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.

Mihret in the Spotlight

You know, Christy and I think that Mihret is a pretty special little girl. I know, I know. We’re supposed to think that way because she’s our daughter. But she really is. I promise. And I have proof outside of our own objective biased opinion.

You can ask the principal at her school. And you can also ask our district’s School Board.
Mihret in the Spotlight - Title

At the beginning of each School Board meeting, our district invites a school to shine a spotlight on one of their students. The schools rotate throughout the year. That gives each school two opportunities throughout the year to present a student to the School Board as one of their Spotlight Students.

The Principal at Mihret’s school chose Mihret as her school’s representative at this month’s School Board meeting. With the help of a friend, she opened the meeting by leading all attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Mihret helped lead the Pledge of Allegiance at tonight’s School Board meeting. #SpotlightStudent

A video posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

Then her Principal shared a little about their Spotlight Student. He shared a few words about her. He said that she’s an exemplary student with a bright smile and an “I do it myself” attitude.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, she was named Most Determined in her class a few years ago. I promise. We aren’t that biased when we say she’s a remarkable little girl. It’s pretty apparent. Don’t you think?

The School Board President presented her with a special certificate for being her school’s Spotlight Student.

(Sorry the photo is a bit blurry. I wasn’t quite ready to take the picture. It all happened much faster than I expected.)

Spotlight student certificate

Don’t ask me why she’s posing like this. She insisted on doing it. I think she was just so excited about the whole thing that she couldn’t quite contain herself.

She’s definitely a remarkable little girl. And she marches to her own beat. Don’t you agree?

Spotlight Student August 2015

Just in case you weren’t convinced that her parents aren’t the only ones who are totally enamored with our little girl, she also had her own cheering section that showed up at the Board Meeting to support her. Mihret's adoring fans

I’ve had the opportunity to take Mihret to school on several occasions. It’s fun to watch her cruise the hallway with her wheelchair. She waves to everyone, like she’s in a parade. And everyone greets her like a celebrity. I’m pretty sure she thinks she runs that school.

She’s already in the spotlight while she’s at school. So it was pretty fun to see her spotlight’s reach expand to the rest of the school system.

Spotlight Student

Needless to say, we’re pretty proud of our little Spotlight Student.

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.”

G is for Getting Organized

G is for Getting Organized - A to Z Challenge

All my life, keeping things organized has been an issue for me. It started in elementary school and got worse throughout my academic career. Let’s not talk about my pitiful excuse of a science fair experiment that I tried to throw together over night in middle school. Or the semester-long research paper that I scrambled to research and write the weekend before it was due my Junior year of high school. And that poetry project I pulled an all-nighter to create during my Freshman year of college? Although the final product was pretty good, I’m convinced it could’ve been better. It certainly wasn’t my best effort. I’d run out of time. Because I wasn’t organized.

“Get organized.” That’s something I was told quite a bit during high school and college. I was even told that by my immediate supervisor in my first experience in full-time ministry – the one that only lasted for 9 months. Part of the reason I didn’t last that long was because of my poor organizational skills. People just kept telling me to “get organized,” though. And I was never really given any tools to discover how to get organized.

I knew I needed to get organized. I just didn’t know where to start. So I’d write “Get Organized” as an item on my to-do list. Like that was going to help. Are you surprised that I never checked the box on that line of my lists?  I didn’t really know any better. I have the feeling that a lot of people feel that way. They know they need to improve the way they have things organized, but they just can’t figure out how. They don’t even know where to begin.

I’m not the most organized person in the world. Just ask Christy. But I’m better than I used to be. I’ve read books. I’ve checked out articles on the Internet. I’ve watched news segments about organization. None of that really helped. The best thing I did was about ten years ago. I got help. I was able to talk to someone and she helped me figure out how to take tasks that were overwhelming and break them down into manageable things. She helped me realize that I need to create patterns in my own life so I can maintain some level of control when things get all crazy and seemingly unmanageable.

At the time, I was also learning about management at a pizza place. The best thing I’ve taken away from that experience was this little nugget: Don’t wait until later. If you think of something that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait until later because you’re assuming you’ll have time later in the day. You don’t know what is going to happen later in the day. So don’t put off until later what you can do right now. This is true in most things, not just the pizza making business. If something needs to be done, get it done. Don’t procrastinate.

Both of these mentors in my life helped me realize this key thing when it comes to getting organized:

Getting organized is a process, not an event.

You can’t just wake up one day and say “I’m organized.” It’s not an item you can just check off your list and everything is magically organized for the rest of your life. It’s an ongoing process. At least, it’s an ongoing process for people like me. I have a feeling it’s an ongoing process for you, too.

Here are some things that have helped me get a handle on the organization process. Now I don’t have to just write “Get organized” on my to-do list and hope things magically get better:

  • I use alarms like crazy. If I want to remember to do something, I have to set an alarm. That makes my phone buzz a lot (I usually use silent alarms), but it’s totally worth it.
  • I hinted at it a week or so ago, but I’m a big fan of Evernote. I used to use it all the time when preparing for sermons. Now I use it to help keep me on task. I know I’m only scratching the surface of its functionality the way I use it. Michael Hyatt has taught me quite a bit about great ways to use Evernote. I’m still learning.
  • I’ve used Trello for projects. It’s a nice visual taskmaster.
  • Even with all of the bells and whistles on my phone, I still use a physical calendar to chart out my “editorial calendar” for my blog. Have I followed it to a ‘T’ this year? Nope. I think I was a bit too ambitious. But it’s definitely helped to keep me on track.
  • I try not to procrastinate because I know it gets me into trouble. Still working on that one. A lot. And I’m trying to encourage my kids to avoid getting into that habit because it’s a hard habit to break.

I’m no organization expert. Like I said, just ask Christy. But I’ve gotten better. Seminary kind of helped force me to get a handle on things. But I’m still not great. But that’s OK. It’s a process, not just an event. This leads me to ask:

What do you do to stay organized? What lessons have you learned? What tips can you share?

I want to keep learning. I need to keep learning and keep getting better. And the only way I can do that is by learning from other people. So…what tips do you have?

**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. You can see my other entries to this year’s challenge here. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**

A is for Astronaut

A is for Astronaut - A to Z ChallengeThroughout most of my elementary school career, I wanted to be an astronaut. There were a few moments where I wanted to be a lion tamer. But mostly, I wanted to be an astronaut. I never really thought of being a lion taming astronaut. That would’ve been pretty sweet. Can you imagine taming Martian lions? Or what about bears on Venus? Or wrestling Saturn’s tigers?

Interstellar lions. And tigers. And bears.

Oh my.

But seriously, I really wanted to be an astronaut for a long time. I think a large cross-section of my generation had similar aspirations. And it wasn’t just because of Star Wars (although I suspect it might have had something to do with it. Maybe. Or maybe the two worked hand-in-hand. I loved Star Wars and I loved all things space. My love for Star Wars encouraged my love for space exploration. And my love for space exploration encouraged my love for Star Wars. It was a symbiotic relationship.

But then the unthinkable happened.

The Challenger exploded and everything changed. I think my dream, along with the dream of many other elementary school students, died that day. Don’t get me wrong. I have no delusions that I would have actually been able to become an astronaut. My woeful math skills and limited science expertise kind of helped slam that door shut.

But I still think quite a bit about space exploration, space travel, and discovering worlds unknown. I still get chills when I stand in the presence of capsules that have been into space. And yes, I’m still kicking myself for skipping out on the final Space Shuttle landing. On some clear nights, I stand outside and gaze into the sky. The unknown of the Final Frontier gently tugs at me. And I fantasize about visiting a galaxy far, far away.

I still find myself wondering what might have been. What would I have looked like in an astronaut suit?

Astronaut Matt Todd

And there you have it. Pretty impressive. Right?

**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**

My dirty job

I have started working as an Instructional Aide in a Life Skills classroom at an area elementary school. Here’s what I experienced during my first week:

I’ve been hit.

I’ve been scratched.

I’ve been spit at.

I’ve been pooped on.

I was *this close* to getting thrown up on.

And I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Sure, it’s tough. And it isn’t for everyone. But I think this is the most fulfillment I’ve felt from a job in a long time because I have the opportunity to launch a life every day.

"I have become convinced that if God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, it is a divine appointment. You have the chance to launch a life, if you will. You never know when you are making a memory." - Wess Stafford, "Just a Minute" page 15

Yeah, it’s a dirty job. But I get to do it. And it might not get much better than that.

This is dedicated to all the teachers in my life

Dear Teachers

This post is for all the teachers in my life, past and present.

Teachers like the late Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Stewart, Mr. Cates, the late Mrs. Brown, Mr. Eiffler, Frau French, Mrs. Kuhn, Mr. Briel, Mrs. Goebel, Mrs. Mautz, Mr. Hughes, Frau Blice, and

Professors like Dr. Montgomery, Terry Mattingly, Dr. Higgins, Mr. Helsabeck, Dr. Roberts, Dr. Wasem, Dr. Rollston, Dr. Ramsaran, Dr. Shields, and Dr. Blowers…

Friends like Leigh, Amanda, Alicia, Scott, Jennifer, Christy, Mark, Heather, Heather, Valicia, and Matt…

Family members like Liz, Aunt LeeAnn, and Kara…

and, of course, Christy, who is my favorite teacher ever…

Thank you for making my world awesome!

Happy Back to School Day!!

Today is Back to School Day in our community. And I’ve had this song running around in my head all day…

While neither of my kids took their lunches today nor did they wear boots, I certainly agree with Billy’s sentiment and hope they don’t get in a fight. 🙂

Several moms walked their students to school today…

…including Christy.

Now it’s time to bake some Back to School Day chocolate chip cookies!

The Second First Day (aka Day 1.1)

The kids had their (second) first day of school today. Aiden went the whole day and Aly was there for about an hour or so. During her school day, I got to go to a parents’ meeting with her teacher and Aly & Co. got to ride a bus and talk about bus safety. Too bad she’s one of the few that won’t be riding the bus every day.

Aiden’s first day was great. We were a little concerned because they teach a different style of writing here than he learned in TN (it’s closer to cursive here…you teacher-types could probably tell me the ‘official’ title). He’s such a perfectionist that we thought he’d have a hard time adjusting. The writing sample he brought home today looked really good, so that was a relief. He’s still making friends, but he misses his friends in TN, which was expected.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from the second first day of school!


 


Yay for school!!

 

Thank you, Mr. Eifler!

Tonight is Larry Eifler’s final performance as a teacher in the EVSC. It will be a very special This is Our Story.

Mr. Eifler taught me how to play trumpet. I know I wasn’t very good, but he had the patience necessary to teach me the fundamentals. I remember there were three of us in the brass section. Chris Cooke played trombone. Sean Bennett played baritone. I played the trumpet. During the Final Four that year, we each took a team to root for in a “friendly little bet.” Don’t worry – no money changed hands. I don’t even think the winner got a handshake. I think Chris took Indiana right off the bat. I got stuck with Providence. What a strange memory to have of elementary school instrumental music.

I was sad to read that the Tonette Band isn’t around anymore. That was always the highlight of This is Our Story. When I performed with the honors band my senior year, it was really cool to see the foruth graders do their thing. I know budget cuts were necessary, but it seems like that was a tradition that should not have died.

Thank you, Mr. Eifler, for the difference you have made in so many children’s lives!

(Thanks for the “heads up,” mrszeus)