Monday, January 28, 2013

Sleepy

Just a short post tonight. I wanted to write something after being inexcusably idle from posting the last few days. So here I go ...

The inversion over the Salt Lake Valley lifted, only to be replaced by a snowstorm yesterday. But the toxic fog is gone. So what happens? Lori, Ben and I all have tickles in our throats. Lori theorized it's because our throats haven't been used to fresh air in weeks.

Michael played a basketball game tonight with his Boys & Girls Club team. This team drives him a little nuts because many of his teammates don't listen to their coaches and barely pass. That shouldn't be an excuse for him, but he doesn't quite play as hard as he does with his other teams. Tonight, this team played great and, for once, as a team. Michael responded with his best game in this league, playing great defense, pulling down about 7 rebounds, getting fouled in the act of shooting three times (alas, he was 0-for-6 from the free throw line), almost making a really sweet running jumper from the side, and finishing with 2 points.

I added the demo version of Minecraft to my phone for Michael. He's hooked already. It's not out for the Nook, so at some point, I'll probably buy the full version for him and just accept they boys will be playing games on my phone more than ever.

Today was otherwise a disjointed day. Mondays are always like that for me. The rest of the week awaits. Tonight, sleep awaits.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Nostalgia Files: Electronic Detective

(This is the second post in a series detailing all those things I should have never thrown out from my childhood. Click here for the first.)

In the late 1970s, electronic games were the rage. Home-based video games hadn't quite taken their massive hold yet, but games that interacted back with their players gained popularity in an increasingly technological world. Simon, Mattel Football, Merlin, Electronic Battleship and Speak & Spell were among the games that bleeped and flashed into my generation's hearts.

And then there was Electronic Detective.



After seeing this commercial with Don Adams of "Get Smart" fame many times in 1979, I asked for the game for Christmas. Santa obliged.

Essentially, you solved a murder devised by the computer by questioning suspects with cute names (e.g. Candy Cane), who had their own file cards with questions. You typed in a question, Electronic Detective gave an answer. You marked off answers on a worksheet, and if you got daring, tried making an arrest. If you were successful, you won the game; if not, you heard a computerized dirge indicating you were shot dead and out of the game.

It was so much fun. I brought the game to my grandmother's house that Christmas day, where I played against my father and Aunt JoAnn. And I held my own, too -- I guess I had good logic skills at age 9.

Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to Electronic Detective. Maybe after I got an Atari, electronic games simply seemed quaint. Maybe it broke or that I was too uninspired to replace the batteries within it. Maybe I couldn't get anyone to play with me (I doubt my sister liked this game). Whatever reason, Electronic Detective disappeared from my life sometime in the 1980s.

This game is high on my list to re-own, but I'm a little nervous to buy one off eBay. An old electronic game might not hold up as well three decades later. I just looked up one listing on eBay, and it was missing all but one of the suspect cards. Still, the nostalgia would be thick when I do eventually purchase Electronic Detective, and it's a game that I suspect the boys, especially Ben, would enjoy when they get a little older. The beeps and red digital display await.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dog days of January

The inversion and cold weather that I complained about two weeks ago hasn't subsided. Yes, we had a blizzard in the meantime, but the temperature dropped as soon as the snow stopped. Though the air quality in past inversions has been worse, January has seemed even longer than usual.

It's been really long for the dog.

Popcorn's hair is too short to keep her outside in temperatures below 15 for too long. But she's too big to wear a sweater. And she's got too much inherent energy to keep inside day after day.

I have managed to get her out for a few walks when the cold has been not so bitter. Even around the block is better than nothing, but I can tell she's cold (though excited to be outside). Furthermore, I don't want to take long walks amid all the trapped smog. When it's too cold, we take Popcorn outside, she does what she needs to do (and takes an extra few seconds to find a spot she likes -- more difficult when all the scents are frozen in the snow), then runs back to Lori or me, ready to go back inside.

Unfortunately, Popcorn's lack of exercise might be driving her a little crazy. She's overgrooming her lower torso (where she doesn't sport too much hair to begin with) to the point it's a little red and chafed. I can't tell if she's doing this out of boredom or to warm up her nether regions (which, in a vicious circle, will get colder if she has less hair down there). I'm a little worried and want to call the vet tomorrow to at least see what I can do to help with the chafing.

The inversion is supposed to end in the next couple days, and temperatures are supposed to return to at least normal (high 30s). I can't wait. I'm sure Popcorn can't wait either.

The Nostalgia Files: Dinosaurs

I've written often about my nostalgic streak, especially for games, toys, books, sports and music from my youth. Some of this is stuff I never actually owned as a kid -- music for example -- but much of it is things I once owned and discarded, not thinking I would miss these things or that they were obsolete. And as an adult, I've tried to recapture the tangible and intangible nostalgia that lives on the edge of my memories.

For example, as I type this, I'm editing out commercials of a classic "American Top 40" (which are rerun in syndication) that I recorded off an radio Internet stream. I have collected at least 20 of these since I figured out how to record them off my computer and my smartphone.

The AT40s notwithstanding, I've mostly exhausted the music quest. Sure, I do occasionally hear old songs that I forgot existed, but over the past 20 years, between record store searches (especially in the compilation section in Circuit City years ago), Napster, iTunes and eMusic, I've managed to get almost every song I want in my collection.

I approaching my threshold on board games as well. In the past few years, I've found Bonkers, Gambler, Trust Me, the original Pay Day, a really old version of Life, Score Four, Word Yahtzee, Careers and, most recently, Ruffhouse. Just yesterday, I found Stay Alive at a resale store (minus the marbles, but I can buy some easily enough).

Still, there is plenty of stuff I hope to find again (including board games -- anyone remember Star Wars: Escape from the Death Star?). Most of it I know I want. Some of it I don't need right away, so if I see it on eBay but it's expensive, I wait (thankfully, this is how I stumbled into Ruffhouse). But then, there are other things that surprise me and jump into my recollection when I least expect it.

I co-oped at the boys' school today, and I went into another classroom with Michael to help with Math. His teacher for Math has many old books and games (possibly her own kids' stuff from years ago?). There on the book rack was a dinosaur book I bet I haven't seen in more than three decades.

 "Album of Dinosaurs" was a book I took out from the Oriole Park Library in 1978 or 1979. I remember it because it was a bigger hardcover book (unlike the softcover dinosaur book I knew inside-out -- more on that in a little while) that featured a color picture every few pages introducing the dinosaur being featured. The book also featured plenty of black and white illustrations, some of which I remembered all these years later (including one of a T-Rex vanquishing an ankylosaurus by flipping it over -- I know now the ankylosaur pictured was way too small in comparison to the carnivore).

I think my grade school's library might have carried this book as well, because I'm sure I had this book more than once. See, I was a big dinosaur enthusiast before dinosaurs were generally universally cool. This book fed that interest. My other memory of the book was taking it with me when my family went to Columbia National Bank, in the Harlem-Foster Mall, I think while my parents were finalizing a loan to build an addition on my house. Thank God I brought the book -- I can remember we were at the bank for a little while and I would have been so bored.

Naturally, I was stunned to see this book today in a classroom. I started browsing it before realizing I probably should help with class. I enthusiastically told the teacher I loved this book as a kid, then I took a picture. What else was I going to do: Ask her if I could take a children's book? Now that I remember the book, and have proof of title and author, I can find it again, whether on eBay or Amazon.

I mentioned before how much I loved dinosaurs before dinosaurs became so popular. The book pictured to the right is what got me so gung-ho on the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous period. My mom let me order it from the Scholastic book forms (maybe Firefly?) at school when I was in second grade. I read this book so much that even today, I might be able to tell you what dinosaurs are within and what their illustrations looked like (that's a Ceratosaurus on the cover). But I didn't save it when I was younger, and though I took a lot of books with me when my mom was cleaning out the old house about 15 years ago (including the Reader's Digest Almanacs my grandfather gave me), this one was either not there or I didn't think to take it with.

And I could never find "Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs" online because I didn't remember the specific title and author. However, after seeing the other dinosaur book today, I gave it another shot. Amazon now offers an advanced search that narrowed my parameters leading me to the book. Rather easily, the new search led me to this book. I plugged in the title on eBay and not only found the book, but also found the mid-'70s edition I likely owned (the book was from the 1960s originally). There was a Buy It Now option, the book and shipping weren't expensive ($5.60 total) and quite suddenly, I owned "Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs" for the second time.

I should add, I owned the book for the second time, 35 years after the first time. Today, nostalgia was smiling.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pooling our resources

Basketball games started this week for Ben and Michael (technically, Michael has been playing games since December, but his third league just began play tonight), just in time for another sport to start up as well: swimming.

The boys only do swim team during the summer, but the JCC offers preseason swim workouts twice a week. Michael did these workouts last winter, and it showed once he got to the regular season. So we signed him up again as well as Ben. Both boys were happy to get back into the water. Six months removed from the end of swim season, Michael's stroke looks great. Ben forgot a little bit of what he learned last year, but I'm sure he will get it back in the coming weeks.

However, adding these two weekly swim workouts has officially made our routine ridiculously busy. Tuesdays won't be too bad -- I take them to the pool, work out while they are swimming, bring them home. But Thursdays, when Michael has a basketball game at the JCC as well, will be nutty. Today, Michael swam a half-hour of the workout, then played most of the basketball game. He's going to sleep so well tonight.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Court is in session

Michael is in three basketball leagues this year. I'm coaching him in one league that plays its first game this season.

I'm also coaching Ben's team this year again. His first game is this week as well.

I'm a little nervous. As a coach, I want the kids to have fun. I want them coming away feeling like they played well and did something good, win or lose.

OK, I'll admit, I want them to win. I really don't want them to get blown out. I've been on both sides of a blowout as a coach. Part of me is afraid the kids will somehow hate the game if they get routed.

So, my stomach will be in knots Wednesday and Thursday when the boys' teams open their seasons. I'm not so worried about Ben's first/second grade team -- the roster is split between second-graders who know what they are doing and first graders who are eager. After coaching 1/2 teams the last two years, I know what to expect from the competition and know we'll hold up well.

However, Michael's 3/4 team is almost all third-graders, and we missed a practice that was snowed out last week. I think I might end up relying upon Michael too much, mostly because I know his skills. I bring different expectations for him when he's playing than for other kids, even Ben, and even when I'm not coaching him. It's probably not fair, and it's probably borne from the fact he's a much better athlete than I was at his age, and it drives me crazy when he gets unfocused -- because I was always the skinny, small uncoordinated kid no matter how hard I focused..

I tell Michael and Ben, as well as the kids I coach, that I will never get mad at them for not making a play if at least they tried (I do get irritated if they are goofing off or not listening). But I watch Michael make a bad decision on the court (he's passing without looking to where he's passing to lately) or not paying attention and it drives me a little nuts. I don't want to become one of those fathers who criticize their sons' athletic mistakes, and I don't think I will. I want him to do well, and sometimes, I can't help but point out how he could have done better. It's a fine line. I know how to be on the right side of that line with every other kid, but I'm afraid occasionally skirting it (but not yet going over it) with Michael.

Back to our season openers: I'm really happy both Ben and Michael have friends on their teams. And I'm humbled that on both teams, we have players I coached last year and whose parents trusted me enough to let me coach their kids again. I have never tried to assemble all-star teams, but rather, teams I and my kids know well. We have two teams like that this year. We might not win every game, but at least I know, I'm lucky to have two good rosters, and by good, I don't mean skill-wise.
 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The blizzard of '13

I wanted snow to blow out the inversion and the subsequent pollution. I didn't want 18 inches of snow.

The snow began to fall in Salt Lake City on Thursday afternoon. Here it is, just past midnight on Friday (technically Saturday morning), and I think it finally stopped.

The snow isn't heavy, so it was easy to shovel, but it still made a mess of the roads today. I haven't seen a plow down our street; even the freeways (conceivably, should be cleared first) were bad this morning when I tried driving to work (I ended up getting off the expressway and taking State Street in). Once we all got home, we hunkered down for the night, playing Monopoly and making pizza. Even Popcorn, who normally loves the snow, didn't want to be outside -- the snow was so deep she couldn't find a place to do her business.

I drove to get a haircut around noon, and as I was leaving, I saw a flock of geese, in V formation, honking as they flew through the snowstorm. I hope they found what they found someplace to land.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cold pollution

We don't get ridiculously cold weather in Salt Lake City like Lori and I endured while growing up in the Midwest. We do get inversions, though -- pollution trapped in the valley by a high pressure, keeping SLC cooler than it should be and hazing out the sun. I can live with the tradeoff, but this current inversion is souring my mood.

Pollution-wise, we've seen worse since we got here. I know better not to do anything strenuous outside. This inversion has been colder than usual, however, and it's pissing me off. I'm not saying we need temperatures in the 50s, but 30s would be nice. I don't want to walk the dog and her more pointer coat (not as much hair as she would have if she was all lab) far when the temperature is in single digits. Michael has been begging me to take him sledding, but I don't want to deal with the cold and the haze. I know I lived through much worse in Chicago and Wisconsin, but after 12 years here, single-digit lows are too cold. To add insult to frost, the zipper on my heavy winter coat broke this morning.

We got a break today: Temperatures climbed into the high 30s, and stayed in the low 30s by evening -- warm enough to take the dog for a walk. Though I didn't want to breathe in too much gunk, Popcorn desperately needed the exercise, so we went for about 3.5 miles. The walk felt good for me, too. I can deal with some winter. I don't mind bundling up for the cold if it's not too cold. But I'm ready for this inversion to end. The pollution might blow out soon in the next couple days, but the forecast is for more cold next week.

In the meantime, I'll keep dreaming of summer ...

Friday, January 4, 2013

January

Darkness. Ice. Cold.

I hate January.

January is stark. The night time seems more foreboding; the leafless trees stand alone and remind you how lifeless everything feels. The snow doesn't want to melt. The cold air fills your nose and lungs and attacks your fingers and toes.

I moved to Utah and got away from some of the bad winter only to encounter a different January feature: air pollution, trapped by the mountains and cold air above. The sky just looks gray even on sunny days.

January is foggy windows, ice scrapers and rock salt. It's short days and long nights. It's boots and winter hats. The snow that was so welcome in December is just a pain in January

But January is also a basketball month. It's driving to play hoops, leaving the gym, and returning to your car in an illuminated parking lot, over the snow, onto a cold seat.

January is "99 Luftballoons" and Tom Petty's "Don't Do Me Like That." It's "Good Morning Vietnam" and load of other good movies that opened in one or two cities in late December in time for Oscar consideration, then were released nationwide after the new year. It's NFL playoffs on the weekends.

January is for staying inside to keep warm, retreating from the darkness that seems to invade your place of shelter through the cold windows. I know some people don't mind the cold and welcome January for skiing. I just want to get from one warm place to the next, simply enduring the outdoors as the space in between the comfort zones.

I can't help wish for summer in January. Forget spring, give me summer. Five months away.

Damn, I'm cynical about this month, but I can trace at least a few major funks in my life to have occurred during the winter. And January is the winter month. December is celebratory. February is a little hopeful. January is neither.

Yeah, this is January. It sucks.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Finally, a victory

Jazz 106, Timberwolves 84.

At last, we took the boys to a Jazz game and the Jazz won. They got to see the streamers launch from the rafters onto the floor. They got to see some nice Jazz dunks and actual defense. The crowd didn't get too into the game because the Jazz led by double digits for the whole second half, but we still had fun.

We got a good deal on the tickets (with free pizza!) and bought them somewhat spur of the moment last week Lori hasn't been with us when I've taken the boys to a basketball game, so this truly was a family event. Our seats were upper deck but not too high up. Michael, and Ben and I roamed EnergySolutions Arena before the game and during halftime, and I bought Ben a Jazz jersey (every Al Jefferson jersey was 50 percent off).

We likely will see one more Jazz game this season, as well as a couple University of Utah games. I hope the boys are enjoying the game itself, but I can live with them just enjoying the experience.