the sound of my husband’s snores paired with the sound of rain on the roof
my parent volunteers who do thousands of little tasks so that I can focus on teaching my little ones
Sunday in my pajamas
quiet afternoons to write
the fleeting moment when all the laundry is folded and put away and the laundry baskets are empty
a collaboration day with my colleagues including lunch at my house and a walk around the neighborhood. I do my best thinking when I’m moving.
my very patient step-dad who is teaching me so much
a break in the rain to walk in the Arboretum by the river. I brought my camera along and snapped this shot. I love when the light casts a blue spell spilling from the sky down over the mountains and into the water
I was recently introduced to Louise Erdrich, no not like in person. If I’d met her in person, I would have disappeared into a big cloud of nerves. She’s a Native American novelist and poet. She owns her own bookstore. Oh, and in her free time she devotes her attention to restoring tribal lands and languages. She’s a 10 on the cool scale.
The other day I read her poem, Advice to Myself, and in the same way that I had to-absolutely had to-emulate George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From, the first time I read it, I found myself compelled to write my own poem using Louise Erdrich’s beautiful and raw text as a skeleton. The link is an interview with Louise Erdrich. In the interview she reads Advice to Myself at around 21:40. Do yourself a favor and set aside time to watch the interview. You may not agree with everything she says. I know I don’t. But the discussion of her writing and her writing process is worth your time and then some.
Here’s the poem I wrote after being enchanted by Advice to Myself.
Bone On Bone
by Alicia McCauley
Leave the laundry.
Let the lonely socks find their own mates to curl up with,
in between the static legs of pants and heartless shirt chests.
Scrape the lint from the trap
and throw the handful of downy gray into the trash.
Sweep the lye that bleeds from the garage floor
and dump its snowy residue
in with the lint
and other discards.
Pay no attention to the wisps of winter slipping beneath the door.
Let the cold have its way,
freezing the earth
that hibernates and exhales in sleep,
rattling barren tree branches on your windows.
Talk to the trees.
Tell them they are welcome
to come inside
where warmth breathes and steams up the windows
and picture frames.
Don’t bother keeping all the pictures straight on the wall.
Let the faces of your beloveds cock their heads
in bemused wonder.
Don’t worry about the settling dust on the shelves
or about the dishes abandoned in the sink.
Don’t worry at all.
For the symphony of your life
in the treble of your husband’s snores
and the whirring flutes of bicycle wheels and wind in your hair.
Feel the percussive heart in your chest
bouncing off your ribcage,
pulsing into your fingers as they skitter
across vowels and consonants
the story of your life.
In this fiery rush where creativity intersects destiny,
Write with flame,
Write with honesty,
Until your words are stripped down to sinewy truth.
Bone on bone.
Be unflinching in your pursuit of the word
that imparts your spirit with joy.
Be relentless in chasing hope rising
on the wings of a Phoenix.
Pay no attention to the shoes piled by the door.
barefoot with your camera around your neck.
Feel the cool, earthen night between your toes.
Surprise the trees in their midnight dance,
spotlit by the face of the moon.
And when your smile chatters
and frost gathers at your nostrils,
return to the heat of the house
and to the laundry basket
waiting with socks to warm your feet.
Slip your heart into the chest of one of your husband’s old shirts.
Brush your fingers along the cheeks of loved ones
as you float past them in the hallway on your way to bed.
Listen for the lullaby of rest rising and falling from your beloved.
Curl into him,
letting your heavy eyelids turn the page on the day.
Surely you’ve seen the Lists of Don’ts for Women Riders by now, right? I first saw it over at Lists of Note, a fascinating blog that somehow sucks great amounts of time from my afternoons as I read varied and amusing lists from history. This list had me cackling out loud. It’s from a gathering of the Unique Cycling Club of Chicago in June, 1885. At this particular gathering two female riders had the audacity to wear short skirts over their bloomers. The nerve, right? I imagine I would have been good friends with these brazen women. So here is the original list along with my own updates.
DON’TS FOR WOMEN RIDERS
1. Don’t be a fright. Wait, what? When dogs are chasing me or I’m being inched off the road by a semi, I’m allowed to be scared. In my book, I’m also allowed to scream choice words and spread the fright around, like say to the dogs or the trucker falling asleep at the wheel as he careens into the shoulder. Let’s face it, there are few things more frightening than a woman who is scared to the point of fury. So go ahead, ladies, be afraid. Be so afraid that you let fly and induce some fear in others.
2. Don’t faint on the road. Agreed. Eat and drink properly as needed. And while we’re on the topic of health related issues. Ladies, when you farmer blow, look to see that nobody is behind you. Same goes for puking. And if the person in front of you chooses not to display the same level of courtesy, employ aforementioned choice words.
3. Don’t wear a man’s cap. Duh. Wear a helmet. Protect that beautiful brain. And since you’re already wearing a helmet, go ahead and make it a stylish one. Let the men wear the ugly black ones.
4. Don’t wear tight garters. Nix the garters altogether. Keep the bedroom in the bedroom, ladies. Besides the rubbery ring at the bottom of your bike shorts will give you that nice, tight garter feel because, really, who doesn’t like a tight ring suffocating your thighs and highlighting your cellulite?
5. Don’t forget your toolbag. Even if you’re horribly slow at changing tires and gladly accept all offers of help, like a certain somebody I know, ahem, you should still carry all the necessary tools. In case you’re prone to forget, here’s an easy way to remember: Carry tools so you aren’t one.
6. Don’t attempt a “century.” Like hell. I’ve both attempted and completed centuries. Even the ones I’ve failed miserably at, I’ve learned from. So go ahead and attempt all the centuries you want. And then sign up for some doubles. You’ll finish most of them and you’ll learn a lot about yourself from the ones you don’t.
7. Don’t coast. It is dangerous. After climbing, grunting, sweating and panting your way to the top of a climb, you go ahead and coast down the backside. Enjoy the wind in your face as you catch your breath. And when you’ve had enough coasting, crouch down, pedal and try to best your top speed cause there’s always plenty more uphill to come.
8. Don’t boast of your long rides. This is really a moot point because even your short rides will sound long to non-cyclists. However, when you happen upon another cyclist and they ask how far you’re riding, go ahead and tell them. The number will speak for itself.
9. Don’t criticize people’s “legs”. I’m not sure why legs is in quotes here, but believe me when I tell you that the sights on rides are lovely, and I’m not talking landscapes. Just watch another woman crank up the hill ahead of you. Her outstanding quads and calves will motivate you to rip some new muscles of your own. And then there are the men. I’m fortunate to be married to a cyclist and his legs are a thing to behold. I take every opportunity to ogle his legs, both on and off the bike.
10. Don’t wear loud hued leggings. If I could find loud hued leggings, I would totally wear them. However, black does a mighty fine job of disguising the bike grease, snot, dirt, and sweat that I wipe on my tights every ride.
11. Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.” If you’re on your bike enough, you won’t have to “cultivate” one. Even with religious applications of sunscreen you’ll have the tell-tale sunglasses tan. Be proud of your bicycle face. Chances are it has fewer chins than your off-season non-bicycle face.
12. Don’t refuse assistance up a hill. I’ve received a push uphill 3 times. Once I asked for a friend to give me a push because I absolutely WAS NOT GOING TO MAKE IT. He pushed my back to the crest of the hill. Another time a friend gave me a friendly little back push and I asked him to stop because something about the push and pedaling was making me motion sick and I super dislike puking on my bike. The third push came from a guy dressed as a devil. He gave my butt a big two-handed push. That was just weird. So whenever possible, beat that hill on your own because you never know when the devil may be lurking behind you.
13. Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit. Amen. Nobody likes to see that slice of back skin between your shorts and your jersey. And under no circumstances are you allowed to show crack. Even if you are in spin class, Guy Who Sat Near Me Last Week.
14. Don’t neglect a “light’s out” cry. That’s just good common sense. Don’t ride after dark unless you’re lit up like a Christmas tree.
15. Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour. If you want to wear jewelry, don’t let me stop you, but if you’re the guy wearing a fat gold chain and your jersey halfway unzipped, I’m going to mock you. Mercilessly.
16. Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers. I’m not a racer, but when the stakes are high, like say for Creamsicle bars, then I’m all over it. And if you want to be a “scorcher”, I say light it up, friend. Burn those tires and your competition into oblivion.
17. Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome. Take it from Nancy, boots were made for walking. Get some cycling shoes and enjoy the feeling of a powerful upstroke. Shoot, your cycling shoes can even have laces. I prefer Velcro, but that’s because when I get up for a really early morning ride, I’m brain-dead and easily confused by complicated tasks like tying my shoes.
18. Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you. They’re not. They’re all looking at the Yellow Brick Road known to roadies as the white line. Or better yet, they’re looking at the beautiful mountains and lakes you’re passing, not to mention the scads of weird animals you have no doubt encountered. And on the occasion that they are looking at you, they’re marveling at your chiseled calves. Drink it in.
19. Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume. I’m pretty sure Jesus would be cool with you showing up in your cycling kit, but for the sake of those sitting around you, go home and shower first. It is totally acceptable to wear your salty bike clothes into the ice cream parlor for a post ride treat or into a restaurant for a celebratory burrito. And it goes without saying that your cycling kit is absolutely appropriate attire for the multitude of convenience stores along your route.
20. Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers. Was I not clear on the helmet thing before? Wear.A. Helmet. If you can find a helmet that looks like a garden party hat, by all means strap that puppy on and go for a spin. As for bloomers, bike shorts with women specific padding are divine and in my book an absolute must. Unless you’re a nudist cyclist. In that case, we will never, ever ride together and I wish you lots of luck with your chafing issues.
21. Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars. Or regular cars. On a related note, it’s perfectly acceptable to slam your fist into the hood of the car that is about to t-bone you. It’s also fine to slap the passenger side windows of the car that’s just about to run you into a ditch.
22. Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private. Is that supposed to be a nice way of telling me to be quiet? By all means chew gum, because cycling breath is potent enough to kill medium-sized animals.
23. Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing. Silk is NOT the thing. Gloves with a cloth thumb for wiping your snot rocketing nose are the thing.
24. Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?” If that’s the best thing you can think of to say on a ride, then by all means, keep thinking.
25. Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys. People who use bicycle slang usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Leave bicycle slang to the idiots. Talk like you normally do, unless you want to talk about your bloomers. Then just enjoy a nice, quiet ride.
26. Don’t go out after dark without a male escort. I refer you to rule #13. And ladies, let’s be smart, don’t let yourself be caught with a creepy “male escort” alone at night. Phone a friend to take you and your trusty bicycle home.
27. Don’t ride without a needle, thread and thimble. Skip the needle, thread and thimble. Wrap up a little coil of duct tape and shove it in your seat bag. Bam, you’ve got an emergency tube patch, frame weld and band-aid all in one. Trust me, one reach into a seat bag with a needle in it and you’ll be awfully glad your more savvy friend brought duct tape.
28. Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match”. Listen up, just because you’re clad in Spandex doesn’t mean you can’t look good. Just ask the guys at Twin Six.
29. Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back. If you’ve got golden tresses, wear them however you want. If other cyclists don’t like looking at your hair, they can speed up and ride ahead of you. And if they can’t catch you, Goldilocks, ride on with your bad self.
30. Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you. Aw, I’ve got the sad Snoopy “No Dogs Allowed” song running through my mind. There are times and places for you and your dog to ride together. Group rides are neither. Leave the pooch at home and instead enjoy the company of your human best friends.
31. Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers. I don’t even know what that means. I think it’s some sort of innuendo. I feel dirty. Moving on.
32. Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know. Enough with the bloomer talk already! Think of something else, anything else, to talk about. I’ll give you a topic: Fixed gear bikes and the studs who ride them. Talk amongst yourselves.
33. Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well. Total crap. How are you supposed to learn to ride well unless you ride in public? Nervous about riding in traffic? Then ride with a more experienced cyclist IN TRAFFIC. Nervous about clipping in and out of your pedals? Then get on your bike and PRACTICE CLIPPING IN AND OUT. You will forget and fall over once, but chances are you’ll only bruise your ego.
34. Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor. By all means, have fun on your bike. Just remember that sometimes having fun means pushing yourself to the limit to see what you’re really made of.
35. Don’t ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman. Or because you’re a man. Or because NKOTB has come up on your playlist and you have to turn them up, er, I mean turn them off and you’re fiddling with your iPod. Or because you temporarily forgot how to read the word “STOP”. Pay attention.
36. Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels”. I’ll tell you how it feels. It feels gross. Even if they’re clean. Just the thought of putting my parts in someone else’s bike shorts makes my stomach turn inside out. Blechhhh!
37. Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run. And if she runs, then how are you going to take her picture to show your friends the awesome cow you saw? See rule #1 for appropriate screaming situations.
38. Don’t cultivate everything that is up to date because you ride a wheel. Translation: Don’t be a hipster on a bike.
39. Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground. Is this a fancy way of saying if the person in front of you crashes, try not to crash on top of them? Good advice. Easier said than done, but sound advice nonetheless.
40. Don’t undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily. Sure, take an easy spin now and then, but don’t be afraid to tackle that hill. Ride until your heart threatens to leap out of your chest. Ride until your lungs fill with fire and your quads want to snap. Leave the easy route for another day. You’re stronger than you think you are. Give that hard ride hell. And if you don’t beat it the first time, go back for more tomorrow.
41. Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty. I don’t give a rip about other people’s records, but I sure care about my own. I love beating my fastest time or climbing a hill in a bigger gear than usual. I love cresting the top of a hill that I once had to walk up. Be up on your own records. And then smash them to bits. When someone calls you sporty or refers to you as an athlete, grin and say thanks. Then put on your “bloomers” and short skirt and go for a ride. 😉
Is there a better way to spend a day off than riding a bike? The answer is no, no there’s not. When I ride on a holiday, I feel like I’m getting away with something. I should be at work, but instead I’m out in the air, the sunshine glinting off my shifters and my legs propelling me along smooth, black asphalt strips of bliss.
On Monday, I showed a novice cyclist and her son a beautiful and mercifully flat trial that runs along the edge of Keswick Reservoir. I love showing people trails they haven’t ridden before. I especially love showing cycling newbies that they can ride farther than they ever have before. I got to do both last Monday with friend and her son in tow on a trail a bike.
The day was simply gorgeous. I pulled on tights and topped my jersey off with armwarmers and gloves, grateful to leave my jacket in the car. The California sun sparkled off the water and I absorbed its rays and sucked in great breaths of fresh air. For all my friends trapped in drifts of snow, here’s a little California sunshine from me to you. Try to refrain from pressing your face up against the screen.
We rode along the old railroad track, now a smooth bike path. We dipped into the cool darkness of the old train tunnel and yelped and hollered, letting our voices echo off the tunnel walls and bounce back to us.
The bike trail is cut from the side of mountains of rock and out of that rock scarlet flames of manzanita shoot forth. Manzanita is such a resilient, hearty plant that I couldn’t help but stop for a moment and admire its beauty.
We rode to the backside of Shasta Dam, a sight that always takes my breath away, this mountain of concrete holding back the pulsing waters of Lake Shasta.
All told we rode 16 miles with the winter sun shining down on us. As I pedaled toward the car I grinned, the cold winter air making my teeth hurt. I couldn’t stop grinning because I knew with every fiber of my being how lucky I was to ride in winter in this stolen moment of beauty in the sun.
This morning during independent reading one of my little ones motioned me to his desk. I hurried over and he looked up at me with his baby blue sparklers. This kid is darling, impish, but darling. He’s always asking the best questions. Plus his hobbies include playing football, reading and sewing. How could I not love a kid like that? There’s never a dull moment with this little one and I like that he keeps me on my toes with his inquisitive mind.
This morning he called me over and said “Mrs. McCauley, girl privates…” He paused for a moment and I braced myself for impact.
Lord in Heaven, I hoped it would be a relatively innocuous question. I took a deep breath, leaning down by his desk so that whatever came next could be quietly discussed.
He continued. “Girl privates have to stay in the helicopters during missions, but boy privates can get out of the helicopters.” He held up a page of his book for me to see. My face flooded with relief when I realized he was reading a book on the military.
I laughed and said “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”
“I don’t think you should be glad because it doesn’t seem fair that girl privates don’t get to do all the stuff boy privates do.” He was indignant.
“Kiddo, you don’t know how right you are.” I laughed and then walked away so I could compose myself.
Don’t take my bike away for saying this, but sometimes walking is better than cycling. Wait, before you stab my bike tires and spit in my water bottles, hear me out. Sometimes I need to look at things at an even slower pace. Those of you who have ridden with me before are balking already because surely there can’t be anything slower than me slugging along on The Rocket. Sometimes I just need to stroll and inhale the crisp air and squat down on the ground and look at stuff, really look at stuff.
That Laura & I walked along the river the other day, the winter wind whipping my camera strap as I happily snapped away, trying to make some sense of my new camera. We walked into the arboretum, one of my favorite places on the trail because a new surprise waits around every corner.
Take the Monkey Puzzle Trees for one. Just looking at their sparse, prickly branches makes me laugh.
And when I start to compose myself again, I think of the name ‘Monkey Puzzle Trees’ and I’m in stitches all over again.
Until the other day, I’d never taken the branch of the path that leads to a little bridge called Charlotte’s Crossing. I was mooning over it already because I’m the teacher who cries every year when I read the end of Charlotte’s Web. Then Charlotte herself greeted us and I thought I was going to straight swoon.
So by the time I saw Charlotte’s charming children climbing the sides of the bridge, I was downright giddy. Not to mention that blue sky in the background. I love sunny winter California days.
A few steps later I spotted this petite pile of stones. Something about the balance required to stack stones always makes me stop and pause.
And then I turned a corner and saw these.
We meandered along the trail and ducked into the Children’s Sculpture Garden where “Mosaic Oasis”, a sculpture by Colleen Barry, sits as the crowning jewel in the garden.
I could stay at this sculpture for hours, running my fingers over each tile. I mean just look at these ladybugs creeping along. Don’t they make your fingers itch to do crayon rubbings?
Everywhere you look there’s a new treasure to behold, like this little heart marked with love.
Or Lady Liberty standing tall amongst other shining jewels.
And then there are the dragonflies. Small dragonflies skitter and flit in and out of the mosaic, but this is the one that makes my heart leap into my throat. It’s staggeringly beautiful.
In the center of the mosaic on the back side of the dragonfly is this gorgeous tree.
And because I adore, adore, adore the plaque accompanying the tree, here’s a closer look.
On a scale of 1-10 how weird would it be to tattoo that quote to my forehead for every parent to see? 11? Oh well, I’m afraid of needles anyway.
And then, as if the Mosaic Oasis wasn’t full of enough wonder, there are the giant insect sculptures. Isn’t this ladybug just absolutely begging for a smooch?
And then there’s the giant metal dragonfly statue. Be. Still. My. Heart.
I’ve died and gone to Heaven. Look at the details in the face. I’m absolutely smitten with this dragonfly.
The Children’s Sculpture Garden brims with magic. Even a glimpse through the spindly branches of Harry Lauder’s walking stick revealed this quaint, blue house.
As the light began to fade, That Laura and I turned back toward the trailhead. On the path we spotted this stencil of a woman watering her plant.
We hurried up the last hill back to the car and as we did, I couldn’t help but feel that this walk had watered a parched part of me, a part of me in desperate need of a day to slow down and drink it all in.
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