Monday, December 31, 2012

See ya 2012

It's less than an hour and a half before midnight on New Year's Eve. We celebrated New York's new year at 10 p.m. Mountain time, and Lori and Michael went to bed, but Ben is being a trooper and trying to stay awake for 2013. I've cracked open a Bristlecone Brown Ale (microbrewed in Utah -- yes, we have microbreweries here, some good ones, too) and am watching "Return of the Jedi" on Spike. Here's my customary last blog post of the year.

I would be cliche to say 2012 went by too fast, because it did. The year was great. Fun. Productive. Rarely boring.

Yet, I think 2013 can be better. There's a blanket resolution -- improve everything even if it's already good. Enjoying every minute with my family. More writing (202 blog posts in 2012; can I reach 300 in 2013?). More healthy living. Fewer wasted moments. Efficient, productive days. Enough sleep at nights.

Ben is starting to drag just as the battle of Endor is turning in the rebels'/Ewoks' favor. Here's to 2012. Thanks for being a good year.

Here's to 2013. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to make the most of the next 365 days.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

An expected journey

We took the boys to see "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" today. We originally planned for me just to take Michael a few weeks ago, but the day the screening was scheduled (through Lori's office, mostly for clients but also for staff), we discovered he also had a basketball game. So we went as a family today.

Michael and I liked the movie, but I agree with others' criticisms that the producers are unnecessarily dragging out the book. Almost three hours of movie was possibly too much for Ben, who was antsy and probably drank too much soda (he was bouncing at dinner at Applebee's afterward).

Our Saturday was dominated by movie and a dinner. I took Popcorn to the vet this morning for a couple shots. The weather is still a little cold -- none of the snow we got in the last week is melting. With Christmas over, I am already looking forward to spring.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the first day after Christmas ...

Christmas came. Christmas went. Ho ho ho.

Growing up, December seemed to last forever. The anticipation leading up to Christmas morning can overwhelm a kid looking forward to presents and several days off school. Dec. 25 couldn't arrive fast enough (I scanned several old pictures today and included this one of me on Christmas morning when I was 9 -- same age as Michael. What's with the green outfit?)

As an adult and a parent, the anticipation is replaced by anxiety. December is so busy, even more so this year because we went to Texas. I'll admit, the anxiety is sometimes good anxiety, but it's there nonetheless. The days and weeks of Christmas music, holiday decorations and shopping decisions (compounded, at least for us, by Michael's birthday) zip past. This year, Christmas seemed more sudden than usual (and I noticed how quickly it went last year as well).

However, I'm not sad or bittersweet Christmas came and went so quickly. Except for Ben getting sick Sunday night (but better by Monday afternoon), we thoroughly enjoyed the holiday. The boys loved their presents, and of course, Lori and I loved watching them opening their presents. I helped them build new toys and play new video games. About 5 inches of snow have fallen since Monday morning, so we got the white Christmas just like the ones we used to know. We skipped Mass because Ben was sick but otherwise followed all our usual traditions. I worked Christmas night, but that wasn't so bad, and I prefer that to working Christmas Eve (which I have done before). And know that Christmas is over, I'm looking ahead to the new year.

What I wish for in future Decembers is to appreciate the run-up to Christmas a little more. Sure, we took the boys to see Santa, looked at Christmas lights, and listened to holiday music all month long. Can the anticipation I enjoyed as a child intertwine with the parent's December point of view? It should. I think I do feel that combination to some extent, whether it's coming naturally or I'm forcing it. Maybe being anxious about not enjoying December enough is causing the anxiety in the first place, thus suggesting I shouldn't force it. The funny thing is, I don't think I was forcing it.

So where does this logic lead me? Back to my original thought: Christmas was wonderful and went by too fast. Just like the 11 other months of the year. And to all, a good night.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Roller boogie

From 1980 to 1984, I owned roller skates. My first pair was a blue-and-white pair without stoppers that were from Sears. I got them right after finishing fourth grade. Our parish had built a gorgeous new gym that could double as a skating rink. I was so uncoordinated, and those skates were scary, but after practicing on our gangway for days, I finally became good enough to go to skating at St. Eugene's (Fridays 7-10, Saturdays and Sundays 1-4; $1, but you needed to bring extra cash to buy a candy bar or a soda).

My second pair was a gym-shoe style skate, gray and blue. I quickly figured out how to learn the stoppers. I never could skate backward, but I could turn and stop.

The third was a more grown-up pair, black boot style. I think I got them before eighth grade, but I didn't use them as much as skating didn't seem as cool. I graduated grade school, so I wasn't really allowed to skate at St. Eugene's once in high school (not that I would have anyway). And I wasn't spending weekend nights at the Axle, the roller rink near us that eventually closed within two years. I outgrew the skates and hadn't put a pair since.

I put roller skates on again today, for the first time in at least 28 years. I was a co-oper/chaperone for the boys' field trip today to a roller rink/fun center, and the skates were free to use. I wasn't planning on skating. I feared hurting my left knee again that finally feels better. But a little part of me wanted to try.

After seeing some of the other parents and teachers who hadn't skated in years lace 'em up, I gave in to my recklessness. I wish I could say it was just like riding a bike and that I was skating proficiently right away. I wasn't even close. My center of gravity has shifted in the past three decades. The first few minutes were me just skating on the carpet around the rink. Eventually, I gained enough confidence to move to the floor.

The fun center has a second track with some obstacles to do stunts on, but also, walls to hold on to. I got a little better, though a couple small downhills freaked me out slightly. In time, I was able to actually skate rather than just move my legs in a walking motion to make the wheels go. Just as I felt I was getting it, the field trip was ending and it was time to go.

I survived. I only slightly fell once. But damn, this afternoon, I was sore, especially since yesterday, I did squats for the first time since I hurt my knee. And I forgot how much stress skating places on your ankles. No matter. I had fun and didn't get injured.

Here's Michael and one of his friends trying skating for the first time. He fell a lot but had fun and never gave up. I bet if we took him a second time, he would get the hang of it right way, as he's much more coordinated than I was as a kid. Ben stayed on his scooter (yes, this rink allows kids to bring scooters) the whole time. Some of the other parents got better as the day went along as well. Some just gave up. I'm glad I didn't.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No place to hide

It's after midnight on Friday night, and I'm home from a shift at the newspaper. I'm watching old "Saturday Night Live" episodes on Netflix as I type this. Netflix just added episodes from the 1980s, but unfortunately, they are not complete episodes (no musical guests, and the 1984 episode that Eddie Murphy hosted -- maybe the most quoted episode from my youth, didn't have every skit, including the film where Eddie disguises himself as a white man). I'm actually happy that the wet snow outside has coated the satellite dish, thus forcing me into NetFlix, because I might be too tempted to watch CNN or MSNBC for more coverage of the Connecticut shootings.

After a long day of watching the tragedy unfold, the last thing I needed this late was more reminders on how the world can be a terrible place.

No matter what I do, I can't completely protect my sons.

I can't stop not thinking about this conclusion, even after hours of work and SNL reruns. I know that it's something all parents must accept -- that there's always a small, small chance something bad will happen to their kids. We can't be with them 24 hours a day. And even when we are with them, there's always a risk something unexpected, something tragic, can occur. I know all this. If you dwell on it, you aren't going to be able to function as a parent. A line from "Finding Nemo" says it best (and I'm paraphrasing): You can't never let anything happen to your kids, because then nothing ever will.

Still, after following the news all day, and after thinking about the children who died in a place they thought was safe, I couldn't help but feel helpless.

On nights I work, Lori usually lets the boys fall asleep in our room, and then I move them when I get home. Tonight, I didn't move them, instead kissing them goodnight and letting them sleep. Let them stay close to their mom, where they will be ever so slightly safer tonight.

I can't protect them forever. I can't protect them the way I want. I can't. It's a horrible fact of parenting made all the more horrible today.

I should go to sleep, but I can't bring myself to do so. I'm afraid to close my eyes. I'm afraid what I'll think of when I try to fall asleep. I'm afraid of what I might dream.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Heroes past

I just started reading a biography of baseball Hall-of-Famer Sandy Koufax. The book is about 10 years old and is written by the same author who wrote a more recent book on Mickey Mantle: "The Last Boy." These are two athletes I never got to see play. Admittedly, I'm a little bit of a sucker for historical baseball nonfiction -- the sport seems to lend itself to that more than any other.

I was born in 1970. I didn't start watching sports until about 1977. I missed a 100 years of baseball history, a good 70 years of football lore and about 40-50 years of basketball. I can only read about the exploits of sports heroes past, with some occasional film footage thrown in. But watching old video just isn't the same. No offense to NFL Films and ESPN Classic, but watching sports legends decades later isn't the same as experiencing their accomplishments in real time.

In basketball history -- and remember, this is my favorite sport -- I wish I could have seen Bob Cousy play. And Bill Russell. Surprisingly, I don't have this need to watch Wilt Chamberlain; I imagine he just dominated because of his size compared with everyone else (and I saw Shaquille O'Neal do that in the 1990s). That said, George Mikan's emergence would have been a sight to see (Mikan is considered basketball's first big man). I missed Jerry Sloan as a player. I missed Oscar Robertson entirely..

In the NFL, I missed so many great running backs: Gayle Sayers, Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson (whose career was tailing off just as I started watching football). There's also quarterback Johnny Unitas, linebacker Dick Butkus and the entire Fearsome Foursome.

However, baseball rules my wish list. And oddly, most of the players I wish I had seen play are from the 20, 25 years or so before I was born. As opposed to Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, the more recent legends are so tantalizingly close. Koufax and Mantle of course, but also Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Hank Aaron.

My son Michael (who turned 9 today) loves basketball, but missed Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley -- and even Shaq. I can DVR classic games on NBA TV, and he might be a little awed by MJ switching hands with the ball in mid-air during a drive to the basket, but it's not the same. He will come to know his own legends as he grows up. And that's the lesson I must remember: I got to see Walter Payton play. And Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux. And Jordan. Especially Jordan.

Thankfully, enough writers have documented the legacies of sports heroes past. I might have missed them the first time around, but at least I can find time to catch up.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The philosophies of Shamu

We are on vacation this week in Texas visiting my family. The one thing Michael really wanted to do on our trip was go to SeaWorld in San Antonio, and today, the day before his ninth birthday, his wish was granted.

The park is in full Christmas mode, with all the shows (the ones still being performed anyway; the park was definitely in off-peak mode) tying in a holiday theme. The dolphin/beluga show was set to music from "The Nutcracker." The Shamu show tied into the miracle of Christmas, because when you think of the birth of Jesus, you naturally also picture an orca doing a midair flip to get some fish as a reward. The sea lion show was slightly Santa-themed. I shouldn't sound so cynical -- the shows still were entertaining and fun, and the boys, especially Ben, enjoyed themselves. I liked the the sea lion show the best, and thankfully, we were high enough in the seating area that we didn't get wet at the Shamu show.

We were blessed with warm weather, though it was a little cloudy. Lori planned the day well -- we made it to all the shows we wanted to see and never waited long in a line. Michael and Lori went on a tall roller-coaster -- the Steel Eel -- that Ben wasn't too keen to try. We skipped the water rides (no matter how much Michael protested), and the boys got to romp in the play structures in the park. I think Ben's favorite part of the day was the chance to feed some dolphins, including the one pictured. We weren't quite brave enough to pet one (especially after I saw the video of the girl being bit by one in Orlando), but it was fun nonetheless. We later fed some sea lions, when we discovered Michael, who loves animals, likely won't become a marine biologist after not wanting to touch the fish we were throwing to the animals.

The boys got souvenirs -- a stuffed dolphin and a wristband with his name on it for Ben; a Santa hat with a whale tail instead of a fuzzy ball on top and a stuffed baby seal for Michael. After seven hours at the park, lit up quite beautifully for the holidays, we left SeaWorld and drove back to Kerrville. We are so not used to going to an amusement park in December that it felt much later than it actually was. After getting some dinner on the way home, we arrived back at my mom's house. The boys were exhausted but happy after their fun day.

We have two full days left on this trip, and so far, it's been great, visiting family and going to SeaWorld. The weather has been great, and the only negative of the trip was a bumpy flight into Denver (hell, I hate turbulence). The boys have been having so much fun playing with cousins and being adored by the adults. Of course, the trip is going by too fast. I'm sitting on the balcony of my mom's house that overlooks part of Kerrville on a quiet, cool but also humid night. I hope Utah isn't too wintry when we get back, no matter how close to Christmas we are.

Friday, December 7, 2012


This is December.

Bells. Constant, jingling bells. White and red and green. December is lights gleaming on a cold, quiet night.

December is snow. In other months, snow is somewhat of a nuisance (especially if you aren't much of a skier). But snow in December always is prettier, always more welcome. The first snowballs you form in your hands feel full of potential this month.

Pine permeates December. There is not a more joyous scent than walking through a Christmas tree lot.

December is too many Christmas songs to count. It's year-end lists and countdowns. It's days of preparations for one holiday, than a sudden realization that the next holiday is coming, and with that next holiday, a new calendar. It's Saturday NFL games (though only one this year) and purple and pink candles.

December is George Bailey jumping into the ice after his little brother, falling into the gym floor pool, pulling the wood off the bannister, saying hi to Bedford Falls over and over. It's Ralphie's parents gazing at the snow. It's Charlie-in-the-Box, bumbling burglars and a tree that won't accept heavy ornaments.

Since moving to Utah, December is different than the few decades before in the Midwest. We don't get that much snow in December any more (we thought it would be fun to do a sledding party for Michael's birthday at a local park, but the weather has never cooperated the past four years). We don't travel for the holidays. It's just our little family, carving out our own traditions and memories for this season.

The first day of winter comes this month. After that, the days get longer. Colder, but longer. The cycle of the year begins again.

This is December.