Running (not so) wild

I remember being in my early college years and heading west from upstate New York to Nisswa — where my stepmother’s parents lived at the time — for Christmas vacation, and going for a long run down some country roads. I don’t recall the distance, but it seems my dad was pretty impressed. “You’re a runner, Ryan!” he probably announced to me more than once.

I had run a little bit of cross country in college, working out with the school team but never taking part in any competitive meets. I wasn’t very goal-oriented at that time; I think part of the reason I ran then was because my dad had told me several times that I was good at it and should keep pursuing it. This way of thinking had evolved some by my early- to mid-20s, when I started to run for both physical fitness and to be alone with my thoughts. But despite enjoying this type of exercise, good habits always seemed to fall by the wayside for one reason or another.

Over the last decade or so, it’s been more of the same when it comes to running. A few years back, I trained relatively rigorously for three months or so in order to run with my dad on King Turkey Day (and that was just the 5K run/walk event, not the 10K). I felt great afterward… for about 20 minutes. I got home, bent down to pick up who-knows-what on the floor and strained my back something painful. It was only an issue for a few days (local chiropractor Jake Roethler essentially beat me back into tip-top shape), but I fell out of the running habit and for whatever reason couldn’t get back in it.

A few months later, I felt determined to try again. I remember going for a good run my first time back out, even though I was exhausted afterward and a bit disappointed by my lack of distance. But that would come, right? Well, my left foot began acting up, and it became too uncomfortable to keep applying the repetitive pressure on it that running requires. So… again, I stopped.

Fast forward to a couple months ago. My wife and I had given ourselves an exercise challenge of sorts, which is something I clearly required. I knew I needed to stop being so sedentary when it came to working out, but the fear of having to give our dog a bath should I lose the challenge got me off my behind. I’ve done lots of cardio work at the Y since, as well as some bike riding (another love — although my dream a couple years ago of riding in RAGBRAI has yet to come to fruition) and feel like I’m at least halfway (OK, maybe quarterway) decent shape. But… I hadn’t run.

Then, a few days ago, Grace asked me to run a mile-long event with her at the middle school. It would be on Halloween morning, and she was excited about it. How on earth was I going to turn my 10-year-old daughter down on a run together? I wasn’t so worried about the distance endurance-wise — after all, it was only a mile, and I had been exercising — but I was concerned about my foot. I do have some good cushion inside all my shoes for extra support, but running would be a different kind of test for that support.
In the end, it all turned out great. I made it through just fine, with the biggest challenge probably being the low-40s temperature with light rain and a fair amount of wind to boot. I was a little sore afterward, but that pain was not necessarily concentrated in my foot. I must also brag that I came in first in my age division; OK, I was the only one in my age division, but who cares?

The best thing about Saturday morning’s run? Grace whipped me pretty good. She was off the starting line like a cannon and ended up outdistancing me by a sizable margin. It’s often said that when children grow up, they became their parents, and I heard myself afterward proclaiming proudly, “You’re a runner, Grace!” And you know what? Regardless of whether she’s really one or not, it’s not a bad thing to be by any means.

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Rites of fall

Becca and I were out in the backyard late Saturday morning, shovel and rake in hand. We even enlisted the assistance of the kids, if only to get them warmed up for what we hope will be increased responsibilities as they grow older.

After all, when it comes to fall, it’s not a terrible idea to have all hands on deck.
I’ll never forget when we moved to our current Worthington home. It was Halloween 2013 — a Thursday — and Becca’s parents were due to arrive the next day to help us get things situated and (reasonably) organized. That Saturday, I spent nearly the entire day raking leaves in a back yard many times larger than what we had owned before. And then, late that Saturday night, the wind picked up significantly and left me with leaves far more in number than what I had bagged up the previous day. I threw my hands in the air in dismay — and was out in the yard the following weekend.

Both kids help a little bit now, but it’s still definitely faster for us grownups to get the outdoor chores accomplished, in large part, on our own. That said, on Saturday, Grace and Zach were out with their own rake and shovel, assisting with leaf cleanup and getting our garden area dug up for winter. Zach called it our harvest, which I still find funny since our land is not even a postage stamp compared to the acreages throughout the region. We did get a few green peppers out of the garden, which we had all but written off a couple of weeks beforehand, but this year’s bounty definitely wasn’t as plentiful as that of 2014.

Thank goodness, indeed, for our area’s farmers.

Anyway, both the front and back yards got their share of work Saturday, and a trip home for lunch Monday only confirmed the usual aftermath of such efforts. Yes, there’s more to rake (or mulch, I suppose, if I so choose). The garage had been clean, too — Bec did that work — but the dang door is broken (better call someone on that), and now there’s a bunch of leaves and dust back in there. I suppose I could check the gutters soon; who knows how many leaves, twigs and other debris have already settled in there in the past few days? (Never mind that it has been a good three months or so since I’ve checked.) And now Bec said she wants to me to look into installing new insulation inside the garage, or some such thing. I say “some such thing” because I struggle with the assembly of one of my son’s Lego toys, for pity’s sake.

The thing is, fall always seems to easily become a season of unappealing chore lists. I suppose there are actually unappealing chores for every season, but the reason why I probably dread those for fall is that it only means winter is next. That only brings to mind another task I need to get done: make sure the snowblower (if it were somehow human, I think it would honestly laugh at me) is in working and cooperative order for the upcoming El Niño extravaganza. Oh, how I wish we had a timeshare somewhere.

Perhaps this is the winter I can teach the kids how to use the snowblower. You know that point I made earlier about getting them “warmed up for what we hope will be increased responsibilities”?

Yeah, right. I think the timeshare is less of a fantasy than Zach or Grace pushing around that big red machine. I’d better just suck it up and take heart that spring — and a new, likely-more-appealing list — will eventually arrive.

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Numbers game

“Dad, what’s 1 + 1?” Zach will ask.

Being a second-grader, my son has known the answer to this simple question for a long time already. It’s his way of telling me that he has got far more mathematical riddles on his mind.

“Two,” I will reply, and I will barely have the response out of my mouth when Z will shoot back, “What’s 2 + 2?”

“Four,” I’ll state, fully prepared for the rapid-fire mathematical inquiries about to ensue. Because, without fail, the “2 + 2” question will be followed by queries regarding “4 + 4,” “8 + 8,” “16 + 16” and so on. I think we’ve gone as far as “4,096 + 4,096” before he decides he’s had enough numerical exercise.

I’ll admit to the occasional small degree of irritation when Zach starts this little math game, but I’ll always play along. Why? Because it brings to mind some of my own youthful obsessions.

I loved numbers, too, when I was in elementary school, and continued to excel in math all the way up until my sophomore year of high school. That’s when I had to take geometry, an entirely different pursuit which, instead of involving numbers and words, pertained to — ugh! — angles and proofs. Given that it’s completely fair to say I still struggle with simple assembly instructions for nearly any type of product, high-school geometry was a formidable battle.

But numbers …. I loved not just simple math, but how numbers applied to the world around me. When I was in, I’m guessing, sixth grade, I could tell you batting averages and earned run averages of all the New York Yankees (instead of crossing over to the dark side, I started there before soon seeing the light). In fact, most of the important American League statistical information was occupying at least a small portion of my brain. (It should be added that the opposite sex had yet to show up on my radar.) I had already stopped playing Little League baseball by this time, but I kept showing up at my former coach’s practices and games so I could keep track of all the players’ stats.

Perhaps it’s too early to know, but Zach has already shown some tendencies toward these same fascinations. He was able to correctly recall the number of home runs various Minnesota Twins starters had hit as the 2015 season went on. He did this with very little encouragement on my part — he was simply interested. Are individual batting averages next on the horizon?

There are other indications of a love for numbers. In late August, for instance, we learned the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie would be released on DVD on Oct. 2. From that day forward, he’d either ask or tell me how many days were left. He’s been doing this with movies for a long time now — I remember him being 2 and asking me how many days it was before “Cars 2” came out at the theater, with the premiere date firmly planted in his memory.

Other things are sticking well in his memory, too. Before he went to school this morning, he asked me the “1 + 1” question again. I didn’t have to answer, though; he rolled through the game all by himself all the way to “1,024 + 1,024.” It was fairly impressive.

By the way, Zach, in case you’re reading this, it’s seven more days until you know what …

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Gobbling up a great time

While I haven’t experienced nearly as many King Turkey Days as — for example — my colleague Beth Rickers, I feel like I’ve attended enough to know if it’s been a particularly good festival.

I feel like this past weekend’s KTD was one of the best, if not the best, of the 15 Turkey Days I’ve attended. Driving in the Grand Parade Saturday afternoon, it seemed as if the streets were lined with more people than I’d ever seen along the route. I later heard that the crowd was estimated as the biggest in at least 10 years, so I guess that hunch was a good one. (It would be interesting to go back and see estimated attendance at the parade from other years. Looking at old black-and-white photographs, it seems like the crowds may have been even bigger “back in the day.”)

Saturday’s weather certainly didn’t hurt, that’s for sure. After a somewhat chilly and damp Friday, the forecast promised sunny skies, and no one could have been disappointed. One couldn’t have asked for much better conditions for an early morning 5K walk, and a good number of participants of all ages showed up for a leisurely stroll. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day, as there seemed to be substantial quantities of people everywhere — the pancake breakfast (no great surprise), along 10th Street as the 10K runners neared and crossed the finish line, at the Great Gobbler Gallop (we’re halfway to winning the Traveling Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph!), all throughout the parade route and at the county fairgrounds afterward. It was, quite simply, a great day to be in Worthington.

It also was a good day for the McGaughey family, although a little harried at times.
Early Saturday, I went over to a local car dealership to get a pickup I was to drive in the parade. It was brand new (the odometer said 16 miles), ultra-shiny red and loaded with all kinds of amenities; probably the fanciest vehicle of any kind I’d driven. Given that I always get a little nervous when driving someone else’s car, anyway, I just tried to take a few deep breaths and drive as I normally would — especially when I got downtown and ended up having to do a long detour because I missed the proper turn to get to where I was to park before the parade.

Then there was a matter of a hitch, and pulling one. This was new territory for me, as I’d never pulled so much as a small U-Haul in my life. I believe it was Bob Bristow who graciously took care of the hitch attachment for me, but it’s almost too bad that Bob — who was kept plenty busy with his parade committee responsibilities — couldn’t have done the driving, too. It wasn’t like driving forward at the top speed of perhaps 4 mph was excessively difficult; it was backing up and turning around a couple of different times to get properly positioned to begin. Between having my 8-year-old son, Zach, chatting up a storm in the front seat, to people I didn’t know on the street trying to direct me (I’m sorry if I seemed in any way abrupt; I was a little tense!), to having very young Kiddie Parade winners and (thankfully) their parents on the hitch while attempting these maneuvers … well, let’s just say it was a relief to turn on 10th Street, and now it was more or less a straight shot the rest of the way. And it wound up being all good — and yes, I’d do the whole thing again next year if asked.

There was also the matter of getting our 10-year-old daughter, Grace, from one parade float to another. The Kiddie Parade entry was 15A, so I got through the parade on that, dropped the family I was carrying off back downtown, drove the truck and trailer back to a neighbor’s house, got my car and went with Zach back to as close to the end of the parade route as we could. I got there just in time to get Grace, who as Winterfest Princess was riding in a royalty float at No. 49, and whisked her back to catch up with The Dance Academy float at No. 82. I’m sure there were plenty of other parents who had similar maneuvers over the course of the parade. It’s a tad wild and hectic, but it really was a remarkable parade, and all that shuttling around probably helps make it so.

“Wild” would certainly not describe our King Turkey Day Saturday night. We took the kids to the fairgrounds for about an hour and a half, and then we were all (well, not Grace) ready to head home and simply relax.

We now should have more than enough time to recover for King Turkey Day 2016.

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He asks questions, then gets answers

Social media — specifically Facebook — can be a decidedly mixed blessing. Sometimes I wish such a form of communication had never come to fruition; other times I marvel at how it makes interconnectivity so easy.

Arguably my biggest struggle (and I don’t even think that’s the right word with Facebook) is with updating my own status. “What’s on your mind?” I’m asked whenever I log in. “Well, not much,” I think to myself. Or, “nothing that everybody wants to hear about.” Or, “I could post those cool pictures of Grace and Zach I took earlier, but how many photos do people really want to see of my kids, anyway?”

There is also the matter of having the sort of Facebook friends that you aren’t event friends with in “real life.” I still maintain a rule that I have to at least have met someone personally before becoming their Facebook friend; I’ve never been on social media for the purpose of simply padding on to my friends list total. But I do have Facebook friends that I wonder why I’m connected with. It’s often, I think, because of mere curiosity. What are they going to post? Do they really care about whatever I post? Or am I just one more person to send a Candy Crush invitation to?

Mostly, though, I enjoy Facebook for the simple pleasure of scrolling down my news feed. First day of school pic? Like, with perhaps a short comment. A few shots from a recent vacation? Same. A news article to share? Maybe I’ll read it, depending on my mood. An interesting political observation? That can really get the emotions going. If my cousin’s wife posts one more thing pertaining to Kentucky judge Kim Davis, I just may de-friend her.

A friend of mine (from college, and on Facebook) named Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy, but a Chicago children’s librarian with the full name of Brian Emmett Gerard Christopher Wilson) is a Facebook regular, and he really seems to use it well. He’ll post a few things relating to his own life, to be sure, but he also shares things such as reviews of books, music and film to draw in friends of various interests. (He also doesn’t seem to post anything political, which means he doesn’t polarize anyone in his audience.) But he also has a simple-yet-unique-among-my-other-Facebook-friends way of developing long comment threads based on a simple question of the week that appears each Thursday.
The Daily Globe has, of course, presented questions of the week in the past, and they’ve been almost always based upon events. Maybe we’ve been going about getting people talking online in the wrong manner, though. Take, for example, Brian’s post this week:
This week’s QUESTIONS/POLL THINGY: I have a (mild) dental procedure this morning, so I need to see something cute to calm my nerves, ha: WHAT ARE THE CUTEST BABY ANIMALS IN YOUR EYES? Posting a photo gets you extra points, and yes you can include your own pets.

OK — that’s far from my favorite Brian question of the week, but lots of people had already posted animal pictures and comments by early Thursday afternoon.
Earlier weeks brought these queries:

* WHAT IS SOMETHING FUN YOU DID THIS SUMMER? Can be trip you made, a relaxing staycation, movie or book or TV show or theater you caught.

* SEEN ANY GOOD MOVIES RECENTLY? Older releases count, they don’t all have to be new.

* WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BAND NAMES (or name of a solo singer)?



OK — that’s more than enough for now. It’s time to put an end to this column and get back on Facebook — oh, that’s right, I’m working. Brian, your answer this week is going to have to wait until later.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 “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.

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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.

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