In 1976, in the fourth grade, I took second place in the Mitchell County, Kansas, spelling bee. I never placed again, and apparently, I never got over it.

Over 15 years ago, when I worked at our local hospital, I had a dream that I won the “All Hospital Spelling Bee.” My winning words were “insufferable,” followed by a patient’s long and difficult last name, as if HIPAA would allow.

Last night, February 4th, 2023, Gail, Suzanne and I, along with my neighbor Jordan–two-time Ottawa County Kansas Spelling Bee winner–claimed first prize in the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Spelling Bee in my beloved Abilene. Our fifth team member, my delightful daughter-in-law, Meghan, was not able to join us. We had to soldier on without her. Last year, we placed second. Obviously, it was time.

Last year’s picture, same shirts this year.

This year, The Spell-It Sisters were the champions.


The words delivered to us by the emcee started out easily enough. Preferred. Gherkins. Easy peasy. Round four was a series of homonyms: three different words with three different spellings, but all sounding alike. Ours were road-rode-rowed. Thank God we weren’t given carrot-caret-karat. We may have struggled with that one.

The next round was a Shakespearean word, in keeping with the theme of the evening. Ophelia was a good one for us, but Calpurnia might have done us in.

We were grateful for our German upbringing and familiarity with its language patterns, because glockenspiel and blitzkrieg were handed to us as well. The French word discotheque might have taken out another team, but we were prepared, and aced it. We nailed debutante, too. Our high school Latin served us well with maraschino.

As the rounds continued, most of the other 14 teams struggled more than we did, until there were just two. We could have handled Czechoslovakia in the geography round, but the other team couldn’t. Perhaps they could have handled Peloponnese, but we couldn’t. So, after each of us struck out in that round, we were on equal ground again.

Wildebeest nailed us, but so did cetacean for the other team. Equal footing again.

We were down, but not out. The Sisters don’t ever stay down for long, and last night was no exception. Plus, we had Jordan, the grade school spelling champ on our side.

We sailed on through syllogism, aborigine, diphtheria, and sealed the deal with pernicious.

We were the champions.

In our post-victory haze, we forgot to get a group shot. The action pictures will have to suffice. Jordan took the Sister pic at the beginning of the night, and then we got too wrapped up in our spelling to remember much else. The evening flew-fluflue by; it was indeed a privilege to be part of such an awesome group of people raising funds for this local, excellent charity.

Above all, we tried to keep a sense of camaraderie with the other teams, lest we seemed sanctimonious after our win. We certainly didn’t want to become unctuous toward them.

Once again, the Sisters of The Sister Lode created another evening of memories. It was an wonderful night-nite-knight.


I can’t speak for Gail or Suzanne, but I know I am trying to settle an old score. I have never recovered from narrowly missing the title of the Mitchell County (Kansas) grade school spelling champion. I placed second in the 4th grade in 1976, and never placed again. I never saw the lights of Topeka, never made it to the state bee.

I know this has been lurking around in my subconscious since then. When I was employed at the hospital in our small city over 15 years ago, I dreamed I won the “All-Hospital Spelling Bee.” I correctly spelled “insufferable,” then went on to claim the crown with a hard-to-spell patient’s last name. As if HIPAA would allow. Then, I clearly remember asking: “Does this mean I finally get to go to Topeka?”

Perhaps this helps illustrate my unfulfilled psychological need to win a spelling bee.

So, I keep trying. And, being the stellar spellers they are, as well as being as fanatical as I am about proper spelling, Gail and Suzanne are always up for some healthy adult spelling bee competition.

Suzanne and I have competed in two other adult spelling bees recently: It’s How You Play the Game, February 2nd, 2020 and Under Our Spell, September 1st, 2019. Gail wasn’t able to join us then, but she was with us last night.

We traveled down the road to my beloved Abilene, where Suzanne and I competed two years ago in their bee hosted by Neighbor-to-Neighbor, a very worthy local charity. Gail and I arrived early, enjoyed a Mexican lunch,

found some treasures at the multiple antique stores Abilene is known for,

then warmed up with my favorite libation at my favorite bar/grill honoring my favorite president.

We met Suzanne and the real fun began.

Gail’s daughter Lydia custom-designed these shirts for the occasion, and they didn’t go unnoticed.

We were a team of three, with six allowed on each of the twelve teams that competed. We were given a word, and had 15 seconds to arrive at an answer. Gail was our spelling spokeswoman, answering the call when the hostess with the microphone arrived at our table.

Each team was allowed to buy mulligans as insurance, which we knew was a good idea. Up until round four, these could be used to excuse a misspelled word to keep you in the game. After correctly spelling facetious, atrocious, formaldehyde and Freudian, we cashed in one of these get-out-of-jail-free cards after misspelling bourgeois.

It was largely a matter of the luck-of-the-draw, as we were fortunate to not have to correctly spell dachshund, whippoorwill, or babiche. We wouldn’t have been able to, as we attempted every word that was given to every other team.

The “tablecloths” were paper for formulating an answer, and for doodling as well.

There were several breaks to conduct the raffle drawings, with many splendid gifts donated by generous local businesses and individuals. Just as it was two years ago,

my lucky number was called for the coveted quilt.

I know I am a lucky–and warm–girl.

Snacks and drinks were served, and we are never ones to pass up the good stuff. Masking, as we all know, can create communication breakdowns–or comedic substitutions, so we enjoyed the seasoned “moisture” (oyster) crackers served in small cups when they came around.

The competition resumed. As several of the teams faltered and were no longer in the game, we stayed in two more rounds with maraschino and mausoleum. This round brought the number of teams down to three.

In just two more years, it will be a quadrennium since we first began competing in this bee. However, we didn’t know how to spell this four-year period, and this took us out of the running for first place, as our mulligans were useless at this later point in the game. One of the other two teams spelled coalesce correctly, which made them the champion after the other team misspelled debauchery.

At this point, to award the silver and bronze, a spell-down was had between us and that team. The final volley went back and forth, with them correctly spelling duodenum, machismo, encephalitis and picaresque. We correctly spelled hootenanny, connoisseur, tautology, portmanteau and kriegspiel.

When the host handed them vichyssoise, they were done. We would have been done after that word, too. I felt both excited for us, but knew that word was a bummer for them. Not many people in these parts eat this thick, cold French soup made of leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. Even fewer know how to spell it, I would guess.

Our kriegspiel, or wargame strategy was, first and foremost, to have fun. We certainly accomplished that. And we brought home a $60 purse.

It was already past my bedtime when the party ended, but I can stay up late when there is such fun to be had. I was wide awake, and with only that one Blue Moon beer in my system prior to the bee–I was the chauffeur for the 30-minute drive to drop Suzanne off, and 20 more minutes to my home. We headed first to the gas station to fill up Gail’s car. At the light, two fine young men in the car next to us alerted us to the fact that she had a headlight out. So, our kriegspiel to keep from being noticed was to take the back roads, and it worked.

Just a mile from my home, Gail and I had to take a moment to capture another “moony” Kansas night on film, as the crescent moon hung low in the western sky. When they were young, her daughters called this the “fat fingernail moon” and it brought back those good memories for her. The elements of the memorable evening, the second place prize, abundant laughter and now this beautiful nightscape coalesced into a perfect alchemy.

And, as always, the time spent with my sisters is the maraschino on top.







You likely know by now that I am nerdy about celebrating notable days, so you likely won’t be surprised when I tell you that I always observe Groundhog Day, sometimes by watching the movie, but always by wishing friends and family a Happy Groundhog Day.

And, if you have read my blog much, you likely know that I’m not a football fan. However, I will always know how old the Super Bowl is because it was born the same year I was.

Today, however, I am calling myself a fan.

It has been 50 years since our locally beloved Kansas City Chiefs have been to the Super Bowl. Today, Groundhog Day 2020, they are headed back.

The energy in the Wheat State surrounding this big event is palpable, even though their home is technically next door in Missouri, The Show Me State.

But enough for now about football. There was another competition last night that, to Suzanne and me, was immeasurably more exciting: another spelling bee.

With two adult spelling bee competitions under out belts, you could say that we are now officially in the circuit. Six months ago, on September 1st, I wrote about our initiation into the wonderful world of adult spelling bees in Under Our Spell. Gail wanted to be present for both of them, and we wanted her there, of course, but she wasn’t able to make either. Next time.

She was here Friday night, and we enjoyed the evening together.


I’m wearing my favorite team jersey for the big game today.  It came from Kathleen High School in Kathleen, Florida.   It is a short drive from my beloved St. Pete Beach where I have visited three times, but have yet to go on to Kathleen.  NEXT TIME!  I found their online store, and while I wanted one of everything, I chose this jersey.  

Perhaps, even more palpable than the energy surrounding the Super Bowl—for the three of us, at least, is the anticipation of her big event: she will celebrate her 60th birthday later this month, and we will help her do just that. And, of course, we will fill you in with a post dedicated to her big day, her big new decade. She can’t wait. If only everyone was so excited about aging.

Back to the spelling bee…


It was held down the road in beautiful Abilene, the same small town I visit nearly every day for work. It benefitted a local charity, so the spirit was one of good fun, as well as good will. There were 17 teams with approximately 100 contestants, most of them having six members. Each team chose a name, so The Sister Lode was the obvious choice for us. We could have had four more team members, but we are just proud enough, just confident enough, and just crazy enough to think we could do it between the two of us.

In the end, it ultimately was how we played the game: we placed fourth. We are proud to say we played the game with our best, and had fun playing it.

Several of the early rounds required that each team be able to spell two, and then three homonyms; words such as weather/whether, pair/pair, way/weigh, and then new/knew/gnu, peek/peak/pique. While we skated through everyone else’s assigned homonyms in each round, ours hung us up: we spelled gorilla just fine, but left out one letter in guerrilla. Luckily, at the last moment, we had purchased mulligans—3 for $25, and used our only one on that word. We were still in the game.

We went on to spell silhouette, sacroiliac, ptomaine, boutonniere and reveille correctly. My medical background came in handy for several of them, and while laryngitis, epiglottis and pharynx were given to other teams, I could spell them in my sleep, as I write them often for my work.


As the other thirteen teams before us who met their demise went out one by one, we went on to spell xenophobe and Saskatchewan. World geography knowledge came in handy, but ours wasn’t quite handy enough, as the final rounds involved many places around the globe.

While one or both of us could have easily spelled Djibouti, Galapagos, Czechoslovakian, Versailles, and another foreign-sounding proper name Mephistopheles, those were not our assigned words.

Mercilessly, our lack of Ireland knowledge was our ultimate demise: neither of us had ever heard of Ballymoney.

While I prefer to describe an excessively or ingratiatingly flattering person as “smarmy,” neither of us knew that unctuous meant the same thing. Neither of us knew how to spell it, either, and it led to our downfall when the small town in Ireland was our second chance to capture the bronze medal, as the other team had an error in their last word as well.

The crown wasn’t meant to be ours. We were meant to have a great time, however, and we did just that. It was how we played the game.

And, as a bonus, we both learned a few new words we had never before heard: gallimaufry—a confused jumble or medley of things, and blatherskite—a person who talks at great length without making much sense.

An even better bonus was this: I won a fabulous prize in the raffle, the one given away last, the one I considered to be the grand prize—and there were many spectacular prizes generously donated by local merchants and individuals:


Go Lucky #15!

Had the woman whose raffle number they drew just before mine not been gracious enough to share her bounty—she had already won another raffle prize—I would not have won this beautiful, handmade quilt. She forfeited her winning number, letting someone else—ME!—win.

It’s how she played the game, and I’m so grateful to her that she chose to play it in such a considerate, unselfish way.


The Big Game will start in a few hours. My boys and I will be spending it with my in-laws—two of the biggest fans I know. I don’t particularly care to watch the game, but I am excited to share in the hoopla. I am excited to see my loved ones so excited. I’m sure I will come to life when the commercials come on. And then there’s the food…


I always have, and likely always will, struggle to understand the game of football. Adding to what I perceive as a gallimaufry, is the fact that I have treated multiple head injuries in my career as a medically-based speech therapist, and I know that the game of football brings on a very high risk for head injuries. The statistics are there. I will likely always struggle with that fact as well.

However, as a beloved national institution, I know that football will be part and parcel of life in America. So, on days like today, it behooves me to simply go with the flow.

I must say that I don’t recall ever being so impressed by a professional football player as I have been with the Chief’s quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. I don’t mean his technique, talent or ability, because I don’t understand all of that. I mean that from what I have seen of him as a person, he seems to be a fine young man. And I know a thing or two about fine young men, as I have three of them I call my sons. I am impressed with his ability to communicate himself in interviews, and through this I see his humility that shines through when he gives interviews. His charitable works cannot be denied either.   I trust my gut feeling about people, and I have a good one about him.

I understand he was an underdog pick for the Chiefs, and has risen quickly and noticeably in his career, proving all the naysayers wrong about his unique style. I love it when naysayers are proven wrong.

To further shush critics, I must throw my two cents in regarding those who have mocked his voice: professionally, I know a thing or two about voice, as I treat it within my scope of practice.   His voice is WNL—within normal limits. It is uniquely his, making his personal presentation that much more interesting. If he were my client, I would simply tell him this: you sound like you, and it is beautiful. Keep rockin’ on, and (like I tell all my voice clients), keep drinking plenty of water for good vocal health.

And to his voice critics, I offer this:  Pick on someone your own size.

Keep being you, Patrick, and you already know the secret: it’s how you play the game.

May the best team win Super Bowl 54 (I’m proud to give away my age), and whatever you do in your life, the same applies to you.

It’s not whether/weather you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Of course, Happy Groundhog Day as well. I will close, lest I become a blatherskite.













I had never even heard the word kewpie.  I didn’t know it was a little doll, even though I was a ten-year old girl in the fourth grade.

I spelled it c-u-p-e-e.

And then, after Anne W. spelled it correctly and went on to spell another word correctly, I became the second-place winner of the 1976 Mitchell County, Kansas Spelling Bee.   I can’t remember her winning word; I was too traumatized.

In my grade-school career, I would go on to compete every year after that, but I would never place again.  I will never get over it.

Sometime in my college career, our dear mother sent me a clipping of a newspaper headline.  It read:  “Yeah, but why ‘kewpie?’”  It is buried somewhere in a stack inside a box within a crate; if I knew where I would have dug it out.

It matters not, only that Mom was always so thoughtful, and that I never won a grade-school spelling bee.

Suzanne never won one either, and, apparently, she, too has carried the wounds with her well into adulthood.

If you have spent any amount of time around us when the printed word is misspelled, you will know without a doubt that this is simply not acceptable with either of us.  We have taken it upon ourselves to be the spelling police, and will right these grievous wrongs whenever they confront us.

And, we will probably insult the person who misspelled it as well.

Gail is a spelling freak like we are, even though she likely has more important things to worry about; work that must be done.  She wasn’t able to join us for the bee, but wanted everyone to know that she was able to spell our error words correctly.  Perhaps all three of us will be able to participate together in a future bee; we have already begun to discuss this possibility.


Sometimes, however, life has a way of humbling those who put themselves up a bit too high.  Like the time I bought a personalized plaque for a co-worker, and I misspelled a word on it.  And I had it engraved that way.

Her name was Michelle, and she was an incredible secretary–this was way back when that term was still politically correct vs. administrative assistant.  I wanted to honor her on Secretary’s Day, so I had a name plate engraved that said:



Except that ‘extraordinaire’ has only one ‘N.’   I swear I looked it up, and there were two.  That is a permanent reminder that I should never criticize those who misspell a word here and there.

Another reminder confronted me just last week.



Suzanne’s daughter Julia lives just down the road in Manhattan, Kansas, where my firstborn goes to college, where three of Gail’s four children attended or currently attend college,  where Suzanne’s daughter graduated last year, and is now gainfully employed there.  So, when she saw this, she knew her mother and godmother would want to be part of it:


We knew this was our calling for last Thursday night, and we cleared our schedules to make it happen.  We arrived promptly at seven to sign up, had a quick dinner,


And then made our way back across the street to re-live those glory days, and make new ones as champion adult spellers.  We were pretty confident that one of us would walk away with the purse, which was the sum total of the $5 entry fee each contestant paid.  There were only eight contestants, so $40 would be the bounty for the champion.  It was unspoken that surely one of us would leave there with it, and the other would be runner-up.  We are formidable spelling forces, in case I haven’t made that clear.

So, we got down to business.  Apparently, we were more business than the emcee, as the 8:00 p.m. start time got pushed back to allow more time for more contestants.  We were there for blood, so we were primed and ready to start whooping up on everyone else at 8:00.  A storm was looming west of our small city and heading this way, and we were one hour east of there.  It was projected to hit around 11, so we needed to get the show on the road so we could get on the road.

It commenced at 8:30, and we were pumped.  Suzanne and I were second and third respectively in contestant order.  Suzanne breezed through her first word, and while I was waiting for mine to be read, I felt something hit me.  Suzanne, acting as the audience heckler, had thrown her shoe at me.


It didn’t ruffle me, and I spelled consignment correctly.



About six years ago when Suzanne hadn’t yet moved to my small city, we met in the middle, in Beloit, Kansas, to watch our niece and her brother compete in the same bee I never won.  The anticipation was high; this kind of competition brings out the warrior in both of us.  We can sit silent, in an almost-comatose state during any sporting event, likely with a barely detectable pulse.  But bring us to the spelling bee, and we are the fans extraordinaire.  We come alive.  We pondered the idea of tailgating in the school parking lot prior to the event; it began at 1:30 p.m. so a lunch would have been timely.  We thought about painting our faces and sitting in the front row, too.  In the end, we did neither.  But let it be noted that we seriously considered both.  That’s how serious we are about it.

The bee ended with our niece in second place, just like her aunt Kathleen did almost forty years before that in the same competition.  Her brother didn’t place.  No matter for them, the fun was in the spirit of the game.

To my knowledge, neither my niece nor my nephew were traumatized by the fact they didn’t win.  I am so glad they will not carry this weight around forever like their aunt still does.


About twelve years ago, when I was working at the hospital in our small city, I had a dream that I won the All-Hospital Spelling Bee.  Clearly, my subconscious hasn’t recovered either.  I remember that the word I had to spell correctly that the runner-up fumbled was “insufferable.”  Moving on, I then had to spell the winning word, which was selected from a bank of patient’s last names, as if HIPAA would ever allow that.   When I told Suzanne about this dream, her jaw dropped at the winning word.  It was her mother-in-law’s maiden name.  I had no idea.

The last thing I remember in the dream was me asking this question:  “Does this mean I finally get to go to Topeka?” (to the Kansas state spelling bee).


I am old enough now to enter the Senior Spelling Bee in our county.  I waited anxiously until I turned fifty, but then I didn’t enter.  I had two fears:  First, I was afraid I may go out on a ridiculously simple word, and my self-perpetuating illusion that I am a champion speller would be shattered.  Second, I was afraid also that I may have to go up against a former patient of mine, and I would have no mercy, effectively smoking them out of the competition.

In the bee on Thursday, the first fear came to reality.  The word tripped me up, and I was out.   I can’t yet bring myself to tell you what the word was.  I am still licking my wounds.

Since this was in the basement of a bar in a college town an hour away on a Thursday evening with a storm brewing, there was little danger of competing against a former patient—there were none there.

Suzanne was still in, and I was truly happy for her—even if she threw her shoe at me in the first round.  Let it be known that I didn’t throw anything at her.


In the end, Suzanne placed second.  She backed down to a fine young man named Steve, and was awarded several wooden nickels to be redeemed for libations at the hosting establishment.  She passed them on to her daughter.


We made it home and into our respective garages literally seconds before the storm unleashed its fury.


Let it be known that although neither of us walked away with the champion’s purse, this is only the beginning.  We are now officially on the circuit, and plan to seek out and find many more spelling bees we can compete in, and likely win.

Please let us know if you hear of any.


There is a certain military rank that is sometimes shortened to “Sarge” as a nickname.  How do you spell the full title of that rank?  Be careful, it may be tricky for you, too.

I’ve once again been humbled.  Just when I needed it, life brought me down a notch or two.  I realize I am not the spelling extraordinaire I thought I was; that I ain’t as good as I once was.  Somehow, Suzanne and I are making peace with our defeat last week.  We will back, however, stronger and smarter than ever before. And, we are feeling quite sanguine about it.


Congratulations, Steve.  Just watch your back…