AYSO 2023 National Games

Last week the Calisoffs travelled to Irvine California for the AYSO National Games. Sam, Aaron and Jack were all competing with an amalgamated team that tried out from all of AYSO in Chicago.

AYSO hosts the national games every two years and until now it was not on our radar.

Before we left we had heard that Jack’s coach successfully won for with a girls team two years ago. And Jack’s team had a bunch of players from different high schools, all which you must try out for a spot. In other words, they were seasoned soccer players.

The twins team also had a bunch of players from high level soccer teams with a lot of technical skill.

So we came in with high hopes.

Opening Ceremonies – Wearing Chicago Hats

They did a lot of clever things, like having opening ceremonies in the LA Galaxy Stadium. The players marched out and were featured on a Jumbotron as they entered. There were so many teams! It took hours for them to all march out! Mostly from California, but also from Florida, Hawaii, Texas, and more.

On the second day, they attended a soccer fest where all the teams were mixed up so they end up playing with players from every team. I thought this was a good idea, a way to keep it friendly.

Jack Plays Against One of his Teammates at Soccerfest
Sam’s Team was called the Mint Oreos
Aaron is named Captain of the Watermelon Team, and plays Striker

After soccerfest, the real games began…

Jack plays Defense on the U19 Team
the Coach had Sam Play Every Position this Tournament
Aaron played Midfield or Striker

The temperature was in the 90s most days, and between the three kids we had 3 or 4 games a day. Adam and my step count was well over 10,000 a day, but I’m sure the players step count was much higher than that! We came home every night sun burnt and salt crusted from dried sweat.

How did we do? Not well. It was actually quite a beat down. By the end of it I really didn’t want to go to the last day of games, since we knew based on the previous days standings that we were set to lose all of them. Again.

Jack’s team ended with 1 win, 1 tie and 4 loses.

The twins team ended with 1 win, 1 tie, and 5 loses.

We underestimated how good the other teams would be. And we didn’t spend enough time practicing together as a team before leaving Chicago.

The game that the twins won was a bright spot for Aaron though, who scored a hat trick (three goals in one game).

Celebratory Airplane Arms After Scoring

The beat down was made less horrible by all the social events the Chicago group planned.

Soccer Watch Party and Buffet at Dave & Busters for all Chicago Teams
Afternoon of Beach Volleyball and Body Surfing for the U19 Team
Wild Waters Water Park in Irvine meet up for the U12 Team
Fun at the Waterpark for the Adults as well!
Dairy Queen Treat for the Win against El Paso
In Between Soccer Games these Three U12 Players came back to our AirBnb for lunch and to watch Soccer Videos on YouTube (and Ice their Sore Body Parts)

We were also lucky to see Adam’s family twice while we were in Southern California.

Hanging out at The Grove after lunch at The Cheesecake Factory
Adam’s Sister, Niece and Nephew come to Irvine and see one of the Twin’s Games

After the tournament ended I was sure the kids would all say this was an experience they never want to repeat again. As hard as it was to watch all my kids lose over and over again, it must have been even harder to actually be the person on the team losing over and over again, right?

To my surprise, Jack talked about the tournament in terms of how the team would do in two years, the next time they host the national games. He spoke about it as if he was already signed up again in his mind. The twins had a very healthy attitude about it as well, they considered it a good learning experience and said if things were organized a bit differently, they would consider going again.

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Ben Turns 14

Fourteen was a big year for Ben. After 9 years in a single school, he has moved onto high school. His new school, just like his old one, runs 11 months a year, which means Ben has already started and is in the awkward process of adjusting to a new environment.

Despite these major changes, we still kept the birthday rituals the same.

We got the same birthday donuts, the same birthday sushi dinner at the same restaurant, and at the end of the night we sung to the birthday cake.

Birthday Donuts
Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake

In between all that eating, he had an art lesson and Adam took him to get a new iPad.

Shortly after his birthday, we got a sitter for the other kids and took him to the Mayo Clinic for some testing. Thankfully everything we were worried about was negative. Without the worry and getting his parents full attention all the time, the trip ended up like an extended birthday for him.

In between doctors appointments we did walks and had treats.

Boba Tea Treat
Walking around Rochester, MN

One day we drove over to the Mall of America so Ben could spend some of his birthday money on Legos and Crayola markers. We got to play extreme mini golf. We also got to see the new Misson Impossible Movie. I highly suggest it. In fact, we are binge watching the previous Misson Impossible Movies with the twins now in the hopes that they can see the new one on the big screen before the theaters stop viewing it.

M & M Store
Extreme Mini Golf

Finally Ben asked if he could have a soccer lesson with his brothers.

Soccer Drills
Ben in Goal

Overall I would say it’s a successful birthday. It was also a year of incredible growth for Ben. Not just the transition from middle school to high school, but physically as well. While we were at the Mayo Clinic, they measured his height at 5 ft 7 in!

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An Invitation to the Hamptons

Our friends Greg and Margie bought a house in the Hamptons and graciously invited us to visit.

As usual, Adam and I took the opportunity of a road trip as a chance to squeeze every thing possible we could think of into it.

It started with squeezing Niagara Falls into our drive over.

Adam said the Canadian side was much more picturesque so we packed the passports and headed over the border.

Adam booked us in a hotel right in front of the falls, with fabulous views.

View from the Hotel Restaurant. The Kids order Real Maple Syrup and Canadian Bacon.

Also, this meant that we had a front row seat to the nightly fireworks. We were so high the fireworks were below us!

The next day we headed to the Hamptons. Greg and Margie’s place was amazing! At one point Aaron said, “I’m having so much fun, I haven’t touched my iPad once!”

This is because there was so much fun to be had!

Pool and Jacuzzi
Private Tennis Court
Inflatable Bump Balls
Ping Pong Table and (in the background) Classic Arcade Game with Thousands of Games

Still, we did managed to get out and about for an afternoon, eating pizza in Sag Harbor and going for Ice Cream afterwards.

Ice Cream in Sag Harbor

We were not the only ones staying at Greg and Margie’s. Also our friend Tom came over from Hong Kong.

Greg, Tom and I were like the Three Stooges in Hong Kong. There was a lot of hanging around together and giggling and laughing, perhaps not to the point of slapstick, but many fun filled times.

Tom, Nikki, and Greg at Doreen and Vincent’s Wedding in Taiwan, late 1990s or early 2000s.

Although we have met many times across the globe since the gang broke up, the last time we were all together was in Hawaii for Greg’s 50th birthday, aptly named his “Hawaii 5-0“, six years ago.

Thanks in part to Tom, our gang has expanded. Tom introduced Greg to his friend Margie, who he went to high school with in Hawaii. Later, Tom and Margie cajoled me into talking to Adam at Andrew’s wedding in Jamaica. Tom deemed Adam suitable based on the fact that he had a “hot body”. Ah Tom, always looking out for me.

Tom, Greg, Margie, Nikki and Adam

And still we expanded further….

Tom, Zack (with Maple), Greg, Margie, Nikki, Adam, Jack, Sam and Aaron

After the Hamptons, we drove off to squeeze more fun in. We took the kids to New York, their first time (that they can remember) visiting the city.

There is so much to do in NYC, there is no way to cover it all no matter how long you stay, so the boys decided their top picks were the Statue of Liberty and Central Park.

On Liberty Island
Central Park

We also spent a lot of time eating our way through the city. No trip to NYC would be complete for me without Ray’s Pizza and Katz Deli.

Ray’s Pizza
Katz Deli

We also walked through many parts of NYC, Chinatown, Little Italy, Battery Park, Korea Town, Flatiron, Times Square, and more. At Margie’s suggestion, we stopped off at her favorite Boba Tea place. It was so good, Adam order another tea after he finished his first one!

Boba Tea at TrueDan in Chinatown

After a day filled with over 30,000 steps, we drove on the next day to squeeze in more adventure.

First we visited my friend from high school, Scott Grimes, in his beautiful 17 acre farm in Pennsylvania. They hosted us for a yummy lunch and let the kids play in their pool and on their ATV machines.

The Grimes and the Calisoffs

After that we meandered through winding country roads in Amish country (with a pit stop for Sam to puke because of said winding roads) and squeezed another stop in, this time in Hershey, PA.

Make Your Own Hershey Bar Experience
Hershey Milkshakes

Finally we landed in Pittsburgh to stay the night before our final leg home. When we arrived, we realized we were there the same weekend as Anthrocon, a furry convention. People were all walking down the streets in full-on furry costumes. At one point, while leaving the hotel, Aaron was worried that people might mistake him for a furry because he was carrying the Hershey furry pillow he bought at the last stop.

The next day was another eight hour trek and we are finally home and reunited with Ben, who stayed back in Chicago to attend school. Such a whirlwind trip! I’m already missing all the friends we saw, wishing we had more time together!

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Father’s Day and Birthday

This year, like every year, Adam asked each kid what they would like to do with him for Father’s Day. This year, like every year, ended up being a day chocked full of activities.

The new Spiderman movie, tennis, running, golf lessons, and kicking the soccer ball in the park filled the day. The day was such a whirlwind that I didn’t get around to taking any pictures!

I did buy a custom made picture for Adam’s Father’s Day present, though. I had the photo below framed for this year’s present.

Adam’s Father’s Day Mosaic

As for taking pictures for Adam’s birthday, well we were just lucky to see him! He left the house before 7am for an all day negotiation. In his absence, we got the normal birthday morning treats, donuts! He never even saw them. They were all gone before he came home that night.

Luckily the negotiation didn’t last through dinner and he managed to make it home in time for dinner with the family.

Sushi Birthday Dinner

For dessert, his favorite, key lime pie.

Singing to the Key Lime Pie

The years are going by so fast, that night in bed when he said the new number that is to define him for the next year, both of us could hardly believe it.

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Ben’s 8th Grade Graduation

Gorgeous Graduation Cake – A Gift from Ben’s School

Ben graduated 8th Grade today. He has been attending this school for nine years so it was a bittersweet moment, especially because this school is such a small, tight knit community.

Walking in to “Pomp & Circumstance”

His school went above and beyond to make this day special. They compiled a video of the graduating students, gave the kids loads of thoughtful gifts that were created for each individual student, and even let each graduate stand up and give a speech.

Ben’s Graduation Speech

After much anxiety and threatening to skip graduation all together over the prospect of public speaking, Ben stood up and gave a thoughtful and funny speech.

Even has his hands were shaking with nerves, he joked that he couldn’t believe the school had given him, “talking Ben” a chance to stand up and talk as long as he wanted. His motor mouth is notorious and can be a great sense of frustration for many, so this self deprecating joke really hit the mark. He also thanked many friends and staff members. Finally he ended the speech with some funny tips for the students in the audience who would continue to attend this school in the future.

We were super proud that he overcame his fears and got up and spoke.

We were also super grateful for this special school, which housed him with such patience and grace.

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Twins Turn 11

The Twins turned 11 amidst a whirlwind of activities.

On the day of their birthday they had Hebrew school and soccer practice, so we started the night before with a special birthday dinner celebration.

Sushi Birthday Dinner

The day of their actual birthday we did our traditional donut and egg sandwiches, then they opened presents before heading off to school laden with cupcakes for their classmates.

Birthday Donuts
Birthday Cards from the Family

By the time they finished all the after school activities, we barely had time for a quick dinner and birthday cake.

Sweet Mandy Bs All Chocolate Cake

The whirlwind of activity extended to the weekend before their birthday and after which means we weren’t able to have a birthday party until 10 days after their actual birthday.

For their party, we booked Spin, a table tennis venue.

We got enough tables so the kids could play doubles with each other. In my mind I envisioned them breaking into groups of four and playing doubles. Did the reality match my expectations?

Not at all! The party started with almost no one needing paddles because who needs paddles to have a ping pong ball war? All you need is a baseball pitchers arm!

Eventually everyone settled down and played some actual table tennis. It helped that we hired a pro to organize games for the kids and gave him a tray of candy to use as prizes.

Eric, the Pro, Gives Prizes for Any Kid who can Hit a Ball through the Giant Connect Four
Aaron gets Extra Time with the Pro, Eric

Eventually the cake came out. Everyone says the pandemic is over but that doesn’t mean people want to go back to cake candle blowing. Covid or not, no one wants accidental spittle from another person on top of their cake slice.

Sparklers Replace Candles for the Ping Pong Themed Cake

We still had an hour or more of fun before the time the party was over. And the kids did not waste a minute of it….

Not Sure if Sam Used a Paddle the Entire Time?

Afterwards, we headed home to open all the wonderful presents the twins friends gifted them.

It was another successful birthday. I couldn’t be more proud of these two, and hope they have a wonderful birthday year!

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Spring Break 2023

Ever since we have inherited my mother’s house, we have been enjoying quite a few holidays in Florida.

Whenever we get back to my childhood home, Adam turns to me and remarks about how happy I am.

It’s the truth.

I’m so happy whenever we are there.

Is it the fact that I am watching my children enjoy the childhood that I once enjoyed?

Jumping into the Pool that I Grew Up with on the Count of Three
Making Their Own Memories, Just Like I Did as a Kid
Playing Basketball on the Street
Watching the Stars from Grandpa’s Telescope

Or perhaps it’s all the family and friends we see when we are here?

In Addition to Being Aaron’s Favorite Seat, Grandpa Babysat Many Times and Hung Out with Us Lots.
Meeting My Friend From High School, Karen, at Kapow.
Dinner with Adam’s High School Buddy, Pete and his Wife Kelly at Luff’s.
Adam also Golfed with Pete another day while we were in Florida.
Jack’s High School Buddy from Chicago Visits us.
At Jessica’s Passover Pool Party

I also was lucky to see (but forgot to photo) some other friends from High School. Gina and her husband Mike drove an hour to see us. Kate stopped by twice. I also reconnected with a childhood friend, Brooke.

Or maybe it’s all the cool activities we get to do while we are down in Florida?

Jack Holds his Own in Round Robin Tennis with His Brothers.
Table Tennis, Bags, and Later Swimming at Jessica’s House
Jack Learning to Drive in Japo’s Car
Ben and I Visit the NSU Art Museum in Ft. Lauderdale while the Others Golfed.
Snorkeling at Blue Heron

Adam and I also managed to each run 5 miles a day.

I think’s not just one thing, it’s all these things: watching my children in my childhood home, seeing friends and family, and all the different activities we can do. And more! The relaxed holiday schedule, the warm sunny days, and the bonding time we have as a family all contribute to the exhilaration I feel every time I every time I visit.

Till next time, Florida…

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New Car

Did I mention that we bought a new car?

Honda Odyssey Elite 2023

We actually bought it about a month ago. But the experience was so soul sucking that I’m just feeling recovered from it now.

All I remember about buying our last car eleven years ago was how long it took. And now I remember why. Every person we were put in front of was not the decision maker, so each time we asked a question there was a lot of running back and forth to ask a manager. I’m sure this is a psychological sales tactic. I know from reading Robert B. Cialdini’s book, Influence, that car dealerships purposely try tacking on lots of extras after the price of the car is negotiated. After spending so much money on a car, these extras seem like nothing compared to the cost of the car. But after spending so much time buying the car, this tactic had the opposite effect on me. I just wanted to decline everything so we could finally get up and leave.

By the end of four hours we still did not have the keys to our car and had to find the original sales person and ask for them. He took the opportunity to ask us to make sure we filled out his survey with all 10s when it comes. This was the third time he mentioned it.

We had driven to the dealership right after school drop off and if we didn’t leave right then, we would miss school pick up.

When Adam and I left, I was too numb to enjoy the car. My stomach was growling and I felt like a had been in a time warp. We were in too much of a rush to fiddle with all the new features, so the first drive was confusing. As the days passed, we thawed a bit. We figured out the new systems. We appreciated the new acoustic glass, which made for a much quieter ride. We enjoyed the heated seats and heated steering wheel. We started to love the car.

A few weeks later we were driving Adam to work when he turned to me and said with sadness, “I’m so old I probably will only buy another two or three cars in my lifetime.”

I answered back, “Is that such a bad thing?”

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Trip to Arizona Over St. Patrick’s Weekend

Does anyone actually know who St. Patrick was? When St. Paddy’s Day comes around in Chicago, it’s time to watch the Chicago River dyed green, wear green clothing, shamrocks and clovers and use the excuse to start drinking well before lunch.

With all this hooplah, you’d think St. Patrick was the patron saint of drunken leprechauns. Turns out he was a Brit who was enslaved in Ireland, found religion, then became a sort of missionary for the Irish people.

Ben and I had a laugh about this. Are we still celebrating people trying to take over other people’s cultures? Aren’t we against that now? Isn’t that why Columbus Day is now called Indigenous Day? Maybe St. Patrick’s Day should become Irish Pagan Religion Day?

It’s possible I’m over thinking this. The important thing is that we had a long weekend and we used the time to go visit Bubbie and Bill in Arizona.

View from Bubbie and Bill’s Back Porch

Every time I visit them in Tuscon, I’m struck by the contrast of beauty and hostility in the landscape. Gorgeous backdrops of majestic mountains are dotted completely with prickly cactus of all shapes and sizes.

Hike in Catalina State Park

We spent time outdoors, hiking or at the hotel’s pool. It was nice to be in a place of warmth and sunny skies.

Ping Pong at the Marriott Starr Pass Resort
The Resort had a Lazy River and Slide Pool

We also spent time eating! Breakfast buffets at the hotel, brisket dinner hosted by Bubbie and Bill, and at one of Bubbie’s favorite restaurants in town.

Dinner at the Wild Garlic Grill

It was nice to get away as a family. And it was nice to visit Bubbie and Bill, who sadly live so far away from us!

Each time we travel as a family, I’m so proud of how the kids adapt and grow. They order new food, they learn new things about different places in the world, they learn how to travel, and most importantly, they learn how to be flexible in new situations.

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Jack’s 16th Birthday

Do you remember your 16th birthday?

I do. I remember it because it was a big birthday. Or should I say Big Bird birthday? We will get to that later.

Sixteen is the year you get your license. In the suburbs, turning 16 and getting a car creates a whole new level of freedom. And oh how I remember the difference. B.C. and A.D. Before Car and After Driving. Life was never the same again.

My parents thought it was a big deal too. Which is why, even though they were long seperated, they schemed together. Dad took me on a driving lesson while Mom arranged a surprise party for me. She invited everyone she thought I was friends with. Or maybe she invited everyone she thought I SHOULD be friends with? Noticeably absent was my good friend Laura Vertolli (pictured in previous blog). This might have been the most upsetting thing at the party. Except it wasn’t, because she also decided she needed to hire entertainment….

Mom Hired Big Bird to Entertain at my 16th Birthday Party

Hoping not to embarrass Jack as much as my parents embarrassed me, but also acknowledging the significance of this milestone birthday, Adam suggested a ski trip for Jack and his friends.

We planned it for Presidents Day, February 17-20, the weekend before his birthday. Shortly after we planned it, Jack broke his foot.

Jack’s Emergency Room Cast on February 4th

Jack refused to cancel the weekend. He told us his friends were excited about the trip and he didn’t want to ruin their fun. So, we went ahead as planned.

12 Seater Mercedes Sprinter Van with Xbox

We rented a huge van to take us all up to the Upper Peninsula to ski at a place my friend Tami recommended, Ski Brule.

We rented a place that sleeps 23 people. It had a pool table, shuffle board table, sauna, PS4, and arcade games.

Pool Table
Old Style Arcade Games

Besides all the entertainment, the boys also created their own fun. They competed to see who could stay in the sauna the longest. They played many card games. And they did who knows what else late at night while everyone else was asleep!

Playing Spoons

The house was on a lake in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Most days we had deer visit us, which we could see from the panoramic windows.

Visiting Deer

Saturday we woke the boys early to get to the ski resort. Even though Jack couldn’t ski, he stayed and helped out his friends and took lots of pictures.

Jack and his Buddies all Geared up to Ski/Snowboard

Adam insisted all of Jack’s friends get lessons, then he took the twins up the mountain. Those two little daredevils would be skiing black diamond by the end of the day.

Rare Meetup at the Base of the Mountain

The following day we woke early again and got into the van for another day of skiing. Unfortunately our van got stuck after sliding in the icy driveway. We ended up having to call for a tow truck, which took all day. We missed the second day of skiing.

Jack’s friends were great about it. Not a single complaint. They busied themselves with playing in the snow and more card games.

Playing in the Snow
Ice Surfing Video

It was so nice to see them all together. Jack has such a great group of friends, it makes my heart sing.

The day after we got back was Jack’s actual birthday. We had the normal donut and egg sandwich breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts. For dinner that night, we went to our regular birthday spot for dinner.

Sushi Birthday Dinner

Afterwards, we ate cake COVID style, without blowing out candles on top.

Sweet Mandy B’s Oreo Cake

After we sung to Jack he had one last request, to take everyone to see the new Ant Man Quantumania film. We booked it for this weekend.

When I look back at that girl next to Big Bird and compare her to Jack, I can’t help but be pleased. When I was 16 years old my parents didn’t know who my friends were or what I would have liked for a 16th birthday party, if any. It was sweet of them to try, but there was a huge disconnect that I don’t think is there with Jack. He still comes and talks to us most nights after all the other kids have gone to bed. I definitely feel a lot closer to him than I did to my parents at that age.

I’m also really proud of where he in life. He cares about his grades and as a result has a high GPA. He plays high school soccer as well as travel soccer, which keeps him active and fit. He consistently makes good decisions, which makes him someone I look to if I need to bounce ideas off of. He fixes computer problems for the house. He looks after his brothers. Given one of his brother’s special needs, this is no small statement. And he’s a real mensch, just look at his decision not to cancel the weekend, even though he couldn’t ski.

Happy birthday to you, Jack! And many more…

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