Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer 2016: Days 108-112

We're definitely in the homestretch. Still jumped in the pool today because it was hot -- and that felt summer.

I won't sugarcoat it: The last few days have been busy. I am in a jam-packed stretch of deadlines at work, but I'm not stressed -- I'm enjoying the work and am still in such a better place than six months ago. It feels a little, well, stifling because I'm still figuring out the work/life balance now that school has started again, but I'm confident I'll get there.

School is progressing for the boys. Basketball and swim are going to start up again soon, and we just had our first soccer practice Tuesday. I ran for the first time in months Sunday, and it felt good, but I still feel pudgy. But at least I'm getting some sort of exercise every day. Saturday, the boys' school hosted a sort of scavenger hunt, and Ben and I walked all over the Avenues for two hours -- it was quite a workout.

Today, Ben had a playdate after school, so Michael and I went to the JCC and he practiced some basketball and I worked by the pool. And I got to jump in. We were about to leave, and I realized I needed to jump in one more time. Summer will be over soon and these opportunities will disappear until next year.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Summer 2016: Days 104-107

Well, that was a quick first week ...

I spent the week trying to get my footing between work and the boys back in school again. I sort of did, but am confident next week will be easier. After all, I was also trying to bounce back from vacation as well -- it was a tricky combination to navigate. There were some bright spots:
  • Ben and I played four games of Star Realms on Wednesday. For not playing many boardgames the past several months, this felt wonderful. I need to keep striving to find time for this, and to somehow pull Michael in.
  • The weather is cooler; we've been able to turn the air off at night and open the windows.
  • Initial co-oping shifts went well.
  • Lori, Ben and I went for pizza tonight while Michael was a at birthday pool party. 
  • I'm on the porch tonight with a glass of wine.
  • I finished watching the first season of "Stranger Things."
My only gripe was that it went by too fast. But I'm happy it's the weekend, and I'm planning to make the most of it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer 2016: Day 103

Today was the first day of school for the boys. Ben had a great day; Michael's was average (or so he says -- he's definitely still tired about the trip, and bummed that two of his best friends aren't back for this year). I stepped into the school and Ben's classroom and felt a little invigorated -- everything looked vibrant and enthusiastic.Nine months of endless possibilities lie ahead.

I went to Sugar House Coffee to work their day began, then worked from home in the backyard the rest of the day. I felt productive too, something I struggled with a little this summer amid the constant driving around. Lori made pasta for dinner, and Ben and I played a game of Star Realms before I took the dog for an hourlong walk

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Summer 2016: Day 102

I'm not declaring summer over yet, but the school break part of it ends in the morning. The boys are back in school in about nine hours after another long yet fast, busy yet glorious summer.

There weren't too many last-day-of-summer urgencies today. Both boys are still a little worn out from the trip. Michael had a basketball workout this morning; Ben hung out with his best friend. We watched the Olympics and "The Simpsons." I took Ben and Popcorn for a little hike to the H Rock to watch the sunset, and Ben met a new friend -- a 10-year-old girl named Cathy, but whom he called Christina when he said goodbye (that's going to get him in big trouble someday ...). We Skyped with my dad, and the boys went to bed soon afterward. I'm out on the porch after watching some classic music videos I had DVRd.

Though I'm sad to see summer come to an end, I'm craving the return to a routine. I reset my job, pretty much my life, right at the end of the school year, and then never seemed to get as organized as I hoped as the summer set in and the nuttiness abounded. I want to begin seriously cruising with the new role at work. I want to start working out again. I want to track my meals and start losing the weight that I had lost and put back on over the past 20 months. I want to find time for the other things -- board games, writing, organization -- that in the happy chaos of summer (and the malaise before that) I couldn't delineate.

And, in what is a familiar theme for me, I want the next school year to go slower. Last year was such a blur because it felt like I was in survival mode, trying to get from one day to the next, one co-op shift at school to the next, one week to the next, and one month to the next intact. I've been sleeping like such a baby since the reset; it's almost like my body is recovering from the stressful winter. Now to take that one step further.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Summer 2016: Day 101

Today was the recovery day after vacation. We picked up Popcorn from the sitter; she looks a little thinner (it turns out, she didn't want to always eat when we're not around) but was good these last two weeks for her temporary family. And she was quite happy to see us again, and ate every bowl we put in front of her when we got home.

We unpacked the car, did laundry, and tried to sort out our lives again. Lori made a big trip to Costco. Michael and I took the RAV to a car wash and thoroughly cleaned it out. We also went to Walmart for a few more supplies for the first week of school. Lori made pulled pork sandwiches for dinner, and we watched the Olympics. I took the dog for a walk.

Finally, we all took a deep breath. School starts soon, vacation is over. We needed a brief reset and got it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer 2016: Day 100; Vacation, Day 13

Home at last.

Considering 4 (really, 5) of the 13 days of our trip were driving, you would think today would have been more difficult. Lori drove most of the day, and I did the last 3-4 hours or so. We stopped in Kearney, Neb., for groceries; at a Subway for lunch; and at a McDonald's in Rock Springs, Wyo., for dinner. We saw the sun set over the ridges of western Wyoming with windmills as a backdrop. We made it through the last 70 miles in Utah, wishing we'd get home sooner. And then, we made it home, before 10 p.m MDT. The cat was happy to see us. I made a quick jaunt to Fresh Market to get bread and anti-itch lotion (the bugs in New Buffalo were small, and their bites didn't start getting itchy until a few days later ...), but I settled in for the evening.

This was a fun vacation. I'm not sure if we will drive back next year and if we take such a circuitous route to do so (it seemed like it took a long time to arrive in the Midwest -- to the point that we just had to turn around and come back), but it definitely was an awesome experience. We won't forget this vacation any time soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Summer 2016: Day 99; Vacation, Day 12

The journey back to Utah began today.

We weren't in a huge rush in the morning, taking our time to pack. It rained, so the boys didn't get a chance to go to the lake one more time. We had lunch with Susy at Redamak's in New Buffalo, then hit the road, stopping briefly in Indiana so the boys could claim boots on the ground in another state.

Illinois and Iowa are so boring. We pushed through to Des Moines to grab dinner at a Chipotle, then drove at night to get to Lincoln, Neb., where we had a reservation at a Hampton Inn. The room was unusually large -- somehow we got a suite for the price of a normal room -- and we settled in comfortably for the night after arriving at about 10:45 p.m. CDT. The drive home from vacation is always a bit of a struggle, but it's something you have to do. We'll be home tomorrow night.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 98; Vacation, Day 11

Another nice day on Lake Michigan. The water was still nice -- for Lake Michigan -- but egad, I don't like rocky bottoms (I'm definitely a pool person ...). The boys had another incredible and exhausting day, though our time on the beach was a little cut short by a thunderstorm that moved in. Our hosts made lasagna for dinner. I spent more time on a lounge chair, reading, napping, and, well, lounging. When the skies cleared, you could see the Chicago skyline from across the lake. My camera phone couldn't quite get that scene, but I did manage this sunset:


This has been so nice to spend a couple days here; the boys have loved it. Vacation is almost over, and this was a good way to top it off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 97; Vacation, Day 10

We entered the last phase of our vacation before heading back: Michigan. My stepmom invited us to spend a few days with her extended family at a large house they were renting on Lake Michigan in a town called New Buffalo, just over the Indiana border. The boys drove with my father while Lori and I packed up the RAV and took the Skyway east.

The house Susy and her family rented is amazing. It's just a short walk to the beach, and the water this time of year was not numbingly cold (unlike on the other side of the lake -- not disgusting algae blooms, either). The boys had a blast swimming in the lake for the first time. The rest of the day was nice -- it very much felt like vacation. I took a nap on a lawn chair and enjoyed a few beers before and after dinner. A bonfire was built, and Ben and I made Reese's smores. Dad and I watched the Cubs and the Olympics. Good family time all around.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 96; Vacation, Day 9

Today was our Chicago day, and Ben and I drove into the city to walk the 606 Trail in Bucktown. Growing up, the old neighborhood, as  Mom calls it, wasn't the insanely expensive area it is today. I lived here for a couple years, but my mom and grandmother grew up in Bucktown. I always vaguely remember a rail line, built up about 20 feet off the ground, cutting through the neighborhood, with viaducts getting you from one side to the other of the stone structures. The rail line had stopped being used, and most of the factories were long gone, so the path was turned into a multipurpose trail.

Ben and I walked about a mile down the trail from its east trailhead (actually, we started at Wood Street -- the street where I used to live) to Milwaukee Avenue and the L tracks. I pointed out where relatives used to live and where there were once factories (now condos). I took some pictures, and then we headed to St. Mary's, an incredibly ornate church where I was baptized. I think today was the Feast of the Assumption, because we managed to arrive during Mass, so we couldn't take too many pictures or look around much.

One thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was the street and curb right in front of our old apartment. When I was 4, we moved from that house, and I remember sitting in my Uncle Howard's Toyota, fascinated by the steering wheel (it had little horn buttons all over it, but no matter which one you pressed, it sounded just one horn), and trying to stay out of the way as the apartment was packed up and out. Forty-one years ago, right at that curb ...

Ben and I tried going to Smoque to pick up lunch, but it is closed on Mondays, so I took him by Dad's old house in Irivng Park. Then we headed back. Michael and I got some time too, going to Dick's to look for a Bulls Dwyane Wade t-shirt, then trying unsuccessfully to find a self-serve car wash (we passed one by my old high school, but the lot was just repaved, so it was closed). We all went to Lou Malnati's for dinner; I managed a short walk before it rained in the evening..

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 95; Vacation, Day 8

Every vacation, we are challenged to see everyone. Inevitably, we can't, and sometimes a few years pass between visits with even our closest friends. We turned that conundrum upside down this year by inviting friends to see us all at once, at my dad's house. The plan turned out great -- two of my Marquette friends and their families visited, then two friends from Chicago, then my friend Marc from the old neighborhood and two of his sons. We had SuperDawg for dinner and snacked all day. The day was filled with laughter, memories, and catching up. As Lori said, we need to do this every year.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 94; Vacation, Day 7

Seven days of vacation in the book already! Going too fast ...

We woke up to more rain today, so the plan was to do either laser tag or an indoor waterpark before departing Merrill. Unfortunately, the laser tag place was closed, despite its answering machine and storefront sign saying its hours of operations began at noon. So instead, we went to the indoor waterpark -- and we all felt it was a better option: more family time to interact rather than shoot each other. I dared this insanely fast bowl waterslide with Ben (two times!), and the boys got to hang with their soon-to-be new cousin.

Ben was so sad to leave, but we eventually hit the road and made good time to Milwaukee, where we had Kopp's for dinner. The trip to Chicago was easy, and we arrived at my dad's house for the next phase of our trip.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 93; Vacation, Day 6

The weather in the North Woods still didn't wasn't so cooperative today, but we managed to still have fun outdoors. First, I took the boys on a hike at a rather big park in Merrill with a few miles of trails. Ben found a geocache, and we thankfully weren't rained on.

Later in the afternoon, we went go-karting in Minocqua. Michael was a pro, and Ben, his first time driving, didn't crash. I only did one ride -- the go-karts were awfully small and uncomfortable -- but the boys went three times before we headed back to Merrill.

The evening was spent playing board games: Ticket to Ride (I won), The Resistance and Redneck Life. No, we haven't had great weather this trip up north, but today, we made do.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 92; Vacation, Day 5

Today I felt a little antsy. It was rainy or at least cloudy all day, so we didn't get out too much. I had to wrap up work for the week, too. Considering we are going  to Chicago on Saturday, I feel like we're not getting the North Woods experience. I am sitting on the Lisa's back porch, reeking of bug spray, writing this, listening to the crickets, and waiting to see if I will see any meteors from the Perseids (I am not optimistic -- it looks cloudy). I took the boys to see the new Star Trek movie in town, but technical difficulties meant the colors were off, and we kept seeing these magenta streaks on the screen. That is somewhat like today felt like, but hopefully, tomorrow will be sunny, worry-free, and fun.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 91; Vacation, Day 4

Finally, we made it to Wisconsin. We crossed the river on I-90, jaunted across Route 29, visited a working cheese farm (and bought fresh curds) and arrived at Lisa's house about noon. The rest of the day wasn't too exciting, but it didn't need to be. Michael got to drive a Moped; Ben hung out with Lisa's fiance's 10-year-old son. Pork steaks for dinner, yum. Olympics in the evening.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 90; Vacation, Day 3

Another long day of driving, and it's funny, none of us thought it would be this long. We got a later start today after our busy Monday, which contributed to the long day. After breakfast and checkout, we went to the South Dakota state capitol building, which is another capitol checked off Lori's to-see list. We then headed to the Corn Palace in Mitchell for more touristy fun. We picked up lunch and hit the road with the intent on going through Walnut Grove, but sadly, the trip across South Dakota and Minnesota took longer than expected. We decided not to push it through to Merrill and instead found a hotel room (at a GrandStay) in Stillwater, Minn. We went to Applebee's for dinner and watched the Olympics.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 89; Vacation, Day 2

Today was jam packed with vacation fun. We got an early start from the hotel and headed to Devil's Tower. The formation is incredibly impressive, and we hiked around the whole thing. I kept looking for a place aliens might have landed (a la "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), but the whole thing is actually quite wooded. We got some great pictures, and if it wasn't for the other plans we had, I could have stayed all day gawking at the mountain.

We set out for Mount Rushmore next, but saw a sign for Jewel Cave National Monument and decided to check it out. Ben has his fourth-grade pass that gets all of us into national parks for free, so what would have been a $40 tour of the cave was free. The cave was neat -- the boys loved it. After a couple hours, we departed for Mount Rushmore.

However, we got sidetracked again, this time by the Crazy Horse Memorial outside of Custer, S.D. We didn't get close to the incomplete memorial but still had a great view of it. Finally, we made it to Mount Rushmore ... right as the rain arrived. We didn't get too wet, but I could tell Lori and Michael were a little worn out and not that impressed. Ben and I took a little hike closer to the big heads, and after about an hour, we headed to Pierre, where we had reserved a room for the night.

After picking up McDonald's in Rapid City, we made it to I-90 and saw a stunning sight -- we had a double rainbow in front of us for maybe 30 miles. Unfortunately, we hit a thunderstorm that was intense; I survived a lot of white-knuckle driving and, eventually, wind across the grasslands up to Pierre. We made it to our hotel exhausted, but happy after such a long, fun day.

Some random notes:
  • Besides the memorials and monuments, we stopped briefly for a beautiful landscape of the Black Hills. 
  • So many bikers on the road today for the Sturgis Bike Rally -- this is why we ended up getting a room in Pierre.
  • I thought I saw Wilford Brimley at Mount Rushmore.
  • We DID see the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile at Mount Rushmore. Interpret that any way you like.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer 2016, Day 88; Vacation, Day 1

Vacation has started! We need this trip so badly. The first day was uneventful -- a long day of driving, from Salt Lake City to Gillette, Wyo. Along the way, we stopped at Independence Rock, a rest stop next to a large, interesting rock formation, and Ben and I hiked around it. We rolled into Gillette about 6 p.m. and checked into our room, though we were initially dismayed because the hallway outside our door is being re-wallpapered and the smell from the primer was giving Lori a headache. We went to Old Chicago for dinner, then came back and watched the Olympics.

Driving trips have these days that seem boring but get you closer to your destination. I sat in the back most of the time while Lori drove, and Michael enjoyed riding shotgun. Let the memories begin!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Summer 2016: Days 83-87

The summer sports schedule finally concluded this week with the conference swim meet. This is the boys' rec team, and it's the last year Ben will swim this meet because he's on comp. He went out in style, winning the backstroke and finishing third overall for individual points in his age group. Michael had a great meet as well -- I dare say he swam out of his mind -- and was solid in the 11-12 division. The meet ended Friday night, we went for ice cream, and called it a summer for our sports commitments.

The week went by so fast. Ben had a good afternoon Wednesday hanging out with one of his school friends. I felt like I had my most productive work week in a while, even with the swim meet Thursday and Friday. Today I got Popcorn out for a little hike, then we began preparing for our much-needed vacation that starts in the morning. I'm looking forward to what I hope will be an awesome two weeks.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Summer 2016: Days 78-82

Here comes August. We are in the home stretch on summer, and the boys start school in three weeks.

The past few days have been moderately eventful. We bought a new washing machine on Friday, then watched Michael's team win the consolation bracket of the 3-on-3 tournament he played in. Lori's birthday was Saturday, and we did housework and I grilled while she got to relax. I took the boys to the pool all day Sunday and got a little sunburned. We watched "Sharknado 4" last night. Today was busy with work and swim practices, but I did manage an hour-long walk with the dog. And it even rained a little bit Saturday, but it's still pretty hot.

I've liked this summer so far. It hasn't been the overall reset I was hoping for, but that will come once the boys start school. I managed to clean out my top shelves on my side of the closet and clear out the bathroom drawers and cabinet Saturday -- projects that feel like progress, which I hope to continue once the reset hits full swing. For now, I'm content to enjoy these last few weeks.