S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G

Today the seventh grader (and two other Northfielders) represented her school at the regional spelling bee in Rochester. 


Though nervous, Julia did very well, getting through five rounds on humble, grotto, benefactor, isobar, and mantilla

I was amazed at the attrition: 12 kids – a third of the field – went out in round 1 and then a third of the remaining complement went out in round 2. Going into round six, only seven kids remained – a magic number since the top six would go on to the regional final bee, with the seventh becoming the alternate. 

High tension! Julia missed Samaritan, which I blame on her parents, who never exposed her to Bible stories. Another girl (one of the several Indian-American kids repping Rochester schools) also missed in that round, which set up a head-to-head tiebreaker to determine who’d be the alternate and who’d finish sixth. Julia got asterisk but then missed teriyaki – a word she later said she knew – and wound up in seventh as the alternate. 

Such is spelling bee life! We were very proud of her, regardless: her hard work preparing for the local and regional bees paid off very well. After all our practice, she’ll never forget how to spell Huguenot!

And as a lifelong nerd, I loved seeing these smart kids not only recognized for their smarts but challenged to use them. Being able to shoot a three-pointer is nice now, but I like to think that the skills embedded in being able to spell synopsis will probably get you further in life.

Women’s Day

Today, women all over the country – and the world – marched to demonstrate their resolve against our country’s new, reactionary president, a man whose claims to be a leader of all people are as loud as they are hollow. (Just read his inaugural speech for proof.)

Though I didn’t march with my scores of female (and male) friends today, I was heartened by them, and inspired to fight. I’ll be calling my new Republican U.S. representative on Monday to voice my opposition to proposed cuts to federal arts and culture funding and to moves to give federal lands to the states. 

As the father of two wonderful girls and the husband of a wonderful woman, I thought that the protest marches coincided neatly with some other notable occurrences.

First, today both girls played their guts out at basketball tournaments, pushing their bodies as far as they could. Though I didn’t get to see any of Julia’s games, I was lucky to watch Vivi in three games, solid team efforts that garnered her squad its first two-win tournament and a nice third-place medal. (I’ll get to see Julia play on Sunday.) Here she is pushing upcourt after one of her approximately ten million steals. 

Second, Thursday night, I saw Julia demonstrate her brainpower by taking second place in her middle-school spelling bee – a long step up from her tenth place finish last year. As someone who (inordinately) values linguistic skills, I thought this was great. She did too!

Third, Friday night at the high school boys’ basketball game, I had a good conversation with Julia about certain irksome disparities between the ways the girls’ basketball teams and the boys’ are celebrated. I’m thinking about taking that up with her coaches, but I was impressed that she noted those disparities and that they rankled her! Inequality sucks. 

Finally, I was thrilled earlier this week when Julia wore her new “FEMINIST” t-shirt to school. (The shirt was a specially-requested Christmas gift from me to her.) Doing so took some guts, and her mom’s encouragement. And yes, she had a ready and reasonable definition ready in case anyone asked about the shirt! (No one did.)

All in all tonight, I am far more hopeful about the next month, year, and four years than I was on Friday. Thank god for the next generation!

Sunday Balling

Today the girls both played in a massive basketball tournament hosted at, apparently, every public-school facility in Lakeville. With each girl playing three games at three different sites, we had to rent a car to ensure parental coverage of all the games. Since I’d missed a tournament while out west, I was selected to go watch Julia’s three games, while Shannon stayed with Genevieve.

I’ve been surprised at how much  watching the girls’ games wracks my nerves. Something about the team sport and the gyms (and the other parents) agitates me much more than either watching the girls at tae kwon do or riding bikes with them. And but so, I was thrilled to see that Julia – and her “C” level team of mostly novices – have improved by leaps and bounds in the last couple months. #5 played actively on both offense and defense and, to my happiness, mixed it up quite a bit – going after loose balls, grabbing the ball to force jump balls, even fouling an opponent. 

And! Owing to some missing players and to the need to make sure the “B” team was competitive in its games, Julia’s team had just seven players for their first game, five for their second, and six for their third. This meant that Julia got tons of playing time, including all 28 minutes of both the second and third games. The third, “friendship” game was a tight one in which the girls – visibly exhausted from the previous two games – first overcame a four-point deficit and then held a four-point lead all the way to the horn. The exhausted girls were elated to eke out the much-deserved win.

Happy Birthday, Carleton!

Carleton College was founded on October 12, 1866 – exactly 150 years ago today. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: the institution was founded as “Northfield College” on 10/12/1866; five years later, its trustees renamed the college in honor of a key donor.

Anyhow, the college is celebrating the sesquicentennial of its founding – and its 150 years of history – in a typically low-key but fun way, with events such as a “Town-and-Gown Celebration” in downtown Northfield tomorrow, a convocation on Friday by Minnesota’s favorite humorist Garrison Keillor, a carnival and fair on Saturday, and a little birthday video featuring scores of students, faculty, and staff – including me and my cowlick. I’m talking trash to our bizarre, unofficial, worse-for-wear college symbol, a bust of the German Romantic poet Friedrich Schiller, who has also appeared with Bill Clinton and Stephen Colbert.

Schiller and Tassava
Schiller and Tassava

I’m glad I wore my sesquicentennial button that day!

Quirks like Schiller and birthday videos remind me of other ways that Carleton’s culture has bound me – and, I hope, others who love the institution – to the college. I couldn’t possibly list all the examples that have come up in the eleven years that I’ve worked at 1 North College Street (7.33% of the college’s lifetime!), but for me, the deal was sealed in summer 2006, when the college held a farewell party for a wonderful but falling-down piece of outdoor sculpture called Twigonometry. (Anyone interested in public art should check out the gallery of photos of the piece in its prime.) Twigonometry stood gorgeously and mysteriously at the north end of the Bald Spot, where kids like toddler Julia could wander through its chambers and arches, swirling in an organically alien way:

Julia and Twigonometry
Julia and Twigonometry

What kind of place holds a farewell party for a four-year-old sculpture made from branches and twigs? The kind of place that I hope lasts another 150 years.