can't ride. We were going to let Littlest try this before we saw the 48-inch height requirement. He's 47 inches, and though I still think they might not have measured him and let him on, we decided not to get his hopes up. At age 5, I'm convinced he would have been fine on it and loved it, even if it took him a few extra seconds to swim to the slide. The people in front of us are just about to slide. We're next.

This is one of Eldest's favorite slides in the park, but he hasn't been able to ride it much because of Littlest and me. With Wife joining us on this water park trip, he was able to ride it twice. The first time, he and Wife splashed down. They got out of the top pool, and after we slid down to the lower, shallow part of the cold pool, Wife suggested I take Eldest again. She knew I wanted to summon enough courage to try Cliffhanger, and also knew that if she suggested it, I'd be less likely to come up with an excuse not to. Eldest and I started walking back up top to the stairs, with me feeling I'm headed for the gallows.

It's our turn. I sit down on the pink slide, put my hands on the bars that will help propel me down the slide, and wait for the lifeguard to give us the OK. Uh-oh.

It's funny how adults reach milestones and accomplishments that they should have reached in their childhoods. I missed a lot of fun times because I wouldn't go near water. On vacation when I was 13, we went to Disney World's River Country, and instead of enjoying the water park, I found a nature trail where I read Foundation and listened to "Paradise Theater" on my Walkman. I wanted to overcome this fear so much, though now I realize I never will completely. But I've found a happy medium: I thoroughly enjoy the water with my family. Trying this water slide for most people is not a big deal. It was for me, even if it was just a small milestone.

I pull on the bars and get myself moving. I speed up on the small downhill part of the slide, let out a little "whoa!", close my eyes (Seven Peaks won't let you wear goggles on this ride, and I'm wearing contact lenses), and find myself holding my nose. Since I learned how to swim, it's been hammered not to hold my nose, to breathe out as you enter the water. But being already nervous about inhaling/swallowing water when I splash down, the hand came to the nose.

In an instant, I hit the water at an angle that seemed like chest first, but I know I entered feet first. The water doesn't seem as cold as it did before, maybe because Littlest and I slid down the stone slope into the shallower pool so many times. Keeping my eyes closed, I take one or two kicks to surface and open my eyes. I see the ladder to get out ahead. I put my face in the water and start freestyling to the side. In a few strokes, I'm there, ahead of Eldest. I climb out of the pool, wait for Eldest, we slide into the lower pool to greet Wife and Eldest.

I did it.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure if I enjoyed it. I bruised my ribs on a roller coaster a couple weeks ago, and it still hurts a little (especially when I'm sleeping); hitting the water re-aggravated the injury. Aside from that, I didn't dislike the ride, either. Maybe I need to try it again, this time without holding my nose, closing my eyes (contacts be damned, they are daily disposables, I can just put another pair in) or being so nervous, to form more of an opinion than the one I did Saturday:

I did it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dells trip

On our vacation this year, we stayed in the Wisconsin Dells for two nights. For those unfamiliar with Wisconsin, Wisconsin Dells is a resort town along a stretch of the Wisconsin River know for its unique rock formations. Wisconsin Dells is also a bit of a tourist trap, with its endless waterparks, giant resorts and insane traffic. We enjoyed our trip this year, maybe because we rarely left the waterpark resort. This wasn't my first time in the Dells -- I went for a few days with friends a couple summers after high school, and Wife and I would take day trips there, because one day was about all we could take.

But my first time in the Dells was in August 1979. I've been wanting to write about this trip for a while now, particularly after our few days in the Dells last month. With school about to begin and summer nearing its end, here is one more summer flashback ...

My dad's friend owned an A-frame cabin in Baraboo, which is a few miles outside Wisconsin Dells. In 1979, the Dells weren't quite as insanely tourist as they would become in the '80s, but it was getting there. Home builders advertised these A-frame vacation cottages outside Dells in Chicago's newspapers for really cheap. Dad's friend was going to let use the cottage for a weekend.

This little trip must have been a big deal, because throughout the '70s, I think our family had taken only one other overnight trip (St. Louis in maybe 1973?). I can remember my parents debating whether we'd leave at in the early evening or go the next day. It was a cloudy August late afternoon when my dad got home from work, and we were on the road soon after. We stopped at a Ground Round in what I think was Janesville for dinner, and the highlight was getting a sundae in a little batting helmet, kind of like you would at some ballparks. There was hot fudge stuck to the inside of my helmet that I wanted to wash out, but Dad got annoyed that I was delaying the trip and just told me to leave it. We must have eaten late and everyone was crabby. I guess it took another 90 minutes to get to the cabin. Along the way, I could see the Wisconsin capitol all alit from the interstate as we passed Madison, not knowing that 16 years later, I'd be living in Madison and Wife would be working across the street from that capitol.

We got the cabin to discover moths flying around inside. The house was in a mildy wooded area, and this part of Wisconsin was less rural and more forest. I kept declaring "Get that sucker!" every time we'd try to swat a moth, but Mom didn't like me using "sucker." We eventually settled down to sleep after our long drive.

We spent the next two days in the Dells and left on what I think was Monday morning. It rained almost the entire weekend. We went for a hike down a hillside in the woods, and I was a bit freaked out by it, compaining when I scratched my finger on a sharp plant (yes, that sounds silly now; as I typed it, it seemed even more ridiculous). We drove into town the first day. Though big waterparks weren't there yet, but there were some water slides (which were still a novelty in 1979). But all we did in town was go on a Ducks ride on the Wisconsin River. This may have been the only sunny hour on the trip. Two things I remember from the boat ride: The driver warning that if the boat got stuck on a sandbar, the men on the boat might have to get out and push, and the driver asking if any kids on the duck wanted to help drive it. For some reason, I didn't volunteer; I wish I had, it might have been fun.

The second day we went fishing on the river. My dad rented a rowboat with a motor, we piled in and tried fishing. I was surprisingly not that nervous in the boat, maybe because of the flotation device I was wearing, maybe because boats only started freaking me out later. My dad isn't much of a fisherman, but he had some fishing gear and knew how to get keep the bait on the hook (put the hook through the minnow's eyes). We fished as a family for a while, then Dad drove the boat back to shore to let my mom and sisters out, telling them to see if they could find a pool and take the girls swimming (to this day, I don't know if they ever did). Dad and I continued fishing, at one point anchoring near one of the rock formations (and having the water disturbed by girls throwing rocks of the rock, not at us though), and at another time anchoring in this quiet, algae-covered corner of the river/lake where it was just us. That quiet corner is what I remember most of the trip, with my Dad enjoying the peacefulness and hoping for a fish.

Alas, we never caught a fish that day; in fact, the only one we saw was washed up dead on the shore. I haven't been fishing since.

This trip wasn't some grand adventure like our two vacations to Florida were, but we did so few overnight excursions as a family when we were young that this still an event. Never underestimate what your kids will remember even from the smallest family event.

Some other random memories from the 1979 Dells trip:

-- We went to a small grocery store for provisions, and I saw a book, Hoyle's Rules of Card Games, that my parents bought for me. I still own the book.

-- One thing we noticed was that the water tasted different in the Dells. Perhaps it was flouridated differently or just from a spring source rather than the lake. I didn't notice anything different with the water this past trip.

-- For some reason, I think I saw the first commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios on the TV in the cabin that only got a couple stations (this was before cable and satellites in this neck of the woods). Also, we watched CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt.

-- I smelled a skunk for the first time. At least it was dead when we passed it.

-- We seemed to get only one station near the Dells on our Century's AM radio. (Years later, I wonder if I listened to the same station while living in Madison.) The song I most often connect with this trip is Maxine Nightengale's "Lead Me On," but also "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick, "Logical Song" by Supertramp, "She Believes in Me" by Kenny Rogers, "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer and "After the Love Is Gone" by Earth, Wind and Fire. The EWF song was reinforced this last trip when we saw them the night before in Milwaukee, then listened to them the morning after ... on the way to Dells. Sometimes life is funny when it comes around full circle.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer fun in '81

Of all my summer memories from my childhood, for some reason, the summer of 1981 stands out. I can't explain why this summer was such a turning point or so memorable, but it was, so much so that I was making compilation tapes commemorating the summer of 1981 ... in early 1985.

The summer of 1981 was 30 years ago, and I meant to reflect, recall and relive that summer during this summer, at least on my blog. I never quite got around to it, however, particularly the past few weeks after vacation while we've been busy with enjoying the remainder of summer and taking care of the new puppy. But summer isn't over yet, and there is still time to look back at 1981 in 2011. Here's what I remember from 30 summers ago:

-- The baseball strike interrupted Fernando Valenzuela's rookie season, but didn't temper my enthusiasm for the game. This summer, my pee-wee team controversially won our league championship (a long story for another post), and I played more Strat-o-Matic than I had of any summer in my youth. Baseball returned with the All-Star Game sometime in late July, and I taped the game on our VCR for my friend Marc.

-- The music was memorable, including "Limelight" by Rush, "The Waiting" by Tom Petty, "Hold on Loosely" by .38 Special, "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes, "For You" by Manfred Mann, "Stars on 45" by Stars on 45, "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins and "Jesse's Girl" by Rick Springfield. A heck of a lot of AC/DC, Styx and REO Speedwagon on WLS. American Top 40 on WBBM-FM (before the station went top 40 in 1982).

-- "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "History of the World Part 1," "Superman II," "Stripes," and "Clash of the Titans."

-- Centipede, Wizard of Wor, Gorf, Scramble, Asteroids Deluxe and Defender. Playing Odyssey 2 and Intellivision at a friend's house. Playing Adventure on Atari for the first time, a few months before we got our own VCS (and one of my first games was Adventure).

-- "Twilight Zone" reruns on Channel 9. "America's Top 10" (also on Channel 9).

-- Walking to Harlem-Irving Mall. Riding my bike all over the neighborhood. Water fights. Going to Great America the first year that the Eagle opened. Going to Kiddieland and winning a Styx mirror. Going to my first (and since, my only) baseball card show. Playing Jailbreak on humid evenings.

-- The fact it ended too soon and I started sixth grade that September. Great summers don't last forever. 1981 didn't. 2011 isn't, either.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Still summer

We've been back from vacation for almost a week. Eldest starts school in two weeks, Littlest in three. Summer vacation as we used to define it as kids -- from the last day of school in June to the first day of the next school year in late August or early September -- is coming to a close.

I'm not letting it go quietly. I want to take the boys hiking, I'm taking them to the waterpark later today, I want to enjoy the warm sun, and I want to relish the pleasant summer evenings while we still can.

On my iPod, I have a playlist entitled "August/September" that features songs I immediately connect to the end of summer/very beginning of fall. Some of these songs include "Only Time Will Tell" by Asia, "Take Me to Heart" by Quarterflash, "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits, "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n' Roses and "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies. Year after year, this is the mix I start listening to once I get back from our Midwestern vacation. This year, I'm not going near it, at least until after school starts. I don't want to be reminded that summer is ending or of bleak, humid August days from that portended the imminent school year.

In a week back, however, my plan of not going quietly into that autumn night hasn't gone completely to plan. Part of it was just post-vacation recovery, and part of it was the fact we adopted a puppy Monday (more on that in another post). The boys have been lukewarm to the idea of a hike, even if the mountains are coolerBut today, we go to the waterpark. I want to go five more times by the end of summer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Vacation finale

As expected, the last three days of vacation were much less eventful than the first 12. This happens every year -- we get back from Wisconsin for at least one day before leaving for Utah, and it's just wind-down time. And that's OK -- going nonstop for two weeks isn't easy, especially with kids. And vacation is supposed to be a time to relax, and for the past three days, that's what we did.

The past few days weren't that relaxing, however. Monday, we met my mom, who is in Chicago this week, for lunch and then to Old Orchard Mall. That night, we met some friends at the new Superdawg (my favorite Chicago hot dog restaurant) in Wheeling.

Tuesday, after pondering going downtown, we ended up just seeing the Smurfs movie with my dad. Last night, we went to dinner at a nice little Italian restaurant here in Edgebrook.

Wednesday was mostly devoted to getting ready for our return trip Thursday morning. The heat and thunderstorms finally subsided -- this might have been the most pleasant day of the entire trip. I exchanged a shirt at Kohl's, and later returned the rental car. My mom picked us up for dinner at Red Robin, then we took the boys to the park. After my mom left, the boys hung out and played "Hit the Deck" with their aunts and uncle.

We fly out in 10 hours. Our long, fun vacation is ending.

Going home after vacation, especially from my dad's house in Chicago, is always bittersweet. Other people have vacation destinations they go to year after year and become familiar with. We come here. The boys had more fun with their grandparents this trip than perhaps at any other time of their short lives, so going back to Utah and knowing they won't see their extended families for months is rough. But after a long trip such as this, we are looking forward to getting home, seeing our cat, preparing for the school year, and settling back into the routines and adventures we have enthusiastically built for ourselves in Utah. Vacations are great, but they must end sometime, and sleeping in your own bed on that first night back truly feels like home, no matter where you came from or who might be back there.

Every year we visit the Midwest, there's always a little pull to return, at least for me. This is probably a natural reaction: We grew up here, we lived here a long time, and our families are here. Chicago and Milwaukee might be our hometowns, but no matter how comfortable we feel when we visit, or how much we miss the people we leave behind, Salt Lake City is our home (and our sons' hometowns). Dan Auerbach recorded a song called "Goin' Home," and though the song is more about someone who is over trying to find himself, it includes a lyric that resonates with me:

Be thankful for what all you got.
So long, I'm goin', goin' home.

Tomorrow, we're goin' home, to all the things I'm thankful for -- my wonderful family and the life we've made for ourselves. Vacation was great, and I'm looking forward to the next one. I'm more looking forward to the coming weeks and months -- the remainder of summer, the new school year, soccer season, football season, fall, Halloween, possibly a new dog, goals, dreams, friends, joys, adventures, life and so on -- at home.

(Final Slug Bug results: Eldest 42, Littlest 37, me 20, Wife 19. In Wife's defense, she gave many of her Slug Bugs to Littlest.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Drive time

Day 12 of our vacation was almost strictly a driving day. We seem to endure one of these every year -- a long car trip connecting northern Wisconsin and Chicago or vice versa (and some years, both). After breakfast, we drove to Stevens Point to see Wife's aunt and let the boys play for awhile. Our next stop was Madison for a late lunch/early dinner at Noodles and Company. We hit traffic on Interstate 90 on the final leg of the journey, but the day wasn't that tiring, maybe because we broke it up enough. I finished my day with a walk around Edgebrook; hurray, I didn't see any skunks.

Wife and I actually enjoy driving trips and someday will take the car back to the Midwest instead of flying. The boys do well on road trips and did today, except for Eldest needing to use a restroom while we were driving through construction on the tollway (we made it to a McDonald's in time). This trip back almost always signifies that we are nearing the end of our vacation, and indeed, we only have three whole days left before flying back Thursday. As predicted, vacation has flown by quickly.

(Slug bug update: Eldest 33, Littlest 25, me 19, Wife 18.)

Click here for the conclusion of our trip: days 13-15.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Storm front coming

Saturday was Wife's birthday, and we spent it in Eagle River and Wisconsin's north woods. The day started nice, but got very, very windy and rainy ...

Our first planned event of the day was a trip to the Kovac Planetarium, a small but unique facility that features the world's largest rotating globe-style planetarium. Mr. Kovac loved the night sky so much that he essentially built this planetarium in the middle of the north woods himself. I learned about more constellations than I ever had from any other planetarium show, and his dedication and perseverance is, well, a little inspiring.

After the planetarium, we headed to Kentuck Days in Crandon -- an arts and crafts fair that included food booths and a classic car show. Eldest and I enjoyed the car show, seeing several old Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, roadsters, hot rods and even Novas. But our afternoon was cut short by a storm that was rolling into the area. Organizers of the event announced the storm was on its way, packing 60 mph winds. We drove away from Crandon, right into the storm, and though we only encountered a minute of winds, the rain was fell hard. Three Lakes was without power after a tree took down a power line. Wife's aunt and uncle, who we saw at the festival and was up north at their cabin, had their pier destroyed and their boat blown into the middle of the lake. The storm was intense.

Unfortunately, the storm interrupted and, pardon the obvious metaphor, put a damper on the rest of our day. We went to pizza in St. Germain with Wife's family, then returned to Eagle River and walked along Main Street for a little while, going to a bookstore and getting ice cream (and also finding candy UFOs!). I took the boys swimming after returning to our hotel, then we turned in for the night.

We leave the north woods Sunday to return to Chicago. Vacation is almost over ...

Click here for Day 12.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Waterpark madness

My daily vacation blogging goal hit a snag Wednesday and Thursday nights, when after full days of waterpark fun, I was just about too tired to pull out the computer and try to type. These past days have been that fun and that exahusting.

We left Waukesha on Wednesday morning and arrived at the waterpark resort in Wisconsin Dells around noon. The Wilderness let gave us our waterpark passes even though our condo we were sharing with Wife's family wasn't ready, and we hit one of the eight mini-waterparks right away. We swam for a couple hours until Wife's family arrived from northern Wisconsin, then went to another waterpark inside the resort.

Sense a pattern? Thursday was more of the same: More waterpark fun. The boys had a blast. We figured out that Eldest was in the water for about 16 hours of the 48 we were at the resort. His favorite rides were the crazy thrill rides and a lazy river that included a small slide and a conveyor belt that brought floaters back up to the top half of the river. Littlest loved some of the smaller water slides aimed at slightly younger kids (fortunate because he was just too short to go on some of the bigger rides). I liked a group ride on which all four of us rode in a giant raft down a long, dark slide.

We checked out this morning but still had our waterpark passes, so, we splashed for another three hours. Finally, by about 2, we left the resort and Wisconsin Dells for Eagle River. Except for about five minutes in which Wife couldn't find her wallet (eventually, it was found), the ride up north was smooth. We checked into our hotel, went to The Penalty Box in Eagle River for a fish fry (fun place, among its games were a Super Chexx and a Tapper!), and returned to our hotel to get to sleep relatively early after three long days.

We're only spending a couple days in Eagle River before returning to Chicago. In the meantime, we are likely to sleep well tonight. Last night, every time I closed my eyes, I kept picturing walking barefoot up wet stairs. Waterpark madness sure made an impression ...

(Slug Bug update: In the Dells, I snapped a picture of this Beetle with a moose atop it. Alas, the boys were not present when I saw it, so it couldn't be scored, though this avoided the controversy about how many extra points a moose is worth. Current scores: Eldest 25, Littlest 20, me 16, Wife 14.)

Click here for Day 11.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Let's groove tonight

Our vacation has veered north into Wisconsin. And oh my, Day 7 was fun.

We didn't leave Illinois until mid-afternoon. The lowlight of the morning was Eldest getting stung by a yellowjacket while playing tennis with my dad. We didn't hit much traffic on the way to a hotel in Waukesha, where we are spending the night before we go to the Wisconsin Dells tomorrow. We went to Kopp's for dinner, then headed downtown.

Wife's company hosts a big convention in Milwaukee every year and hires a big-name musical act to entertain the employees. In past years, we have seen Chicago and Hall and Oates; last year, Wife saw Keith Urban (the boys and I flew in after her meetings in 2010). This year, Earth, Wind and Fire was scheduled to play. Wife secured extra tickets so we could take the boys to what surely would be a fun show. We bypassed the actual seats at the Bradley Center for a spot on the floor, which held tables for people to sit or stand near to watch the show, but also included a large space in front of the stage for people to just stand and dance. With Littlest such a little dancer, we knew he wouldn't sit still in a seat, so we found a spot in front of the stage.

The concert was so much fun. Earth, Wind and Fire is a good party band, and Phillip Bailey, Verdine White and company didn't disappoint. Because we had people standing in front of us, Wife and I ended up holding the boys up to get a better view of the show. Wife mostly had Eldest on her hip (I could never prop him up comfortably for a long time like she did), while I mostly had Littlest on my shoulders (he was lighter but rougher on Wife's neck; my shoulders are stronger). The concert featured two large video screens on either side of the stage, on which cameras would close up on the band, broadcast the band from the back of the arena, or pan the crowd. About once every minute, you could see the back of Littlest on the screen, towering just a little bit over the rest of the standing crowd. What helped was that he was wearing a neon yellow soccer jersey. We made the boys wear these so we could pick them out easily, but in the lighting of the concert, the yellow was practically glowing. After a while, Littlest, who was bouncing on my shoulders, dancing and singing, kept looking for himself on the screens.

My only complaint from the show is that we were too close -- we were underneath the speakers and sometimes couldn't figure out what was being sung if we didn't already know the song. But we knew many of the songs: "Shining Star," "Boogie Wonderland," "Sing a Song," "After the Love is Gone" (which was a serious grade school flashback), "Serpentine Fire," "That's the Way of the World," "September" and "Let's Groove." The energy was amazing, and Littlest fed off it. His moment came during "Fantasy": The camera focused on just him from the front, and he shouted in glee at his image on the big screen for the whole Bradley Center crowd of insurance agents and their families to see.

Eldest had fun too, but it took a little while for him to really get into the concert (mostly near the last few songs). We got out of the show and both boys were wired, with Littlest singing "Ba de ya" (from "September"). Hell, I was wired too. But the best post-show moment was when Wife ran into a colleague from another agency, who instantly recognized Littlest from the video screens! I told Littlest later that he was a star, and that might have went to his head a bit, because on the way back to the car, he kept shouting "I'm a star, I'm a star!"

Littlest is a star, and so is Eldest. A shining star. No matter who you are.

(Slug Bug update: Eldest 19, Littlest 16, me 13, Wife 11)

Click here for days 8-10.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Little break

Wife worked in Milwaukee today again, and the three of us she left behind did enjoy a less involved Day 6 of Vacation 2011. Our morning was uneventful, we picked up Chipotle for lunch, we went to the mall to look for a birthday present for Wife (Wife, if you are reading this, I meant we went to the mall to get a Cinnabon!), and then we visited my former neighbors on the street I lived on growing up. The visit to the old neighborhood was fun. The neighbors' daughter (my sister's best friend growing up) now lives in my old house and has kids around the same ages as the boys. They played, swam and had a lot of fun for a few hours while the adults chatted and reminisced. We picked up Wife from the train station, ate dinner and caught lightning bugs.

Tomorrow, we go to Milwaukee to see Earth, Wind and Fire, and then we go the Dells on Wednesday. This vacation is far from over.

Click here for Day 7.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Millennium falcons

The first four days of our vacation were quite active, with a plenty of walking and plenty of humidity. With Wife working in Milwaukee on Sunday, I was somewhat planning a lower-key afternoon for Day 5 of our vacation. And for the most part, that was achieved.

Rain poured down all morning (Chicago has just been shelled overnight and into the morning with rain the past few days, but the sun eventually has come out every day by mid-afternoon), so that kept us mostly inside and mellow. The boys played games and watched TV, and my dad made chocolate chip pancakes. The sun finally came out, and we headed downtown to explore Millennium Park. The highlight for the boys was the Crown Fountain -- two 50-foot glass-block video screens that feature people's faces, and every few minutes, the face purses its lips and water sprays out from the wall. The boys loved getting soaked, and just standing by the fountain (but not getting wet) provided the adults with some cool relief. Afterward, we walked to another fountain: Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. There we took pictures and ate ice cream.

After arriving back at my dad's house (and after Wife got back from Milwaukee), the boys played more games with their family, and we also went to the park for a little while. I went for a short walk tonight to cap off the "relaxing" day before writing this post. Wife is in Milwaukee on Monday as well, so another "relaxing" day might be in store for us. And yikes, vacation is a third over ...

(Slug Bug update: Eldest 16, Littlest 12, me 10, Wife 9. And this story: Littlest took a free copy of a used car sales catalog [similar to a real estate guide you might find in a "take one" box on a corer] and said it was his magazine because he needed to get more slug bugs. Classic!)

Click here for Day 6.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

There goes a narwhal

Day 4 of our vacation was dominated by a trip to the Field Museum in Chicago. This was the boys' and Wife's first visit to the museum, and I hadn't been there since 1982. With rain forecast for much of the afternoon, an inside event seemed the perfect plan, especially after worrying about thunderstorms yesterday at the Cubs game (and then dealing with the heat).

After driving downtown and accepting we'd have to pay $30 for parking (the Field Museum is adjacent to Soldier Field, where the Chicago Fire were hosting Manchester United today, hence the insane parking cost), we entered the museum and encountered Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered. As a dinosaur nut as a child (and still a fan as a grownup), I remember my other two visits to the Field Museum to see the dinosaurs. I felt a little of that giddiness seeing this giant T-Rex for the first time. But our day was just beginning.

After walking through the Polynesian exhibit, we took a break for lunch outside, then came back in to see more dinosaurs and other prehistoric displays. We saw a 3-D movie about Sue, which the boys loved, then continued exploring the rest of the museum.

Maybe it was the 29 years between visits, but I forgot how mammoth (no pun intended, because we did see a mammoth ...) the Field Museum is. We headed toward the Nature Walk, with its displays of animal life around the world. By the time we got through it all, we were starting to drag, but an entire floor of exhibits still awaited us. We needed another break and found a concession area eat some goldfish crackers and recharge.

What I love about the Field Museum was its mix of old-school museum exhibits combined with modern displays. We sat in what essentially was a little break room that featured marine life exhibits on two sides. When one of the pop machines ate our quarters and I went to the front desk to get a refund, I was asked where and replied "the pop machines by the narwhals." (In fact, the reflection of the pop machines can be seen in my picture.) The last two exhibits we saw reflected this balance: Underground Adventure, which shows what life is like three inches under the soil if you were 1/100th your original size, and the ancient Egypt exhibit, which displays a collection the museum has owned for decades.

After Egypt, we were exhausted and left the museum, unfortunately missing a couple things we might have found interesting. The Field Museum is definitely a good place to carry a membership. We returned to our car and fought traffic through downtown to get back to my dad's house.

Wife and I got another dinner on our own again (thanks, Dad and Suzy!) and went to Hackney's in Glenview for a burger. We stopped at Trader Joe's for the first time (Utah so needs one of these) and drove around the North Shore for a little while, being in no desperate need to get back. On the return trip, WLS-FM played "Life Is a Rock (but the Radio Rolled Me)" complete with "WLS Rolled Me" in the chorus. I drove a few extra minutes to hear that, because that's something that belongs in a museum.

(Slug Bug standings after Day 4: Eldest 11, Littlest 10, me 9, Wife 9)

(More on our vacation: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3)

Click here for Day 5.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Go Cubs Go

For years now, one of our vacation goals was to get Wife to a Cubs game. As a native Milwaukeean, she has never been to Wrigley Field before. Each year, it seems the Cubs were never in town while we were or we always had a conflict. With the boys now able to sit through an entire sporting event, and both of them coming off their own baseball seasons, I wanted to get the whole family and not just Wife to see their first Cubs game.

Finally, this year, everything fell into place. We'd been eying this Friday to see the Cubs play. I pounced on some seriously discounted tickets on StubHub last night, and the thunderstorms that rolled through Chicago subsided just as we got on the train. Everything fell into place perfectly for Day 3 of our vacation.

My dad dropped us off at the Skokie Swift station, and two trains later (Eldest wanted to take the subway on vacation; we never went underground but I it was close enough to enjoy the Chicago rapid transit experience), we were on Addison outside the Friendly Confines. After a lap around the outside of the ballpark (walked more for Wife and me; Eldest wanted to get inside), we entered Wrigley Field for their first Cubs game and my first since 2002.

One memory I have from Wrigley Field in my youth is the men's restrooms that feature troughs instead of urinals. I figured after all the remodeling the stadium has gone through, the troughs would be gone, but sure enough, I took the boys into the restroom and there the troughs were. I think they were unsure what to think of the troughs (they kind of look like giant sinks to wash hands), but they got the hang of it, though I had to lift Littlest underneath his arms so he was tall enough to effectively relieve himself. After that first adventure, we made our way to our seats.

I really got lucky with these tickets: upper deck on the shady side, third row, about even with the pitcher's mound. The seats were perfect for the boys to see all the action. I couldn't help but smile as I surveyed the stadium from the upper deck. Yes, Wrigley Field has changed much over the years (the Toyota sign behind left field is seriously obnoxious), but it's still mostly the same ballpark I remember from the late 1970s when I first started going to Cubs games -- even Ivan DeJesus was in uniform (the former shortstop is the Cubs' third base coach).

The rain never returned and the sun (and humidity) made an appearance. We bought hot dogs and pretzels, and ate sunflower seeds and peanuts. Wife bought the boys giant foam bear claws. I bought an Old Style from a vendor just for the experience of drinking one at Wrigley Field (it's only slightly better there, which is still not that great). The Cubs, naturally, didn't play that well, but still managed to beat the Astros 4-2 thanks to home runs by Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. We watched actor Tom Felton (Draco in the Harry Potter movies) throw out the first pitch, and heard Jeff Garlin sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." We sang "Go Cubs Go" after they won.

Afterward, we slowly made our way back to the el train to return back north. We picked up Giordano's for dinner and mostly took it easy for the rest of the night. The boys said they liked the game; I really hoped they did. I know I did.

(Slug Bug standings after Day 3: Eldest 8, Wife 7, Littlest 7, me 6)

Click here for Day 4.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beetle juice

One game Wife and I used to play on vacation is Slug Bug. See a Volkswagen Beetle, yell out "Slug Bug!" We took out the violence component, and we sometimes would declare "Slug Bug!" when we weren't on vacation, but on vacation, the game was on and we kept score. This was another tradition that seemed to fade away once we had kids and once we started flying to our vacation destination instead of taking long driving trips.

With the boys older and now understanding what a Beetle looks like, we began playing Slug Bug again but not keeping score. Wife and I have been trying to funnel Beetles to Littlest, who is generally less vigilant to look for them than Eldest. But Eldest has caught on when we try to signal Littlest. We told them we wouldn't start scoring points until we were on vacation.

We are on vacation. We are keeping score.

Naturally, we're trying to let the boys get the majority of the Slug Bugs. In a couple years, we will make them full opponents, but for now, we're rigging the game somewhat. That doesn't mean Wife and I aren't competing. We went to dinner tonight while my dad took the boys to a movie, and I called on. She complained that we can't call them without the boys in the car. I said, "Hey, you just need one witness!" We agreed to only keep score when the boys are with us.

Oh, but the game is on. Wife used to win all the time, even though I think when I called "Slug Bug!" on Herbie, The Love Bug (about 10 years ago when the remake of the movie came out; it was parked outside Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood) I should have automatically won that vacation. We would get quite competitive. Today she offered tips to the boys: Look down alleys and side streets, and look in big parking lots. I added, a little bitterly, "Look while Daddy's driving and I don't can't look myself because I'm too busy trying to negotiate traffic and not crash."

Yes, the game is on and the gloves are off. The standings: Wife 5, Eldest 4, myself 3, Littlest 3. I'd be winning if we counted Beetles we saw without the boys ...

Other highlights of vacation, day 2:

-- We took the boys to the Peggy Notebeart Nature Museum near Lincoln Park. We saw a cool, live butterfly exhibit, monk parakeets, hissing cockroaches and a stuffed cougar.

-- We walked to R.J. Grunts, my mom's favorite restaurant, across from Lincoln Park. Eldest ate a giant cheeseburger off the grown-up menu.

-- After lunch, we headed to Lincoln Park Zoo. We visited the zoo last year, and mostly just walked through to get to the car (the zoo is free). We saw a seal from the comfort of the air-conditioned underwater viewing area, saw few cats in the lion house, and let the boys ride the carousel, then left. The zoo was the emptiest I'd ever seen it -- it was that warm and humid again.

-- We trudged back to the car, then drove back to my dad's house. He took the boys to see "Zookeeper," while Wife and I went to lunch and got Thai food again. We weren't sure where to go eat, because we weren't too hungry after our big lunch. After driving through Edison Park and Park Ridge, we saw a Thai restaurant and thought that would be healthier and not as heavy. With few Thai restaurants in Salt Lake City (and none by us), we can overdo it a little here in Chicago. Besides, if we visited Bangkok, we'd be getting Thai food every night.

-- The boys, who had been playing all day when we inside, played with cars and trains in the evening, as well as played an Uno-like card game, "Hit the Deck," with their grandfather and aunt. After they went to bed, I went for a muggy walk around Edgebrook and saw a big raccoon scurry into the woods next to the train tracks.

The raccoon looked too hot, too.

Click here for Day 3.