xmlns:og>='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Pedals & Pencils: October 2011

October 31, 2011

Letters to Gramma: You'll Never Guess

Dear Gramma,

You'll never guess what someone asked me for today.  Never in a million, katrillion, quadfillion years.

I was quietly checking my e-mail this morning while walking to work.  And there it was staring at me in my inbox.  A request from another teacher.

Know what she needed?  I'm in fits of giggles just thinking about it.  Seriously, you'll never guess.

She needed to borrow a mini trampoline!  Can you believe it?  A mini trampoline of all things!  I know, I'm dying laughing, too.

In about 0.2 seconds I e-mailed her back telling her she could borrow yours mine yours.

After school she drove me home and on the drive I told her about how you used to "train" for your trips by trampolining.  Sorry to put "train" in air quotes, Gramma, but I just can't say it with a straight face.  We were cracking up just at the thought.

When you died, that's why I wanted your trampoline so badly in the first place.  It makes me smile every time I look at it and remember you bouncing, ahem, "training" on it.  Wait, I'm snickering too much.  I have to stop and take a breath for a sec.
Ahhh.  Better.

After hearing the story of how I came to possess your trampoline, my colleague said she didn't want to take the trampoline because she was afraid something might happen to it.  I told her that's the very reason she should take it.  Something might happen to it.  Something laugh out loud hilarious might happen to it.

You see, my colleague is going to use it in a spirit assembly that involves kids wearing superhero capes and doing silly tricks and eating disgusting foods.  I told her that assembly is just the kind of thing that would've made you laugh.

So you should know that on Friday afternoon a bunch of middle school kids are going to be jumping and bouncing and having a ton of fun on your old trampoline.

And when I get it back I might just take a jump or two before putting it back in the closet.  Gramma, you always made me laugh.  You're still making me laugh.

I love you like crazy,


Ready for 30 Days of Literary Abandon

Happy Halloween Day Before NaNoWriMo!

It's mere hours until the festivities begin and I'm all ready for 30 days of literary abandon.  Well, except for the fact that I have no idea what I'm going to write about.  Minor detail.

But I've taken care of the important stuff like:
  • the car charger for my laptop is on its way to my doorstep as I type.  We'll be spending lots of time in the car and while Terry fills his brain with ESPN radio, I'm going to be dominating my daily word count.
  • report cards-they're all finished printed and ready to roll for parent teacher conferences.
  • the all important writing playlist including some gems from Adele, INXS, U2, Polar Boy, Matthew Perryman Jones, Ingrid Michaleson, Bruce Springsteen and, of course, Stevie Wonder.
  • laundry, done and all tucked away
  • a freezer stocked with quick dinner options

October 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Here I Go!

30 Days of Literary Abandon
NaNoWriMo is a few sacred days away.  November 1st is fast becoming one of my favorite days of the year, excitement bubbling up in my stomach with such fervor that I inevitably wake from sleep in the wee hours of the morning and can't resist typing the first few hundred words before falling back to sleep.

Not that 50,000 words in a month isn't daunting.  It is.  It really is.  It's lump of nerves in my throat kind of daunting.

For the past 2 Novembers I've set out to write 50k words while I play at being a novelist.  Both times I've succeeded, or in NaNo speak, I've won.  I loved both of my stories, but what I love more is who I am when I'm writing 1,667 words a day.  I love being in the practice of writing.  I love how quickly I'm able to drop back into my story each day because my writing muscles are strong and limber.

Creating characters makes me happy.  Seeing where these characters take me is thrilling and often times surprising.  The first year I'll never forget when one of my characters opened a drawer and removed a baby onesie.  And a gun.  Trust me, I was as shocked as you are.  I mean, come on, I'm the biggest anti-gun person I know.  Having never touched a gun in my life, I had no idea how to write about guns.  To the delight of my lone gun-enthusiast friend, I made him take me shooting.  For better or for worse, I can now say I've fired a gun.  Exactly once.

Both years have led me to research a variety of things including:
    • the history of LEGO
    • rare children's diseases
    • handguns and penetration abilities of different bullets
    • Biblical references to angels
    • POW camps
    • the history of high heels
    • hospital procedures and policies
    • famous libraries
The first year, I dreamed a strange snapshot of a scene and my novel sprang to life from there.  Last year, discovering an unknown safe deposit box that belonged to my deceased father was the thing that birthed my idea.  It was a story just begging to be written.

So, today on October 28th, I'm waiting for my idea to peek out.  Maybe in a dream.  Or a snippet of conversation.  Or a newspaper article.  Who knows where it might appear.  I wait with anticipation, with a pattering heart eager to know where NaNoWriMo will take me this year.

A teensy part of me hopes that on November 1st, my idea will not have shown her face yet.  There's something exciting about sitting down at the computer and beginning to type, implicitly trusting that my writerly brain will follow my furious fingers as they tap out words becoming sentences becoming a story.

NaNoWriMo, here I go!

October 27, 2011

Thankful Thursday #45

This week I'm thankful for...
  • sleeping spread eagle in bed
  • the dollar movie theater
  • walking through piles of leaves
  • hot showers
  • reading in bed
  • morning music to psych me up for work after a couple of particularly hard work days
  • my little one who read this out of his notebook: "I am a fun kid.  I love school."  This was on the heels of a couple of days wherein he lived out the consequences for peppering the playground with a litany of profanity.  It's proof once again that children need those boundaries.

October 20, 2011

Thankful Thursday #44

This week I'm thankful for...
  • walks on the River Trail with friends
  • stories from my firefighter friend about fire
  • dried mangoes
  • growing pumpkin seeds with my class
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • broccoli cheddar soup
  • books that make me laugh out loud
  • writing poetry with my little ones
  • Terry's cologne
  • seedless grapes
  • the fact that I'm still wearing short sleeves and skirts in October

October 19, 2011

Why I Write

October 20th is the National Day on Writing and this year to celebrate the day people all over the country are answering one question:
Why do I write?

It's a seemingly simple question, but it's been knocking around in my brain for weeks and try as I might, I can't come up with just one succinct answer.  Then it hit me today, I can't come up with a succinct and solitary answer because that tricky monkey is actually several questions hiding behind one sentence.

Why do I write?

I could just as easily spend my time riding my bike, reading, or watching How I Met Your Mother until I laugh so hard that one more chuckle will send me into tears.  I enjoy all of these things, but not like writing.

I have to write.

Words are air and if I don't inhale and exhale them, I will die.  You think I'm being melodramatic and maybe I am, but when I'm prohibited from writing, my joy for life begins to dwindle.  Everything dulls into gray.
image courtesy of mylifeonamac.com
I have a harder time solving problems in the non-writerly parts of my life when I'm not tapping out ideas on the keyboard.

I'm horrible at sleeping through the night as it is, but when I'm not writing, I can just forget about sleeping.  When I stop writing, my creative brain stops breathing.  Then my nocturnal brain senses impending death and begins CPR in the form of stacks and stacks of insane dreams every night.

I write because writing is life.

Why do I write?

I believe everyone has a story.  A beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, fascinating story.  You do.  No really, you do.  And it turns out I do, too.

I write because I'm the story of the unconventional athlete.

I'm the story of the girl who once had to cut herself out of a dress.

I'm the story of the teacher who loves children with reckless abandon and stands up for what is just.

I'm the story of the wife who fought for her husband when he couldn't.

I'm the story of the woman who battles cancer, with a bicycle as my unlikely weapon.

I'm the story of the girl who can only clot the grief of losing my grandmother by writing letters she'll never read.

I'm the story.  And guess what?  You are, too.

Why do I write?

There's something to be said for all those stories, but for some great orators they can be just as easily and just as well told orally.  I am not one of those great orators.  I never will be.  I have a pesky lisp that crops up when I'm nervous.  When I speak in front of people, I sweat so much that I create my own water cycle.  I stumble over words and stammer over syllables.

But not when I'm writing.

When I write, I can write and revise until the words feel right in my mouth.  The delete key is a beautiful, beautiful thing.  Oh Lord, what I wouldn't give for a delete button in some conversations I've had.  It would have come in really handy when I was interviewing for a job and accidentally called the interviewer bi*ch.  I digress.

The point is that when I write, I'm a better version of myself.  A more honest version.  A more thoughtful version.  The version I try to be, both on the paper and off.

Your turn.  Why do you write?

October 14, 2011

Moments from the Pumpkin Patch

Today I made my annual trek to the pumpkin patch with 26 giddy six-year-olds in tow.  Not to mention their parents and a smattering of younger siblings.  The weather was perfect, sunny without a drop of rain.  The sky was so blue, it can only be described as piercing.  We had a great day watching pig races, bouncing in the bounce house, picking pumpkins, firing corn cannons and just enjoying the pleasure of being outside together.  Here are some of the best lines from the day:

1) On the bus ride to the pumpkin patch, two little ones in the seat behind me were singing "Old MacDonald" and decided to make up a verse about pumpkins that went like this:
Little girl: "Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.  And on his farm he had a pumpkin, E-I-E-I-O.  With a...with a...what kind of noise do pumpkins make?"

Little boy: "Ummmm, BOOM BOOM?"

Little girl: "Yeah, that's a good one.  Let's sing it."

Both: "With a BOOM BOOM here and a BOOM BOOM there, here a BOOM, there a BOOM, everywhere a BOOM BOOM.  Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O."

Then they high-fived their musical genius.  Boom, boom indeed.

2) Also on the bus ride over, I sat near one of my autistic little ones.  He was a little uneasy.
Little One: "I feel scared in my heart."

Me: "What are you scared of."

Little One: "I've never been to a farm before."

Me: "Do you remember all the things we talked about seeing?"

Little One: "Yes, but I'm still scared in my heart."

Me: "It's okay to be nervous about something new."

Little One: "Will you stay with me?"

Me: "The whole time."

Little One: "Until I'm old?"

Me: "How about until you go home on the bus this afternoon?"

Little One: "Okay.  But I'll miss you when I'm old."

Me: "Me, too."
I'm pretty sure I will miss this little one long before I'm old.

3) While walking by the goat house where the goats where children were using a hand crank to send a conveyor belt of food to the goats, one of my little ones was deep in thought.
Little One: "Mrs. McCauley, what are those goats doing?"

Me: "Eating the food those children are sending up to them."

Little One: "What do you think the goats are thinking?"

Me: "I'm not sure.  What do you think they're thinking?"

Little One: "I think they're thinking 'Mmmm, room service is niiice.'"
Room service is niiice, even in the form of grain shuttled up in a cup on a conveyor belt.

4) All week long we've been studying how pumpkins grow and my little ones were especially interested in learning that only the female pumpkin plants produce pumpkins.  I'd showed them how to look under the yellow flowers to see if the plants were male or female.  Out in the pumpkin patch I heard a little one explaining it to his dad like this:
Dad: "Plants aren't boys and girls.  They're just plants."

Little One: "Nuh-uh, Mrs. McCauley read us a book about how to tell if they're boys or girls and this one has a baby pumpkin growing under the flower.  That means the bees visited a boy pumpkin flower and got yellow pollen on their legs and brought it over to the girl flower so she could make a baby pumpkin.  Then this baby pumpkin will grow up to be a mommy or daddy pumpkin and it will make a flower and everything will start all over again."

Dad: "Really?"

Little One: "Really.  But the sad part is that the pumpkins die, but don't cry because their seeds go back to live in the Earth to make new pumpkins.  So, it's sorta like they come back to life.  It's like a secret pumpkin super-power."

I just love how their minds work.  And I agree, returning to life after dying is an awesome secret pumpkin super-power.

5) Back at school we parked our pumpkins on the nametags on our desks.  Also on our nametags are clear cups of pumpkin seeds that we took scooped out of a pumpkin and planted a couple of weeks ago.  The seeds are starting to send roots down and grow root hairs.  When we got back to class, a Little One put her pumpkin on her desk and squealed when she saw one of the seeds in her cup.
Little One: "Look, Mrs. McCauley, it's taking off its seed coat."

Me: "That's awesome.  Can you see the seed leaves yet?"

Little One: "Yep, they're coming out to hug the mommy pumpkin I picked."

Me: "I bet your seed leaves will be poking out of the soil when we come back to school on Monday."

Little One: "Should I leave the mommy pumpkin here to help them?"

Me: "No, I don't think so because pumpkin seeds know how grow all by themselves."

Little One: "Wow, pumpkin sprouts are really smart."

I'm pretty lucky because I've got 26 of my own smart little sprouts.

October 13, 2011

Thankful Thursday #43

This week I'm thankful for...
  • Condoleezza Rice's take on receiving opinions "I welcome your opinions, but not your uninformed opinions."  My thoughts exactly on people who cast judgment on teachers when they themselves haven't spent a single day in the classroom.
  • pretzel crumbles on Moosetracks ice cream
  • dinner bubbling in the Crock Pot all day Sunday while I read a stack of magazines and books
  • when a book reads quickly
  • cold chocolate milk
  • this post by Chris Brogan on time well spent
  • Apple Crumble scented Wallflowers from Bath & Body Works.  It's the perfect Fall scent.
  • dresses and tall boots

October 8, 2011

Anatomy of an Acceptance Letter

In the not so distant past, I received my first rejection letter.  Oh my, it hurt.  This piece was one of those 'open a vein and write' kinds of pieces.  It was about a particularly wrenching time in my teaching career, about a child who created a safe place for himself.  His story broke my heart and writing about it crushed me all over again.  I was sure this piece would resonate with other teachers who'd walked in my very shoes.

I submitted it.  And was rejected.  I submitted it again.  And was rejected again.  Time and time again, I sent this piece out and it returned void.

I was just about to tuck this piece away and give it a rest when a friend of mine sent me a call for submissions for an anthology about what it means to teach.  I dug my brave face out of the drawer and sent in my piece again, steeling myself for another rejection.  I didn't think about it much.  Let's face it, after receiving so many rejections, I wasn't holding my breath.

And then one day my inbox flashed a message from the editors.

My heart began to pound.  My palms dampened with sweat.  I swallowed my nerves and opened the message.

Here it is, with my inner dialogue in italics.

Dear Alicia,

Well, at least my name is spelled right.  There's nothing worse than receiving a rejection letter for Alisa or Alisha or Alice.  Seriously, I don't even sound remotely like an Alice.

It is my pleasure to notify you that we would like to publish your essay, "The Escape Artist," in the Spring 2012 Rogue Faculty Press publication, What Teaching Means: Stories from America's Classrooms.

Wait, what?  I think they said something about pleasure in relation to my piece.  Just a sec, let me read that part again.  

Well, would you look at that, they want to publish something I wrote.  

I might pass out.  Is it lie down to prevent fainting or put your head between your knees?  I'll just try both for good measure.

To help us during this stage of the process, please send an email, as soon as possible, that includes:

1. Informal confirmation that you will allow us to publish your work. Contract will follow. 

Um, yes, and-wow a contract sounds very official.  I think I need to breathe into a paper bag.

2. Your current mailing address for sending a contract packet and, eventually, your copy of the book.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to fully appreciate this e-mail while laying on my back with my head between my knees as I breathe into a paper bag.

3. A short professional biography (150 words) that will accompany your piece in the book. There is one below as an example. We are including these because we want to give our readers a sense of the people behind these stories.

150 words for a professional biography?  How on earth am I going to come up with 150 words for a professional biography when I haven't done anything yet?  I teach.  That's 2 words.  Wait, I teach writing.  Phew, only 147 to go.  I'm pretty sure noodling around with poetry and stuff doesn't count.  I'm 100% sure that practicing staying upright on my bicycle doesn't count as 'professional' in any arena.  I'd better get off this couch and actually DO some professional sort of stuff so that I have something to write down.

We want to let you know that we will copy edit all the pieces for punctuation and grammar. o thank God Oh thank God Oh, thank God!

Once we near the publication date in April, we will be developing a promotion and publicity plan for this book. We are already extremely proud of the collection, and we will be doing everything we can to get these stories to the people that we believe should read them. 

Wait, people are actually going to read this?  Is it hot in here?  I don't feel so well.  I didn't know armpits could sweat this much in an air-conditioned room on a temperate day.  That phrase "dying of shock" is taking on a whole new meaning right this second.

Congratulations and thanks again for sharing your story with us. We look forward to working with you. 

That's because you haven't met me yet.  Should we ever have the pleasure, I will be the tall girl with sweat cascading down my brow and a huge grin on my face.


__________ and __________*

Editors, What Teaching Means

Wait, editors-as in more than one-decided my piece was good enough?  Well, I guess I'd better clear my schedule for the book tour.

*Names were omitted to protect the innocent.  I also didn't want you googling them and letting them in on the secret that I'm just a regular girl who dreams about being a writer someday.

October 6, 2011

Thankful Thursday #42

[caption id="attachment_4939" align="aligncenter" width="354" caption="Image from "Rain", a breathtaking installation by Stacee Kalmanovsky"][/caption]

This week I'm thankful for...

  • waking to the sound of rain

  • the scent of rain on asphalt wafting in through my open classroom door

  • the little ones whispering in the corner of the class about how much they love school

  • the part of the pumpkin life cycle where they shrink back to the earth

  • my little ones who loved smelling, feeling and examining our old pumpkins with magnifying glasses

  • my bathrobe

  • Donald Miller's book Through Painted Deserts

  • my dear friend who is on the road trip of his life and calls me to tell me about all the quirky things he sees on the road.  His calls make me laugh so hard that I cry and cry so hard that I laugh.

  • soaking in my hot tub while it drizzles

  • morning prayer time with my hubby

  • my teaching team

  • my Fall clothes

  • hot mint tea on a cold Fall day

October 5, 2011

Oh So Many Apology Letters

Dear New Sweater,

I'm sorry for catching you in the paper cutter.  Twice.  Ahem.  I'm amazed that, try as I might, I could not cut your fabric.  I mean really, you look so light and airy, but apparently you're made of Kevlar.  Who knew I'd be getting such protection for $20.  I will now stop trying to chop you to smithereens.


The girl who shouldn't be allowed to use sharp objects

P.S.  I'm also sorry for the spaghetti sauce splattering incident at lunch.  You're a white sweater, you had to see that coming, no?


Dear Terry,

I'm sorry that ice cream, cereal and salads are the extent of my dinner menu.  Thankfully you make a mean batch of vanilla pancakes or we would probably starve.


Your domestically challenged wife


Dear Rocket,

I'm sorry I haven't taken you out for a spin for a few weeks.  The cobwebs in your spokes are reprehensible.  I'm profoundly sorry and look forward to a reunion soon.  Please, please don't buck me off in bitterness the next time we meet.




Dear Dentist,

I'm sorry I was a whiny baby in the chair.  In my defense you had to fix things in 3 of the 4 quadrants of my mouth.  And let's face it, nobody likes to hear "I think I can do this one without numbing you."  You're right, it didn't hurt, but the anticipation of pain caused buckets of perspiration to build up in my armpits and seep onto the chair.  Please accept my apologies for all the whimpering and, no doubt, for the extra time spent mopping up after me.

Kind regards,

Me and my new and improved molars