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 ...