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.

Summer 2015: Day 56 -- Vacation, Day 1


With most of our vacations, we are on such a tight timetable because we are catching a flight. Today, with us driving down to St. George simply to be closer to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, we were able to take our time.  And, oh, did it feel good.

That’s not to say we weren’t busy all morning. We packed, got some last-minute things from Walmart, took Popcorn to the family watching her, and so on, but there was never the crazy urgency we feel every year (and will when we fly back to Chicago in the fall). And we left around 1:30 and took our time to get to St. George.  We ran into some rain and thunderstorms along the way, but the drive still went quickly.

In St. George, we went to Wing Nutz for dinner, which was a change of pace for us. The boys loved it (even though Ben didn’t get wings, but with my poultry allergy, neither did I …), and then we went to Yogurtland next door for dessert. We went to the pool and hot tub at the hotel when we got back, and watched The Maze Runner on HBO in the room. A nice mellow start to our eight-day trip. Tomorrow, the Grand Canyon!

Summer 2015: days 53-55

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The few days before any vacation is a scramble, but what about when you just came back from one and start another? These three days were just nuts. I worked 10-hour days trying to get everything done (and fires still started, including one I won’t be able to put out until after we get back – good luck not worrying about that on the trip).  It was so crazy that in Wednesday, I forgot Ben had a yoga class. I got the dog out for some long walks, but that was the extent of any free time I was able to muster. I’m going to be happy when this vacation begins and we enjoy the break we so desperately need.

Summer 2015: Day 52

Lori woke me up early this morning to drive back to Salt Lake City. The boys had a swim meet in the evening, so we had to get back. We bought Egg McMuffins to start the day and hit the road, getting home about 2 p.m. We didn't have much time to rest, as we had to get to the meet. The boys swam alright, with Michael doing great and Ben doing all right (but possibly DQing is butterfly). We went to Iceberg for dinner. Back to the routine and a lot of work before we return to vacation Saturday.

Summer 2015: days 49-51 -- Vegas, baby!

I work for a virtual company, and the employees are spread out all over the country. My boss recognizes the distance and the camaraderie we might be missing by not being in the same office together, and to address this, gathers all the employees for a weekend of fun and some work. This year (my first as a full-timer), he transported everyone to Las Vegas and invited the spouses/significant others as well.

The weekend was incredible.

Lori and I drove down Saturday, leaving the boys with in the care of our neighbor Samantha who is home from college for the summer. We arrived in the late afternoon at the Aria, then met everyone for a dinner at Holsteins inside the Cosmopolitan. It was kind of surreal for me -- I'm used to working with all these people, but here they were at the same table for the first time. Dinner was great, and I walked Lori back to the hotel and then met up with much of the group to go to a club at the Bellagio.

The club was loud and crowded, giving me my first Murtaugh moment ("I'm too old for this s---") of the night. But, it was fun. I felt the knowledge of someone my age when "O.P.P." was played and I knew the lyrics and my twenty-something co-workers didn't. We eventually got out, and my though some of my co-workers urged me stay out longer for a few more drinks, Murtaugh was on my shoulder telling me to go back to the hotel. I listened.

Lori and I were up early the next morning, went to breakfast, then went down to the pool, where my boss had rented out two cabanas for the group. We enjoyed a few peaceful hours lounging in the sun and getting to know my co-workers. Plus, it was nice for once to be at the pool without the boys -- I love them, of course, but it was relaxing to not worry about where they were at just for a little while. Lori and I went to lunch at a fusion Chinese/Mexican restaurant (I'm not making this up) in the Cosmo, and we ate dinner at the Paris with the entire group. I swear, I gained five pounds this weekend -- everything was delicious, and the Newcastles tasted great all weekend.

Monday was a work day, as we had our conference that day. That went well -- I came away energized for my job in a way that events like this I imagine  do. Lori and I went to dinner at an OK Italian restaurant in New York New York, and after walking her back, I met my co-workers again for some final hanging-out time at NYNY and lost $20 in a poker machine (but milked it long enough to get three free beers).

This was such a fun, productive weekend, and it was so nice for Lori and I to get away on a trip with just ourselves. We are back in Vegas in a week ...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 48


I had hoped to take the boys to the waterpark in the late afternoon today before Lori and I went to Las Vegas tomorrow, but the weather didn’t quite cooperate, so we went to Kohl’s instead, where I bought two pairs of pants and new sunglasses for the trip.  After Kohl’s, we went to the comic book store and then Walmart. The day was mostly work and preparing for the trip. I wish we could have squeezed the waterpark in because I feel a little guilty abandoning them for the weekend, but it just didn’t work out.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 47

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The crush of busy that is preceding my work trip to Las Vegas in two days is becoming a little more pronounced. My boss is bringing everyone to Vegas for an annual conference/gathering – just one day of work and two days of fun – and inviting the spouses, so Lori is going too. We have a sitter watching the boys, and though we love them immensely and will be on vacation with them a week later, we are so looking forward to this trip without them. But we still have much to complete before we go.

The wrench we encountered today was a rare Thursday swim meet. This was a relays-only event, meaning it was different than the normal meet. And Lori and I were part of the meet as well, not volunteering as timers (though Lori helped with that), but actually swimming in a family relay with the boys. I opened with a 25 backstroke, Lori swam a 25 back and a 25 breaststroke, the boys swam the breast and butterfly, and I followed up Ben’s 25 freestyle with a 25 free of my own.

We were predictably slow – well, at least Lori and I were slow. I thought I swam my backstroke well, but miscalculated how many strokes I needed to make before touching the wall and lost several seconds (I swear, I was at least near the lead for the first 20 meters – about halfway through I was kicking so hard that I was wondering when it would end). When it was my turn for the last leg of the relay, the lane next to me had a 4-year-old boy swimming. He started before me, but Ben had stormed back on his 25 free, leaving me with the prospect of passing this kid on my last leg. I looked up at about 15 meters to see I had pulled even with the boy, who was working so hard, so I stopped and encouraged him along. We finished at the same time. The meet official joked with me afterward that she had to DQ me because I started walking. She didn’t know that I was so tired at 15 meters that I might have done that even if I wasn’t trying to pass the kid next to me.

The boys swam well the rest of the meet, and I actually got some work done when I wasn’t cheering them on. Lori and I were happy to set an example for the boys – we aren’t great swimmers but we gave it a try knowing it was going to be difficult. (and she’s talking about going back to swim workout again, something I’m never going to do: I’m a runner at heart). We went through the Wendy’s drive-thru on the way home, and I got a Baconator. I felt I deserved it …

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 46

Thunderstorms are rolling into the Salt Lake Valley, but I'm typing on my porch, still dry while it rains just beyond the cover. I don't know how much time I have here before I need to go inside, but the coolness feels nice. Oh, and that was just some lightning, so I better go in soon. After so much heat, this storm will be nice.

I was up nice and early again to take Ben to swim practice. Today was a long day of work for me as I work toward the weekend trip to Vegas with Lori for work, then vacation in Vegas the week after with the family for basketball.  Michael had basketball and the later swim practice, and Ben had yoga. I sat by the outdoor pool during Michael's indoor swim practice, and was so tempted to jump in during the only time it was hot and sunny during the day, but I was on a roll with a work thing I was doing and didn't want to stop. After dinner, I took Popcorn for a quick hike at the H Rock, where we could see lightning from a storm far to the southwest.


Now there's thunder. Time to go inside. Too bad -- the breeze feels so nice.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Summer Project: Poolside ... NOT! (1980)

The last few months of fourth grade might have been my happiest during grade school. Everything just seemed to go right. I was getting good grades. I was playing kid-pitch baseball for the first time. I had some good friends. I learned how to play Strat-o-Matic Baseball. I had the starring role (the narrator) in the fourth grade's act for the school-wide variety show. I had my first crush.

Summer was going to be awesome!

One little problem: I still was afraid of water, and paranoid I'd be made fun of if other kids knew. It was going to be another summer missing out on swimming, but I didn't have a problem with that because everything else was going to be great.

My idyllic plan came crashing down in two ways. First, my friend Franco asked one day if I wanted to go to the pool. I lied and said I had a cold. We still hung out that day and had fun (I distinctly remember playing bocce and Oh No 99! at his house), but I had to lie to do it.

Second, my friend Chris, probably my best grade school friend, got a pool that summer. Not a big pool -- just one of those 3-foot Coleco pools that you could disassemble every summer. But it was a pool nonetheless, one I didn't have any intention of going in. He called one day asking if I wanted to come over to swim, and I said no.

I retreated to my basement, turned on the giant console stereo that didn't work well anymore (the radio still did; the turntable and 8-track player not so much), and sulked. It felt like such a betrayal -- obviously, it wasn't Chris' fault, but I felt so trapped. But, I learned a great lesson in friendship that day: Chris came over to my house, and my mom let him in. I was surprised when he came down to the basement. I'm not sure what we ended up doing that day, maybe playing catch (we were on the same baseball team) or riding our bikes, and we might have ended up at his house, because I remember being there once that summer and him feeling how warm the water in the pool was. But he never pressured me to jump in, and he never seemed disappointed.

After 35 years, the thing I realize now is that Chris' pool might have been the last best chance I had to really getting over the fear of water while I was still young and developed an even more freaky, darker fear of it. The pool was only 3 feet deep -- no risk of drowning or even falling in. Chris wouldn't have minded if I came over a couple times a week to hang out and swim, and I think knowing he was helping would have made him all the more encouraging. My parents would have loved it -- I'm sure my mom would have told Chris' mom how happy she was that I was getting over my fear. And it would have been certainly less intimidating than learning to swim at Norridge Pool or another big public place where I might have felt ashamed.

However, when you are a 9-year-old, you don't think of these things logically. Between that summer and 1986, I went in a swimming pool exactly five times. In the summer of 1986, I started gradually (very gradually) getting over the fear. What helped? My high school friends, one of whom had a pool, who all encouraged me and cheered me on. At 15 I realized that; at 9, I wasn't old enough to figure it out.

The rest of the summer was still awesome. It would have been legendary if that was the summer I learned to swim.


Summer 2015: Day 45

Tuesday was less stressful than Monday. And cooler -- the heat finally broke, and there was a nice breeze all day. Michael worked his tail off in sports today, with 90 minutes of swim and 2.5 hours of basketball. The boys cleaned their room. I took the dog for a decent walk. Was a little sleepy at times today (the 6:30 practice I took Michael to didn't help), but I still got a lot of work done. Only four days until Vegas ...

The Summer Project, explained

In a creative writing class 25 years ago, I had an idea for a project that I thought was brilliant: A sort of literary "Wonder Years" highlighting the summer of 1984. Back then, these summers weren't in the distant past, even if they seemed to me back then. The concept was a series of coming-of-age vignettes recalling the summer. I typed it up, and my instructor loved it. I wanted to expand it into a book.

Sometime in the later 1990s (I believe 1997) I broadened that idea into five summers, 1980-84. I wrote four stories on this project and was damn excited that I did. This was generally before the Internet exploded as a publishing tool and writing medium, so these basically never left my computer, save for my friend Mike reading them, and maybe my mom and sister. I wanted to expand it into a book. I even had a sequel planned about the proceeding five summers.

In 2007, I started this blog, and many of those memories I wanted to write about came to life in my posts. I've loved writing some of them over the years, but still, many topics and memories haven't seen the light of day. This lack of progress is part of the frustration I've been feeling lately with my passion to write -- or lack thereof. But here I am again, ready to do something about it.

So, I'm starting The Summer Project on this blog, going back into the summer memories and writing down as much as I can. This is a tall order, with the sports parenting blog not quite live yet (I do have the first post written, I just need some time to fiddle around with the design) and me continuing to blog about this summer.

Every journey begins with a cliched step (that has to be in some Katy Perry song). I've been sauntering through the journey already; time to try sprinting for a while. Look for the first Summer Project post soon. Very soon.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 44

Argh, Monday. Work seemed to drag, with me never quite feeling I was getting a lot done, though that may be the pressure that vacation is coming soon and I have a lot to get done. The weather cooled off a bit today, and it even rained and thundered. Yet, it cleared up enough to take the dog for a nice walk and throw the ball to her in the little hollow by Clayton Middle School, next to the creek. I wouldn't call this a wasted day, but one that seemed to both go slow and be over too quickly. Not every summer day will be a winner, and after a great holiday weekend, I guess a letdown was inevitable.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer 2015: Day 43

The Fourth of July always seems like the apex of summer, even though there's two months left it until Labor Day. People strive so hard to reach summer, enjoy the whirlwind of June, hit Independence Day, enjoy it, then realize that it's kind of downhill from here. That's OK, so long as you make the most of the two months you have remaining.

I thought we did a good job of July 5. Nothing too crazy, but a fun day. We actually had some rain this morning, and I sat on the porch with my laptop and it felt just a little bit like Chicago in the summer. That was nice, and a welcome relief after two scorching weeks. I eventually went to a Body Pump class at the JCC, which was challenging but felt good. Michael had a friend over this afternoon, and the original plan was to go to the pool, but ... there was the deal with the cloudy skies and the rain. So they hung out, but then something amazing happened: The sun came back, countering the forecast of an overcast day. The boys were getting antsy, so we did end up at the pool. They had fun, and I enjoyed the water in what turned out to be a somewhat hot afternoon.

We made it home in time to grill and watch the U.S. women's soccer team defeat Japan to win the World Cup. I got Popcorn out for a long walk, and am now sitting on the porch typing. The overcast skies never came back, which is unfortunate because we really do need the rain, and it would be nice to finally open our windows again at night. But at least the day turned out great. The weekend was great, too. Back to work in the morning, but I'm thankful for the past three days of family time. As frustrating as this summer has been at times, it's had its highlights as well. Hurray for the highlights!

Summer 2015: Day 42

"This was the best Fourth of July ever!"

Those were the words that came out of Ben's mouth as we drove home from seeing fireworks to all but conclude our Independence Day. I'm trying to cycle through every one of my Fourth of July holidays over the past 44 years to determine if he's right.

He might be.

I was awake early and got the dog out for a two-mile walk so I wouldn't have to in the evening, when everybody and their brother would be lighting off fireworks. She held up pretty well despite all the booms, as did the cat. But we could tell it was going to be another scorching day, so we left her home for the neighborhood parade.

I'm trying to remember the first year we participated in our neighborhood's Fourth of July parade, which is just a few blocks but still a nice event. Maybe 2005? Ben rode his bike in the parade for the first time this year, and Michael was on his scooter (he's getting too big for this one, which he's only had for about a year and a half). We walked, socialized with neighbors, and ate hot dogs, desserts, and snow cones.

We got back home where I dozed off for the second nap of the day, then eventually made our way to the JCC pool for a few hours. The only glitch, which we knew about beforehand (a friend texted us), was that someone had thrown up in the pool and the water needed to be shocked and treated. So, we couldn't jump in right away, but the JCC had some other activities for the kids (badminton included!) that occupied their time. The pool time was nice -- we hardly get to do this as a family, and here we were able to twice in two days.

We all agreed that no one wanted to cook, so we picked up Costa Vida on the way home--nothing says Fourth of July more than Mexican food! We ate dinner and hung out for a while at home, then proceeded to Part 3 of our holiday: a fireworks show. Usually, we go to Sugar House Park to watch their display, but this year, we visited some friends who live by the nearby country club that also has a fireworks show. The country club lets anyone come on the course to watch. First, we were at our friends' house, with some other families, setting off the fireworks they bought. The boys had fun -- they were the water patrol, using squirt guns to put out the minor flames left behind by the expended devices (Ben even made a siren noise like he was a fire engine). We then walked to the country club for the big display. We found a nice spot from where we had a good view and also could still see the Sugar House's fireworks. The boys ran around after the show was over, with the adults content to sit on the blankets and talk. Finally, we went home, only to find a neighboring family lighting off their fireworks -- the boys got to hold some sparklers to end the night.

So was it the best Fourth of July ever? I remember some good ones as a kid, and I remember some I had to work as an adult. I'm going with Ben's declaration of Independence Day and confirm, this was the best.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Summer 2015: Days 39-41

This recap is coming to you at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I've been naturally waking up 6 a.m. the last couple days, swim practice or no swim practice, and not falling back asleep. I'm on my front porch, and there's a little bit of cloud cover making the morning a little cooler than the past couple weeks. It feels good and almost reminds of Chicago. I like mornings but just hate waking up for them, so this sleep pattern has been somewhat welcome. At leas for today, I'm appreciating it.

Now to write about the past three days. Wednesday was uneventful. Ben tried a kids yoga class and liked it. And hell, it was so hot again.

On Thursday, after a busy day, I had a craving for a Dairy Queen Blizzard. The Blizzard was introduced 30 years ago, and my older friends who had cars and I would drive to the DQ on Irving Park Road just for it (the Dairy Queen in Park Ridge was franchised and hadn't bought the machine to make Blizzards yet, so we'd go the extra few miles in the other direction to do so). I was feeling nostalgic, so I put on a Summer 1985 mix and took the family to the DQ in Holladay. The Blizzard was good (peanut butter Oreo -- not quite the Oreo Blizzards I loved 30 years ago, but close), though this DQ didn't have outside seating so we were indoors, which lessened the experience a little. I got the dog out for a long walk when I got home.

Friday, I took the dog for a long hike up Rattlesnake Gulch in the morning. I wanted to get her out before the heat and so I wasn't walking her with fireworks going off by impatient people on the evening of July 3. The hike was nice and a good start to the day. Later, we went to the JCC pool for a few hours, and the boys got to swim without having to worry about swim practice. The water felt nice. Lori made spaghetti for dinner, and I played a game of Dice Masters with Ben before bed.

Today is July 4, and I'm looking forward to a great day. I need to get a little work done, and I'm looking at the weeds in the backyard with a destructive eye, but I'm planning on enjoying this summer milestone. At least I'm up early for it.