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 ...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 14

Michael's last baseball game of the season was tonight. The Giants had reached the championship game and were playing a team that was undefeated. Even as an assistant coach I was antsy about this game for a couple days. We had played the Sharks tough the last time, and I wanted our kids to not get blown out in the last game of the year.

The Giants didn't win. But, oh, we were so close. We lost 7-6, giving the Sharks their toughest game of the year after we probably gave them their previous toughest in the other loss. We actually led 6-5 at one point -- which was the first time the Sharks had trailed outside the top of the first inning all season -- but a bad bounce here, a unfortunate dribbler there, and we lost by one run. Michael contributed to making this game close, doubling in two runs and stealing home. The Giants finished 12-4 for second place -- an amazing achievement in a 12-team league.

One more baseball game to go: Ben's last game is tomorrow. There's nothing on the line here, just a chance to play one more time.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer 2013, Day 13

Today was another busy day, but instead of running errands, we cemented the rest of the summer. Our vacation in July is now set, and the boys are registered for soccer (both for the fall, Ben for a camp as well). I completed some online errands, too -- ordering some phone accessories and furnace filters. I have this yellow sticky on my laptop that was full of tasks, and it got a lot smaller today. I'm looking forward to it being blank. Again, this feels like a transition week into the meaty part of summer. Though it was a good day, I'm ready for more fun.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 12

Kind of a busy Wednesday. I had many errands to run, including getting new tires for the Outback. In the afternoon, I worked on the lawn, putting some EZ Seed on a large bare spot with the hope that some grass will actually grow this summer. Ben had a baseball game in the evening. The day went by quickly, and after a long walk with the dog, I was exhausted. I really just want to get through this week.

Summer 2014, Day 11

At my sons' school, the last day before summer vacation is just like many other schools' last day -- a little celebration of the completed year. At Open Classroom, it's even more of a party: The kids gets individualized awards for their contributions to the class, there's a brunch in every room, and parents can take their children home earlier than the already earlier dismissal time.

My grade school, St. Eugene, was similar, except we finished with Mass and got our report cards. We were free, and it was awesome. My boys didn't seem as excited today. Ben was sad because one of his friends -- the only one he's been a classmate of all three years at the OC -- is moving this summer to Washington. Michael was mellow, too, though not sad: When we went to pick him up (his class did awards before Ben's), he was sitting with his friend Hazel, who gave him a big hug goodbye and said to call her (but don't call her his girlfriend -- he got so mad when I even implied it last week!). I played "Summer Belongs to You" by Phineas and Ferb on the way home, like I do every year after school ends. We got home and had a "Now what?" moment. Ben got on the computer to play Club Penguin. Michael and two neighborhood friends set up an unsuccessful Otter Pop stand. I mowed the lawn.

Later, Michael had basketball practice -- his first team practice with the comp program he's been doing skill sessions with for a couple months. The coaches worked him hard, to the point he thought he was going to throw up after. He'll get used to the level of play soon enough. I checked in on the baseball game he was missing -- the Giants won to advance to the championship game. Another short walk with the dog and some writing on the porch to complete the day.

I'm sure I won't be as antsy as I sometimes felt this afternoon. Summer vacation really begins tomorrow.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 10

The boys swam a practice, intrasquad meet tonight -- a tuneup before the season starts next week. Michael swam OK -- you could tell he needs to get more laps under his belt because the endurance just isn't there yet. For example, the first 25 of his 50 breaststroke was fast, but then he tired out on the second half. Ben swam fast but got tripped up by technical details. He didn't take enough strokes after seeing the flag on his backstroke (his arm also hit the lane line); he forgot to touch the wall with two hands on the breaststroke and butterfly; he performed a flip turn too soon on his 50 free and wasn't near the wall when he was done. That said, every time he got tonight was a PR over last season. Once he figures out the mechanics, he's going to be cruising.

:Lori and I enjoyed a nice lunch at Sea Salt. We are vowing that will be our last time out to eat until vacation in July. I helped time the swim meet, so I only took Popcorn for about a 2-mile walk after we got home. Today was the boys' last full day of school; just a half-day tomorrow and summer vacation begins!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer 2014, Day 9

With all the sports yesterday and the busy week we endured, I wanted Sunday to be a day of recuperation of sorts. It started out that way when I slept until 9:30. Then came Costco.

We needed a big trip to Costco to stock up for what is shaping up to be a very active summer. Lori was just going to make the excursion herself, but I offered to join her and let the boys stay at home, but then we decided to take two cars (to gas both up for the week) and the whole family. To paraphrase a line from "The Brady Bunch Movie:" Put on your Sunday best, kids, we're going to Costco!

A loaded Outback later, we returned home for the long process of unloading, sorting and putting away all the groceries. Before long, it was 2 p.m. and I had a work project to finish. I completed the writing, then took Michael to baseball practice. After not wanting to put in much extra practice all season, he suddenly wanted to get some hitting in afterward. Someone else was using the field, however, so we just went home. After dinner, I took the dog on a long walk that included a short jaunt through Wasatch Hollow.

The boys have only two days of school remaining. I'm already planning keeping up with all the things they have scheduled, as well as all the leisure ahead.