An expanding territory

Relaxing after dinner Wednesday night in our TV room, I relished a few precious moments of sorts. My wife, 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were gathered together in the room, and the Minnesota Twins-Tampa Bay Rays game was on — and not a soul was complaining.

OK, I’ll allow that Becca had her eyes mostly on a laptop and Grace was watching something on Netflix on my iPad, but they often do that in other rooms of the house. This time, they were doing their thing while occasionally looking up to see what was going on in the ballgame.

A playoff chase, I suppose, will attract even the most casual of fans a little bit.
To say this year’s Twins campaign has been a roller-coaster ride is an understatement, to put it mildly. A little more than a week ago, it appeared as if any chance at being an American League wild-card entry was kaput. Now, as I write this, the Twins would be playoff-bound if the season ended today.

Regardless of whether the Twins qualify for postseason play — and I can only hope they don’t get stuck playing the Yankees in a one-game wild-card clash — it still has been a remarkable 2015 on the diamond. Very few thought this team would do much; it was next year that many were already waiting for considering the young prospects the club had on the horizon.

Now, surprisingly, next year has become this year, which has been made all the more incredible by a list of unexpected negatives that seem almost too lengthy to count. Here’s what I can come up with right now:

* Ervin Santana gets suspended 80 games for performance-enhancing drugs, then pitches to an ERA of above 6 upon his return.

* Last year’s rookie standout, Danny Santana, finds himself unable to hit or field and is sent to the minors.

* Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas, other young and important contributors during 2013, also struggle and are demoted.

* The Twins’ opening-day starter and perceived ace, Phil Hughes, pitches more like a No. 4 starter than a No. 1. He led all starting pitchers in Major League Baseball in hits allowed when he went on the disabled list earlier this month.

* Ricky Nolasco — well — is still Ricky Nolasco. He currently has a 5.51 ERA and is on the DL. His four-year, $49 million contract looks like the worst in Twins’ history (save, perhaps, Joe Mauer’s), and there are still two years left in the deal.

* Kurt Suzuki, who hit .288 last year and was arguably the team’s best hitter, is currently at the .239 mark.

* Mauer is hitting a paltry .269, which is 45 points below his career average.

I could go on, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll make note of some who-would-have-guessed-it positives.

Aaron Hicks, who I wrote off after another horrible season in 2014, has shown flashes of brilliance this summer and has a future that appears to finally be bright. Then there are the three newbies — Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Each has proven themselves worthy in their own way, with Sano almost certainly making the biggest impact of the trio since joining the team in early July. The starting pitching, despite some aforementioned challenges, has actually been better than likely expected by many. Torii Hunter has got some big hits and provided even bigger leadership. And I honestly didn’t think Brian Dozier would be as productive as last year, but he has been … and more.

As a result of these and other positives, the whole McGaughey family is paying varying degrees of attention. My favorite part of the season, though, hasn’t been the greater-than-expected number of victories. If you saw my son today and asked him how many home runs Dozier had, he’d tell you. Same for Sano, Trevor Plouffe, Hunter, Mauer and others (after Wednesday’s game, maybe Eduardo Escobar will start to register in his consciousness). Zach’s love of the game, as well as the numbers that go along with it, have sure been a joy to watch develop.

If there was ever any doubt before, our home is now — by all means — Twins Territory.

Brushes with Lincoln

This is probably going to be one of the most all-over-the-place blogs in “Tales from the Chief” history, but that’s because the core topic is history.

As it turns out, this past Monday night was a great evening for those in Worthington who enjoy history. That’s because John Voehl, a Colorado resident, came to this fair city to entertain a large throng at Pioneer Village with an Abraham Lincoln re-enactment. Voehl, who has researched Lincoln extensively, has been portraying one of our greatest presidents since 1996, and it was a treat to have such an accomplished and knowledgeable historian in our midst. The Nobles County Library, the Friends of the Nobles County Library and the Nobles County Historical Society all deserve kudos for coordinating this special event.

It was a special event to me, anyway, but not so much to Grace, who expressed interest before leaving for Pioneer Village but quickly became restless during the presentation. I’d like to believe at least some of this was because she had left her visiting aunt, uncle and cousin behind to come with me, while also knowing that Grandma and Grandpa (Bec’s parents) would be arriving later that night. Then again, though, maybe she just isn’t the history type.

Ironically, when Grandma and Grandpa showed up Monday evening, they proceeded to tell us about their first-ever trip to New York City that they had just taken, including memorable stops at the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum along with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I truly hope Grace and Zach get to experience these — and so much more of the Big Apple — someday.

In addition to the New York stops, Bec’s parents — while traveling back westward in their recently purchased Ford Escape — passed through Springfield, Ill., and checked out much of the Abraham Lincoln history that’s there. I’ve never been to Springfield and never really gave it much thought before, but after my in-laws’ recommendation and Voehl’s enlightening presentation, I feel more compelled to see it.

If I was to go, I think it would have to be a family trip. But when to take the kids without risking a speedy onset of boredom? Grace might be interested, and Zach, too, but I wouldn’t want to necessarily be rushed out of there. Perhaps they would need to be bribed with something … like an eventual trip to, say, an amusement park?

I cite that example because Zachary was just asking me the other day about Ferris wheels. Ironically, I said to him, I had just read a book not long ago — “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson — that focused upon the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, which among other things featured the debut of the Ferris wheel. Designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., it was intended to rival the Eiffel Tower, which was the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition. From Wikipedia:

“The wheel rotated on a 71-ton, 45.5-foot axle comprising what was at that time the world’s largest hollow forging, manufactured in Pittsburgh by the Bethlehem Iron Company and weighing 89,320 pounds, together with two 16-foot-diameter (4.9 m) cast-iron spiders weighing 53,031 pounds. There were 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160.[9] The wheel carried some 38,000 passengers daily[1]and took 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, the first involving six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter and the second a nine-minute non-stop rotation, for which the ticket holder paid 50 cents.”

Zach really wanted me to write something about the Ferris wheel in the newspaper, so hopefully he’ll be happy. And now, it’s time for this long-ish history lesson to finally conclude.

Dancing dreams

For three straight days — for more than eight hours each day — last Thursday through Sunday, my fifth-grade daughter had dance lessons. The class was identified in advance as “intensive,” and I think it’s safe to say that Bec and I were a bit anxious about how well Grace would come through the ordeal. After all, while our girl does love dance, we hoped it wouldn’t overwhelm her physically or mentally.

As it turns out, Grace did just fine — and as of last night, at least, seemed more enthusiastic about dance than ever. From that standpoint, it’s clear we made the right decision to let her be involved.

Grace’s three consecutive days inside the Kay Williams Prunty Dance Academy studio represented a unique opportunity for her and all of the DA students who participated. Thanks to a connection with a former dance partner, Kay was able to bring Amy Young — who spent 17 years dancing professionally with the Paul Taylor Dance Company — to Worthington to teach at her studio.

There is no doubt in mind that Kay has been a marvelous dance teacher and a great influence on Grace. She has been consistently supportive and encouraging through five years of dance lessons, and I know Grace looks up to her. Now, through Kay, Grace has learned from someone with a storied reputation in professional dance circles. From the Paul Taylor Dance Company website: “Amy Young began her dance training at age ten in her hometown of Federal Way, Washington. She spent her senior year of high school studying at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan prior to entering the Juilliard School in New York, where she earned a B.F.A. in 1996. She joined Taylor 2 in August of that year. … Young made her debut with the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Paris Opera House in January 2000.”

On Sunday, during a short recital event inside BenLee’s, Young spoke some about her life as a professional dancer. At one point, she made mention of having a special opportunity as a youth to study dance, and expressed the hope that at least one Dance Academy student be inspired in the way she was years ago. From the looks of things that evening, it sure looked as if there was no shortage of inspired young dancers.

I’m not sure where Grace gets her dance talent — or her love for dance, for that matter, from. Bec never took dance, and while she by no means looks foolish on the dance floor I cannot remember her ever asking me to go out dancing with her. Perhaps that because she has often expressed the conviction that I am, shall I say, far from accomplished in that area.

A fellow dance dad and I were joking Sunday night that if we were to form a dance troupe, we would name it Two Left Feet, the Pulled Groins — that kind of thing. And, indeed, while appearing in the community musical “Shrek,” I wound up being positioned behind talented dancers (effectively hidden) when possible. Considering my biggest dancing inspiration as a teen was David Byrne’s complete and utter spaz-out in the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” video, my concealment was in all probability a sound directorial decision.

Grace, however, enjoys all kinds of dance, and while I’m probably biased as her father, I think she’s pretty good. While I have no expectation of her following in Amy Young’s footsteps and dancing in Paris, I just hope she continues to enjoy it as much as she does now. The recent “intensive” experience certainly didn’t hurt.

Zig-zagging obsessions

On Monday, I downloaded one of the most annoying games ever on to my iPad.

Naturally, the only time I could stop playing it was when the kids’ begging for a turn became too overwhelming to bear any longer. (Actually, they weren’t too bad, but I think it’s safe to say they were about as addicted to this new app as I was.)

The game is called ZigZag, and the concept is simple. Here’s a to-the-point description I found on a YouTube link at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Uodj16hfpc: “Stay on the wall and do as many zigzags as you can! Just tap the screen to change the direction of the ball. Try not to fall off the edges! How far can you go?” (My answer: Not far! Not far at all! This game wants me to throw my mobile device across the room! $%@&!!!!)

It was Grace who found this game during one her frequent searches for new apps to keep her entertained. These searches often take place when she’s procrastinating some other task, like doing a household chore or doing “summer homework” to keep her mind ready for the oncoming school year. For better or for worse, Grace is the one who seems to locate the apps that get my attention — like the various “Free Fall” games, something of the make-as-many-baskets-as-you-can-in-45-seconds variety (I have to admit this became a borderline obsession for me) and a pop-music trivia app I can’t remember the name of.

Why can’t I remember? Because both Grace and Zach change up their iPad games like directions of the wind. One day they’ll ask me to download an app for them — they always have to ask, the app must be free and age-appropriate and it can’t be too many megabytes — and the next day they’ll want something else instead (I only allow them so many games. After all, it’s my device.)There are a few token games that have remained in place for months; others depart in roughly the same amount of time it takes to download them. And then, sometimes, I’ll get asked if I can re-load an app that was previously removed.

I’ve said more about the games I’ve downloaded for Grace — and I haven’t even digressed into the seemingly mind-numbing clean-and-dress-and-feed-your-baby apps I’ve gotten for her — but Zach is the real “gamer” of the two. He’ll play any number of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Power Rangers” themed games, among others in the action category so typically beloved by kids his age. He likes to have me watch him play, but I almost never take him on. It’s not uncommon for me to look at him for a little bit, offer words of support and then say something to the effect of, “Hey, do you want to go outside?”

Sometimes I wonder if our kids are spending too much time on both the TV or the iPad. While I’m sure they could do less, they both have done well in school so far and are also active outside in the yard as well as in organized sports — so it’s not as if they just sit around the house all day doing nothing but staring at a screen. Bec and I know — and I think Grace and Zach know, too — that it’s simply not good for them to be looking at an iPad for hours on end.

Besides, it’s my iPad, and I need a turn at ZigZag every now and again.

Getaway

The McGaughey family, sitting in a booth at the Hard Rock Cafe in the Mall of America, was talking about Elvis. On the wall beside us was a framed karate robe that was apparently worn by none other than the King himself.

“Is Elvis dead?” Zachary asked.

I think it’s safe to say that Becca and I may have both been wondering how to answer that question. We could say that some people believe that Mr. Presley is still, in fact, alive, thus avoiding any conversation about the (ahem) poor choices he made.

Grace, as she often does, chimed in before we did.

“He did a lot of drugs,” she said. I’m not sure where she received this information, but I wasn’t about to argue otherwise.

Zach, though, either didn’t hear what Grace uttered, or it simply just didn’t register. “What?” he inquired.

“He put a lot of bad stuff in his body,” I answered, wondering just where our Elvis history lesson may take us.

“You mean junk food?” Zach asked.

“Well, yes, he did eat a lot of junk food,” I responded.

The conversation quickly shifted. Perhaps Zach — I know I did, anyway — started wondering about all the junk food we had eaten during our short getaway to the Twin Cities.

For a while beforehand, we had been talking about heading up to Minneapolis for the primary purpose of seeing a Twins game, as both the kids had been imploring us to make a Target Field visit. But since we didn’t have any other out-of-town vacations planned for the rest of the summer, maybe we could do something else in the Cities? Among the suggestions was seeing “Mary Poppins” at Chanhassen, which met with considerable enthusiasm from Grace and a facial expression of obvious dread from Zach. In the end, witnessing both siblings’ eagerness to visit the Lego store in the mall — never mind Grace’s rejoicing at the thought of setting foot inside the American Girl shop, and Zachary getting to encounter his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle heroes at Nickelodeon Universe — we decided on a baseball/mall combo. We booked a great hotel room at pretty much the next-to-last minute, arranged for Benji to enjoy what I refer to as “Spring Break at Dogtona Beach” (he stays at Brands Countryside Pet Resort & Daycare, just outside of Worthington) and packed for a Tuesday-through-Thursday mini-break that we completed this past week.

I’ve got to admit that a longer vacation would have certainly been nice, but our brief up-to-the-Cities-and-back sojourn was just right in a lot of ways. For starters, while we spent some money, we didn’t throw down as much as we would have on a longer vacation that was further away from home. The kids were also wiped out by the end of our trip; they would have been even more exhausted if we were out of Worthington longer. And while our hotel room was certainly cozy — and the kids loved the pool — it was nice for Bec and I to get home to a somewhat regular routine (and not have the kids surrounding us every waking minute).

It was a great Twins game, a good (relatively speaking) experience at the mall and …. well, we ate a lot of good food, no small part of which could probably be classified as junk. That’s another reason why it’s good the vacation was short. Wouldn’t want to be too much like Elvis.

30 years/12 years

We have a summer intern extraordinaire, Andrea Magana, who was out of the office Thursday to attend an orientation program at the University of Northwestern. Andrea will be a freshman at Northwestern this fall, and when she told me of her plans to attend orientation it brought me back to 30 (now that’s a depressing number!) years ago.

In the summer of 1985, I was becoming increasingly psyched to begin post-high school life at was when then known as the State University of New York at Binghamton (now, simply, Binghamton University). At some point over the course of the summer, there was to be an overnight on campus, and I was looking forward to what would be my first night at a college.

There are a couple of components of that night that I recall well. One of them: there was a massive screen set up outside on which hundreds of incoming freshmen (and, no doubt, upperclass orientation assistants) watched the movie “Footloose.” (The original version, obviously, with Kevin Bacon.) The second, not surprisingly, involves a young lady.

To say I was insecure and awkward around women back in 1985, at age 17, is probably a gross understatement. I can asset with total certainty that I had never approached a female I found attractive to generate conversation. It’s probably just as safe to say that girls weren’t exactly lining up to chat with me, either — so that made it all the more stunning when a gorgeous (as I remember her, anyway) lass made my acquaintance during the summer orientation night. If this was how college was going to be, I thought, this was (as I’d heard a few times already) going to be the best four years of my life.

The funny thing is, I don’t think I ever asked this fellow first-year student what dorm she’d be living in come the start of the semester. It’s almost as if my attitude, in retrospect, was something to the effect of, “She’s just being nice. I’ve got no chance with her.” As it turned out, I was both surprised and overjoyed when the fall semester began and she wound up living in the residence hall right across from mine. A romance was destiny!

Not so fast, dreamer. Within three days, she had met some of my floormates, and was soon walking hand-in-hand with a dude that lived next door to me. It hadn’t even been a week yet, and I’d been presented with my first college heartbreak.

I should point out that Andrea, our summer intern, will have a different experience at her orientation, as she’s engaged to be married. It took many, many years for me to be ready to make that commitment — and I still sometimes can’t help but think that I’m nowhere close to the “perfect husband” — but I’m completely pleased things worked out the way they have. As Becca and celebrate 12 years of marriage on Sunday, I’m incredibly thankful that our respective long and winding paths led us to meet. Happy anniversary, my dear.

Regatta in review

Considering the heavy rains of the 2013 and 2014 Regattas, I was a little bit antsy about this year’s festivities. Another downpour, I feared, would lead to talk about doing away with the festival or the making of significant changes. And in my opinion, there are few weekends in this part of the country that can top Worthington’s Windsurfing Regatta and Music Festival — if the weather cooperates.

Well, I think it’s safe to say that the 2015 Regatta was a smashing success. Thank goodness! When I wrote the Daily Globe editorial for Thursday’s edition and took note of the promising weather forecast, I was also worried about setting a jinx of sorts on the revelry. Waking up to clouds and a light mist Saturday morning only added to the anxiety, but dry conditions ultimately prevailed and — even though our breezes could have and have been much stronger — all worked out weather-wise in the end.

This weekend marked the first time Becca’s parents came to Worthington for the Regatta, even though Bec has been a resident of this fair city for all 16 years the celebration has taken place. They enjoyed watching the windsurfers glide across Lake Okabena, and spent a good portion of time (and money!) savoring all kinds of flavorful, fat-filled food. Our menu late Saturday morning began with an appetizer of mini-donuts, and a funnel cake order soon followed. We each made our respective lunch choices, and a bit later on, Bec and I were not to be denied what we’d each been dreaming about since we learned of their availability — a deep-fried s’more for her, and deep-fried cookie dough for me. For both of us, it was temporary nirvana. (I should add that I took the dog for two longer-than-normal walks later, though I imagine they barely burned a fraction of the consumed calories.)

Grace and Zach enjoyed crafts and sand time, respectively, and as in practically every other year the Regatta brought unplanned get-togethers, conversation and fun. I also “did my time” in the Daily Globe tent as well as helping at the chair auction — during which I was blown away at how much money was raised for Nobles County Pheasants Forever — and hung around for a while with the family at night to relax while listening to a pretty decent cover rock band in Guilty Pleasures Orchestra. Many, many others, had the same idea of simply lounging along the lake on a pleasant Saturday night, and it made for an awesome atmosphere.

I should mention that Friday night, though I was working, was a memorable Regatta night, too. While only down at the lake for an abbreviated time, I was able to see my wife and daughter finish the UV ColorSplash walk/run, which was pretty cool considering it was the first time either of them had done anything like that both individually or together. They absolutely loved the experience — though Grace did bang up her a foot a bit, she was doing much better by Sunday — and I may find a way to join them in the merriment next year. There were a lot of families participating, in fact, which was great to see. (Zachary, however, did not want to take part, and instead opted to entertain his grandparents, dad and a couple of others with some comical dance moves while waiting at the finish.)

This year’s weekend festivities, while certainly plenty of fun, have already sparked an anticipation for next year. Is anyone already ready to Regatta again?

Nose in a book

Back in 10th grade — the 1982-1983 school year — I had an awesome social studies teacher named Mr. Patterson. Just knowing Mr. Patterson had been a Major League Baseball pitching prospect in the Dodgers organization before incurring a career-ending injury was attention-getting enough to this baseball-obsessed teen, but he also happened to be one of the best teachers I ever had. Teachers I enjoyed always had some sort of reciprocal effect on my grades — the best example of this was 11th-grade chemistry, during which Mr. Barone was able to coax “A” work out of me (even though it was a subject I absolutely dreaded) thanks to being arguably the most hilarious instructor I’d had — but I always was engrossed by history, and Mr. Patterson simply made the subject even more likable and interesting than it already was.

I just wish I could remember more about what I learned those 30-plus years ago. I haven’t seen the game show “Jeopardy!” in quite some time, but I do know that when I do see it I consistently surprise myself with what I can answer and frustrate myself with what I can’t. I sometimes wish I could go back to high school and re-learn some of the things I did back then — and, in some cases, learn them for the first time (senior-year physics). I had a dream last week, actually, that I was back in high school, and among other things was the editor of the school newspaper. I’d still probably find a way to strike out at the whole prom experience, but that’s a sad story I’d rather not focus on here.

I recall little tidbits of knowledge Dave Patterson passed along, and even the way he uttered certain words in his strong Boston accent. (“Magna Carta,” naturally, was a favorite, and I remember sometimes hoping NPR’s “Car Talk” hosts would somehow to find a way to insert them into a conversation). For some reason, I also vividly recall him teaching us about the immediate cause of World War I: the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. And I also remember talking about the sinking of the Lusitania.

It was less than a week ago that I had a flashback to Patterson’s social studies class while visiting the Nobles County Library with Grace and Zach. The kids were off looking for their own books to read, and I was lingering near the reception desk when I spotted a hardcover book — “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” — on prominent display. I stared at it for about 10 seconds tops, then grabbed it.

It wasn’t that this book was completely foreign to me, as I’d heard it discussed by Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller on “The Daily Circuit.” “Dead Wake” sounded compelling, and here it was — somewhat unexpectedly — right in front of me. (Yes, I was in a library, but this is a new hardcover book, and I wasn’t actively looking for a current best-seller). I checked it out, and after just a couple of days am on page 217.

Without going that much into “Dead Wake,” I’ll simply say it’s a very interesting read that I’d recommend without hesitation — especially to a history buff. In fact, I’m tempted to find Mr. Patterson on Facebook to find out if he’s read it yet. I know I can’t take 10th-grade social studies all over again, but maybe he could recommend a book … about the Magna Carta, perhaps?

Old guy wipes out, wins anyway

WORTHINGTON (UBI) — Ryan scattered three hits and overcame a potentially serious injury while chasing a fly ball Saturday, ultimately emerging with a 2-0 win over his brother, Ian, in their annual wiffle ball matchup.

Ryan, 47 — who also defeated his-now 45-year-old sibling last summer in Vemont, has won a majority of the games in the series over the last decade or so. That said, Ian utterly dominated before that, winning dang near every single time. In other words, it’s safe to say that even if Ryan continues to triumph in a hypothetical yearly ballgame for, say, the next 30 years (though it’s hard to imagine the games taking place that long, though one might at least find it amusing to see a couple of old dudes with walkers playing wiffle ball), Ian would still almost certainly be the McGaughey wiffle ball king.

This past Saturday’s game, which was played on one of the softball diamonds behind Worthington Middle School, could’ve been a Ryan blowout, if not for his propensity to leave multiple runners on base in virtually every inning. The tone was set early — in the bottom of the first, he hit a single and double, but took a pathetic left-handed cut (both brothers turn switching back and forth on which side of the plate they hit from) on an inside Ian pitch for strike three and then popped out.

Ryan got a run home in the second, but had the bases loaded with no outs and could get no more thanks to a pop out and double-play grounder. His pitching, though, continued to shut the normally home-run-slugging Ian down, and he played error-free defense in the field — it may have been the first wiffle ball game ever during which he flubbed neither a grounder nor a ball hit in the air (in other words, display a spastic lack of sure-handedness).

It was Ian, in fact, who committed the key fielding blunder on this afternoon, booting a slow grounder that would have otherwise been ruled a double play through the brothers’ elaborate scoring system. (Surprisingly, a 20-sided die isn’t involved). It led to a key insurance run in the bottom of the fifth.

It was fortunate that Ryan was even able to swing the bat at all at that point, considering what had transpired a few moments earlier.

In the top of the left, the southpaw-swinging younger sibling swatted a monstrous fly ball to deep right-center field that seemed to hang in the air for days. The brothers’ rule — contest every ball struck in the air — could have been waived here, as a lot of ground needed to be covered for even a reasonable chance at a catch. But Ryan kept going back … and back … and back … reminiscent of Willie Mays chasing down Vic Wertz’s long drive in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. Mays, of course, made one of the most famous catches of all time on that occasion. Ryan, however, wiped out near the warning track, bloodying his knees, hands and right forearm in the process.

Ian promptly ruled his hit a fly-out, noting that such a ball would have ordinarily been caught by an outfielder given where he hit it. Ryan, as he staggered to his feet, had little reason to disagree.

“I thought I had it all the way,” Ryan said after the brotherly battle had concluded. “For a moment, I couldn’t believe I didn’t make the catch. That perspective quickly changed, though — I wasn’t happy I missed the ball, but I was very happy I didn’t fracture anything.”

The siblings hope to play another game somewhat soon — potentially around Thanksgiving, perhaps somewhere in Oklahoma. No matter the time or location, the “wiffle tradition” is sure to continue — as long as either one is able to avoid the disabled list.

Editor’s note: This “story” is brought to this blog by UBI (United Buffoonery International). Its motto: “We’re definitely not UPI. We’re simply buffoons.”

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The sounds of music

It has been a few weeks since Grace excitedly brought home a new musical instrument — and I use that term somewhat loosely — from school. I suppose that, technically, the recorder is a musical instrument, but I have long seen it as a unique means of torture. I personally think it’s challenging to make a recorder sound good when a song’s notes are played both correctly and in tune, and when this doesn’t happen the nearest bottle of ibuprofen can’t be located quickly enough.

There were ground rules set upon the recorder’s arrival in our abode. Perhaps the most critical: it stays upstairs, in Grace’s room. She can play it up there whenever she wants, but there only. Of course, this guideline has been occasionally tested on certain aggravating occasions, such as at the breakfast table over Froot Loops, in the kitchen while Becca was preparing supper (talk about a DON’T) or downstairs in the living room to the dog (surprisingly, he didn’t beat a hasty retreat to his kennel). But, overall, she has done pretty well behaving herself with the instrument, and apparently has learned to play it well, too; she keeps on passing certain “belt” levels in music class.

I’m not surprised. Grace has always loved music, and as she has taken an increased interest in learning to play new instruments as she has gotten older. She has taken three years of piano now with Diane Mick, and done well enough in a couple of judged performances to perform at special recitals. Though she has a tendency to sometimes pound on the keys as if she’s trying to drive a tent stake into the ground — and also has a once-in-a-while tendency to heed Superman’s creed and play “faster than a speeding bullet” — she certainly continues to improve and still enjoys making music. She just wrapped up her spring recital on Sunday, in fact; one of the pieces she played was Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” her mom’s favorite. It was pretty special to sit next to Becca and hear Grace perform it.

The next musical frontier, of course, will begin to be crossed this summer, when Grace heads to a band camp and starts becoming acquainted with the flute. She’s very excited to perform in band next year, and relished the opportunity to sample a few instruments a few weeks back at the middle school. She had been torn between flute, clarinet and drums, and for a while both Bec and I thought we were headed for the latter (and I was thinking of potential construction of a studio somewhere in the yard where Grace could channel her inner Sheila E. all she wanted). Ultimately, though, she picked the flute, which to me has always sounded much prettier than a recorder.

I can’t help but look forward to many more years of watching Grace performing music. I was in all kinds of choirs going through school, but never band or orchestra (though I did take the violin for, like, five weeks before announcing my retirement) — those were left to my brother, Ian, who was even playing professionally at weddings before being done with high school. I don’t know where Grace’s musical career will ultimately lead, but all I know is that I’ll be listening every step of the way.