Family fun amid the frenzy

Christmas is rapidly approaching, and that means — for better and for worse — all kinds of stress for families everywhere. We’re frequently reminded of the true “reason for the season,” yet it still often manages to get washed away in the seas of shopping extravaganzas, holiday events and oh-so-seemingly-much more.

The McGaughey clan, of course, is no exception to this rule. But in the midst of the more than occasional craziness, we’ve tried to find some fun amid the frenzy.

Take a few days back, for instance, when we headed to Pioneer Village for the annual Christmas festivities out there. Grace, as always, performed as part of the Kay Williams Prunty Dance Academy group, and it was the same thing for me as it is every year — the “going” part is dreaded, but the “being there” part is fine. It’s not like I don’t enjoy the offerings that are part of the yearly event; it just always seems extra chilly out there. But … it wasn’t too cold this year, Grace did a wonderful job as usual, and Zach’s unexpected encounter with a classmate made things perfectly pleasant.

Then, this past Friday night, we attended for the first time the Celebrations Around the World event at Pioneer Village. Le Lucht and Minnesota West put on an impressive holiday party, and we all enjoyed trying food from the tables representing different nations — well, all of us except the Z-Man, who was (unsurprisingly) more interested in wolfing down chicken nuggets from a certain fast-food joint than sampling, for instance, delicious Korean cuisine. Bec did convince him to try a couple of small bites of things, and of course he perked up considerably upon seeing the sugar cookies from Croatia and chocolate from Switzerland. Still, we all had fun, with the evening capped by a hayride around the college. As horses pulled us across the campus, it was equally enjoyable to listen to Grace singing along to Christmas carols and Zach watching for — and marveling at — the, er, bodily functions of those impressive animals.

The next morning, Becca and I went Christmas shopping, with the kids actually spending time alone for an hour or so while I occasionally worried about this “Lord of the Flies”-like experiment. We returned from a fairly productive outing with both children alive and uninjured (at least physically), so we count that as a win. Later, to mark the warm weather, the whole family spent some time together outside playing soccer. Benji, our Shih Tsu mix puppy who sparks no shortage of both adoration and aggravation, would have been the star of a highlight reel. Perhaps taking his lead from other single-name soccer greats like Pele and Ronaldo, Benji was in the right place at the right time when a kicked ball ricocheted off the neighbors’ fence and knocked him square in the top of the head. He didn’t even get upset — I would have expected at least a yellow card.

Maybe that’s the secret to enjoying the frenetic pace the holiday season can bring. Have a little fun when you can, and enjoy the impromptu laughter and fun that often come around. And, if the proverbial soccer ball knocks you in the head, just (as Taylor Swift would say) shake it off.

My deal on Thanksgiving

Well, I did something on Thanksgiving I had previously sworn to never attempt.

No, I didn’t try my wife’s bizarre holiday Jell-O concoction (that could only happen if I consume a little too much adult eggnog during the upcoming holiday season). And, also no, I did not change the four dead light bulbs that have been out in the upstairs bathroom for the past several days (actually, I haven’t sworn not to do that; I just keep forgetting).

What I did Thursday — Thanksgiving Day — was much worse. I (gasp) went shopping.

In recent years, I’ve gone from chastising the overblown consumerism of Black Friday (“The last thing I’ll ever do is go Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving!”) to cursing the encroachment of deep-discount sales into Turkey Day eve (“I can’t believe shopping is cutting into Thanksgiving!”). No piece of paper would be long enough to list the number of things I’d rather do than head to a big-box store for the start of a Christmas-season deal bonanza.

Or so I thought.

On Thursday morning, Becca and I started wading through some of the inserts that were part of Wednesday’s massive Daily Globe (I’m guessing paper carriers built up their arm strength a bit that morning). We saw a few good bargains here and there, but were content to simply take note of the most appealing items until we suddenly spotted something that seemed too good to be true. A key item on a certain someone’s holiday list was on sale for half off, starting that night, at a certain local business that will also remain unidentified. These little details will remain top secret for good reasons; both the kids can read now, and proprietors of stores (and Globe advertisers) can, too.

So, since Becca did the young ‘uns and I the honor of making a delicious Thanksgiving dinner — and I got off very lightly by comparison with cleanup duty — I volunteered to go and try to pick up the desired item when the specific store selling it re-opened later in the day. I figured I’d get there a few minutes early, keeping in mind that a small line in front of locked doors might be possible. It wasn’t going to be too early, though — after all, the temperature felt like minus-40 outside (an exaggeration, yes, but probably not much of one), and I wasn’t going to transform into an icicle just to save a few bucks.

When I did arrive, I was surprised to see a packed parking lot and a longer line than expected. All I could do was laugh to myself, and then join the throng. I made small talk with a couple who, as it turned out, did this sort of thing each year. Well, I thought, if the camaraderie in an outside line in sub-zero temperatures was like this, maybe this whole Thanksgiving-night-shopping thing wasn’t so rotten after all.

And it wasn’t. The doors opened, people entered in an orderly fashion and — the proverbial icing on the cake — I got what I came for. I was in and out of the store in less than 10 minutes, and I didn’t even see any fistfights or tugs of war over electronics.

I’m not sure if I’ll go shopping on Thanksgiving night next year, as I still have a bit of a moral problem over giving up part of a family holiday to buy stuff that — in the grand scheme of things — isn’t at all critical to anyone’s survival or enjoyment of life as they know it. But, if there’s a really good deal, I could probably be talked into it. And who knows — maybe I’ll even try the Jell-O, too.

A Tappett Brother signs off

Readers already familiar with my lack of mechanical and home improvement skills shouldn’t be surprised to know that I don’t know terribly much about cars. And for those who didn’t know this about me already, let me assure you that my lovely wife, Becca, stands a better chance of changing a tire — or oil — successfully, or at least with less cursing along the way.

Despite my lack of automotive acuity, however, I must admit to being an enthusiastic fan of the National Public Radio program “Car Talk,” and was sad to learn Monday of the death of one of half of the infamous “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers,” Tom Magliozzi. I hadn’t even known of his illness — or his age for that matter — but there was on my news feed: Tom Magliozzi, taken by Alzheimer’s at age 77.

I have a vague recollection of first hearing “Car Talk.” I was probably in junior high (I’m guessing in the early 1980s) and we were at my grandparents’ house listening to NPR. Both Grandma and Grandpa were huge fans of “A Prairie Home Companion,” and I vividly recall being practically doubled over in tears from laughter while listening to Garrison Keillor around a picnic table at a campsite. At that time, I didn’t get much of Keillor’s humor. Actually, sometimes some of it is still lost on me, though perhaps that’s because I’m not a native Minnesotan. But there was other program on before “A Prairie Home Companion” that was, well, unlike nothing I’d heard.

These guys, of course, went on and on about cars, and even though I didn’t understand much of the technicalities, they were simply fun to listen to. They had a silly way of interacting with their listeners; I remember some people thinking they weren’t always kind to some of their callers, but I always figured it was for entertainment’s sake and not out of genuine meanness. Most of all, the laughter of the brothers was contagious, as was the back-and-forth ribbing in which the duo was consistently engaged.

Click and Clack — Tom and his younger brother, Ray — had quite a run, as they finally retired just a couple of years ago. Over the years, I mostly remember listening to “Car Talk” in the car, either while driving by myself or with a family member or even a few old girlfriends (I remember often hearing another favorite NPR program, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” this way). I don’t know if I ever learned much about cars from those guys, but they always seemed to make me laugh and put me in a good mood.

A few years ago, the brothers had a very small role in the movie “Cars,” and my son Zachary (at that time about 3 years old) was quickly able to recognize their voices on the radio after seeing the film. Their brand of humor may not have been very unique — two brothers gently making fun of each other, as well as their callers’ stories — but can you imagine a radio program about auto care done dryly and being so accessible to so many? Me neither.

I haven’t listened to it yet, but sometime soon I want to cue up “We Have Learned Absolutely Nothing”: Tom Magliozzi On Decades Of ‘Car Talk,’” an NPR interview replayed Tuesday. I love the title, if only because I really haven’t learned much of anything, either, from the program. All in all, it was a pleasant — and very funny diversion — and sometimes that’s just the cure for whatever ails you.

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Yes, I think she can dance

I’ve done enough public speaking over the years to feel really comfortable with it. While I still get nervous beforehand, I usually become more relaxed after I’ve started talking — though I often joke that I sometimes don’t know just what might come out of my mouth before it’s too late. If someone could invent a seven-second delay I could use throughout daily life — whether it’s during public speaking or, perhaps most importantly, discussing something contentious with my wife — I would be very much obliged.

Still, while public speaking isn’t a terribly big deal for me, it took me many years to get up the courage to do it. I absolutely loathed being in the spotlight. Even in Little League, for instance, I always felt on edge when coming to bat. Everyone’s eyes fell on me to see what I would do, and a lack of natural abilities certainly didn’t help my situation. I struggled to hit my weight in Little League — and considering I wasn’t near triple digits yet in that department, I was by no means named to any All-Star teams.

Being on any stage by myself back then was — obviously — a fantastic, far-fetched notion. I sang in groups in high school, but never by myself (and that was something I was arguably good at; I was chosen for select choir). Acting in a play? Forget it. I was recruited by some friends in high school for one production, but opted out because a) I was afraid I’d forget my lines and b) I had to kiss a girl. I was shy and insecure about doing that smooching stuff in private at that point, never mind in front of a crowd!

Reflecting on all this personal history helps me realize further how impressed I am by what my daughter, Grace, did last Sunday in church. A fourth-grader who will turn 10 in a couple of months, she danced by herself to Francesca Battistelli’s “Beautiful, Beautiful” in front of the congregation during the 10 o’clock service.

Now Grace, it might be said, has done this dance several times before, as she learned it and subsequently performed it as part of classes with Kay Williams Prunty’s The Dance Academy. In fact, she had just performed it with a small group of girls during a dinner the previous weekend at American Lutheran Church. But this time was special — Grace did it on her own, on a stage on which she’d never danced before, before her congregation. And she excelled.

I’m not ashamed to state how proud I am of Grace for what she accomplished (even though she may a bit embarrassed by this write-up). She volunteered to perform and then followed through. She performed in church, and to a song with a wonderful message. Becca and I won’t soon forget it, and we’re thankful to the church for giving her the opportunity, to Kay for teaching her and giving her encouragement, and to — of course — Grace herself, for wowing us.

I’m quite sure I couldn’t dance in church at my age (in part because of a lack of skill, and also because Becca would never permit me to make that much of a fool of myself). While we don’t know what Grace will be doing at, say, age 47, Sunday’s performance reaffirms my belief that the sky very well might be the limit.

A love for sports

School has been in session for several weeks now, and the kids are well into their sometimes frantic routines. Though I know Grace and Zach don’t have nearly the same kinds of full schedules as Jane Turpin Moore’s children — which she has blogged so well about — when they were still at home, it’s enough that Bec and I occasionally feel challenged to keep up with everything. And to think — when the kids get to high school, they’re probably only going to be busier, and their aging dad more scatterbrained than he already is.

Grace is certainly the busier of the two siblings. She has dance lessons twice a week, piano lessons once a week, Kids for Christ one afternoon a week after school and is a member of K-Kids. She also plans to audition for the high school musical in the spring. Zach isn’t taking any music lessons yet — he wants to play guitar and/or drums, but for now settles for a Wii game in which he aces Queen’s “We Will Rock You” — but loves sports and is currently all about his Wednesday afternoon soccer get-together. I try to head over to Prairie Elementary to watch his “games” when I can, and his excitement upon seeing me show up at the field is always one of the highlights of my week.

It was several months ago that Zach, while wandering with me around a sporting goods store, spotted a soccer ball and asked if we could buy him one. The ball didn’t cost that much, and considering he had already been making noise about having hockey equipment at that point (thanks to former Daily Globe part-timer and WHS goalie Alex Purdy, who is now off at college), we figured we were getting off easy with the soccer request.

Though the soccer ball seems to get played with only occasionally — there have been a few games with neighborhood kids, but most are a little older, bigger and faster than our Z-Man — he was still eager to sign up for the Y’s soccer program this fall. And though I can safely say I’m biased, I think he’s getting better at the game.

The first time I saw him play, he seemed a little tentative about getting in the midst of the action, but was more aggressive the next time following a little encouragement from his parents. He often alternates between running and skipping after a ball. Most importantly, he always enjoys himself, and he seems to like being part of a team. Last week, when a teammate scored a goal, Zach and one of his buddies did one of the coolest high-five and chest-bump routines I’ve seen. Both were nowhere near the play, but no matter.

Even cooler: Our son scored the first goal of his soccer career on Wednesday, and he was so jubilant that he ran over to us for high-fives and hugs. All in all, his zeal for the game — in fact, for playing sports in general — seems pretty high, as does his enjoyment of competition. He already probably spends too much time playing video games, but the ones he appears to have the most fun with have to do with sports. We have a Wii Sports game on which Zach has enjoyed tennis, bowling, golf and boxing, during which he’ll throw rapid-fire air punches non-stop until he knocks out his computer opponent. That achievement usually brings some type of macho (if you can call a 7-year-old macho) scream of self-satisfaction.

Recently, we rented a second Wii Sports game that “Z” has been playing diligently. Though we don’t like him playing for overly long stretches, I have to admit to delighting in his roars of happiness when he succeeds, his disbelief at the occasional failures and his frequent play-by-play accounts of what has transpired. Although there was an upset of sorts the other day (Zach lost, 4-2, to his computer opponent), he wins by lopsided margins most of the time, which he naturally prefers.

So, what is this Wii Sports game our son is really loving right now? Hockey. I can’t help but wonder how that next trip to the sporting goods store might go.

Potpourri

There’s a growing collection of subjects that I want to write about this time around, so I’m taking an unusual (for me, anyway) approach of compiling a few paragraphs on each. Here goes nothing:

‘I’m so crafty’

Those words, intended to be sung in place of Iggy Azalea’s “I’m so fancy” (or the Weird Al Yankovic spoof, “I’m so handy”) were on my mind last weekend when I attended the Sheyenne Valley Arts and Crafts Festival in Fort Ransom, N.D.

No, I did not lose a bet, get kidnapped or otherwise coerced into this activity. My wife and her parents have gone to this event for 15 years or longer, and let’s just say curiosity finally got the best of me.

Overall, it was a pretty significant deal as far as craft fairs go. I’d venture to guess that about 200 vendors were there hawking their respective wares, offering for what the most part appeared to be some attractive, quality merchandise. The setting for the fair was perhaps the nicest part of the experience, as Fort Ransom — a community of 105 people — is nestled in a pretty valley with no shortage of changing-color leaves. The festival more or less took over the entire town, and I’ve been told that at least a couple thousands souls show up over the course of the two-day (Saturday and Sunday) extravaganza.

I wished there was a little more selection on the food front, and being a gourmet coffee lover was surprised and disappointed at the complete lack of that product’s availability. Still, there was some interesting and appealing contrasts. Youths had the opportunity to take a turn at a pottery wheel and make a bowl, which got my daughter’s attention. For Zach, meanwhile, the booth that sold signs that read, for instance, “No farting in cabin” offered pleasure. And what can be better than making the kids happy? (Although, after roughly four hours, they — and the rest of us — were more than ready to move on out).

A KTD tidbit

My esteemed colleague Turk O’Day usually leaves his well-deserved roost each year to deliver columns throughout King Turkey Day week. In Turk’s Sept. 13 column, he noted that Kenneth Jenkins of Worthington would participate in the KTD parade that day, 75 years after appearing in the very first Turkey Day parade in 1939.

So as not to potentially ruffle any feathers — pun fully intended — the column also noted that others who had participated in that 1939 parade should feel free to share their story. Sure enough, I received a call a few days later from Vonda Lee Meier, who told me she rode on the Habicht Department Store float during that very first Turkey Day extravaganza (at age 5), and had the privilege of riding on the First State Bank Southwest float 75 years later. She’s been in the KTD parade seven times in all, she added.

Thanks, Vonda, for passing your Turkey Day tale along. Maybe you’ll make it to age 105 — and get to ride in the 100th KTD parade!

A positive verdict

Bec and I had the good fortune to attend the “Meet Your Court” event Tuesday night at the Worthington Event Center. All seven justices on the Minnesota Supreme Court were on hand, arriving in our fair city on the eve of hearing a case in front of hundreds of southwest Minnesota students Wednesday morning at Worthington High School.
Tuesday night’s event rates high for many reasons. Not only was the community turnout fantastic, but the justices were extremely personable and eager to share their stories with folks. Their appearance at WHS afforded a wonderful learning opportunity, and the many who worked to coordinate the judges’ time in Worthington are worthy of high commendation.

It should also be noted that nearly every justice — perhaps all; I didn’t keep track — said Tuesday night during their individual remarks that Worthington’s turnout was the highest they’d seen at any of the “Meet Your Court” dinners around the state, and that Worthington appeared in many respects to be an impressive community. Those are the kinds of compliments we should proud of. And to think — we get a chance to make another favorable impression in just a little more than a week, when the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Opener comes to town.

The home game

Filling in for me with this post is my dad, Stanley McGaughey, of Shushan, N.Y. I suppose this edition should be “Tales from the Chief’s Chief.”

The Chief and his brother, Ian, have been engaged in a Whiffle Ball baseball tournament for, dare I say, decades. I know the Chief has written about it. It’s hard to imagine how each brother can “be” a team of nine players; but they’ve worked out the overriding rules (conditions may be a better word) that determine what happens when the ball is pitched and the batter swings. It has always been serious business — they know the relative “standings,” and, when they are together, they will always find the time to play.
The Chief mentioned the McGaughey family reunion in his posting “Celebrating 70.” The reunion was held in Killington, Vt., a hamlet that was previously named Sherburne Center. It was here where my maternal grandparents kept a hardscrabble farm in a narrow, typical Vermont hollow. After the death of my mother’s parents, her sister, Florence, remained on the farm. After Florence’s husband, Oscar, died and living off the land ceased, money was in short supply. To help make ends meet, Florence began donating land to the town in lieu of paying taxes. Now, in what were the small fields of the family farm there is the town library, the town offices and fire station, and a town recreation area, complete with tennis and basketball courts, and a couple of baseball diamonds. One of these became the stadium for the most recent Whiffle Ball game.
It’s possible that nobody noticed these brothers out on the baseball diamond, as it’s a very sleepy hollow. But had they, they would have seen two forty-something men seriously engaged in a baseball game, pitching from the mound toward second base repurposed as home plate and hitting toward the backstop repurposed as the outfield.
I love that these two guys still play together with great, purposeful intent. They have been great friends from the beginning. And I think of this game in Sherburne as the “home” game for both teams. They were engaged in their sibling dual, snuggled deep in a quiet hollow of Vermont, on land that their direct ancestors had worked, within eyesight of the old family farmhouse — that’s still in the family, in the shadow of a bucolic rise on which many of their ancestors now rest.

Four towns

It can be difficult being away from home, and I certainly missed my wife and kids while I was away for a week last month. I’d also be lying, though, if I said I didn’t enjoy being on the road and visiting both new and familiar places.

If I could, I’d travel much more frequently, and to much more exotic locales than I have thus far in my life. I’ve never even been outside of North America, for crying out loud — there’s a huge world out there beckoning me from multiple angles. Maybe when I retire from the Globe (I can’t imagine that being before 75, or even 80, given Social Security will either be broke or non-existent at some point), Becca and I can circle the globe (not the office) and see things we’ve only seen online and read about in books.

Until then, I’ll settle for a few interesting towns here and there. Driving out to Vermont last month, one of the places at which my brother and I stopped — on the advice of coffee-drinking buddy Daryl Bosma — was Galena, Ill. I now know where I’d love to take Bec for a husband/wife-only getaway weekend at some point.

Galena, for those who don’t know, is the birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant. One can visit, though, and probably skip the whole history/Grant element and just walk up and down main street. There are shops galore — the length of the downtown stunned both of us, considering the population of the community is only about 3,500 or so. It’s a historic downtown that’s been rejuvenated in recent years, and though it is a bit touristy it’s definitely great to stroll through.

Naturally, I had to find some java downtown, and wound up at Kaladi’s 925 Coffee Bar, located right along the main drag. I starting chatting with the woman behind the counter and before I knew it, I was learning that she had been a longtime resident of Worthington for some 15 years (I’m wishing I’d jotted down her name). We were only in town about 30 to 45 minutes; I’d like to spend an afternoon there. I’ve since been told there’s much more to do than just window-shop, and the topography of the place alone merits a return visit.

A few days later, while back east reuniting with family, my mom and I took a side trip to Poultney, Vt., and Whitehall, N.Y. Poultney has a pleasant, small downtown with a few nice shops, including a wonderful used book store complete with multiple dusty shelves and a fair share of totally random finds. It has a good coffee shop ­— a must for me in any locale — in Café Pazienza, which exists in large part because Poultney is home to Green Mountain College, a four-year liberal arts institution. I’m not sure if I could live in Poultney — it’s population is about the same is Galena, but it feels smaller — but I can think of far worse places to spend a few hours.

As for Whitehall, it’s the birthplace of the U.S. Navy, and there’s also a Bigfoot statue — but there’s not much else. The town does have its share of intrigue, however, as there are multiple boarded-up downtown buildings and a body of water (Lake Champlain) that has multiple commerce possibilities. If Whitehall has a very rich uncle, he’d be advised to check the place out.

Lastly, Decorah, Iowa, was a stop when my dad and drove back from Vermont to Worthington. There’s Luther College, Norwegian heritage galore, beautiful hills and valleys, a gorgeous park with a walking and biking trail, a downtown with lots of cool merchants and restaurants, a food co-op scene — I could go on. It’s another place I’d like to go and spend a weekend.

We’ll see just when that happens. As for now, I’ll do my best to enjoy everything that Worthington has to offer. And that’s by no means a bad thing, either.

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Celebrating 70

After a road trip that included an 838-mile day of driving — from Elmira, N.Y., to Dodgeville, Wis., to be more precise — one would think that my father would want to do plenty of relaxing upon our arrival back in Worthington a few days ago.

But relaxing is not how Dad — who marked the big 7-0 milestone on Monday — rolls. Sure, he’s a pretty mellow dude on the surface, but if the wheels aren’t turning in his head about something, then he’s up to some kind of work.

I’ve had this view of my father for a while, and spending a few days with him in the car and then back here with my wife and kids sharpened this perspective somewhat. I must stress that I by no means intend to cast him in a negative light, as we enjoyed some wonderful time together that I imagine both of us will treasure for a long while. Vacation, though, is approached by my dad in a way that’s not quite the same as his oldest (and comparatively less ambitious) son.

We departed from an absolutely terrific McGaughey family reunion in Killington, Vt., on Monday the 18th, stopping for a couple of hours for lunch with my mom and brother before continuing onward about three or so hours southwest to Binghamton. I hadn’t been back to my college alma mater in 22 years, and let’s just the say the place has been virtually transformed since then. There’s no shortage of new residence halls, the student union seems like a completely different building … and yet, there was still a sort of “coming home” feeling to the experience. After dinner at an old restaurant at which I’d enjoyed middle-of-night meals in an earlier era, we pressed on another hour to so to Elmira, where we rented a room at the somewhat questionable-from-the-exterior Mark Twain Motor Inn, which turned out to be just fine despite the Bates Motel vibe.

I’ve already veered off track a little bit, but Monday’s travels set the stage for a full day Tuesday that included breakfast in lovely Corning, N.Y., and — many, many miles later, bed in a Super 8 a few miles outside of Madison, Wis. Dad did the last four hours of driving or so, but it was I who was more or less delirious by the time we pulled over at around 12:30 a.m. The goal has been to have a reasonably short drive to Decorah, Iowa, on Wednesday morning, then make it back to Worthington in time for supper later in the afternoon.

In short, that mission was successful, plus we had a delightful (if a little brief) Decorah stop. We made it home, we relaxed — for a little — and crashed.

The next day started with some more relaxation, as Dad and I enjoyed some good coffee and good company at The Lantern in Sibley before returning. It wasn’t long before he was up to something, though, as we made the first of what turned to be many visits to Ace Hardware. Grace was interested in having a fort in the backyard, and Grandpa was determined to find a way to make it happen.

That project turned out to be a minor investment of time compared to Dad’s second area of focus. He had sent us a fairly advanced (or so it seemed) weather station for Christmas that somehow sends all kinds of readings (temperature, wind speed, precipitation, humidity, barometric pressure, etc.) from outdoors back to your computer. He’d said he’d set it up for us when he came to visit in February, but one — of course — doesn’t set up outdoor weather stations in Minnesota in February.

The main thing I took away from the weather station setup was this: There were several reasons for Dad to throw in the towel, yet he persevered. The manual was horrible, pieces didn’t fit together properly, weather data occasionally stopped transmitting for one reason or another … but in the end, the bloody thing was up and working, and it’s still functioning a week after he left. I wish I had a tenth of the acuity needed to make such a thing happen.

But that’s my dad — it was his vacation, and he was our guest, yet he served us extraordinarily with a fort and weather station. And wouldn’t you know, he even found the time at night to drink wine with us AND read both a short novel and a book of Langston Hughes poetry? Meanwhile, I was looking at my iPad, going back and forth between rotten Twins games and various social media. Perhaps I could be using my spare time better?

What a guy you are, Dad. Thanks for being you — and cheers to the birthday boy.

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Vacation? Not quite

I had the chance to take three days off of work earlier this week, but it was by no means a vacation.

With my wife out of town, it was time for me to fly solo with our 9-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son and not-quite-yet-housebroken Shih Tzu mix dog. I had joked earlier that I might be finding my way to a certain enterprise located near the corner of Worthington’s Diagonal Road and Oxford Street by the first night of her absence, but that never happened. Instead of enjoying the rare quiet moments to kick back with a chilled adult beverage, I either read or tried to chant Buddhist-like mantras to myself in hopes of achieving some degree of relaxation.

Now, this isn’t intended to come across as a rant. All things considered, the kids and I had a good time with each other and, perhaps more importantly, the dog was still breathing when I got home and wasn’t off the strict schedule Becca had just gotten him on in preparation for the upcoming school year. Still, let’s just say I have no plans to become a stay-at-home dad anytime soon.

For instance, what the Coke can is to residents of the African bush in the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” is what my iPad has become to Grace and Zach. Still, taking this technology away doesn’t immediately eradicate conflict; the not-so-loving siblings simply find something else to spar over. Zach has the habit of pestering his sister to work her into a tizzy — a rationale that’s hard for me to fathom, since Grace has a tendency to go from 0 to 100 on a tranquility scale in a matter of milliseconds. This thought may come back to haunt me, but I can’t help wondering sometimes when the day will come when they’ll be so close, they’ll work together to trick their parents instead of tattling on one another. Either way, patience I wish I had abundantly more of is involved.

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t express that I’m in complete awe of my wife, who has had the kiddos all summer long while off from school. I get to spend days (and some nights) at the Daily Globe; she has both the kids and house-related chores (and yes, the kids help, but often with considerable reluctance) to deal with. And now, with the new dog, it’s like we’ve thrown a mobile baby into the domestic cauldron. “Benji, no bite!” “Benji, nice!” “Benji, no!” “Benji, down.” “Benji Benji Benji Benji Benji!”

That said, Benji and I became buddies of sorts this week, though I may not always be the best of company during 5 a.m. trips outside. He sat on my lap as I read, let me tickle him without trying to gnaw at my skin and otherwise showed a decent degree of good-old-fashioned doggie loyalty.

And, while it’s easy to point out the kids’ bickering and general petulance, there were plenty of good moments, too. My favorite, though, lasted just a few seconds: Zach gave Grace a hug — and she embraced him back — after she helped her brother pick up a spare during a bowling outing.

That fleeting point in time, in retrospect, made the time I spent home with the kids worth it. Still, as much as I love them, I hope I remain managing editor at the Globe for the indefinite future. Or else, that business I mentioned earlier would almost certainly become a spot of extremely frequent patronage.