Thursday, October 9, 2014

That first morning drive

(I wanted to write this back in August, but, well, my time and ability to non-work write has become limited with all the freelancing I've been doing. This is a recollection of 30 years ... and two months ... ago.)

My mom drove me to school that first morning. My sisters were old enough to stay home by themselves for an hour, and I'm guessing my dad was working. The sun was shining, and it was one of those pretty Chicago summer mornings the city really doesn't get enough credit for (spring mornings were nice, too). Seven years earlier, for one month after we moved, my father drove me into my final weeks of first grade at my what became a far-away school. I'm now just realizing the parallel between those mornings in 1977 and that first, and only that first morning.

I was 13 years old (still a few months away from 14) and starting high school. Notre Dame High School for Boys (it sounds even worse typing it out -- thankfully, the school is now Notre Dame College Prep) was located in Niles, about five miles from our house. I took the bus home a lot for a couple years, but luckily, never took the bus in -- between carpools and friends with cars, I got a ride in every day. But that first morning, it was just Mom and I.

I don't remember the collared shirt I wore that first day of orientation. I know I was wearing corduroys -- jeans were against the dress code. My parents had taken me to buy a few pairs before school started, and I can remember a nervous sales girl trying to sell us more clothes and Dad snapping at her that  we had what we needed. I am sure I was wearing basketball shoes: The dress code was unusual (for a Catholic high school) in that gym shoes were OK. I do remember the sweatshirt I was wearing (it showed up on my ID photo taken that day): a maroon and gray zip-up, no hood. Maybe it was a little cool that morning and that's why I wore it?

Being new to NDHS. my family didn't know the shortcut to get to school. From where we lived, there was no quite direct way to get to Dempster Street between Milwaukee and Harlem avenues. Canfield, the main north-south road, ended at Northwest Highway. Harlem was almost a mile east of us. You could zig-zag to Milwaukee, but my mother instead bounced west to Greenwood (which was farther than Harlem) and took that into Niles. We would discover that you could cut through Park Ridge on Washington Street, which was kind of a glorified side street, cross Oakton and then Milwaukee, and you'd be practically at school. That first morning, we were way over in west Park Ridge, and came back east on Dempster. We drove past the cemetery west of Milwaukee Avenue and I thought to myself, slightly frantically, we're almost there, I'm almost a high-schooler.

The first day of orientation wasn't so bad. Just freshmen. We got a brief scary lecture from the dean, broke into some discussion groups, toured the school, got our aforementioned IDs taken and our lockers assigned, and weren't so overwhelmed. There was another day of orientation after that, which went about the same. The real first day, when the whole school was in session and we were thrown in with all these older kids, probably should have been the day ti be frantic, the day I remember vividly. Yet, surprisingly, I have no recollection of that day. Only the first morning drive.

I just looked up the website of the Catholic high school by us here in Utah, where the boys could theoretically go to school in four or six years. I was curious about the dress code (uniforms!) but got a little caught up in the student handbook. I think about what their first days will be like. Michael will be so nervous but has something going for him I didn't -- he'll already be 14 (and only a few months away from 15) and, if the growth rate holds steady, will be taller than 6 feet; he won't feel as intimidated (I was only about 5-foot-6 when I started high school). Plus, the way high school sports are conducted now, if he's playing basketball, he likely will have already played in a summer league with his new team before he is officially a freshman. And Ben, I'm not worried about him either. Yes, he'll be as skinny as I was when I stepped into my new high school, but taller. However, Ben attacks any new school situation with such rabid enthusiasm that he will fit right in. Michael is going to love attending high school; Ben is going to love learning in high school.

I'm now thinking about driving them in on their first day. We are close enough to the public high school they would attend to walk, but I'd still drive them in on Day One. They will be so nervous, but life is nervously moving on to the next big thing.I'll just try not to drive them past a cemetery ...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The no-work weekend

Since about late June -- except for the two weeks we were on vacation -- I've been freelancing like crazy. The one company I work for has sent me a steady yet impressive amount of work over the last three months. This is the most proficient work period I've had since going part-time at the newspaper several years ago. And this was my goal to, especially after quitting the newspaper in March. Oh, I am still writing for my old employer too, just adding to the freelancing madness.

Amid this load of work, I haven't had much time when I wasn't thinking about what I needed to get done next. I get a little free time, I more often than not will pull out the laptop and work. I pulled back somewhat on vacation -- managing about five or six work-free days -- but was slammed when we returned to Utah. In the eight or so weeks since vacation, I've been a machine ...  and have worked in some way, shape or form every day.

After knocking out 17 ghostwritten blog posts and two news releases in the past two weeks, I managed something that had been eluding me: a weekend off. There is nothing imminently due, and I'm not feeling like I need to work to get ahead of the curve.

I actually am able to get a lot done on the weekends. Even with soccer having restarted, I can get a little production on Saturday and a lot on Sunday. These past two NFL Sundays, I've been playing Red Zone (the NFL Network's live, in-progress highlight show) on my phone, propped up on my laptop, as I've worked. This is actually a good setup I discovered last year, and even better, this fall I'm not going into the office afterward (and I so don't miss that).

So what will I do for the rest of my weekend? After three soccer games and some grilling today, I'm going to work on the yard tomorrow. The boys and I tossed the football around today, and maybe that will occur Sunday as well. I'm thinking about board games, some closet clearing, more writing, and plenty of NFL (just without the freelance multitasking).

I already have some assignments for next week, and I'll get on those Monday. For now, I'm content have a whole weekend to myself and to spend with my family.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Summer 2014, days 86-103: The conclusion of summer

At the end of every summer, I'm always a little sad. In my youth, the end signaled the beginning of school again. After college, when I was working as a sports journalist, the end meant the beginning of football season, which was always an exciting transition but also a return to a crazy busy seven months of the newspaper business (summer is always the mellowest time of year for sports desks). After I had kids and they started school, the end of summer meant a slowing down of any adventures and vacations and the return to a routine, with the inevitable cooling and short days just around the corner.

I go through these cycles always looking forward to the next summer, inexorably setting myself up for everything going too quickly. I have a fifth- and a third-grader now, and I'm still trying to understand how that happened.

Something was different this year throughout August. Not resignation that summer was ending and went by in a heartbeat. Not melancholy that my favorite season was ending and before I know it, I'll be shoveling snow again. Not even missing the boys every day, which I do. No, this August, the end of summer was a little bit of a relief.

The last month, since we returned from vacation, has been a jumbled mess. Yes, we had fun, but we still never seemed to do the things I hoped before summer ended. The weather has been schizophrenic, with so many days when the skies couldn't decide between sunny and rainy. And, I've had so much work but never seemed to figure out how to peacefully get it all done. I managed, but it's been a slog.

Thus, I'm happy the boys are back in school. The routine hasn't settled in yet -- I caught a back-to-school cold that has slowed me down a little. But today, on this last day of summer, I felt non-rushed for the first time in a while. I got work done, took Michael to basketball, took the dog on a long walk, and found time to type.

I feel a little guilty about wanting the boys back in school. Next summer, hopefully the last month of summer will be different. But for now, I'm glad it's September.

So what have we done the past 17 days? We hit the waterpark a few times. The boys returned to school last week and are enjoying their new classrooms. I've already co-oped both kids twice. I'm coaching Ben's soccer team again; our first game is Saturday. Both kids got to hang out with friends in the last playdates of summer.

And now I'm calling it: Autumn is here. This summer was fun. But it zipped by too fast. They always do.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer 2014, days 71-85: A time of acceptance

That grand plan I had to squeeze as much out of the last weeks of summer as possible? Yeah, it didn't get too far.

I've been so swamped with freelance work that I was apprehensive to set off on any amazing adventures. Hurray for being swamped, but it comes with a a more restrained schedule. For example, I have probably put in at least 15 hours of work these past three weekend days. That's good in that I got much done, but it's indicative that I have to be a little more cautious of how I'm budgeting my time.

I don't think the boys have minded too much. They have been playing with friends -- those last days of desperate summer fun before school begins. We had some ornery weather over the past two weeks -- Utah's monsoon season in which we get a rain and some thunderstorms. Still, the last two weeks had their moments:

-- Ben finally learned how to ride his bike, on Aug. 4 (Day 72). After he struggled to get any balance every time we tried, on this day -- a couple months since he last tried -- it all clicked. Two days later, he tried Michael's old bike and could ride that. Three days after that, he rode in a short bicycle race. He needed a little help at the start, and it was only about 100 yards or so (this was a fun event before a Tour of Utah stage began at Rice-Eccles Stadium), but he rode it nonetheless just a week after not being able to ride a bike, period. He was very excited.

-- We spent a whole long afternoon at the waterpark this last Thursday (Day 82). Michael was with a friend, and they pretty much did their own thing all day. We met one of Ben's friends there, and they were somewhat independent, too. We hadn't gone to the waterpark much this summer, so our day was a blast. The clouds threatened rain for a few minutes early, but then cleared for perfect hot conditions.

-- Ben is doing postseason swim practices. Michael did six days of basketball boot camp followed by two intense days of get-back-into-shape camp.

-- Visits to the dentist. Enough said.

-- The Corolla needed a new starter. Hurray, the Corolla now starts all the time (it was dicey for about a week there).

-- I wrote three prep football previews for The Tribune. I was having a hell of a time reaching coaches -- I don't ever remember being so frustrated about not getting interviews (I'm sure I have been; it's just been a long time).

-- Running? No. BodyPump? No. Some long walks with the dog? Yes, including a couple short hikes. Chunkier than I'd like to be? Oddly, yes -- my current weight, a little heavier than expected, doesn't jibe with how I actually look in the mirror. A lot of sucking in the stomach at the pool? Oh yes.

-- My sister and her family came through town for a day. They had been traveling for weeks straight, so they were content to just relax. My nephews love the toys we have in our basement, and Popcorn liked having another dog in the house (the cat, not so much).

-- Writing? If it's not for work, sadly, no. As I've said on numerous occasions, if I have time with my laptop, I feel guilty if I'm not working on the freelance stuff. Three stickies are on my desktop One has the posts I'd like to write for this blog. Another has the posts for the GenX blog I've been wanting to start for years now. The third has my to-do list, including freelancing.and home projects. The third is the only one seeing any movement. I think my busy task lists will seem less daunting once school starts. I hate to wish for summer to end, but I can see the schedule coming into focus once the boys are back in school.

And those were the highlights of the past two weeks. One other eureka moment is that once summer ends, I'm not going to look ahead to next summer. Instead, I'm going to be thankful for each day, for each week. The time will pass quickly enough, so savoring the present should help my focus as well. The stickies will be be in a state of flux, but they don't need to be finished, just updated over and over. Acceptance is something I'm going to work hard to accept.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer 2014, day 70

The boys slept late today after their impressive yet tiring season-ending swim meet Friday. Around 10:30, Lori suggested we go to the Farmer's Market in downtown SLC. We loaded into the car (even the dog) and headed to the market. The trip was enjoyable. Ben got to try a trapeze swing, we ate lunch, and Popcorn did well amid the crowd. Spending a few hours at the market on our anniversary was the highlight of our day.

The day wasn't too eventful after that. The boys were still tired and were content to stay inside the rest of the afternoon. Lori and I felt the same way. We watched "Wayne's World' during dinner, then the boys and I howled at the silliness of "Sharknado 2."

Friday, August 1, 2014

Summer 2014, day 69

The boys swam their final meet of the season tonight. Neither was going to the conference meet next week, so this was their last chance to turn in some good times this summer. Their team tracks "pops" -- personal bests over the course of the season. Ben had seven coming in and Michael had four. They lost some of their fitness over vacation but had managed to get themselves back into shape over the past few days. This meet was for kids not swimming at conference, and because both Ben and Michael just missed being included for next week, we felt they could do really well tonight.

They did great! Each kid swam five events, and Ben finished with pops in all five and Michael in three. I was quite proud.

Michael's summer has been weird -- he swam great the first meet, then leveled off once basketball really kicked in. This happened last summer when he played All-Stars for baseball, and he recovered once we got back from vacation. That was much the same this year, as he looked great in his 50 freestyle, 50 breaststroke and IM. He could have won the 50 backstroke but misjudged the turn and bonked his head on the wall.

This was such an incredible season for Ben. He improved so much and his confidence soared. But the 7-8 boys age group on his team is so good that we had a hunch that he wouldn't make conference. At one point, Ben was ranked in the top 30 in the conference in the 25 freestyle in his age group ... but had only the 12th-best time on his own team. Going into this meet, he had the best backstroke and breaststroke times of all the competitors, so I thought he had a chance to win those races, but I wasn't sure after he missed two weeks of training after vacation. Something must have clicked with him and his confidence, because he won the 25 breast and went crazy in winning the 25 back and breaking his best time by almost two seconds. He took third in the 25 and 50 freestyles and fourth in the 25 butterfly. This meet gave out an award to the top point-getter in each division, and when Ben realized this (we didn't tell him about it), I think he realized he had a chance at it. However, another teammate who won three events took the honor (the pair really dominated the meet). Ben looked sad and happy at the same time, and he got a hug from one of his coaches who knew how hard he worked.

We went to Smashburger for dinner. The heat returned, and I waited until later to walk the dog. Another sports season complete. Soccer is up next ...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer 2014, days 65-68: The quickening

Vacation goes by so fast, but I've come to realize this truth: The week after vacation goes by even quicker.

Here it is, almost a week after we got back from Chicago, and it still feels like we're in recovery mode. The unpacked suitcases are still lingering in my basement, not yet returned to the closet from where they reside. My backpack sits in the living room unsorted. The days sped by, and we don't feel like we are quite back in a normal routine yet. This isn't really coinciding with my goal to get the most out of the last month of summer as possible.Yet, four days just passed, and I'm struggling to remember what we did.

Lori's birthday was yesterday -- I remembered that. The boys had a swim team party at the JCC, which also had a band on its balcony. We ate dinner, drank a couple beers, and occasionally peered down to see what  our kids were doing on a gorgeous summer night.

I worked a lot this week, with more assignments on the horizon that will fill my schedule. Lori's new job kicks into full-time next week. The boys are wrapping up swim season this week and played with their friends the past few days. I've taken the dog for walks each night but no hikes. I managed to actually jump in the pool today when I wasn't working (I brought my laptop to the JCC while the boys alternated between swim practice and swim fun). Oh, it rained plenty a couple days.

So let the recovery end. School starts in a little more than three weeks. Hello, August.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer 2014, days 63-64: The quiet aftermath

We were really spoiled on vacation because the Midwest was mostly unusually cool for July. We returned to Utah and were blasted with heat. Did we subsequently make it out of the house much? No. Sunday, I asked the boys if they wanted to go to the pool, and neither did. The weekend was truly devoted to winding down from the weekend. The boys had a swim meet Saturday night and practice Sunday morning, and they got to hang out with the friends they hadn't seen for two weeks, but otherwise, they weren't too active. I took Popcorn for a little hike Sunday but went for no hikes at night -- it's barely even cooling off in the evening. We unpacked, I resumed m busy work slate, and didn't get worked up about not cramming too much into every day. This won't last, but for one weekend, it was welcome.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer 2014, day 62

We're baaack ...

Our adventure known as Midway Airport was mostly unadventurous. My dad got us to the airport in plenty of time, and getting through check-in and security wasn't an issue. We ate breakfast, boarded the Southwest plane, settled in for a relatively easy flight, found a cab in SLC, and were home by noon MDT.

Popcorn was so happy to see us. The family watching her had house-sat on Thursday night so the cat wouldn't be too spooked by Pioneer Day fireworks, so the dog was there when we returned. She was wagging her tail between her legs, as if she was happy but contrite that she did something that caused us to leave her for two weeks. The cat wasn't mad at us either, just meowing a little more than normal.

The rest of the day was purely recovery. I picked up Costa Vida for lunch, and Lori bought some groceries and I made the ravioli for the boys and me for dinner. I enjoyed a nice, long nap in my own comfortable bed. I also  took Popcorn to the park to throw a Frisbee to her for a little while, then took her out for a walk later, but the temperature was still 80 degrees at 10 p.m. We came back to perhaps the hottest week of the year after the coolest July I can remember in Chicago.

The lawn is full of weeds, but at least it's green and some of the grass I managed to grow earlier in the summer has survived. The weeds remind me of the tasks at hand over the next few months. Vacation was good, and now I'm focused on the remainder of summer and fall. Time to get to work.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer 2014, day 61; Vacation, day 15

Well, this is it. When I hit the publish button on this webpage and shut down my computer, vacation will be all but over. We are leaving for Chicago in about 10 hours, flying out of Midway for the first time. This trip has come to an end.

I'm thinking about sitting at my father's house on my computer, typing away. I'm sure I've said this before -- this is a special place for us to visit. Other families find a lake house or a favorite resort they return year after year, so much that it becomes familiar. I never lived in this house, but have spent probably about 20 weeks here over the past 10 years since he's remodeled. It is a sort of home away from home for us, even if we just visit once or twice a year (usually once). The boys feel comfortable here. The shady porch overlooking the wall of trees across the street that obscures the train tracks is Lori's favorite reading place ever and where I like to write. I get here and it feels like we were just visiting when it was already a year -- that's an indicator of how comfortable it feels; sometimes, it doesn't seem like we left.

Of course, Chicago brings me that comfortable feeling, too ... sometimes. I asked Michael today if he would want to live here, and though he said he liked Chicago, he didn't hesitate with a no answer -- he prefers Utah. And I do as well -- the traffic, the winters, the slightly reduced friendliness of people, and a host of other things about Chicago makes me content to just visit. Yes, it would be nice to be closer to family and our friends from the Midwest, and I do occasionally miss a bigger city, but we really did hit the jackpot when we moved to Salt Lake City. There's no reason to give that up now.

The last days of vacation were low key, as they always seem to be every year. The terrible news we got Tuesday really took the wind out of our sails, kind of making us content to take it easy these last couple days. Today, Michael and I drove around a little, up to Glencoe, where I found the church "Sixteen Candles" was filmed at. I was going to have him take a picture of me standing in front of the red rental car, from the vantage point of the church, as Samantha saw Jake in the movie ... but there was nowhere to park. The boys played tennis with my dad for the third day in a row. I got to drive the Charger around a little more. We ate at Lou Malnati's for dinner, then returned home to celebrate Pie and Beer Day (the heathen alternative to Utah's Pioneer Day) and play Ticket to Ride: Europe. And here I am, wrapping up vacation with one last blog post.

This was such a busy, wonderful trip and yet didn't seem like enough time. If we stayed another week, I'd be raring to go with the stuff we didn't do, the friends we didn't see. But I'm also ready to be back home. Lori and I discussed future trips today. We need to see the ocean again. We still want the boys to visit every state before they hit college. And we'd love to visit the Midwest in the fall rather than the humid summer. Chalk up another great vacation -- another one I documented so we don't forget. Let the great summer continue -- about 40 days left; with school starting up again in a little more than four weeks. I have computerized stickies on my laptop with work, home and writing goals that are in sight -- I am eager to tackle those. And finally, it's time for me to fly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer 2014, day 60; Vacation, day 14

I slept soundly last night -- past 9 a.m.this morning. I woke up and worked up enough initiative to go for a run. My dad lives right by the bike trail that I used to run on in high school, and taking it two miles in and back is actually a nice little jaunt. Along the way, I saw two deer walk across the trail and stop after finding something they wanted to eat. On an urban yet forested bike trail, with no dogs allowed off leash, these deer must be pretty used to humans, because neither one moved as I ran by.

 I was antsy and wanted to get out and do more today, but no one in my family were as inclined. My dad took the boys to play tennis in the afternoon. I wanted to go for a drive but Michael wasn't up for it. The weather cooled off considerably from yesterday, and the breeze felt good, so I sat on my computer for an hour in the 70-degree wonderfulness. Lori, Michael and I did go to Nick's Drive-In for lunch (I was craving a gyro), but until the late afternoon, this was another mellow vacation day. We are at the point where we'll be sad that vacation is ending soon but are ready to get home. It's been two weeks and a few hours since we got on that train. It's just time.

In the evening, my father, the boys and I went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the Padres. This was my first Wrigley night game in the 26 years since lights were installed, and I must say, I still prefer day games. The cooler weather that was so wonderful in the afternoon was downright chilly and windy once the sun dipped below the side of the ballpark. The game seemed to drag as well -- not surprising when the team you are rooting for is losing. The Cubs trailed 3-0, tied it 3-3, then fell behind 5-3. We left after the seventh inning; the Padres went up 8-3 soon thereafter, thus validating our decision to depart. I still love seeing games at Wrigley Field, and the boys do, too. Still, it would have been nice to sing "Go Cubs Go" tonight.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer 2014, day 59; Vacation, day 13

Driving home Monday night from Great America, I passed an electronic sign that informed drivers of the number of traffic fatalities so far this year in Illinois. The number was 455, and as I was striving to drive safely but get home quickly, it was a sobering reminder that 455 people left their homes one day not expecting that they wouldn't see the next. They probably thought a fatal car accident could never happen to them, even though some of them likely weren't at fault for their own demise. Just that quickly, it was over.

Little did I know that my reminder had already affected us in a tragic way Monday.

Today, we learned that the father of one of Ben's good friends was killed in a car accident in Washington state early Monday morning. I'm good friends with the mom, who was active at school, but I didn't know the dad well, other than he was always friendly and greeted everyone with a smile. The family had just moved to Washington a few weeks ago to start a new chapter in their lives. Just like that, the chapter came to an abrupt halt. We haven't told Ben yet -- he sobbed when he was saying goodbye to his friend last month.

This terrible news left me unfocused for much of the day. We were already tired from the last week, and Chicago was so ungodly humid today to begin with. The boys didn't want to do much, Lori was in Milwaukee for work, and I had to get it together just to get to Starbucks to do some writing. We have two whole days left on our trip, and they will be good. I'm not that worried that today was non-eventful.

The old park

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: This is a post I started writing last summer, then forgot about for months. I finally got around to finishing it this week ...)

The summer of 2013 was something else.

I always lament that summer zips by too quickly, but this one really was atypical. We'd been so busy that I don't know where the days went. I barely wrote anything that wasn't work-related. June was a haze of  the boys' sports and thinking we'll get to all that fun summer stuff ... only to not get to as much of it when it suddenly became July. I didn't get a lot of freelance work in June, then got blessedly but unbelievably overwhelmed with projects over the last month. Our air conditioning went out during the hottest week of the year. All of a sudden it was vacation.

I parked the car on the corner of Oriole and Gregory and walked across the street to the park near the northwest playground. Growing up, I never seemed to hang out at this playground, instead preferring the one by the basketball courts and Diamond 1. This playground has already changed since the last time we were here -- the equipment has been upgraded from the upgrade that occurred sometime in the late 1980s. The sky is overcast, but I don't think it's going to rain again anytime soon.

I've already written about how vacation was just nuts. The boys had a blast, and Lori and I had fun, too, but it was all a blur. I barreled through so much freelance work during the trip that it dominated my thoughts even when I wasn't writing. This wasn't work I felt I could turn down, especially as I was establishing myself as a contract writer/editor, and I was paying for vacation as I was working through it. Getting so much all at once was just a fluke of timing. Nevertheless, by the time we got back to Chicago from Northern Wisconsin, the overcast skies matched my mood and my energy level.

I cut across diamonds 6 and 7, taking some pictures along the way. The diamonds face each other, and I remember one pee-wee game on Diamond 7 happening while a makeup game on the clearly inferior (but now upgraded) Diamond 6 was occurring, and coaches pondering if the center fielders should wear a batting helmet. I find the path that follows the south end of the park toward Bryn Mawr Avenue and Diamond 5. The first summer after figuring out my big bicycle, I would ride around the sidewalks of the big park and imagine these paths were expressways and interchanges.

Probably, I was just feeling sorry for myself. Sorry for no reason -- I have it so much better than other people, other dads, other families. I found out during this trip that a good friend was having marital troubles with a relationship that began in the mid-1980s. So I endured one less-than-stellar vacation? It happens, right? Why was I so bummed out?

I head toward the field house, past the outdoor basketball hoops I spent so much time on when I was 10 and 11. This park used to have two outdoor courts -- one here and one near the tennis courts that only had 9-foot-baskets. I played games at that other one but never practiced there on my own; it seemed pointless to shoot around on a basket that I wouldn't normally do during games. I entered the field house and looked around. This was such a multi-purpose facility and not just a gym. We once played Dungeons and Dragons here; I remember at least one neighborhood Christmas party here as well.

Vacation means much to me, but so does coming back to Chicago every year. There's something here I can't quite recapture every time I return -- something I'm trying to absorb that I just feel will propel me to the goals I have. Mind you, I don't want to live here again, but the memories here carry a power to them, a power I wish I could harness. With this trip not living up to expectations, the specter of those memories seemed to exert an ever greater pull.

We had relatives that lived almost next to one of the edges of the park on Oleander. I walk past the tennis courts and sit on a bench near that side of the park and call my mother in Texas. This was her neighborhood, too, for some of her life. The relatives had since died, which I think I knew. Intermittent drizzle has begun. I keep snapping pictures and taking it all in.

On the final late afternoon of our trip, I drove myself, and only myself, to Oriole Park. I have visited here before as an adult -- even once with the boys -- but this time, I needed some time alone. Maybe it was melancholy, maybe nostalgia, maybe just a quick fix to my gray mood, but for whatever the reason, this was the place I was drawn to -- the park I spent so many hours and days playing at in my youth. I only spent about a half-hour there, and 15 minutes were on the phone with my mom. But that was enough time for a bit of catharsis. Did I find that magic spark I've been seeking? No, but I'm glad I went anyhow. I drove back to my father's house for the last hours of vacation.

Here is Diamond 2. The girl I felt my first crush for lived on the alley that bordered this field; they had a swimming pool, and I always tried to catch a glimpse through the fence to hopefully see her, but I never did -- the fence was too tall and gap-less. I tripled with the bases loaded during a game on this diamond, then got beaned bad on the elbow, which was so traumatic it eventually drove me from wanting to play baseball. I played pick-up football with my friends in the outfields here, and played lob league in almost every diamond in this park. I sledded down that hill in winter, practiced golf beyond left field in Diamond 3, and walked from a far parking spot to the field house with my father one March night to see my sisters' gymnastics performance, looking at the stars along the way.

As much as I want to incorporate all these memories and experiences into everything I do today, I don't think I'll ever quite recapture what I felt. I'll keep trying, listening to the music I listened to, watching the things I watched, playing the games I played, visiting the places I visited. And maybe one day it will intersect with my life today and result in a superhuman burst of creativity. Yet, I'm really starting to wonder if that day will ever come.

I walk back to the car, awash in the memories I know will inevitably fade again. It was so long ago.

And there's the one thing I can't change yet can't completely accept: It was so long ago.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer 2014, day 58; Vacation, day 12

In a line at Six Flags today, I estimated that this was my 23rd trip to great America over my lifetime. But it was my first since 1999. And the first with my kids.

The boys, my niece Jenny and I met my sister-in-law and another niece at the Burger King across from the amusement park around 9:30 a.m. The park didn't officially open until 10:30, but I didn't know how crowded it would be on a Monday and wanted to get the most out of our day. We were let in but only to the railroad bridge until 10:30. The ropes were let down, and we headed to Whizzer -- our first rollercoaster of the day.

Ben had been nervous for more than a week since finding out we were going to Great America, so Whizzer -- a classic coaster and one of the easier rides in the park -- was a perfect first choice. He loved it. That would set the tone for the rest of the day. Here's a rundown, in as much of an order as I can remember:

-- Viper, a wooden coaster that is great. Ben and I went on twice while everybody else chose Raging Bull for their third ride of the day.

-- A pirate-ship type ride (River Rocker) that the adults wisely skipped.

-- The Eagle, which is my all-time favorite Great America ride. After a slow line, the red car was finally opened on the dual coaster, and we got on almost instantly. Both boys loved this ride, and I remembered why it's still my favorite roller coaster.

-- The nieces waited in line for Vertical Velocity, so we went on Fiddler's Fling, after which I surprisingly didn't feel to sick, and Logger's Run and got soaked.

-- Lunch! Overpriced pizza ...

-- East River Crawler, formerly the Lobster in my youth.

-- Roaring Rapids ... soaked again (though for me, not as bad)

-- Gotham City Rail, basically a wild mouse in the dark

-- The double-decker carousel.

-- Ben had been stressing out about going upside down on a rollercoaster, but he manned up and went on the Demon, which goes upside down four times. After the first loop, he was cheering. This was Michael's favorite ride, too. However, I came to the conclusion it's not the greatest rollercoaster for adults -- my shoulders hurt as I braced myself through the corkscrews. So much for happy memories ...

-- The kids did a ropes course near Demon. I don't think Michael liked it at all -- he is definitely not a fan of heights. Ben was braver and made it to the top, though he didn't try anything too challenging up there.

-- Michael wasn't in the best mood after the ropes course, and it showed on our second trip on the Eagle. We ended up in a back car, and when I told him the back gets whipped around, he became nervous. When we did get whipped around, he didn't like it and was cranky after we got off the ride.

-- Ben and his aunt went on Revolution, which looked way too dizzying for me to attempt.

-- Ben surprised me again by going on the Batman rollercoaster. I was nervous about him on this -- he was tall enough but is so skinny ... . He loved it but said he almost puked. Michael didn't go on with us, instead going on the Crawler and the swings with Lisa.

-- Dinner. Overpriced burgers and way too many fries. Next time we go, I'm bringing a cooler and we can eat at the car.

--  Bumper cars

-- The Triple Play, one of my favorite non-coaster rides when I was kid. But, it spins. I survived.

-- The Whizzer one more time.

-- The boys went on a teacup ride that Jenn and I wisely avoided.

-- Sky Trek tower for a 330-foot high view of the landscape.

And that was it. The boys bought souvenirs and we drove back to Chicago. We didn't stay until closing like we originally planned, but we made it to about 9:20 p.m.

Except for Michael's brief moodiness and Ben's pre-ride stresses, we had so much fun all day. Even though we didn't wait too long for any one ride, the day went surprisingly fast. I'm not sure if my 22 previous visits were that way; maybe my perception of time is just different (I can say when we went to Disney Land a few years ago, that day flew by, too).

A trip to Great America was always a special day when I was a kid. An event. This day, with my sons, was an event. And no one threw up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer 2014, day 57; Vacation, day 11

After yesterday's festivities, today was understandably mellower. We went to a brunch in the morning -- the last wedding event of the weekend -- and Lori drove to Milwaukee for her company's work convention for a few hours. The rest of the day was mostly just hanging out. We helped clean up the rest of the yard from the party the night before. Lori returned from Milwaukee and we had dinner. And ... that was about it, and that's all it needed to be. The rest of the week will be busy enough.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer 2014, day 56; Vacation, day 10

July 19 had been circled on many calendars among many people. This was my father's and his fiancee's wedding day, and we had planned our vacation accordingly.

The day didn't disappoint.

After breakfast, many of us worked feverishly to set up the house for the reception, which was going to be a sort of block party more than anything formal. A couple hours later, everything was mostly set so that after the ceremony downtown, we could come back to the house and begin the festivities. Fourteen people were staying in the house, and we all needed showers, so the clear things up a little, I took the boys to SuperDawg for lunch. I was lucky to still get some hot water for my shower later; Lori and Ben, not so much. Finally, we made it out of the house toward downtown.

Ugh, traffic on the Kennedy was a mess. We arrived exactly at 4 p.m., though the ceremony didn't start until 45 minutes later. The day was gorgeous, and the view overlooking Lake Michigan and the Art Institute was amazing. The ceremony itself was wonderful. My father and new stepmother were so happy to be getting married, and the event itself was joyous.

We stayed another half-hour after the ceremony and dined on some appetizers and had another drink. I told the boys they could drink as much soda as they wanted tonight, with the warning of how when I was 10, I drank so much soda at a wedding that I had the most bizarre nightmares after I went to sleep (and 33 years later, I still remember those bad dreams -- too weird to quite describe, but they are etched in my memory). Eventually, we drove back home and didn't hit as much traffic as we did on our way down.

The block party was a lot of fun, too. Ben danced for much of the night, and played cornhole when he wasn't dancing or eating. I got to talk with some of my father's friends whom I hadn't seen in a long time. I also was asked to give a toast -- I had a day to prepare, but I was still nervous nonetheless. The bugs weren't too bad, and the boys actually decided to go to sleep at a reasonable hour (about 10 p.m.). This day will be a happy vacation memory as well as a good family memory.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer 2014, day 55; Vacation, day 9

We left Northern Wisconsin today and scurried back to Chicago for a the imminent busy weekend. After coming through Milwaukee, we decided to drive back through Madison and Rockford, which wasn't the best idea -- the tollway was under construction from Rockford all the way into the city. We still made good time, which gave us a little break before the rehearsal dinner for Dad and Susy's wedding.

The party was enjoyable. Low key, good food, and a chance to relax after our drive. Ben danced, of course. I was able to see my sister Julie, who I missed last weekend even though she was in Chicago, and my sister Megan, who had arrived from Colorado last week.

Vacation has been busy already, but we still have a week left! I can appreciate that.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer 2014, day 54; Vacation, day 8

This was our last day in Merrill before driving back to Chicago tomorrow. The day was mostly uneventful for me -- I ran in the morning and worked for a couple hours on the patio -- but the boys had a blast. I took Ben miniature golfing, and then he got to enjoy a motorcycle ride with his Uncle Steve. He was nervous at first, but settled in and asked and received another ride. Michael went on a motorcycle ride, too, then went horseback riding with Lori and her sister. Ben didn't want to go but started sobbing when he saw them depart (at least he was able to go on the motorcycle ride after his meltdown).

About 8 p.m., I was feeling antsy and went for a little drive in the Charger and the sunset. I got a little lost but didn't mind. A half-hour later, I got back home and watched the rest of "The Lego Movie" with the boys. Now I'm on the porch writing in the crisp Wisconsin night. Back on the road in 12 hours ...

Summer 2014, day 53; Vacation, day 7

More North Woods today, and it was nice. I was sitting by Maple Lake, looking at the pines reflected in the water across the lake, watching the billowing, cottony clouds in the sky, watching the boys swim in the cold water, and realized how nice the day was.

Lori's parents reserved a little clubhouse at one of the parks in Three Lakes. From there, I took the boys on a hike up the bike trail that went past her family's farm -- a trail that once carried railroad tracks on which Lori would run after to see trains when she was a kid. Michael didn't entirely enjoy the hike; I don't think he likes the woods. We made it back just in time for lunch. Afterward, the boys and their cousins played at the park while I spread out a blanket and took a nap in the sun. We capped our trip to Three Lakes with an hour at Maple Lake (the weather did warm up, but it was still a bit chilly for me to brave the water; besides, I'm not a lake person ...) and ice cream before driving back to Merrill.

Summer 2014, day 52; Vacation, day 6

I had heard the rumors that the Wisconsin summer was a continuation of the horrendous winter that made the Midwest miserable this year. Sure enough, the temperature barely got above 60 degrees all day Tuesday. But we still managed a fun day.

After running in the morning on the Merrill High School track, I was feeling a little antsy in the afternoon. I was determined to get a little bit of a North Woods experience, so I piled the boys and my niece into the car to look for Lookout Mountain, the second-highest point in Wisconsin and near Merrill. The Maps app on my phone wasn't that helpful -- it took us way out of the way at first, then tried turning us onto a private road. We did stop at one set of trails and should have gone for a longer hike there, but the bugs were bad and I was still obsessing about finding Lookout Mountain. We ended up finding Otter Lake, where got out of the car and admired the lake (it was way too cold to go in the water). So we got some North Woods, even just for a few minutes.

The evening was a little warmer, and we played disc golf at a park in Merrill and went for ice cream with the boys' cousins. Michael actually played rather well, and Ben had fun. We got back, and I watched the All-Star Game before coming outside on the patio to work and write.

Summer 2014, day 51; Vacation, day 5

After 40 hours in a train last week, what naturally was going to follow? Six hours in a car!

We drove to Merrill to stay with Lori's sister for a few days, and the journey actually went rather well. Except for some confusion on how to get on north I-294 from Rosemont (we stopped at an outlet mall there to buy Ben new Crocs), the trip was smooth. We stopped at Kopp's in Milwaukee for lunch (yum!) and worked our way north and eventually west. I let Lori drive outside of Oshkosh and dozed off in the passenger seat. By the time I woke up, we were only about 45 minutes away from Merrill.

After arriving, we went out for pizza at a New York-style restaurant in Wausau. We got back and played some board games: Ticket to Ride and The Resistance. The day was long but definitely felt vacationy. And the drive really wasn't that bad.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer 2014, days 49-50; Vacation, days 3-4: The recovery

Two days in Chicago, and I don't feel like I've quite settled into a sleep pattern after the long train ride. It rained almost all day Saturday, which was good, because that gave us a chance to recover from our two-day railroad adventure. The highlight was driving to Rogers Park to a game store, then going to Kohl's at the HIP (Harlem-Irving Plaza, for those not from Chicago), and finally to SuperDawg for dinner. The rental car agency gave us a Charger, which was unexpected and quite welcome, even if the risk of a speeding ticket just increased.

On Sunday, Lori, Michael and I took a long bike ride on the North Shore Trail, riding maybe 15 miles total on the path I used to take my bike and also run (for cross country in high school). My legs were sore by the time I went to bed. Later, we went to a graduation party thrown by some friends of my dad and soon-to-be stepmom. The party had a band, and Ben enjoyed dancing, of course. Vacation is just gearing up.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer 2014, days 47-48; Vacation, days 1-2: We've been working on the railroad

We tried something different this year for vacation: Taking the train to Chicago. The boys are at an age that we felt they would handle it, and it's an adventure, right? We arrived at the SLC station very, very early to catch our 3:30 a.m.train. After enduring some drizzle (now it rains after three straight days of heat), we boarded and found four seats across. We settled in to try to resume our sleep (I had got maybe 90 minutes the night before).

Unfortunately, I probably didn't sleep more than an hour and was exhausted for all of Thursday. We got off the train briefly in Grand Junction, and I did manage a little nap after we got back on. Just a little nap, though, as Ben, who was so loud -- a combination of wired and overtired -- got into an argument with Michael and woke me up. No matter -- the scenery through Colorado was gorgeous. I did manage one more nap. We ate dinner in the dining car, which was an experience. An overpriced experienced, but an experience nonetheless -- here we were, eating a real meal, on a train. That capped a great day. Ben and I sat in the observation car and played Ticket to Ride: The Card Game early in the morning. We sat in that car at different times and played games (I bought a new one for my iPad) and watched the scenery. Yes, the first 16 hours of our cross-country trip were great, even if I was tired.

I was ready to sleep as we all settled down about 9 p.m. for the night. Unfortunately, that turned out to be another nap as I couldn't get totally comfortable and was awakened by an announcement from the conductor: A derailment a couple hundred miles ahead in Nebraska would force the train to be rerouted, resulting in about four extra hours on the train. My good mood about our journey was dissipating. The washrooms weren't being upkept as well as we had hoped, I still couldn't get comfortable, and the thought of four extra hours on the train suddenly seemed daunting. I walked down to the snack bar and bought a cheeseburger, simply as comfort food. After I ate, I fell asleep for a couple more hours -- and woke up again, about 1 a.m. It took another hour to doze off again, this time until morning.

We ate breakfast in the dining car, and we continued to play games and pass the time. I got some longer naps in as the train dragged through Nebraska and Iowa. The bathrooms were tidied up. We ate through the rest of our food that we brought on the train (Michael and I bought a cheeseburger -- that was just about all the train had left in the snack bar, after passengers needed to eat after the delay put us through dinner). Ben and I played a game on the iPad that took awhile -- enough time to get us focused on the fact we were in Illinois and approaching our arrival. We ended up being almost six hours late.

My dad picked us up from the train station, and we made it to his house and ate Thai food that he picked up for dinner. We were relieved to have made it. The trip was fun, but just too long because of the delay. I'm glad we'll be flying back.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer 2014, days 43-46: The heat is on

I'm officially in severe catch-up mode with this blog. Here it goes:

These four days were so focused on getting everything done and everything ready before our vacation. I bulled through all the work projects I aimed to finish before we left -- this might have been the most concentrated burst of work I've achieved since becoming a freelancer. We needed to pack, get the house ready, drive the boys to all the various things they have (actually, not as much as earlier in the summer, just swim and basketball, plus some playdates, but still things we had to fit in) and manage to stay sane.

Fortunately, I got everything done that I needed to do. Everything got packed. We got Popcorn to the family who are watching her while we're gone. The boys had a swim meet Wednesday and did all right, each registering one season best, though I think they were thinking of our trip, too. We had some car trouble Monday that didn't get resolved until Tuesday, which only added to the chaos. And the serious heat that Salt Lake City endures every summer finally arrived.

We got through it all. Time for vacation.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer 2014, days 33-42: The crush and the boom

A week and a half without blogging. The crush of busy days that I had predicted finally overwhelmed me. OK, it wasn't so overwhelming that I'm frazzled. But it has been busy enough that I didn't blog all these days.

Michael had his basketball tournament last week and played well. His team went 2-2 and finished in fourth place out of 13 teams in his division. He scored two baskets, grabbed about 10 rebounds, and set three picks that sprung teammates for baskets.

Both boys had two swim meets during this time. And both joined the no-breather club by swimming a 25-meter race without breathing. Ben swam his best times in the freestyle and backstroke.

I've been swamped with freelance work as I try to get everything done before vacation next week. I made good progress but still have much to do in the next five days.

Temperatures finally climbed into the 90s for good -- it will stay around this hot the rest of the summer. We went to the waterpark for the first time Tuesday. I'm hoping we go again once next week, but with so much work looming, I'm not sure if I can take a few hours to go.

Today was Independence Day. We walked in the annual neighborhood parade and saw the fireworks at Sugar House Park. This was the boom.

I had hoped this past week was going to be a little more settled, and for the most part it was. But all of a sudden, vacation is almost upon us and feeling a little stressed to get everything done that needs to be done. I want to write so badly right now, but I need to devote that energy to writing for work. Summer is filling my brain, and I want to enjoy it. My goal is to get all the freelance work on my docket done before vacation, then experience summer in the Midwest in the present and in my memories. So much to do these next five days. So much to look forward to as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer 2014, day 32: Hot, hot, hot

The temperature is inching higher. At some point every summer -- usually around now, high temps in Salt Lake City climb above 90 degrees and stay there for the next two months. This isn't terrible because it never feels humid, just very bright. But for a 10-year-old practicing basketball inside a non-cooled gym, it's a challenge. Michael has been good about bringing and drinking plenty of water, and he hasn't looked worn out these past two days, even after he had basketball camp in the morning (that's four hours of hoops the last two days). The heat might be tougher on Ben during soccer camp this week, though the coaches are good about taking breaks and bringing the kids into the shade.

I escaped the sauna of the gym by finding a Starbucks at which to work. Later, I took Ben to swim practice and lounged in the sun while he swam. The water at the pool (Ben practiced inside, then splashed with his friends outside) felt good. I took the dog running in the morning before it got too warm. We are a third of the way through the crazy week ...

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer 2014, days 29-31: The calm, the storm

Oops, another break in the blogging action, but here's my chance to catch up again. The weekend was mellower than normal. We had a Saturday with no sports whatsoever. OK, we did see a Salt Lake Bees game, but the boys didn't have any sports. We hit a few garage sales in the morning (and found Michael a bicycle -- he outgrew his previous one, quickly), and I took the dog on a hike in Millcreek Canyon.

The baseball game was fun, even though the Bees lost. This was a group event for the boys' swim team, and Ben hung out with his friends for much of the game. There was a fireworks show afterward, and people were allowed onto the field to get a better view. Ben was somehow the first one out there, and he made a run to hit all points of the grass spectators were allowed. Lori was worried he was clueless about us (we hadn't made it on the field yet), but I knew that Ben knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn't lost -- this was his plan all along. The fireworks were short, and we made it home.

Sunday was even mellower. I worked out in the morning. Michael had a good school friend over the entire afternoon, and they hung out, rode bikes, splashed in the kiddie pool, and enjoyed their time together -- time they don't get as much of during the summer (this fall, they will be in the same class for the fourth school year in a row). Lori and I watched the U.S.-Portugal World Cup game (how did they give up that late goal?). I actually sat in the kiddie pool for five minutes before the kids invaded -- it was chilly but nice on the hot day.

The mellow weekend was a precursor to what might be the busiest summer week we've ever had as a family. Michael has basketball camp, three basketball practices, a basketball tournament, and swim team; Ben has soccer camp and swim (practice and a meet Wednesday). Needless to say, there was a lot of running around today, more by Lori, but I did take MPG to his two-hour hoops practice and walked the dog four miles. The week only gets busier, and I'm hoping the boys don't wear out before it's done.

The hillside, the sunset, the reflection

In my annual ritual, I’m on the hillside at Donner Park, on the summer solstice (plus two days), watching the sunset, writing about the year previous and the year ahead. There is a cool breeze coming off the mountains behind me. I’m guessing the sun will dip below Antelope Island in about 10 minutes.

The past 12 months have been such a transition. I’m thinking about all I accomplished professionally – increased freelancing, leaving the newspaper – and the goals I didn’t quite reach. I really should be writing more than I am. Actually, I’m probably more than ever, but it’s mostly professional – words for others that I get a check in return, not the words that I wish I was typing. My blogging has sloughed off, and the ideas for other blog projects are still just that. How can I remedy that in the next year? The transition is still in progress, and I’m hoping by next year – ideally, much sooner than 12 months – I have my writing goals figured out.

Does that sound restless? We had such a busy spring, which coincided with me quitting the newspaper, that I am feeling restless. I feel summer zipping by even though it’s only been three weeks since school ended. I see things around the house I want to get to and haven’t. Every time I’ve been driving to a better weight, my efforts slow down and I settle into a few pounds heavier than I want to be (though I’m still lighter than I was six months ago). I spend a good amount of time with the boys but I wish it was more. 

Ben and I walked to get a snow cone last week, and it was the kind of moment I want to savor. The summer night was warm, and it was that or watch more TV. We made the better choice, even if the snow cones were way too sugary. Better choices are what’s going to get me to the goals I seek. I don’t think the choices have been necessarily been terrible, either. But there’s always room for improvement, and that space is what I need to traverse.

So as I sit here tonight, with the sun about to drop below the mountain ridge, I’m thinking ahead. If I felt on the verge last year, I feel ready to make the leaps I’ve been waiting to leap. Why wait?

Sunset achieved

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 28

This was a summer day. Not overwhelmingly summer, but a good summer day nonetheless.

The sun was shining and the temperature climbed into the 80s. The boys had swim practice, and Michael had basketball camp. We all went to breakfast this morning at Original Pancake House. We went back to the pool for a few hours, and though I didn't swim too much, I did do my annual jump off the diving board to remind myself that I can swim in deep water. Ben and I, and Popcorn, walked to get a snow cone later in the evening while it was still light out. I'm sitting on the porch typing, listening to baseball, and enjoying the pleasant night.

Ah, summer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer 2014, days 24-27: The Cooldown

Well, it had to happen: I missed a few days blogging. These four days appropriately coincided with a cold spell that swept through Salt Lake City. On Tuesday night, it was in the low 40s; the upper elevations even got snow. You don't usually see the peaks with a dusting in mid-June, but there they were. The cold and rain blew into town Monday, got really miserable on Tuesday, lost the rain on Wednesday, and finally warmed up near a pleasant 70 degrees on Thursday. SLC seems to get one cold snap between Memorial Day and mid-June before the heat really sets in. Sure enough, temps are supposed to hit the high 90s next week.

The week has been sort of busy and sort of uneventful at the same time. Michael is going to a different basketball camp this week in the morning. Ben and I hit a comic book store Monday, and his head almost exploded (needless to say, he enjoyed the trip). I ran errands with both kids on separate days -- we somehow arrived at Walmart both trips. The boys had a swim meet Wednesday night in the chill; they swam well despite the weather. I've been putzing with the new iPad all week and ran Tuesday and Thursday. We've watched a lot of World Cup soccer.

Those are the highlights. I'm already feeling like summer is going too fast and I'm not getting the boys enough playdates and trips to the pool/waterpark. Of course they are swimming every day, and Michael hung out with his best friend all week between basketball camp and home. The weekend will calm down considerably and hopefully give me a chance to truly breathe in the summer. After the cooldown, that should be an easy task..

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 23

I wanted to go for a hike with my family on Father's Day. My family obliged.

The morning was a little cloudy, and I was a little concerned that the day would stay that way (the mountains are at a higher risk of lightning strikes even when it's not raining). The alternate plan was to see "How to Train Your Dragon 2." But the skies cleared up enough for the hike, and it wasn't even too hot today -- this was perfect summer hiking weather. We went up Rattlesnake Gulch to the Salt Lake Valley Overlook in Millcreek Canyon -- a hike I've done maybe three times already this year but never disappoints. I actually caught a little glimpse of a rattlesnake on the weeds off the trail; Popcorn briefly investigated some rustling, and I only saw a little of the body (and heard no rattle) to quickly shoo her off back onto the trail. The rest of the hike was great. I'm happy we got to spend the time together on the trail instead just the dog and me.

We picked up Barbacoa on the way home. The rest of the day was a lazy-ish Sunday. I got a little work done, the boys played with a neighbor, and we watched Game 5 of the NBA Finals (the Spurs won the series). Lori made a delicious breakfast of French toast, egg muffins, and bacon (I only got two slices -- the boys went a little bacon crazy ...). And that was it for Father's Day, and it was good.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 22

A Saturday without sports but a lot of parties. Ben had a birthday party first, then the boys' end-of-season baseball party was on tap for the afternoon, then we went to a friend's 40th kid-friendly birthday party in the evening. The kids were exhausted by the end of the day, especially Ben, who was overtired by the end of the day. I was tired, too -- I had run with the dog in the morning and didn't quite feel like taking her for a walk in the evening after we got home from the last party. "Thirteen Days" was on TV, and I hadn't seen that in a while and was content to watch while playing Ticket to Ride on my iPad.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 21

We can chalk this Friday the 13th up as being the first official lazy day of summer.

Michael played Minecraft with his best friend from across the street for hours starting this morning, and Ben's best friend is out of town. Around noon, I started realizing I had very little incentive to do much today. I had caught up with all my freelance work and was looking forward to a work-free weekend. That went out the window when I was informed that I had been given the wrong documents for a news release I wrote this week So much for my work-free weekend, though I'm not rushing to rewrite the release after their mistake. But the debacle put me in a more restless mood.

Ben and I did get out of the house, going to the game store for a birthday present and to some thrift stores (found a classic version of Risk and kids Penguins jersey for Ben). I got home and the boredom was really setting in. Michael complained his friend and Ben were suggesting things he didn't want to do. I even offered to take them to the pool and he didn't want to go. Lori reminded me that this is why we schedule so much during the summer. Maybe we were all just tired after the long week.

Lori met some friends out in the evening, so it was just the boys and I. I made ravioli for dinner, and we played Carcassonne (Michael won). We took the dog and drove to the H Rock to watch the sunset and to at least get out on a nice summer night. The dog had thrown up a little bile during the day and I wanted to get her outside and see how she felt. She was stoked and ran the whole time on the short hike. Though it was getting cloudy as we left the house, we caught the sun dipping below Antelope Island at the perfect time (unfortunately, the camera on my phone didn't cooperate).

Michael wanted to climb up to the actual H Rock, and the dog followed. He came down another way, but that trail was a little steep too, and he decided to scoot down the last 30 feet or so on his butt. Watching him do this, he looked like he was 3 again. Maybe it was his longer hair right now or being bunched up as he scooted, but I was taken back to when he was littler. He got to the bottom and stood up, betraying the preschooler image by standing 5-foot-4. But it was nice to see the little kid in him still, even for a moment, amid the 10-year-old he's become. And it was a reminder that even lazy days can be special, and making them so is important while the kids are still kids.

Summer 2014, Day 20

The boys completed basketball camp today, and both had fun all week. Michael continued to mostly shoot with his better form, and Ben was his usual happy, bouncy self. I didn't get to see the whole session, as I needed to get some work done and found a Starbucks. But from what I did see today and all week, I'm glad we signed them up for the camp -- especially Ben, who wants to come back next year.

The rest of the day was mostly uneventful. Lori took Michael to basketball practice (yes, he played a lot of hoops today) while Ben and I played a couple board games and watched Game 4 of the NBA Finals. I got a haircut this morning and took the dog a long walk at night. Got sucked into a "Kitchen Nightmares" episode (why?) and am about ready to call it a night. I'm ready for a weekend.

Summer 2014, Day 19

After Michael complained about his basketball coach's suggestion Tuesday night, I was expecting at least a discussion with him about it today. But he surprised me, and I'm so proud of him.

He had swim practice early, then had some time at the JCC while Ben was in the pool. Michael to the gym, found a basketball, and practiced his shot the way his coaches want him to. He came home and showed me, then did it the same way at camp to the praise of the head coach. No arguments -- he got the idea he needed to do this if he wanted to get better. I watched him during camp, and there were still a few times he dropped his hands on his shot instead of holding the form, but even that will dissipate as he practices. He loves basketball and wants to get better, and knows he will need to work hard to get there.

The day was filled with sports -- the boys had a swim meet in the evening. They raced great. Michael put up some good times despite not being able to practice too much lately (I hope that doesn't go to his head). Ben looked awesome, swimming five races and capping his night with a blazing time to lead off the freestyle relay in which he was on the B relay that still took second (behind the A relay). This was a great start to what might be their best season.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 18

Today, Lori stayed at basketball camp with the boys while I spent the afternoon at home. I was mildly productive, getting some freelance work done, but I also enjoyed the new iPad.

I did run with the dog in the morning; later, I took Michael to basketball practice and watched the session. We're at odds right now -- his coach wants him to change his shooting form, but he doesn't quite have the range on it yet and just wants to chuck it like he usually does. I spent my whole walk with the dog stewing over the argument he is throwing at us. Michael befuddles me sometimes: He wants to be good at things but never wants to put in any sort of work toward it. Guitar, reading, baseball, math -- you name it, he's complained about it. Basketball is usually the exception, but he's resisting this shooting suggestion. His coach told me that she doesn't mind if he shoots airballs for now -- just get the form down. He doesn't want to airball it. Hence, the impasse.

Michael and I will talk in the morning, when I should be not as annoyed. Tomorrow is a busy day -- besides basketball camp, the boys have their first swim meet of the season.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 17

The first super busy week (of three) began today. The boys had their first morning swim practice of the season and then basketball camp in the afternoon. Lori took them to swim, and I think it went off without a hitch.

I took them to basketball camp -- three hours of hoops fun -- and stayed the entire time while I also worked. Ben had a lot of fun, saying it was a good day. Michael had fun, too, but anything basketball-related is old hat for him. This was Ben's first exposure to this much basketball -- dribbling, shooting, passing -- all at once. He's never going to be a comp player like Michael, but I would like him to become good enough to hold his own in rec play. He's not bad little shooter (though he's so skinny he can't shoot from too far out -- he's been challenging himself to make a free throw), and hopefully he'll some more confidence dribbling after this week.

I got home to an early Father's Day present. Lori and I have talked about getting an iPad for a long time, and I found a good price on a refurbished third-generation device. This was going to be a "surprise" from the boys. The surprise was that it got here sooner than expected and that the boys didn't want to wait for Sunday. So I got my Father's Day present six days early. The boys and I bought a case for it after dinner, and I purchased my first game for it: Ticket to Ride.

Dinner was grilled ribs, and I took the dog for a long walk in the evening. Monday complete.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 16

I tackled the garage today. It tackled back.

I had been planning on clearing out the garage -- taking everything out, reorganizing, throwing some stuff out -- for a few weeks now, and today seemed like the best opportunity. I took Popcorn on a hike on the dog trail this morning, then ate lunch and started the job. Four hours and a cut finger (achieved while taking the kid pedal trailer off Lori's bike), I was finished. And exhausted.

Ben and I went to Walmart for some things, and I took the dog for another walk after the NBA Finals Game 2 completed (Heat beat Spurs -- boo). And now I'm blogging outside and it's getting a little chilly. Going to wrap this up and get a good night's sleep in preparation for a busy week ahead.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 15

Baseball season ended today, but let's get the rest of the day out of the way first.

I had a hell of a time trying to grill today. The new propane tank I bought didn't work, then the meat thermometer gave me a minor false reading and I had to put the steaks and chicken back on the grill. The T-bones at least turned out well (I can't speak for the chicken). We played the board game Dominion tonight as a family (I won, but just barely!) and then I got a bit lazy, only managing to take the dog around the block (she had been at Ben's baseball game and got enough outside time then).

Now for baseball. Three years ago, in Michael's first season of machine pitch, Ben would be don a helmet and be a runner during fielding practice. One day, he asked if he could get in the batter's box and try hitting a pitch. On the second ball, he amazingly hit it. Not far, but he got his bat on it. At another practice, he did it again at age 5. He played t-ball that summer and would hit lobbed baseballs when he was at-bat (the kids had a coach-pitch option instead of using the tee). The next year, in an effort to simplify our lives, we signed Ben and Michael up for the same machine pitch team, thinking that Ben already knew how to hit the ball.

Unfortunately, he struggled that first season, I think ending up with only two hits. But he had fun and learned the game. The next spring, at his first practice, he got into the batter's box and started hitting the machine pitches. I was so relieved, but the success was short-lived. He took a pitch off his finger -- I think he just swung too soon -- and lost all his confidence. He would start swinging at anything just to get it out of the way, hoping maybe he'd get lucky and hit it. But he knew the game, asking if he could just take a walk. He finished they year with two hits and a couple foul balls.

This season, Ben struggled from the get-go. But after getting two foul balls in his first game, I was convinced he was ready to break out of his slump.He didn't. Again, it looked like he was swinging just for the sake of swinging. I'd tell him to swing at the ball, and he would complain that he was, not getting that I wanted him to aim his bat at the pitch and not just swing for the heck of it. He'd swing too soon before the ball even got near the late, and by the end of the year developed a weird kink in which he was lifting his front shoulder and then swinging the bat. He was frustrated. I was frustrated.

Ben finished the year with just one hit. I was soft-tossing oversized whiffle balls to him before the game, and he was even missing those. I wish I knew how he was a better hitter when he was barely 5 than when he was 8. He struck out three times today. After the last one, he wasn't upset or sad but had a smile a resigned smile on his face. I kissed him and told him "good try." The Diamondbacks went on to win 12-2.

I don't know about next year yet. Ben says he wants to try kid pitch. Indeed, some of the pitchers next year won't pitch quite as fast as the machine (which was set at only about 30 mph). And he can take the walks he so covets and not swing at all -- I've seen kids get plenty of runs this way. He's a decent fielder, and he does like the game. But seeing no improvement in three seasons has been rough, for him and me. I'm still proud of Ben, of course, but part of me hopes he focuses on the sports he's better at -- soccer, basketball and, especially, swimming. The other part of me wants him to keep trying and not give up. I know a coach who does wonders teaching kids to hit, but he's so over the top that he can drive you crazy. Do I make a deal with the devil to get Ben help with his bat? And if I do, what happens if even that doesn't work?

I'm just happy the season is over for both boys. That's the last spring commitment, and now we can focus on all our summer plans. Basketball camp starts in two days ...