Break time

In a few short days, Grace and Zach will be through with the 2015-2016 school year. Becca and I will officially have an incoming sixth-grader and third-grader, respectively, on our hands.

Of course, one common reaction when letting people know where our kids are at in school is something akin to the following: “Wow! Your kids are growing up so fast!” Yes, they certainly are. But it’s not like we’re almost empty-nesters or something. Far from it.

Grace has told us of her intentions to join choir this coming fall, so — theoretically — that equates to seven more years of choral concerts. (Not that those won’t be completely enjoyable, Mrs. Anderson and Ms. Johnson — I was in choir all through junior high and high school and thoroughly loved it.) Given that she’s already taking part in band, there will likely be some trip to some fairly exotic locale at some point, given what’s become an honored WHS tradition of playing at college bowl games and parades. There will be many more dance recitals. Oh … and more homework, more drama with friends, (gulp) dating and those sorts of, shall we say politely, interesting challenges.

And that’s just Grace. We have 10 more years of Zachary being home with us, and who really knows what he’ll get into as he gets older (hopefully not too much trouble). He loves basketball and baseball probably most among sports, and almost certainly will also be involved in music in some way. Other than that, I suppose the most important thing in my mind for him at this point is finally learning how to behave at the dining room table.
Perhaps that will happen over the summer. But, as is always the case, a lot of the summer will happen without me.

It’s not as if I won’t see the kids (and Becca) any less over the coming months than usual. It’s just that — with the exception of a few days off I’ll likely take at some point — I’ll be at work and Bec will home with the kids, on summer break right along with them. Except for her, summer’s not much of break at all.

The kids, naturally, will be participating in various organized summer activities that they’ll need to get to and from. They’ll want to go over to friends’ houses, and have friends over. They’ll also — and I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb here — fight a lot. And Bec, God bless her, will be there, managing the lives of our two youngsters while trying to complete two graduate school classes and plan for the upcoming school year, among other responsibilities. (Oh, and keep the house from looking consistently downright trashed, I would imagine).

In some ways, I would think, summer break is almost more work for Bec than the school year. For me, anyway, it would be. I think I might ask Bec in the coming days if she wants to make a small wager on when she utters the words “I can’t wait until school starts” for the first time. (The terms of the bet could be critical to the outcome, though. The last thing I want is to, say, have to cook supper every night after coming home from work, although after a week the rest of the house may not want those meals, anyway).

There are so many exciting things to look forward to when it comes to our children over the next several years, and I have a feeling that in some ways it will all be behind us far too quickly. In the meantime … Becca returns to WMS for all-teachers workshop on Aug. 29. That’s T-minus 104 days and counting!

A tribute to teachers

I honestly didn’t know that Tuesday was National Teacher Appreciation Day until I got home Tuesday night for supper and my wife — who teaches seventh-grade English at Worthington Middle School — mentioned something to me about it. I immediately felt like a bit of a schmuck. A day to appreciate teachers, and I forgot to acknowledge the most important teacher in my life!

I’m glad there’s such a day as National Teacher Appreciation Day, as there seems to be some sort of “appreciation day” for virtually anything anyone one can think of. (Monday, for instance, is National Lost Sock Memorial Day, which I imagine will be celebrated in every house inhabited by children.) However, it does stand to reason that teachers should be appreciated every day, not just on May 3. I’m not just saying this because I’m the husband of a teacher who is trying desperately to suck up (though of course I’ll take any bonus points I can get). Teachers, to put it mildly, are not just important, but essential, more than just a single day out of a week, or a single week out of a school year. After all, they play key roles in shaping generation after generation.

When I was attending college at what’s now known as Binghamton University, I had a strong sense that I wanted to be a journalist. BU, though, didn’t have a journalism major, so I ended up getting a degree in literature and rhetoric while taking every journalism course offered. In the meantime, as I wound down my senior year, I thought it a good idea to possibly consider a second option as a career — be a teacher.

For the second semester of my senior year — spring 1989 — I registered for a class that allowed me the chance to learn a little bit about classroom instruction as well as spend some time assisting a teacher in a class. I was enjoying the entire experience immensely, and had just gotten the kind-of-scary-yet-exciting opportunity to a spend a day in a classroom (I honestly can’t remember what subject) at Binghamton High School, when I made a critical realization that there was a class I had neglected to take that I needed to graduate. Though it was already past the add/drop deadline, I was able to successfully add the required course and, as a result, drop the education class. My career as a teacher was over before it really even got off the ground.

My wife, meanwhile, has been teaching at WMS for 17 years now. That translates into a lot of students, a lot of work and a lot of adaptation to changes in the education arena. She inspires me in both the way she continues to make a difference in her students’ lives, and how she consistently chooses to embrace change rather than cower in fear from it. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I couldn’t do what she does, day in and day out, in either an effective manner or without losing my sanity.

That said, I must note that I have taken part in the Junior Achievement program for the past several years, and love it. Over the last few years, JA has given me the chance to be a small part of my kids’ educational experience — a valuable reward, indeed — and that of others, too. Every once in a while a former JA student of mine will excitedly say hello to me, and I will struggle to remember who they are until they let me know. The fact that just a few short Junior Achievement sessions can make a lasting impact makes me marvel at the impression a year-round teacher can make. I can’t also help but be awed by the amount of energy and patience that must go into many school days. I’m often drained after an hour with students — I don’t try to necessarily pace myself, considering my lessons are short — but still, a whole day of teaching must sometimes seem like the equivalent of running a marathon.

So, to all the teachers out there: I appreciate you far, far more than any sock anyone in my family has ever lost. Many, many thanks for what you do.

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On the run

Last Halloween, my daughter and I ran a mile together in an event coordinated by the Worthington Middle School Student Council. I had done a little bit of training on a treadmill before that — it had been so long since I’d done any running that I wanted to be as sure as possible I wouldn’t collapse and horrify poor Grace. I made it through that mile with little difficulty, but should add that I was a little humbled to cross the finish line at least 90 seconds behind my then-10-year-old.

I was never serious enough of a runner to run anything beyond a few 10Ks here and there, but I certainly enjoyed it. I’ve been plagued by a left-foot bunion, though, for the past few years, and though I suppose I could get it surgically removed, I’ve kept the situation status quo. I’ve got some good support in my shoes that makes walking around OK, but the stress of running has proven to add some discomfort. So, I now cycle for a workout at the Y, and alternate that with some basic weight training — something I’d never done until just a couple of months ago.

Still, I do occasionally miss the running — especially when I learn of certain exploits from others. For instance, during a conference a couple of weeks ago up near Brainerd, I met the editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune, who told me that she’d run multiple Grandma’s Marathons in Duluth, as well as one Boston Marathon. I know several people around here who have participated in half marathons, and have an acquaintance from several years back who has run marathons in New York and Paris, among other locales.

One of my wife’s District 518 co-workers who I have met a few times — Barry Fischer, the district’s coordinator of digital learning — just ran 26 miles in Boston this past Monday. A little research online tells me that Mr. Fischer finished the 2016 Boston Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 22 minutes, which apparently was good enough for 5,428th place overall in a field of more than 26,000. Not bad at all! In fact, I’d go as far to say that’s even inspirational.

My dad, who is now 71, still occasionally runs in some 5Ks and 10Ks, and we ran together in Worthington a few King Turkey Days back. He used to dream of running a marathon many years back, but alas — it didn’t come to fruition. He got hurt training for what he hoped would be his first marathon, which (if I remember correctly) would be a preface to a marathon in Dublin, Ireland. He has never run in a marathon, and certainly won’t at this point. Still, he still likes to get out and work up a good sweat and there’s nothing like running for that, in my opinion.

Grace seems like she could do well as a runner, and with her mom ran the 5K Color Dash during the Regatta last June. She has expressed an interest in doing the event again this year, and it’s possible I may take part with her, foot and conditioning permitting. The question is this: if she beat me by a good minute and a half for just a mile, how badly will I get clobbered in a 5K? I should stop typing right now and start jogging.

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It was the summer of ’79

The conversation at the dinner table Sunday night turned to summer baseball for Zachary, and it wasn’t long before my mind drifted away to thoughts of my Little League days.

The last season of Little League for me was the summer of 1979, and it was definitely a great way to go out. I already had a strong sense by that June — I was 11 then — that I was not going to be a future member of the Saratoga Springs High School team, never mind the New York Yankees. I wasn’t bad in the field, to be sure, but I was more or less panic-stricken and void of confidence at the plate. But that ’79 season, at least, offered a few thrills here and there, plus the chance to play with some great teammates.

First and foremost among those teammates was my brother, Ian, who at age 9 was in his rookie year of Little League ball. He wound up being the catcher in a majority of games and, quite frequently, was removed from that spot at some point mid-contest due to some minor injury. I, meanwhile, played the less physically challenging position of first base. I was one of the oldest kids on the team and my long, skinny left arm could — at least theoretically — snag the most errant of throws from infielders such as Tim Davis and Josh Wrobel (who remain Facebook friends today), Steve Brown and Mike Chiumento.

I had a good season playing first, and hit an awful .133 (or something like that) with five singles during the season. Still, that was far better than the combined two hits I had picked up over my first two seasons, when I played for VFW (we were so bad, we were called Very Few Wins) and Dehn’s (a local florist, which always seemed to me to be an odd fit for baseball). Our team in 1979 was Starbucks. Long before the java giant, this was a local furniture store that’s defunct today. So is at least one other league rival from that summer — Barkers’, a department store in a shopping center that went the way of Worthington’s Northland Mall.

While I eked my way past the .100 mark batting, Ian had no such problems. Copying our dad — throwing righty and hitting lefty — he endured a similar amount of bumps and bruises at the plate as he did behind it. Being one of the only lefty batters in the league, he usually got beaned by a control-challenged young hurler about once a game or so. Combined with a ridiculous number of walks — partly because he hit lefty, and partly because he had make-you-laugh habit of wiggling his knees rapidly between pitches — he wrapped up the 20-game 1979 season by officially going for 1-for-3. That one hit was a single off one of our league’s top fastballers, Tim Kuroda, whose name makes him sound like he could be the subject of an international Major League Baseball bidding war.

It’s hard, in a way, to believe that summer was 37 years ago, and that I now have a son primed for Little League. It’s also a little difficult to fathom that Ian is celebrating his 46th birthday today, hopefully not working too hard and maybe keeping an eye on his Baltimore Orioles (who, incidentally, made the World Series in 1979). Or, perhaps he’s taking a look back at that ‘79 season by watching a Super 8 movie he made back then about the Starbucks team (curiously, it has always played in super-fast motion, as if all the players are hyper-caffeinated from Starbucks coffee).

Happy birthday, bro.

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‘Baseball fever — catch it’

The above title was Major League Baseball’s slogan several years ago. It was certainly effective in at least one person’s opinion, as I think of it this time every year.

I hadn’t really started to ponder the upcoming baseball season until Monday morning. My sports mind had been previously preoccupied by my worse-than-mediocre (even by my standards) NCAA men’s basketball bracket and Syracuse’s unexpected surge into the Final Four. Oh yes — and my son, Zach, still had one more week of YMCA hoops left, which has brought him (and, therefore, our family) considerable joy over the last couple of months.

On Monday, though, I got an email about the upcoming fantasy baseball season, which in a nutshell asked if we were going to have enough teams for a viable league. I then went to our league page and saw the small number of folks registered, as well as our draft date — this coming Thursday. Yikes.

I’ve since gone out and purchased one of those Major League Baseball preview magazines that analyze all the teams and rate, by position, players’ fantasy values. Though it may appear otherwise to some, I’m not really much of a baseball geek, particularly when one starts to consider the numerous statistics measured today that weren’t even on the biggest fan’s radar just a few years ago. I guess I’m still “old school” when it comes to looking at things like batting average, home runs, RBIs, ERA and strikeouts when it comes to considering top players. Nowadays, there seems to be a new statistical acronym every week. It pains me to say this as a lifelong baseball aficionado, but I could really care less.

Anyhow, my thoughts of an upcoming season lead, inevitably, to musings on the Minnesota Twins’ chances. A lot of people thought they overachieved last season by winning 83 games, and that number — 83 — isn’t exactly playoff-caliber, though they did remain in the postseason hunt until 2015’s final weekend. But was last year an example of the aforementioned overachievement, or will this season be even better?

I think, quite honestly, things will remain roughly the same record-wise. There’s plenty of talent, to be sure, but question marks remain plentiful and there’s so much talent in the division between the world champion Royals, improved Tigers and White Sox teams, and the usually-competitive Indians. The Twins’ Miguel Sano could smack upwards of 40 home runs, or he could face a not-unfathomable sophomore jinx and struggle. Can Byron Buxton hit? Is Eddie Rosario for real? Is Joe Mauer going to resemble a shadow of his former self? Is Glen Perkins healthy? Is the addition of Byung Ho Park going to be a boom or a bust? What about the starting and relief pitching collectively?

The list of questions could keep on going, of course, but the wonderful thing about this time of year is that everyone is 0-0 and dreaming of pennants and World Series championships. My fifth-grade daughter, Grace, with little knowledge of Major League Baseball outside of the Twins, proclaimed Monday night that she thought the Twins were going to have a really good year. Many fans, no doubt, share that sense of optimism, and on March 30, why not, indeed?

I should also add that Zach and I, on Monday afternoon, had our first game of catch of the spring. We were both a little rusty and had difficulty in getting a good streak of catches going, but I told him that since the Twins need to practice for a month before their “real games” start, we would need a little work, too. He just smiled and threw the ball well past me, yelling in what was clearly mock disgust.

Ah, baseball. The fever is — most definitely — back.

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In the name of the Irish

As the kids were getting ready for school Wednesday morning — or, as I should more accurately state, forced to get ready for school — Zachary asked me a question.
“Daddy, do you believe in leprechauns?”

Well, I think I succeeded in dodging the query. The last thing I want to do is say too much to diminish his enthusiasm for the magic of leprechauns the day before St. Patrick’s Day. Plus, if I recall correctly, “leprechauns” do something special at Prairie Elementary sometime around March 17, and the kids really get into it (Gretchen O’Donnell makes reference to this in her column today).

So it is with St. Patrick’s Day, which actually has never been that special a day for this McGaughey. This may strike some as sacrilege, but the occasion never really was that big a deal in our house. Sure, when my brother and I were kids, we wore green to school because it was “the thing to do,” but I was never given any special connection to the day. Perhaps this is because we aren’t Irish Catholic. Heck, we’re not even all that Irish, really.

The McGaugheys, it should be stated, weren’t always the McGaugheys. Originally — or so I’m told — the McGaugheys were the McKies (spelling may be incorrect) and settled in Scotland before making their way into Ireland and, subsequently, America. It is almost embarrassing to concede that I don’t know much about our family’s big-picture history. I recall, in 1984, being at a large family reunion of far-reaching cousins I’ve not seen since, and there being a large chart showing lineage going way, way back. It was something to see, yet I’ve not seen it since.

Anyway, while I no doubt have some Irish blood in me, my father is really a mix of several national heritages, while my mom is most dominantly German (an accurate reflection of her last name, Nordhoff). All things considered, I’ve always considered myself an American first — with family roots spread out all over Europe and a very Irish-sounding last name.

That surname, unsurprisingly, has led to some generalizations that just shouldn’t be made. First and foremost, just because I’m a McGaughey doesn’t mean I have a desire to consume large quantities of beer every March 17. I remember having a St. Patrick’s Day T-shirt during my college years that featured a sketch of a leprechaun drinking what appeared to be a pint of ale. That shirt was, naturally, green, and I wore it on several later St. Patrick’s Days until it became worn and threadbare. But what was on the shirt had little in common with the person I was.

My first job — other than newspaper carrier — was washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms (yuck!) at an Irish pub in my hometown of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., called the Parting Glass. Perhaps this is another reason why I ever never was into massive St. Patrick’s Day partying — I was a first-hand witness to the effects of such behavior the day after March 17. Now, of course, I don’t think I could endure a night of full-out St. Patrick’s Day revelry even if I wanted to. I’d probably have one beer, then climb into bed and read The New Yorker before dozing off into dreams about, say, our upcoming annual report edition.

Perhaps I should have some sort of St. Patrick’s Day compromise. Maybe embrace my last name, and dig a little deeper into it. After all, the kids will want to know where they came from someday, whether it’s in a couple of years or — finally — when they’re the age I am now.

And, you know what? Perhaps I’ll find the means to channel my inner leprechaun, too.

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At the movies

A day before the Oscars, our family had the exciting opportunity to spend part of the afternoon watching movies selected for inclusion in a special film festival. There was no red carpet, but it was still an honor for those invited — and their loved ones — to be part of.

The event was the 90-second Newbery Film Festival, an extravaganza of super short movies all based on books that have won the prestigious Newbery Award. Inside a crowded theater room at the Hennepin County Library in downtown Minneapolis, youngsters from across Minnesota had their work displayed on a big screen. Many of the mostly middle school-aged students sat in a reserved area up front; the adults watched in the back. And watch we did — over the course of 90 minutes, we viewed more than 40 short films.

A few months back, daughter Grace — a fifth-grader — spent a good chunk of a Saturday working on a 90-second Newbery entry. Alongside fellow WMS fifth-graders Miles Fischer and Kaden Wendling, the trio completed an abbreviated version of “The Tale of Despereaux” for what they hoped would be inclusion in the film festival. I, for one, had forgotten all about this until mid-February, when we got word that the Miles/Kaden/Grace movie made the cut, and that we were all invited up to the film festival in Minneapolis.

A visit to the website tells much more about the film festival. Now in its fifth year, the event was founded by young readers’ author James Kennedy, who along with another children’s author co-hosted the event in Minneapolis last Saturday. In addition to the event we attended, other 90-Second Newbery Film Festival events take place around the country,

Quotes the website: “Ever since 1922, the Newbery Medal has been recognized as the most prestigious award in children’s literature. But it turns out that any book, no matter how worthy and somber, becomes pleasingly ludicrous when compressed into 90 seconds. The 90-Second Newberys people have submitted in the past three years have been ingenious, hilarious, and impressive — from musicals to stop-motion Claymation, from puppet shows to Minecraft!”

There were certainly some creative entries shown in Minneapolis, including the aforementioned Claymation in one film to another entry featuring characters represented entirely by string, There were entries very loyal to the books on which they were based; others turned the books around almost completely. Some shorts were better than others, to be sure, but it was great fun overall seeing what sorts of visuals young people have been inspired to create from literature.

No one walked with home with any Oscar-type statuettes, but everyone did get certificates and an afternoon to feel pretty cool about something they’d done. And who knows — maybe one of last weekend’s participants will someday be celebrated in Hollywood. The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is definitely a nice place to start.BlogPicWEB

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Home vs. abroad

I’ve been daydreaming a lot about Britain over the course of the last several days, but at the same time have been given some good reminders about why southwest Minnesota life is nothing to be ungrateful for.

Why Britain? I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s latest travelogue, “The Road to Little Dribbling,” which finds the author — 20 years after his “Notes from a Small Island” — traveling around that nation. Fans of Bryson will probably enjoy his newest book, which is full of interesting anecdotes and often-acerbic witticisms. I don’t think it’s necessarily his best work, but it still made me long to jet off to the other side of the world and visit small English villages, check out interesting landmarks, stop at a few pubs and the like.

That said, I can’t imagine that realistically happening anytime soon, as there are many things going on in my own backyard to keep me grounded right here. And besides, if I’m going to tour around the ol’ UK, while it would be certainly fine to set my own agenda and go on my own, it would be both incredibly selfish and ultimately ungratifying at the same time.

Sure, it would be something to, for instance, visit Stonehenge, but to see it through the eyes of my wife and children would be a whole different ballgame. Reading Bryson’s book, too, alerted me to multiple of places previously unknown to me. My daughter Grace, for example, would without a doubt be smitten with the Durham Castle, built in the 11th century and still a working building (it’s been part of Durham University since 1840). Heck, I’m not much of a “castle guy,” but I’d go there and similar-sounding structures around Britain in a heartbeat.

Zach, for his part, may be a little young to appreciate some of the physical and natural beauty Bryson describes, but he — like most other boys of his age — would likely be intrigued by a place called Northumberlandia, which a certain part of me can’t even believe exists. Described on Wikipedia as “a huge land sculpture in the shape of a reclining female figure,” it’s easy to fathom Zach enjoying himself climbing along and upon it.

Wikipedia adds of Northumberlandia: “Designed by American landscape architect Charles Jencks, the sculpture was built on the Blagdon Estate and owned by Matt Ridley, a journalist, businessman and author of ‘The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature.’” No, this is not something that’s going to be replicated in, say, George, Iowa, anytime soon.

That said, there’s plenty to look at around my own neighborhood, as I was reminded the other day. I traveled to Monogram Meats in Chandler, a Murray County community I rarely pass through. I was headed north on Minnesota 91, knowing Chandler was approaching, when suddenly there it was, off to the west in a valley. Something about the whole scene was pleasantly tranquil, and I stopped to take a photo. Later, after conducting my interview, I stopped for a refreshment at the Chandler Discount Market and had a brief and enjoyable visit with the co-owner. How nice that a small town (population 263, as of 2013) has a place to pick up a few groceries — and at low cost, I might add.

So, Chandler is no Durham or Northumberlandia, but it still has its charm. And, for that matter, there’s no need to hurry off across the ocean when I can, for example, take my daughter to a truly special Daddy/Daughter Night, as I did Saturday night at the Worthington Area YMCA, or go to a playoff boys basketball game with Zach, as I did Saturday afternoon in Windom. On the way there, Zach was impressed that there was a town as small as “population 60,” as is indicated on the Wilder sign.

Heck, if that’s impressive, why spend thousands of dollars to go abroad?

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Hoopin’ it up

On Saturday morning, 8-year-old Zachary McGaughey had a 10:30 a.m. tip-off time at Prairie Elementary. This was the fourth Saturday morning of the Worthington Area YMCA basketball season, and he eagerly awaits game day on a regular basis.

Naturally, Becca and I — along with the Z-Man’s older sister, Grace — were in attendance, and we watched Zach play what was easily his best game defensively (though, to no great surprise, he was disappointed to make a basket). One other fan was also on hand for the game — Globe sports editor Doug Wolter, whose support was a very pleasant surprise. He even returned to the Prairie gym at 10:30 after first showing up at 9 — that’s because I had casually mentioned to him the night before (mistakenly) that Zach had a game at 9 a.m. Whatta guy.

Zach may love playing basketball, but he also truly enjoys playing video games on my iPad and our Xbox. His gaming most frequently revolves around Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avengers, Power Rangers, Lego Ninjago and a couple of others that I can’t come up with right now, but last week he ended up picking out a couple of professional sports-themed games from Family Video. One was simulated hockey, which was slightly surprising since he doesn’t play the sport and doesn’t even really enjoy skating. The other: basketball.

Zach asked me last Sunday morning, before church, to come down to the basement with him and watch him play NBA Jam. I was at first an enthusiastic spectator, because I was hoping that perhaps playing a basketball-themed game would somehow give him more of a sense of the flow of the game and maybe offer some sort of lesson on offensive and defensive strategies. Well, no such luck whatsoever.

What I watched was a two-on-two Lakers-vs.-Celtics showdown with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol taking on Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. There were ridiculous, completely unrealistic dunks galore by the Lakers, who Zach was defending, and all kinds of flaming nets after such slams were made. Meanwhile, Zach pretty much just wanted to try to see how far out he could shoot 3-pointers from. (Incidentally, the hockey game he showed me afterward — NHL 14, I believe — was much more realistic (and was even narrated by regular ESPN hockey announcers Gary Thorne and Bill Clement).

Video games notwithstanding, Zach still has a passion for basketball that’s far greater than other sports, with the possible exception of baseball (his favorite switches with the season). This past Sunday afternoon, he went and shot hoops with the neighbor down the street. I had a to-do list and wound up missing out, and instead got sucked in later on with the Mega Basketball app on the iPad.

Grace had topped my seemingly unbeatable Mega Basketball high score months ago, and I’ve spent a little bit of time practically every day trying to beat it. Several times I came close, only to miss multiple shots in the waning seconds and come up just short. Finally, though, I set a new gold standard Sunday night after the Super Bowl, topping Grace’s old mark by 140 points.

The game itself is pretty easy conceptually — you simply shoot different colored balls from a variety of spots on a gym floor. You can get both bonus points and extra time depending on how well you do and which shots go in. Zach, incidentally, doesn’t play this that much, probably because there’s no tangible opponent; you just shoot and shoot and shoot.

Now that I’ve gotten the new high score, I’m more than ready to stop shooting and shooting and shooting for a long time. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if Grace — who is home on yet another snow day as I type this — has already set a new record.
If so, I’d be inclined to let her keep those honors and stick to something I know I can still beat her at (for now) — a good, old-fashioned game of H-O-R-S-E.

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19 years ago

Each year, when late January rolls around, I like to look back on a series of days that marked the beginning of a new life for me.

I know I’ve written in past “Tales” about da tes in my personal history that for whatever reason stick with me. One of those dates is Jan. 28 — which this year represents the 19-year-anniversary of my first day of employment at Dickinson (N.D.) State University.
Prior to that occasion, life had been a bit of a roller coaster. I’d left New York City in the summer of 1995 to be with a then-girlfriend in Erie, Pa., but the relationship quickly fell apart. Managing only temporary employment in Erie, I eventually wound up back on my feet a few months later; I got my first full-time newspaper reporter job with the Dunkirk (N.Y.) Observer.

Work at the Observer started in March 1996 — nearly 20 (!) years ago — and while I liked it well enough, the pay was downright laughable. I’d been working for a more-than-respectable wage not long before — enough to afford renting my own Manhattan apartment — but in Dunkirk the hourly rate was only slightly above the minimum of $4.25. Debt was rapidly piling up, and a change to that cycle was urgently necessary.

That change began to take shape in November, when my mom randomly sent me a clipped advertisement from the Chronicle of Higher Education announcing a vacancy for the position of News Bureau Manager/Sports Information Director at Dickinson State. I applied almost as an afterthought, and was shocked to soon learn that the school was actually interested in flying me out for an interview. I soon adopted the attitude of “if I get asked to take a job in North Dakota, I assume it must be meant to be,” and quickly took the position when it was offered to me.

There was one big thing to do first, though — move halfway across the country. The easy thing (probably too much so, in retrospect) was to ditch the woman I’d been dating for a few weeks, but packing for a 1,500-mile move was a different challenge entirely. I ended up leaving a few things behind in the basement of the business of friends, expecting I’d eventually find a way to retrieve it. That never happened. In the meantime, I haphazardly packed pretty much whatever I could fit into my Chevy Nova and took off on the afternoon of Jan. 22.

I took my time getting to my destination, and ultimately arrived in Dickinson shortly after noon on Jan. 25. I remembering hearing on the radio that temperature was 8-below, and there was wind, too. In fact, wind chills were forecast to approach 60-below that night. What the heck was I thinking?

That first night, I needed groceries, so I drove to a supermarket downtown. There was no ATM in the store, so I asked where the nearest one was — a few blocks away, I was advised. I quickly learned something important; even though I’d done lots of walking in New York City, one shouldn’t even try to walk a couple of blocks in seriously dangerous wind chills. I couldn’t make it to the bank, as I ducked into a store no doubt looking close to my demise. The couple that operated that business would drive to the bank machine and then back to the supermarket — and give me a tour of town in between.

The next day, I watched the Super Bowl alone at the Dickinson Applebee’s. (Green Bay beat New England, 35-21). I don’t recall what I did the next day — Monday — but I started work at DSU on Tuesday the 28th. That first day, I’ve long felt, launched me on the path to where I am now, as I would later take a job at Dickinson’s daily newspaper (which, like the Daily Globe, is owned by Forum Communications Co.) in November 1998, and then arrived at the Globe in April 2001.

As the Grateful Dead would say, “What a long strange it’s been.”

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