Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pins to the left, pins to the right

Michael's birthday was a few weeks ago, but December had been so busy that we weren't able to throw any sort of party for him and his friends until today. With a sleepover not an option with Lori's parents staying with us through the winter, we pondered either bowling or swimming. Over the weekend, we settled on bowling, sent last-minute invitations, and hoped that it wasn't too short notice.

It wasn't, because we ended up with 13 kids bowling (counting Michael and Ben). Everyone had fun, though it became a little chaotic as the kids got a little more wired near the end. Unlike a swim party, in which the kids would have spread out across the pool, everyone was in a concentrated spot (three lanes) and were able to socialize and laugh a lot. I don't know if anyone broke 100, but nobody cared -- they weren't there to win or lose (although Ben got annoyed when he threw gutter balls).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Michael played in a basketball tournament with his club team the past few days. Tonight was the championship game in his bracket, and his team lost a nail-biter, 37-34. His team had a chance to maybe win the game but just couldn't quite get the winning basket. Michael played perhaps the toughest game I've ever seen him play -- he scored only four points but pulled down a lot of rebounds and played good defense against a good, physical team.

This is how much I know that Michael is passionate about basketball: After the tough loss, he sulked. Not pouted, not whined, but sulked just enough because he was upset about the close game. Lori and I telling him how proud we were of him and how we love watching him play didn't help. His coach and other parents telling him what a great game he played didn't help. Opening a box of Candy Cane Joe-Joe cookies didn't help.

He'll recover by morning. I don't want him to dwell on losses, but he's allowed to be bummed out by some of them, at least for a little while.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Experiences, exponential

Every December, I enjoy driving with the family around Salt Lake City, looking at Christmas lights, listening to holiday music. The only challenge -- getting a free night in which everybody is free and has the energy for an hour or two in the car. Maybe I just enjoy the adventure more than everyone else, but each year, I try.

Last Wednesday, Michael wanted to stay home and Lori was tired, but I recruited Ben to look at the lights. Our first destination was a house up in the Avenues that is ridiculously lit up every year. We spent about 15 minutes just gawking, then went to Barnes and Noble for hot chocolate. We drove up onto the benches, stopped and gazed and the lights of the valley, heard three different versions of "Baby It's Cold Outside" and finished our night cruising through the country club neighborhood (not as impressive as you would think).

It wasn't much, just me and my 9-year-old, but it was an experience I hope never to forget. Remembering these moments, savoring them, seeking them out, and, yes, blogging about them, is so important. Some of these experiences we will inevitably forget; others will last. Either way, they are valuable.

To quote Styx, "Give me the lights, precious lights ..."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Quest for 100

This is my 95th blog post of 2015. Let me rephrase that -- it's my 95th blog post on The 43. I've written 292 posts for work clients. That's part of the challenge I've grappled with for a few years now -- I put so much writing energy toward professional content that I don't often have energy to write for me. Finding the time and wherewithal for both (a balance, to be cliche) is a goal for 2016, because I don't want to be south of the the 100 mark (or even the 200 mark) again.

That said, I'm trying to make to 100 for 2015, and I need to write a lot in the next few days to get there. This has been a nice holiday weekend -- relaxing, full of board games, cold walks with the dog, a basketball game, fantasy football, and, thankfully, no work. I cleared my head to think about 2016, accepting the fact the last year went way too fast. Only these last four days remain, four days to write five posts to put me at 100.

Let 2015 conclude with a bang!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Yule

For the first Christmas in many years, the boys opened presents when there was actual daylight outside our front window. The slightly later start began a mellow Christmas day that was blessedly uneventful.

Michael didn't wake up until after 7 a.m., and the day moved at a slow pace after that. We opened presents, had breakfast, I got a quick nap, watched "A Christmas Story," ate lunch, tried out my new snowshoes with Popcorn up at the H Rock, took another quick nap, watched basketball, played three games of Pandemic with Ben (it's such a fun board game), and am now sitting with just the glow of the Christmas tree and an REM documentary on VH1 Classic.

The mellow day was appreciated. I used to work almost every Christmas day, because I always preferred having Christmas Eve off, and with no family nearby, the holiday was easy overtime. Today, I was happy there was no work on my agenda, nothing planned other than some board game playing. We don't quite have a midday Christmas tradition, but maybe being mellow will be enough.

I went outside tonight to get the dog around the block one more time, and I saw in the southeast sky the star I had picked out for my grandmother after she died last March. I missed her a little today, though growing up, we didn't really see her on Christmas Day -- usually, it was Christmas Eve. The last Christmas holiday we saw her and my grandfather was 1999, when we still lived in Madison. I'm trying to recall that holiday -- I bought the coffee table for Lori that I'm looking at right now in our living room.

A quick present rundown for 2015: I got the snowshoes, a tumbler for tea at my favorite coffee shop, a Dice Masters expansion, and a Star Wars t-shirt. Lori got a neck messager from the boys. Michael got Super Smash Brothers and Star Trek Attack Fleet, plus a new basketball backpack. Ben got a Big Ben Lego set, a water polo ball, a Galaxy Trucker expansion, and an iPod touch case.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Autumns: 4

I was back working full-time nights after moving to Utah, and Lori let me sleep every morning after I'd be up past 1 a.m. every night (our deadlines were later back then, and I could never just come home and go to sleep. However, this late September morning, not two months after we moved, she woke me up early. Our apartment had a balcony with a nice little view of the Salt Lake Valley, and this day, for the first time, there was snow on the mountains across the distance. The sight -- one we never had growing up -- cemented the reality or our move into a new chapter in our lives. And it sure was pretty.

The sunsets in November are even more amazing. The sun drops beyond the Oquirrh Mountains, giving off an orange glow above the silhouetted peaks. The view is unique to my Utah experience, but it feels like the Novembers I have encountered my whole life.

I played so much Atari in 1982. Megamania and Pitfall. Berserk and Defender. Starmaster and Demon Attack. E.T. came out November, and wow, it was frustrating. Grandma bought me Earthworld that fall, which I foolishly chose over Wizard of Wor.

I started a paper route that fall. I listened to WLS and WBBM a lot, and taped songs off the radio. "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson and "Hold On" by Santana especially remind me of that November.

If I could divide my youth between little kid and not so little kid, it would be around this November. Of course, being close to my teen years had something to do with it, but everything got a bit more serious. I knew more about the dangers of the world (remember, this wasn't a fun time to be a kid during the Cold War). I pondered things for hours, especially while walking the paper route. And I sprouted taller -- 10 inches over the next three years.

Just like fall 1979 seemed to start something new, as did 1987, as did 2000, as did many autumns over the decades, a new phase was beginning.

Lori and I only had one day to do what we needed to do in Madison. She had a job interview, and we needed to find an apartment. We got an early start from Milwaukee, and the afternoon was cloudy and rainy. I heard an awesome '70s station that would switch formats in six weeks. Lori's interview went well, and we went to Irish Waters for lunch. Not quite knowing my way around the west side of Madison, I got on the Beltline on Mineral Point Road and headed back east, rather than just turning back east toward the city. The expressway curved into a view of five or six large apartment complexes lining the side of the road. We veered off the Gammon Road exit and checked out almost each one.

Three weeks later, we were Madisonians. The night we moved in, I drove to find Chinese takeout for dinner, and felt like I had arrived. The previous year was limbo at my former newspaper, and I deep down knew we'd be in another city when it was all said and done. We lucked out in that we landed in Madison.

The first couple months or so in Mad Town were unique for me. Lori was commuting to Milwaukee through November before her new job started up. I was getting used to early mornings (my new job was an afternoon newspaper), and my afternoons were sometimes spent driving around my new city or exploring walks to take in our new neighborhood. The November evenings arrived so early -- Lori didn't get home each night until it was dark. Eventually, our routine normalized, and we thrived in Madison. We got engaged in 1996, married in 1997. Lori got her degree from the UW. In retrospect, our five years in Madison were the dreamiest time of our lives.

Lori is in her third trimester with Michael. We are in our new house, and one October midweek she is out of town and I'm painting the impending baby's room blue, in preparation for my sister visiting and turning the walls into an ocean scene. The temperature drops on one of those days, and I don my winter coat for the first time and take a little walk around our new neighborhood.

I managed to make every one of Lori's OB/GYN appointments, and on one visit this fall, were are waiting in an exam room for the doctor to come in. I leafed through a Parents magazine, eyeing the pictures of kids dressed for fall, outside amid an autumn setting. I began imagining walking my kids to school during the fall, in a perfect setting as visualized in the magazine. And ... I started tearing up. Our lives were about to change so incredibly, so wonderfully, that all I could do was be overwhelmed in that moment.
That morning, now almost six weeks ago, that I hiked through the conservancy, I was feeling wistful. I missed Madison, and not just the time Lori and I spent there, but the fact we weren't living there with the boys. We did have dreams of staying in Madison and starting our family there, but our goals changed and we landed in Utah -- and we did so with no regrets.

I'm thinking that my overall mood is tied to how smooth or rocky work is going. Leading up to the Madison trip, the previous two months had been rough, so perhaps it was no wonder I was feeling so nostalgic, so missing a place that was special to Lori and me. I spent that walk thinking about the goals I had in Madison -- some that I achieved, and some that remain unfulfilled. The latter were the ones that were bringing me down. We were leaving that day, we only had a couple days of vacation remaining, and it would be back to the grind.

But a funny thing happened once we got back, and especially in the past few weeks -- work settled down, and my outlook brightened, even in the cloudiness and chill of November. I'm not sure what that says on an overall level, but at least it's a reminder that long-term gloom may be nothing more than my work mood at the moment. Again, that might lead to more examination of how to meet the goals that are always evolving; however, it's not, and never is, a reason to look way back.

We left Madison that Sunday via the Beltline, taking the same curve we did 20 years earlier (perhaps almost to the day). This time, we didn't take the Gammon Road exit, though I was tempted. Hopefully, we make it back another autumn to take the boys the another UW football game, maybe to Elver Park for a hike along the cross country ski trails, maybe to Governor Nelson State Park, maybe to the capitol.

Autumn was always about change for me, whether it was many the falls I have written about and several more I didn't. As for 2015, nothing quite changed, but something seemed different. With winter on its way, and then spring and summer and another fall, we'll see where it all leads.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Autumns: 3

November in Chicago isn't my favorite time of year in my hometown. But in a sense, it's the most perfect definition of what being a Chicagoan is. I delineate this stretch as the weeks between my birthday on Nov. 6 and the first snow in which the ground stayed covered. It encompasses Thanksgiving. It is characterized by gray skies, 40-degree highs, and incredibly early sunsets. Darkness settles over the city before 5 p.m., but it's not quite winter yet. The time is just ... bland, lacking any features.

And yet, Chicagoans endure this time. They know winter is ahead, yet they go about their days, working, living, pushing forward. Even today, I can listen to a Chicago radio station (via the Internet, of course) in November and this characteristic is evident. Rejuvenating May afternoons, quiet summer mornings, crisp Octobers, and even stark, snowy winter evenings are more appealing, but November is more defining.

Fall 1987 turned out to be my last autumn as a full-time Chicagoan. I went to school in Milwaukee, and though I'd make it home for Thanksgiving every year and winter break around mid-December as a freshman and sophomore, I haven't spent more than four or five days in Chicago in November (and none since we moved to Utah) since my senior year of high school.

These days were memorable. My senior year retreat was in November 1987 -- a rather intense weekend. I hung out with my friends a lot, and it was never boring. I saw "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" and listened to New Order. I visited Marquette for the first time. The skies were gray or sunny and cold, but not snowy. I was getting by, just like every other Chicagoan.

I've written about this autumn before -- spending a weekend with my grandparents, seeing "Urban Cowboy" with my grandmother and seeing a Bears game with my grandfather. The rest of the fall was OK, mostly cloudy. I got a Mattel Football 2 electronic game for my birthday that I still own today. I got to see a Houston Oilers walkthrough at Soldier Field and got Earl Campbell's autograph. I roller skated a lot.

My grandfather died in September of this year. Grandma was still so devastated when I first got into town, but the next day at the wake, she became the matriarch, being strong for the entire family, never shedding a tear -- even at the funeral (when I had to excuse myself when I started sobbing). She was sad, of course, but she got her mourning in and now did what she needed to for everyone else. Was she wondering that day how much time she'd have left, how long before she could reunite with the love of her life?

We stayed a couple extra days after the funeral and took Michael to the aquarium. When we returned to Utah, we found out that Lori was pregnant. We decided that if we were having a boy, his middle name would be Joseph after the child's great-grandfather he would never get to meet.

Despite the sadness of Grandpa's passing, this was generally a good fall. A year later, I'd be more stressed out than I would ever be in my life, culminating in me scaling back at the newspaper. I kept thinking of my grandfather for some guidance -- the endurance required to get what you needed to get done for the people you love. I wish I could have gotten that advice from him in person ...

The gray has set in a little in Salt Lake -- nothing like Chicago, but a definite indicator of November. This month is actually pretty nice here. Growing up, I always associated my birthday with gray, cold, and dark (and even a bit snowy). Since moving here, my birthday has been sunny for the most part; last year, Lori and I enjoyed lunch alfresco.

My grandmother would have been 86 this month. This is my first November without her. She outlived Grandpa by 10 years, but ultimately, the cancer that killed him was too much for her as well. They were tough, hard-working Chicagoans. I wonder how they made it through each November.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Autumns: 2

Have you ever reflected upon a certain period of your life and thought that it was the time when everything was clicking perfectly? I look at the fall of 2011 and think the stars were aligned. The summer going into that autumn was absolutely great. The streak continued through the fall. Ben was thriving as he started kindergarten, and Michael was enjoying second grade. I only coached Ben's soccer team that fall, but Michael was on an advanced rec team and learned so much -- it was one of the first times his natural athleticism that we take for granted now began to show through. I was getting steady freelance editing work and doing the NFL page for the newspaper on Sundays. Popcorn was in the height of her puppyhood and was so much fun.

Of course, it didn't last.

The first autumn I truly have flashback-type memories of in 1979, when I was in fourth grade. I do remember football on Halloweens from earlier falls, but it wasn't until the end of the decade that the experiences took hold beyond the normal reminiscences and into true moments in which something random triggers a strong memory. That's odd, because I can go take summers back to 1975, winters and spring to 1976. Fall never made an impact until fourth grade.

I've written about this autumn before, but I can't find the post to link. There was a leaf project for school. My great-grandfather who I barely knew died. Mom bought me an Old Farmer's Almanac. The Eagles were on the radio, a lot. The Bears didn't suck and made the playoffs. I experienced my first sleepover at a friend's house.

In fall 2015, Ben is a fourth-grader. Already.

Lori and I had been living for three years in Madison, and we were starting to believe that maybe we would be there for the long haul -- so much so that we were looking at houses. We weren't quite ready to buy, but we probably could have swung it. We didn't have much debt, and at the time, we were loving Madison.

The first house we looked at was the one we fell in love with. It was on Sunset Court, which was four streets that formed a square, all with the same street name. Once we finally figured that out, we found the house and loved it. It was maybe 50 or 60 years old, wooden house, nice upstairs with a room that was too tall to stand in but perfect for a kids' playroom. The block was filled with large trees and had a park in the middle, and the house's yard was big. It was within walking distance of our parish; our kids could have theoretically walked to Catholic school. We knew we shouldn't fall for the first house we see, but everything we saw after it wasn't the same.

A few months later, we financed a second car, not realizing it would reduce the borrowing power we'd have for a house. The $130K houses weren't as appealing as the $175K, so we backed off. Soon, we'd both get antsy about our jobs and realized it was time to go, a decision made easier by the fact we didn't own a house.

Though I wouldn't trade our highway for anything, because it delivered us to the life and family we have now, I wonder how much different life would have been if we took a bold step and bought the house on Sunset Court. We'd likely have two teenagers by now. We would have lived through the small tornado that hit Madison a few years after we left. I would have raked a lot. I can't pinpoint the house on Zillow, but likely, it would be worth around $300K. Not that we would have sold because it would have been our neighborhood. Just like we aren't selling our current house in SLC, because it is our neighborhood and we love it.

Nothing has quite clicked this fall. Vacation was nice but ended too fast. I seem to be always anxious about something. I found out last week that our parish's athletic director goofed up and promised another parent the chance to coach Ben's basketball team. That just seemed to pile on everything else.

I'm sitting on the porch writing this, and it's been unnaturally warm tonight. A windstorm is supposed to blow in and the temps are forecast to drop. It's Nov. 2, yet I haven't needed to rake yet -- our linden still has most of its leaves (which hardly changed colors this fall), and the maple still has about of a quarter of its red leaves. The timetable just isn't making sense.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 7

Last day of vacation. Mellow. Productive. Fun.

We took the car back to the rental car place, then picked up one last SuperDawg at Michael's request. I wrote a lot today; Lori read a lot today. The boys went for a bike ride and saw a movie with the grandfather. I took a long walk on the forest preserve bike trail and back through Wildwood. Dad bought Lou Malnati's pizza for dinner one more time, and I'm again thoroughly full. We played Ticket to Ride, and Ben won again. We're just about packed and ready to go for our morning flight.

This trip was way too short -- we may have spoiled ourselves on our previous trips that lasted 10 or more days. Or maybe we just needed a longer break after a busy two months. But it was a great trip back nonetheless. I'll be sad to leave but will be glad to get home and focus on the rest of the year. Only 9 1/2 weeks until Christmas, 72 days until 2016.

Time to fly in about 10 hours ...

Autumns: 1


The leaves is Chicago seem greener than they should be for Oct. 19. Of course, they were completely green in front of our house when we left Salt Lake; even the maple that goes a pretty shade of maroon hadn't quite changed. Perhaps we will see more color when we return. Here, there is mostly green with some yellow. The lawn in front of my father's house will need to be raked soon -- that hasn't changed over the years at this date -- but it's not covered yet.

Autumn technically stretches all the way into December, but don't kid yourself, Thanksgiving is the mental end of the season. That puts mid-October right in the middle of it.

September and October of eighth grade may have been the most pleasant months of any fall in my youth. Every memory is a sunny day, the scant need for a sweatshirt, and the leaves.

And a song. And a music video.

The music of this fall keeps coming back to me, over and over. I would tape "Friday Night Videos" and watch it repeatedly; then record the next week's on a different Beta tape.

Those first two months of eighth grade, through my birthday, still felt like seventh grade. Or maybe even sixth or fifth. The rest of eighth grade wasn't as carefree -- it seemed that when I passed 13, the teenage angst really started piling on. For two months, however, fall was perfect.

Michael started 3-year-old preschool this fall. Each day is a playful adventure for him. He's made great friends and has met them at the park for playdates. Ben loves walking to pick him up from school and joining him at the park.

However, the school we chose is not what we expected or even wanted, and clearly is not a good fit for him or us. As fall winds down, this becomes apparent. Michael starts at a new preschool in January, and we never look back.

The Bears are winning in convincing fashion. They will go on to win the Super Bowl in January.

Fall was excellent. I had as closest as I would get to a high school girlfriend during this time. I really got serious about cross country and was diligent all November training for track next year. I was getting almost straight A's as a sophomore after struggling my freshman year.

Except for the Bears winning the Super Bowl and a couple other minor triumphs, I would remove 1986 completely from my life if given the chance. That's too bad, because the lead-up, minus a couple minor fall hiccups, was amazing.

"Looking out, across the morning ..."

I went on this amazing hike at the Pheasant Ridge Conservancy in Middleton. The hike reminded me of the ones I used to take in Madison when we lived here. The colors on trees are exploding in the distance. I know I shouldn't go out too far, that I need to get back so we can all go to breakfast, but the trail keeps pulling me into the distance, toward the rural land that is closer to the metro Madison area than one might think. I try to make sense of everything going on in my life -- the kids growing older so quickly, my job, the fact that vacation is ending in a couple days -- and can't think of a better location or moment to do so. A single windmill is visible in the distance, and though it's one of a group, all in my view is the one, the rest obscured by trees.

Lori texts me and tells me to come back, and though I'm starving for breakfast, I want to explore the rest of the land and take more pictures. I want 15 more minutes out here, savoring songs from 30 years ago, inhaling the crisp fall air, soaking in the sun.

We drove back to Chicago that afternoon and stopped in a gas station in Janesville. I added a few gallons to the gas tank and went into the store to buy something salty. "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson is playing over the Kwik Trip speakers, and it is invoking the fall memories as much as my earlier hike did. I'm so glad we took this trip back in the fall. So many autumns ...

Fall vacation, day 6

This morning, I got to enjoy the Madison I remembered so well.

We went to the Badger game yesterday, and that's part of the Madison I remember, too. We walk/drove through some of our favorite neighborhoods -- the ones we would have moved to if we stayed in Wisconsin instead of moving to Utah in 2000.

I used to walk a lot in Madison, for exercise and just to get out. I still do, but the Madison walks, for some reason, still resonate. Because I worked so early, I had whole afternoons to get outside. My Friday mornings were like this too on those weeks I worked Friday nights. My two favorite walks were the cross country skiing trails at Elver Park and the long trail at Governor Nelson State Park on the north side of Lake Mendota. Both were wooded and/or rustic trails that provided a nice hike and a chance to think, surrounded by a little bit of nature.

The condo we stayed at this weekend is near the Pheasant Ride Conservancy in Middleton. The land borders a Middleton Park and a state natural area, and trails. I bundled up (too much -- the weather warmed up after Saturday), took my iPod, and went for a morning walk on the trail. I'm not sure how far I went, but I was on the back end of the land when Lori texted me to come back (and it took a half-hour to do so).

That is the capitol, right around the center of the picture.
The hike felt great. It felt like Madison. It felt like fall. It gave me time to think. It gave me some of the recharge I seek from any vacation. I listened to my Fall 1985 mix and enjoyed the sunny autumn day and the chance to be outside in it.

I returned to the condo, and we all went out to breakfast at Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton. The boys got a chance to visit the National Mustard Museum (I am not making that up), where Michael won a free bottle of mustard (also, non-fiction). We drove along downtown and Lake Monona to show the boys more of the town we lived in before Utah. After a quick stop at Starbucks, Lori took the driver seat and I napped in back as we headed back to Chicago.

The Cubs lost again, 4-1 to the Mets. That didn't spoil my great morning hike, but it sure didn't help ...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 5

Jump around! Jump around" Jump up, jump up, and get down!

We took the boys to their first University of Wisconsin football game today. This was also our first in 16 years -- since the last fall we lived in Madison. We were looking forward to the experience as much as them, maybe more, especially for Lori, who was attending games in the 1980s. We woke up early, bundled up (the temperature really dropped today, even with the sun shining), and headed for Camp Randall Stadium.

Our first stop was Target on University Avenue and Midvale Boulevard to get cash and a couple supplies. We weaved our way through the West Side, past the church Lori and I were married in, and parked near West High School. I didn't think we'd get a spot close, and the mile-or-so walk through one of our favorite Madison neighborhoods was nice. We got to the stadium and witnessed the usual flurry of Game Day activity. We got a free hat and mittens from a Toyota promotion and saw Ron Dayne. We witnessed the tubas marching toward the stadium. We bought breakfast -- Polishes and hot dogs -- at a street-side tent. I earned a free pair of cheap sunglasses (which I needed) by filling out a Hyundai survey. We entered stadium and did a lap, buying a bag of hot donuts along the way.

Our seats were very high and in the corner, which was fine considering we were at least in the stadium and bought at face value. The game wasn't super exciting -- Wisconsin defeated Purdue 24-7 -- but the experience was. Almost all the traditions we were used to back in the '90s are still going strong in 2015. And of course, we enjoyed the Jump Around, which is even more popular today than last century. Ben just loved it -- he was even wearing a Jump Around t-shirt to enhance the experience. We stayed for the Fifth Quarter (the band plays for an extra 15 minutes), and hearing all those tunes again was fun (I didn't realize how much I missed the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey" until today). My only quibble with the game is that the band doesn't seem to play as much during timeouts and such; the huge video scoreboard, which new for us, monopolizes that time.

The game ended, and we headed back to our car through the leaf-filled, autumn-exuding Madison neighborhood. We found a Noodles and Company to eat lunch at, then drove past our old apartment  to show the boys where we once lived. More of Lori's family joined us in Madison, and we all went to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. I watched the Cubs lose Game 1 of the NLCS to the Mets.

I hope the boys had fun on this great Saturday. I know Lori and I did.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 4

We drove from Chicago to Madison today in advance of attending the University of Wisconsin football game Saturday. I needed to work in the car, so Lori drove in a trip that seemed amazingly quick. After some perfect fall weather, temperatures had dropped a bit, so the experience was a little chilly but still fun. We ate at Ella's for lunch (meeting Lori's parents there) and drove down to campus, where we wandered up Bascom Hill, walked along Lake Mendota, ate ice cream in the union, and went to the bookstore to purchase Badger gear for the homecoming game.

Afterward, we went to the condo in Middleton we reserved on Airbnb. Driving down University Avenue for the first time in 15 years was an experience -- I had completely forgotten about Lombardino's and Octopus Car Wash. After settling in, we drove to Waunakee for a fish fry dinner at Rex's Innkeeper. Back at the condo, Michael and I watched a "Family Ties" episode that was ironically about the kids using their house as a hotel during homecoming weekend.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 3

Almost every year when I come back to Chicago, I do something trying to reinvigorate a memory from years past. I've visited my old grade school or the park I used to hang out at. I've taken the drive into my old neighborhood that my dad and I made every day for a month after we moved farther out into the city. Even Wednesday night, I hiked into the woods where we ran cross country meets.

Thursday, I tried something different -- recreating a memory not from my childhood, but from the experience of my son and me.

In 2006, we were in Chicago for a friend's wedding, and Michael and I came back a few days earlier while Lori and 4-month-old Ben stayed in Salt Lake City. My parents and grandma got to spend some extra time with Michael, and I got a few days of break that I desperately needed at a particularly stressful period of work. On two of those nights, my sister Kate had soccer practice on the large field next to Taft High School. With nothing else to do, we tagged along, and Michael, not quite 3 years old yet, and I kicked a soccer ball around in the early fall evening. Dad commented how Michael naturally took to kicking the ball. The sun was beginning to set both evenings -- the beautiful orange the beams through the pollution at this time of year. Though this was nine years ago, the moment is vivid.

Nine years later, we are back in Chicago in the fall. Dad is coaching the nearby grade school's sixth-grade boys' soccer team, and today, they had a game at a nearby grade school in the late afternoon early evening. We watched the game and kicked a ball around on the sideline.

OK, it wasn't quite the same. Michael has moved on from soccer, and even though I joked with him about suiting up and helping Dad's team (which didn't have any subs), he didn't want to kick the ball too much. Ben had fun and even warmed up with the team. I let him try some shots on goal after the game (he missed a penalty kick in his last game). The sun began to set. It was fall.

So now I'm wondering if the next 10 years will go to reliving the memories of the boys. Because in a decade, both of them will be in college, and I can't quite believe how fast the last nine have gone since those two fall evenings on the field next to Taft. Most of our memories are Utah-bound, but there are places we haven't gone to in years -- parks, trails, museums, and so on.

The memories are thick, but thankfully, they don't seem so distant yet.

(The rest of Thursday was good. We picked up the rental car, and Michael and I went to Nick's for lunch. We had Lou Malnati's pizza for dinner at the house. The boys went with my dad on a bike ride. And the fall day was beautiful.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fall vacation, day 2

It never fails: After a long stretch of craziness, the first day of vacation, no matter how much you intend it to be chock full of excitement and adventure, is a catch-up day to relax.

Today was that day. And boy, was it needed.

I slept soundly last night and woke up at 8:30. I had a little work I needed to do, but once I finished, I wasn't in a hurry to go full-throttle on vacation. Neither was Lori. We picked up SuperDawg for lunch, which was yummy, and the two of us did a little shopping (I bought a Cubs hat but couldn't find a W flag for under $20). The boys had a super fun day with their Grandpa, walking dogs, playing basketball and going for a bike ride. I manged to get a little walk into Bunker Hill woods (and saw four deer, including a buck) and also managed a little nap. We played two games of Ticket to Ride (I won once and Ben won once) and had cheeseburgers and salad for dinner.

I'm planning on writing more tomorrow, and I do have to get a few hours of work in. And I will be ready to be more adventurous if the situation presents itself. For today, I was happy to relax and not feel rushed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall vacation, day 1

We flew to Chicago today, and there's not too much to report -- we took a 5 p.m. flight, so when we finally got into town, we just went to my dad's house and settled in for the night. The flight seemed super quick. I managed to get a little work done, and also was able to confirm through the Southwest WiFi channel that the Cubs clinched their NLDS series against the Cardinals with a 6-4 victory. The atmosphere was cool when we emerged from the Midway terminal -- an unfamiliar feeling for us given we are used to visiting during the summer and being blasted with heat and humidity as soon as we first step outside.

One day down, seven more to go ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Up for air

The last two weeks have been phenomenally busy with family and work. Today, I completed a work milestone I had been working on for more than a month, and with it, I finally feel like I can breathe again.

So with this lungful of fresh air, what am I going to write about? Fall has astronomically begun. The boys are deep into their routines, although Ben's will change here with fall baseball ending and winter swim team beginning in about two weeks. We will be on vacation in three. Halloween is five weeks from Saturday. Christmas is three months away.

I hate when I get into these absolutely swamped periods because I don't stop to just enjoy the day. I don't write. I don't spend nearly as much time with the boys as I should. I get nothing done around the house. I'm only looking toward the next milestone, the next chance to get a deep breath.

I don't have quite a solution to this other than taking a deep breath tonight as I write this. Can I include something from my day? I played Super Mario Kart with the boys. I co-oped at school and helped with two P.E. classes. I sliced my finger open trying to slice a loaf of bread (and I still have blood on my ankle on which it splattered from my index finger; thankfully, it wasn't so bad that I needed a stitch). I walked the dog, and now am sitting on my porch in the cool night after the hot day (at least 90 degrees).

My goal for tomorrow: Keep up the breathing ...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 110 -- The Last Day of Summer

The pool just looked too inviting.

Ben only had 15 minutes of swim practice left in the indoor pool. I was sitting in the sun, getting some work done, glancing at the outdoor pool that was only open to lap swimmers. The mushroom shower on the shallow end was off. A couple of the lanes were in use. I wasn't going to swim laps anyway -- I am definitely a runner, not a swimmer. But according to my calendar, the one that begins this season in May and ends it the day before the first NFL game, this was last the day of summer.

I had to jump in the pool one more time.

I grabbed my goggles and walked around the to deep end, which has been incredibly clear lately, so much that I can see how deep it goes down -- a little unnerving for someone who's still somewhat afraid of deep water. I didn't hesitate and hopped in. The plunge felt like summer, one last time. The water was slightly chilly, but the experience was worth it.

I made a good show of it for the lifeguard by swimming one lap, then grabbing a kickboard and swimming another. I don't think he would have cared that I jumped in, as long as I wasn't playing Marco Polo or Sharks and Minnows. Michael cane outside after shooting around inside for a while, and I floated on the shallow end while we talked. Eventually, I got out, collected Ben, and we picked up Little Caesar's for dinner.

I had concluded summer.

Sure, the day wasn't just that. I worked in the morning, co-oped in the afternoon, and picked up Ben's team's soccer jerseys. I watched a "Facts of Life" episode I hadn't seen in 30 years (with Eve Plumb guest-starring!) and took the dog for a walk. And I'm starting to get seriously tired, so I'm going to wrap this post up, and the summer. I'm not making any judgements of the past summer -- it was what it was: fun at times, exhausting at others, and occasionally frustrating. No regrets, and no feeling like it was wasted. Just went by too fast, but at the same time, ended right as I needed it to.

Until next summer, when I first jump into the deep end and blog about every day during my favorite time of the year ...

Now bring on football.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 109

A long but not terrible Tuesday of work today. Temperatures are pleasant, and I worked from the porch most of the day. Ben had his first Cub Scout meeting (technically, he's a Webelo) and had a lot of fun. It was more of an introductory meeting, but they den leaders had some fun activities planned for the boys. He's going to love this all year, I can already tell.

I came home and completed a fantasy football draft with my co-workers -- I had started it on my phone during the Scout meeting. Then, I took Popcorn on a long walk, and managed to keep my calories for the day in the green (I'm back to tracking; it had been so successful in the spring, and I tend to gain five pounds every September ...). I listened to fantasy football podcasts all the way. At one point, passing a particularly bright streetlight, I caught my shadow and thought it looked young. It's probably just my skinny legs, but the view made me feel good after several trying days. I think that's going to be my goal for this fall: Feel as young as possible, no matter how cranky I get.

Just one day of summer left ...

Monday, September 7, 2015

Summer 2015: days 92-108

Two weeks. No blogging. Ugh.

The boys are back in school, and the routine I sought is just about set. But it's been a tiring two weeks. Work has seemed to drain all my creative energy and has been souring my mood. I feel like I gained back 10 of the 25 pounds I lost in the spring. I see things around the house that need to be done, yet I can't quite find the wherewithal to work on them. That goal to hit the waterpark one more time before summer ended felt like too much of a chore. Fantasy football drafts are in full swing, yet I've had no time to do my usual preparations. I've been taking my laptop to Ben's baseball games to work.

It's an end-of-summer blah, one that I think I need the end of summer, at least by my calendar, to cure. The NFL season starts Thursday, and when it does, I close the curtain on Summer 2015. I'm in no rush for the weather to cool, but I'm ready for a little change of mood.

The last two weeks haven't been terrible, just weary. Some of the highlights:

  • We took the boys to Golden Spike National Historic Site in northern Utah this past Saturday, then went to the Great Salt Lake to see the Spiral Jetty. The lake is so low right now, you can walk out a half mile across the salt-encrusted bed before you get to the water. The scene was so surreal; it definitely was matching my recent mood.
  • Yesterday, we took the boys golfing at Mick Riley's par-3 course. Both of them did well, though we we were liberal on their scores. I shot a 40, including a birdie on the No. 9 that I chipped in.
  • Ben played three baseball games, and his team won twice. He doesn't have a hit yet but is having fun.
  • Michael had his tryout for his club basketball team; he is hoping to land a spot on the select team -- we will find out this week.
  • I'm back in co-op mode at the boys' school. Soccer is starting up as well for Ben, and I'm back as coach.
There must be more, but nothing is readily coming to mind. Yeah, my mood is sour, as distant as the salty lake bed in the hot sun. I'm hoping the short week turns my outlook around.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 91

I'm calling summer, right here, right now.

I will keep blogging summer for a couple more weeks as planned. But I'm backing off The Summer Project because I'm not feeling too summerly. I got some good posts out of it -- not as many as I hoped, but I can revisit next summer, or if I feel inspired anytime before then.

Three events today are driving my decision.

First, Ben played his first fall baseball game today, a 16-12 victory for the Robins over the Thunder. He walked once and struck out once, and had fun being back on the diamond. Fall ball doesn't have the same vibe, the same optimism as in the spring. That's not a criticism: Fall ball is actually nice and low key, perfect for Ben, and perfect to get some more baseball in that isn't high pressure. But it's definitely a signal that summer is concluding.

Lori and I did Big Costco today in preparation for the first week of school. The boys stayed home. As we were driving back, we got a call from a neighbor and another parent from the boys' school. The news was terrible, and is the second event. The former librarian who was switching over to teaching preschool, and an Open Classroom mom whose daughter has been in Michael's classes before, was shot six times in a domestic dispute. It wasn't even her dispute -- she was helping a friend, another OC mom whose daughter has been in a classmate of Michael as well -- when the husband opened fire on her. The guy eventually shot his wife four times as well before police subdued him. The news is so horrible. Both women are in the hospital in critical condition.

Needless to say, our day took a somber turn. I tried getting some work done but eventually dozed off watching Law & Order SVU (how's that for a sick way to cope ...). I grilled sliders for dinner, and then felt the need to get out of the house with the family. We picked up sno-cones and drove up to the H Rock to watch the sunset -- one of our annual day-before-school traditions. This was event No. 3, and even that wasn't perfect; we kind of missed the sunset through the haze that's been hanging over the valley because of the smoke from Western wildfires. But it was just what we needed. Popcorn got to run around, and Lori and I tried to get the tragedy out of our mind, but it was difficult when we couldn't help but check our phones for updates.

This week was so long. Fun, but long. I'm ready for the routine again, but hell, the kids are going to start school with this awful thing hanging above them next week. Summer shouldn't end like this. But it is. I'm moving into my August/September mix on my iPod, focusing on fantasy football, and already accepting that Halloween is only about nine weeks off.

Surely, I'm going to appreciate the summer of 2015 more and more in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.

That's just not going to happen tonight.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer 2015, Day 90

This was the boys' last hurrah of summer.

We went to Olympic Park outside Park City for the afternoon. Lori had bought two discounted all-day passes for the boys to zipline, Alpine slide, traverse rope courses, and enjoy extreme tubing (that's a new feature, though Ben was too young to slide down the ski jumping landing hill) as much as they wanted to. Lori also bought a pass for herself, and I found a shady picnic table and worked for the entire afternoon.

They had so much fun, and I was content to watch. Ben especially loved the zip line and the rope courses, and he also did the drop tower in which he stepped off a 70-foot ledge and gradually coasted to the ground via a cable. Michael did the extreme tubing twice and overcome some fear of heights by doing the intermediate ropes course. Lori had fun as well.

We went to Five Guys in Kimball Junction for dinner, then headed back to Salt Lake. I almost liked this better than Lagoon -- despite the extreme sports, it was mellower than the amusement park. We will have to come back next summer.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Summer 2015, Day 89

With Lagoon out of the way and school starting in four days, summer already seems over. Another end-of-summer milestone passed: Michael's last basketball practice after about 10 weeks of multiple days of hoops. He gets a week off before tryouts for the next season.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I was tired from the day before and kind of muddled through work. Lori and I went to Michael's class parent meeting at school. I took the dog for a long walk.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 88

Today was our annual (though we didn't go last year, and I'm thinking we didn't go in 2013) trip to Lagoon. Lori's office sponsors a day mostly for clients, but also for employees, at the amusement park, and though both of us had to work into the early afternoon, we still got to spend a good eight hours at the park.

We met up with some friends there and spent much of the day with them. A friend of Michael's from school, who he will insist is not his girlfriend, met us there as well (she has a season pass and lives close to the park; her mom just dropped her off). The kids made it on a lot of rides. I escaped with only one spinning ride and twice on a rollercoaster that went upside down (Wicked), plus stayed dry the whole day.

The boys, after insisting they weren't going to go on scary rides, went on almost most of them. Michael's friend convinced him to go on a few rides I was stunned he would even consider (adding fuel to to the girlfriend argument), including the new Cannibal, which has a 116-degree beyond-vertical first drop. Ben went on Samurai a couple times, which has to be the most insane spinning/upside down ride ever devised.

I was able to ride my favorite, The Rollercoaster (how's that for an original name?), a wooden coaster that is an absolute classic. I almost got sucked into Colossus, a steel coaster with two big loops, but as we were in the car, the car ahead of us got stuck on the hill, so we were let out. I wasn't unhappy about it. We stayed until almost close, then drove Michael's friend home (I made him walk her to the door), then headed back to Salt Lake City.

Our Lagoon day is almost always right before school starts, and it's a signal that summer is coming to a close. But it's also a nice way to cap off the summer as well. The memories are in progress ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer 2015, days 85-87

The last week of summer before school has begun. So far, so fun ...

Sunday, we all went to the driving range. Lori is playing in a golf tournament (I'm not making that up -- it's being sponsored by a women's business group) in a couple weeks and needed some practice, and Michael has occasionally bugged me to get him back on the links. We bought a large bucket to split among the four of us. It felt good, though I was pushing the ball to the right a little. Michael struggled a bit but eventually got the hang of it. Ben wasn't hitting the ball that far but was driving it surprisingly straight (he was enjoying using my big driver). I grilled dinner later on.

Monday, we went to the waterpark later in the afternoon. Michael brought a friend, and Ben found one of his school friends there, so each had fun hanging out and swimming. The waterpark this late looks so end-of-season, as if the management has given up on any sort of maintenance. Nevertheless, I'm glad we went, and hopefully, we can make it back a couple more times before the end of the season.

Today was long -- I was busy all day with work. Ben had his first baseball practice of the fall season. I got the dog out for a long walk.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Summer Project: Lame-duck childhood (1984)

With August 2015 dragging a little, I started thinking about Augusts past, which I've done before in the blog. But the August that is permeating my brain is 1984. I started high school that month, and the few weeks before now seemed like a transition. Of course, it was a transition, but August bridged the two phases more than I could ever imagined.

Here's the bizarre thing about those three weeks of August before school began: I don't remember much about them. Summer 1984 was so memorable, but not the end of it. The Olympics had ended. The Cubs weren't collapsing, and the conclusion was foregone by that point that they would win the division. Channel 66, which had been playing music videos all summer, transitioned into a normal TV station (airing an array of old reruns). Most of the music popular around this time I associate with earlier in the summer or September (with a couple exceptions: "If Ever You're in My Arms Again" by Peabo Bryson and "Go Insane" by Lindsay Buckingham).

I know I golfed once, with my dad and aunt at Waveland Golf Course early one morning. I read "The Pearl," which was summer reading for my freshman English class (I had torn through "Fahrenheit 451" earlier in the summer). And I probably watched "All My Children" every day. And that's how I concluded the last weeks of my time as a non-high schooler. Exciting, huh?

Part of the perceived malaise, and lack of memory, about those few weeks, might have just been August itself. Part of it might have just been fear -- I was pretty damn nervous about starting high school. And as that nervousness increased, perhaps I gave up on trying to cling to the kid I was just a few weeks earlier. I was a lame duck in August 1984, moving on from the safety of grade school, not quite yet a teenager (though I was technically 13) and a high schooler. There was simply nothing to extract from those three week; I needed to start high school and move on, sort of like pulling the Band-Aid off.

The metaphor I developed is these cheap, cheap audio cassettes I bought from Kay-Bee Toys (a two-pack for a dollar) that summer, and were using to record songs off the radio right around August 1984. The tapes were crap, producing a whistling sound on everything I recorded. A couple survived (I even converted one to mp3), but the audio quality is terrible. After the screeching debacle, I for the most part stopped buying cheap cassettes, getting a few discount ones from Venture (I think), then going with TDKs, Maxells, and Memorexes the rest of my taping career. I realized that if I liked taping songs off the radio, I needed to move on.

In August 1984, I think I realized I needed to move on. But I wasn't in a rush.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Summer 2015, days 82-84

Thursday morning started with Michael throwing up, We don't think he caught something, but instead was just tired -- he has a history of vomiting when he's overly fatigued, and maybe the long summer just caught up with him. That threw off or Thursday plans a bit (I had hoped to take them to the waterpark), but he was feeling better by the afternoon, and we went bowling in the evening. I won the first two games, but Lori edged me in the third. None of us are good bowlers, but at least I broke 100 twice. The evening was fun.

Friday we went to the JCC pool in the afternoon, and then I had the evening to myself while Lori and the boys went on a little campout at Red Butted Garden. I wish I could say I made the most of the solo evening, but I took it easy, going to McCool's for dinner and a beer, then vegging out after walking the dog later.

Today, I got Popcorn's nails trimmed in the morning, then we all went to Target and the DI around noon. The rest of the day was moderately lazy -- we all were tired. I made easy gyros for dinner and got the dog for a long walk. August feels like it's dragging, but perhaps a lazier day (even Lori took a nap) is just what we needed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 81

I'm sitting out on my porch late, hope to catch a glimpse of some shooting stars as the Perseid meteor shower passes through the northeast sky. I'm contemplating taking my Mac down to the school a block away and watching from the large field to give myself an unobstructed-by-trees view. Previous to now, the day was solid, though mostly uneventful. I took the boys and two of their friends to the JCC pool for a few hours, and I got some work done and also swam. Lori made street tacos for dinner, and I walked with the boys to get a Sno-Cone afterward.

The crickets are chirping tonight, and the weekend is just two days away. As I write these summer posts, I keep thinking back to being the boys' age during summer evenings, just like tonight when we walked to the Snow Shack. Parts are different. Much of what I remember is how the air in Chicago felt in the evening -- humid, dusty, a little bit orange -- a feeling that I just don't get here in Salt Lake. Part of the experience then was going to so many of my dad's softball games and coming home feeling that Chicago was all over my skin and in my lungs. But these past few nights, with the walks to get a treat, have captured a little bit of the experience of 35 years ago. And I hope in a couple decades, the smell of sunscreen and chlorine will take the boys back to today.

I'm going to make some wishes on the shooting stars here soon. And for at least a few, I'm will be thankful instead of wishing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Summer Project: The Cherry Coke continuum (1985)

I am not a big soda drinker. I like Dr Pepper, but usually only drink it if I need a caffeine fix (I don't like coffee). I usually order water in restaurants, though sometimes I'll get a pop. And any Pepsi or Coke made with real sugar (and in a real glass bottle) tastes awesome, and I still have a soft spot for Orange Crush and Sunkist (though both today are way too sweet -- blame the high fructose corn syrup). But for the most part, I'm not one of those people who drink a few sodas a day, or even a week.

In 1985, for one summer, I was one of those soda drinkers. The Coca-Cola company debuted Cherry Coke that year, and it instantly became my favorite drink.

By that year, my family wasn't buying much soda, either, so I was on my own to find Cherry Coke. I'd walk to the drugstore on Canfield and Higgins, or even to the Dominick's on Cumberland to get one. Or, whenever I was out with friends, I'd buy one as well. It tasted so good.

The introduction of Cherry Coke was in contrast to the the fanfare of "New Coke," the company's attempt to sell the cola with a different flavor. New Coke didn't survive (and wasn't even that good). Cherry Coke endured.

My affinity for Cherry Coke eventually subsided. I still like it, but I wasn't seeking it out like I once had just to drink one. I'll get one today when I need the caffeine fix, like while driving on a road trip. You don't see it much in restaurants (though the Costa Vida near us has it, but again, I'm usually drinking water).

So why am I writing about this 30 years later? Because, amazingly, the taste of Cherry Coke brings back powerful memories of the summer of 1985. Listening to the WLS FM and B96 all summer. Hanging out with friends, many of the older ones who now had cars. Running as I tried to get into shape for the upcoming cross country season. Cherry Coke has its place in those memories. One sip takes me back.

Summer 2015: Days 79-80

These last two days have been hot and humid. And filled with work -- just a Monday-Tuesday thing, but both seemed long. Today it rained, as the monsoon season has arrived in Utah. Yesterday, I walked and the boys biked to Shop 'n' Go for desert -- I got an ice cream bar and they got Icees. That was nice. I made it to Costco today to pick up my contact lenses, a rotisserie chicken and sushi. No end-of-summer panic fun these two days, though the rain didn't help today (and yesterday, Michael had a tooth pulled). We still have the rest of the week and next week left.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Summer Project: The roller skates (1980)

Our grade school, St. Eugene's, built a massive gymnasium/parish center that opened in late 1979, when I was in fourth grade. Previous to the debut, the school had been using the old church as a converted gym (the new church had been built sometime in the early 1970s, before we moved into the parish in 1977). Many of Chicago's Catholic schools don't have full-sized gyms with actual gym floors, so this was a quite a project, spearheaded by Father Shaunessy, who became a good family friend and who the parish center is now named after.

When the gym floor was installed, it was just going to be for basketball and gym classes -- it would double as a roller rink. This would make St. Eugene rather unique and a great place for kids who roller skated. However, by 1980, I had never laced up skates.

My parents had bought roller skates for my sister Julie, and she became a good skater almost right away. I wasn't against the idea of roller skating, but I was such an uncoordinated 9-year-old. Remember, I didn't learn how to ride a bike until the summer before. But, Mom and Dad were going to let me give it a try -- and I wanted to try, as a girl I liked, my first real crush, went to skating every weekend (for the first few years, St. Eugene held open skate Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon). I got a pair of blue skates with red and white trim, no stopper, from Sears. I think these are the skates below (not my picture, but one I found online):

My first days on the skates were not easy. Basically, I went up and down the gangway, being able to stop my self on the car once I reached the street, and also being able to step into the lawn if needed. After a couple weeks, I finally went to a skating session at the parish center for the first time.

I skated a lot that summer. The older kids who ran the music either played WLS over the speakers or "Glass Houses" by Billy Joel -- but only side 1, and those are the only five songs I know on that album I know by heart (even though I've owned it in some form for 30-something years). Julie eventually told the girl I had a crush on that I liked her during an afternoon skating session; I remember the smile/laugh on her face when she turned around to look for me after Julie spilled the secret (thanks, Julie, for the embarrassment!)

I never became that good a skater -- I never was very fast could never skate backwards, and had a few wipeouts. But for a couple hours on the weekends, this was a fun outlet for us grade-schoolers when there weren't that many options available (particuarly during the winter). For the next 2-3 years, I skated a lot with my friends. It was the thing to do on Friday nights. I moved up to a gym shoe pair of skates with a stopper, then an adult black pair and yellow wheels. Then, sometime around late seventh grade, the older kids simply stopped going to skating as much.

Almost thirty years passed before I laced up skates again, on a field trip with the boys' school. It was a little harrowing, but I survived and actually enjoyed it. I've gone maybe three times now, and I think I was getting better, but it still felt as if I was back on the gangway, trying not to fall. The last time, another parent who was comfortable on skates told a mom who was shaky to look to me for help, and I quickly declared I'm not the one to lean on if you are falling. Enjoyable or not, skating in my 40s is all about survival ...

Still, I fondly remember that first year of roller skating with my blue skates with no stoppers. With so many fears I was dealing with (water, getting hit with a baseball, and, for the first time, girls ...), it was great to conquer one.

That said, I have never tried ice skating, and don't plan to. Call me crazy, but 44 is too old to take up a sport in which I know I'll be falling a lot. And there's no lawn or parked car to help.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Summer 2015: days 72-78

I did it again -- went a whole week without posting. This week was almost as tiring as the last, and I never felt like writing any night after the long days. Things settle down this week -- swim season ended, and work doesn't look so crazy post-vacation. Here's the recap; let's see what I remember ...
  • Day 72, Monday -- I actually slept in, as Lori took Ben to swim practice so she could work out, too.
  • Day 73, Tuesday -- Same as yesterday, I got to sleep in, but still seemed tired all day. Got the boys Taco Bell for lunch after Michael's basketball practice.
  • Day 74, Wednesday -- A cloudy, rainy day. Wendy's was for lunch today -- this trend was more for me being to lazy to make something. Ben had yoga and I worked from a nearby coffee shop. Michael had swim practice, and while Ben swam in the outdoor pool with friends, I worked under a canopy once it started raining (which didn't faze Ben).
  • Day 75, Thursday -- I can attest that even though the last three days were uneventful, they were still busy. So by Thursday, I was already a little tired. The boys had the first day of their conference swim meet, but we were also seeing Michael Franti that night at Red Butte Garden. I waited in line to get us a good seat on the lawn, while Lori took them to the swim meet and hustled them over. Every time I do this, I'm amazed how fast the afternoon goes. I worked for five hours or so under the SportBrella, and made some friends who also shared the shade (and gave me a beer!). The concert was incredibly fun -- this has become a summer ritual for us, and it never disappoints.
  • Day 76, Friday -- Here was the confluence for this day: Work, the second day of the conference swim meet, and my sister Jenny and her family coming into town. We weren't able to see my brother-in-law's show (two concerts in two days would have been fun), but Jenny and her kids stayed overnight while he took their RV to the next show in Wyoming. The boys swam some great races to cap a great meet, and their team won the conference. We picked up In 'n' Out for a late dinner.
  • Day 77, Saturday -- We enjoyed a fun day with my sister and nephews. I took them on a short hike to the H Rock, then we spent a few hours at a friend's house swimming and trampolining (well, the kids trampolined ...). I picked up Vietnamese for dinner, then sat on the porch and drank a beer with Jenny. They were leaving by train in the wee hours, going to Denver to meet up with Konrad, and I took them to the station.
  • Day 78, Sunday -- So naturally, I was tired this morning, and it took awhile for me to be functional. I took Popcorn on a hike up Rattlesnake Gulch. She hadn't had much exercise all week, between everything we had going and the rain, so she needed the activity, as did I. When we got home, I watched the Cubs win for the 10th time in 11 games, then grilled some Hawaiian-style beef for dinner. After Skyping with my dad and stepmom, Ben and I went to the nearby Shell to get an ice cream. He rode is bike while I walked, and we sat in some chairs at the nearby Snow Shack (closed on Sundays) and ate our ice cream while dusk began to settle in.
I'm sitting outside and the crickets are chirping, and the odd thing is, the little excursion with Ben might have been the best part of a week that was generally pretty awesome. That moment, followed up by the chirping, felt the most summery. Just two weeks until the boys start school again ...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Summer Project: Trains for one (2005)

Michael and Ben are almost 2 1/2 years apart in age. For the last 9 years, I've referred to my children as the boys, as my sons. Plural. All these years later, remembering the time when our family was just three, when there was just one son, seems odd. I wish I was blogging then to capture the time. Sure, there are plenty of memories and pictures of just Michael. It was so wondrous. And I'm not implying that life hasn't been wondrous since Ben was born, but the summer of 2005, when Michael was in full todderhood, and every day while Lori worked was just the two of us ... well, it was a unique kind of special, which I'm glad I experienced, and I'm glad ended when we had another son.

That summer, we drove to Southern California for a friend's wedding and turned it into a weeklong vacation for the three of us. We stayed in Las Vegas the first night (temperature: 117 degrees when we arrived) and had a view from the Flamingo of the Bellagio fountain, moving a chair in front of the window so Michael could watch. We stayed in San Diego a few nights, going to Lego Land and Sea World. We stayed in Westwood a few nights as well. The vacation was great.

In San Diego, Lori was meeting a work contact for lunch, and instead of attempting the zoo or something that required more of a time commitment, Michael and I went to a model train museum in Balboa Park. This turned out to be a kind of hidden vacation gem. The train layouts were fantastic, and the visit required just enough time to have fun without necessitating a whole afternoon. There was a kids area with a few tables of wooden Thomas the Tank Engine trains, and Michael must have played for an hour. That evening, we were at Target and saw the die-cast metal versions of the trains (smaller, and cheaper than the wooden ones, with plastic tracks) and bought him his first ones. Thomas, Percy, Annie and Clarabel, and Alfie.

A couple days later, we were in L.A. and went to Travel Town, admiring the life-size train cars at the outdoor museum, riding the mini train around the park, and ending up in the gift shop. Ten years ago, Thomas the Tank Engine was enjoying a resurgence of short, fueled by product merchandising, especially the wooden trains. But it wasn't on TV that much yet. The times he had played trains had him so engaged that when we saw a video at the gift shop, we bought it for him as well. He watched it the rest of the trip (alternating with Baby Einstein's Number Nursery).

The video was old Thomas episodes from the 1980s, when George Carlin narrated and the production was awesomely low tech. Those episodes used real model trains, which was so appealing to Michael. The stories were perfectly paced for toddlers.

We eventually switched to the wooden trains and bought more videos. Ben became as big a fan as his brother. The episodes started showing up on Sprout, with newer seasons a little more slickly produced but still using the model trains. But inevitably, they outgrew the things they loved as little kids, just like all kids do. And horribly, new Thomas episodes are all computer-generated -- it's painful to watch.

The trains are all put away, only coming out when younger kids come over or the boys feel like building something (it's engineering for them, not so much play). The videos remain on the DVD shelf, waiting for the day a decade or two off that they are shared with grandkids. The boys, still boys of course, grew up.

I sometimes get the urge to put on one of the old Thomas episodes or another video from 10 years ago (e.g., The Wiggles, Baby Einstein, Curious Buddies) to be nostalgic, but I resist because I think it would make me a little sad. It's especially acute with Thomas the Tank Engine because it was from a time when it was just the three of us, when we went on a wonderful summer vacation and this was one of the memories we brought back.

Summer 2015: days 66-71

After hoping the routine would settle down, the remainder of the post-vacation week just got busier and busier. I'm writing this on Sunday night, trying to catch up on the five days previous as well as today. Here it goes:

  • Day 66, Tuesday -- This seemed to be the most stressful day of work I had experienced in a while. The work after vacation was piling up, not so much because I was on vacation, but I think because we had the company retreat in Vegas the week before, and everything was scheduled to be completed right around the day I got back. Michael was playing in his 3-on-3 tournament, so he missed his swim meet, and I didn't get to see Ben swim either. Mike ended up playing four games on two different teams in the tournament, but they lost all four in games at Providence Hall way, way down in Herriman. He had fun though, did better than the night before, and even drained his first competitive three-pointer (a step-back one at that; he almost looked like he had been making those all along. I went for a long walk when we got home, trying to decompress after the rough day.
  • Day 67, Wednesday -- Another long work day, mostly composed of writing and editing. But, I wasn't as stressed out at the end of it as I was a day earlier.
  • Day 68, Thursday -- Today was Lori's birthday, and we took her to breakfast after Michael's early swim practice. Work, though busy finally seemed to settle down. Michael had four more games in the 3-on-3 tourney, with his team winning twice. Lori and Ben were at a swim team function but got to see MPG's first game at SLCC. Michael and I went to Sonic for dinner afterward, and I came home to spray wasp killer on a couple nests that were forming in our backyard.
  • Day 69, Friday -- Errands and work, but thank God it was Friday. We went to Costco. Michael concluded his tournament with three games at SLCC (for two different teams -- he was a fill-in all week when other teams needed him and he wasn't otherwise with his team) and played quite well. Lori picked up pizzas for dinner. I went for a long walk with the dog.
  • Day 70, Saturday -- Popcorn needed some fun, so I took her for a long hike at Dog Lake up Millcreek Canyon. No one wanted to come with, so it was just us. In the evening, Lori and I went to the going-away party of a friend/former colleague from the Tribune who is moving to Michigan. We left the boys home alone in the evening for a couple hours for the first time, and they didn't burn the place down.
  • Day 71, Sunday (today) -- Happy 18th anniversary to Lori and me! We went to Eggs in the City for breakfast, and then it was mostly a house day. I pulled some vines/weeds from the back of the backyard, and a brief thunderstorm rolled through. I had bought an Intellivision Flashback a few weeks that I finally opened and played with the boys, and I grilled pork chops for dinner. Popcorn and I went for a walk. And now I'm out on the porch, hearing the crickets chirp as I type.

Only three weeks left before school starts. Summer's going fast ...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Summer Project: Don't mess with my girlfriend (1995)

As I write this post on Lori's birthday, this is one of my favorite stories about her, from the summer on 1995. We were living on Prospect Avenue down by Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, in an apartment we just absolutely loved. Summer in Milwaukee is an experience in itself, almost enough to make up for the other nine months of the year. I'll admit September and October are actually nice as well, but not even close to the three-month party summer is.

We would go to Summerfest almost every day the two summers we lived near the festival grounds. They had this deal where if you were wearing a $1 Summerfest pin, you got in for free at lunch time. We'd walk in, then get our hand stamped and come back later. (They don't do this anymore.) And the walk to the grounds and back to our apartment wasn't bad that summer -- about 1.5 miles, which beat driving and paying for parking.

In 1995, we saw Pearl Jam and Hootie and the Blowfish on the Summefest main stage, and I think we saw the BoDeans as well (and Lori may have seen Bonnie Raitt without me). I'm looking through the list of acts from the side stages that year, and who we didn't see is unreal: Urge Overkill, Fleetwood Mac (before Stevie Nicks came back), Ringo Starr, Cheap Trick, the Staple Singers, Trisha Yearwood, Collective Soul, Kansas and Tom Jones. But the one band we did make it to was REO Speedwagon -- the only time I've ever seen them live despite how big they were in Chicago.

I'm almost positive we saw the second show of the two nights REO was playing (and I'll explain why later). The Marcus Amphitheater had Luther Vandross that night, meaning average white Milwaukeean wasn't at the main stage, leaving more to surround the classic rock acts on the side stages. REO was on at the Old Style Showcase near the far end of the festival grounds. We got there early enough to get a decent place to stand and watch the show, sort of near the front and off to the right. Easily, 10,000 Milwaukeeans were also in attendance on this one stage.

The concert was good. REO played all their hits, and although Kevin Cronin couldn't hit the high notes on "Don't Let Him Go" like he once could, he still was solid. The crowd was moderately drunk, as most Summerfest crowds. We were having fun, but then, the 10,000 people started being too much for Lori, who began feeling claustrophobic during the encore and wanted to leave. I was a little surprised, considering there wasn't much show left, but I think it had been building, especially during the wait after the main set. So, during "Ridin' the Storm Out" (it would have been ironic if it had been "Time for Me to Fly"), we started weaving our way through the throng to get leave.

It wasn't easy. At 11:30 p.m., barely anyone had left, and we needed to basically cross the whole crowd to get out across what couldn't have been more than 50 yards. About two-thirds of the way through, Lori says "excuse me" to a guy, probably our age, 4-5 inches shorter than Lori, and definitely the white trash Wisconsin is famous for, so she can get by. He says no. At this point, I'm thinking to myself, "Oh crap, I'm about to get into a fight." I hadn't drank enough beers to relish that idea, especially in a crowd of 10,000 people.

Before I could react in any way, Lori shot the little man a look that must have been so deadly that he said "Oh sorry" and stepped out of the way. It was a look I had seen in the two years we'd been going out (at that time) and learned to defend against. This guy had no defense, especially with my 6-foot tall girlfriend looking down at him. He let us pass and looked almost apologetic as I thanked him. We escaped the crowd, then went out the back gate.

There is a road and sidewalk alongside the festival grounds, and you can hear every stage as you pass. We heard REO possibly finish with "Golden Country" (for all I know, they might have played another song after), and Lori witnessed me sing "In My Dreams" by Dokken as we neared the rock stage (which is why I pegged this as the second REO show -- the dates on the list I found match up). In retrospect, I kind of wished we saw Ringo Starr that night instead -- mellower crowd, and probably more of a unique show than REO, which is still touring 20 years later.

One of my favorite Kenny Loggins songs is "Angry Eyes" from his Loggins and Messina days, but I didn't like it really until after I met Lori. I hear that and think of that night when she made a man cower with her gaze -- eyes that are so beautiful but can turn dangerous. He had it coming. And he was probably more frightened of that look than he would have been of my fist coming at his face (I would like to think I would have gotten one good punch off). A black eye would have healed. I hope that two decades later, that killer look still haunts his nightmares.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Summer Project: French Lick Springs (1985)

French Lick, Indiana, is the hometown of Larry Bird. In southern Indiana, it's a good 5-hour drive from Chicago. In the summer of 1985, we spent a couple nights at a historic resort in French Lick Springs in what would be the last trip we made as a family.

How did we end up in French Lick? Through a promotion for a discounted room -- you just had to go through the timeshare sales pitch. In retrospect, I'm surprised my dad went for this, but maybe we needed a weekend away and this was getting us there at a nice hotel. After the long drive, we arrived and were given what had to be the smallest room in the hotel. I think my parents complained, because we were moved to a different room that wasn't a glorified storage closet.

I'm trying to remember if we had any fun on this trip. I golfed with Dad, which was nice. I still wasn't quite swimming yet, so that wasn't an fun option for me. And my sister Julie developed a terrible headache caused by a bad sinus infection, for which my parents had to find a doctor in French Lick while I stayed in the room watching my other sister.  I remember watching out the window overlooking one of the pools, overrun with obnoxious yuppies who we encountered the previous night at dinner. My other sister Jenny was supposed to go horseback riding with Julie but ended up going by herself and, according to my mother, wasn't happy about it.

So was the trip a bust? No ... we did manage to get away for a few days together, which didn't happen often, and that was nice. to some extent What I do remember as the best part of the trip was in the first hour, we were walking through part of the hotel (I think an auxiliary building near the second pool and the arcade) when we passed a girl, a cute brunette maybe my age or a little younger, who flashed me a smile and said hi. It was so obvious that Mon noticed and couldn't help but gush about it afterward. I spent the whole weekend looking for her, walking around the grounds with the hope I'd see that smile again and get the courage to strike up a conversation with her, but I couldn't find her again. It might not have made a difference -- the logical thing for us to hang out together and do was swim, which wasn't going to happen (I wonder if I would have given it a shot for a cute girl), but I never got the chance to find out.

Still, I think back to this moment as I watch Michael go totally shy/indifferent when a girl smiles or says hi to him (and it's happening more lately). I have told him once or twice that when this occurs, it doesn't mean that he likes her or should be embarrassed, but he should at least say hi back and smile -- because it's pretty damn awesome at that age.

Unfortunately, this was the last trip we took as a family. We left French Lick Springs and muddled through the long drive back to Chicago. We got stuck in traffic somewhere around Hammond, and I can remember the WMET DJs talking about musical underwear on the radio (joking that one song that might be included could be "You're the Biggest Part of Me"). Summer would end, and though fall was good, 1986 would be rough. A year after this trip, my parents would be separated, and there would be no more driving trips with the five of us. And that's why I look back on this weekend bittersweetly, not because nothing -- between Julie's headaches and the smiling girl I couldn't find again -- went right, but because it was a finale of sorts to the Gillespie clan.

I try to remember a happy time with all five of us, just the five of us, as a family after this trip, but can't, because I don't think there was one. And now I know, 30 years later, the most perfect weekend wouldn't have made any difference.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer 2015: days 63-65

Life is slowly returning to normal after a week vacation, which proceeded the trip to Vegas that just Lori and I took. Only four weeks until school starts, and I'm embarking on my annual "Get the most out of the remaining summer days" mode.

Michael actually threw up late Friday night -- I think the combination of working so hard all week and a day of driving and non-normal eating finally caught up with him. I slept on the couch so Lori could keep an eye on him in our room. He felt better the next day. I got Popcorn from the pet sitter, but that was pretty much the extent of my activity until the afternoon. We went to friends' house for their daughter's first birthday party and house-cooling party (they are moving to a house down the street), and the boys got to swim and have fun.

Sunday was a little more productive. I got the cars washed and got some advance work stuff planned out for my return to the grind. I also was sucked into a Harry Potter marathon with the boys. Popcorn and I managed a little walk.

Today, work was busy. I seemed to get about a week's worth of tasks assigned for a two-day span. Michael played in a fun 3-on-3 tournament, and we went to Costa Vida for dinner. I got Popcorn out for a longer walk.

And the week continues Tuesday, and work will be just as busy. But the routine will come together, I'm sure.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 62 -- Vacation Day 7

We wrapped up vacation today, and it is good to be home.

Originally, we planned to come back Saturday, and I was a little disappointed when Lori suggested we come back a day earlier. After all, we weren't getting the long trip we are used to every summer in favor of a week now and a week in October. And this week went by so fast -- we went to the Grand Canyon, came to Vegas, watched Michael play some basketball, and it was over.

But we didn't have anything booked for Friday night. I suggested to Lori this morning we at least go to Hoover Dam for something memorable before we drove home. She agreed it was a good idea, and we made our way across Las Vegas' suburbs to the dam.

I'm glad we went. We paid the fee to take an elevator into the actual dam, which was so cool. I wouldn't have known what everything was without the tour, but afterward, I felt like an expert. Ben and I walked across the dam into Arizona and snapped some pictures along the way. Then we piled into the car and headed back to Salt Lake.

The trip home wasn't as arduous as I feared it might be. We stopped in St. George to fill up the car, then at a Dairy Queen in Payson for a quick dinner. Today was Pioneer Day, and we hit the Utah and Salt Lake valleys right at dusk, just in time to see fireworks bursting in the sky all over for the remaining hour of the trip. This was kind of a cool way to conclude the trip, 15 years to the day that Lori and I first arrived in Utah.

No, this wasn't the grand trip we take every year, but it was something for just us -- the driving adventures we don't get to do very often -- and it was memorable. And I'm happy we are home with two days before work and the crazy routine starts up again. Vacation may be over, but the relaxation isn't yet.

Oh, Michael won Slug Bug this trip. The game is on for future vacations. It's so on.

Summer 2015: Day 61 -- Vacation Day 6

This was the last day of the tournament, and Michael's team played a 9 a.m. game, then a second game -- the championship of the division -- if it won its first. The schedule changed because of the forfeiting team, which helped us into the title game after winning the early game 30-24 against the same team we beat yesterday. This one wasn't quite as physical, and Michael played great with 7 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Unfortunately, the championship game was rough. We played the same team we lost to two days earlier, and we were without one of our best ball-handlers, who had to catch a plane (with the original schedule, we were only supposed one game at 9 a.m.). After racing to a 5-0 lead, the offense fell apart and committed too many turnovers that were converted into easy points. Michael played great again but got so beat up as the only tall player against a team with at least four bigs who could play guard. So, E3 finished in second place, and the boys got medals.

After eating at In 'n' Out Burger for lunch, we spent a few hours by the lazy river and pool. Dinner was simple salads and sandwiches in the room. We headed downtown to Fremont Street (and I accidentally drove in a bus lane to get there -- doh!) to watch the video show and take in the spectacle that is downtown Vegas. The craziest thing I saw -- a 60ish-year-old man dressed in skimpy Cupid outfit walking with an Elvis impersonator (and I must mention the nearly naked guy in a G-string playing guitar). We took the Strip home, which took awhile but allowed Michael to snap a lot of pictures.

I'm outside in one of the common areas typing this up, enjoying a beer. I can see the light emanating from the Luxor and the south end of the Strip from my vantage point. Las Vegas is always something else (I almost like downtown better than the Strip). I'm glad we let Michael play in the tournament -- he got a lot of valuable experience, and we had a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 60 -- Vacation, Day 5

We knew today was going to be a long one, with Michael having two afternoon basketball games and a 1.5 hour break in between. So, I took the boys down to the pool early to get them some non-hoops fun before the day got so busy. The water was a little chilly, but we had fun before going back to the room for lunch.

We arrived at the convention center to discover that we automatically won the first game because the opponent was fielding an illegal team (it had sixth-grade players for a fifth-grade division). The game was still played with a running clock, and Michael's coach was more laid back knowing it didn't count. The second game was bruising -- the foe played an aggressive, almost too physical defense that the refs let them get away with. Michael was so exhausted afterward but played great against a team with many tall players.

Because he played so hard, we let him pick the restaurant for dinner, and he wanted sushi. On another recommendation from a co-worker, we went to Sushi Mon, an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that was delicious. Dessert was even included, and we paid probably half for our meal that we would have on the Strip (if we ordered the same number of rolls). Both boys ate a lot of sushi and were content. We stopped at Smith's for some provisions and came back to the hotel and all turned in early.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 59 -- Vacation Day 4

Michael's basketball tournament started today, at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with his team playing one game today. E3 lost 52-39, unfortunately, as they got off to a slow start and never recovered. Michael struggled a little, too, picking up three quick fouls but being a tall player (probaby four inches above than his next tallest teammate) against a team of tall players -- he provided help on defense and the boards.

The loss was an only blot on a great day, and the game was still fun for Michael and the rest of us. I worked out on an elliptical at the hotel in the morning, and then we went down to the pool for an hour before lunch and Michael's game. After the game, we went to Metro Pizza, recommended by one of my co-workers, for dinner. We had a lot of pizza left over that we put in the fridge when we got back to the room, which will make for good leftovers tomorrow.

Our day wasn't finished, as we went to the resort's lazy river, then to the pool, to cool off in the Vegas heat. When I think about what was my favorite of this day, it was playing catch with a water bomb with the boys in the pool. That's just another sobering reminder of how I need to treasure the little moments as much as the big moments.

Summer 2015: Day 58 -- Vacation, Day 3

We were all awake early this morning, really early as we are still on Utah time, and went out to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. Though we were a couple minutes late on the actual sunrise, the spectacle was still amazing. I went down to the lodge's overlook to write with the amazing view as a backdrop, then the boys and Lori found me and we went to breakfast. We got back to the room ... and it started to poor outside; our timing was perfect. We rode the storm out and went for another hike to Bright Angel Point, right as the fog lifted. The view again was great, as was our timing, because it started to rain again as we left.

Lori had this idea of driving to the South Rim before going to Vegas, but we discovered that would add an extra four hours to the trip. If we had thought of it sooner, we could have managed, but it was too late. Instead, we stopped at Pipe Spring National Monument on the Arizona Strip, where Ben got another Junior Ranger badge. After reprovisioning at the nearby gas station, Lori drove us to Vegas while Michael listened to "The Scorch Trials" on a book on CD.

We got into Vegas about 6 p.m. and to our hotel -- the Tahiti Village, more of a condo complex south of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard. We went grocery shopping and bought dinner at Whole Foods. I took the boys down to the pool for a late swim. As far as travel days go, this was pretty good.

Summer 2015: Day 57 -- Vacation Day 2

Lori wanted to hit the road to the Grand Canyon by 8 a.m. The goal seemed optimistic, because I knew the boys and I would be tired from the day before. Still, we were up early, had a big breakfast at the hotel (this Hampton now offers whipped cream and chocolate chips to sprinkle on your waffles!), packed, gassed up the RAV4, made a quick trip to Walmart to get some provisions, and were on our way at 9. That turned out to be fortuitous, because we forgot about the time change – when we got to the North Rim, it was only 10:30 a.m. The drive was nice. Going through the polygamous communities on the Utah/Arizona border always offers a degree of let’s-not-get-pulled-over-here adventure, and we made one stop at a gas station in Fredonia that had a mock Western town in back that Lori snapped some pictures of the boys near.

The North Rim, at first, was shrouded in fog – thick fog that prevented you from seeing the canyon walls below. I wasn’t complaining: The scene was so surreal, and I had high hopes it would burn off. It did after we left the lodge and drove to Angel’s Window and Cape Royal, somewhat east of the main North Rim visitor’s center. The views were great, as incredible as they were 13 years earlier when Lori and I came here for an afternoon. Ben made me a little nervous, not because he was reckless, but because he is so bouncy – I kept picturing bouncing off the edge. But he did great. Michael was a little leery of the heights, but he appreciated all the views we saw as well.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with little hikes and gawkable views. We did a ranger program on the archeology of the peoples that lived here a thousand years ago. It was informative, though the ranger, Jeremy, seemed a little annoyed he had to give a ranger program. Ben slammed through the Junior Ranger program and got his badge when we got back to the visitor’s center. We took more pictures and admired views from other locations, including Point Imperial (highest vista in the entire park) and Roosevelt Point.

We checked into our cabin, and I found some beer for the grownups. For dinner, we went to a Grand Canyon cookout, which involved taking a “train” (really, just a tram disguised as one) a mile to the tent. It was all-you-can-eat, but supposedly only one trip through the line, so we loaded up on food (important later). However, when the entertainment (a country/cowboy husband-and-wife singing team) began, we were told we could get seconds, so needless to say, we were quite full. The musicians were fun, and the dinner didn’t last that long, so we took the train back to the lodge.

I had this grand image of sitting on the porch of our cabin, or even coming to the veranda by the lodge, and writing all night with the view of the canyon above the screen of my Mac. However, I got into the room and was exhausted. The thought of drinking a beer during this wasn’t appealing because I was so full from the 3,000-calorie dinner. So, I went to bed with everyone else at 8:30 MST. I figured I would write in the morning.

And that’s what I’m doing – writing this with a sunny view of the canyon before 7 a.m. (I was actually up earlier – we all watched the sunset, and I didn’t exactly sleep well after a raging, but not unsurprising, case of heartburn). There are several people out here – everyone is on another time zone that waking up this early to see this spectacular vista is no big deal. Lori and the boys have arrived, and we are about to go to breakfast after I finish this. I’m wishing we could spend more time here, but we need to get to Vegas. But this day of vacation is definitely why we wanted a trip on our own. We love our extended families and visiting them, but the window on trips with just the four of us while the boys are still young is limited. This was a great example of what we can look forward to over the next few years.

In short, this day was grand.