Showing posts from July, 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 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,…

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…

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…

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.


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 Sus…

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 i…

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 t…

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 ha…

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 HB…

Summer 2015: days 53-55

--> 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 Mu…

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.

Summer 2015: Day 47

--> 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 …

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…

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 …

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'…

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.

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 get…

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 abou…

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 i…