Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer, Day 72; Vacation, Day 8

Michael woke me up early to tell me that my father was making pancakes. So, I woke up early and ate breakfast. I was hoping for a little relaxation today (and some time to write), but that wasn't happening, although the day wasn't overly busy.

Ben has been a game freak lately, so I found the version of Risk in the house and showed him how to play. With a little help, he quickly took over Europe and Australia. He understood the concept of the game well enough, and though I did control Africa and South America, I did not play as cutthroat as I would if I was playing my father. Ben had fun, but the game went long and he got bored, so Michael took over and won the game, starting a turn with 42 armies and sweeping through South America, Africa and southern Asia. We all enjoyed the game, and I have even more incentive to find my old Risk that I can't find in my house.

Lori flew back to Utah today, and we took her to the airport around noon. Afterward, we went to Target, then back to my dad's house, then to the block on which I grew up to visit neighbors who invited us to swim in their pool. We visited them last year, and though the grandkids weren't around, the boys enjoyed swimming and having the pool to themselves.

For dinner, we met my friend (and Ben's godfather) Mike for dinner at the SuperDawg in Wheeling. Yummy, and now I just need to get a Taco Burrito King burrito and a stuffed pizza to satisfy my Chicago food cravings. My dad is already talking about making pancakes again tomorrow morning. I hope Michael let's me sleep.

We visit the friendly confines on Day 73.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer, Day 71; Vacation, Day 7

Lori celebrated her birthday today. She's used to celebrating her birthday while we are on vacation, and I'm subsequently used to frantically trying to find her a present in Chicago every year. I took the boys into the city for what I was hoping for a short trip, but we ended up at the REI just west of Lincoln Park. I reminded the boys not to bug me much while I'm navigating Chicago streets. The nice thing, however, after winding our way through the city, was being able to hop on the Kennedy Expressway and zip back to my dad's house.

The rest of the afternoon was a little lazy. Dad and his girlfriend watched the boys in the evening while Lori and I went out for her birthday and to celebrate our 15th anniversary a few days early. We drove to Navy Pier, explored a little, went to eat at Harry Caray's tavern, explored some more, sat and gazed at the lake and the city while I drank an overpriced beer, and rode the Ferris wheel. Afterward, we drove to Buckingham Fountain, and though we didn't time our visit to see the fountain show (and at 90 degrees out at 9:30 p.m., we didn't want to wait), it was a perfect end to the evening.

Slug Bug scores: Michael 17, me 15, Ben 12, Lori (still giving many of hers away, and she's dropping out of the game after she flies back to Utah tomorrow) 6.

The vacation continues by clicking here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer, Day 70; Vacation, Day 6

Today was a driving day, returning from Merrill to Chicago. The boys and Lori did get to go out on the boat one more time this morning while I stayed at her sister's house and got the car ready for our return trip. We ate at Noodles in Wausau for lunch, then were making good time back before hitting traffic north of Madison all the way into Illinois. The ride home got harried enough that we stopped a couple miles from my dad's house at a Walgreens so Michael could use the restroom. Dad had invited some family over dinner and a birthday cake for Lori, which made for an enjoyable evening. My knee will be happy that we won't be making any more long drives for the rest of the trip -- just days of enjoying Chicago.

Happy birthday Lori!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summer, Day 69; Vacation, Day 5

We didn't pack as much into our Wisconsin day as we did yesterday. After an easy morning in which Lori's aunt drove from Stevens Point to see us for a few hours, we drove to Minocqua to meet Lori's parents. The boys go-karted (Michael on his own, Ben with his grandfather; I sat out as to not aggravate my knee). we played miniature golf (during which I did aggravate my knee -- I didn't see a little slope, stepped wrong, and swore in agony as my swollen knee stretched too far back), then went to dinner at Mama's Supper Club. After driving back to Merrill, we watched some Olympics, and I walked the boys and my niece to get ice cream.

Over the past two days, I've more firmly believed something I somewhat knew before: I like the Wisconsin, up north vacation. The lakes, the woods, the Leinenkugel's, and even the touristy things we don't do back in Utah. I don't want to move back any time soon to Wisconsin any time soon, but a few days up north a year is enjoyable in a "Great Outdoors" sort of way.

Summer, Day 70, right here ...

Pure joy

I blogged yesterday about going tubing on Lake Alexander and how much fun Michael had. I don't think I did justice to the description of Michael's fun. Quite simply, I've never seen him with as big a smile as he did while he was on that tube.

Michael is such a big kid, and the oldest brother, that I can sometimes forget he is just 8. I compare him with Ben at different times of their lives, and Michael always comes across as older. He was in bigger clothes at age 3 than Ben was. Riding a bike at 4, while Ben is still learning. Playing somewhat advanced video games at 5 when Ben didn't pick them up until 6 (but Ben is catching up quickly). As a result, Ben seems the baby and Michael far older than he actually is. I don't know if my parents viewed me that way, perhaps because I was small at 8 and had sisters. I know Lori's family did, however.

At one point tubing, he was in the giant tube by himself, having the time of his life, smiling the whole way, and he looked, small. Younger, and as happy as a toddler. He should be experiencing kid joy, and he does, and watching that joy today was one of the greatest feelings I have felt as a father. I don't want him to grow up too fast, but here he is, two inches shy of 5 feet. Today, his exuberance on that tube reminded me what a kid he still is.

I took out my phone and tried to take video of his expression while tubing, but my Android didn't do it justice (in fact, I'm lucky the phone didn't fly out of my hand into the water, what with my other hand holding the boat for dear life). That happiness, that smile will live with me forever, long after he has forgotten the details of the day.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer, Day 68; Vacation, Day 4

The knee felt better today. But now, I can't stop swaying.

My brother-in-law borrowed a boat and took his and my kids out on Lake Alexander just outside Merrill. The boys tried tubing for the first time. Michael loved it right away and didn't want to stop. Ben needed more coaxing and eventually went, just once, with his cousin in a large tube he could sit in. My brother-in-law didn't drag him too fast, but at one point, he asked to stop, then declared: "I'm sorry for not wanting to go before, this is great, let's keep going."

The lake included a rope swing off a small island, and Michael loved jumping off that as well. Ben was a little small for the swing, but later did jump off a smaller rock on the island. We took the boat out a second time, but they had to use a different tube after the strap on the large one broke. This second tube required more holding on, but Michael again did great, never being fazed by bumps or the two times he got thrown off. Ben wasn't as brave this time, simply being content to stay on the boat and swim by the island.

No, I didn't go tubing. With my knee still hurting (though it felt better as the day went on), I didn't think it wise to try. And honestly, I don't know if I would have summoned to courage to do so. Getting dragged around a lake isn't my idea of fun. Maybe next year, and maybe if the boat goes slow. I did muster enough guts to actually jump out of the boat, albeit with a life vest on. I know I can swim now, but I still don't like lakes over my head. I felt more at ease with the life vest on, especially knowing I wouldn't have to tread (and move my left knee -- and if I'm in deep water, I'm still not relaxed enough to not tread furiously) much with it. I jumped in twice, labored a bit to get back on the boat with my bum leg, and was satisfied with the knowledge that 10 years ago, I might not have tried this.

I was so tired when we got home that I napped for a little bit, then ate dinner. We all watched the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics, though Lori and the boys went to bed before it was over. I'm here on my sister-in-law's porch blogging, and I can still feel myself swaying as if I was still on the boat. Aching knee and seasickness hours later? Should make for an interesting night of sleep.

Vacation, day 5.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer, Day 67; Vacation, Day 3

My left knee is killing me.

I think I might have overworked this knee, with its likely torn meniscus, the past few days, especially Tuesday, because today, it has felt worse than it has in weeks. I'm icing it again right now and hoping it feels better in the morning.

We drove from Chicago to Merrill, Wis., to Lori's sister. We made good time, only stopping a couple times for bathroom breaks and lunch. The boys were excited to see their cousins. We went to dinner, then took it easy the rest of the evening. Tomorrow should be a fun day, weather permitting. I hope my knee permits, too.

Early Slug Bug scores: Michael 11, me 10, Ben 4, Lori 3. Admittedly, Lori is giving many of hers away ...

Read about our day on the lake.

Baseball 1981: The grand finale

As I've been typing these posts, including the one about me striking out to lose a game and the last one about my coach hitting the other team's coach in the face, I began to wonder -- if I hadn't struck out, and we had clinched a spot in the title game, would there have been as much tension that last game? Could the whole mess have been avoided? Maybe this was all my fault ...

The league held a meeting to see if Coach would be allowed to coach again and if the last game should have ended in a forfeit. Many of our team's parents, including mine, went to the Oriole Park field house to express their support for Coach -- a man they were comfortable and happy with coaching their kids. I went with my parents but waited outside, playing catch with 16-inch softball with one of my teammates. The meeting took a long time.

We didn't forfeit the game, and Coach wasn't kicked out of the league. The Astros would play the Giants for the championship at Thillens.

With a week between games, and the title game being our last game, Chris could pitch all six innings. He shut the Giants down. One of their pitchers got frustrated over what he thought were strikes but the umpire called as balls. After my slump from the past few games, I finally reached base one last time on a walk. We won. The championship was ours.

After the game, Coach gave us trophies for winning our division. We were surprised -- this wasn't something we thought Oriole Park did. Now, I think I understand: Coach had bought the trophies himself, worried we wouldn't be able to play for one because of him. And that's the mark of integrity and sincerity: Coach recognized his terrible mistake and determined that he would make it right for us if we were penalized because of it.

We got our official first-place trophy at awards dinner, held at a nice banquet hall on Cumberland Avenue a almost a month later. We encountered Frankie with a giant cast hanging off his right shoulder -- he had broken it after the season ended. This was the first time ever I tried spumoni (one of my teammates complained, but it wasn't bad). I received my individual trophy for being on a championship team.

Only one player from the Giants showed, even though they took second place. Even as 10-year-olds, we could tell it was sour grapes. The non-call on Chris' homer in the last game of the regular season aside, we won the championship game fair and square. No matter what their parents thought of the whole situation, they denied their kids a chance to be proud of their accomplishments and accepting their trophies.

The awards night ended. Summer was ending -- by my estimation (when we got back in the car, the White Sox's Dennis Lamp was throwing a no-hitter that the Brewers broke up; a little research revealed this was in late August), school started the next week. I stayed friends with Chris, and I'd see some of my teammates in school, but that night was probably the last time I saw about half of that team, including Frankie, whose family had moved to the suburbs. Also, I wouldn't play on the same baseball team as any of the guys again. Nevertheless, I remember this team more than any team I played on throughout grade school.

I've written before how 1981 was my favorite summer of my childhood. The is the summer I cling to when I try to milk as much of June, July and August as an adult. So much was great about that summer. The music, the video games, the movies, the fun times with friends. And the baseball. And especially the trophies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer, Day 66; Vacation, Day 2

Lori and I were sore when we woke up. And still tired. The four beers I drank yesterday, not enough to give me a buzz, dehydrated me enough that I felt a little headache this morning. Lori had been busy with her convention, and I had been so swamped getting ready for a trip, that we needed a recovery day. Thankfully, my family was happy to help. My dad and siblings -- especially Megan, who starts college in a month -- entertained the boys all day. They watched Michael and Ben when Lori and I went to Target to pick up a few vacation supplies. Megan took the boys to the park. Later, they all went to the pool. Lori and I were planning on going, too, but when we didn't look too enthusiastic, they offered to let us stay home. We didn't argue, and instead went to Barnes and Noble for bookstore time without children.

After more relaxation, the family returned from the pool. We all, including my dad's girlfriend, went to Graziano's for dinner. After returning home, and after the boys and Lori went to dead, I wanted to blog outside, but Chicago is ridiculously humid, so I'm writing while watching a baseball game on ESPN. I feel recovered and ready to re-exhaust myself on vacation.

A bad knee day on Day 67.

Summer, Day 65; Vacation, Day 1

Tuesday morning, 6 a.m., and I'm the first one awake in the house (Lori is already in Milwaukee). Vacation is here.

We groggily said goodbye to the pets and were driven to the airport. Ben's mood perked up as soon as we got to the airport, and Michael was eventually full of energy as well. The flight went well, with Ben chattering for most of the flight (when he wasn't playing his DS) and Michael watching a movie ("Scooby-Doo") on the DVD player. I actually nodded off for a couple minutes -- rare considering I usually can't sleep on airplanes. I wish the nap was longer because the day was just beginning.

My father picked us up at O'Hare and took us back to his house. We didn't have too much time to rest, as we needed to drive to Milwaukee to meet Lori. We got the rental car -- a Nissan Altima with push-button ignition that intrigues Michael -- and made good time to Milwaukee. We picked Lori up from her hotel room, then walked to the Harp -- a bar/restaurant where Lori's agency holds a dinner for its employees who attend the company's convention every summer. Michael and I played darts, I enjoyed three full-strength beers, and we ate dinner before walking to the Bradley Center to see Maroon 5.

The concert was fun -- Maroon 5 practically played a greatest hits show -- though I think I liked Earth, Wind and Fire more last year. The boys had fun, but they looked tired; Ben wasn't quite his ebullient self at a concert. The floor was so packed that I was apprehensive to put Ben on my shoulders, so I was awkwardly holding him on 1 1/2 knees for most of the show. Lori held up Michael for much of the show as well. The concert ended, we walked to back to our car, and Lori drove back to Chicago. The boys fell asleep in the car. We made it back to my father's house before midnight. Our busy first day of vacation finally was in the books.

Second day of vacation here ...

Summer, Day 64

After a few busy days, I'm finally catching up. So yes, this is a couple days late ...

Monday was full of swim and preparation. The boys had swim practice in the morning and a meet in the evening. Michael swam a great meet, and Ben achieved a personal record in the backstroke despite not using his arms for much of the race. Yes, Ben stopped using his arms early in the race and just kicked across. He heard from a coach (maybe not one of ours) to go eight strokes and kick to the wall. When I told him that maybe the coach was explaining what do do when you saw the flags (near the end of the pool), he replied "Oh, that makes sense." After the meet, we picked up Costa Vida for dinner, then watched some fireworks our neighbors were setting off (Ben held his first sparkler and thankfully didn't burn himself).

The rest of the day was devoted to getting ready for our trip. I didn't go to bed until 1 a.m.

Vacation starts tomorrow!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Baseball 1981: Grownups behaving badly

In the first and second posts of this series, I haven't used my coach's name out of respect for him. Hence, I just call him Coach.

Diamond 5 is tucked way in a remote corner of Oriole Park bordering Bryn Mawr Avenue. Peewee teams played on diamonds 5 and 7 (now called 6), but during my season with the Reds, we only played one game all year on Diamond 5, which was far away from the other diamonds and required a 150-yard bike ride to the nearest water fountain (requiring a mad dash on your bike to get a drink if you were lucky enough not to be batting that inning).But the next year, we played several on that field.

After the Astros' showdown against the Giants, I'll never forget Diamond 5.

I've tried to remember every detail of this game, 31 years later. I've asked my mother, too, who was at the game (my dad, I relearned, missed the game and only heard everything secondhand), to find out what she remembered, but I think I remembered more. The evening was a bit overcast. The game wasn't the blowout our first meeting had been. The score was close. And the other team, or at least the other team's adults, weren't playing nice. One woman behind the backstop was encouraging our players to "strike out" when we were batting. According to my mom, someone back there was spinning an umbrella every time our pitchers were delivering a pitch. Their adults might have been acting this way all season. Win at any costs, even in 1981.

The pivotal play of the game -- the play that caused so much subsequent chaos -- occurred when we were losing 2-0. Chris, my best friend and the best player in the league, hit a three-run homer. As he was coming home, he rolled right over the catcher. I don't know if there was a slide rule in place, and I don't know if there was, if it would have applied if the ball wasn't near the plate (and if the ball was even near being thrown home). I'm looking at the current Oriole Park Baseball Association rules and there is a slide rule -- if a play is being made. Was a play not imminent? Without video (and thank God there was no video from this night), we may never know. Chris did not slide, ran the catcher over, touched home and was called safe with his home run, apparently not violating any rules in the eyes of the umpire. We took the lead.

The Giants' coaches weren't happy and started arguing. Our coaches started arguing back. All the coaches were out near home plate. The argument got more heated. And then, in one of the most stunning things I had ever seen an adult do in my 10 1/2 years of life, Coach slugged one of the Giants' assistant coaches in the face.

I don't know how it got to that point. I would like to think Coach knew how the actions of the other team all game and might have been offended at a suggestion that we were playing dirty. Clearly, the other assistant said something that pushed Coach past his limit. I overheard another of our parents say that another assistant on the Giants' side "took off his glasses and picked up a bat." Did this happen after the punch? The assistants and our parents got Coach back into the dugout, but he was fuming, to the point he was going to jump the fence to get back on the diamond (but thankfully, he thought better of it). The argument continued, with one of their coaches saying one of our assistants shouldn't be on the field because he wasn't wearing an orange OPBA shirt (which, from an end-of-year picture, I know he owned but just wasn't wearing that night).

I'm recounting this whole episode because it is one of the most out-of-character moments I have ever seen from an otherwise respectful, caring, decent human being. He was coaching that year not for glory or to relive his youth, but because he loved coaching and working with kids (including his own son). Though I think I get most of my coaching style from my father, I think I get a little from Coach as well. Stunning as my coach's punch was to 10-year-old me, 41-year-me who is a coach kind of gets it. Winning or losing to dedicated coach might not matter, but protecting your players definitely does. I find myself getting worked up when an opposing coach is acting unfairly or when a referee clearly doesn't know the rules and it negatively affects our kids. We played a baseball team this year that was putting six kids in the infield (not counting the pitcher). The league's rules clearly stated you couldn't have more than four. Though they argued that it was pointless to have so many outfielders because "kids weren't hitting it that far anyway" (and we burned them on some big hits even when they playing four outfielders and abiding by the rules), I was ready to say "Go ahead, teach your players that it's OK to cheat." and escalate the situation because, well, it wasn't fair to our kids who were playing by the rules. Did Coach feel the same way that night? I want to believe so.

Back to 1981.We won the game by one run -- Chris' play at the plate. We won the division to advance to championship game and would play for the title against, of course, the Giants, who had won the other division. The controversy was just beginning.

Click here to see who won the championship.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer, Day 63

Vacation is soon, and today was mostly dedicated to preparing for it. Tomorrow will require just as much work, but I'm feeling good that we won't be too rushed Tuesday morning.

After a morning and early afternoon of packing and organizing, we made it out to Costco and Target in the afternoon, then went to the pool for a few hours. We picked up Wendy's for dinner, then were invited to light sparklers with our neighbors. We never got past pop-its and smoke bombs, however, after a storm rolled in and the wind picked up. The pool was fun on a hot day, and I'm glad the boys worked off a little energy. The storm was cool, too -- I miss evening summer thunderstorms after a hot, sunny day (they are rare in Utah in July).

Time to wrap this up. More vacation preparation is beckoning.

The day that was 64.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summer, Day 62

Lori flew to the Midwest today, and the boys and I drove her to the airport this morning. We tentatively planned a long hike today with neighbors today, but that fell through, and in retrospect, that might have been a good thing. We all felt tired for most of the afternoon.

After dropping Lori off, we hit a few garage sales (found "Pretty in Pink" on DVD for a dollar!), and the boys got haircuts in the morning. Michael and Ben played with friends in the early afternoon, and we went to PetSmart and Walmart later. I made macaroni and cheese and hot dogs for dinner, and we started watching "The Bad News Bears" (original) on Netflix. The boys got some playtime after dinner, as did the dog.

Tomorrow is the big preparation day for the trip. Today was the calm before the storm.

Day 63 is next.

Baseball 1981: Thrill of victory, agony of defeat

My first post in this series talked about the success of the Astros in Oriole Park Peewee baseball in 1981. I was enjoying similar success, at least for most of the season.

The season before, my first in kid pitch, I was nervous about getting hit by pitches, to the point I'd take a mini-step away from the plate on every pitch. At some point in my second year, I stopped backing off the plate, and when I did, I started hitting for average. At 4-foot-8 (that might be an overestimation) and about 70 pounds, I was never going to be a power hitter, but at least I was getting on base regularly.

I played left field all season that year. We had better infielders than I was, and outfield would prove less stressful (and by the next year, I would become pretty decent in center field). I didn't mind. One thing I did want to try was pitching. I almost got my chance one Saturday, when we had a doubleheader (due to a rescheduled game) and my friend Chris, our best pitcher, already having reached the league-imposed limit on innings. I warmed up with several pitches thrown to Coach, who I guess wasn't impressed, because I didn't pitch that day, or any day after that in my baseball career. I'm sure that being so skinny, I wasn't throwing with any sort of velocity necessary for 9-year-olds not to crush every pitch I delivered.

No matter -- that doubleheader day turned out to be my best statistical day of baseball ever (the grand slam, or more accurately, single and two errors with the bases loaded I hit playing softball at age 28 might have been second). I hit the ball so well in the first game that Coach had me leading off the nightcap, in which I went 4-for-4. I thought I was getting a little power that game as well after I crushed a foul ball past the Diamond 5 right-field light pole (which, after looking at Oriole Park on Google Maps, really wasn't that far ...). Coach, with his fatherly smile, gave me the game ball after our victory. Everything was great.

My season came crashing down soon after. We were playing a big game against the A's and losing going into the last inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, I came up to bat. The pressure was too much for the skittish 10-year-old I was, and I struck out to end the game. I went back to the dugout and cried. Frankie, one of my teammates who always seemed cheerful, told me with a smile it was OK, but I didn't want to believe it. I was so crushed.

I brought up the story of the strikeout to my father, who remembered the game and remembered the whiff. He wasn't mad or upset, but it must have been torture for him to watch me on that last at-bat -- not because he was worried that he would be disappointed in me, but because he must have been sharing my stress. How do parents who want their children to succeed so badly -- to be the hero -- not be just as wounded as the kids when they don't succeed. I've watched Michael and Ben at bat this season and wished, prayed in my mind "Get a hit, get a hit, please get a hit." And that wasn't because the game wasn't on the line (it usually wasn't), but more just for their confidence, for them to be happy. I felt it with Michael, even though he batted at least .700 this season (meaning, he was getting hits aplenty). I really felt it with Ben, who tried so hard every game and was so enthusiastic but just couldn't hit the ball. When he got a hit the last game (his third of the season) and celebrated even after he got to first, I was dancing too. Surprisingly, I feel this way with kids I coach to some extent. When the last kid on Ben's soccer team scored, or when the last kid to get a basket on Michael's basketball team finally got a bucket, or when three kids in Ben's last hoop game (including Ben) scored on the last game of the season, I was celebrating as well. But none of those situations was with the game at stake. There I was. Ten years old. The game on the line. And I failed. If that ever happens with one of my kids, I'll hug him, say I'm proud of them, tell him to keep his heads up. But inside, I'll be hurting as much as he will.

The strikeout killed my confidence for the remaining few games. I kept striking out and wouldn't reach base again until the last game of the season at Thillens. I was a non-factor going into our big showdown rematch against the Giants, a game we needed to win the make the championship game.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer, days 60-61

I was downloading some music onto my PC yesterday, which slowed it down to annoying levels, so annoying that I didn't even attempt blogging. So this post is covering yesterday and today.

Thursday, we went on another hike with some of Michael's classmates, up Rattlesnake Gulch in Milcreek Canyon. We didn't go too far beyond the first trail, even though we thought about it. The hike was long enough. The boys had fun, as did the dog. We got back to the house and were exhausted.

I had filled up the kiddie pool in the morning, with the thought if we were too tired to go to the real pool, this would be a good option to cool off in the sun. I had hoped that after six hours, the water would have warmed up enough. We got outside mid-afternoon to discover clouds had rolled in and that the water hadn't warmed much. I could say the cool water felt good, but it was more of a shock to my lungs. The boys didn't mind as much.

The rest of the day was uneventful. The boys went to bed early to get enough rest for their early swim practice this morning. Lori watched them swim and dive, then I took them to a playgroup at Liberty Park. They played for three hours before we came back home. By then, we were all tired, but we pitched in as Lori prepared for her trip to the Midwest (we will follow a few days later). The rest of the day was low-key, especially with the heat. I watched "The Maltese Falcon" in an effort to clear more off the DVR, then walked the dog and watered the gardens.

Forward to Day 62!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer, Day 59

So much to do before vacation. Today, I knocked out the lawn and the last three episodes of "Friday Night Lights."

As usual, we started the day with the boys' swim practice. The boys played inside most of the afternoon, while I watched those last episodes of "Friday Night Lights" and got the lawn mowed. I grilled pork chops for dinner. The boys and I tried having a water fight after dinner (and after a hot day, the cold hose water wasn't so bad), but we cut it short after Michael scraped his back on the gate in our back yard. We watched a couple "Batman" episodes that I also was trying to clear off the DVR, the boys went to bed, and I'm running some laundry and getting the lawn watered.

Vacation is five whole days away. So much to prepare for that, but so much to do to enjoy these next few days here as well. In that sense, vacation has already begun.

Two days in one post, up next.

Baseball 1981: Astro mania

Last summer, I blogged about my memories playing baseball as a kid: in t-ball as a 7-year-old; as an 8-year-old in instructional league; and my first year of kid pitch in 1980. I wanted to continue the series with my next year playing baseball (to the point I scanned pictures), but 1981 was no ordinary season in my athletic lifetime. I've written about this season before in a writing journal that I had been scribbling in during the mid 1990s. I didn't feel I did it justice then, and I wanted to be thorough on my favorite season in any sport I've played over the past four decades. So I put it off, and put it off some more, until here it is, a year later. So here's the first installment of baseball from that summer.

I was still playing Peewee at Oriole Park in 1981. Most of the fifth graders that spring had moved up to Midgets, but with my birthday after Sept. 1, I was relegated to Pee-Wee again. I didn't mind. Most of the Reds from the year before (I never realized until now what a young team we had been) returned to the same team, including my friend Chris, who was a pretty good pitcher the year before and, based on an old team picture I'm looking it, at least 5-foot-2 and still months away from being 11, was almost unhittable. Our head coach had been an assistant for the Reds the last summer (and his son was on the team), and the two much older (late teens?) brothers of one our teammates were his assistants. We were renamed the Astros, and for the first year, our uniforms were replicas of real Major League unis -- and if you remember the Astros from three decades ago, that meant a lot of orange. Our hats wouldn't conform to the MLB hats for another year, so ours were simply orange with an "A" on it.

Aside from Chris, we didn't feature any dominating players. And looking at the team photos from this year, we weren't particularly oversized, either. But we hit the ball well. We were good fielders. Our other pitchers got the ball over the plate. With so many kids who played the year before, we brought enough experience to the diamond that I think we were executing more than learning. Coach was such an encouraging adult; I don't ever remember him getting mad at us for not making a play (I do remember him getting annoyed at Chris for being, well, Chris ... as a coach myself, I can relate when my kids are goofing off). He always had a smile for his players whether they got a big hit or struck out, and often called them "Son." And the assistant coaches were just cool, maybe just because we were 10-year-olds and they weren't, but they always seemed positive nonetheless.

All these factors produced a quick start in which we won our first eight games. We were winning these games convincingly, too, and having fun. I hope every kid just for one season can be on a team that wins all the time, simply for the joy of not losing. Yes, losing can build character and provide life lessons, but once in a while, being dominant can be pure bliss. Michael played on a soccer team this year that was far better than all its opponents. With that team breaking apart after this season, I hope he appreciates how great he had it if the team he lands on next season isn't as good.

The Astros' domination didn't last. We didn't play one team -- the Giants -- over the winning streak because of a rainout. We hadn't even seen them play and didn't know how well they were playing their last few games. They had a couple good pitchers, one of which I think was going to be a seventh grader (and technically too old to be in Peewee -- I can't prove this, but when I looked him up on Facebook, his graduation year suggested he was a year older).

Perhaps we were overconfident, or perhaps we were just primed for a loss, but we lost big -- so big that the game ended early due to the slaughter rule (called the mercy rule in many places, but not in Chicago). We were stunned. I was playing left field on Diamond 7 and remembering hard-hit balls that kept rocketing into the gap past an unofficial small dirt trail (made by enough people cutting across from Oriole Avenue to Diamond 4) that intersected the outfield.

The winning streak was over. Like an opponent in a Rocky movie, once we took a big hit, we wouldn't be the same. Plus, due to rescheduled rainouts and a six-inning limit for pitchers per week, we didn't have Chris pitching part of every game in the second half. We got to the last game of the second half needing a victory to win our division and make the championship game. And the team we were up against: the Giants, who led the other division and had given us our worst loss.

To be continued, next with how I played in 1981 ...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer, Day 58

Another gorgeous evening on the balcony at work. I'm on vacation after tonight, even though we don't leave for the Midwest for another week.

Today wasn't action-packed, nor did it need to be. The boys swam this morning, then went to practice in the afternoon while I went to work. We went to Smith's Marketplace to pick up a few things and put gas in the car. I took Popcorn across the street to play with the neighbor dog. For some reason, I felt tired all day, perhaps after staying up to late trying to finish off "Friday Night Lights." Though much preparation awaits us before our trip, I'm looking forward to a fun few days before then. Swimming, hiking, playing and getting Ben some practice as he tries to ride a bike.Fifty days of my summer remain. Charge!

Day 59 ...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer, Day 57

I was so excited about the boys' swim meet tonight.

Ben was swimming in three events for the first time and racing his first-ever breaststroke. Michael was scheduled for his first IM (individual medley -- all four strokes in one race), and when we got to the meet, we found out he was swimming five events tonight, which would be the first time he swam a full slate. With the season winding down, their hard work has been paying off.

Michael even dove well tonight. He has been struggling all season, especially trying to do a back dive. He gets so nervous (even when his coaches are spotting him) that he simply falls butt-first into the water. At tonight's meet, finally, he dove backward all on his own. Alas, he didn't complete the dive, landing hard on his back and drawing a collective "oooh" of pain from the spectators. He cried as he swam to the side, and his back was red for an hour, but we were proud of him -- the front half of the dive was perfect; he just never straightened out. Even Michael's coach, who has been encouraging him not to freak out on the back dive, was happy, looking at me and saying that he finally did what was he has been afraid to do. We've been telling Michael that if he wants to dive competitively, sometimes, it's going to hurt. I hope he feels he accomplished something, because we did.

After Michael was done, we waited for the older kids to finish their meet and the swim meet would begin. My enthusiasm didn't last long.

For a few days now, we've been waiting for forecast thunderstorms to pour much-needed rain on Salt Lake City. For a few days, the skies have been cloudy and threatening without much rain. Tonight, when the meet was about to start, a thunderstorm finally hit. A severe thunderstorm, at that, sending everyone inside just before warmups. The rain didn't stop for a couple hours, but by then, the meet was called. The pool isn't equipped for night swimming, so even if the rain subsided, there wouldn't be enough time to get a whole meet in.

Needless to say, we were disappointed. After the boys' practice this morning, we kept it mellow (staying inside for five hours) this afternoon so they wouldn't be tired for the meet. We got home, played the classic Pay Day game I found for $2.99 and watched a couple old "Batman" episodes. Ben had the best line of the night, after the Batmobile's tires deflated from Catwoman's land mines but were fixed by the Bat Tire Repairer: "Oh, come on!" At age 6, he already is recognizing ridiculous plot devices.

Onward to Day 58.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer, Day 56

Today was much the same as yesterday: overcast but never really rainy, a day to get some stuff done around the house but not go overboard. A day for catching up on movies and stuff on the DVR (I watched "Michael Clayton" this morning in time for it to get sent back to Netflix). The only difference is today, I'm typing this at work (with a nice breeze on the balcony, and I can see rain bands in the distance in front of a pink dusk to the west). Oddly, I somewhat looked forward to working tonight. The shift has been easy, and after 11 days off, one day in the office didn't seem so annoying.

I forgot to post this fact two days ago -- summer, according to my count, is halfway over. The second half is going to zip by, especially August. I need to stay focus on getting the most out of the remaining 52 days. Fall won't wait, but it doesn't have to hurry, either.

The posts keep coming! Here's Day 57.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summer, Day 55

The full day of thunderstorms forecast for today? Ten minutes of rain, total. If you are going to have rainy summer day, then it should rain and rain and rain. Today, with its clouds and humidity, just made me feel like I should have been outside more than inside.

This Saturday was kind of a breather day. Lori went to Kohl's, Harmon's and Shopko (where she took Ben for a new pair of flip-flops after the dog chewed up half of his previous pair), and I took Michael to Costco. I grilled sliders for dinner and watched an episode of "Tron: Uprising" with the boys. Popcorn and I took a longer walk. I'm trying to finally watch the last season of "Friday Night Lights" that I DVR'd starting in late 2010 and knocked out two more episodes tonight.

Today was the last day of my 11-day stretch of no work. I want to think the last 11 days were fun and somewhat full. I was somewhat productive from the writing standpoint, but not as much as I wanted to be. Back to work tomorrow and Tuesday, then I'm technically on vacation. Tomorrow's forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms. Let's see if the day is as scattered.

Day 56.

Worth the Risk

One of my favorite board games growing up was Risk. Parker Brothers' game of global conquest was one of my first strategy games (after chess, of course), requiring me to think out how each move I made.

I recently found the new version of Risk at a second-hand store and bought it for a dollar. The game appeared to be in good shape, though some of the pieces I did not recognize. As what has happened with many board games, Risk was updated, now including capital cities and a slew of new rules. That's fine: I'm looking forward to trying this new version. But the version I wanted to play was the classic Risk -- the game I played in my youth. The game I got for Christmas in 1980 from my great grandparents (really from my mom, who would be given money from my great grandparents to buy us one present each year). That version included all the familiar pieces and rules and would be easier to teach my own sons (who, I'm not expecting deep strategy from, but just a fun experience rolling dice and taking over countries). I still own this version of the game, though I hadn't played it in maybe 20 years.

My version of Risk, just not my Risk game.
At least I thought I still had the game. I can't find it anywhere in my house.

I know I would have never thrown it out. I know I wouldn't have given it away. I remember the last time I played -- I was living in Milwaukee, and Rey, Reed and I drank some beers and waged war (Rey won). So the game made it out of Illinois, and once something from my old house made to to Wisconsin, it never went back to Chicago. I still own all my old Dungeons and Dragons stuff, all my old video game magazines, all my old cassettes, and many, many old books (including a trove of Hardy Boys mysteries). I just can't find Risk.

The game isn't in the game closet. A couple old crates in the garage hold games from my Grandma Elsie's basement (basically, my father and his siblings' games from the 1960s), as well as my games from the 1990s we don't play anymore (such as the Cheers trivia game), but no Risk. It's not in our storage closet that holds all the D&D stuff and cassettes and just about every old think Lori and I own. I can't find it anyplace.

I'm starting to wonder if Risk never left Milwaukee. Or Madison. Or our apartment in Cottonwood Heights. We've lived in this house for nine years, and my hope is that it's somewhere behind nine years of stuff. I know we once owned an Othello game, but that mysteriously disappeared as well at some point. At least I realized that sooner and am not bummed about it; Risk's disappearance is more bothersome. Sure, I can buy the game again, either on eBay or if I get lucky at a thrift store (and I've found so many classic games lately that maybe my luck will continue). But the fact it's just vanished is irking me. I know of a few places I haven't looked yet, but these are long shots. Finding Risk in my house is my new goal of conquest.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer, Day 54

The wind came through Salt Lake City today. Now, we're just waiting for the rain.

We watched one of Michael's friends for most of the day. He watched the boys' swim practice, then we returned to the house, where they all played Wii. I had hoped we would do something outside, but the skies were ominous for most of the morning. But all three boys were getting antsy, so we went swimming. A good friend of ours is taking care of her neighbor's house that has an in-ground pool in the backyard, and she invited us to swim, clouds be damned. The rain never came, and we even got a little sun. The boys had fun and wore themselves out. The water felt great, and lounging on a pool float was so relaxing.

The trip to the pool mostly dominated the whole day. We were thinking of going back in the evening, but the wind came through. Surely, a thunderstorm would follow, but it never did. Perhaps tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow. We could use one rainy day to recover from this long week.

Summer is halfway done. For the beginning of the second half, click here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer, Day 53

The heat that was wearing me down yesterday is starting to tire out the boys, too. After swim practice late this afternoon, neither wanted to stay at the pool to just splash around in the 100-degree conditions.

Michael and Ben did have an active day. We met some of the boys' classmates for a hike at Donut Falls up in somewhat cooler Big Cottonwood Canyon.  The boys had fun climbing rocks, wading ankle-deep in a very cold creek and hanging out with their friends.

We rested after returning home, then cleaned the house a little and headed to swim practice. The boys swam inside, while I got an hour of kid-free pool time outside. I didn't swim much, only jumping in for a minute (and having a preschooler jump on top of my head while I was surfacing -- I wasn't happy but not hurt), and alas, clouds covered up the sun a little. The hour went quick, and went inside to fetch the boys, who surprised me by saying they wanted to come home. They were hungry, because they got home and gobbled up plenty of pasta.

The weather is supposed to cool tomorrow and maybe even rain. We need the break.

Next up: Day 54.

Summer, Day 52

The heat is starting to wear me down.

After the boys' swim meet tonight, and after we got home from dinner, I was absolutely worn out. I still had to take Popcorn for a walk but didn't want to stand up, put on the knee brace (which I'm also annoyed with) and go back outside. Maybe because today seemed more humid was I so drained. After getting the boys from swim practice this morning, then taking the car in for an oil change, I was almost useless until we departed for the swim meet. And after I got back from the walk, I couldn't bring myself to get off the couch, stop watching "Dazed and Confused" on cable, and write (until now, at least, later than I wanted to).

The boys swam alright tonight at their meet. Michael raced in the butterfly for the first time and didn't get disqualified. He set a new personal best in the backstroke (and smiled at me midway through the race -- he was in Lane 6 and I was on the side), but struggled in the freestyle after his goggles came off at the start and he wouldn't open his eyes the rest of the race (and subsequently swam into the wall a couple times). Ben wasn't as fast as last week and seemed to tire out after about two-thirds of the way (and a personal-record pace for him) through both his races. He did win his heat of the backstroke.

The meet was in Draper, and we went to Sweet Home Chicago for pizza afterward. We didn't want to wait for a stuffed pizza (after all, we will be in Chicago in two weeks and can get one then), but their thin-crust was still delicious and authentic. Our other culinary delight was a free Slurpee at 7-11 on Free Slurpee Day. The father of one of Michael's friends owns a 7-11, so we went to his store, where he let us get the larger-sized Slurpee free. Also delicious.

The heat gets even worse Thursday. Remind me why I like summer so much ...

Here's Day 53

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer, Day 51

The MLB All-Star Game is always such a summer event. As a kid, it was a chance to see all the best baseball players I would see on my cards or in my Strat-o-Matic set in one game (and before cable, in Chicago you wouldn't get to see many stars not on the Cubs or White Sox). After watching the Home Run Derby last night with the boys, I was looking forward to viewing tonight's All-Star Game with them as well.

We didn't watch the whole game, which didn't matter after the National jumped to a big, quick lead, after which the game was never close. But the boys did pay as much attention as I had hoped. Michael was intrigued by Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City and its giant Royals scoreboard, and I found a book of ballparks Lori had bought me years ago and leafed through it with him, pointing out every stadium I had been to I (and where I sat for the ones I remembered). Ben liked that book as well and kept asking if I had been to the Astrodome.They made it through six innings of the DVR'd game before it was bedtime for them.

Watching the All-Star Game made up for a less than pleasant trip to Seven Peaks Salt Lake. The boys started their day with swim practice, and we avoided the heat by staying inside until mid-afternoon. The waterpark was a little crowded but not bad. But then, the problems began. First, our cards said we had no inner tubes purchased, when we bought them for the season and already had used them. The guy at the tube rental booth gave them to us anyway. On the way to find a spot, Ben failed to follow me and was missing for 30 frantic seconds. Michael kept bugging me about a closed attraction) the kids area -- some toddler must have pooped) and wanted desperately to read the same sign we saw at the front of the park that it was closed. As I lectured Ben, my trick knee gave way on the slight slope we had placed our towels, making me stifle a painful howl. Ben and I took a double tube on a slide we had done before together and discovered a new rule -- heavier person in front, which makes no sense. Sure enough, our tube flipped halfway down. Ben was OK, but my left knee ached a little. I complained at first aid, where a supervisor tried explaining how the heavier person in front is actually safer (I don't think so -- in fact, double or triple tubes with adults on them is probably a bad idea with these slides in the first place). Then Ben didn't want to do a different slide with Michael on the double tube, likely thinking he would flip again. I stepped on a puncturethorn that somehow made its way into a waterpark. And for some reason, I lost the ability to breathe out through my nose, resulting in water bruising the inside back of my skull on one slide that launched me into deep water.

Complaining aside, the boys had fun, and I did have a peaceful moment on the lazy river. And we enjoyed the All-Star Game. But now, par for the course, I'm trying to pull up the Seven Peaks website to find a contact to complain about our lost tubes and flipping over on the slide, but the website isn't opening. Keep focusing on the All-Star Game ...

Day 52 is next.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer, Day 50

Finally, today the boys and I enjoyed the summer adventure I had been craving.

Michael was worn out this morning, so they skipped swim practice. I had theorized taking them to the waterpark, but with his swimmer's ear, thought maybe a hike would be better for the early afternoon. The boys begrudgingly went along with the idea. We loaded Popcorn into the car and headed up Millcreek Canyon. I wanted to avoid the trail I saw the rattlesnakes on last month, so we drove up to the end of the road. We had never hiked from these trailheads but eventually figured out a good path to follow -- the Little Water Trail to Dog Lake.

The trail was a little more uphill than I had anticipated, and our calves were definitely burning, but not so bad that it was difficult. The temperature was 20 degrees cooler than the near triple digits in the valley. The bugs were annoying, but a family offered us some bug spray and lotion so the flies weren't biting us too much (though they were still flying around). Michael complained a little on the uphill, but both boys were troopers -- this wasn't an easy hike but they accomplished all 3.6 miles round trip. The dog loved the hike. Odd-numbered days in Millcreek Canyon or leash-optional (and no mountain bikes on this trail), so she got to run around and meet other dogs. When we got to the lake, Popcorn did something we've never seen her do before: swim. Normally, she will just wade in water to her knees, but today, she definitely swam out a little bit in water over her head and swam back. When we got to the lake, the boys realized the hike was worth it. Michael complained a little bit on the way back (the hike back never goes as fast as you want it to), but the trail was downhill to the car. We drove back home and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

The rest of our day was peaceful. We went to a swim store to get Michel some ear plugs for his infected outer ear canal. After getting back home, we watched the Home Run Derby. I'm on the porch now, and the air is still a little muggy. I'll go inside soon, go to bed, and rest for hopefully another adventure tomorrow.

 Summer fun on Day 51!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer, Day 49

Popcorn loved today.

Our dog's best canine friend, Bowie, has been gone for a month while our neighbors went on their honeymoon. We got Popcorn and Bowie within days of each other when they were both puppies. They love to play, especially wrestle. Popcorn missed her friend so much. She would run into their backyard and hope he was there, only to find it empty, even after looking in the doghouse. Today, they picked up where they left off, wrestling and playing for a while.

Michael is happy to have his best friend -- Bowie's boy -- back as well, and they played today, making duct tape flip-flops (I kid you not). Michael's morning was a little rough: We had to take him to KidsCare to confirm a diagnosis of swimmer's ear. He was prescribed some drops and not instructed (thankfully) to stay out of the water. I went to Walmart this morning to by a new garden hose, then in the afternoon straightened up the garage and swept out all the leaves while listening to the Brewers game on my MLB app on my Android. I took the boys to a birthday party in the late afternoon and stayed for dinner.

A free and clear week awaits!

 An even 50 tomorrow.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Summer, Day 48

Today was Saturday but for some reason felt like a Sunday. Maybe because the holiday was Wednesday and felt like a Saturday, today had to feel like a Sunday. I'm not sure what the actual Sunday will feel like ...

Ben slept late, and Michael was a little tired after getting home from his sleepover (and seriously, have you ever been to a sleepover where you went to bed at a normal hour?). Humidity added to the hot conditions outside. Today was destined to be mellow. The boys and I played Lego Batman 2. I got Popcorn to the park to throw the ball the her, but she didn't even want to run much. I grilled sliders for dinner and played some basketball (gingerly on my bum left knee) with the boys. After, I suggested getting in the car, hiking to the H Rock, watching the sunset and getting sno-cones afterward. Neither boy wanted to go. Instead, I took Popcorn for about a 2-mile walk.

The next summer day that appears to be lazy (and even Lori took it easy today), I'm going to have a plan. I'm going to fill up the kiddie pool in the morning and lounge by it with a fantasy football magazine and a beer in the afternoon. If I'm going to relax on a summer day at home, I'm not going to be a slouch about being a slouch.

Summer, Day 49.

Summer, Day 47

I've complained about summer days that have been less than filled. Today was not one of those days. And it was a great day for Ben and me. I hope for Michael too

The boys had swim practice this morning, and I picked Ben up first. While Michael had diving, Ben and I picked up breakfast at McDonald's. I knew our day would be busy. Ben had a playgroup and Michael was going to Cowabunga Bay waterpark with one of his friends. So they needed food. Michael inhaled two Egg McMuffins on the way to Liberty Park for Ben's playgroup.

Ben's friend's older brother is good friend of Michael, so no one was bored as they played in the Liberty Park fountain, designed to replicate the seven major creeks that roll out of the Wasatch Mountains and into the Salt Lake Valley. We couldn't stay because we needed to get Michael to his waterpark expedition. Fortunately, his friend's mom was able to pick him up instead. Michael also was invited to sleep over by (it was his friend's birthday and several kids were staying overnight), so he took a sleeping bag and his toothbrush and left. Hopefully, he had a lot of fun over the last 12 hours.

Knowing Michael was getting this long fun day, I wanted to enjoy a special day with Ben. The afternoon didn't disappoint. We went for Noodles for lunch (where he almost knocked off a large Wisconsin Mac and Cheese -- I think both boys are in the middle of growth spurts), then to Barnes and Noble (Ben got a comic book, I bought fantasy football magazines), and then to Toys 'r' Us (Ben had a gift card from his birthday and bought Lego Batman 2 for the Wii). After shopping, we saw "Brave," which we had missed two weeks ago because Ben had a birthday party. We both liked the movie, and after, we went to Costco to pick up Lori's contact lenses and order new ones for me. For dinner, we collected Lori from home and went to a new Thai restaurant by our house, where Ben tried and liked a mild noodle dish and ate a piece of calamari (we still haven't told him he ate squid).

Our busy day wasn't done, though I did doze off for a short time while Ben was playing at a neighbor's house. He came home and we broke open Lego Batman 2 and played for two hours. He finally went to bed around 10.

Now that was busy summer day. Awesome.

To Day 48.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Summer, Day 46

Rain! Blessed rain!

After a least five weeks of no precipitation in the Salt Lake City metro area, it rained today. It rained for hours. Not pouring rain, but more than just random drizzle. I don't think I've ever been happier for a rainy summer day. Our lawn needed it badly. Every dry lawn, field, acre of brush and dry mountainside needed it. the wildfire burning in Utah County needed it. The temperature cooled off into the 80s, too, but the air definitely felt more humid than normal. That's OK -- I'll trade a few hours of humidity for the rain (which will be gone tomorrow; the heat is returning).

I was looking forward today as a really productive day, but somehow, I ran out of time. Ben had a playdate in the morning, and from there, Michael, Popcorn and I went to PetSmart to buy dog food. We got home and Michael read to me, then he played Minecraft while I watched something on the DVR and ate lunch. Before I knew it, we needed to pick Ben up from the playdate, and afterward, we went to Walmart to get a few things.

Upon returning home, I started some laundry, tried making some homemade pizza dough to rise for dinner (it didn't work; Lori went and bought a Papa Murphy's pizza instead), wrote some emails and got a call from my mom. Well, before I knew it again, the time had come to take the boys to swim practice, before I could get the things done I wanted to get done (such as putting away a big pile of laundry). I worked out while the boys swam, riding a stationary bike and lifting some weights (without my knee brace, however; in my haste to get out the door, I forgot to put it on, but my knee felt OK). We got home, ate dinner and relaxed, then I took Popcorn to the park to get her some exercise.

At 11 p.m., I'm typing this and finally feeling like I got everything done that I wanted to today. I'm hoping I don't feel as far behind tomorrow.

On to Day 47.

Summer, Day 45: Fourth of July

Another July 4, and we've mostly settled into the traditions we've established in past Independence Days. We started our holiday by participating in the neighborhood parade, with Michael riding his bike and Ben on his scooter. Lunch followed the parade, and we socialized with neighbors until going home.

The boys played with their friends the rest of the afternoon, including Michael's best friend who hadn't been home in almost a month. I took Popcorn for a hike later in the afternoon on the off-leash trail (trying to time it so she wouldn't need a walk later), and she loved it as usual. I don't think we've ever been on the trail and seen so many black dogs. The hike wore her out, thankfully.

We grilled flank steak for dinner, then hung out until walking to Sugar House Park with our neighbors for the annual fireworks show, which seemed shorter than usual (only about 25 minutes). We trudged through the crowds back home, and the boys were so tired by then. I think we are going to skip swim practice in the morning.

Yes, our Fourth of July was typical but still fun. As we walked home, I told Michael of the year when just I took him to the fireworks and put him on my shoulders to walk home. Lori and I tried to determine what year was that, and I got my answer from the magic of blogging: That Independence Day was 2007. Yikes, that was a fast five years -- five July 4s since then. And double yikes: Ben weighs as much now and Michael did at 3 1/2.

Rain!  The crops are saved!

Summer, Day 44

This is going to be a quick post, written a day late after working last night and not feeling much like blogging on Independence Day. We all slept in after the late night Monday post-swim meet. The boys played at a neighbor's house again, but other than that, we took it easy all day. I took them to swim practice and then went to work. A giant fire erupted in Utah County that you could see miles away. I got Costa Vida for dinner, and work was not busy. Seriously, if I had blogged this Tuesday, this was all I would have written.

A day of independence is next.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer, Day 43

A new week begins. Have kids, will travel.

The boys went to swim practice this morning, and I picked them up and watched Michael's diving practice. The sun was already hot by 9:30 a.m. This seemed like the hottest day so far this summer, but figuring that out is difficult because almost every day has been like this.We took it easy in the afternoon, with the boys playing by a neighbor's house for a couple of hours. I took them to the library and managed to get the dog out for a short walk, and the conditions were sweltering.

Monday night is swim meet night, and the boys swam at The Cottonwood Club in Holladay. Swimming a road meet isn't easy, and the deck of the pool at this country club was small. But the boys swam OK. Ben's times were similar to last week, though his backstroke would have been faster if he didn't swim into the lane line 5 yards into his race (and then hit it about three more times). Michael's freestyles looked great, and though he was faster in the backstroke than last week, he's still not returned to his early-season form or times. He did swim four events and the back was his last, so I'm hoping this was just fatigue.

We went to Five Guys for burgers and Menchie's for frozen yogurt. The air cooled off by the time we got home, and I took Popcorn for a longer walk. I watched "Falling Skies" and watered the lawn.

I promise to try not to complain about the heat, which is going to be bad the rest of the week. At least it's not winter.

On to Day 44.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Terabytes of memory

Typing something up recently, my mind wandered into an odd question: I wonder how many times I have hit the space bar with my right thumb.

I didn't wonder how often I did it in just that typing session, but for my whole life.

The human brain is an incredible data and logic machine, but I wish it was even more like a computer sometimes. I wish it recorded everything, just like a computer. If I could only access my brain's file, I could find out my space bar question. And I could ...

-- Find out how many steps I have taken in my lifetime. How many miles I have run. How many pairs of shoes I've gone through.

-- Figure out the exact moment I learned something. A new word. A historical fact. Addition. A simple skill such as putting on a shirt or opening a cheese wrapper.

-- Discover how many dreams I've had over my lifetime. Identify each one. I've written lucid dreams down before, but it's never is as accurate as the actual dream. And while on the subject of sleep, I could find out how many hours and minutes I have slept since birth.

-- Track everything I have consumed. How many potato chips have I eaten in 41-plus years? How many ounces of deodorant have I applied to my underarms? How many miles have I driven behind the wheel of a car (or even as a passenger)? These things would make a fascinating spreadsheet.

-- Remember every detail, exciting and mundane, from every moment of my life, with clarity. I can write down everything I do every minute of the day if I wanted to, but inevitably, even if I read it the next day, I would be trusting my words to tell me the minutiae of every moment rather than actually remember it all. I can blog about every day to get the memories down, and I'm thankful for that, but the reality is, I have already forgotten things that happened 10 minutes ago while I was typing on my laptop, including the words at the top of this post. One of my neighbors just walked by with his baby in a stroller -- how soon before I forget that happened?

I wish that, like a computer, a utility existed that could unearth all this lost information from my brain. I'm convinced it's all up there, like when out of nowhere, a snippet of a long-past dream pops into my thoughts for no apparent reason. My iTunes can tell me how many times I have listened to a song, so why can't my brain? The external drives of my life -- writing things down, telling others, and so on -- are not sufficient for my storage needs. I need more terabytes, as well as a better search function to find the files I require. 

The human brain is amazing, but sometimes, I feel it's still in its beta test.


July is heat. July is bright. July is a quest for shade, a quest that sometimes proves futile even when you complete it.

July is blue. Blue skies. Blue parts of flags. Blue fireworks that sometimes could be confused for purple. This is also the month for punks -- not people with attitude, but the skinny smoldering sticks you use to light firecrackers. Ever hold a firecracker in one hand, the punk in the other, light the firecracker and then throw the punk instead? Thankfully, I still have all my fingers.

July is Sunkist commercials and cold generic cream soda. It's festival beer in a 16-ounce cup. July is frozen Sno-Cones -- not the freshly made ones, but ones that you buy from the ice cream man and are solid ice, with its blue, cherry and lemon flavors melding together into a sort of purple color as you lick it down.

The smells of sunscreen and chlorine are so July.

July is "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,"  "Die Hard 2" and "Escape From New York." It's Tron and Dragon's Lair and R.C. Pro Am.. It's "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" and songs from the "Grease" soundtrack.

On a summer morning, the sunlight that comes into your room to wake you up, foreshadowing a great day, is July. On a summer afternoon, July is slogging through a summer job, bittersweetly wishing that grind would end but knowing that when it does, summer ends as well. At night, July is the atmosphere around you as the city cools (though, some days it doesn't), when being outdoors is relief from the heat and the best nights of the entire year.

Then there is the humming -- the humming from the air conditioner dangling out a window that is keeping that one room of your house cool. That humming is such an escape during the day and so blissfully calming as you are trying to fall asleep.

This is July.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer, Day 42

I slept in late this morning, prompting Ben to ask me when I was going to wake up. I finally did, made an egg sandwich for breakfast, then took Michael outside to help me clear weeds from the side of the house near the air conditioner. We never see this, non-driveway side of the house, which tends to get a little overgrown. Vegetation wasn't encroaching upon the air conditioner, thankfully, so I pulled, clipped and chopped the weeds and quickly filled up the brown garbage can.

Lori was hosting a meeting of her committee from the boys' school, so I took them to the pool later in the afternoon. We ended up staying three hours. We encountered some of the boys' friends, and they splashed, dove and swam for a long time. I managed to actually read a few pages from a book while they swam, but I also splashed, dove (well, just jumped) and swam for a little while as well.

I grilled sliders for dinner, and we watched Olympic trials while we ate. I took Popcorn for a walk. I'm on the porch listening to an '80s station on Pandora. This was a nice Sunday.

The 43 on Day 43.

Summer, days 40-41

After working late Friday night and not getting a chance to write during work, I'm combining two posts into one on Saturday night. Our Friday was boring anyway. Ben needed one more recovery day, so we mostly stayed inside until I went to work. Since I've been getting some extra shifts and doing layout at the newspaper, the nights have been easy, but last night was busier, to the point I never got out for a walk, never got out on the balcony with my laptop, and never got much of a chance to relax. I know I once did this five nights a week, but removed from full-time for long enough and even extra shifts are annoying. I work next Tuesday, then thanks to a scheduling quirk, have 11 days off until I work again (then do two shifts in three days followed by three weeks off for vacation). I'm looking forward to the long summer break

Saturday was a big improvement. Ben felt much better and was ready to run. The boys participated in the Mountair Mile, a multisport kids race they have done for five years now. Michael's race was a 1.1-mile bike and a 1.1-mile run, and he raced hard and finished in first place in his age division! Ben did the mini race, which is about 0.6 miles of wheels and a run for a half-mile. He didn't want to bring his scooter, and he's not riding a bike yet, so he simply ran the whole thing again. No places were kept, but he ran the 1.1. miles in under 13 minutes -- not bad for a 6-year-old coming off a fever. He was exhausted at the finish, confirming how hard he ran. I was proud of my two little racers.

We went to breakfast at Original Pancake House, then came home and relaxed. Lori ran some errands, then I ran some, getting a few groceries and a new propane canister. Lori made quesadillas for dinner and we all watched the first "Spider-Man" movie. The boys, dog and I got out for a little while after 8, when it was blessedly cooling off. Like I said, a better day.

Day 42.