Thursday, January 31, 2013

The beauty of grownup girlfriends

News flash: I was a bit of a tomboy when I was a kid. Yep, the girl who was the powderpuff quarterback, who went to West Point, and who spent 5 years in the Army was a tomboy. Plenty of cool things that went along with that, including playing countless games of pick up basketball at the park and racing bikes through the creek before it got turned into the backyard of a new subdivision.

But there were lots of cool things I missed out on, too. Braids and barrettes, high heels and skirts, learning how to apply makeup. I've figured most of this out in the last ten years or so, though I leave the braids and barrettes to my daughter.

It's just been the last couple of years that I realized: at some point, most of my friends were guys, and I was okay with my girlfriends really just being friends who were girls. Sure, I had plenty of girlfriends when I was little - Marisa lived down the street, I could ride my bike to Rhea's house, and Susan and I were practically inseparable through middle school. For whatever reason, though, as I careened through high school, it was simpler to be friends with guys. Then into the pressure cooker of West Point - where being an over-the-top Type A competitive achiever was just average; you were first judged on your physical appearance and physical fitness; and there were ten guys to every girl. Mix it all up, and it could be hard to form tight bonds with women beyond the circle of your own roommates.

Fast forward fifteen years, through ten years of marriage, two kids, career changes and eight moves, and I think I've finally figured it out. It would have been great to have had more girlfriends in high school, and it certainly could have made some things easier at West Point. But the lack of that super close, talk-on-the-phone-everyday friend makes me treasure what I've found that much more.

As it turns out, I had girlfriends all along: relationships forged in the furnace of our cadet years and tempered in the in-between years as we were all busy with the Army; kids; starting careers; just generally going a thousand different directions at once. And now - now that I understand a little better how to balance it all and can catch my breath more than just once in a while - now I'm able to reach out to those women. Now I've figured out that we were all just waiting for the right moment to be there for each other.

Last night was one of those special and rare moments. I'm in Baltimore for work, and three of those wonderful women, who know me like only a classmate can, came together from D.C., Howard County and Philadelphia (via Staten Island thanks to a business trip, might I add). They drove through torrential rain and ridiculous traffic just to grab dinner and a few laughs. Okay, a LOT of laughs. Like, people at the next table commenting about our volume level lot-of-laughs. But when you only get to see your girlfriend once every five years or so, you make the most of it.

So here's to you, Angela, Melissa and Sherri. And here's to the beauty of grownup girlfriends.

Sherri, Melissa, Amanda & Angela - beautiful girlfriends

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Webster 2.0: Blabbergasted

Being an English major, I have more than a passing interest in the etymology of languages. The evolution of the English language is one of the more interesting subjects I've studied, especially in our modern age when everything, as we know, moves at warp speed.

The advent of the space age resulted in all kinds of new words. There have been countless articles written about it. Then came computers, and a whole new sublanguage of bits and bytes, floppies and flash drives. With the spread of the internet, we started talking in a dialect that our great-grandparents wouldn't have understood. Maybe still don't understand, honestly.

With all of the acceleration of new words and terms in the English language that come from leaps in technology, there's still an age old, dependable way we coined new words. Kids, especially kids being silly.

Without further ado, I submit the following for consideration in the 2014 edition of Webster's Dictionary: BLABBERGASTED.

You have to admit, it has cache.

Let's break it down:

  • blabber: to talk foolishly or excessively; to say indiscreetly
  • flabbergasted: to overwhelm with shock, surprise or wonder
So, naturally:
  • blabbergasted: to talk excessively when overwhelmed with shock, surprise or wonder

Sound like anyone you know? Here's what it looks like at our house:

Blabbergasted, indeed. I believe we've coined a new word.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This is what happens when...

One of my goals in 2013 is to take at least one picture per day. A month into the new year, meh... I'm close, with a couple of days undocumented. Part of sticking to the goal, though, has been enrolling the help of the kids.

It doesn't matter what the picture is of; I didn't have a checklist or artistic notion when I set the goal. I just thought it would be interesting at the end of the year to have one picture from every day to pictorially define "A Year in the Life of the Coussoules."

When I take the pictures, inevitably, the subject is one or both of the kids, 99% of the time. I have managed to get a few pictures of me, thanks to my always-accommodating world's-greatest husband. I figured as part of the picture-a-day project, I could document the wardrobe makeover from last year. Another blog post, another day. :)

When the kids take the pictures, though... talk about a different perspective. I just downloaded the pictures they took over the weekend, and was once again struck by the magic and the gift of digital photography. At no cost to anyone, the kids gleefully ran around the house snapping shots of whatever struck their fancy.

And, at no cost to you, here are some of my favorites so we can all see their day through their eyes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The human google

Why do kids think, with the absolute certainty that belongs to the midgeroo set, that their parents can always correctly answer "What does ______ mean?" It's like the finals of a mad lib tournament and the pressure is on.

When you think about it, it seems like an adult would have no problem defining everyday words. Today the pop quiz on the way to church was, "What does CONVENIENT mean?"

Think about that for a second. You know what convenient means. You can use it in a sentence. You can spell it. You can quickly list multiple variations of the word: convenient, inconvenient, convenience, conveniently, etc., etc. But I dare you to properly define it without Webster.

I distinctly remember asking this question of my dad countless times. And I also remember the same answer, countless times: "Go look it up." I think about that every time one of my kids asks me what a word means. For some reason, though, I never tell them to look it up. I think I'm robbing them of an excellent learning opportunity. I can remember with total clarity the bookshelf above the TV in my parents' house with the faded red binder of the dictionary that I thumbed through with regularity.

So when Caroline asked "What does convenient mean?" and I responded with my best effort, it just didn't seem adequate. Out comes the iPhone. Hello, Webster Dictionary app. Problem solved, even though John proclaimed that I cheated. I knew this was a test.

At least those questions have an answer. On the way home from church today Caroline asked: "Which is faster: smaller or bigger?"

I don't think even Google would have an answer to that one.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Feature: John's schoolwork

Slim pickings this week for schoolwork that came home. Maybe it's because it was a short week, or maybe it's because the kids recently finished up standardized testing and there wasn't much else that got done. Either way, a crumpled math worksheet is evidence enough that he did learn, or at least reinforce, something this week.

Still working on writing a few numbers properly, but you can't dispute that he knows addition! Proud of that kid!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Early birds get the words

We're an "early to bed, early to rise" kind of family. I count myself as a lucky, lucky mom because the bedtime routine for my kids almost never includes stalling, tantrums, or general diddle dawdling to get out of bath time. (Disclaimer: on the nights when I fail to identify You Go First and You Get To Go Second, the isolated whining episode commences. You'd think I would've learned by now, but I do have exhaustion-induced amnesia on occasion.)

I wish I could claim some amazing parenting skills, but honestly, I think it was as simple as starting the routine when they were so little they couldn't complain, and we haven't deviated from it in seven years.

At the end of the night, our routine is:
  1. Shower (that's right, shower, not bath - life changing, I tell you)
  2. Brush Teeth
  3. Read Books
  4. Lights Out
  5. Mommy Sings a Song
  6. Hugs, Kisses, Goodnight, Sleep Tight
  7. Mommy escapes downstairs for an hour or so of blissful quiet time interrupted only by the low murmur of the TV
All of this occurs by 8PM during the school year, but even during the summer, lights out is rarely after 8:30. And my brilliant kiddos sleep like... well, sleep like babies, with nary the "I need a drink" or "I need a nightlight" or such interruption. Lucky, lucky, lucky me. For years, they would wake up around 7AM, which after the infant years still seems a lot like sleeping in.

Important context: Mommy needs the kiddos in bed by 8PM so that I can be toes up myself by 9:30 at the latest. You know I run (and if you don't, you can read up on it right here). On average, I'm up around 4:45 so that I can get my workout done and be back home to see the kiddos before they head off to school and I to work. I long ago accepted I may not be CEO material, because I am most definitely not a 5-hours-of-sleep kind of girl. I can function on 6 or 7; eight turns me into a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed go-getter; nine feels like the height of luxury, only to be achieved on a vacation or rare weekend morning.

Back to the kiddos and their circadian rhythms. Asleep by 8, wake up at 7. Except for recently. I've noticed in the last several months that, as I pull back into the driveway after my early morning run (or swim, or spin class, or whatever), the light in Caroline's room is on. We're talking 6:45, sometimes as early as 6:30. 

Hard to get annoyed or upset about your daughter waking up early so that she can read - in fact, if I squint just a little bit, I can see the past, when another little girl would keep a flashlight next to her bed, pull the covers all the way up to the headboard, and sacrifice shut eye for the joy of finishing my favorite Nancy Drew. Said another way - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

This morning I pulled into the driveway at 6:35, and seeing her light was on, headed up the stairs to say good morning. The big surprise today was seeing the light on in John's room, too. I checked on him, and found him reading the latest Star Wars book I brought home from the library last night.

I know the saying goes, "the early bird gets the worm." I'd much rather that my early birds get the words.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The lure of the pixels

I remember being enamored with computers when I was about 7 years old. But that meant being enamored with a Commodore 64 and Space Invaders. Now, it's a whoooooooole different story.

I know every parent now has to make the call on how much computer time is right for their kid. If I left it up to John, that number would be somewhere around 39 hours a day, 12 days a week, for 94 weeks a year. That translates to roughly ALL THE TIME.


Justin and I usually do a good job of monitoring the time in front of the screen, keeping it to a reasonable amount. Then there are nights like tonight where the response to "Mommy, can I get on the computer?" is an unhesitating "Sure, buddy." Followed quickly by sweet Caroline asking, "Can I get on the little computer, too?" You bet, sweet peaches. Too tired to even think about how to say no nicely for the millionth time.

Monday, January 21, 2013

If I were a Stay-at-Home Mom

Today is a momentous day. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The inauguration of President Obama for his second term. And, equally exciting for me, a day off from work.

Whenever I have a day off, I tend to sleep in, enjoying the freedom from the alarm clock. This weekend, though, I managed to get to bed at a reasonable time every night, which left me rested and eager to take full advantage of the holiday. Setting the alarm clock for 6:20, I was determined to get up and make breakfast in the relative peace of the day.

Totally worth it.

As a working mom, it is very, very rare that I am ever home by myself. I'm sure my house has its quiet moments; they're just never when I'm around. I reveled in the silence and stillness of the house as I padded to the kitchen this morning to get my domestic goddess on.

Apparently I'm a minor goddess, as evidenced by the fact that I forgot to take the frozen crust for the planned breakfast quiche out of the freezer last night. Or maybe evidenced by the fact that I was using a frozen crust instead of making my own, but whatever. Undeterred, I got the crust out, turned on Mike & Mike, got my coffee going, and pulled out my iPad to surf Facebook and Twitter. Ah, the luxury.

Since it was still quiet and there were not two small people speaking at Volume Level 10, my mind actually began to wander. What would it be like to be a stay at home mom? Not just the generalities that come to mind on a particularly crappy day at work. The true schedule, the actual routine I would follow if there was no corporate job waiting for me every morning.

There would be a lot more of this:

But there would also be more of this:

My kids could count on me for more of this:

But my husband would count on me for more of this:

As a stay at home mom, I bet I'd have a lot of days like today where I got out for my run in the sunshine, and in temperatures well above freezing, unlike at 5:15 this morning. Bonus.

But it would also mean that I probably never would've met my amazing running group here in Fayetteville, because there wouldn't have been a need for me to run at 5:15 in the morning. And I wouldn't know my terrific co-workers who bring a lot of fun and friendship to those hours working at my corporate job.

So as fun as it is to daydream about the road not taken, the details just confirm what I say all the time. Being a grown up is sometimes nothing more than a series of very hard decisions. Choices every day, doing the best we can to be the best we can. The stay at home mom choice isn't really on the table for me; the best choice I can make is to keep being the best MOM I can be, no matter where I spend my hours during the day.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Forever Friends

Sometimes it's hard to be the big sister. Sometimes it's hard to be the little brother. And it's almost always hard to be the parent who has to try and keep the peace between said big sister and little brother.

Then there are days like today, and nights like last night, when the kids magically get along and prefer each other's company to mine or Justin's. Last night it was a game of "Scramble" played with rules they made up.

Today it's Star Wars on the back patio.

I understand sibling rivalry - being the long suffering Middle Kid of the May family - but I also understand the precious and unique gift of a sister and a brother who are your best friends, who you love infinitely, and whose company you prefer over just about anyone else's. Which is why I'm determined that my own children, from a very early age, will see each other not just as siblings but as friends.

Don't get me wrong - there are fights. There is hitting. There is tackling. There are tears. There is a long list of typical sibling behavior that drives a parent nuts and gets on your last.damn.nerve. But when that stuff happens, I remind them - you don't have to like each other. Sometimes you won't want to play together. But no matter what, you guys are Forever Friends. No matter what, you'll always have each other.

Amazing how even at 5 and 7, that can diffuse the tension. Even when Forever seems like a really, really long time.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday feature: John's race day artwork

To close out the coverage of my Houston marathon race weekend, here is the picture John drew for me while he hung out at Aunt Susannah's house waiting for Mommy to get close to the end where he could cheer me on:

See all those arrows? Faster, Higher, Stronger. At least, that's how my precious son sees me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Still STRAC after all these years

I think I like Paul Simon's version better.

While home in Houston last weekend, Mom mentioned that they had been doing some cleaning out of closets. And Dad quickly added that meant I needed to do my part, and either take the cadet uniforms currently sucking up half the space in the closet in my old room, or face the possibility of some lucky northwest Houston kiddo being a flying monkey from the Wizard of Oz next Halloween.

I guess I'm the sentimental type, because as of right this moment, those uniforms are now sucking up half the space in our guest room closet back here at home in Arkansas. At least, until we get them put away in our attic storage. Obviously for the purpose of allowing our own kiddos to dress up as flying monkeys from the land of Oz on some future Halloween.

This may, or may not, be hung IAW BAG
There's even a Short O and a Long O under there somewhere...

 It was fun to reminisce over the uniforms and all of the associated memories from years past. Smelly wool; itchy starched white collars; men's uniforms nominally tailored for a woman's body so you have no chance of looking remotely feminine. But you could look STRAC, as they sometimes say in the Army. Ahhhhh, the memories. Good times.

I guess it was all those warm and fuzzy memories in the back of my mind that manifested in this sudden realization as I stood in front of the full length mirror in the women's bathroom at work today: I still check my gig line. And I still give myself dress offs.

Old habits die hard, I guess. I'm going to go start The Corps now. Pop off, you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Race Report: Houston ABB 5k and Chevron Houston Marathon

Two days, two races, one more state off the list for my multiyear quest to run a marathon in all 50 states!! No doubt, though, this weekend confirmed that everything is BIGGER and BETTER in TEXAS!!

Saturday: up early for the ABB 5k. Ummmm... 5k the day before a marathon, you say? Call it the warm up before the real race. And warm it was - 72 degrees, 93% humidity. Hello, Houston winter. How I've missed thee.

I'm not going to say that a 5k as a final taper run before attempting to BQ is right for everyone. But if you hard-core run for the bling like I do, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. 5k: medal #1. Marathon: medal #2. Doing both: medal #3. BOOM.

The 5k itself really, truly, was my warm up race. Until I got to the start line. And felt awesome. And heard Meb Keflizighi pump up the crowd. And was close enough to actually see Meb Keflizighi. So. Excellent.

Long story short: 5k was an easy run ending in a respectable time of 26:08. Maybe a little faster than intended, but felt good, heart rate stayed low, finished, got my medal, and headed to the car. Was back home at my parents' by 9:30 for a restful day of football and snoozing on the couch.

Sunday: RACE DAY!! I spent Saturday night at my sister's since she lives about 10 minutes from the start line, and that gave me an extra hour of sleep on marathon morning. She also graciously got up waaaaay before dawn (and if you know my sister, you recognize that as the herculean effort it is) to drop me off. Peanut butter on rice cake consumed; agonizing over what to wear complete; triple and quadruple checking of gear check bag done. Time to go.

When she said drop off, she wasn't kidding: A-list, Red Carpet, curbside service. Which was awesome, since between Saturday morning and Sunday morning the temperature had dropped 25 degrees, bands of rain had arrived, and the wind had kicked up to a steady 15mph. Brrrrrrrrr.

A brisk one block walk later, I'm inside the George R. Brown Convention Center in a sea of humanity. Fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States; over 16,000 runners; their family and friends; and 30 steps in, I run into a high school classmate I haven't seen in 20 years. True story. But did I take a picture before we said our goodbye's and good lucks? Nope. Scrapbooker extraordinaire didn't even consider pulling out the camera. Clue #1 I was a huge spazball of nerves that morning.

Dropped off the bag at gear check, headed over to - wait for it - the VIP Potty area. Once again, courtesy of my awesome Dad. Best.Gift.Ever. All you runners, you know what I'm talking about... the luxury of walking right up to the port-a-potty with no line, extra TP, and plenty of hand sanitizer. Not to mention all of this, still indoors. The Chevron Houston Marathon does it right.

Finally decided to suck it up and head out to the corral around 6:30. I figured if I was going to get wet, I was going to get wet, no matter how long I stood waiting for the start. And, inevitably, I did get wet. The light mist and showers weren't too bad; the wind made it cool enough that I was shivering; but we all just kind of huddled together counting the minutes until the start. And then. Then the downpour. Ten, maybe 15? minutes before the gun, the skies opened up and the rains came down. Full on shiver mode a go. Thank goodness for the super nice people around me; we huddled even closer together in a mostly-futile attempt to at least keep our feet dry. #fail

Meb on Saturday at the 5k was cool; Ryan Hall Sunday at the marathon, also cool. 7AM, the gun goes off, we start to move. Even though 25,000 runners registered for the race, it turns out that only 16,797 total runners finished on Sunday, 6,676 of those running the marathon. I crossed the start line about 3 1/2 minutes after the gun, and I was off and running!!

In all of my race prep strategy talks, one constant was: don't go out too fast. Except it was typically articulated as DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST!!!!! I generally respond well to bold shouty capitals with lots of exclamation points, but I was hyped up; I was psyched; I was going to BQ!!! I mean, all that adrenaline - I felt awesome. So as I'm running, and my shoes are flying across the pavement, I kept telling myself, I'll slow it down in half a mile; I'll slow it down at the 5k point; I'll slow it down at the 10k point; I'll back off at 10; I'll have to ease into the 8:23 pace at the half marathon mark. The thing is, though, some days you've just got it. And Sunday, I had it.

Like I said yesterday, one of the reasons it was a great day was because I knew I would see my family along the route. My face tells the progression of how I felt on Sunday. Mile 8: "Heeeeeyyyyyy!!!"
Lots of excited arm waving going on directly after this picture was taken. Clearly, I'm feeling good - but look closely, and the hands are already getting a little bit red...

I constantly have the "what should I wear?!" dilemma when I run in anything cooler than 70 degrees. Not to be confused with the "I have nothing to wear!" dilemma. That, my friends, is not my problem. As evidenced by the 462 different running outfit combinations I packed for the weekend's two races. Turns out, I hit the nail on the head with 1) capris and 2) one layer of a long sleeve shirt. However, epic fail with the no gloves. I had a pair at the start, courtesy of ABB from the expo. But yours truly had a bit of an issue with the iPod headphone cord snaking into my sleeve, so around mile 5 I took the gloves off *temporarily* to fix the cord. Best laid plans... as I'm twisting and grabbing at the cord under my shirt while still moving forward at a sub-8:00 mile pace, the gloves fall to the ground. I take a half second to consider picking them up and that idea is immediately squashed by the 98% of my brain screaming "YOU CANNOT AFFORD A SINGLE SECOND IF YOU ARE GOING TO QUALIFY FOR BOSTON!!" Goodbye, faithful sheddable gloves. You were great while you lasted.

Short story long (my specialty)... by the time I saw Justin, Susannah, Justin (yes, my brother-in-law's name is also Justin), and Dad at mile 8, the hands were already quite cold. But I'm feeling good, holding a great pace, and excited to keep moving along the miles. Susannah yells "Twelve! We'll see you at twelve!" and that was it. I had that extra motivation to keep me going.

I haven't mentioned that the entire race, the wind was blowing, a steady 15mph. Up to this point, it was a crosswind, so it didn't really impact my time one way or the other. Also, luckily, the rain had stopped, and the temperature was holding steady in the upper 40's, so the weather conditions were basically ideal. By the time I got to mile 12 and saw the family again, I was still feeling good:

At the half marathon point, I checked my Garmin and my pace band and congratulated myself on kicking ass so far. If that had been the end of my race, I would've PRed that, too, improving more than 12 minutes vs. my current half marathon PR from St. Louis. Then the course turned north, and that 15mph wind hit me head on.

As my husband and I like to say, that joker was no joke.

Through Wesleyan, into West Park, under the feeder to 59... never in my life have I loved an underpass the way I did the underpasses at 59 and 610 on Sunday. When a spectator's pants looked like sails on the high seas, I wanted to just stay under that concrete windbreak as long as I could. But the eye was always on the prize; the coveted BQ always in front of me. Onward. Push it. Keep going. One foot in the front of the other, through the puddles and on the endless concrete of the Houston roads.

Mile 16, I took my only steps at a walk the entire race - I hadn't had many fluids at that point, in part because I'm the scene out of the movie "Airplane" when I try to run and drink Gatorade or water at the same time. I knew I needed at least one good fluid intake to get me through, so 6 steps walking, shotgun some Gatorade, and get moving again. By the time I saw my family again at 17, I had the dreaded IT band pain in my left knee, but the muscles, the lungs, and the heart were all still faithful and true.

Then came mile 21. The wall. It's real, my friends.

You can't see it, but you know it's coming. You know it's there. And when you hit it, it isn't about your body anymore. It isn't about how strong your muscles are, or how well conditioned your heart is, or how great is the capacity of your lungs. When you hit the wall, it's about your will; your desire; your mental toughness. It's about your brain believing you can when your legs scream you can't. It's about your soul pushing you forward when your lungs are holding you back.

And when you're a runner, you push through it. You cling to the mantra in your brain repeating "Keep going, Keep going, Keep going" over and over and over again, in part because you can't form a complete sentence. You push through it because you know that the miles and hours of training were for exactly this. You overcome it because you know just a couple more miles down the road, the people who believe in you and support you are waiting to cheer you on and help you Keep Going. Your feet keep up their steady, pounding, punishing rhythm because you didn't come out to run 20 miles today, or 21 miles. You came out to run twenty-six point two miles and come hell or high water, that's exactly what you're going to do.

It wasn't pretty at that point. But it doesn't have to be. You

When you see the flags by the building at mile 22 standing straight out, you have to keep going.

When the wind is in your face at mile 23, you have to keep going.

When your BQ cushion falls from 4 minutes, to 3 minutes, to 2 1/2 minutes, you have to keep going.

Because when you keep going, eventually, you get to mile marker 24. And then 25. And that's when downtown Houston is in full view, and you know that if you can just keep going, you're going to BQ.

As I rounded one of the final corners of the race and saw the beautiful blue mesh fences that every runner knows means you're almost there, I could think of nothing but getting in under 3:40. The math told me I was fine; the delirious runner brain told me there are never any guarantees in life. A finish time of 3:39:50 might qualify, but it might not be good enough to get in. SO KEEP GOING. Push it. And as every dear friend who has encouraged me along the way ran through my mind, a miraculous tail wind picks up and literally pushes me along the course.

You see those spikes at the far side? Those are 25.4 miles, 25.8, and 26.1 miles, respectively. And you know what the corresponding moving pace is for each of those spikes??

  • 5:23 minute per mile
  • 5:40 minutes per mile
  • 4:49 minute per mile

So whether it was the wind, the breath of God, or the collective release of the breath my friends near and far had been holding as they got the text message and Facebook updates on my race throughout the morning, it was the difference in a 3:39:00 finish and the official 3:38:31 when I crossed the finish line.

The price you pay when you run a marathon is physical; this was my fourth one, and I had an idea what to expect. But I have never, ever, truly left myself out there, put everything I had into every step of the race. Now I know what that feels like. And because my family was there at the finish line for me, I know what it looks like, too.

In retrospect, there's nothing I would've done differently. Well, okay, except maybe wear gloves. But materially, there's nothing I would change - the weather, the crowd, the number of fellow runners, which corral I started in, what I ate for dinner the night before, what I had for breakfast the day of, how many times I took fluids, how many gels I didn't take.

Because in its entirety, it was a gift. Thanks for sharing it with me.


Official time: 3:38:31

  • Overall: 966 out of 6,676 (top 15%)
  • Women: 206 out of 2,565 (top 8%)
  • Age Group (Women 35-39): 43 out of 483 (top 9%)

Monday, January 14, 2013

I'm a Wicked Fast Runnah

If you know me, then you know I love to run. Maybe a little over-the-top love to run. But I honestly, genuinely, passionately love to run. One of these days I'll blog about all of the reasons why.

Not today. Today, I celebrate achieving a goal that I honestly thought was a dream, not a goal with a tangible finish line.

Yesterday, I qualified for the Boston Marathon.

If you're a runner, that's kind of a holy grail. The original - the oldest marathon in America, run since 1897. The race is so popular, you can't just register and send in your money. You can't even put your name in for a lottery. You have to qualify. As in, run a certain time (or faster) for your age group, and then you get the privilege of submitting your name for registration. And, hopefully, your qualifying time is fast enough to snag one of the available spots for the race.

But let's not focus on the details - let's talk about how I JUST QUALIFIED FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON!!!

This past weekend was one of the most personally fulfilling of my life. It all started months ago with my dad sending me an email... his company had a corporate team running the Houston Marathon to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House, and I was invited to join them. BOOM. Just like that - I'm signed up for the race! (Thanks, Daddy!!)

I start to think about training, and initially set a goal of a sub-4:00 marathon, which was crazy talk. I mean, my PR (personal record) at that point was 4:46 and some change. Who takes 46 minutes off their time in less than a year??? (Leading question... almost nobody...)

So I start to talk about my plan at work. Constantly. Incessantly. And most likely, annoyingly. Lucky for me, there are like-minded running enthusiasts in my office, and one of them scoffed at my sub-4:00 goal. Sub-4:00? he says. What's that? Why don't you shoot to qualify for Boston?

** insert Amanda's gape-mouthed, astonished stare HERE **

Now THAT is crazy talk. My age group (women 35-39) has to run a 3:40:00 or faster time. That comes out to an 8:23 average per mile pace, which yours truly had never demonstrated in any race of any distance (not counting a couple of Army PT tests, but come on, that was YEARS ago).

But the seed was planted. And I had the bug. Bad. BQ? Really? Me? Now the question was, how...

Enter awesome West Point classmate whose sister is a professional runner. They put their heads together, come up with a training plan. I enroll multiple running friends to help me along the way. I tell pretty much anyone and everyone who would listen that I was trying to BQ. Nothing like the specter of public humiliation to motivate you when you don't feel like dragging yourself out of bed for a 5AM run in 17 degree weather.

Fast forward four months, and it's marathon weekend. Best Husband Ever packs up Enthusiastically Supportive Kids and we all head down to Houston. I'll save most of the details of race weekend and race day (well, technically, both race days... did I mention I may be a little over-the-top with the running?) for tomorrow's blog post. But the most important detail wasn't a detail at all; it was the key piece.

I may have lined up alone at the start line, but I wasn't alone for a single minute on that course.

All of my running friends here at home were with me, as I thought of our speed work, our hill repeats, our long runs, and our conversations over text, email and lunch as I worked to get better. The miles and miles and miles we've run together held me up, every single step I took.

All of my running friends that live all over the country were with me, when I thought of their own training stories, when I heard their songs on my playlist, as I thought of one of them running a different marathon at the exact same time I was running Houston.

I had my West Point classmates with me, the ones who cheered me on with "BQ! BQ! BQ!" whenever I posted a great training day on Facebook. My classmates who were training for their own marathons but took time to support me with my training. My classmates who encouraged me when their response to my goal was an attitude of "Of course you can do it, Amanda. We know you can."

But most of all, I had my amazing, wonderful, world's-best family down there on the course, in the miserably cold, wet, windy weather. Cheering for me, encouraging me, keeping me going, motivating me to put one foot in front of the other. My husband, my kids, my sister, my dad, my mom, my brother, my niece, my sister, and my brother-in-law. At mile 8, at mile 12, at mile 16, at mile 22, and at the finish. Braving the weather and navigating closed roads and Houston traffic because they're proud of me; because they believe in me; because they love me.

I love to run. But that pales in comparison to the people I love who enable my love of running.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ready to run

'twas the night before Houston, and all in my head,
I'm spinning and spazzing and feeling some dread.
I'll be up quite early and there might be light rain,
But I'm shooting for 3:40 with minimal pain.

My family supports me (while saying "She's nuts!")
Though they also would say that this takes some real guts.
I've trained and I've sweated; I've planned and strategized.
Now it's time to go out and chick a bunch of guys!

No matter the weather, it's go time tomorrow,
And the marathon will likely deliver some joy and some sorrow.
I'm hoping for mostly the joy on my run,
Starting right off with the sound of the gun.

So if you're in the Bayou City and need something to do,
Come on downtown for the parade of the shoes.
I line up alone but from the start to the end,
I'll be running with 25,000 of my new closest friends!

Full race report to come!!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's artwork

Went to see Grandmama Shrum today. I asked Caroline to draw a picture for her. I told her I loved it; she said she couldn't get GG's hair quite right. GG loved it, so I say she nailed it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Two turntables and a microphone...

Caroline constantly amazes me with her creativity and artistic output. It used to be hard to throw away or recycle her masterpieces, but we eventually hit the tipping point - probably sometime during kindergarten - so now we're more selective in what stays in the art binder for keeps.

Like most seven year olds, there are lots of pictures of rainbows, butterflies, flowers, princesses, castles... Mediums of markers, pens, pencils, crayons, watercolors, even tempera paints sometimes. All of them wonderful because they're little windows into her personality.

This past weekend, though, was an original. I guess for background, you have to know that Daddy loves - and I mean LOVES - to sing. Not so much along with songs on the radio; no, he loves to sing while he cooks or does the dishes or picks up around the house, and he loves to compose lyrics and sometimes even the tunes to go with them.

Knowing that, this is one of the most priceless creations yet:

That's right: it's a microphone. In fact, it's a double sided microphone. The possibilities are endless. Want to talk at the dinner table? Gotta have the microphone. Kids driving us nuts in the car? Any comment, microphone required. Can't stop picking on your sister? You will sing her an apology, into the microphone.

Somehow I doubt Caroline intended to give Mommy a diabolical tool.

It came with song lyrics, too, about one of Daddy's favorite things:

I'm determined that my kids will be engineers or scientists. But if Caroline wants to be a struggling songwriter on the side, I'm okay with that, too.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Soft teeth, hard head

I like to think that I've inherited the absolute best traits from both of my parents. With one GLARING exception - my teeth. Soft teeth, just like your dad, my childhood dentist told me. Mouth full of silver and amalgam to prove him right.

I won't say I've had exemplary oral hygiene habits my whole life. Like most kids, I probably did the minimum required to answer truthfully the parental question, "did you brush your teeth?" But certainly for the last 30+ years, I've been thorough, and as a young 20 something, I got some serious religion.

After two root canals. In three months.

Several days ago, when I started having some significant pain in my very back molar on the top left side, I decided it was probably nothing other than the result of grinding my teeth at night (another bad oral health habit), or just something an even more thorough flossing could take care of. Then on day two of the pain I thought, maybe it's just cold sensitivity. Sunday, day three, when I couldn't chew anything on the left side of my mouth I thought, dangit. Gotta go see the dentist.

Honestly, if I wasn't headed to Houston for the marathon this weekend, my hard head probably would've won out. But having visited a 24 hour dentist in Florida the first time I needed a root canal, I decided that was more painful than a preventive checkup, so off to the dentist first thing Monday morning.

Which quickly turned into: off to the endodontist second thing Tuesday afternoon. Dangit, dangit, dangit.

Root canal, part one, complete. At least I talked him out of part two until after marathon #2 in February. Helps that his wife's a runner. He totally didn't think there was anything weird about running two marathons in three weeks. Just weird that I thought the only thing wrong was that I was grinding my teeth.

Hard head, I guess.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Big numbers

At the beginning of 2012, I had a goal of running 100 miles each month for a total of 1,200 miles for the year. With 2012 in the rear view mirror, I figured it was time to add it up and take stock.

Bad news: I didn't run 100 miles each month.

Good news: I crushed my goal.

Kind of hard for me to believe, but I ended the year with a total of just over 1,343 miles. I had a few spring months where I didn't get that many miles in; must've been recovering from two marathons in two weeks, or looking for a triathlon to cross train for. But two big months to close out the year with 170 in November and 175 in December got me across the finish line.

It's funny - while pretty much every non-runner I know may think I'm a little nuts (or at least odd), they at least think of me as a runner. Or maybe that's Runner, capital R, Runner. But for me, it's been one of those goals to attain.

Oh, Amanda? Yeah, she'll be a runner someday, if she just sticks with it.

But 2012 - that was the year I stuck with it. Maybe looking back at 2013, I'll be able to claim Marathoner, too.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Time space continuum

Today was a big day - John's first play date. He's been dying to go over to his friend's house for weeks, and apparently the two of them have made big plans while they're at school about all the fun they'll have. Lucky for them, their moms finally got it together. Today, we would make it happen.

Of course, knowing there was a playdate in the afternoon, the "is it time to go?" questions reached a fever pitch starting, oh, about two seconds after breakfast was finished.

When is it time to go, Mommy?
When it's time to go, John.
When will that be?
Around 1:30, John.

Thirty minutes later.

Is it time to go now, Mommy?
No, John. Not until after lunch.
** brief pause **
Can we have lunch now?

Guess I ain't raising no dummy.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Feature: John's artwork

One of the highlights of each evening when I get home from work is looking through the kids' schoolwork from that day or week. I hope to use Friday blog entries as a way to share something that I really enjoyed from that week.

There were only two school days this week, so most of what came home was the detritus of Christmas past. In John's case, though, his writing journal came home. I'm not entirely clear on why, as it was still half empty, but hey - that means he now has an awesome art pad to use at home.

The half that was full, though, was priceless. One sentence with a corresponding illustration done in the bold crayon strokes of a kindergarten artist. I picked this one to share because 1) the sentence is readable to someone other than John's parent and 2) I happen to adore the butterflies in the picture. The very first recognizable picture John ever drew was a butterfly, and he still draws them essentially the same way.

So without further ado, the first Friday Feature, hopefully with 51 more to come.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Teach them in the way they should go...

One of my constant failures as a parent is in assuming my kids just KNOW how to do things. You know, THINGS. Wash their own hair, brush their own teeth, put your pants on frontwards (as opposed to backwards). Things.

But apparently, these are not part of the human evolutionary knowledge, as evidenced by the frustration in my voice every.single.night when I have to say, "No, you're NOT finished in the shower, you didn't get all of the shampoo out of your hair!"

To be fair, we've moved past a lot of THINGS that they now KNOW how to do. Getting dressed, making their beds, putting dishes on the counter after meals. So tonight, we officially moved on to higher order chores. Tonight was the first night either of my kids have helped with the dishes.

When I say helped, keep in mind that a) I'm talking about John and b) John is five.

With one piece of leftover pizza sitting on the countertop, I say, "John, please grab a baggie and put the last piece of pizza away."

Blank stare. Crickets. Tumbleweeds. The longest single moment of silence you'll get out of my son in any given 24 hour period.

So as the new, improved, blogging Mama Coussoule, I think, he just needs more specific direction! Which, I quickly realized, meant step-by-literal-step direction.

Go to the drawer. Take out a plastic baggie. Not that baggie, the other one. Yes, no. No, yes, no, NO, YES!!! (accompanied by teeny fingers pointing at boxes in the drawer, but too quickly to register the "yes" when it happens). Bring the baggie over here. Open the baggie. Put the pizza in the baggie. Turn the pizza so that it fits. Now close the baggie.

And that's where we hit a wall. Close the baggie, you say? What kind of ingenious contraption is this baggie closure? While the Ziploc masterminds may think the pink and blue closures are explanatory enough, I beg to differ. This required adult intervention and a demonstration of how the pink and blue go together, so that John could slide his fingers the rest of the way across.

You know what, though? That simple act of the first click of the closure in the corner resulted in delight. Delight in squeezing the colored lines together; delight in finding it actually closed; and delight in putting the leftovers in the fridge all by himself. No yelling, no tears, no frustrated stomping away. By either party.

So who actually did the teaching tonight, anyway?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Where the apple falls...

Cliches don't become cliches without being true, right? So the whole apple and the tree, chip and the block...

Yep, that's my kid. I brought new books home from the library today and it was sheer delight. I didn't have The Magic Treehouse books when I was 7, but if it was a book and written in English, I was all about it. Caroline is... Well, she's a chip off the old block.

Boy, do I love that kid.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's resolutions

So I tend to make resolutions - or at least a list of goals - every year. So far this year, I've come up with three:

1. Start and keep a blog for one year
2. Take one photo every day
3. Stop messing with my phone while I'm in the driver's seat!!!

I have several race and fitness goals, but those feel like a different list. Maybe a post for another day.

So I figure while most resolutions are kaput within a month (highly scientific research accomplished by considering my own resolutions over the last few years), I've at least taken a positive step by getting a blog post down on day one.

So why blog? I know the reasons are varied; when you google blogging for beginners there are all kinds of tips for monetizing your blog, optimizing your searchability, and gaining lots of followers. Nope, not my goals. I mostly want to try and capture the little moments that slip through your fingers; the funny things the kids say that you think you'll never forget; the sweet things people say that touch your heart in that moment; the triumphs and tribulations of living life one day at a time, 365 days a year.

So that's the plan. I'm sure there will be days that will consist of nothing but a photo, and there will certainly be days that go by without any entries at all. But it's a year long project, so if I'm blogging on New Year's Eve 2013, then that's one resolution I'll have proof was kept.