Lucky guesses?

Many, many years ago, I walked into a country store with my dad and brother, Ian. It was sometime in the mid- to late 1970s — I’m guessing ’77 or, more likely, ’78. We were somewhere in the middle of Vermont, if I remember correctly.

There was a black and white television on in the one of the corners of the store showing a Red Sox game. Ian and I wandered over to watch; Boston was at bat. Within a moment’s time Ian uttered the words, “Watch this guy hit a home run.”

Well, what happened next should be fairly obvious. The hitter — then-Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans — smoked the very next pitch over the fence for a round-tripper. Other folks in the store were amazed. I was more jealous. Who was my little brother to steal everyone’s attention by successfully predicting a Red Sox home run in the middle of New England?

The crazy thing is, this was nothing all that new, this predicting-what-would-happen stuff. Ian had always shown a very peculiar clairvoyance by forecasting seemingly random things. It happened over and over again: the telephone would ring, and Ian would consistently predict who was calling. Maybe, just maybe, he was tipped off by someone in advance, but I don’t think either of my parents would be so cruel as to keep me in the dark on this for 40-plus years. He just knew, and it made me mad. Ian could predict telephone callers and home-run hitters, and my special skill was “only” memorizing baseball statistics dating back to — say — the first World Series in 1903. (A lot of that information has since been shoved aside by, arguably, even less meaningful knowledge.) Who was Ian to always show me up?

One afternoon — also in the late 1970s, or perhaps 1980 — Dad took us to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox take on the White Sox. I’m almost certain it was the first inning, and a ChiSox player named Mike Squires strode up to the plate. Being the total baseball nerd that I was, I glanced at the scoreboard and took note of Squires’ lack of power numbers. “Watch this guy hit a home run,” Ian said. Next pitch, sure enough, the ball comes sailing toward us, into the bullpen in right-center field.

I think I probably slugged Ian in the arm.

It has been a long time since Ian demonstrated these peculiar prognastic abilities, at least in my presence. Maybe it was all luck. Maybe whatever magic he had as a kid wore off. Maybe he just doesn’t want me to slug him again.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if all this was coincidence or some sort of mysterious force at play. I started thinking about all this the other day while watching the Twins take on the Indians.

Zachary, who at age 7 is showing admirable patience with an inconsistent Twins team, was with me and laying out the situation in front of us during a 4-1 ballgame our squad was actually winning. “There’s a guy on first and a guy on second,” he said. “If this guy hits a double, it will be 5-1. If this guy hits a triple, it will be 6-1. And, if he hits a HOME RUN” — he turns to me and smiles — “it will be 7-1!”

Well, what do you know? The very next pitch, Torii Hunter hits a big fly to left, and the Twins grab a six-run lead. Zach jumped out of his chair, beaming; we fist-bumped. And I thought of my brother, who I have shared so much baseball with over the years. I thought of how much baseball I can’t wait to share with Zach.

I don’t care if I ever call a home run myself.

Senator, scientist shine in speeches

Prior to attending the Worthington Bio Conference on Thursday morning, I joked that I wasn’t sure I’d had enough coffee.

Sure, I expected the 11th annual event — which continues today at the Worthington Event Center — to feature plenty of speakers filled with all kinds of interesting anecdotes and positive messages. Still, as someone who often is in the position of being able to admit “I’m not the smartest person in the room,” I fretted about the likelihood of being lost in a sea of technical language and what I’d deem “biojargon.”

As it turned out, my tuning out was kept to a blissful minimum. The morning began with an engaging, occasionally quite humorous presentation by Jim DeKloe, director/founder of the Industrial Program at Solano College in the North San Francisco, Calif., Bay Area (not the type of resume-topper that typically implies comedy), which ended with a touching story about DeKloe and his son. Next, Sen. Amy Klobuchar kept up the momentum by offering optimistic remarks about Minnesota and its economic future, sprinkling in a few good one-liners about Washington all the while.

Klobuchar, who was in the second day of a two-day swing around southwest Minnesota, said she continues to serve Minnesotans in Washington because she believes federal lawmakers can still work together to get things done. She did admit to some low moments, and singled out one as the lowest — the “fiscal cliff” crisis.

“It was New Year’s Eve,” she remembered. “I looked to my left, and I saw Harry Reid. I looked to my right and saw Mitch McConnell. Every girl’s dream on New Year’s Eve.”

Still, Klobuchar remains hopeful, and noted Thursday that she helped coordinate the bipartisan “Group of 14” that ultimately helped steer lawmakers away from that fiscal cliff. She’s rightfully proud of that, along with her efforts on the farm bill (which she deemed “one of our only stable pieces of legislation … and one that is critical for our economy.”)
Her attitude as a senator, she said, is to “focus on how we govern from opportunity and move ahead.” One of the priorities Klobuchar listed was workforce development, and she noted that a study on Worthington’s housing needs indicated that 500 more housing units are needed by 2020 (“At the current pace of development, that would take 60 years”). She also spoke of getting more youths into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) studies, and immigration reform and tax reform were also at the top of her to-do list.

Klobuchar remarked that Minnesota ranks second in the U.S. in Fortune 500 companies and fourth in the nation for agriculture products, mentioning that strong and innovative operations such as Grazix Animal Health, Bioverse and Minnesota Soybean Processors sit in Worthington and its backyard. People migrate to Minnesota because innovation “is the bread and butter” of its economy, she said — and not for the weather, although Klobuchar pointed out that Minnesota “because of all its lakes, has more coastline than Florida, California and Hawaii combined.”

That was another one of Klobuchar’s laugh lines, but it wasn’t nearly as well received as her anecdote about a recent piece in The Washingtonian. In that article, she said, she and fellow U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah conservative, were named as “least likely to get into a scandal in Washington, D.C. … and I assume that means with each other.” There was more — she referred fleetingly to once being on a motorcycle with Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle and, paraphrasing “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor, called Minnesota the place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the bioscience professionals are above average.”

DeKloe may be from California and not Minnesota, but as a bioscience professional it’s pretty safe to say he’s well above average. (I’ll opt not to comment about his looks.) He spent a good portion of his time discussing the rising of Vacaville, Calif., into a biotech center, and how what transpired in that community could happen elsewhere. With an eye on both the future and the past, he contrasted life on the southwest Minnesota prairie in 1900 to what it’s like today, noting that a multitude of scientific advancements can be hailed as a “transformation of what it means to be human.” Noted DeKloe: “You haven’t seen anything yet — this is the century of the biosciences.”

It promises to be a pretty remarkable century, indeed. He said continued advancements are expected in vaccines, antibiotics, nutrition, biomaterials (genetically engineered cells with multiple enzymes that are eventually converted into molecules), addressing aging (“it is likely that sometime in the next 100 years, we will likely be able to turn off aging,” he said while acknowledging ethical and moral consequences) and synthetic biology (“taking chemicals off the shelf, mixing them, and out of that experiment will come a living organism.”) DeKloe spoke of a project he said he funded through a Kickstarter campaign in which genes are being put into a plant in order to fulfill a dream of having a boulevard with glowing plants. “They’re going to send me some seeds once it’s done,” he said. “They’re doing it in the garage … anyone can do it now, and that’s the way of the future.”

Perhaps DeKloe’s primary point was that biotechnology represents the intersection of science, engineering, business and government, and that “all of these agents have to come together to have a viable bioscience industry.” But he also did a dead-on impression of former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a bioscience-related groundbreaking, admitted that he did his “patriotic duty” and watched the Seth Rogen film “The Interview,” and made references to the classic book “Brave New World” (“it may come true) and not-nearly-as-classic film “Gattaca” (“It’s implications are staggering … and Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman met on the set and had a few genetic experiments of their own.”) In short, his other main point could have been that a little humor can give a speech a big boost.

DeKloe’s finest moment of his presentation came at its conclusion, when he discussed his then-4-year-old son contracting a sudden and life-threatening illness and being told of a possible solution — a drug that he, ironically, had developed with the biotech firm Genentech. His son is now a sophomore studying bioengineering.

“If you want an advocate for this field, you have no bigger advocate than me,” DeKloe said. With that kind of personal story, it was only fitting that he set the tone for what promised Thursday morning to be a very enlightening conference.

‘The big paper’

If you want to get a great glimpse of what’s going on throughout the Daily Globe coverage area, I’d urge you to pick up the March 28-29 edition.
Just don’t plan on reading this weekend’s paper in one sitting. After all, the Globe will contain 36 extra pages — and all of the copy is produced in-house, as opposed to being written and edited by Reuters or Forum News Service. Indeed, this is our biggest project of the year, at least from our newsroom’s perspective.
Each year, usually around late January or early February, plans get set in motion for what we’ve long referred to as our “annual report.” The focus of the content has been gradually tweaked over the years, and we now try to place an emphasis on human-interest stories from our southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa communities. The subjects of these pieces can be people of interest, newsworthy events of the past year, upcoming community events or projects, an intriguing business — in a nutshell, anything having to do with the places in which our newspaper is circulated.
Our three full-time staff reporters usually have between five and six weeks to write five stories for the annual report, and other assignments are spread out between other Daily Globe newsroom employees and freelance writers. Of course, in addition to working on stories for the annual report, copy must be produced for the regular paper, so it can be a fairly busy time around here.
But — it’s a “good busy.” We all may get a bit stressed out as deadlines for the big special edition get close, but we also take pride in preparing these stories and passing them along to our readers. Each year, I can honestly say that I look at the annual report and marvel at the quality journalism contributed by all involved. And this past January, it should be noted, our 2014 annual report — titled “A Sense of Community” — earned third place for the best special section for all Minnesota daily newspapers at the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association convention.
I think we’d all agree that our 2015 annual report, “Home Sweet Home,” is at least just as award-worthy. But while awards are indeed nice, I just hope a lot of people pick up this weekend’s paper and give it a nice, thorough read. Anyone who pours through at least some of the 36 pages can almost certainly ascertain that we live in a great part of this country, and that there’s plenty going on. I’d also welcome comments and suggestions for the 2016 annual report, as this special section only gives us an extra opportunity to tell the kinds of stories you — our readers — want.
Enjoy our special edition. This blog will likely return to its usual format of silly things my kids did next time.

An evening to remember

I usually don’t get terribly reflective while passing through the Burger King drive-thru, but it couldn’t be helped last week.
In the midst of a busy day — and it’s going to remain busy, as the March 28 publication of the Daily Globe’s annual report edition quickly approaches — I stopped off at the BK at the Big Corner to get a quick bite to bring back to the office. My order was placed and, when I got the window, I was greeted by owner-operator Chad Nixon, with whom a few moments of friendly banter is always shared.

I hadn’t run into Chad since last month’s Daddy-Daughter Night at the Worthington Area YMCA, and he brought up right away what a special evening that was. He encouraged me to write something about it, and I came to the speedy realization that I hadn’t — and wondered why.

It was a fine night, indeed, for daddies and their little girls (some, of course, were more little than others). When I first learned the event was taking place and mentioned it to my fourth-grader, Grace, she seemed a bit tentative about attending. I had a bit of depressing vibe of “I’m too old for this, Dad” from her, and she later admitted that she was fearful of me doing something to embarrass her. I don’t know what gave her that idea — just because I like to sing and do silly dances while grocery shopping doesn’t mean she should have been worried Daddy-Daughter Night, right?

Anyway, Grace finally agreed to go with me, but was really hoping one of her close friends and her dad would accompany us. Well, that didn’t happen, but it all turned out more than OK.

The memories of the night began before we even left the house. In the later part of the afternoon, while Grace was getting ready, she apparently was also doing something else. She set out a suit and tie for me to wear with a special note to go with it. I will save that note for eternity.

When we got to the dance, we had our picture taken quickly and then walked around and took part in activities that included making a princess crown, having the girls get their nails done (by their dads) and hairstyling from the folks at Avalon. Grace, naturally, enjoyed all of this, and it was great to see her happy with how the evening was unfolding. Later on, we ran into a good friend of hers, and we spent a good portion of the evening with her and her dad.

Meanwhile, other dads and daughters were having a grand ol’ time, too. Chad, along with a group of other men, shared in the effort of making the night a little extra special — they rented a limo. (Grace, though, didn’t seem to take it too hard when I told her she’d have to still ride back in my 10-year-old Kia). Still, one can’t take any issue with adding a limo to complete a night that won’t be forgotten. I know I won’t forget it — and will always recall how unembarassed Grace was when I was out on the gym floor dancing with her and her friend to “Uptown Funk.” It was, well, pure joy.

I sent Chad a short note a couple of days ago and asked him if he wanted to share any of his reflections on Daddy-Daughter Night. He was happy to oblige:

“As a father of three daughters it was very special time that I will never forget,” Chad wrote. “We very seldom get the opportunity to show our daughters how they should be respected in date situations and how much of a blessing they are to our lives. Opening car doors, pulling out chairs and simple acts of kindness are traditions that get overlooked in our fast-paced society. It was a real honor to be able to set some expectations for my little girls on how they should be treated when they are old enough to start dating.”

Dating? Yikes! I don’t want to start thinking about that one! Yet, Chad’s right — Daddy-Daughter Night was the ideal evening for fathers to be a great role model — and a hero of sorts — to our girls. I’m very thankful the event was coordinated, and hope it continues for years to come.

Now watch this

It’s pretty often that I reflect on whether or not Zachary, my 7-year-old son, spends too much time in front of screens. Whether it’s staring at another episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” or playing a game on the iPad or Wii, the youngster sometimes seems all too comfortable in front of a TV or other visual device. Yes, he does play with toys in his room — including a new basketball hoop he was the lucky winner of during a recent Optimist Club event — but when he demonstrates the ability to list what time certain shows air on multiple networks, then both Bec and I can’t help but think we need to crack down a little more.

Then again, however, I know someone else who spent an awful lot of time in front of the tube at a young age and turned out OK — although I suppose to some that conclusion may be a tad debatable.

When I was about Zach’s age, I spent no shortage of hours watching television, and my viewing tastes were all over the map. I have fond memories of being in elementary school and having a small, black-and-white TV in my bedroom at my mom’s house (my folks split when I was about 6 or so) that I watched early in the morning before school as well as right after getting home. I even paid for my own cable TV connection. If memory serves, I used birthday and Christmas checks to pay my mom the monthly $8 fee to get three channels from New York City and one from Boston, plus a couple of others that I can’t remember; the cable subscription covered channels 2 through 13 on the dial. And a babysitter also gave me one of the best gifts ever to help me organize my viewing — a one-year subscription to TV Guide.

While there was no “SpongeBob” back in the early-to-middle 1970s, there were all kinds of classic cartoons airing in syndication — “Tom and Jerry,” “Heckle and Jeckle,” “Magilla Gorilla,” “Mighty Mouse” etc. — that were favorites. When I got a bit older, cartoons started getting replaced by game shows — “Joker’s Wild,” “Tic Tac Dough,” “Hollywood Squares” etc. — and they became a kind of obsession, I suppose. I remember taking pieces of blank pink paper that my dad somehow obtained from work and drawing up “Hollywood Triangles” boards, and my brother Ian and I would ask each other questions. Ian, for his part, created his own quiz show, “Junk Bank.” I don’t remember much about the rules or how the game was played, other than the losing contestant was blown up (violently crossed out with whatever writing utensil was being used).

The thing is, I didn’t just stare at TV. It became a full-fledged hobby, as I eventually started writing my own TV Ryan magazines that featured all the program listings of my own pretend channel, WLJE-TV (Channel 14). In addition to having shows that aired on real-life TV channels, WLJE carried my own sitcoms, such as “Ryan and Ian” (brotherly misadventures) and “Mr. Newspaper” (a guy that buys a newspaper every day at the same stand). Ian went on to establish Channel 1 (WIAN), which had some interesting program titles that unfortunately would be unwise to list here. (I will say that one sounded as if the content was definitively adult-oriented, and was “hosted” by none other than former New York Yankees pitcher Ed Figueroa. Ian was a very strange child.)

Of course, I also wrote my own newspapers, and in retrospect I guess I was bound to somehow wind up working in the media world. Perhaps Zachary will too, someday. Or maybe he’ll end up creating his own animated series that will be the “SpongeBob” of some future decade. If that’s the case, his screen time will have paid off like mine has — or so I’ve forced myself to believe.

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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