xmlns:og>='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Pedals & Pencils: December 2009

December 30, 2009


Fearless is a word I don't have much use for.  Being fearless is sometimes touted as this great character trait, but there are things to be afraid of, things worthy of a shake in my shoes, a shiver up my spine, and a sweaty nightmare or two.  I am not fearless, but I've got bravery in spades.  Or at least I used to.

These past few months I've taken care to follow doctor's orders to rest my heart.  While spiders laced cobwebs through the spokes of my bike and my most favorite cycling season fell to the ground in a blush of yellows and reds, I waited for my heart to be sure and steady.

While I waited I pursued my love of words.  I wrote a novel.  I wrote poetry.  I wrote about teaching and life in general.  As the air whispered out of my tires, my fingers flew across the keys tapping out this life of a writer.  Writing can be a frightening affair and I faced some of my writerly fears head on.  When I reached a stuck point in my novel, I tucked my head down and pounded away at the keys until my characters moved my story along for me.  I'd heard of that happening, but I thought it was just something writers tell each other to get past the quicksand that secrets itself away in every newborn plot.  But no, it turned out to be true, even in my meager novel.  I dipped my toe into being published and faced my first rejection letter.  With bravado to spare, I tackled two fears at once: public speaking and reading a piece born of my own hand to a large group people I know.  It turned out to be one of the most rewarding days in my life as a writer.  So this idea of facing fears is one I've grabbed hold of with both hands in my life as a writer.

It's puzzling to me then that this boldness in my writing life would come at a time when I was paralyzed by fear of riding my bike or doing anything else that might press my heart beyond it's capacity.  The weight of the heart monitor was so much more than the half pound of space it occupied in the corner of my purse.  It sat in that dark corner, unwanted and untouched for almost a month.  My little heart beat away happily, normally as if my heart knew of the monitor's presence and decided now was the time to play nice inside my chest.  For months I was careful not to strain my heart in the least.  Trust me, I've got the gelatinous thighs to prove it.

It was at the tail end of this time that a friend asked me "Is this the life you want to live?"  Well, not really, but the "live" part of that question was of more import than the quality of living I was doing.  On days when my heart was a sloppy quick step and my arm throbbed, living was enough all by itself.  Honest to God it was.  But is that a way to live a life?  No.  Definitely no.

Eventually the time came to turn in my heart monitor.  Enough days had passed without incident or pain that I was free to resume life.  And yet, I was afraid.  Quivering in my shoes, waking up in a pillow of sweat, eyes wide as moons kind of afraid.

What if my heart started to race in the middle of nowhere on my bike?

What if I lost feeling in my arm and crashed?

What if?  What if?  What if?

As I sat on my couch pounding out tales of my brave writing life, my fear of turning the cranks came to a head.  I could not stand the stagnation of my life a second longer.  It was time.  It was time to pump air into my tires, to pull on my gloves and brush the dust off of my saddle.

It feels appropriate that my reunion with my bike happened on Christmas Eve morning, a day full of anticipation.  On Christmas Eve Terry and I found ourselves in Sacramento, near my old friend the American River and it's seemingly unending bike trail.

That morning I pulled on my tights and armwarmers, my nerves bouncing just inside my skin.  The what ifs rose to every surface of my being.  I forced them back down as I tightened my helmet strap and velcroed my shoes, breathing deeply before facing the morning air.

It was a frigid thirty degrees when I rolled the Rocket out to the street.  I said a prayer and watched my words float above me in bleached puffs against the blue sky.  I wanted to ride 25 miles.  25 miles is nothing on a bike.  Barely long enough to warrant filling a water bottle.

Three of us set out that morning.  My legs moved in unsure circles after so many months off.  I thought about the time I was cycling in a dream and sleep pedaled my sheets into a lump at the foot of my bed, but this was no dream.  We moved onto the American River Trail, the river rushing to the left of us.  My heart was steady.  Steady and happy.  It was a slow and beautiful ride.

After 26 miles I unclipped and rolled to a stop back at our starting point.  Steam rose from the vents in my helmet and the morning air was cold on my teeth as I smiled.  I packed my bike into the car and breathed a sigh of relief.  I patted my heart for a job well done.

A few minutes after our ride, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  These last few months, my increasingly chubby cheeks or my multiplying chins have been the first things to catch my attention when I look at my reflection, but not this time.  This time I was taken aback by the expression on my face.  It was familiar, but something I hadn't seen in quite some time.  It was the expression of a girl who'd faced fear and found it wasn't so terrifying after all.  Welcome back, brave girl, welcome back.

December 24, 2009

Can O' Light

The final school day of 2009 passed without any Midol incidents.  This year I received many cards from my students and a handful of lovely gifts.  The handmade journal and the dragonfly pin in particular suit me perfectly.

There was also one more gift that is a superb addition to our home.  It's a luminary carved from a recycled can.  Behold the Can O' Light.

It's simplicity is beautiful to me.  From the manger to Christmas carols to candlelight services to sipping hot cocoa in the glow of the tree, my wish for you this season is that you find simple beauty.

December 23, 2009

LOVE, Part 3

When I was a kid we lived near the Rogue River and on sticky summer days my family would head to the river.  My big brother would walk the riverbank filling his pockets with skipping stones.  He'd tromp along picking out the flattest, smoothest rocks and then he'd fling them with a flick of his wrist and they'd dance across the water.  I tried in vain to make my own rocks tiptoe across the water, but I always chose rocks that were too lumpy, too big.  I'd heave them into the water and after a satisfying splash, my rocks would sink to the bottom, the river rippling great rings in their wake.

Enough time has passed since sharing about the LOVE statue with my colleagues that I can look back on it and see beyond my quivering hands holding the paper, beyond stumbling over my own words in a room so quiet that my nervous vibrato seemed to echo off the walls.  When talking with my colleagues, the heart of our conversation was my desire not to miss opportunities to act in love because I was too wrapped up in my own life to notice opportunities that are sometimes quite literally right in front of me.  I talked about how it's easy, especially this time of year, for me to be caught up in the inertia of my own life.

I mentioned previously that some of my dear colleagues shared what they wrote about what it means to love and that their writing moved me.  Two things that they wrote stand out in particular.  The first is this: love means loving even when that affection is not reciprocated.  The enormity of that statement is something I've thought about daily since our time together.  It's something I struggle to put into practice and by the nods in the room, I'm guessing I wasn't the only one acknowledging that unsavory part of myself.

The second thing that has stuck with me is what a teacher wrote about compassion.  This teacher lost her husband to cancer last year.  Currently another teacher's husband is in the same fierce battle.  Through tears in her eyes and over the muffled crying of just about everyone in the room, the first teacher shared about how love means acting with a depth of compassion only birthed by her own loss.  This teacher gets a gold star for bravery.  To write about her loss and how it has changed her and then to share about it in a staff meeting amazed me, amazes me still.

Each day since our staff meeting, teachers have sought me out telling me their stories, telling me about ways they'd acted in love in light of our meeting.  Teachers began doing things like collecting money to help pay for cancer treatments and writing notes of encouragement to their students.  I was delighted by their actions, but the thing that surprised me most and tickled me to my core, was that teachers took additional time outside of the staff meeting to finish the quick write we'd done.  Oh, that our students would experience that compulsion to write!

My experience at the staff meeting harkens back to my memories of throwing rocks into the river.  I threw my rock into the water and my little LOVE story rippled out in beautiful rings.

I'm left thinking then, what if writing in the classroom was like this?  What if more teachers mustered the courage to share their own writing, to talk about big ideas, to use writing as a vehicle for growth, both academic and personal?  I have a feeling that if we looked at the heart of writing as closely as we look at it's structure, then profound change would occur.

My family moved away from the Rogue River and into the backyard of the Sacramento River, but I never did master the art of skipping stones.  And I'm okay with that because right now I'm filling my pockets with rocks.  Big, lumpy ones.  Come January, during the first session in a writing series, I'll start tossing my stones into the water.  This time I hope they won't skip across the water.  No, I hope they sink down deep and ripple wide.

December 16, 2009

I Learn A Lot From Your Post

So the other day I was procrastinating doing stuff like wrapping presents, folding laundry and writing sub plans.  I decided it was time to clean out the spam accumulating on this site.  Most of it was a smattering of random consonants with a fancy backslash thrown in here and there for good measure.  I was happily deleting those mysterious little messages when one caught my eye.
Great post.  I learn a lot from your post.

Uh, unknown user, you are so obviously spam or very, very new here.  Nobody learns a lot from one of my posts.  Nobody learns a little from one of my posts.  You are welcome to stay, but heed my warning.  Statistics show you may actually decrease in useful knowledge as it is replaced by a wealth of knowledge on such subjects as the miracle of candy and how to properly humiliate yourself.

December 14, 2009

Must See Christmas Movies

It's holiday movie season and there are a few on my list to revisit before the big day.  In no particular order, they are:

1. Love Actually:  I love the weaving of the stories and the deadpan English humor.  A word of caution-I saw this in the theater with my mom and the scenes with the nude stand-ins were a touch, uh, awkward.

2. Four Christmases: One word: Mistletoe!

3. The Holiday: I'm not sure why I love this movie.  The writing is average.  The acting is nothing remarkable, but for some mysterious reason, this one is mandatory.  I think it's the adorable old man.  Especially his water aerobics scene.  Hot stuff.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon):  I love any movie with a character with a heart full of unwashed socks.  I crack up every year reading this book to my class and the narration in the movie only makes it better.

5.  Elf: It's impossible to dislike a movie with the line "I'm sorry for ruining your life and shoving eleven cookies into the VCR."

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas:  I love the music and the message.  That little tree is just so sad and endearing.  You didn't know a tree could be endearing?  Obviously you haven't spent very much time with your Christmas tree.  Shame on you.

*Not on the list because they're television shows are the Festivus episode of Seinfeld and the Chanukah Armadillo episode of Friends.

December 13, 2009

An Open Letter to...

Dear Nose,

It is completely unfair that you have chosen this particular time to be stuffy and thus rob me of a full week of inhaling the fresh scent of my Christmas tree.  I am over you and your sliming sinuses.  Please leave post haste.


Me & the tree


Dear Tomato Soup,

You are divine.  If you were a person, I'd kiss your tangy red lips.  You and your friend the grilled cheese sandwich make a lovely couple.  See you soon.


The One in the Pajamas Wandering the Kitchen


Dear Marisa De Los Santos,

You are a beautiful writer.  Even though I finished Love Walked In a full week ago, I think about it daily.  Not the story so much, but your delicate, dead on phrasing.  I don't usually read books over again, but I'd be lying if I didn't confess that I want to read that one a second time straight away.  You inspire me to write while also recognizing I will never write with your poignancy.


An Awestruck Fan


Dear E! Network,

I am not interested in keeping up with the Kardashians, the Girls Next Door, or anyone else famous for being famous.  The mere sight of such shows on the channel guide makes me want to pitch my remote at my tv, Telemundo.  For the well being of my television, please cease and desist all shows not prominently featuring Joel McHale.

Muchas gracias,

Yo y telemundo

December 11, 2009

Christmas Meme

One more week and then glorious Christmas vacation is here.  Two weeks of sleeping in, reading books, writing, wearing my pajamas all day long, watching movies, drinking hot cocoa, and hanging with my husband.  I can barely stand the wait.  So in honor of the upcoming bliss, here's a Christmas meme.

1. Getting kissed under the mistletoe or in the snow?  Under the mistletoe because then I'm warm and toasty.  I'm not so much of a snow girl.  Something about being cold and wet kills my romantic inklings.

2. Santa or Rudolph?  Santa.  I love Santa's many names throughout the world and the story of Saint Nicholas.  Although I'm not such a fan of some dude breaking and entering to drop off gifts and eat my cookies.  Not cool.

3. Stocking or presents?  Stockings.  The essential stocking stuffer is the Lifesavers Story Book.  Terry and I exchange stockings and it's so great because we have to find small, meaningful gifts.  My stocking was handmade by my great grandmother when I was a baby.  She must have been a wonderful person to have made me such a thoughtful gift.

4. Egg nog or hot cider?  Neither.  Hot cocoa with a tiny peppermint candy cane thrown in for good measure is the perfect winter drink.  Coming in second is Peet's peppermint tea with two teabags for good measure.

5. Angel or Star?  Angel atop the tree.  Stars in the sky as we ride in the MINI with the top down and the seat warmers on high.

6. Decorating the tree or putting lights on the outside?  Tree.  I love putting up all the ornaments from my childhood as well as the conglomeration of handmade ornaments from my students betwixt the white twinkle lights.

7. Warm fires or sleigh rides?  I've never been on a sleigh ride, but I love a crackling fire and a good book.

8. Expensive presents or presents that come from the heart?  Neither.  I have everything I need.

9. Snow ball fight or snowman?  Snowman.  One of my favorite children's book is called Stranger in the Woods about a family of deer who discover a snowman.  The photographs are fantastic.

10. Will you be getting coal or presents?  Definitely coal.  Loads and loads of coal.

11. Caroling or Christmas stories?  Both.  I'd play Christmas music year round if it didn't drive Terry insane.  My Christmas playlist is in full effect right now.  Traditional carols like The Holly and the Ivy carry me back to my high school days in the Madrigal Dinner.  My accent was terrible, but I loved the sound of our voices harmonizing and echoing off the walls Frank Lloyd Wright designed.  My affection for Christmas stories is equally strong and I'm thankful it's part of my job to share such gems at The Polar Express, Welcome Comfort, Gingerbread Baby and The Velveteen Rabbit.

12. Snowy days or icy days?  Snow if I'm inside and there's enough for the schools to close for the day.

13. Red or Green?  Green.  Green now and every other month of the year.

14. Fake tree or Real tree?  Real tree and a shiny Festivus Pole, too.

15. Prime Rib or Ham?  Neither.  Gotta save room for Christmas candy.

16. Red and White Candy Canes or Colorful Candy Canes?  Red and white dipped in hot cocoa or smashed into minty shards on ice cream.

17. Get up early or sleep in late?  Sleep in.  Always sleep in.

18. Old Christmas Movies or New ones?  Both as long at that includes A Charlie Brown Christmas, the original Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Love, Actually.  On Christmas Day we always see a movie in the theater, too.

19. The Santa Clause 1 or The Santa Clause 2?  There's a Santa Clause 2?  I discovered today there's a Santa Baby 2 as well.  Surely, the apocalypse is upon us.

20. Christmas Eve or Christmas day?  Christmas morning.  It's just Terry and I huddled under a blanket in our pajamas, reading Luke chapter 2 and appreciating another Christmas together.

December 10, 2009

Mrs. Mcmahoomei

As I was sitting at my school computer today typing up some of the beautiful imagery my little ones had written in their winter poetry, I overheard the after school program tromp into the pod.  Usually I shut my door when they arrive so that I can work in a little bit of tranquility, but today I overheard a conversation between one of my kids and his friend.  It went something like this:

"I can spell Mrs. McCauley's name."

"You can?  It's looong."

I leaned in and heard my darling little guy list a string of letters.  I walked into the space where they were working and crouched down near him.  I once heard a student say her eyes were brown like horses.  Well, this little guy has those kinds of eyes, deep brown in one light, golden brown in another.  Horse eyes for sure.  I told him I'd heard him spelling my name and I wondered if he could do it again.  He smiled the windowed smile that is the hallmark of first grade and started spelling.

"M-c-m-a-h-o-o-m-e-i."  he pronounced.  "Did I get all of the letters?"  He looked up at me, his eyes beaming from all that effort.

"You got most of them."  I patted his back

"Did I get enough?"

"Yes, honey, that's definitely enough."

December 9, 2009

Potato Soup, Almost

I'm a firm believer that the quaint saying "Practice makes perfect." is complete hogwash.  Hear me out, practice usually helps, in copious amounts, as a matter of fact.  There are three things I practice or have practiced in the past.  Four if you include my job, but that doesn't count because it's my job and I have to practice it.  So, three then.  Writing, cycling, and cooking.  When I write and cycle on a regular basis, they improve.  Not that I become good at either, but there is definitely progress.

Cooking is a whole other story.  A sad, sad story.

No matter what I do, I can't seem to make anything edible.  Yesterday I took a potato soup mix, yes a mix, and put it in the crock pot.  I was careful to add the correct amount of water and even some suggested additions like broccoli and bacon.  My love for broccoli is such that I would morph all other vegetables into broccoli if I could.  Then I tossed in a lonely handful of black beans and plugged it all in.  It smelled delicious.  Finally I'd broken the cooking curse.

After it simmered and bubbled for the appropriate time, I went to pour some of it into a bowl.  (I have the baby crock pot for two, so I can lift out the middle and pour.)  It all came out in one gloppy lump.  It still smelled good, so I cleaned up the mess I'd made and sat down with a bowl of steaming soup.  I scooped the perfect bite; a bit of broccoli, a black bean, and a crumb of bacon.  I blew on it and sucked it off the spoon, ready to revel in my cooking prowess.  Surely they hand out crowns for such soup.

And then I tasted it.  I don't use this word lightly, but it was nefarious.  I couldn't bring myself to take another bite.  I prodded the whole glop of soup down the drain, popped open a can of Progresso and called it a night.

It doesn't seem to matter what I try cooking or how minutely anal I am in following the recipe.  It never works.  I am doomed to a life of canned soup, take and bake pizza and salad (because any idiot can chop stuff and put it in a bowl).  This idiot just seems to become an exponentially worse cook with each try.  Because all that practice is only making me excel in creating the most vile of creations, I've called a cease fire and am hereby retiring from the kitchen.  Everyone I know just breathed a well-earned sigh of relief.

December 8, 2009

Reading. Out Loud. To My Colleagues. Gulp.

A few days ago my principal asked me to speak to the staff at my school about the National Writing Project conference I attended in Philly.  I thought about what to share.  At first I thought I'd share the hilarious genius of the poet Billy Collins.  Then I thought I'd share about a workshop I attended on writing across subject areas.  Both of those sounded just fine to me, except that another idea kept poking at me, whispering into my ear, disrupting my dreams even.

I felt compelled to share about the LOVE Statue.

I wanted to talk about something bigger than the conventions of writing and instead address the purpose of writing.  To present writing as an expression of feeling, as a call to action, as a response to an experience that changed me.

Oh man, that is not even close to what many people consider in the box of "writing instruction".  Thankfully my principal is an out of the box kind of guy and when I pitched him my idea, he gave me the okay.

I was honored.  I was excited.  I was terrified.  Talking to my colleagues about my experience would mean reading them something I wrote.  Like, out loud, at the front of the room and stuff.


After fighting back the urge to hurl, I summoned my bravery from the pit of my rolling stomach.  Being a writer means taking the risk to share.  At least that's what I told myself.

The staff meeting was today and I sat listening to my principal talk about copy machines and new phone systems and all the nuts and bolts that make a school run smoothly.  I tried to listen attentively, but my stomach was aflutter and my heart was hammering.  Then it came time for me to share.  I begged for God to have mercy and take me to Heaven right now.

He did not.  So I stood up and took a deep breath.

I talked a teensy bit about an upcoming writing series I'm co-facilitating and I talked a smidge about the conference and then I read my piece.

My voice shook.  My eyes welled up when I came to the part about being ashamed.  I pushed to the finish and waited for an accordion of groans and a slew of pencils flung at my eyes.  Instead they clapped.  And smiled.  And wiped their eyes.

I talked about the discussion Terry and I had about what it means to act in love, to seek out opportunities to show empathy.  Then, we wrote about what it means to love, about big and small ways we can show love.

That's right, we wrote as a staff at a staff meeting.  It was a quick write and then I asked for volunteers to share out.  And people actually volunteered.  What they shared was moving and brought a fresh run of tears pricking my eyelashes.

In a time of standards and testing and budget cuts, it was water to my soul hearing about the heart my colleagues have for each other and our students.

At the end of the meeting, seven colleagues signed up for the writing series I'm co-facilitating.  Seven teachers willing to give up time on a Saturday to better themselves as teachers of writing, to better themselves as writers.  I have a beautiful opportunity to discuss within my teaching community the importance and power of writing.

Between now and then, I'm going to dig out my brave face and quell my squeamish stomach in hope that come January we will all be reading our writing out loud to each other.  And I couldn't be more excited, more honored or more terrified.

December 7, 2009


National Novel Writing Month was a blast.  I hit my 50,000 word goal ahead of schedule and even sort of liked parts of what I wrote.  So, now the question is what to do with that monstrosity of words.  Here is my three pronged plan:

1) Let it steep for awhile and not touch it at all.  The benefit of this is that I can gain a little perspective.  I've been away from it for a little bit and these are the things that are rising to the surface for revision.  I think I need to switch parts of it from third person to first person.  I need to change some character names.  I'm also starting to see areas where I can expand.

2) Read the whole kit and caboodle.  Out loud.  Gulp.  It turned out to be 100ish pages.  So, later on this month when Terry goes on a business trip, I'll print the thing out and read it all in one go.  It doesn't sound appealing to me either, but it has to be done.

3) Keep writing.  I'm in the throes of NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month, which requires me to post here daily.  It also keeps the old writing noodle nimble so that when Christmas break arrives, I can jump back into my novel and start the real work.

Many of you have asked whether or not I will venture out into the big land of publishing.  I don't know.  Right now that sounds absolutely terrifying, but we'll see if December will bring me some progress on the page in addition to the lump of coal in my stocking.

December 6, 2009

Cake Or Something Like It

After witnessing a particularly awkward/seething with rage wedding ceremony, I found myself thinking "At least the cake will be good.  I could really go for a tasty little slice right about now." The cake was a small three tiered affair with white icing and blue accents.  It wasn't beautiful, nor was it hideous.  It looked like it would hit the spot just fine.

I sat down and took a forkful of cake.  As I lifted it to my mouth, I had my reservations because it was an odd color.  Really there are only three acceptable cake colors: white, yellow, and dark brown.  The only exception to this is Funfetti cake, which is white with happy sprinkles embedded like delicious little treasures.

This cake was sort of beige-ish, almost the color of spice cake.  I don't care for spice cake.  Why would you make spice cake when chocolate cake mix is readily available?  It's a mystery worth pondering another time.  But it's hard to totally mess up cake, so I took a bite.  It tasted like...it tasted like...it didn't taste like any food product I'd ever eaten.  It looked like cake.  It felt like cake.  But that's where the similarities ended.

I couldn't put my finger on what flavor it was and so assuming I'd gotten an off bite, I took a second bite.  It was just as awful, maybe even more so because now I had impostor cake in my belly and my mouth and, let me tell you, neither location was pleased.  Had I been at home or even in a restaurant or anywhere but in the direct line of sight of the cake baker, I would have spit it out right onto the silvery names monogrammed on the napkin.  As this was not an option, I swallowed it and chased it with three cups of strawberry lemonade.

The weird thing was nobody else at the table could identify the cake flavor either.  I looked around the room and saw people pushing cake around on their plates to give the appearance they'd eaten it.  I felt terrible for having handed out such a poor excuse for a cake.  These people didn't do anything to deserve that.  Okay, maybe some of them did, but as a whole this crowd was being severely punished.  With cake.

It reminded me of a scene from Better Off Ted.  Two scientists have created a meatless beef product and it's up to the taste tester to determine exactly what it is.  The scene went something like this:
"It tastes familiar."

"Like beef?"


"Like chicken?"

"No.  It tastes like...it tastes like...despair.  Yes, that's it.  Despair."

I never did figure out what flavor this wedding cake was supposed to be, but it was a dead ringer for despair.

December 5, 2009

People Scavenger Hunt

I'm a people watcher.  I admit it.  Terry and I have this people scavenger hunt game we like to play in the mall.  Before we enter, we each give the other person a person they have to try to find while we're there.  For example, I might make Terry spot a man with a broken leg, tattoo, and a cowboy hat.  He might make me look for a woman with a stroller, seven piercings, and mom jeans.  Points are awarded for found people.  Bonus points are awarded for unusual sightings, like someone dressed up as Santa in July.

Recently we attended a wedding that was the People Scavenger Hunt jackpot.  Check it out.  For the record, there wasn't any alcohol present.

-woman in a muumuu and a very long, bad wig

-family of the groom entering while the ceremony was in progress to show their disapproval of the marriage.

-mother of the bride talking trash about the mother of the groom

-mother of the groom in full length fur coat, fur scarf, and Russian style fur hat that she wore for the duration of the ceremony and reception.

-groom passing out during the ceremony (I only get half a point for this one because although he swooned, he came to before hitting the floor.)

-embittered reverend who does not believe in marriage and felt free during the ceremony to share his staunch belief that 1 Corinthians 13 is a big, fat lie.

Nothing like a wedding to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

December 4, 2009

Dude, Where's My Car?

I'm a creature of habit.  In the morning I follow the same routine in the same order.  Shower, put on robe, brush teeth, deodorant, hair, makeup, clothes and breakfast.  Every.  Single.  Day.  One misstep in my routine and I wind up at work with unbrushed teeth and a spritz of deodorant in my hair.  I do not handle change well, as proven by an incident yesterday morning.

After a successful morning routine I went to work early.  I parked in the front lot and hustled in for a meeting.  I usually park in the back lot and so as I walked to my meeting, I told myself, "Don't forget you parked in the front lot.  Don't forget you parked in the front lot."  I even did that tapping on the forehead thing, like maybe that would cement it into my brain.

In the afternoon, I walked out to the back lot toward my regular spot and was gobsmacked when my car was not there.  I stood puzzled for a full minute.  My house is a short walk to my school and sometimes I walk to work.  Upon seeing my empty parking spot, I deduced that I must have walked to work.  So I strolled out of the back lot and onto the sidewalk.  The sidewalk parallels the front parking lot.  It wasn't until I saw my actual car in the front lot that I put it all together.  I did the walk of shame from the sidewalk to my car, profoundly grateful that I was the only one in the lot to witness my feat of stupidity.

I am very concerned about what I'm going to be like when I'm old.

December 2, 2009

Interpretation of a Rejection Letter

It happened.  My first rejection letter darkened my inbox this week.  I submitted an article to a journal and truly, truly, truly I did it to get over the fear of actually sending something off for consideration.  Well, let me tell you, I am exquisitely good at lying to myself.  When I saw the message in my inbox, my heart flipped and fluttered at the sheer prospect of my piece being published.  I opened the e-mail and as quickly as it flipped and fluttered, my little heart sank.  I swear I felt it drop down to my stomach.  I didn't know how badly I wanted to be accepted.  Until I wasn't.

I have included my rejection letter sans identifying information because I love this journal even though it doesn't love me back.  After you read it, don't go firing off comments about how rejection is part of being a writer.  I know that.  Being stung is part of being a beekeeper, but it still hurts a little bit.  For your benefit, I have translated editor speak into regular people language.

Ms. McCauley,
Thank you for your submission.  We'd run out of toilet paper and it was the perfect substitute. The editors have read and considered your piece and, unfortunately, will not be able to publish it.  Because you are a ghastly writer and your overzealous use of sentence fragments made the editors want to claw their eyes out. The current editorial team is currently coming to the end of its tenure and the few remaining slots have all been filled with other pieces.  No way in hell were the current editors going to publish drivel like that in their swan song issue.  Seriously, no way. We are sorry we can't offer you better news, but we just can't because your writing is that bad, and we are sorry for the significant delay in getting you this decision as the editors made their difficult choices, but we had to allow enough time to pass it around the office so that everyone including the UPS man could mock both you and your article, but we wish you all the best as you continue your writing, if that's what you're calling it.  And please stop calling it that. Thank you for your interest in our journal. We hope you will enjoy reading pieces by writers who are by far your superior.

Editorial Assistant, the one who drew the short straw and had to figure out a polite way to tell you that your writing is dreadful.  Maybe you should consider a career at Safeway.  By the way, your outfit sucks, too.  I haven't seen it, but I'm confident that it does.

LOVE, Part 2

Last night after I wrote about the LOVE Statue in Philly, Terry and I had a conversation about the value of small vs. global acts of love.  Giving someone a coat or supporting the mission that gives away hundreds of thousands of coats-which is the better way to act in love?

In my mind, both are important and actually I'm not sure you can have one without the other.  I think about the Gap's RED campaign against AIDS, and Nicholas Kristof's continued work to expand gender equality, and Youth to Youth's dedication to creating dynamic young leaders.  They all started as a seed of an idea in someone's heart and mind.  One person decided they could make a difference, that they indeed would make a difference.

So, the niggling question is this?  What am I going to do?  What is my part in this life I've been given?  For now, this is what I've decided.  I will continue to seek out small opportunities to show love in my own circles, but I will also support people who took their seed of an idea and grew it into a operation that helps people in places I've never been, people living in circumstances I cannot fathom, people I could not otherwise reach.

My photo of the LOVE statue was everything I didn't want it to be.  It was a glimpse into the gaunt face of homelessness.  In response, I choose to commit small acts of kindness in conjunction with using my resources to support organizations that embody what it means to love.  If my money becomes their money, if my time becomes their time, and in turn if their arms become my arms then my reach knows no bounds.  And to me, that's picture perfect.

December 1, 2009



The famous LOVE statue in Philadelphia was not what I'd expected.  The fountain was dried up and the corners of its mouth overflowed with wads of garbage.  I went to see the love piece three different times during my stay in Philadelphia, hoping each time to glimpse the fountain fanning cool sheets of water behind the crimson letters, hoping my meager photographic skills would capture just the right angle, just the right light.

Each click of the camera left me struck by the clusters of homeless men and the occasional homeless woman living in the park so known for its proclamation of love.  They were huddled in masses of faded grays and browns on the park benches and against the corners of statues of somebody historic, I'm sure.  It was not the background I'd hoped for my storybook photo of love.  Some men zipped themselves into sleeping bag cocoons and others flung their words at each other, their anger knifing the air and making me quicken my pace as I walked by.

Writing those words I'm ashamed because that's what I did.

I just walked by.

I, the pious seeker of the perfect picture of love, just walked by, sometimes with a prickle of fear shimmying down my spine and a look of pity angling down my nose.  Not once did I stop to offer my gloves, or the few dollars wrinkled in my wallet, or the coat that usually hangs stuffed amongst many in my closet.  I went looking for love and I missed it.  I missed it completely.

I dream about the LOVE statue and in my dreams I am the kinder, more compassionate version of myself, the version I wish I was in my waking hours.  In my dreams I cock my head at the same angle as the crooked O atop the E.  I tilt my head and ponder the statue, ponder what it means to really love.  I wake and my neck twinges with pain from all my dreaming.

I swing my legs over the side of the bed and desperately hope I don't miss the opportunity to love again today.