xmlns:og>='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Pedals & Pencils: 2008

December 31, 2008

Lessons From My Closet

There is a movement called Simple Living.  The idea behind it is that the simpler your life, the happier you will be.  The more unfettered you are, the more fulfilled you will be.  While I can't imagine only having one fork and a singular pair of shoes, there is a certain tranquility in paring down, cutting away the fat.  I don't plan on throwing out all of my flip flops or tossing my favorite books or getting rid of my seldom used wedding china, but I eagerly admit to feelings of joy when I expunged two large shopping bags stuffed with clothing from my closet.  Some clothes I just don't wear.  Some clothes were too big.  Some were too small.  Basically they just don't fit anymore.

A funny thing happened as I gleefully threw items into the bags.  I discovered things I already own that I'd forgotten about.  Cozy sweaters crammed on a shelf, shiny brown boots hiding in a dark corner.  Jeans smashed in between other jeans.  I was ecstatic to rediscover these long lost items.  It was like shopping in my own closet.  I carefully folded or hung each one.  I even organized all of my clothing by color, like a teeny tiny version of Oprah's closet.  Sitting on the floor of my closet, I could now clearly see each item.  It was refreshing.

From the floor I could also clearly see my fancy dresses.  Party dresses, maid of honor dresses, funeral dresses.  I'd already weeded through them and kept the ones I feel good in, but from the floor I could see they were taking up SO much space.  Why was I letting things I only use occasionally plug up an area I occupy everyday?  It didn't make any sense.  So I gathered up my fancy dresses and moved them to the tiny hall closet.  The one that houses snow coats and the vacuum, both things I rarely touch.  When my fancy dresses were all settled in the hall closet, I had a "Why didn't I think of that sooner?" moment.  Of course dresses I seldom wear should occupy a space I seldom access.

And then it hit me.  My closet, my wise closet, was imparting lessons to me.  As I was cleaning out my closet, I was feeding the desire to rid my life of things that don't fit.  Not just things that don't fit my body, but things that don't fit who I am, or better yet, who I'd like to become.  I want to become a better writer, teacher, and cyclist.  To make room for that in my life, other things simply do not fit.  Endless hours drifting through the internet will not fit.  People who create unnecessary drama do not fit.  Mindlessly watching tv does not fit.  Scarfing all things chocolate does not fit.  People who constantly complain about teaching do not fit.  I simply don't have the room.

If I get rid of things that don't really fit who I want to be, I'm confident I'll re-discover some things that are important to me.  Things I'd forgotten about when I sandwiched them between thoughtless, unimportant things.  For example, I love poetry.  I love writing it, reading it, even just thinking about it.  Parking myself in front of the TV mindlessly doesn't leave a lot of room for rumination of poetry.  In the same vein, pounding copious amounts of tasty goodies in lieu time in the saddle doesn't fit with my goal to be a better cyclist.  There's not room for both.  This probably seems like "duh" to you, but it's time for me to let go of things that suck time and energy and give nothing in return.  It's certainly not simple living, but it is living simpler. I already feel happier.  Here I thought I was just cleaning out my closet.

December 27, 2008

Candy-gram? No. Pizza guy? No. Landshark Socks? Yes!

This Christmas, I received things in pairs.  For example, I received two homemade scarves.  I am now the lucky beholder of gift certificates to two different bike shops.  In my stocking were two pairs of socks and a pair of necklaces.  My mom even gave me a ornament of A Partridge In A Pear Tree.  Ok, it's a stretch, but I'm the one writing this, so it counts.

The thing I'd like to talk about today are the socks.  Both pairs were stocking stuffers from Terry.  One pair were made of read and green soft, fuzzy goodness, perfect bedtime socks.  The other pair of socks are the best pair of socks ever created.

Before I tell you more about the socks, let's talk about my favorite times of the year.  To start with, I love the week of 4th of July.  That is the week Terry and I both celebrate our birthdays and I volunteer with Youth to Youth.  I also enjoy the week of Easter vacation.  Not only do I enjoy the days off, but it is a time for me to reflect on my relationship with God.  Another favorite time of year is the week of our anniversary.  The fact that my favorite person in the world has stuck with me for another year is pretty amazing shocking.  But there is one week that is in a whole other category.  I'm not saying it's better than those other weeks, I'm just saying it's worthy of it's own special category.

The week I'm talking about is, of course, Shark Week.  During Shark Week my DVR just about faints from exhaustion.  I am mesmerized by sharks.  Fierce white tips, fat nurse sharks, powerful great whites.  I am in awe of them all.  My hair could catch on fire and I wouldn't even notice that my scalp was singeing because I'd be too busy watching Great Whites propel themselves straight into the air, hunting the playful inhabitants of Seal Island.  From their ultra-sensitive noses to their rows and rows of teeth, I am an unabashed shark superfan.

So back to the socks I got for Christmas.  Let me tell you what makes these the King of All Socks.  To begin with, they are cycling socks.  That in itself makes them far better than all other types of socks.  Secondly, they are made by The Sock Guy, creator of awesome cycling socks.  The Sock Guy must also be a fan of Shark Week because these socks have sharks on them!  Strike that.  These socks are sharks.  Great White Sharks.  The toe is the nose.  On the ankle is the fin.  And the mouth on the underside is full of pointy teeth.  Just in case you're still not getting the greatness of these socks, here they are in full predatory action!

Can't you just hear the Jaws music playing?  These are by far the most ferocious socks I've ever seen.  Surely, they will make me a more ferocious cyclist, too.  Sharks have to continuously move forward.  Otherwise they die.  As I'm chugging up hills, I will have sharks on my feet.  My feet will have to keep pedaling, if only out of mortal fear.  SNL had it right.  Landsharks are the best and most clever of all the shark species.

December 23, 2008

The Little Gingerbread House

Happy Festivus!  I had every intention of writing out my Airing of Grievances list, but it turns out I don't have a lot to be disgruntled about.  Most of my list revolved around laundry and the fact that Terry beat me soundly at the Feats of Strength this year.  The Feats of Strength took place at our gym and let me just say that I am not friends with the Bosu ball.  Terry, on the other hand, is gifted and talented on the Bosu.  I was so uncoordinated that one of the personal trainers actually told his client to stop doing sit ups so she could laugh at me.  Yes, I added that trainer to my list of greivances, but even so it was a sparse list.  So I leave you with a photo of our Festivus Pole and a story about a little gingerbread house.

Several Christmases ago our friends, Nick and Abby, threw a gingerbread house making party.  Their table was all a-sparkle with bowls of candy.  There were fluffy clouds of frosting to lather on graham crackers.  It was a fantastic party idea.  With hot apple cider in our bellies, we created some charming gingerbread residences.  I say residences because 'houses' did not apply to all of the creations.  Actually, charming didn't apply to all of them either.  Terry, for example, made a gingerbread trailer on blocks.  It was complete with candy tires in the front yard and tin foil windows.  Really, quite a work of art.  I designed a much more traditional boring house.

At the end of the night, Nick and Abby insisted that everyone take their creations home.  Terry and I are not keepers of stuff like that and after several failed attempts at leaving without our gingerbread masterpieces, we said goodbye and abandoned our creations on their front doorstep.  Nick and Abby retaliated and the structures went back and forth between our houses several times until they came to rest on the dryer in our garage.  Moisture in the garage damaged the gingerbread trailer beyond repair.  Those tinfoil windows just weren't structurally sound.  My little gingerbread house, however, remained intact.

I kept the house until the following December when Nick and Abby had yet another party.  Amazingly, we were invited.  This one was a white elephant gift party.  Yup.  You guessed it.  I wrapped up the house and put it in a pretty Christmas snowman bag.  Along with 15 Halloween glow stick bracelets and a random Christmas bear figurine.  Terry gleefully searched the house and threw in an Abs of Steel video and a golf putter laser thing.  What a steal, right?  What more could you want?  Although Nick and Abby did not go home with our prize collection of stuff, another pair of friends did.  I don't remember what Terry and I walked away with, but the gingerbread house was gone forever.  Or so I thought.

Yesterday we found a bag sitting on our doorstep.  Aw, someone left us a gift.  How sweet.  Wait that pretty Christmas snowman bag looks familiar. We opened the bag. Our hearts sunk as we discovered fifteen Halloween glow stick bracelets, one random Christmas bear figurine, one Abs of Steel Video, one golf putter laser thing and one Gingerbread House.  Other than the licorice siding that has come loose and a pungent sugary odor, the little house has remained strong over the past years.

As Festivus comes to a close, all I have to say is beware of pretty Christmas snowman bags on your doorstep because it's on.  It's so on.

December 18, 2008

My Christmas List

No, this isn't a list of stuff I want.  I don't want anything, so that would be a really brief and completely boring list.  No, this is a different kind of list.  Christmas vacation is less than 20 hours away and this is my list of things to do on vacation.  It's not a list to ooh and aah over.  There's no skydiving or marathon running, but I'm darn proud of it anyway.

1.  Wear my pajamas until the last possible minute everyday.  I think I'll alternate between the snowman ones and my flannel One Fish, Two Fish jammies.  I fully plan on topping them off with my fuzzy pink robe and disgusting slippers.  Totally hot.

2.  Go to the used book store and grab an armload of books to read.  I'm in the middle of Ghost Trails about a girl who cycled the Iditarod.  How cool is she?  Next on my list are Gilead and Love In The Driest Season.  Obviously I need more than that in my stack.  Any suggestions?

3.  Eat breakfast for dinner.  I love brinner.  Cheerios and bananas, veggie omelets, sweetmilks, waffles, Terry's vanilla pancakes.  It's all good no matter what time of day.

4.  Start another burrito streak.  I could eat a burrito every single day.  In fact, I once did for more than forty days in a row.  My favorite burrito includes black beans, refried beans, shredded cabbage, avocado, sour cream, and a sprinkle of cheese.  Delish.  I heart burritos.

5.  Ride my bike.  A lot.  This weekend I'm riding up to beautiful Igo.  Who knows where else I'll ride.  It doesn't matter.

6.  Go to the movies at least three times.  On my list are The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Seven Pounds, Yes Man, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Looks like I'll have to buy a ton of Sour Patch Kids.

7.  Watch all of my favorite Christmas movies, including Love Actually, While You Were Sleeping and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

8.  Sit in the hot tub and read without dropping my book in the water.  History is not in my favor.  If you've ever borrowed a book from me, chances are the pages were all wrinkly and fanned out from a dunk or two.  This is why I buy books instead of checking them out from the library.

9.  Get rid of as much stuff as possible.  Terry and I take great pleasure in making a mountainous pile of stuff for UCP.  If we haven't worn/used/watched/needed something for a year, it's out.  Exceptions are memorabilia, our wedding china, and books.  If you come over to visit, I suggest you don't stand still for too long or you might be accidentally tossed into the pile.

10.  Write.  The thought of having two weeks in a row when I can write whenever I want is making me giddy!  I'm home alone and I just giggled out loud at the mere thought of it.

Now it's your turn.  What's on your list?

December 16, 2008

The Thing About Dragonflies

My favorite insect is the dragonfly.

Yes, they're beautiful, but that's not why I love them.  Adult dragonflies hunt by holding their legs together like a basket and scooping insects right out of the sky, but that's not why I love them either.  Sure they're the only insect that can fly backwards and while that's amazing, that's not why they have garnered my affection.

The thing about dragonflies is that they start out as nymphs.  Ugly, brown nymphs with grumpy faces.  They scoot around in the water and muck, shooting out their masks, catching unfortunate prey.  They spend months, sometimes years, in this stage.  Wallowing in the mire.  Camouflaging, even covering themselves in filth.

To the inattentive eye, it just looks like they're hanging around being ugly, but what's really happening is change.  You see, the nymph is busy growing and molting.  It grows and molts, grows and molts, leaving ghost skeletons lingering in the water.

Nymphs mostly molt in the dark of night, so that sometimes the changes go completely unnoticed until one day the nymph crawls out of the water and up a cattail.  It clings to the cattail with hooks on its legs and then a most splendid thing happens.  One last time, the exuvia cracks open and an adult dragonfly flops out of its old self.  It hangs upside down, seeing the world in a whole new way.

The new dragonfly waits.  Waits to fly.  Waits to see the world.  Waits to wheel in the wind.  When blood pulses into the wings, the dragonfly takes off.  At first the flights are clumsy.  The dragonfly bumbles around as if it's getting acquainted with itself for the first time.  After a few test flights the dragonfly is zipping around, hovering and even jutting in reverse.  The scowl of the nymph is replaced with eager eyes and a jeweled body that shimmers even in the faintest of light.  It's hard to imagine that the dragonfly feels anything short of joy as it skims the water, reveling in the knowledge that, at long last, it has become what it is meant to be.

At night when sad thoughts creep in and steal the remnants of sleep, I think about the dragonfly.  When I'm covered in sorrow and I can't escape the muck, I take heart in the fact that growth is happening.  Change is taking place, even in times when I can't see it.  I have to believe that heartache will someday become an ill-fitting skin that will eventually crack open and give way.  Give way to beauty.  Give way to love.

I think of the nymph and the day it makes the final climb up the cattail.  That must be one scary climb.  In fact the nymph will often fall back into the mud several times while trying to make that climb.  When I feel like all I'm doing is falling, I remember the perseverance of the nymph.

I swing my legs over the bed each morning.  I smile at my loved ones.  I breathe in and out.  I tell myself to keep trying.  I know one day strength will break through sorrow, leaving the mire to exist only in my memory.  I wait with anticipation for the day that I'll soar with wings pulsing with life.

I love dragonflies for their patience.  I love dragonflies for their determination, for their strength.  I love dragonflies because they are tangible proof that ugliness and pain cannot contain the pursuit of joy.

During lonely nights, dragonflies sweep into my mind with their basket legs and scoop away brokenness, leaving room for hope.

And that is the thing I love the most about dragonflies.

December 14, 2008

Snow Day

Fifty seven degrees is a little on the cool side.  Especially inside.  That was the temperature in my house when I crawled out from under a mound of blankets and started to pull on layers for a Sunday morning ride.  Bike shorts, wool socks, sports bra, thermal top, jersey, fleece cycling pants, earwarmer, shoes, toe warmers, jacket, full fingered gloves, helmet, and glasses.  Between the gloves and the helmet I realized I had to go to the bathroom.  So I peeled it all off and a few minutes later jimmied it all on again.

After a pair of clementines and a tasty bowl of oatmeal, I stepped outside and watched my breath float away in great, pallid puffs.  It was going to be a cold one all right.

As I stood in my driveway waiting for Laura, the tiniest of snowflakes began to tumble down.  If I looked carefully enough I could see one every fifteen seconds or so.  Laura pulled up breathless and rosy cheeked and we set off for a long climb to Shasta Dam.

We cajoled our bikes along the frigid roads, the flakes falling in even sheets, resting on my handlebars, forming an icy crust on my bike computer.  We climbed closer to the Dam and snow began to settle in the crevices of the mountains.

The air smelled clean and big gulps of it seemed to eradicate life's turmoils.  My toes were frozen statues.  My nose was a faucet.  And I was carefree.  Carefree as snow dusted my helmet and melted on my gloves.  I grinned and stuck out my tongue, catching snowflakes as I pedaled.  We passed a mother walking with her little girl.  The little girl had her tongue out, too, and we exchanged smiles.  Laura and I rode in an almost giddy state.  Every few seconds one of us would giggle or exclaim "This is so cool!"  We reached Shasta Dam and took a moment to snap photos.  As sweat and snow dampened our clothes, we began the decent home.  The cold was bitter against my teeth and unprotected face.  Ice crystals pricked my skin and my eyes welled up with tears.  I could say that the tears were from the cold, but in truth they were an unbidden response to the splendor of the snow.

The world doled out beauty today and I was fortunate enough to catch some of it on my tongue.

December 10, 2008

You Might Be A Cyclist If...

My friend, Laura, the one who handed me my pride last weekend, sent me a whole bunch of "You Might Be a Cyclist If..." sayings.  I was home alone and they had me cackling all by my lonesome.  First of all, I love the author's name.  Does it get any better than "Joe Metal Cowboy".  Seriously, you can't make stuff like that up.
You Might Be A Cyclist If...

By Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie 2008

  • You might be a cyclist if you own more tights than a children's theater performing Peter Pan. I own three pairs of tights and every season I pine for more.

  • You might be a cyclist if when styling professionals ask what product gets your hair to do that, you answer, "Helmet." During long rides I get a strange mini version of Pippi Longstockings' hair.  My pigtail sprouts defy gravity and somehow point straight up.  Pair that with the helmet stamp on my forehead and I'm a beauty!

  • You might be a cyclist if your spouse doesn't complain about the snoring since being kicked awake by the sleep pedaling. Snoring and sleep pedaling are only two of the many perils of sharing a bed with me.  I talk, thrash around like a fish out of water, and stick my arms out Frankenstein style while sleeping.  Oh, and I sleep with my eyes open.  Terry often tries to talk to me, only to realize I am staring at him while sound asleep.  I think this is a great opportunity for him to talk sports to me.  I think I'm actually more interested in RBI's, rushing yards, and shot percentages while I'm asleep.  Yes, I know those are from three different sports.  You're lucky I didn't throw a curling term in there.

  • You might be a cyclist if you don't care that your cycling tan is so jarring that parents grab up their children when you enter the pool. My tan has faded a bit, but both Terry and I have such distinct tan lines that we tease each other about having a permanent pair of shorts on.  Not to mention the Mickey Mouse hand tan that develops each season.  Cycling is so sexy.

  • You might be a cyclist if you've heard the words "Just a friendly ride, no one gets dropped" while rapidly falling back in the pack. I am the back of the pack.  Someone has to come in last.  Aren't you glad I'm willing to be the martyr?

  • You might be a cyclist if you've said the words "Just a friendly ride, no one gets dropped" while watching someone else rapidly fall back in the pack. Dare to dream.

  • You might be a cyclist if you have eaten pasta directly out of your front bag, while pedaling. Hold on while I add this to my list of goals for the season.

  • You might be a cyclist if your loved ones have assigned a separate hamper for your dirty bike clothes, and placed a hazmat label on it. No way are those clothes even allowed in the hamper.  They are on a strict straight to the washer regimen.  Terry and I have forgotten once or twice and after brewing for a day or two, the stench that rises up is unholy.

  • You might be a cyclist if you turn the air vents of your car to blow directly in your face, and imagine you're on a bike ride. I haven't done this, but I have found myself using hand signals and calling out warnings about holes or glass in the road.  I've also called out "On your left!" when passing another car.  I know, so nerdy.

  • You might be a cyclist if you can ID five brands and sixteen flavors of protein bars in a blind taste test, but on most long rides you would eat wet shoe leather, properly salted and containing a balance of electrolytes, of course. The people behind the Clif bars deserve some sort of medal.  Those things are still edible six months later.  And I think I have eaten wet shoe leather on long rides.

  • You might be a cyclist if you've contemplated grabbing seat posts, nudging longtime friends into ditches and macing their eyes with energy drinks to crest the hill first. I wouldn't so much call it contemplating, more like laying awake at night and meticulously planning.

  • You might be a cyclist if you think you may have contracted a rare blood disorder... no, it's just that you've turned into a late afternoon headwind. I can't count how many times I've been absolutely convinced that my tires were flat or that I had become terminally ill in the last thirty seconds, only to find out that I am a sissy when riding into the wind.

  • You might be a cyclist if you learned a long time ago that it doesn't matter how light or fast, just get on that bike. Only people who are light and fast think that light and fast don't matter.  They matter to this girl.  They matter a LOT!

December 8, 2008

Dear Frank,

Dear Frank the Tank,

I know how excited you were to ride cyclocross on Sunday.  I was, too.  No, really, I was.  Ok, I'll admit it, I was equal parts intimidated and excited, but my eagerness far outweighed my fear.  That's why I pumped up your tires the night before and filled up a pair of water bottles.

You can hardly blame me for the fact that your back tire was flat AGAIN the next morning.  What were you doing that night anyway?  It is completely my fault that I didn't have any spare tubes.  I looked on the cycling shelf AND in the cycling drawer.  Only tubes for The Rocket.  An egregious error on my part.  That's why I called Sir Steve, Bike Mechanic Extraordinaire at an ungodly hour the morning of the race and asked him to send a spare tube with his wife, Amy.  C'mon, Frank, you've met Sir Steve many, many times.  He would never do you wrong.  No, I don't think Sir Steve loves you more than I do.  Now you're just being hurtful, Frank.

Once Amy arrived with the tube, I was excited to load you onto the car and get your tire changed at the track.  Yes, I know the drive was foggy and it was only thirty degrees out.  I should have covered your seat.  Again, another unforgivable error on my part.  No, I do not know what it's like to have ice crystals freeze on my seat, thank you very much.

At the cyclocross track, you may remember that I lovingly took you off the roof rack and brushed the ice off of your handlebars, gears, and seat.  You might have noticed that Amy and I got straight to work changing your tire, a task both of us prefer to leave to Sir Steve.  Sadly, he was eating hot oatmeal far, far away at home with the kids.  Amy and I did our best.  In fact, Frank, you may recall us squealing with glee when we'd changed your tube and had you all put together again.  There may have even been a high five in there somewhere.  That's how glad we were to have changed your tire all by ourselves.

Frank, I understand that you were bitter with cold, but your response was totally uncalled for.  As we grinned from ear to ear because of our triumphant tire change, you really didn't have to hiss at us.  In fact, I'm not even sure it was a hiss.  You let out an exasperated "PSSSSSHHHHHH!" and your back tire began to shrivel.  What was that all about?  Seriously, we could have done without your attitude as we helplessly watched your back tire deflate itself.

So, I am very sorry that you had to watch from the roof rack as the other bikes zipped around the track without you.  Maybe next time you will hold your tongue and even a little air.  That is why I sent you on a short vacation to Sir Steve's bike hospital.  He's going to figure out what's wrong and make you all better.

Christmas is almost here, Frank, and I know it's your wish to get your wheels dirty at cyclocross.  I, too, hope that you'll be up and running for the race later this month.  Maybe if you behave yourself Santa will even exchange your usual lump of coal for some shiny new tubes in your saddle pack.  Merry Christmas, Frank!



December 7, 2008

Hollow Legs

Saturday was my first road ride of the season.  I'm just going to cut to the chase and say I got my, uh, my, um, pride, yes let's say pride, handed to me.  The morning of the ride I woke up extra early to prepare.  I put on layers of cycling clothing.  Then came the all important jersey selection.  I peered at the rainbow of jerseys stacked neatly in my cycling drawer.  (Yes, I have a cycling drawer in my dresser.  I also have a cycling drawer AND shelf in my garage.  It's okay to be jealous.)  I decided to go with my favorite pink Fat Cyclist jersey.  It has FAT CYCLIST emblazoned across the back pockets.  Awesome.  I slipped on my jersey and then headed over to the mirror to tame the bedhead.  Irony stared back at me.  I've grown squidgy around the edges and there's no hiding anything in Spandex.  I've got muffin top.  I'm too fat for my Fat Cyclist jersey.

Then me and the muffin top headed out to the garage to give The Rocket a little attention.  She was sleek as ever, bright pink wire casings looking all happy at me.  I gave her a little air in her tires.  By a little, I mean her tires were at 30 PSI and I had to pump fiercely to get them back up to 100 PSI.  As I was pumping, I noticed cobwebs laced in the spokes.  Muffin top?  Flat tires?  Cobwebs?  Had it really been that long?  Not good.  Not good at all.

My friend, Laura, met me at my house and we headed out toward Millville Plains, my favorite place to ride.  On our way out there we saw some pretty cool things like a field full of itty bitty goats.  Then we saw buffalo.  Buffalo are so cool looking.  They are unimpressed by everything.  I tried to snap a shot of a buffalo right next to the fence, but as I got closer he moved away, no doubt freaked by the muffin top.  Sorry, buffalo.  Just a little ways beyond the buffalo we passed a manger scene.  It had Joseph.  It had a handful of animals.  It had Mary, but no Jesus.  This led me to wonder WWJD?  What was Jesus doing?

We continued on, Laura speeding ahead of me and then graciously hanging back so I could catch up.  She could have totally stomped me and left me to my own devices to get home, but she didn't so that was nice.  The weather was perfect, sunny, crisp and with winds at about four miles per hour.  It doesn't get better than that.  In Millville we stopped at the Post Office and scarfed down some snacks.  Well, I didn't actually scarf.  What I thought was a whole Clif bar in my saddle pack was actually half of one I'd opened last season.  Clif bars are tasty, but this one had taken on the consistency of concrete.  Don't get me wrong, I ate it.  It just took a long, long time, meaning that Laura had to wait for me.  Again.

We reached Millville Plains and I was loving the sweeping views.  Laura raced ahead of me, and with the exception of one or two cars, it was blissful solitude.  The kind of solitude that quiets the mind and steadies the heart.  I was turning the cranks pretty slowly, but with snow-striped Lassen to my left, I didn't care. I chugged along with a ridiculous grin on my face.  I love riding my bike.

Laura had mapped out a thirty four mile ride for us.  I'd ridden most of the roads before and thirty four miles is usually a pretty easy ride for me.  Not Saturday.  At about mile 25, I got what I call hollow legs.  Hollow legs are when my legs start to ache, not muscle ache, not cramping, but a deep ache in my bones.  Each pedal stroke feels like my legs are empty aluminum cans, ready to crumple at the slightest strain.  I have ridden with hollow legs before, but usually at mile 75 or 80.  To be greeted with hollow legs at mile 25 was disheartening.

This is the part of the story where I get philosophical.  Feel free to skip ahead.  I've learned a lot from cycling.  For example, it really is all about the journey.  The destination is just icing on the cake.  Another thing I've learned is that it's possible to cry and ride at the same time.  In fact, it's quite rewarding, even invigorating at times. Fortunately, I had no need to cry on Saturday because the most important lesson I've learned on my bike is that my mind is stronger than my body.  Much stronger.  If I can convince myself to just keep pedaling circles, then I know I can ride beyond the pain.  Hollow legs are no match for a strong mind.  My body listens to my mind and my mind is one tough cookie.

After nine miles of mental fortitude, we were back home eating minty ice cream sandwiches.  I slumped on my couch for a few minutes until I was confident my legs could carry me to the bathroom.  I eased my salty, sweaty self into the shower.  My shower is about as big as a refrigerator.  Single occupancy only.  No tub.  No frills.  Not even room for big ideas.  As the scalding water ran down my head and turned my flesh pink, I sunk to the floor of my shower.  I closed my eyes and the water swirled in rivulets down my cheeks.  The water pounded my head and legs, massaging the aches away.  A singular thought rose from the steam.  I can't wait to ride my bike again.

December 5, 2008

Gummy Sharks and Priests

This is a snippet from the time we spent waiting in the airport on our way to Mexico.  Gummy sharks are not good breakfast candy.  Those poor priests.

I'm in the airport waiting for the fog to lift and our flight to board.  Just in front of me are two priests dressed in full black with the white collars and everything.  So cool.  Where are they going?  What are they doing?  One priest is reading a book.  What book is it?  Something scandalous?  What would they do if I sat down and pulled out my laundry list of recent sins?  I'm sure I've committed at least eight this morning alone.  I'm trying to make eye contact, but they are skilled at evasive eye maneuvers.  I am now staring intently at the reading priest.  It's becoming a tad uncomfortable.  That girl right next to him is SO lucky, but she's too engrossed in her book to even notice.  Ok, more staring.  Nothing.  Obviously my mental powers have been altered by the gummy sharks I ingested for breakfast a few minutes ago.  Wait!  The priests are getting up and moving away to other seats.  The gummy sharks have obviously sent my mental powers into overdrive.  Come back, white collars, come back!  Terry has cut me off from the gummy sharks.  I am thinking bad thoughts about him.  Darn, make that nine things to repent for this morning.

December 4, 2008

No Touching, Red Shorts!

The breeze was slight and the ocean was a blue blanket spread in front of me.  I was sprawled out in a lounge chair writing away on my laptop.  I was in the zone.  My fingers couldn’t keep up. Joggers and walkers sped around me like horses on a carousel, but I paid them no mind.  I was writing on a ship somewhere off the coast of Cabo San Lucas. It was blissful.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a speed walker heading my direction.  She was clad in a t-shirt and squat red shorts that, let’s say, didn’t suit her body type.  Earbuds tucked into her ears, she swung her arms vigorously to the beat.  As she passed me she looked my way and let out a disdainful “Tsk!” and kept on walking.  I looked around wondering what had warranted such a reaction.  I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  Maybe it was a special exercise breathing thing.  Other than riding my bike, I’m not really up on fitness type things like breathing and fancy stuff like that.  I shrugged it off and continued typing.

The second time Red Shorts passed me she slowed, leaned down, slapped my ankle, and motored away.  Was there a bug on me?  Was my lounge chair in the middle of the walkway and I didn’t realize it?  Was this some sort of joke I wasn’t in on?  I so did not understand what was going on here, but I didn’t want to slip out of the ever shrinking writing zone, so dropped my head and tapped away on my keyboard.

When I saw Red Shorts making her third approach, I stopped typing ready to solve the mystery I like to call “What is your problem?”  She came in for a third pass.  This time she stopped and grabbed my ankle.  My mind quickly reverted back to my childhood, but before I could even force the words “Stranger danger!” out of my mouth, Red Shorts began to scold me.  With music blasting into her ears, her voice at a volume appropriate only for rock concerts, she said, “You’d better not be working.  You’re on vacation.”  I assured her that I was not working.  I was writing and I like to write.  Sometimes I even call myself a writer.  She said “You’re a writer?  Then that’s working and you shouldn’t work on vacation.”  I explained that my profession is teaching and that I write for pleasure.  This didn’t compute.  She continued barking at me.  “Well my daughter brought her laptop with her because she just started up a new business and has to check up on it.  She was on that internet so much that I had to hide her computer from her!”

While Red Shorts railed on her daughter, I tried to figure out how to flee the scene.  The woman was standing directly in front of my chair with a Vulcan death grip on my ankle.  What was that my kickboxing instructor used to tell me?  Was it jab the eyes first?  Or was it a finger in the windpipe?  Should I kick free first and then knee her in the stomach?  Darn it, I should have stuck with those classes!  As I was debating self-defense maneuvers, Red Shorts took a breath.  Aha!  My opportunity to escape!  I calmly assured her that I was not working, but that I appreciated her concern and I hoped she had a lovely cruise with her daughter.  She admonished, “I just don’t want you getting into bad habits like that when you’re young.”  Then she bustled on down the deck not to be seen again.

‘Bad habits like that’?  Did Red Shorts really just give me a lesson on bad habits?  She’s the one who violated my perfectly calm writing zone.  Want a bad habit to break?  How about not grabbing strangers?  Just a thought.  I was a little miffed at first, but then I realized Red Shorts would make a great little story.  I’m sure she’d be very pleased knowing she’s supporting my ‘bad habit’.

December 1, 2008

Me & Lance

Dear family and friends,
2009 is here! For me January is the starting line of another great season of road cycling.  I have to admit, I'm itching for the grip of Spandex on my skin and the glide of The Rocket kissing the white line.  It's going to be a great season and as with most great adventures, there are some big changes this year.

To begin with, I'm excited to be raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  That's right, I'll be riding with Lance.  By 'riding with Lance', I mean that he will be there, too, and I might catch a glimpse of his elbow or something through the throngs of other people who will reach the finish line way before me.  I know, Lance Armstrong's elbow.  I am so lucky.

In all seriousness, I'm honored to participate in the LIVESTRONG Challenge as a part of Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting For Susan because the time for furthering cancer research and funding is now.  During my first season I proudly rode for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I feel this year is a continuation of that chapter.  It's time for me to stop just being concerned about the increase in cancer diagnoses.  It's time for me to do something about it.  And the something I do is ride my bike.  And by 'ride my bike', I mean fall a lot with some pedaling in between.

I'm training from December to July.  Then in the quiet morning hours of July 12th, The Rocket and I will be at the starting line of the San Jose LiveStrong Challenge.  As I ride, I will picture the brave faces of family, friends and students who have battled cancer and won.  I will also remember the brave faces of loved ones who fought with strength and, yet, did not win.  As my heartbeat keeps time, and my legs pedal beautiful circles for 100 miles, I'll ride with the knowledge that you and I are helping to increase the number of victories.

Please take a minute to pop over to my fundraising page to make a donation.  (https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=294743&supid=241282118).  You can donate online, make a check out to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, or give me cash.  I'm grateful for your generosity and support.  Thanks for partnering with me on this adventure.



"The Lord gives me strength. He is like a shield that keeps me safe.  My heart trusts in Him, and he helps me.  My heart jumps for joy.  I will give thanks to Him.” Psalm 27:8

November 29, 2008

You Had Me At 'Hole In My Pants'

I have a gift for doing embarrassing things. I call it a gift because it seems like something that has been bestowed upon me. No matter how hard I try, I simply can’t avoid committing acts of humiliation. I live in the land of mortification, but as much as I’d like to think otherwise, this time it was all my fault.

From day one on this cruise to Mexico with Terry I’ve tried extra hard not to do anything that might cause me to be shamefaced in any way. I daresay I’ve been vigilant. I’ve taken smaller bites at meals, so as not to choke or spit anything on anyone. I’ve been careful only to carry one thing in each hand so I don’t drop stuff. I’ve checked my teeth at least nine times each day for stray bits of food. I’ve scrutinized the bottom of my shoes each and every time I’ve left the bathroom. I’ve been walking at a slower pace to prevent unwarranted tripping.

Other than one tiny slip up, when ice cream dribbled out of the cone and onto my shirt, I’ve been doing pretty well. Wait, there was also the time when I tried to exit a lounge chair and it clamped down on my leg, but only Terry was there to see that and the bruise will vanish soon enough, so it doesn’t really count. Oh, there was also the bathrobe in the toilet mishap, but I was alone so that definitely doesn’t count. There was also that time the old lady grouched at me for walking the wrong direction on the promenade, but I’m pretty sure she was just in a mood. That definitely doesn’t count. Overall, I’d say I’m doing pretty well. I’m proud to report that I haven’t tripped once or dropped a single thing during the four days we’ve been on board. I should have known that humiliation was saving the big guns for later.

It all began with packing for the trip. I hate packing. I hate packing so much that a friend gave me a shirt with a tag that says “I hate packing.” It has a suitcase with clothes dropping into it. All the clothes are shaped like Tetris pieces. And I LOVE Tetris. I feel giddy when I’m playing Tetris and I’ve built a rectangular crevasse and that long, skinny piece floats down, saving the day. It’s nirvana. I sometimes dream in Tetris.

Anyway, back to the necessary evil of packing. I am a chronic over packer. I pack everything under the sun and then cajole a little more into the suitcase. Even my Grandma makes fun of my packing gluttony. This trip Terry urged me to pack lighter. Terry is wise. Terry is organized. His things always fit into a tidy little suitcase, without any weird bulges or zipper strain. In fact, as we were packing he said “There’s too much room in my suitcase. My things are going to shift around.” Yes, he’s that good. I was inspired.

Clad in my awesome Tetris shirt, I sifted through my suitcase and started tossing superfluous items. I tossed my jacket and a second pair of black dress shoes. I nixed a handful of t-shirts. I tossed one of five books. I placed an extra pair of pants back into the closet. I threw out my second pair of workout clothes because, seriously, who was I kidding? Yes, I even sorted through my underwear and threw out my granny panties in lieu of sexier, and therefore smaller panties.

Then I came to my two most favorite clothing items, two pairs of cropped tuxedo pants. They fit me perfectly. When I found them in Target a couple of years ago, I bought them in both black and gray and felt a touch of sadness that they weren’t available in more colors. I laid out each pair on my bed, considering which pair would make the cut. Black goes with everything. I hung the gray pair back in the closet and tucked the black ones back into my now roomy suitcase. I didn’t even have to use the extended zipper area. Job well done, McCauley, job well done.

As I’m telling you this story, I realize it didn’t actually start with the packing, but with a card game. The week before our trip was parent teacher conference week. I enjoy this week, but it makes for really long work days. One of the ways I like to unwind is to play cards. This was the case on Monday night. I’d taught and held six parent teacher conferences. I was drained. I asked Terry if he wanted to play cards. He plopped down on the living room floor. As I squatted to join him on the floor, I heard the distinct ripping of seams followed by a cool draft near my rear end. I reached down and, sure enough, I could poke three fingers right through the seat of my favorite black, cropped tuxedo pants. The thread had apparently lost all authority over the fabric. I was mildly embarrassed, but glad the pants had given out in the privacy of my home and not during class or worse yet at a parent teacher conference. I threw the pants in the hamper to be washed and then taken to the seamstress. My busy week continued and I forgot all about getting the tear repaired.

Thursday evening I did the wash and was laughing hysterically at 30 Rock as I folded the laundry. I didn’t pay any attention to the clothes in my hands. I folded my black tuxedo crops. Having erased the unfortunate seam incident completely from my mind, I tossed them in my suitcase, somehow totally missing the GIANT HOLE in the bottom. They made the final packing cut Friday afternoon. That’s right, I packed a pair of pants with a colossal hole in them.

I did not again become aware of the gaping hole in my pants until the following Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. As I took them out of the closet and laid them on the bed, I caught a glimpse of the gap in the seam. I picked them up and immediately turned three shades of crimson.

You see, in my zeal to become a more efficient packer, I’d planned on wearing some things multiple times. I’d already worn them one afternoon while reading on the deck and also the night before. The night before!?! Oh no, no, no, no! I replayed the events of the night before. I’d worn them to dinner last night. After dinner I’d raced up six flights of stairs for an ice cream cone. I zipped down seven flights of stairs and to the other end of the ship where Terry and I listened to some singers. (Yes, I know the ship has elevators.  In order to eat the ice cream, I have to climb the stairs. Plus I don’t like it when people wearing fanny packs bump up against me in the elevator. And trust me, fanny packers are a dime a dozen on this ship.) After the singers, we’d rushed to the other end of the ship to watch an Indonesian cultural show. Then back across the ship and up two flights of stairs to our room. I’d run all over the ship with a chasm in my pants.

On Thanksgiving morning, as I sat on the bed pondering my idiocy, I realized something else. My panties. Oh no, my panties! All my regular sized panties were at home tucked neatly in a drawer. I’m pretty sure the ones I was wearing that evening are scant enough that they can’t even be technically classified as underwear. As I paraded around the ship that night, chances are pink lace and a lot of skin were saying hello from the seat of my pants. Terry says he didn’t notice and nobody else said anything. I’m all about laughing at myself, but being the literal butt of the joke takes it to a whole new level. Maybe, just maybe nobody noticed. And that would be something to be truly thankful for.

As Thanksgiving evening approached, Terry and I watched the sunset together. I told him I loved him. He smiled and held my hand. Then I started laying it on thick, you know all that mushy stuff they say in movies. Barely keeping a straight face, I looked him in the eye and murmured, “You complete me.” Without missing a beat he replied, “You had me at ‘hole in my pants’.”

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2008

Good to see you again, Mexico.

A few hours from now, Terry and I will be driving to Sac to catch a flight to San Diego and hop a ship to cruise around Mexico for a week.  Some of my fondest memories from my teenage years and early adulthood are from trips to Mexico.  No, I'm not talking about those crazy high school drinking excursions you see on Dateline.  For eight or nine summers, I spent time in Mexico as a short term missionary.  Yeah, God was surprised, too.

My first time in Mexico, I was part of the construction team.  We built a small church near Tijuana.  We mixed cement with shovels, hammered up black rolls of pungent tar paper, and rolled out miles of chicken wire to stucco the walls.  This was all very cool to my fourteen year old self.  My task for the majority of the build was to measure out all of the boards to be nailed into place.  I measured and marked all day long for my saw team.  (It helped that my saw team happened to be two cute boys.)

On the last day of the build, as we were packing up, we spotted a fire on the hillside across the road.  The hillside was brown with weeds and spotted with houses made from salvaged materials.  One home was made primarily of wooden Coldwell Banker signs.  As the fire devoured the weeds, a horde of us grabbed our shovels and ran up the hill.  We dug trenches to hold the fire, threw piles of dirt to extinguish it and pounded out hot spots.  After the fire was out, we put the shovel handles between our legs, sat on the mouths of the shovels and slid all the way back down the hill.  It was a fantastic ride.

That evening we were joined by many neighbors from the hillside at a candlelight service in the newborn church.  Whenever I hear the the words "thinking globally" or "global community" or any of the other catchy phrases people throw around, I think of that candlelight services and the glowing faces in that little church near Tijuana.

The following summer I was on two teams.  The build team worked on an orphanage during the early hours.  Then in the afternoons and evenings I went out with the drama team to perform and give my testimony at church services and neighborhood gatherings.  At a training before the trip we had to audition for parts in one of the dramas.  The female part choices were a hypocrite and a glamorous girl.  I tried out for the hypocrite, but my movements weren't crisp enough.  I auditioned for the glamorous girl, but as we were "walking gracefully", I tripped and fell.  On my face.  I was embarrassed and turned a deep shade of red.  Luckily for me, there was one more part that hadn't been announced; a clown.  When I tripped, the trainers handed me the clown mask immediately.

And so it was that on a sticky afternoon in Mexico, we were rehearsing for an evening performance.  Dressed in black we held our masks in place and a handsome stranger started our music.  As the drama unfolded, each character pulled a mask down to reveal their true self.  I pulled my mask down and locked eyes with the handsome stranger.  His eyes were limpid pools of chocolate.  My body did the motions of my part, but my mind was swimming in those eyes, oh those eyes.  I was a goner.  The stranger was Terry, who's eyes still turn me to jell-o.

On my third trip to Mexico, I chose to return to both teams.  I loved it all, but when the fire died down each night and it was time to retire to our tents, I laid awake until the sun announced it was time to get up and build again.  After several nights of reaching for sleep just outside my grasp, I was desperate for rest.  That night as I prayed, I pleaded with God to let me sleep.

I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I laid motionless in a deep, dreamless sleep unaware of the storm that rolled in.  More accurately, the storm that rolled in and wreaked havoc. The pelting rain collapsed many tents, causing people to seek refuge in cars, the kitchen, and even in the bathrooms.  Mud slides relocated some tents entirely.  Thunder and lightning caused nearby cattle to break through a fence and tromp around in the chaos.

I awoke the next morning to a steady drip, drip, drip between my eyes.  I looked up and saw that my tent had collected a large puddle of water directly above my head.  Huh, must have rained last night, I thought.  I unzipped my sleeping bag and it released water like I was squeezing a sponge.  Must have rained A LOT last night. I glanced over to the other side of the tent.  It had collapsed.  I dressed, grabbed my toothbrush, and unzipped my tent.  I looked out and saw the scars of the storm.

I wandered up to the kitchen and Terry filled me in on the events of the night, including the part when he came to rescue me, only to find me wrapped in the gentle arms of sleep.  As the sun cut the clouds, I stood outside brushing my teeth.  People hung their belongings out to dry, repaired tents, and herded cattle back to the neighboring ranch.  Everything I owned was wet.  My tent was plastered with red mud and only partially standing.  But me, I'd never been better.  I was rested and happy.

I returned to the same campsite year after year.  In one corner of the campsite there was a cement water tower with ladder up one side.  Each evening I would slip away from the group and sit on top of the water tower.  As the wind licked my sunburned ears, I would pray, meditate, and write.  On clear nights I gazed out over sleeping Mexico and in the distance I could see a faint triangle of ocean.  It was serene.  My experiences as a missionary and this humble campsite became home to me.

In a few hours, I'll board a ship to visit some of the more polished cities of Mexico.  My days will be spent lounging on beaches and devouring piles of books.  Nights will be spent eating fancy cuisine with my favorite brown eyed boy.  I'll treasure every second of it, but at night on the deck as the wind licks my sunburned ears, I'll gaze out over the vast ocean longing for my second home.  I miss the grit.  I miss the work.  I miss the glow.  I miss the faces.  But most of all I miss the serenity of the water tower and my tiny triangle of ocean.  I'll return to it someday, but for now let me just say, it's good to see you again, Mexico.

November 20, 2008

O Christmas Candy, O Christmas Candy

Mistletoe, drive-thru nativity scenes, Christmas carols, stockings hung with care, candlelight Christmas Eve services, twinkle lights; it is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year.  But only due in part to all of those things.  The other day I was strolling the aisles of Target and hallelujah, the Christmas candy is here!

Oh, joyous red and green peanut M&M's, how I've missed you.  Your orange and black Halloween cousins leave a lot to be desired.  Really, who would eat a black M&M over a red or green one?  I can't even talk about those lame Indiana Jones peanut M&M's without marked disdain in my voice.  The colors were atrocious.  Lime green and baby poop brown with indecipherable symbols stamped on the?  Who's idea was that?

Little compares to the simple perfection of a candy dish brimming with red and green chocolatey peanut goodness.  I love Christmas peanut M&M's more than regular ones because I like to eat M&M's in even turns.  The regular ones have numerous colors to sort and then there's the whole size issue.  The Christmas ones have three colors, red, dark green, and light green.  It really cuts down on my candy organizing time which means more more candy munching time.  Merry Christmas to me.

Another Christmas candy, I'm happy to welcome back into the fold is the minty Christmas tree nougat.  They're just so pretty, all tucked into their clear wrappers.  Not to mention the plunge my face in cold water wake up call they give my kisser!  If only Santa would stuff the toe of my stocking with these little dazzlers, but no, Santa always crams an orange in the toe.  Sometimes an apple, too.  Santa must be in cahoots with my dentist.

Back to the Christmas tree nougat.  My grandma, renowned for her Jedi candy ways, always had a glass jar of these candies when my family would descend on her for Christmas.  Grandma also has two swiveling club chairs in her sitting room.  I'd cram anywhere from three to seven of those chewy nougats in my mouth at a time and then beeline for the spinning chairs.  I'd push off with one leg propelling the chair around until I thought it was surely going over.  Then I'd tuck my legs up, tilt my head back and spin, spin, spin with sticky nougat dribbling from the corners of my mouth.  Ah, childhood; blissful and disgusting.

I'd be remiss if I didn't give a nod to the mini candy cane.  While I'm not a fan of them all on their lonesome, there is nothing better than a mug of hot chocolate with a peppermint candy cane at the bottom.  On dry days I walk the three or so blocks to school.  Crisp winter air nips at my nose and steam rises off my mug.  Each slurp of the piping hot, minty beverage convinces me that it is indeed going to be a perfect day.  Until I step in an icy puddle up to my calf and soak my entire shoe, sock, and pant leg.  Crap.

Then there's The Book.  The hallowed Storybook of Lifesavers.  Let's all have a moment of revered silence...  Thank you.  The Book is a Christmas stocking must.  I love, love, love the sour Lifesavers and Lifesavers in any shade of orange.  I agree, the stories on the inside of the box are cheesy, but what do you expect from a candy wrapper?  Wait, I take that back because I love the cartoons wrapped around Bazooka gum.  And finding the Indian and the star on Tootsie Pops is awesome.  And at least Laffy Taffy offers the possibility of a chuckle.

Time to step it up, Lifesavers, and entertain me.  If you're taking requests, I'd like some trivia in the box.  For example, what is the most popular Lifesaver flavor?  It can't be butter rum or cough syrup cherry, which I happily fork over to Terry's BFF every year.  When were Lifesavers first produced?  Who's idea was it to make that yucky white flavor?  And what exactly is that yucky white flavor supposed to be?  It's certainly not something found in nature.  Are there any Lifesaver world records?  Who came up with the idea to use a piece of dental floss to open a roll of Lifesavers and how is it that I manage to pull the entire string out without getting anywhere close to breaking through the wax paper barrier?  And finally, how did Lifesavers get their name?  That kind of thing would be way more interesting than some plotless story that for whatever reason always has to include a reindeer, Santa wearing too much blush, an abominable snow yetti, a gingerbread boy, a talking Christmas tree, and the token creepy troll.

Sadly, I'm not a fan of all Christmas candy.  The candy corn for example is in it's finest state when in it's traditional yellow, orange, and white.  I like to bite the yellow part off first, then the little white shark tooth tip, and then eat the orange middle.  Better yet, I like the candy corn pumpkins.  I nibble the stem off and then bite the pumpkin in half.  I DO NOT like that weird harvest corn.  Is the brown supposed to taste like chocolate?  If so, something has gone awry.  It's chocolate 'product' like Velveeta is a cheese 'product'.  Neither of them remotely resemble their ancestor.  I have equal disappointment for the red, green, and white candy corn.  It has the added bonus of turning my tongue a sickly purplish gray so that after I eat a handful, I must head straight home to brush my tongue 9 times before I can be seen in public.  Plus these holiday wannabe's taste like my plastic mouth night guard.  Night guard flavored candy-blecchhh!

I recognize that I have blogged about candy twice in like a week.  Yes, I'm proud of the restraint I've shown.  I think about candy on average thirty seven times a day, so to only have brought it up twice is a win in my book.  So, now it's time for you to chime in with your favorite Christmas sweets.  In the meantime, I'm going to eat a handful of Christmas candy for breakfast.

November 19, 2008

Frank's Revenge

Cyclocross season is so close, I can almost taste the mud in my teeth.  This season, I'll be sporting cool new mountain bike shoes along with matching clipless pedals.  However, in honor of the beginning of cyclocross, it feels appropriate to relive the story of my first cyclocross race last December.

I think my mountain bike feels jilted.  As you know, I have a sleek road bike, The Rocket.  What I've failed to mention in previous seasons is that I have another bike.  Yes, the red headed step-child of bikes.  Frank the Tank.  Frank is a hulking 40 something pound Giant mountain bike with a tricked out Judy fork.  That's as much as I know about bike parts, so save us both from a very boring conversation and don't ask about components or wheel size or any of that other stuff.

The past two years I’ve been smitten with the Rocket and our long, smooth, beautiful road rides.  Although I'm ashamed to admit this, whilst cycling on the Rocket, Frank sat unloved, unridden, and increasingly bitter in the garage.  If you’re not a cyclist, you’re probably a bit skeptical about the fact that bikes have feelings.  If you are a cyclist, then you are no doubt aware of the perils that a scorned bike can unleash.

On a Sunday in December I registered for my first cyclocross race.  Cyclocross is an unforgiving combination of mountain biking, hauling your bike over barriers, and then riding some more as fast as you can over a marked course.  Sometimes you even have to run and push your bike.  I don't run.  Ever.  But there is a small group of unbalanced people who think this is fun.

So, Frank and I started the race full of excitement.  (Actually, Frank was full of vengeance, but I was not yet aware of his state of mind.) Let me just state for the record that riding Frank for the first time in 2 years in a cyclocross race was dumb.  Very dumb.  Frank is equipped with platform pedals, not the kind that attach to your shoes.  I’ve grown quite attached to The Rocket.  Literally.  With shoes that clip into the pedals, I pull up on my foot and the pedal comes with me.  When I push for extra power, the pedal obliges.

Not on Frank.  When I pulled up on my foot, the pedal spun around and impaled my calf.  Then I’d angrily slam my foot on the pedal causing the opposite pedal to spin forward and gnaw on my shin.  You’d think after one or two times, I’d learn and adjust.  You'd be wrong, my friend, so wrong.  Most of the time I was focusing all my energy on not crashing and so I'd forget that my shoes were not attached to the pedals and I'd try in vain to harness extra power by pulling up on the pedals.  Every single time those pedals would zip up and nail me in the exact same part of my legs.

Despite the increasing amounts of blood and pain in the general leg area, I was actually having fun.  After completing 2 laps I was scraped, bleeding and bruised, but proud to have tried something new.  (Ok, so I got lapped and most everyone did 3 laps, not a measly 2, but still.)  Strangely, when I stopped riding, I found myself eager to do it again.  In fact, I thought "I should go mountain biking today."  So I did.

About an hour or so after cyclocross, I thought Frank and I had made amends.  We’d splashed through mud puddles, cruised over rocks, and turned my legs into hamburger.  So after the race, I agreed to go on a short, "flat" 9 mile mountain bike ride with my team captains, Nick and Abby.  “There’s only one hill and the rest of it’s really flat.”  Nick assured me.  It turns out that Nick blocks out the parts of rides he doesn’t care for.  Either that or he was in on Frank’s master plan of torture.

The first half of the trail was full of steep inclines followed by way too technical descents.  Basically I dragged all 40 something pounds of Frank up and down hills for four and a half punishing miles.  I knew this was penance for the years of neglect.  That didn't stop me from making several demeaning remarks about Frank’s weight.  He had just cause to complain about my weight, too, but Frank is a gentleman and kept his comments to himself.

After all that cajoling, grunting, sweating, pushing, and pulling Frank, I was rewarded with four and a half miles of the most beautiful singletrack I’ve laid eyes on.  It was smooth with some interesting curves and just the right amount of mud puddles.  It was blissful.  I loved every second of it and I have a feeling that Frank and I are friends again.  I hope.

November 18, 2008

The Garage Incident: A Cautionary Tale

I was hunkered down under my covers, dreaming the bizarre dreams that accompany a fever.  Suddenly, I woke up and discovered my pajamas were soaked in sweat.  I peeled them off and walked to the door that leads to the garage.  Wanting to air out my clammy skin, I'd not yet put on a second pair of pajamas.  No big deal.  Terry was on a business trip and I had the house all to myself.  As I walked to the door, I was feeling pretty good about the fact that I hadn't spiraled into a tornado of body image issues.  In fact, I was feeling pretty darn good about my natural self.

I opened the door leading to the garage and took a step toward the washing machine.  Before my feet could move another inch, I froze in horror.  The garage door was up.  I was naked.  In the garage.  For all to see.  Sweet, fancy Moses, I was naked in the garage for all to see!  I turned to hit the garage door button on the wall and as I turned, I glimpsed a white car in my driveway.  It was my mom.  My mom!  I was naked in my garage for my mom to see!  I slapped the garage door button and the garage door descended on my humiliation.  Did she see me in my birthday suit?  Was my step-dad in the car?  Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away.

I threw my damp wad of pajamas into the washer and dashed into the house to put on a fresh pair.  I figured the doorbell would be ringing any second.  Thirty seconds passed.  A full minute edged by.  Maybe she was wrapping up a phone call or something.  Five minutes passed and I ventured out to the driveway.  No car.  No mom.  Oh man, she'd seen.  I'd created an Awkward Naked Moment and frightened my mom away.  Maybe she got an emergency phone call and had to leave right that second.  Yes, that must have been it.

So I scooted back into the house and waited to hear from my mom.  After all, I wasn't going to call her and explain.  No way.  Not when there was still a slim chance she hadn't seen my business.  I certainly wasn't going to bring it up.  So, I waited.  And waited.  And fell asleep.  (It was the deep, dark hour of 9pm.)

I returned to my fevered dreams and awoke to my mother's voice on the answering machine.  She was saying something about having offended me and she was sorry and she didn't know why I wouldn't come to the door.  I staggered out of bed with a hint of lucidity and played her message.  The message only served to confound me even more.  I wasn't upset.  I was naked.  Wait a second, if she thought I shut the garage door because I was mad, then she must not have seen me.  Victory: my mom thought I was a jerk, not the neighborhood exhibitionist.  Hooray!

I'm pretty ok with people thinking I'm a jerk.  I'm not one of those people who needs to be liked by everyone, mostly because I don't like everyone.  And I'll be the first to tell you that sometimes I am a jerk.  But I didn't really want my mom to think I was mad at her.

Reluctantly I picked up the phone and dialed my mom.  Now, the trick was to explain what had happened without revealing too much.  I puzzled over how to guide our conversation away from you know what.  At first I thought I was going to get away with it.  She explained that she had knocked and rung the doorbell and upon seeing our cars at our house determined that we were home.  She'd decided to wait in our driveway until we emerged like groundhogs or something.  I filled her in on the fact that I was home alone, sick and asleep in my bed.  When she rang the doorbell, the noise must have roused me from my clammy nap.  I explained that when I saw her in the driveway, I assumed she was on her way in, not waiting for me to come out.

I thought I was totally in the clear and that I'd avoided having to confess, but no, the conversation continued and finally I couldn't do it anymore.  I just don't have the skills.  I exhaled and in one big breath laid out the entire embarrassing story.  My mom laughed and offered her sympathy.

It was a near miss, people, and we should all learn from it.  Keep your garage door closed at all times and never, ever be sans apparel.  Not even in the shower.  Ok, that might be a little drastic, but I'm still shell shocked.

I'm sure my mom will be laughing about this one for a long time.  I will, too.  In the safety of my home.  Wearing layers and layers of clothing.

November 16, 2008

What's the punchline?

Two people walk into a bar.  At the bar are a dog, a baby and an Amish man.

On Saturday Terry and I met some of his co-workers at a local brewery to listen to a bluegrass band.  When we walked in we were greeted by the wagging tail of the owner's dog.  Directly in front of us was a man wearing Amish clothing and the gift of beard.  Seated at the table with the Amish guy was a woman with a baby.  It was very Sweet Home Alabama.  You know the scene where Reese Witherspoon's character sees an old friend and says "You have a baby...in a bar!"

Although I know nothing about bluegrass, I thoroughly enjoyed this band.  They had great harmonies and good stage presence.  It was a fun night, lacking only one thing: a punchline.

Candy! Candy! Candy! Candy! Candy! Candy!

I love candy. This isn't some juvenile crush like the one I had on Donnie from The New Kids on the Block.  Although, let it be known that I almost got in a fight in seventh grade at a NKOTB concert when the girl next to me had the audacity to tell me that she was going to marry Donnie.  Lucky for her, they started singing Hangin' Tough at that very moment.  Otherwise, I might have had to scratch her eyes out or at the very least dump my soda on her Donnie t-shirt.

Anyway, back to candy.  To say that I have a sweet tooth is like saying I'm tallish.  All five feet eleven inches of me loves candy.  I keep candy in my car, in my purse, in my filing cabinet at work, in the freezer, and of course the kitchen cupboard.  Today as I munched on peanut M&M's and chased them down with a few mini York peppermint patties, I started to ruminate, yes ruminate, on my favorite candies of all time.  Here are my current top six, excluding holiday candies which are, of course, a category all their own.

6) York Peppermint Patties: The mini version of these are divine straight out of the freezer.  Better yet, on top of a scoop of chocolate ice cream.  The problem with these is that Terry likes them, too, and I am Very Bad At Sharing Candy.

5) Reese's Bites: These are the far superior cousin to the peanut butter cup.  The chocolate shell is just a touch waxy.  If you bite into the chocolate, it cracks off and leaves a little round pearl of magical peanut butter perfection.  These also increase in deliciousness when frozen.

4) Gobstoppers: I eat these in two's, mostly while driving.  I blame my previous car, a Subaru Forester, for my affinity for these little sugary marbles.  In the driver's side door there is a pocket that cradles the jumbo box of Gobstoppers perfectly.  It's like the designers of the Forester made that pocket for the express purpose of keeping that box upright.  Pure genius, because let me tell you, it is tragic when a box of Gobstoppers empties itself in your car.  For six months after the spill, Gobstoppers will roll under your feet at every moderately abrupt stop.  So, making sure to keep the box upright, I pop one in each cheek and let them dissolve until they're a tad chalky.  When they reach that chalky state, they're perfect for chewing, without chipping a tooth.  Gobstoppers are also a great cycling candy.  I like to dump them in a snack size Ziploc and carry them in my jersey pocket.  Again, keeping them contained is a must.  Two seasons ago I was straddling The Rocket at a stoplight, the perfect candy intermission, when the light changed to green sooner than I'd expected.  I didn't seal the bag completely and by the end of the ride, those babies were rolling around free and easy in my sweaty jersey pocket.  All of the color had soaked into my jersey leaving little rainbow colored leopard spots.  The only other downfall to Gobstoppers is that they're a horrible movie candy.  It is impossible to discreetly eat a box of Gobstoppers in the theater.  Plus it is very embarrassing when you jump at a scary part of the movie and the box goes flying and Gobstoppers roll all the way down to the front row.

3) Sour Patch Kids: These are new to my favorite candy list.  I tried them once a few years ago, but unfortunately I tried an old batch that had been exposed to the elements too long.  The air had hardened them to an inedible state.  At the urging of a friend, who is equally addicted to candy, I tried them again last year while riding somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.  I was sweaty, tired, and running out of energy.  A handful of Sour Patch Kids perked me right up and I was hooked.  Sour Patch Kids have the added pleasure of being different colors so I can eat them until all the colors are even and then nibble them in turns.  Sour Patch Kids don't melt easily and they are in fact even better when they're just a touch warm and a little bit soft.  The downfall of The Kids is that they're indeed sour and when eaten in mass quantities, you're guaranteed to lose the top layer of taste buds.  My husband has a friend who can't turn down a dare.  Terry dared him to ingest a spoonful of the sour white crystals left at the bottom of the bag of Sour Patch Kids.  I swear he burned a hole in his esophagus, stomach lining, and intestines.  I've never seen quite a pucker, nor such exquisite pain inflicted by an innocent candy.  Way to go, Kids.

2) Mike & Ike's: Ah, yes, my boyfriends, Mike and Ike.  These are about as close to candy perfection as you can get.  They are multi-colored for eating in evens, better when warm and soft, and not too loud for the movies.  My dentist HATES that I eat these because I have terrible enamel and sticky candy is a big no-no.  Unfortunately, my affection for Mike and Ike's is not my worst offense when it comes to candy and my dentist.  In high school and my first year of college I worked for my dentist, cleaning rooms, filing, answering phones, and whatever other odd jobs needed to be done.  I worked there for three years and loved going to work every day.  It's rare to work for someone with a sense of integrity, humanity, and humor.  My dentist has all three and years later I had the opportunity to fully appreciate his sense of humor.  I ceased working at the dentist office to become a teacher.  One day, shortly after Halloween, a student brought a mountain of Halloween candy to school and I'd offered to hold it until the end of the day.  No, seriously, I wasn't going to eat it.  I'll stoop pretty low when it comes to candy.  I may eat a Gobstopper or two off the floor of my car, but in my book stealing candy from a kid is the kind of sin that would send me straight to hell.  So, I'd shoveled my student's candy in my pockets, but by the end of the day both of us had forgotten about it.  That afternoon I rushed out of my classroom to make it to my dental appointment on time.  After clipping that paper napkin thing around my neck, my dentist reclined the chair to look at my pearly whites.  As the chair shifted back, my bulging pockets began to rain candy all over the examine room floor.  It wasn't just one or two pieces.  It was deluge of candy that lasted a good seven or eight seconds.  Go ahead and count out seven seconds.  It's a lot longer than you think.  My dentist feigned outrage and we both began to laugh.  Like a druggie caught with a stash I held up my hands and insisted "It's not mine.  Really, it's not mine.  I'm just holding it for someone."  This made my dentist laugh even harder and call all of the staff into the exam room to see the evidence splayed all over the floor.  To this day, I don't think my dentist believes that it wasn't my candy, but I really can't blame him.  Now I'm careful to empty my pockets before each appointment.  I just hope he doesn't ever check my purse.

1) Peanut M&M's: I can't explain why, but Peanut M&M's are the king of all candies in my book.  Like my crush on Donnie, my affection for Peanut M&M's isn't at all rational.  They make a terrible cycling candy, melting in thirty seven seconds.  They are sure to cause dental peril when eaten frozen.  They aren't even uniform size.  That means when I'm eating them I have to factor in color and size, eating the giant ones first, then the tiny ones, leaving the regular ones in happy even piles.  Really, with a busy schedule like mine, I can't afford candy that kind of time, but still I buy and savor Peanut M&M's like it's my job.  Some things just can't be explained, like the fact that NKOTB has reunited.  This year I will be glued to the televised reunion tour while munching Peanut M&M's and Sour Patch Kids and Mike & Ike's and...

November 13, 2008

Gold, Frankincense, and Midol?

It started out as an average Friday morning.  Students filed in showing off their loose teeth and lugging their book boxes to their desks.  I stopped at each desk to check in with my kids and collect their homework.  Just then a father with special needs walked in.  In the middle of a conversation with one of my kids, the dad blurted out "Here's her folder.  Do you want her papers now?"  I held up a lone index finger, the universal sign for 'I'll be with you in a moment'.

After finishing the conversation with my student, I turned my attention to the waiting parent.  We had a quick conversation about where his daughter should put her homework folder and I turned to go about my morning business.  The father continued in a loud, unmodulated voice.  "Mrs. McCauley, I know what I'm getting you for Christmas."  I wasn't sure how to best reply, so I uttered a noncommital "Oh."  Then he delivered a surprise verbal kidney punch.  "I'm getting you the Costco jar of MIDOL!"  He smiled, so pleased with himself.  I stared, mouth agape.  I didn't feel like I'd been a horrendous biotch.  It's not like I gave him the OTHER finger or anything.

As I stood totally unsure how to escape gracefully from this conversation, his face turned the blotchy crimson of a pomegranate.  In an even louder voice he stammered "I mean the Costco jar of Tylenol.  Not the other, you know, thing."  This really didn't clear anything up for me.  I stared at him, head cocked to the side, in total disbelief that this conversation was still going on.  He continued "You know because of all the headaches you must get."  I do not have a poker face at all, so I'm sure my increasing look of incredulity was apparent.  I stood unable to extricate myself from the awkwardness and to my dismay he rattled on.  "You must get a lot of headaches.  I didn't mean the other thing.  I don't want you to think I was saying anything weird or anything."  Seriously!?!  This entire conversation was totally bizarre.  Unable to bear the possibility of any further comments, I said "Don't worry about it.  I put my foot in my mouth all the time.  Have a nice day."  I willed my legs to move me to the student sitting in the desk furthest away and to my great relief that was the end of the dialogue.

Although I only get a headache approximately once a year and I am as fortunate when it come to other unmentionable aches and pains, come this December I'll be commemorating the birth of the Christ child with the deluxe jar of Midol or Tylenol.  Who knows, maybe in the spirit of generosity and goodwill, I'll receive both.  Take that, wisemen.

November 8, 2008

The Tables are Turning

I am a pretty normal person.  I teach.  I ride my bike.  I watch tv.  I read.  I write.  And then I do it again the next day.  I love my husband and I have a wonderful group of friends.  That is my life and I like it.

Lately though, I've been finding myself at tables with these high caliber people.  For example, I was at a table with the director of The National Writing Project.  She is witty, poised, and apparently an avid ballroom dancer.  At that same table were regional directors, national speakers, and published authors.  And me.  I kept looking around in disbelief thinking how fortunate, if out of place, I was sitting at that table.

Today I found myself at a lunch with a group of women who are nothing short of amazing.  Their accomplishments include cycling the coast of California, opposing injustice in Darfur, and blazing trails for students with special needs.  These are women who should seriously consider adding superhero capes to their wardrobe.  I was listening to the conversations at the table, once again amazed that I was sitting with such a dynamic group of people.

I find myself surrounded by people who are smarter, more talented, and as a whole more compassionate than I am.  I know, I'm hoping some of it will rub off, too.  And I'm crossing my fingers that they will keep inviting me to their tables.

July 23, 2008

The All Important Bike Questions

If you could have any one — and only one — bike in the world, what would it be?

If I could have only one bike in the world, it would be whatever bike could make me go fast.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist.  Then again maybe it's operator malfunction.

Do you already have that coveted dream bike? If so, is it everything you hoped it would be? If not, are you working toward getting it? If you’re not working toward getting it, why not?

I think if I really put my mind to it I could go fast on The Rocket.  And yes, I'm working towards going faster at my regular spinning classes.  I swear, my spinning instructor revels in my pain.  No, seriously, she does.  I'm in there sweating so much I'm creating my own rainbows, and she sits there grinning.  Then she tells me to crank up the tension.  I dislike megaloathe her.

If you had to choose one — and only one — bike route to do every day for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
I would choose Millville Plains.  It's quiet and the plains do this beautiful chameleon type change as the seasons progress.  The wind also loves Millville Plains, which makes it challenging and never the same twice.  Plus I once saw a fully intact set of deer bones caught in the fence that parallels the road.  Spooky and very cool.

What kind of sick person would force another person to ride one and only one bike ride for the rest of her / his life? 
Only someone totally vicious.  Must be a relative.

Do you ride both road and mountain bikes? If both, which do you prefer and why? If only one or the other, why are you so narrowminded?
I ride both, but I prefer The Rocket especially at about mile 80 when I'm in the groove and the pavement is smooth glass.  When I ride Frank, the problem is that when I crash (which is frequently) the ground always feels like broken glass.  

Have you ever ridden a recumbent? If so, why? If not, describe the circumstances under which you would ride a recumbent.
I'm not into getting bent.  I should mention that I've been totally destroyed by many recumbent cyclists and also that they seem to be a friendly bunch, when I can keep up with them.

Have you ever raced a triathlon? If so, have you also ever tried strangling yourself with dental floss?

Yes.  Today I napped, snacked, and shopped.  My strongest leg was definitely the napping, followed closely by snacking.  I can sleep anywhere.  It's a gift.  I am also a skilled snacker and possess the horrifying skill of eating mass quantities when I don't have the slightest inkling of hunger.  Shopping is my weakest leg.  Shopping can be so temperamental.  Variables like body image, number of clearance racks, and checkout speed continue to wreak havoc on my times.  I have yet to strangle myself with dental floss mainly because I have a hard enough time wrestling myself out of my clothes.  I once had to cut myself out of a dress using the kitchen scissors.  True story.

Suppose you were forced to either give up ice cream or bicycles for the rest of your life. Which would you give up, and why?

Ice cream is my boyfriend.

What is a question you think this questionnaire should have asked, but has not?  How do I manage to fall over on The Rocket so much?
It's a multi-step process that requires practice and total dedication to looking truly moronic.  Step 1: Do not familiarize yourself with your new clipless pedals prior to their inaugural ride.  Nope, save that for when you have to stop suddenly in front of lots of cars.  Step 2: Think about random stuff like your favorite Slurpee flavor, quotes from Dirty Dancing, and the benevolence that is the DVR.  This will cause you to completely forget that you are indeed attached to your bicycle.  This is really nice because when coming to a stop, you'll have that look of sheer panic that people in cars really get a kick out of.  Step 3: Don't ever check to see if your cleats are loose.  This will inevitably create a moment during your ride when it's physically impossible to release your foot from the bicycle.  All bystanders will delight as you do the 'one-legged-pedal-while-trying-to-unstrap-your-shoe' move.  It's a classic.

You’re riding your bike in the wilderness (if you’re a roadie, you’re on a road, but otherwise the surroundings are quite wilderness-like) and you see a bear. The bear sees you. What do you do?

I once saw a TV documentary about this very thing.  No, seriously, I did.  When the guy on the documentary came into uncomfortable proximity to a bear he got off his bike, held his bike up between himself and the bear and yelled "YO, BEAR!  YO, BEAR!".  He lived to tell that riveting story, so it's good enough for me.  Plus, I can only pull off saying the word 'yo' when I'm speaking Spanish.  Otherwise, it's just really funny.  So, at least I'd be laughing before the bear delivered an impressive amount of doom.

July 1, 2008

Mrs. Holland's Opus

Oh the dread of freshman Algebra. Walking to my Algebra class, my feet were lead. Outside the door I would give myself a pep talk. A “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough and doggone it people like you.” sort of pep talk because once I was inside that door I would face Her. My teacher. My teacher who, when I didn’t understand an equation, would repeat the same directions. Only louder. My teacher who shook her head and took deep breaths when I told her I still didn’t get it. After a few weeks I stopped asking her to explain.

My counselor wouldn’t permit me to switch classes, so instead I went next door most days after school to Mrs. Holland, another algebra teacher. Mrs. Holland would explain concept after concept in several different ways until she and I were both sure I understood it. Sometimes it took days for me to grasp a single concept. It didn’t matter to Mrs. Holland. She even invited me over for dinner and extra tutoring before my final, to make sure I would pass. She was my savior.

Two years later, it was time to take Algebra 2. My mom and I met with my counselor, begging to be placed with Mrs. Holland. To my dismay, I was again placed with Her. I dropped out and enrolled in a night class of Algebra 2 at the local junior college. I did just fine, thanks to Mrs. Holland.

As a teacher, I have the pleasure of introducing algebraic thinking to many of my first graders.  Sometimes it takes them a long time to grasp difficult concepts.  I don't mind at all because I was that kid with the perpetually raised hand and look of total confusion.  When I see that look on a student's face, I smile and think of another way to shed some light on the concept.  I try to give my students the time, space, and information they need to become mathematical thinkers.  In short, I try to be like Mrs. Holland.