Curse you, exercise...

Our Fifth Grade classes (all two of them*) had gathered in our school’s Media Center/Library. Each Friday, our classes had held a Spelling Bee. And now, all of the winners of those previous competitions from both classes were together in a no-holds-barred, winner-take-all, Spelling Bee grudge match with One Speller to Rule Them All. The winner, of course, would represent our tiny Stockwell Elementary in the Regional Bee. An the winner of that went on to the National Spelling Bee. This wasn’t some run of the mill Spelling Bee. It was for all the marbles.

My 5th Grade School Picture

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

When our teacher announced who would represent our class in the Fifth Grade Battle Royale, I must admit I was a little shocked when she called my name. “I never won a Spelling Bee,” I protested. I honestly didn’t remember winning any of the Friday showdowns. But several of my colleagues disagreed with me. And my teacher disagreed with me. So I was included in the list of contestants.

I was a Finalist in my school’s Spelling Bee.

I felt ill-prepared and under-qualified. As we walked into the Media Center/Library, I’m not gonna lie: I felt like the proverbial lamb heading to the slaughter. I was doomed. I was prepared to be a quick Out, getting disqualified on the first word I tried to spell.

Things didn’t work out like that, though. They rarely work out the way they play out in a Fifth Grader’s mind. Do they?

I spelled my first word with no problem. Amazingly enough, I don’t remember what word they gave me. Then I got another one right. Contestants were dropping like flies, but I was still in the game.

Then a good friend of mine misspelled a relatively easy word. It was either “there” or “reed” or something like that – a homophone that you’re likely to misspell if you don’t ask for a definition. He spelled the wrong word. He chose poorly.

Things started looking up

I started wondering if I was actually going to win this thing. There were only FOUR contestants remaining. I was one of them! Yes, maybe so! I could possibly win the Spelling Bee!

Another friend misspelled a word. I knew right away that she did. The word was a piece of cake. Instead of getting harder, this thing was starting to get easier. Victory was within my grasp. And I was ready for it.

And then there were TWO.

Another friend misspelled a word. I don’t remember what it was, but I know I knew how to spell it. That left two of us. There was just one more person standing in between me and Spelling Bee glory. I saw myself as the Underdog, since I didn’t think I belonged there, anyway. I was David and I was ready to slay Goliath and claim my prize.

We battled back and forth. My competitor was tough. You could cut the tension with a sharpened No. 2 pencil. Neither one of us was going to budge.

“Spell the word, ‘Exercise.'”

That’s what the Teacher told me to spell. And my stomach dropped. I felt like Charlie Brown during the National Spelling Bee when he was told to spell the word “Beagle.”

Exercise…

exercise weights
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Exercise…

running shoes
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Exercise…

baseball tennis ball basketball tennis racket soccer ball
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Exercise…

vintage bicycles, bikes
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“E…

x…”

I don’t remember how I spelled the word. I knew there was a “C” in there. And I wasn’t sure if there was a “Z” or an “S” at the end. I might have spelled it “excersise” or “excersize” or something like that. The details don’t really matter at this point. I know I spelled it wrong.

The bell dinged. I was done. Finished. I finished second. Runner-up. It was quite an accomplishment. I was named the Alternate Representative for our school, and given a copy of a book of words to study for the Regional round of competition – just in case the winner was somehow unable to fulfill his duties. There was a lot to be proud of. But I was still disappointed.

“You never forget…”

When we sat around the dinner table that evening, I told everyone about how I almost won the Spelling Bee. I showed some disappointment in myself for missing the word “exercise.”

“Well, I can tell you one thing,” my Dad said, offering some encouragement . “You won’t ever forget how to spell ‘exercise.’ I still remember the word I missed in our school’s Spelling Bee. And I’ll never forget how to spell it.”

He’s right.

I’ve never forgotten how to spell “exercise.” I will never have to look it up again.

The same is true about street signs. When I took my test for my Driver’s License (on April 1, by the way), I only missed one sign: the car with the squiggly lines underneath.

Slippery When Wet Street Sign I couldn’t decide if it was telling me that there was a curvy road ahead or if it was slippery when wet. I knew there was another sign that actually says “Slippery When Wet,” so I said it was a curvy road. I chose…poorly.

This sign is etched into my memory. I will never forget it. I doubt I ever will. Even if I’m old and can’t tell you the difference between a Stop sign and a Yield sign, I’m confident that I’ll be able to tell you that this sign means Slippery When Wet.

Why do we do that?

When I began writing about my Spelling Bee experience, I was planning on asking why we focus on the negative? I finished second in the whole school. I was the Alternate Representative for our school. Pretty cool, right? Why focus on the misspelled word?

Why focus on the one sign I missed on a test 25 years ago?

Because that’s how we learn from our mistakes. That’s how we grow. That’s how we get better.

There shouldn’t be any surprise that I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years. But I have a choice to make: I can wallow in self-pity, beating myself up for something as minor as a misspelled word, or I can get up, learn from that mistake.

I choose to get better. I choose to keep improving and to learn from my mistakes. 

Hopefully, you do, too.

* You read that right. We only had two Fifth Grade classes at our school. We were the Stockwell Woodsmen and we were a relatively small school. And I loved every minute of being part of that small community.

They call me Baby Driver

This post about the film,  Baby Driver, contains affiliate links. I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy. As always, thank you for your support.

Have you seen the trailers for the movie, Baby Driver? It looks like it could be a fun movie. It also looks like it’s similar to other movies with similar themes. But that’s OK. As of this writing, it has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And the American public is never wrong. Right?

Don’t answer that.

Every time I see this trailer, though, I expect to hear Baby Driver from Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Are you familiar with this song? It’s pretty great. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I really think this song should be part of its soundtrack. I haven’t found it in any of the film’s soundtrack listings. That’s unfortunate.

If you haven’t heard it before, you should go ahead and check it out here. And if you have heard it, go ahead and click the link, too. Because I know you’ll want to hear it again.

I love this album. It was on regular rotation in the tape player in dad’s car. I learned The BoxerCeciliaBridge Over Troubled Water, Keep the Customer Satisfied,  Baby Driver, and the rest of the songs by heart. I was innocent enough that I took the songs at face-value.

This album entered my car stereo’s rotation when I crawled under my pop cultural rock and played my Metallica/Simon and Garfunkel mixtape quite frequently. I initially took the songs at face-value.

Then it happened.

I was driving along, minding my own business, when Baby Driver came on. I sung along with the lyrics when I came to the chorus. Paul, Art, and I started singing about engines and the skies parted before me and it was like my eyes had been opened for the first time.

I had to pull over.

I hit “rewind” and listened to the chorus again. Yes. I’d heard it right. I’d been singing it right the whole time. But I had misunderstood the song for years. Years, I tell you.

Much to my dismay, this song wasn’t about a kid who liked to play with toy cars. And it wasn’t about someone who likes to race cars. He wasn’t inviting someone to check out the car he’d been working on in his garage.

And he aint’ talking bout no race car engines.

Race car engine

Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

I was in shock. I was horrified. And I might have been a little bit embarrassed as I sat in my pulled over car, contemplating the song’s meaning that had been sitting right in front of me for years. Years, I tell you!

Baby Driver didn’t mean what I thought it meant.

I started to wonder what other songs didn’t mean what I thought they meant. Turned out that there were several songs on that album that weren’t quite as innocent as I originally thought.

Don’t even get me started on Cecilia

Has something like this happened to you? Did you misunderstand the meaning of a song or a phrase when you were a kid, only to find out much later that it had much more “adult” meaning?

V is for Vehicles

Traffic in Addis is insane. It’s just crazy. I was recently with a family who lived in New York. They said that the insanity of Addis traffic puts New York City’s traffic to shame.

Instead of explaining the vehicles we saw in Ethiopia, I figured I’d share a few pictures.

The red trucks on the right? If I understand correctly, they have a reputation of shutting down at inopportune times. They’re not looked upon favorably. The truck on the left is a water delivery truck. I’ll talk more about water in the next post.

China trucks and vehicles in Ethiopia

Rickshaws…

Rickshaw and motorcycle in Ethiopia

You never know when you’re going to encounter a livestock-induced traffic jam. Sheep in the road in Ethiopia

Put all of this together and it looks like an insane video game. I didn’t take this video, but it captures the traffic perfectly.

This might give Frogger a run for his money.

Please stop running bus stop signs.

Bus Stop SignOn the day a friend of mine received her driver’s license, she took her older brothers out for a drive. As they came up to an empty intersection, her brothers urged her to drive on through.

“You can ignore the stop signs that have a white border. They’re optional,” they argued.

She was convinced. And she rolled right through that intersection.

Her brothers were shocked. They didn’t think she’d believe them. But they were the experienced drivers and she was just getting started. So she fell for their joke.

In the end, it was just a silly prank that older brothers were playing on their younger sister. And no one got hurt. So, in the end, I guess you could say it was harmless. No blood, no foul. But my friend learned a valuable lesson that evening.

Stop signs are not optional.

Even if they have a white border.

That includes Continue reading “Please stop running bus stop signs.”

4 signs I’m turning into a grumpy old man

Grumpy Old Man
One of my students has consistently called me Grandpa since the day I showed up in his class in October. Granted, he does occasionally call me “Daddy,” too. And there was one day a few weeks ago where he walked down the hall with me and introduced me as “Mr. Matt” to everyone he met – real or imaginary. So there are days where he’s all over the place with what he calls me. But his go-to name for me is Grandpa. Maybe I look like his super-young, super-hip (is that what the young whipper snappers call it nowadays?) grandpa. Or maybe it’s just the head of gray I mean…white hair. White hair. Yeah…that’s the ticket…Because it’s totally turning white and not gray at all. So maybe it’s the color of my hair that makes him assume I’m a grandpa. Or maybe there’s no real explanation of what’s going on in this kid’s head. He just wants to call me Grandpa.

I guess I’m technically old enough to be his grandpa. I guess that means I’m getting older.

I had another realization about my age recently. I was talking with a co-worker one night and realized that I have scars on my body that are older than he is. The scar from me jumping through an aquarium? Older than him. The scar from the time where I was teaching ax safety and wound up cutting my leg with an ax? Yup. Older than him. Wait….how is it possible that I’ve been blogging on this site for 10+ years and I’ve never talked about these scars? This is a travesty that must be corrected. I sense a series a-brewing.

But I digress…

Those scars? Totally older than him.

Dang. I really am getting older. I like to say that I agree with Bon Jovi. I’m not really getting old. Just older.

But maybe that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Maybe I’m not just getting older. Maybe I’m getting old. Here are four reasons that there’s a very good possibility that I’m starting to become a grumpy old man.

1. Catching some zzzzz…

Before I elaborate, I feel like I should make a disclaimer about my grandparents so you don’t misunderstand me. Grandmama and Grandpa were not grumpy people. They laughed. A lot. I remember them as generally, genuinely happy people.

Grandparents’ wedding picture. I think.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on


I remember their smiles. And I definitely remember their laughs. Especially Grandpa’s. It’s been 25-ish years since I’ve heard that laugh, but I can still hear it echoing through my memories when I think about him. Boy do I miss that laugh. I wish my kids could’ve heard that laugh. I know they would’ve loved it. And he would’ve gotten a big kick out of them.

So you get the point. Grandmama and Grandpa were happy people. Joyous people. They were not grumps.

But, boy could they sleep.

Whenever we’d go stay at my grandparents’ house, the night would almost always end with Grandpa asleep on the red carpet that covered their Living Room. It didn’t really  matter what was on TV. He generally fell asleep while we were watching it.

And Grandmama? As she got older, she fell asleep almost anywhere at almost any time. I remember having conversations with her as she would sit down in the recliner. I’m not kidding: 30 seconds after sitting in her chair, she’d be asleep. Her best friend told us that she also had a knack for falling asleep in the movie theatee. I remember some other places where she fell asleep, but she’d probably be mortified if she was still alive and found out that I’d shared them in public.

The grand-apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, apparently. I fall asleep all the time while sitting on the couch. I’ve also dozed off a time or two during the occasional trip to the local dollar(+75 cents) theater. I am certainly following in Grandmama and Grandpa’s footsteps.

Does this make me grumpy? No. Not unless one of the kids rudely rouses me from my slumber upon the couch. Then I’m not very happy. But that only lasts for a little while. It isn’t a perpetual state of grumpiness.

Does it make me old? Probably. I think it’s safe to say that the all-nighters from college, the dates that Christy and I would have that would last until 5 in the morning, and the precious few hours of sleep that I got while our kids were babies have taken their toll. So now I’m playing catch-up. One cat nap at a time. Does this mean I’m ancient? Nah. But it’s pretty clear that I’m older.

Now please excuse me while I take a quick nap before I write the rest of this post.

2. Jaywalkers

Nothing makes me grumpier than a jaywalker crossing the street in front of my car while I’m driving down the road. This really didn’t bother me too much until sometime early last year when it was dark and a lady jumped out from between two stopped cars going the opposite direction. I was *this close* to hitting her. I’ve included a banana for scale:

That’s close.

Too close.

If she had jumped out any more, there’s no way I wouldn’t have hit her. All because she couldn’t walk a few hundred feet and cross at an intersection.

Now I just get grumpy when someone walks out in front of me and isn’t using a crosswalk or at an intersection. It makes me so grumpy that I’m tempted to speed up a little and blare my horn, just to scare them a bit. Of course I would never intentionally hit someone. But scaring someone enough to reconsider jaywalking might be fun. You know I’d never really speed up like that. But I may or may not have blared my horn at jaywalkers as they walked in front of me.

Because I’m grumpy like that.

Don't jay walk 1937

3. People who walk the wrong way

Speaking of pedestrians, people walking the wrong way down the street make me just as grumpy as jaywalkers do. Walking on the right side of the road, with the flow of  traffic instead of against it, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous situation. It’s unsafe for the pedestrians. It’s also unsafe for the people who are driving. Unless you want to increase the chances of being involved in a car vs. pedestrian accident, it just makes sense to walk on the left side of the road.

And because I really don’t want to be involved in any car vs. pedestrian incidents, I admit that I’ve at the occasional pedestrian (it’s usually a small group of teenagers) for walking down the right side, which is the wrong side, of the road. It isn’t safe and it just makes me grumpy.

Wrong Way

Very, very grumpy.

4. No turn signals

There are a lot of things I miss about living in the South. I’m sure it’s a blog post waiting to happen. There are a few things, however, that I don’t miss. One thing that drove me nuts about driving in Upper East Tennessee was the regular use of “courtesy signals” by the locals. Have you ever experienced this?

Let’s say a car is two spots in front of you and is turning left. That driver has the left turn signal on and is waiting for an opening in oncoming traffic to make the turn. As a “courtesy,” the car behind that car – the car between the two of you – turns on his/her left turn signal in order to let you know that the person in the front of the line is waiting to turn left. There were times where I encountered five or six cars flashing “courtesy signals” while waiting for the first person to turn. Once that person turned, all of subsequent drivers went straight.

I don’t understand the reasoning behind this. I never have. But it drives me nuts.

2005 BMW 645Ci Cabriolet - Flickr - The Car Spy (21)

That pales in comparison to how grumpy I get when someone doesn’t even bother to use a turn signal at all. I like to minimize uncertainty when I’m driving. I like to have an idea what my fellow drivers are trying to do. If you’re turning and I don’t know that ahead of time, that makes me grumpy.

Turn signals are our friends, people! Use them!

Mr. Grumpy Pants

Well fliberty-floo. Flobble-dee-flee!

I’m coming closer and closer to being a grumpy old man. I’m sure this’ll change in the future as my grumpy old manliness continues to grow, it seems that most of my grumpiness seems to be tied to driving. But it’s not because of anything I’m doing. It’s everyone else. Please show some courtesy and some common sense when you’re walking or driving down the road. If you don’t, you just might encounter a grumpy old man like me.

That’s the way it is.
And I like it.

Now get off my lawn.