12, going on 27.1.

Guest Post by my daughter, Ali Callahan.

2019 Lake Martin Team Ali-reading-before-Lake-Martin-IMG_1507 s

So I decided to become an ultra marathoner.

An ultra marathon is anything over 26.2 miles. I don’t remember why I wanted to do it originally, but I have been training for a year. The first race I wanted to do was the Lake Martin 27.1 mile “fun run”, a trail race which my mom has done once and my dad has done a few times. So this year, Mom, a few of her friends, and I were signed up for the 27.1 mile fun run, and Dad was signed up for the 100 mile serious run. Nobody under 16 had ever done any of the distances at Lake Martin, and since I am 12, I was feeling kind of nervous about it (and a little impatient to get it over with,) until it got there and I felt -mostly- better. We were all staying together in a rental house on the night before the race and I went to bed really early.

2019 Lake Martin Team 2019-Lake-Martin-Team-IMG_1540 s

In the morning, we woke up at 5:30, filled our packs, tied our shoes, encouraged each other, and drove to the start/finish line. It was very cold so it was nice to find that the bathrooms were heated. We all got in a huddle in front of the start/finish line, then Mr. David, the race director, fired his gun in the air, and we all started running.

The race was divided into four sections, with an aid station between each one, and then a final 2 miles after the last aid station. It was easier to think about it as four separate trail runs than 27.1 miles as a whole.

First Eight Miles (0-8.2):

There were lots of water crossings and hills, and it was very fun because Dad, Mom, and I were together. However, there was a creek crossing and you had the choice of crossing on rocks or on a log. Mom wanted to cross on the rocks, but Dad and I wanted to go across the log. I stumbled and barely made it across and was about to tell Dad that he really shouldn’t do that because it would be worse if he fell in since he had like 95 miles left, but he was already halfway across. He stumbled in the same place I did, except his foot slipped, both his legs went into the water up to his calves, and he was okay but was frustrated at himself and went ahead for a bit – “to blow off steam”, according to him. At the first aid station I used the restroom, grabbed some pretzels and pickles, and we kept going.

2019 Lake Martin Team Heaven-Hill-IMG_6300 s

Next Five Miles (8.2-13.6):

I was happily skipping, singing, and talking to Mom and Dad. This was probably my favorite loop because we went through/over: a forest where there had been a controlled burn and had lots of burnt pinecones, a wide red road, a trail through tall reeds, and by a lake.

2019 Lake Martin Team ali-heaven-hill-DD731ED5-92CA-4BE6-8CE6-AAD4DD0D9C0B s

When we came back around to the aid station and I did exactly what I did last time: used the restroom, grabbed some pickles and pretzels, oh! And stretched – it feels so good to do a backbend when you have been on your feet for four hours!

2019 Lake Martin Team Ali-backbend-heaven-hill-IMG_6315 s

Next Five Miles (13.6-19):

I was still very happy but tired. Dad was ahead of Mom and I now, because he left the aid station before us. There were way less water crossings. We didn’t think we would catch up to Dad, but we saw him at the top of a hill and I screamed “Dad!!”, and ran ahead until I caught up with him. When we got to the aid station, I got some Mountain Dew and a banana slice.

Next Six Miles (19-25.1):

The first couple miles were okay, but very hilly. Around mile 21, after an especially high hill, I got so tired that I was crying and I couldn’t think. It was so hard. So Mom pulled out her phone and played all my favorite songs, like “High Hopes”, “Hall of Fame”, and “Havana.”

2019 Lake Martin Team under-the-log-IMG_6327 s

I barely made it back to the aid station where I got more Mountain Dew, the volunteers filled up my pack with water, and we left.

Last Two Miles (25.1-27.1):

I was better, but exhausted. It was more fun because Dad was with us again (he got ahead of us when I was crying, but we caught up to him at the aid station,) and the trail was super easy – it was just the first mile of the course again and back. At the one mile turnaround point, we had a group hug and we cheered and encouraged each other, and Dad kept going (since he was doing the 100), and Mom and I turned around.

2019 Lake Martin Team 26-mile-turnaround-double-pic-IMG_6353 s

After one mile, we finished!

2019 Lake Martin Team Ali-finish-line-jump-IMG_6389 s

2019 Lake Martin Team Ali-Rachel-Finish-Line-IMG_6368 s

We ate, drank, got our medals, and cheered our friends as they finished.

2019 Lake Martin Team 27-finishers-IMG_0138 s

The race took me eight hours, one minute, and 59 seconds. Afterwards, I was glad to be done, and sore. I was so tired the only thing that made sense to say was “ow.” It took a little while to feel satisfied – I had so many emotions I didn’t know what to feel.  The next day I felt better except for my shoulders, which felt like I had carried my cousin Andi for ten miles. But I was able to run/walk the last 1.5 miles with Dad Sunday evening as he finished his hundred miles.

2019 Lake Martin Team Ali-Chris-Finish-100-IMG_6538 s

I think I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for other kids. However, I might do it again – if other kids did it with me.

2019 Lake Martin Team Ali-Post-Race-Backbend-IMG_6374 s

On Becoming a Spelling Bee Drama Queen.

We Callahans like Spelling Bees. There’s something so…objective about spelling, and yet so very challenging as well, because English is stupid. Every year at the beginning of the school year, I check the Scripps site daily for the release of the year’s list of 450 words. Because you can never be too early in starting your study process. 

And process is exactly what we have. I call out the words, the kids spell them, I write down (twice) the words they miss – once in my notebook, and once in theirs. They rewrite and study from their notebooks, and I use my notebook the next day to review the words they missed, then call out another batch of words. At the beginning of the year, the process is taxing on me, because Noah is an agonizingly slow speller. So I leave myself plenty of margin for what I call Patience Doodles – a skill every homeschool parent needs in spades.

Spelling Bee Drama IMG_5923

After five months of practice on the 450 words plus the extra word lists, it was time for the Homeschool County Spelling Bee. In Alabama, there are 67 counties – except when spelling bees are involved, in which there are 68. Each county has a county bee for public and private schools, but all homeschoolers in the state are shoved into Homeschool County.

(Which, as with previous years, I spent much time pondering what Homeschool County would look like, if it were an actual geographical location. So many Chick-Fil-As. The thrift stores are full of denim skirts from homeschool days past. The hair length is three times the national average. Every car has a CC sticker on it. And the entire county absolutely REEKS of Lavender and Thieves.)

This was our first time participating in Homeschool County, because in years past, we’ve had Regional bees, from which the top three go to Homeschool County. Two years ago, Ali got fourth place in Regional  (or, as we like to call it, First Place of No More Studying), but we’d never broken through to Homeschool County before. But this year, they cancelled regionals and compiled us all into Homeschool County, meaning that Ali and Noah would both get their chance to shine.

This was the first bee we’d participated in that was on a Saturday, which meant that Chris would get his first experience as Spelling Bee Dad. I explained to him beforehand that though the bee starts at 1pm, expect a lengthy amount of time set aside for explaining the rules. It’s best to be prepared for such things, and as he told me later, about halfway through the rules, he was super glad I’d warned him.

One of the rules is about an appeal. It’s always given as an aside, with a “we really hardly ever need these, and I haven’t seen an appeal in years, but if you find yourself needing to make an appeal on behalf of your student, go to the back and get an appeal form.”

Every time she states this rule I have a picture in my mind of Appeal Mom. She’s a total stage mom, the kind that yells at the teacher when her kid gets into legitimate trouble, and who is always convinced that everyone is out to wrong her kid. I mentally shake my head at her obnoxious entitlement. Good thing she doesn’t exist in Homeschool County.

We began the bee. As always, I wrote down every word with my own legend attached to it. The only reason I do all of this paperwork is to keep my own jitters at bay, my hands from shaking, and my heart rate down. Writing soothes me and keeps my stomach from cramping when it’s time for my kid to spell again. Oh – and I mark the homonyms because I like playing the game “what in the world is a homonym to that word?” in my head. One must have coping mechanisms.

Spelling Bee Drama IMG_5921

(Yes, I misspelled homonym the first time I wrote it on my legend. Yes, Chris caught it and giggled silently at me.)

Spelling bees are for first through eighth graders, all grades together. Noah, being in second grade, had only made it through studying the first 250 words. He spoke confidently and accurately, though, and was doing quite well. When it got to round five, I whispered to Chris “this is probably Noah’s last round.” But no – he spelled cardboard correctly, cheering me at the fact that he got as far as he possibly could have based on what he’d learned. As expected, he spelled out in the next round, came and sat down beside me and whispered “We never studied gangrene!!” 

Ali was still going strong. She had memorized all 450 words, and had studied quite diligently into the extra word lists as well. But I was still nervous – because panic and accidental mistakes are easy to make.

By round nine, there were only six spellers left. When it was her turn, she was given the word tetrarch. My eyes widened. My brain began spinning. I definitely did not remember that word on the lists. And I could tell she didn’t either. She asked for the definition. She quietly thought. And, completely without surprise to me, she spelled it incorrectly – tetrark. 

She came to sit down and I whispered, “Do you remember that word?” “No!” 

I did a mental checklist of all of the other words in the round. All the other words were straight off the word list, right around the 400s. I scanned the 300s and 400s. There was no tetrarch.

I had Chris re-scan them. He couldn’t find tetrarch. 

And, before I could consider my actions, I stood up and walked to the back of the room to get an appeal form.

The room let up an audible gasp. Or maybe it wasn’t audible. Maybe I just felt the mental gasp from everyone in the room.

Chris later admitted that he was shocked at my sudden turn into Appeal Mom, and had a Hamilton moment as he watched me gear up for my first duel…

tumblr_inline_owbss3KVpJ1v1v613_540

tumblr_o0mdfnjM1v1r4m60qo2_500

I whispered to the official that tetrarch wasn’t on the word list, but we clearly weren’t “off-list” yet (what happens when the 450 words are used up), as all the other words that round had been on the word list – I knew since I wrote them all down. She agreed that I should fill out an appeal form.

I did, and at the end of round ten, the pronouncer called me up to see my appeal form. I explained. She did a search on her computer and showed me where tetrarch was: Word #408. There it was, right there, on her computer screen.

I walked back to my seat and pulled out my folder again, and they started up round eleven. I found the right page and began scanning. 

And this is what I found:

Spelling Bee Drama IMG_5922

I DID NOT HAVE A WORD FOUR OH EIGHT.

ExhaustedUnripeDamselfly-size_restricted

How even.

What even.

It just was not there.

tenor-19

Without thinking, I stood up and walked to the back of the room. For an unprecedented, nay historic SECOND APPEAL.

giphy-26

I took my laminated word list with me. The official, as I was, was dumbfounded. 

At the end of the eleventh round, upon seeing my Double Appeal Mom behavior, the pronouncer called for a ten minute break. The crush of guilt and shame at somehow becoming THAT mom overwhelmed me. So I very apologetically showed her my word sheet. She added herself to the count of dumbfounded individuals. I told her that I understood that too many rounds had gone by to let Ali back in, and would be fine with whatever they decided.

There was ten minutes of deliberation. Much discussion. Much look at that missing #408.

While we waited, Ali was both excited about being out and excited about being put back in, as she had a basketball game right after the spelling bee, and if she were out, she’d be on time. I asked, “Do you want me to go ahead and tell them not to worry with it? You can be done…” She looked at me like I was crazy. “NO WAY!!! I want back in if I can get in!!”

fb6cb390-69fb-0133-9005-0e17bac22e39

And they decided that, since this was a Scripps Spelling Bee and that clearly Scripps had made a mistake, Ali should be allowed back in – but that she had to spell two words correctly, for rounds ten and eleven, to earn her spot. They explained it very well to the whole crowd, so that there were no misunderstandings as to why they were making an exception to the rule. She finished up her explanation with “And if you have a problem with this, don’t bother to appeal – you can only appeal for your own speller.” 

Boom.

Then,

“No pressure, Ali. Are you ready?”

I sat on my hands.

1d4f4c8ae058f2e25eff41197e11e514

She spelled her first word flawlessly. 

giphy-25

But then her second word. Oh, her second word. 

This time, it was all my fault.

You see, I always look up the pronunciations of words that I don’t know, of which there are always plenty, like mille-feuille and recherché and netsuke. But if it’s a word I do know, and I’ve been pronouncing all my life, it doesn’t occur to me that I might be wrong. (And, for the record, I’m wrong a lot. So many words are “reading only” words and I find out years later that I’ve been saying them incorrectly in my head all my life.)

Her second word was Phaeton.

Go ahead – pronounce it mentally.

Did you pronounce it fay-TON?

Well, you’re doing it wrong.

The pronouncer pronounced it FAY-uh-tun.

Which, when spoken aloud, sounds nothing like fay-TON.

I cursed myself for my mispronunciation.

I cursed myself for not telling Ali “Now, your mother is a serial mispronouncer. If anyone says a word you’ve never heard, search your memory for other spelling words that are KIND OF like it to see if perhaps your mother has mispronounced it wrong all her life.”

And, as expected, she did not spell it correctly.

HighlevelConsciousGannet-size_restricted

So not only was I Double Appeal Mom, but I followed that up by being Hijacker of my Own Daughter’s Success Mom. If only there were a bee for that.

Epilogue:

…Ali was just relieved that she made it through the Spelling Bee without any (of her own) dumb mistakes, and she made it to her basketball game happily free of Spelling Bee anxiety.
…I was relieved when our beloved Spelling Club leader, Miss Melissa, got home and immediately checked her own word lists and also found that she was missing Word #408.
…And next year, we’ll definitely use those Scripps recordings for
ALL word pronunciations.
…Last night, Chris and I were watching a British Drama after bed. They referenced their fay-TON. I screamed “fay-TON!! fay-
TON!!! I’m just British, you see!!!” – it did not help regain anyone’s Spelling Bee Glory, but it also didn’t wake up any children, so we’ll call it a win.

Things You Don’t Want to See In The Woods.

190222 Christen in the Fog IMG_5638

“Because you don’t want to be alone in the woods and run into some random guy with an axe….”

These are the things girls say jokingly to each other when setting out for a trail run together. However, I run in the woods alone fairly regularly, and when I do, my mantra is more like “So I’m out here in the woods all alone and haven’t seen anyone for miles and am starting to feel creeped out BUT what are the chances that the one person I do see is an axe murderer?”

Axes apparently play a big part into the worst-case-scenario imaginings of woods and women. And that’s just where axes are supposed to stay. IN OUR IMAGINATIONS.

Except for this one time.

My friend Christen and I were out for a trail run. We were enjoying a very nice, normal, and safe loop around a well-trodden lake at a local state park. We hadn’t seen many people out that day yet, but there were a few. It had been a quiet mile or two when we saw a guy ahead of us with two dogs. It was a single track trail, so he pulled off to the side with the dogs well before we approached, as is how it usually goes for the oft-followed “the slower person pulls off the trail” rule. 

Except that he also felt the need to yell reassurances to us.

“Don’t worry!! They’re very friendly!! They won’t bother you!!”

I’m not a fan of dogs, but I’m also not usually worried about them. I found his warning…odd. He had just finished his reassurances when I reached his bend in the trail.

…And I noticed that he was leaning on a waist-length handle. My eyes followed the large handle down to the ground…where I saw a nicely sharpened, shiny axe blade.

Because split second unexpected situations in life sometimes can make one speak before thinking, I immediately shot back, “I’m more worried about your axe than I am the dogs!”

He nudged it lightheartedly.

“Oh, this? It’s just in case we see any snakes.”

I am a fan of snakes, however, and quickly shot back again. .

“What?? Why would you kill snakes?? You can’t kill snakes! You’re in a State Park!!”

(Not to mention that he was also carrying a VIOLENT and (not-yet-)BLOODY FREAKING WEAPON in a State Park and SURELY this was NOT okay.)

He jovially said, “Oh, don’t worry, we just kill the poisonous ones.”

By this time we were 100 feet down the trail from him and the reality of my rather rash and impudent conversation was starting to sink in. Had I just argued with the very first axe-wielding man-in-the-woods I’d ever run into on a trail run? 

Yes. Yes I had.

Obviously if I run into a real axe murderer, it’s gonna go so very well.

Meanwhile, Christen was having her own personal crisis. She pulled up beside me, panting, and said,

“Oh my goodness I didn’t even notice that he had an axe until you said something. THIS IS WHY I CAN NEVER RUN ALONE.”

We discussed axe man for the next mile, then pulled into a nearby bathroom. There was a State Park worker at the bathrooms, and I went back and forth, back and forth with myself as to whether I should report Axe Man. She seemed like such a nice State Park worker…I didn’t want her to die.

And then I heard him, not far off, whistling for one of his dogs…and I didn’t want to die for being a rat.

So I didn’t report him.

As we ran away from the bathrooms, he pulled alongside us in his truck.

Here it goes. Here we go.

“Y’all are making me just exhausted with all your running!!”

Yes, yes we are, sir. We’re clearly the problem here.