Desperado.

I live for spelling bees.

I only participated in one when I was a kid, but I remember relishing the thrill of competition. I’m also a fairly good speller (except for the word dilemma) and would greatly appreciate it if my children would join me in that vital pursuit.

Last year was Ali’s first round of spelling bees. We have a school spelling bee (just our homeschool cover school), and then the Birmingham District Homeschooling spelling bee. In Ali’s first ever spelling bee as a third grader (spelling bees are for 1-8th grade – so clearly I forgot what I lived for two years in a row), she placed 1st in her grade and 4th in the school and was elated at her achievement, even though she was one spot away from a cash prize. She decided she wanted to work even harder for the district bee, truly hoping to grab a cash prize. But alas, the district spelling bee’s Round One started in words past where we’d studied, and so she was out on round one, along with over half the kids that participated.

As soon as the spelling sheets came out for this school year, we began studying. We made it through all 450 words a few times through before the first bee, challenging my pronunciation abilities and forcing me to use the audio feature of dictionary.com to learn words such as a posteriori, recherche, netsuke (pronounced netskee), and more. And then there were the long words that were a delight to say, such as prestidigitation and supererogation. We loosely knew them all, but alas – Ali was self-admittedly too confident as a mature 4th grader, and spelled out of the school spelling bee at 5th place.

We trudged through the holidays, spelling and re-spelling reveille and sanctum sanctorum, in preparation for the district bee. I wasn’t super confident in her readiness for the harder spelling bee, but I encouraged her to go slow, picture the word in her head, and GO SLOW. The district bee was important, after all. The winners of that bee progressed toward Nationals.

The top three winners of the district bee get to go to the “Homeschool County” bee – there are 67 counties in Alabama, but homeschoolers don’t get to compete in their county bee – they all get thrown into the same pot called Homeschool County, then winners of the 67 real counties and the one imaginary Homeschool County compete against each other in the State Bee. I enjoy imagining what Homeschool County is like, and often find myself daydreaming about it…the stores lining the streets would include Denim Jumpers R Us and Minivan Superstore, the “playgrounds” would just be circular seating arrangements of children reciting the U.S. constitution in Latin, and all food inside county boundaries would be required to be gluten free and devoid of any devilish red dye.

(But I digress.)

My heart began beating heavily as soon as we entered the room for the district bee. My hands were shaking. I decided I needed to busy them so as to not take on more nervousness on behalf of my daughter. So I took her picture.

IMG_3905She unwittingly chose the only long skirt she had – it was SO Homeschool County of her. The sequins on her shirt, however, would definitely get her thrown into Homeschool County Jail. Where she could keep me company during my incarceration for having purple hair.

According to the seating arrangement, Ali was the third to last speller, and since I couldn’t take pictures of her to busy myself, I decided I’d write down every word used, match them against our study sheets, and see if all the words did indeed come from the 450 we tried our best to memorize. There had also been extra sheets of challenge words – some we’d briefly gone over – but 450 words is really an undertaking. Who has time to look at a dozen more sheets?

I began writing with each student, and then texting updates to Chris and a couple other friends waiting with bated breath (or wishing I’d quit texting them.) I created a system – dots on the left meant the student got the word wrong and was therefore out. I put Ali’s word in a square, and dots on the right meant the word had a homonym and therefore had its definition read with the word (during the last spelling bee, we the spectators had played “Who can figure out what the homonym is?” – a game that is harder than you might imagine.)

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Thankfully, the moderator started with much easier words this year. As soon as the first word was read, Ali looked back at me and smiled. There would be no Round One elimination for her this year.

The rounds kept going and Ali continued to spell correctly.

Round 7 was the frightening round – the one where the moderators took a minute to discuss amongst themselves, then shuffle papers – I knew they were going off-script. We had finished with the word list and were headed into uncharted territories.

With each new unstudied word, I just knew Ali would be out.

But then she spelled tortilla and popularity. My heart burst with spelling pride.

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There were only five students left by round 9, and Ali was giving then word “Hogan”, except that it was pronounced “hog-on”, and I didn’t even know how to spell it. Surely this would be the end. Ali paused, having no idea what a Hogan was (nor did I), and wisely asked for a definition.

“a Navajo Indian dwelling constructed of earth and branches and covered with mud or sod. It can also be pronounced ‘hogan.’”

Oh, this was the breakthrough Ali needed. Would she opt for guessing “hogan” or “hogon”?

She went with Hogan. And was right.

She made it through round 10, miraculously spelling acronym.

The field was now down to 4 – it started at 29 spellers. This was crazy. She was on a roll.

Then she was given the word Desperado.

She’d never heard it before, and after a moment of thinking, she spelled it desperoto.

She was out, officially 4th place, just two rounds before the bee was over.

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She and I were both shocked and excited that she’d made it so far, and not at all disappointed that we didn’t get to visit the magical land of Homeschool County as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers did. We quickly decided that 4th place was “The first place of No More Studying”, and celebrated by car-dancing to Spotify on the way home – something that’s surely not allowed in Homeschool County.

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And, for what it’s worth, when it comes to Desperado, Ali and I unanimously concur that Rihanna does it best.

The Inner Poet.

My daughter is the epitome of a cheerful optimist.

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She is nearly always happy, always pointing out the beautiful and amazing things around her, and is constantly looking to thank me for something or state how much she enjoys whatever it is we’re doing right then.

“Thanks for taking us on this run, Mom. I love running!”

“Doing laundry is the best, Mom. Thanks for letting me do it!”

“Thank you for allowing me to clean this toilet, mom. It’s so fantastic!”

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Although I appreciate her enthusiasm, because I’m a cynic at heart, I sometimes suspect that her cheery disposition is actually rooted deeply in her people-pleasing-oldest-child-personality and then multiplied by opportunism to capitalize on her little brother’s general lack of cheery disposition (and his being told to quit whining and/or arguing approximately once a second) in order to differentiate herself as The Favorite Child.

I believe this because the whinier he is, the cheerier she is. The more he says he hates something, the more she says she loves it.

It’s as if he left his lunch money in her room and she’s perfectly happy to collect interest on it.

But maybe I’m reading too much into her personality. Maybe she somehow missed all of my genetics and is genuinely the nicest person that ever lived.

Or maybe, deep down, she’s as cynical as I am. And is just WERKING it.

“Thanks for this English assignment, Mom. I LOVE writing acrostic poetry!”

Those are words that Ali spoke last week. Those words definitely never came out of my mouth, as I despise all forced attempts at rhyming or rhythm, mainly because I’m absolutely horrible at it. Like seriously – cannot write a rhyming verse to save my life. Additionally, I hated every English book and class that I ever knew. One time I loathed my English book so badly that I asked my Mom if I could finish the entire book that day and not do English for the rest of the year. She said yes, and I happily obliged.

(I didn’t learn much English that year, but I’ve managed to figure out the basics of the language in spite of my self-administered mini-term.)

But Chris is an excellent song-writer, so I thought that perhaps Ali has her father’s talent and love for the art.

She handed me her poem with excitement and glow.

“I wrote my acrostic poem about winter! Don’t you love it? It was fun to try and start all the lines with the letters W-I-N-T-E-R.”

I read her poem.

I giggled.

I read it again.

I giggled some more.

“It’s amazing, honey. Simply. Amazing.”

And at that moment I knew, deep down, in the places she doesn’t like to talk about, Ali had a hidden dark side, just like her mother.

Because Ali’s poem sounded just like April Ludgate had written it, and is best read with her fantastic monotone delivery.

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You go, Ali.

Keep being sunshiny and positive on the outside, but enjoy your Inner Evil Poet as well.

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Hands-On History: Brierfield Ironworks

After a few false starts, we finally got back into the groove of history field trips after the holidays. It’s harder now, because our dear friend and adventure comrade Carla Jean has moved to Colorado, and nothing is as much fun when you lose your buddy.

We set out to Brierfield Ironworks, a furnace built in 1862, used for a minute to make iron for farm implements until the owners were strong-armed into selling it to the confederate army, then used to forge iron to make cannons, then promptly destroyed by the union army and never truly resurrected, despite a few attempts. I’d heard it was a less impressive Tannehill, but we often like the “little guy” places, so we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It was also the only furnace actually owned by the confederate army, so it definitely fit into our history studies.

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We arrived and found that we seemed to be the only people at the historic state park. There were log cabins and historical buildings scattered about the grounds, sitting peacefully and quietly.

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We found the one titled “Information Office”, and opened the creaking door to find a kind lady who gave us a trail map and sent us on our way. We first walked over to what was left of the furnace, covered by an oversized carport to protect further decay.

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Unlike Tannehill’s furnace, which is made of giant stones and is still in beautiful condition, Bibb Furnace was made of bricks, and many of its bricks were pillaged for other projects during World War II. As such, there’s not as much left.

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Noah liked the mining cart, though. Mining carts make everything better.

There was a lovely hiking trail above and around the furnace, where we found the old reservoir and several other interesting artifacts.

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We used the opportunity to spot seedless vascular plants, the chapter we were reading in botany at the time.

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We adored the covered bridges scattered throughout the park, acting as bridges in some places and covered picnic pavilions in others.

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It was an easy 1.5 mile circular hike, which was just about the right amount, since Ali was rather overdressed for the hot February day and Noah can always find something to whine about.

Briarfield_MG_3642_7392s“The sun is so bright, Mommy!! I need away from the sun!!”

The most fascinating feature that Brierfield possesses are the bright and dark green rocks all over the park – we at first assumed that they were some of the very minerals that drew people to create a furnace here (Tannehill was created around the red ore mineral line – could this be green ore?)

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The pieces ranged from tiny to small boulder size, and we compared and contrasted color and features. Ali noticed that they had many holes, so surmised that they were like sandstone – on the softer end of the rock spectrum.

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We also talked about how cool it would be to come upon a mineral line like this long ago – and what if it had been gold? We had just read about the Alabama Gold Rush the day before, so we daydreamed about happening upon a whole area of golden nuggets the size and quantity of these curious green rocks.

After we finished our hike, we went back into the welcome center and asked the kind lady about the green rocks. She informed us that they are actually slag, left over from the years of furnace operation. Slag is stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. This made the finds more exciting – we had found byproduct from the Civil War era.

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While she explained this to us and I examined the beautiful pieces of slag she had in the gift shop, Noah shopped, itching to spend his allowance.

“Can I buy this, mom? How about this? And this?”

Without ever really looking up, I agreed to his purchases. He slowly counted his dollars while the nice lady giggled – I assumed she was pleased with his independent economic prowess. It wasn’t until we got to the car and he proudly showed me his new possessions that I questioned my hands-off parenting strategy.

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And that, dear readers, is how a family ends up with a confederate flag shot glass that says “Heritage not Hate.”

Geez.

I’m the best.

After our hike, we visited the playground, where the kids fawned over the vintage playsets,

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while I enjoyed creating super creeptastic “Dementors Are In The Neighborhood” footage.

On the way home, I slid through KFC to get the kids some food.

As we were pulling around, Noah said, “Hey Mom, can you roll down my window?”

“Sure…”

“Thanks! I want to show them my new little cup that I got at the gift shop!”

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

Geez.

I’m the best.

Here’s Ali’s report on this trip and another stop we made on the same day – but I will write about that fascinating place next time.

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