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:

Little One: “Dad, this one is a girl pumpkin plant.”

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.

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

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.

Thankful Thursday #42

Image from “Rain”, a breathtaking installation by Stacee Kalmanovsky

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

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