Crowing into the Sky

I usually ride with friends.  In fact, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve ridden solo.  Saturday I’d arranged to meet up with a group of girls for an easy spin on the river trail.  15ish miles, just enough to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather.  Then one by one, most of my friends cancelled.  So Saturday afternoon, when I found myself standing alone kicking rocks at our meeting place, I decided to ride in my own good company.

Sure I could’ve called it quits and stuffed The Rocket back into the car, but I was already clad in Spandex and you know I love Spandex.  Plus I’d been battling a sinus infection all week and I was just sick of being sick.  I, quite literally, needed to clear my head.  And I knew just the road to clear it.  I had a conversation with myself that went something like this: Today I will climb.  Today I will climb the North side of Shasta Dam. I’ve ridden to the Dam countless times, but always from the South side. The North side is bigger, badder and has been beckoning me for months.

I set out along the river, her waters rising up to meet me, rippling right up to the edge of the trail.  The Sacramento is the river of my childhood and as I pedaled her curves, I remembered riding my pink Schwinn on this very trail.  Remember riding bikes as a kid?  I don’t know about you, but my hindquarters rarely made use of my flowered banana seat because being a kid was about speeding over hills, crowing into the sky and slamming on the brakes to make the most impressive skid mark.

I rode along the river climbing beyond the section of trail populated by strollers, scooters and the occasional Segway.  I was in the mountains now, alone save for a handful of cyclists enjoying a nice downhill from the opposite direction.  I thought about turning around and coasting down behind them, but Shasta Dam called to me.  I reached a clearing and there she stood.

Do you see that road to the left of the Dam?  The one that snakes around the mountain?  That was my road.  At the base of the mountain, I shared the road with some ATV’s and some dirt bikes, all of whom were operated by extremely polite drivers.  No, really.  Each and every off-roader, gave me a wide berth on the road.  About half way up the mountain, the dirt bikes and ATV’s raced onto the dirt trails, leaving me alone with the road.  With every turn, it looked like the Dam was just around the corner.  She’s tricky like that, playing hide and seek in the trees, coaxing me further and further up the mountain.

My legs were strong and steady all the way up the mountain to the Dam.  I’m as shocked as you are, since my legs are usually about as strong as partially set Jell-O.  I cruised across the Dam, riding close to the edge and peering into Lake Shasta, who had swallowed the entire tree line.  I turned my bike and peeked over the other side.  Staring down the face of the Dam, I felt my stomach drop.  It’s the same feeling I get when I’m falling in a dream.  Terrifying and thrilling all at the same time.  And yet, I can’t cross over the Dam without taking a glance.  2 more miles of decent hills lay just on the other side of the Dam.  That last bit of climbing was nothing compared to the ascent to the Dam.  I zipped up and over the mountain into town where I crossed over Keswick Dam and slipped back onto the river trail.

The river welcomed me as I raced along the flat side of the trail toward my car.  I was killing the flats and when I looked down at my speedometer, it was ticking away at  18 mph.  This isn’t fast for a real cyclist, but for me it’s a pretty decent pace.  I cranked into a harder gear and whipped my legs faster and faster.  I was really flying now!  I leaned my head back and crowed into the blue sky.  At the end of the ride, I’d racked up 41 miles, but more importantly my head was completely clear.  Driving home, I replayed the ride in my mind.  I held the beauty of the water in my eyes and the joy of climbing mountains in my heart.  I’ll be crowing about this ride for a long time.

Thankful Thursday #19

This week I’m thankful for…

  • sunshine, sunshine, sunshine!
  • dinner with friends
  • my friend, who asked me to teach her how to ride a bike
  • days when hair and makeup aren’t even on the radar because all I’m going to do is ride my bike, conquer the laundry, read, and (if I’m lucky) ride my bike some more
  • good books
  • the smell of clean laundry
  • my little one who blushes and grins when I call him “sweet boy”
  • Heavy Metal Mondays in spin class

A Slice of Surrealism

10:30pm I set my alarm for 5am, an ungodly hour to be upright and functioning.  I settle down, pulling the covers up under my chin and think about what tomorrow holds.  In the morning I’ll head to Sacramento to scout out a potential new writing curriculum.  After the workshop, I’ll scoot over to a friend’s house to ride our bikes along the American River Trail.  And if there’s time, I might even squeeze in a little shopping.  It looks to be a full, fun day.  I turn over in bed, ticking off the things I’d packed in the car.  Bike?  Check.  Bike clothes, helmet, gloves, etc?  Check, check, check, etc.  Healthy snacks for the road?  Check.  Glasses?  Check.  I roll over in bed and make sure the sound on my alarm is turned up.  Check

2am I wake up in a panic, sure I’d slept through my alarm.  I pad to the bathroom and slip back in bed.

3am Seriously, am I going to wake up every hour until it’s time to get up?

4am Apparently so.

Sometime between 4:30 and 5:40am I dream that I wake up hours after my alarm was set to go off.  In my dream my teeth began to fall out.  My molars came out in 2’s and 3’s, right there in my hand.  The pain shot through my head, but just as I wondered why my teeth were abandoning ship, I started vomiting.  So violent were my dream heaves that I sit straight up in bed, my stomach cramping into a tight fist, waking me with a start.

5:40am I run my tongue over my teeth and breathe a sigh of relief that all of my pearly whites are firmly in place.  My relief lasts approximately three seconds until I look at the time.  5:40?!?  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  My alarm was supposed to go off forty minutes ago!  I have 20 minutes to tame my bedhead and get on the road to make the drive to Sacramento.

6:10am I pull out of the driveway, pleased I’m only 10 minutes late.  I flick on some music and settle in for two and half hours of solitude in the car.  The sunrise has painted the clouds fuchsia.

8:25am Traffic is moving quickly and I should arrive at the workshop with just enough time to park and check in.  This day might just turn out okay after all.

8:30am 15 minutes away from my destination, my phone buzzes.  Missed call from school.  I’ll call them when I get there, it’s probably some last-minute thing about the purchase order for this workshop.  My phone buzzes a second, then a third, then a fourth time.  On the fifth buzz, I pull into a rest area and check my messages.  All the messages and texts tell me the same thing: the workshop has been cancelled.  I sit in the parking lot, at a loss as to what to do next.  Should I turn around and drive the two and a half hours home?  That sounds ridiculous.  I call our school secretary and she changes my day to a personal day.  I decide to ride my bike and shop.  I pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream within a dream kind of thing happening.

9:30am I pull up to my friend’s house and we throw our bikes in the back of his truck and head out to the American River Trail.  The weather is perfect, cool with a slight breeze.  We ride by Lake Natoma and I breathe in the smell of the earth.  Everything is green and lush.  I’m again tempted to pinch myself.  Who would have thought I’d be riding one of my favorite trails on a Tuesday morning?

Lake Natoma

12:00pm I pack my bike away in my car.  I’m all squeaky clean and showered.  Gosh, it would be silly not to do a little shopping while I was in the city.  Might as well, right?

12:45pm I eat lunch in the company of a good book and then hit the stores.  And miracle of miracles, I find three pairs of shoes that fit my ginormous feet.  I buy them, stroking my new buttery soft leather boots.

4:00pm I hit the road in possession of my shoes, a new black jacket, a necklace and a pair of fancy pants cupcakes, which I am determined to share with my husband when I get back home.

5:00pm My alarm goes off, mocking me.  Damn that AM/PM button!

6:10pm 20 more minutes and then I’m home free.  Suddenly a tan sedan swerves off the road in front of me and stops nose first in the ditch in between the north and southbound lanes.  I’m in the right hand lane and can’t get over to the left lane to see if everyone is okay.  I frantically punch 911 into my phone and report the accident to Highway Patrol.  I watch the crashed car in my rearview mirror.  I see people moving inside, but nobody is getting out.  Damn it, why won’t traffic move so I can pull over?  Why isn’t anyone else stopping?  I speed ahead and take the next exit and head South towards the car.  An ambulance screams by me, lights flashing, siren blaring.  I hold my breath.  It feels like I don’t breathe again until I see the car and the rescue workers helping the people out of the car.  I exit the southbound lane and start toward home again.

6:30pm Back at home I unpack my car and sit down for a minute, rolling my shoulders to ease the tension that has knotted between them.

10:30pm I sink into bed and check my alarm, making sure it’s set for 6:15am.  I double, then triple check it just to be sure.

Sometime between 11pm and 2am I fall into a dream.  I see Lake Natoma, the tree line reflected in her glassy, green face.  I watch in horror as the tan sedan plunges off the road headfirst into the water.  I see people moving inside, but nobody is getting out.  The passengers stare at me as I ride on the other side of the lake, powerless to reach them in time.

2:02am I sit up in bed, my heart racing and beads of sweat trickling down my hairline.  My lungs feel sodden with lake water.  I catch my breath and lay back down.  In the haze of the morning hours, I separate the filmy dream from reality, pinching myself just to be sure.

6:15am My alarm sounds and I roll out of bed.  I get ready for the morning and as I look in the mirror, I wonder just what unexpected events lay ahead of me today.  I slip into my new boots and take a deep breath.  Some days are just so surreal.

Thankful Thursday #18

This week I’m thankful for…

  • the NCAA basketball tournament because I love watching the underdog win
  • my friends who made me lemon blueberry cake just because I requested it
  • my teacher friend who is retiring and bequeathing all of her writing resource books to younger teachers
  • the patch of blue sky that peeked out Saturday reminding me that winter won’t last forever
  • riding on the river trail when the river is so high that the water laps at the trail, even flooding it in places
  • riding with newbie cyclists who are excited to ride ‘long distances’ like 15-16 miles
  • remembering when 6 miles was a long way to ride my bike
  • the fact that my class is too young for state testing.  Yes and amen.
  • waking up early and reading a good book before heading off to work

Thankful Thursday #17

This week I’m thankful for…

  • the scent of rain on warm asphalt
  • the attitude of my little one who accidentally poked himself in the eye with a fork at lunch.  He was completely fine and when I asked him how it happened, he shrugged and replied “I aimed for the peas and missed.”  I’ll say.
  • meals with friends
  • the book of Esther
  • a fresh haircut
  • bike rides so challenging that I’m left stripped bare at the end, knowing I gave everything I had, and by some miracle, it was enough
  • hearing Dr. Maya Angelou speak.  It was a night I’ll treasure always.  And because I will never look at rainbows the same again.  And because you weren’t able to join me that night.  And because you deserve a little more poetry in your life, here she is.  I thought of giving you just a morsel to chew on, but who am I to be so selfish.  So click on the picture below and while it takes you to the site starts loading, get yourself a cup of tea, throw a blanket around your shoulders and get ready to enjoy this 42 minute master class with Maya Angelou.  Don’t tell me you don’t have that kind of time.  Make the time.  I assure you, her words will speak to the most joyful and the most tender places in your heart.

Giving Voice

It all started with a bike ride a few years ago.  Successful heart surgery compelled me to pay the gift of health forward.  I joined Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  In exchange for $2100 in donations I would have the privilege of riding 100 miles around Lake Tahoe.  I’d never ridden more than 6 miles, even then I had to stop for a snack half way through.  I didn’t even own a road bike.  And I’d never raised money for anything before.

My husband bought me a road bike and I started cycling around town.  Pretty soon I was riding to the far corners of our county and then some.  A few weeks in, I still had no idea how to raise $2100.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I wrote.  I wrote letters to my family and friends asking for their support.  A few hundred dollars arrived in the mail.  I still had a long way to go and so a month into training, I e-mailed everyone I knew and told them all about my month of cycling.

I wrote about my first crash.  I wrote about accidentally swallowing flies.  I wrote about riding along the riverbank at sunset.  I wrote about my adventures and misadventures alike.  And at the end of the e-mail I begged for donations reminded people how to make a donation on my behalf.  Donations steadily found their way to my mailbox.  And so the next month I sent out more tales from the bike.  I met my donation goal, surpassed it even, but to my surprise my friends kept asking for more stories from the bike.  And so I continued writing.

Then one day a colleague caught me in the lunchroom and said “Hey, I’ve been reading your bike e-mails.  You can write!  You should apply to the Writing Project Summer Institute.”

I responded with an eloquent “Huh?  What’s the Writing Project?”

That summer I got my answer.  I was accepted into the Summer Institute where I spent three weeks with a roomful of colleagues, reading cutting edge research and grappling with what authentic writing looks like within the walls of our classrooms.  I listened to my colleagues present lessons.  I gleaned ideas from college professors and kindergarten teachers alike, finding innovative and meaningful ways to teach my own young writers.  The studying, reading, and presentations were invaluable, but the most important time for me during the institute was time spent writing.  After all, the best writing teachers are writers themselves.

We began each day with writing.  I learned to face the terror of the blank page.  I experienced the beautiful rhythm of writing as a daily practice.  I learned to cut through the fat of what I thought writing was supposed to sound like and instead I wrote honest, sinewy stories of students who faced overwhelming circumstances with measures of bravery I can’t begin to possess.  Their stories broke my heart all over again as I put them to paper.  I wrote about children who made me laugh.  I wrote about the tender-hearted little girl who rubbed circles on my back when I returned to school after the death of my father.  I wrote the gritty and inspiring details of their stories and in doing so I found my voice.

Last weekend I was riding my bike in terrible conditions.  Icy rain pelted my face and the winds whipped around me at a mild 35 miles per hour.  The wind was so loud that I couldn’t even hear the music in my earbud.  I was left alone with my thoughts for the better part of 30 miles.  My thoughts turned to the current round of budget cuts that will eliminate the National Writing Project.  I thought about my classroom writers workshop and how so many of my young writers are finding their own voices, scratching out the stories of their lives in the silvery lead of #2 pencils.

I thought of my solemn little one who writes about her baby sister, her sister who died a year and half ago.  My little one wrote about the feel her sister’s feather soft cheeks against the palm of her hand.  When I asked her if she wanted to change the word ‘feel’ to past tense, she explained that she wanted to leave it as written because she can still feel her sister’s skin in her memories.  She’s learning that writing allows us retain what is dear, even when we can’t hold it in our hands.

I thought of my little boy, recently transplanted from Maui.  He’s a whirling dervish of a kid, who only sits still when he’s writing in his notebook.  He tells me he’s not a writer, but dazzles me with phrases like “I have brown eyes, coconut eyes.”  He’s a writer.  I know it and soon I’ll have him convinced, too.

I thought of my little girl who wrote this about her mom, “She is pretty like white, shiny milk.  She is so beautiful, I can’t believe it.  It knocks me down how much I love her.”  Her mom spent a good part of the year wrapped in bandages, recovering from brain surgery.  This little girl is learning the healing power of words.

Out there pedaling my bike into the unforgiving wind, I realized that everything I do with my young writers springs directly from the lessons I learned from my time in the Writing Project.  It crushes me to think that budget cuts will prevent other teachers from experiencing the same thing.  Surely teachers researching together, writing together, standing together cannot be seen as non-essential at a time like this.  That kind of work must be the foundation on which we build schools where we hope our children will do the same.

I find myself at a bit of a loss on how to effectively convince the President to rescind his proposed cuts.  Once again I find myself doing the only thing I can think of.  I’m returning to the blank page and filling it with my story and the stories of my students.  In sharing our stories, I give voice to the critical work of The Writing Project.

In the same way I asked friends and family to take a stand against cancer, I’m asking you to stand with me for education.  Please consider writing a letter in support of the National Writing Project.  Click here to read sample letters and to learn more about the NWP.  Your voice matters.  It’s time to speak up for writing as an essential part of every child’s education.  It’s time to tell your story.

Thankful Thursday #16

This week I’m thankful for…

  • bike rides with friends
  • my new little one who wrote this in his notebook “I’m thankful for my home.”  Makes me wonder if there is a place for Thankful Thursdays in my classroom.  Hmmm…
  • my little one who wrote this about her mom “She is pretty like white, shiny milk.  She is so beautiful, I can’t believe it.  It knocks me down how much I love her.”  Her mom recently had brain surgery.  I’m pretty sure those are the kinds of words that lend speed to recovery.
  • the parents of my little ones who took time at our parent teacher conferences to thank me and tell me how much their children love being a part of our class.  Those words sink down deep and warm my heart.
  • my little girl who told me in a moment of quiet exclaimed “I love math!  No, wait-I love reading!  No, wait-I love writing!”
  • outside recess
  • outside recess.  I know I mentioned it twice.  Trust me, this week I was doubly thankful for it.
  • my husband who offered to make me dinner after a particularly rough day
  • books that are so good, I can’t put them down.  If only I could force myself to stay awake a little longer at night to read them!
  • my little one who brought in $10 of her own money to donate to our change drive for the local rescue mission.  Her mother, touched her daughter’s generosity, matched it dollar for dollar.