Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 7

Last day of vacation. Mellow. Productive. Fun.

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

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

Time to fly in about 10 hours ...

Autumns: 1


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

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

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

And a song. And a music video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Looking out, across the morning ..."

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

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

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

Fall vacation, day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 4

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fall vacation: Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fall vacation, day 2

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall vacation, day 1

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

One day down, seven more to go ...