Spelling and other lessons

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, that annual competition where focused & determined youngsters prove yet again that they are way smarter than the rest of us, was held recently. For the second consecutive year, two spellers tied for first place. Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, spelled “scherenschnitte” and Vanya Shivashankar, 13, spelled “nunatak” for the win. They outlasted almost 300 opponents who got eliminated after heartbreaking misspellings.

I can’t even spell “misspellings.”

However, I do have a connection to this year’s contest — popular national contestant and Mississippi first-place champion Dev Jaiswal was one of the spellers in my disastrous first-and-only attempt at being a spelling-bee pronouncer. And before you say “Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad” & “You’re being too hard on yourself,” please note that I have never ever ever been asked back. The truth is that, unlike the young spellers, I was unprepared & thought I could muddle through without much effort. To anyone else who’s asked to pronounce at a spelling bee: YOU CAN’T MUDDLE THROUGH. When the organizers gave me the words I’d have to pronounce and use in sentences a couple of weeks before the bee, I glanced through it and didn’t notice anything too intimidating. I should have looked harder. It was obvious, though, that unlike me, Dev and his co-contestants had approached the bee properly since we quickly zipped through the list — despite my increasingly stumbling pronunciations because WHERE THE HELL DID THESE WORDS COME FROM & WHY HAVEN’T I SEEN THEM BEFORE? — and had to call The Office Spelling Bee Folks for new words. After my failure was complete and avoiding the kind yet sorrowful eyes of the judges, I slipped out quietly and vowed to immediately counteract my poor performance with fried sugary doughnut goodness prepare better in the future.

Thankfully, Dev apparently wasn’t as scarred by that experience as I was. He’s overcome the disadvantage of having me pronounce his words and gone on to become a spelling-bee celebrity. CNN even called him “The inDEVatigable Jaswal” and reported that although he didn’t win, his smile and graciousness earned him a standing ovation. And autograph requests. Autograph requests!

So, to conclude, this young man now has taught me 1) to do your best and 2) to be OK with whatever your “best” is. T-H-A-N-K-S, Dev. (“Thanks:” — plural of Middle English thank, from Old English thanc thought, gratitude; meaning “kindly or grateful thoughts;” used in a sentence as “Thanks, all of you spellers, for showing us what’s really important.”

Winter in Mississippi

iceThis is winter in Mississippi. North Mississippi, I might add. And if this is all of winter we get for the year, I’ll be happy. Also: I took these photos only about two feet from my front door, because that’s the sort of tough and no-holds-barred investigative journalist I am … one who doesn’t like to get cold. Also no. 2: Can you tell that I just discovered the Picasa collage feature? Sweet!

On Being a Grandma

When my now-30-and-28-year-old daughters were in high school, one of their band directors described them perfectly: “Fifty percent of them is exactly the same the same and fifty percent of them is the total opposite.” Which probably is true of all siblings (except me and my brothers, but since they each consistently refuse to acknowledgement my maturity and leadership and wisdom, we will leave that story for another day). I don’t think the two of them look like sisters, either, or look like me at all but when I’m with Older Daughter, people say “Oh, you two look so much alike!” and when I’m with Younger Daughter, people say “Oh, you two look so much alike!” so there must be some resemblance somewhere. All of this to say that I am fascinated with how different our three grandsons are. Older Daughter and Best-Son-in-Law-in-the-World have three boys (Older Daughter is acutely aware that she’s outnumbered, gender-wise) and they are so different yet so alike. While the three-month-old hasn’t staked out his individual territory yet, I already can tell that he’s going to be smart and funny and sweet and imaginative and creative and kind, just like his older brothers. A grandma knows these things. And here I was going to describe to you just what makes the older two so special, but my professional journalistic objectivity is getting in the way of grandmotherly adoration. And vice versa. I could tell you how amazingly talented and awesomely wonderful they are, and it would be true. I could tell you that the first-grader designs and constructs things (he built his own Baymax after we saw “Big Hero 6“) that would impress NASA. I could tell you that the 3-year-old obviously is counting the years (months? weeks?) until he’s no longer under adult rule. I could tell you how the first-grader unpacked and arranged the 3-year-old’s favorite blanket and animals on his bed when they spent the night at our house and how the 3-year-old wants to make sure we save a chocolate doughnut (with sprinkles!) for his older brother. And I’m just getting started. But the thing is that I have lots of friends who have amazingly talented and wonderful and adorable grandchildren of their own. Maybe that’s just how grandchildren are. And as long as we agree that MINE are the most amazingly talented and wonderful and adorable, it’s all good.

New Year’s Resolutions

Almost exactly a month ago, as I collected final exams from college students in the journalism class I teach (adjunct) and cleared off my desk in our university-sponsored non-profit office (media coordinator), I looked forward to a lovely winter break of family, friends, festivities — and checking things off of a lengthening to-do list. There were holiday chores, of course, like making chocolate-peanut butter balls and trying to remember locations of presents I’d bought haphazardly through the year — Attic behind the wedding-dress box? Linen closet on top of the exercise step? But I knew I’d have plenty of time for those other pesky non-holiday to-do’s, too. You know, those things that pile up and you just need a few uninterrupted hours to get them done: organize your closet, completely revamp the class syllabus for spring semester, finish some work projects, start on freelance magazine assignments and tackle the pile of I’d-wear-this-if-it-were-ironed or -fixed or -altered or whatever. After all, I’d be off for weeks. WEEKS! Plenty of time. No need to hurry. Relax and enjoy. And I did. There was Christmas prep, then Christmas itself, then football (We shall not speak of the SEC West’s disastrous bowl games. Shall. Not. Speak.) and then New Year’s. And people got the flu and got sinus infections and went out of town and stopped by to visit. And there were movies and get-togethers and long gossipy phone conversations and cozy afternoons on the couch in front of the fire with a stack of library books and nice beer-and-pizza lunches with husband John Pitts and hours — apparently many, many hours — catching up on TV (“Gracepoint” did end differently from “Broadchurch!” Olivia Pope still drinks wine! Annalise Keating is smarter than everybody else. And a liar!). And now, a month later, we have arrived at the final day of winter break and I have about 12 hours to organize my closet, completely revamp the class syllabus for spring semester, finish some work projects, start on freelance magazine assignments and tackle the pile of I’d-wear-this-if-it-were-ironed or -fixed or -altered or whatever. But I’ve sure had fun. Here’s to 2015 — may we  never run out of things to do. #backtowork #happynewyear

The Mystery of the Missing Earring

As a mystery fan, I’m constantly on the lookout for spies, poisoners, counterfeiters and other bad guys & girls. I mean, everybody whom Goldy Schulz knows eventually is connected to a crime and Miss Marple can’t walk out of her front door without stumbling over a dead body. Sadly or luckily — not sure which — so far I’ve only been called upon to solve such perplexing cases as “What happened to the last piece of caramel cake?” and “Why is the coffee grinder making that funny sound?”  And then this happened: The Case of the Disappearing Earring. I’ll start with the facts. One recent evening, my husband and I went to dinner directly after I got home from work. Back at home after dinner, I started to take off jewelry and makeup. I stood by my dresser to take off my earrings and put them back in their spot on a jewelry stand (a re-purposed vertical CD holder). I took one earring off and put it where it belonged and then suddenly realized the corresponding earring was not in my other ear. Not a disaster, but I liked those earrings and didn’t want to lose one. So I alerted my husband to the possibility that he might find a random earring in his car (leading to much hilarity, of course, about finding lady things in his car hahahaha) or somewhere on the floor and if he did, to please pick it up and give it to me because it was MIA. He said he would and I went to bed, not really worried about the Missing Earring. Got up the next morning, got dressed, put on jewelry, went to work, came home and once again stood by my dresser to take off my earrings and put them up. So far, so good. But as I was putting that day’s earrings back where they belonged, I noticed that the missing earring was right there, separated from its twin that I had worn the day before but in the general location of where it should be. I was momentarily startled and then started to consider the possibilities of how the Missing Earring had become un-missing. Here are those possibilities, ranked in order of least to most likely:

  • The earring had fallen off and then, with its magical powers of awesomeness, had found its way back home on its own. I mean, look, if we can find our phones and our cars and our TV remote controls, stands to reason we can find our earrings. Or they can find us. I know that this seems highly unlikely, but still. And now I am going to go invent a tiny little tracking chip that we can all put in our favorite earrings. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  • My husband had found the earring and put it back. Again, this seems highly unlikely because if this had happened, he 1) would have triumphantly told me about it and 2) would never have approached my jewelry stand himself because (see above description of this being an old CD rack) it is a bit rickety and shaky and prone to tumble over into jewelry pick-up-sticks and he would not want to be the cause of this happening. Again.
  • On the evening in question, when I was back from dinner and taking off my jewelry, I absent-mindedly took off both earrings and simply did not remember. But it’s not that I was absent-minded. No, indeed. I probably was thinking of something Really Important (such as “What happened to the last piece of caramel cake?”) and simply not paying attention. This is a definite possibility (“I just wasn’t paying attention … ” seems to figure into many conversations I have with my husband) but a troubling one because if you don’t pay attention to your own earrings, who will?
  • And now we come to the most troubling possibility of all. It might maybe could have been that I only had one earring on the whole day. Perhaps, when I got dressed that morning, I only put on one earring. Could this be what happened? (Refer to previous paragraph about Not Paying Attention.) I know I have long hair and had worn a scarf that day, but surely if I’d only had on one earring, somebody would have said something. Don’t you think? On the other hand, this reminds me of once when I’d gone into one of our local boutiques and after I’d left, I realized I’d lost an earring (totally different situation since I KNEW I’d had two at one point). I went back to the shop and asked the owner if she’d found it. “No, you only had one earring when you came in,” she said. I couldn’t believe it. “Why didn’t you say something?” I asked her. “I thought you meant it that way!” she said. And while I appreciated the compliment that I was edgy enough to wear only one dangling earring, I am not edgy at all and prefer pretty much to have my ears match.

So what do you think? I’m sort of leaning toward the fourth possibility, as troubling as it is that a) I’d forgotten to put two earrings in that morning and b) nobody commented on it. But then, I don’t usually check out folks’ earrings, either, so that might be too much pressure to put on people. And, bottom line, I’ve got both earrings back now, so all is well. Goldy & Miss Marple would be proud.