Cast a Spell on Me

Last Friday I had the honor of once again being a judge for a citywide spelling bee, hosted at St. James Lutheran School. My competition was in the morning, consisting of fifth through eighth graders from the public schools in Chicago. We started out with 63 spellers and ended up with one winner who will head the the national bee in Washington in June. (The afternoon competition was among the private school students, who will also send a champeen (sp?) to Washington.)

This was probably my fourth time being a judge, and I absolutely love it. (I posted on it last year, if you’d like to read it. I put a lot of cool vocab words in it.) I may have to turn down the assignment in the future, b/c my hearing is just getting too screwy to be relied upon. Luckily I didn’t have to monitor the spelling, just give out the definitions, languages of origin, and sample sentences when asked. Also, it was pretty clear when a student spelled it wrong, usually a transposition or a false assumption that an “f” sound was spelled with an “f”.

What was astounding, however, was how many students spelled things RIGHT! In the first round, out of all 63, I think 4 kids went down. Next round, maybe 3. It was beginning to look like we’d be there all day. Still, it took us 3 hours to finally get a winner. The kids were so poised and so smart, my heart went out to every one of them. They were all great sports, too. While I saw some disappointed faces, there were no tears or anger or frustration when someone missed a word. They were happy to compete (and to have a half-day off school).

Some people argue that spelling bees are a waste of time (count on the Tribune’s Eric Zorn to go off on it this spring). Certainly, the ability to spell is not a measure of intelligence, more like a unique hard-wiring that some people have to a greater or lesser degree. But I think spelling bees are useful at least for the fact that the kids prepare for it and then need the poise and self-assurance to approach the Mike of Doom. And a love of words, how they’re built and what they mean should be something to encourage in this era of glyphs, emoticons and twitter shorthand.

And where else are you going to pronounce and define a word like pickelhaube? You know you want to. (Scroll down for a picture of one, after which you’ll slap your forehead and say, “THAT’S what that’s called?”)

Words from the bee to use in everyday life, for all us vocab fetishists:

Podsnappery: insular complacency and blinkered self-satisfaction. (from the behavior or outlook characteristic of Dickens’s Mr. Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend)

whilom: one-time; former

moiety: one of two (approximately) equal parts

psittacism: speech or writing that appears mechanical or repetitive in the manner of a parrot (from the Latin word psittaci, or parrots!)

And here it is, your moment of Pickelhaube:

Big Food = Big Laffs

I’ve been trying to convince the drama teacher at my daughter’s school of this irrefutable equation for two years now, with no success. One need only point to Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” for evidence of its veracity, with the giant banana peel and the aggressive instant pudding. Maybe she’s been swayed by the wave of recent articles about American obesity, and pictures of gargantuan hamburgers that people actually try and eat.

A few years ago at another school, I worked on props for a version of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, which included a lot of material about eating. (The kids thought that material was hilarious, BTW. You can always trust kids to laugh at food, poop and any combination thereof.) For that play, I made chicken legs out of 2-liter bottles and papier mache, hams out of detergent bottles, and bowls of spaghetti out of clothesline, paint and brown styrofoam balls. The giant cheeseburger has had a place of importance in our TV room ever since.

For Liesel’s play this year (which will be held this weekend at the fabulous Portage Theater in Portage Park), I only had one food prop to make, but thankfully it was to be a little larger than life. A character had to get in trouble with the police for smuggling cheese into Russia, so I needed to create a wheel of cheese that was big enough to see but not so big that a grade schooler couldn’t wave it around.

I started with a plastic tray for under flower pots. I cut a pie-shaped slice out of it, filled it with newspaper, and sealed it all up with a couple pieces of cardboard. Then, we covered it with a few layers of papier mache. When you apply papier mache as thickly as we do around here, it’s going to dry very tightly and cause the object to buckle and crease a little bit. Thankfully, cheese is not always a symmetrical delicacy.

Then a base of white paint, which makes it look like brie, a food funny in some situations but much too runny to be believable in our scenario:

Then some yellow paint, and a few holes drawn on:

And Wooola! It’s not very large. In fact, it’s actually life-sized. But I take any assignments I can get these days.

Bonus Prop: Here’s my version of an iPad that I created for the play. These are available now, so you don’t have to wait for Apple to enjoy their little masochistic waiting period. Pencil not included.

Does it ever get old, mocking Milton Bradley?


Old “Forgive and Forget” Bradley

Because a hitter’s supposed to get hits,
Lou called Miltie a big piece of shit.
With a new gig in Seattle,
Milt’s still fighting old battles,
Showing the world that this shoe still fits.

Bardball is poised and ready to come back for the new baseball season. Please bookmark it for baseball doggerel, served fresh daily during the regular season.