Forecasting the Oscars

Well, here goes nothing.

A couple of decades ago, when I was single and childless and living in New York City, I went to the movies a lot and was also a frequent video store customer. I saw a good number of blockbusters — what several of my friends wanted to see — but also went to many independent films and cultivated a taste that my wife today dismisses as movie snobbery. These days, thanks to the simple busy-ness of life, we simply don’t get to the cinema very often, though we see try to catch some flicks at home.

This, of course, makes predicting who will take home Academy Awards on Sunday night a tad difficult. Between some of the movies not coming to Worthington and others not yet available on DVD — though “The Theory of Everything” and “Birdman” were both released Tuesday — I’m left going on a little bit of personal experience and a small amount of reading about other awards already handed out.

As a Daily Globe employee, I can’t take part in our 16th annual Oscar Contest, which readers can still enter up through Friday. But even if you plan to participate, I wouldn’t necessarily follow this list as a guide. Still, despite my overall pessimism, I’ll give this a shot — after all, I never watch “Survivor” yet still take part in a pool involving the show’s participants every season. It’s just fun to be part of the game, I guess.

Without further delay:

Actor in a leading role: Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper.” OK, his is the only one of the five nominated performances I’ve seen. Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle, however, is amazing and nuanced in multiple ways. This also marks the third straight year Cooper has received an Oscar nomination for his acting; one has to imagine that this year will be the charm. Let’s call Michael Keaton, star of “Birdman,” a very likely spoiler.

Actress in a leading role: Reese Witherspoon has received all kinds of accolades for “Wild,” and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if she won. Yet I think the victor will be Julianne Moore for “Still Alice,” who has been nominated for an Oscar four previous times and still awaits her first statuette. The nature of her role — she plays a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s — just might help win over voters, too.

Actor in a supporting role: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash.” He won at the Golden Globes, and he seems to be the clear-cut favorite. Robert Duvall’s “The Judge” wasn’t well received, and though “Foxcatcher” was it seems to have little buzz. Edward Norton of “Birdman” could contend. Ethan Hawke of “Boyhood,” though I loved the movie, probably won’t.
Animated Feature: Naturally, thanks in large part to Grace and Zach, I’ve seen three of these. “Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” couldn’t be more off my radar, though, so I’ll throw out these two because I’m guessing I’m not alone. The entire McGaughey clan didn’t think “The Boxtrolls” was very good, and I really think “The Lego Movie” belongs here instead. That narrows it down to “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and “Big Hero 6,” and though I liked “Hero” more I’d pick “Dragon” for the win.

Achievement in Directing: It’s interesting that “Foxcatcher” appears in this category and not in Best Picture, though something like this seems to happen every year. Wes Anderson, who directed “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” could have a shot here, but my guess is it will go to Richard Linklater for “Boyhood” or Alejando Inarritu of “Birdman.” Pick one, you say? Let’s choose Linklater. I absolutely loved “Boyhood,” as have many others in the critical (Bec would say “movie snobbery”) arena.

Best Picture: I could be well off base here, but I think the only films with a legitimate chance are “Boyhood” and “Birdman.” “Birdman” may well be worthy of this honor; the tale of a has-been movie actor who heads to Broadway has resonated with many. But “Boyhood” — shot over 12 years, with the principle actors aging along with their characters — is, in my mind, an American classic.

Soon, we’ll see how classically incorrect these predictions are.

A new crown

There have been many big stories reported over the years in the Daily Globe, but there’s one I’ve heard more about over the course of the last few days than any other — and we didn’t even put it on the front page.

It’s not every day when your daughter is honored with the title of “princess,” so I get that it’s pretty significant — and that people want to talk to me about it and offer congratulations. But I’ve had folks who I don’t even know randomly stop me to talk about being the father of royalty (or the like) while passing along their best wishes. It has been fairly surprising — and cool.

For those who may have missed it, my 10-year-old daughter Grace was selected in a drawing of applicants as WinterFest Princess, and the announcement came last Friday night during the chili feed inside the Event Center. I had been told of her good fortune earlier in the week, but my wife and I wanted it to be both a surprise for Grace as well as an opportunity for her to learn something about patience and sportsmanship. She asked all week if I knew who the princess was going to be, and we repeatedly reminded her to not be too disappointed — and to be gracious to the winner — if she didn’t get the honor.

As it turned out, Grace handled the Friday night “crowning” pretty well. Her face radiated with excitement, but she was very poised throughout and never displayed a trace of selfishness; after all, she had classmates and other girls she knew who wanted to be named princess, too. That makes me far prouder than now having the owner of a cloak and tiara for a daughter.

As part of her duties, Grace will represent Worthington at a number of local events over the course of the next year. We don’t know exactly what those will be yet, but I imagine she’ll be in a parade or two. She already knows the “princess wave,” and the fact that she absolutely loves attention will probably make the act of flashing a beaming smile even easier for her than it already is.

She was fully prepared to be a princess Saturday afternoon during the Deep Freeze Dip, as she wore her royalty regalia to the event and asked on the way where she was going to have to stand. As it turned out, she wound up snuggling for warmth with WinterFest Queen Lauren Martin (whom she knew already from The Dance Academy), and given the arctic conditions was just fine with that. Plus, Dad took her out for hot chocolate afterward, which was probably a special treat of sorts and something she was quite thankful for at the time.

Grace is also very thankful — as are her parents — to the Chamber of Commerce, for its coordination of WinterFest itself and its queen and princesses, as well as Jaycox Powersports, who donated awesome snowmobile jackets to both Grace and Lauren. She loves her new coat, and I think she might even enjoy sleeping in it if we said it was OK.
While Grace was basking in her princess glory Friday night, I asked her 7-year-old brother Zachary if he would want to be a WinterFest prince, if there was such a thing. “No” was the almost immediate reply. Not surprising — I’m sure he’d be much more interested in, say, fighting alongside the Ninja Turtles.

For Grace, though, being named a princess almost seemed like the fulfilling of a longtime dream. And I guess that qualifies as really big news.

Putting out a fire

We get all kinds of calls and visitors at the newspaper, and each of us tries to work with customers the best they can. I often try to remember the old adage “the customer is always right” when speaking with someone who, for instance, has a question or complaint. After all, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it makes for a better chance at retaining readership.

Last week offered just one example of a unique type of question and request. I was in the middle of a meeting with Julie Buntjer when Doug Wolter knocked quietly on my door and opened it slightly. He told me that someone had been sitting in the newsroom for a while and wanted to speak with me.

I checked my calendar to confirm my belief that I had no appointments, then excused myself from the conversation with Julie to see who had been waiting. The faces were completely unfamiliar, and standing in the newsroom was what I presumed to be a married couple of Hispanic descent.

Let me say right now that, one of these days, I hope to better my Spanish-speaking skills. This is somewhat sad to admit, because I did have five years of the language (granted, it was a long time ago — in grades 7-11) and certainly could have taken the opportunity over the decade-plus I’ve lived in Worthington to improve my fluency. My biggest problem is that while I can remember a few nouns, verbs and adjectives (thanks in large part to my junior high school Spanish teacher, Miss Bianchi, who perhaps not so coincidentally was caliente), I can’t for the life of me put words together to form a comprehensible sentence.

So, I worried at first when talking to my visitors, but it turned out their English was by all means acceptable. They were quickly able to establish their story: they were the owners of the Grand Avenue home that was destroyed in a Jan. 5 fire that was the subject of a Jan. 7 article. Before long, I was being asked for whay every editor dreads: a correction.
The issue, it seems, was with the following paragraph in the story: “The owner had stated that earlier he was trying to get his semi started, so he had it plugged in an outlet in the garage, and he also had an air compressor plugged in,” (Worthington Fire Department Chief Rick) von Holdt said. “So (likely) the combination of both of those gave it a power surge, or … the old wiring (caused the fire).”

As Luis Vela (the homeowner) explained to me during his visit, he “did not have his semi plugged in” to the outlet in the garage. He told me that he he had been asked by people he knows about this — did he overload the outlet? — and he didn’t want people who read the article to think he may have done something careless.

I followed up with the fire chief, who — in addition to being a fine Worthington citizen who bravely helps others by fighting fires — is also a stand-up guy. He told me that he didn’t intend to suggest that Vela had overloaded the outlet — only that he had been told he was trying to start his semi by plugging it on one occasion, and that the air compressor had been plugged in on a separate occasion. Bottom line: the home was old and given other mitigating factors, the fire was electrical in nature.

So what to make of all this, ultimately? Mr. Vela (and apparently others) read the text a certain way, and what I thought may be been a miscommunication or misunderstanding (Vela’s English was accompanied by a fairly heavy accent) betwen him and the fire chief apparently wasn’t. Needless to say, hopefully Vela will appreciate this attempt to set the record straight. And, I also appreciate von Holdt’s willingness to talk to me about the matter — not to mention what he does as a firefighter.

And I also appreciate Miss Bianchi, too, but that’s a different blog entirely.

Opening tip

I imagine it was roughly 38 years ago when I played in my first YBA game. That was the name of the youth basketball league that had its practices and games at the local YMCA and, I would imagine, Ys across the country.

Some of my close friends played hoops in that league, and I recall having practice after school once a week and games on Saturday mornings. My younger brother Ian played, too, and I think we always looked forward to basketball … at least at first, anyway. It was sometime around my second season of YBA, I think, that I concluded I was probably the worst player on my team and therefore psyched myself out of any real chance for success.

Looking back, it shouldn’t have been the least bit surprising. For starters, when looking at some of the old photos of those days, it only takes a brief peek at the socks I’m often clad in to know that I was no jock. (My brother used to joke — no, perhaps seriously attest — that the light green ones were the most odorous.) I also recall playing in my second year for the yellow-shirted team, wearing number 7 and getting the name “Tiny” sewn on the back in honor of NBA star Nate Archibald. Unfortunately, “tiny” may have been more indicative of my amount of athletic ability, as I’m fairly confident I went through that entire season without scoring so much as a single point.

Oh sure, I had my chances. I recall being in the always-embarrassing position of being that sad sack whose teammates — after virtually ignoring me (and probably rightfully so) on the court for most of the game — tried everything to get me the ball in the waning moments. As the crowd — not everyone, of course, but definitely a far-too-many-and-too-loud vocal few — chanted my name, I’d inevitably throw up a brick or airball and be met with a collective groan of disappointment from the Saturday morning faithful. I’d get the opportunity for a wide-open layup, but get intimidated by approaching footsteps and toss up some atrocious attempt.

Needless to say, I “retired” from my YBA career at an early age, though there were quite a few teammates that played for a few years longer. (One of them went by the name of “Phonsey” Lambert, who went on to a great career at the local Catholic high school and later coached Tim Stauffer, a right-handed pitcher recently signed by the Twins.) I don’t think I was too scarred by this adversity, though. I channeled my life for sports into journalism, and later got a job as a sportswriter that helped start me on the professional path to where I am today.

And now, I’ll enjoy what kinds of paths my children set off on. I couldn’t help but think of that this past Saturday morning, as my 7-year-old son played in his first YMCA basketball game. He wasn’t the best player on the court, and he certainly wasn’t the worst, either. Most importantly, when I asked him afterward if he’d had fun, he replied, “It was awesome!”

Hopefully, he’ll at least continue to have that positive attitude, even if he doesn’t evolve into being another Tiny Archibald. One thing is for certain: Bec and I will be sure to check his socks on game day each week.

2014 in review

Since 1998 (I think), I’ve written a year-in-review poem that I’ve sent out to family and close friends.
This year, for the first time, I’m opted to publish it as a “Tales” blog entry. Without further adieu:

With some cold-press coffee to get my mind humming,
it’s the best time I know of to get “Ramblings” off and running.
Yes, it’s time yet again for another edition
of this year in review poem; it’s my annual mission.

Now, I hate to be one who whines about the weather,
but the conditions in January sure could have been better.
School got canceled because it got bitter cold.
(Yes, it’s Minnesota, I know, but that’s still rare, I’m told.)

The wind chill plunged to quite dangerous lows.
Mere seconds outside were sure to freeze toes.
But we all soldiered on; we’ve become hale and hearty.
(And when warmth finally came, we made darn sure to party!)

The big news in February was Grace got big hands
from family and friends for her work in Munchkin Land.
In “The Wizard of Oz” and the Lullaby League,
her stage presence alone commanded great intrigue.

Grandma and Grandpa Dodds, as well as Dad’s daddy
came to see Grace in the show; so did Kaydence and Madi.
Our daughter was exhausted by the final curtain,
but she’ll do another play -— that much seems certain.

The winter also saw Zachary get a nibble
of some basketball action; that kid sure can dribble.
There was weekly practice at the Y in the gym
He had a couple of good buddies who were in hoops with him.

Fast forward to spring now … let’s jump to May.
Grace had her dance recital; she still loves her teacher, Kay.
There was a piano performance; her teacher, Mrs. Mick
(Managing schedules with Zach older; now that will be a trick!)

On Memorial Day weekend, though, we made sure we were free
to head off to Wyoming, for our nephew/cousin Lee
and his graduation from high school — and, as far as we can tell,
his planned career as a welder should definitely go well.

Summer brought several activities for both G and Z.
For the third straight year, Zach hit baseballs off a tee.
There were other tees, too; each hit drivers and liked to putt.
Golf can be fun, they learned, and a pain in the butt.

Tennis was another sport the kids played together.
Zach got his first trophy; one he’ll always remember.
There were swimming lessons, too, and some trips to the pool.
Those fun times with friends sure made the summer cool.

Some big news, in July, was an addition to our group.
(Though we have to make sure we’ve got a scoop for his poop.)
Yep, we got a puppy named Benji — and while I’d love to say he’s great,
our relationship with him blends both love and hate.

He’s a Shih Tsu mix, our dog, and he’s sure cute and smart,
but he gets into everything and also loves to bark.
We look forward to more training and some added maturity
(or else, this fine canine could be headed for obscurity!)

Also, in July, we had guests from Becca’s clan.
Chrissy, Don, Lee and Derik (a treat for the Z-man!)
Art and Sue were here, too, and the days were sure bright.
A trip to the zoo was just one of the highlights.

Uncle Ian came in August — for a couple days, at least,
before he and I headed out on our road trip back east.
The McGaughey “Big O” -— a once-a-decade celebration.
We hope Bec, G and Z can attend the next occasion.

Traveling with Ian, though, was sure a rare treat.
Stopping at the “Field of Dreams” site was definitely neat.
And a game at Wrigley Field — with behind-home-plate seats.
A stop in Galena, Ill. — that’s quite tough to beat.

The Big O itself — filled with memories to treasure.
(Seeing Janet and Grace “FaceTime” was a simple, rare treasure)
Mostly, it was great fun and fine fellowship with all
and, yes, there was a landmark game of (what else?) wiffle ball.

I ventured back to Worthington with Dad by my side.
A father-son road trip; it was a special ride.
Stops in Corning, N.Y., and Iowa’s Decorah
(I’d tell you more about that town, but I wouldn’t want to bore ya.)

Back home, school started; on routines we set forth.
Zacharoo’s now in first grade, and Grace is in fourth.
Our son’s come a long way with both math and reading,
and Grace, for the first time, has a male who is teaching.

Zach loves time on the iPad and playing games on the Wii.
We keep an eye on his screen time — that includes the TV.
Grace, the social butterfly, just loves to entertain.
Between friends and performing, she could be destined for fame.

At school, Bec’s taken on new interests this year.
A union negotiator — talk about no fear!
She’s also deeply involved on the technology end.
The apps she could show you would make your mind bend.

The big plan for Bec now; earn her master’s degree
from Mankato State (online) in education technology.
She plans to start in January, and though it may take some time,
I’m confident she will pull through with her efforts just fine.

As for me, still Globe-ing, now since 2002,
and managing editor eight years (no, I wouldn’t lie to you).
There have been many changes, but our paper presses on.
Wait … it’s time to acknowledge that this rhyme has gotten long.

So I’ll wrap these “Ramblings” up without further adieu.
We extend our sincerest holiday greetings to you.
May 2015 deliver abundant good cheer,
May much love and peace rule in the upcoming year.

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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.