Regatta in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nose in a book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old guy wipes out, wins anyway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The sounds of music

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

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

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

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

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

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.