Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The joke's on you

On the way to school this morning, Caroline says, "Daddy, let's do riddles!"

Daddy says, "Ok."

-- pause --

"Go ahead Daddy, ask me a riddle."


Daddy: "What's black and white and read all over?" (Joke works much better said out loud...)

Caroline: "A penguin who ate all the pink cupcakes!"

Not bad, huh? Turns out, though, it came from a book called Pinkalicious Tickled Pink. So while it's clever, it wasn't original.

After a few other tries that didn't make any sense, Caroline hit gold - "An embarrassed zebra!"

Love it. That's Kenny Bania worthy.

Daddy explains the joke (you know, a newspaper), and how the linguistic device of a homophone delivers the classic punch line. At which point, Caroline disputes the hilarity of the joke by explaining in a deadpan that it doesn't make any sense. She fully understands the concept of homophones - can name many of them on her own - but apparently doesn't like being duped. So, of course, the joke didn't make any sense.

Tough crowd around here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Trains then, Trains now

For years, John loved Thomas the Train and all of his Friends. His bedtime song was the theme song from the show on PBS;

 he "played tracks" whenever he was home;

we read stories from the Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection every single night. We know not just Percy and James and Gordon and Edward, etc. etc. etc., but the lesser known Molly and Donald and Douglas and Sir Handel and Victor and all of the other Friends. Any given engine might end up in a coat pocket for a trip to daycare. Not just engines - anything Thomas was fair game.

I loved that he and Caroline both played with the trains - hearing John make up stories for the trains was one of those wonderful toddler year delights.

Of course, the day inevitably came when his interest in Thomas waned in favor of Star Wars, Legos and Angry Birds, so we recently boxed up all of the trains, tracks and stations and moved them into the attic. We haven't kept many toys over the years, but it was a combination of sentimentality, total financial investment, and the hope that someday we'll have other little people who want to play with Thomas and his Friends!

While we may not still sing the Thomas theme song at bedtime except for the rare occasion when I suggest it, the love of trains isn't completely gone. The romance of the rails appeals to boys big and small, and big sisters aren't immune. This past weekend we checked out the Northwest Arkansas Model Train Show, and it was just the right size to pass an hour or so with model trains and sets.

There were plenty of vendors, too, and wouldn't you know - the first thing John and Caroline saw were the Thomas and Friends items.


I miss Thomas sometimes; there are lots of excellent lessons about being a Really Useful Engine, and warning the midgeroos that they were causing Confusion and Delay was a great parenting tactic to get slowpokes moving.

As the trains whizzed by on the electric tracks, you could see the wonder and excitement on those sweet faces still there:

All aboard!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Feature: John's artwork

I don't know about you, but what I remember about kindergarten primarily centers around recess, crafts, and the big treehouse in the indoor play area. There were lessons about shapes and colors; number and letters; and probably some reading and writing, but I don't actually remember that very well.

I continue to sing the praises of the Fayetteville Public School District and specifically, Holcomb Elementary, for the subjects and the way they teach my kids not just their letters, numbers, words and concepts, but how they teach them to love learning and think creatively about what learning is.

When John brought this home this week, what struck me was that something he saw as artwork was truly a lesson in spelling and sentence structure. Like any mom I think my kids are special and smart, but a 5 year old writing sentences that go together and tell a little story? Extraordinary. Not just John - but the teacher who got him and his 21 kindergarten classmates there.

I'm glad he's doing well in school, but even more, I'm blessed because John makes my world culrfl!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

You Live Where?: Winter Edition

Thanks to the Army and then P&G, we've moved a lot. We're currently in Northwest Arkansas, which is a wonderful place to live. In fact, it's one of my favorites of the 12 different places I have lived in my adult life.

Despite NWA being one of my favorite places to live, as a Texan, there's just a natural bias against the whole state. It's pretty common to get a "You live where??" type of response from childhood friends when they hear where my latest move brought me. With that in mind, I've decided to start a randomly recurring blog segment known as "You Live Where?" Has a nice ring, no?

Southern state aside, we have winter here in NWA. Yesterday was the first snow day of the year, with snow and ice predicted as part of Winter Storm Q. (I'll keep my opinions on the Weather Channel naming winter storms to myself.)

While weather predictions here are usually 50/50 at best, with snow on the forecast it's a 100% accurate prediction that everyone here will lose the ability to drive. Exhibit A: my 12 mile drive that should have taken 20 minutes took 1:05. At least nine cars and a semi off the road. Seriously, people:

Schools closed early; email from the office advised planning to work from home; I even succumbed and bagged on my Thursday morning run before I even went to bed.

Sure was nice to sleep in, but when it was 36 degrees and raining, not sleeting so that my excuse was pretty weak, I realized: I may officially be a local.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Funday

What to do when the kids are out of school and Mom has the day off, too? Especially when the weather looks like this?

Well, let's be honest, the weather today didn't start off exactly like that - it started off so windy that I opted to sleep in and hit the treadmill later. That's right - 50 some odd degrees, no rain, and I chose the dreadmill. I still haven't recovered from the mental beat down of the head winds in my last two marathons.

Lucky for me, I had my post-race massage scheduled this morning, so I started off *my* day with a little bit of indulgence. Didn't hurt that it was a Living Social deal so I got it 50% off.

So massage and workout done, too late for breakfast, and it's time to get home and figure out what we're going to do with the rest of the day. With my Lenten intent to spend more time with the kids, I came up with a three step plan:
  1. Lunch at McDonalds
  2. Caroline's treat for accomplishing her reading goal
  3. Fun time at the library
Too bad it didn't occur to me to take pictures until we were at the library. But you get the picture: 6 piece McNugget Happy Meal results in random toys that make my kids think they've won the lottery. Extra bonus: our McD's has an indoor play place, and with nothing pressing on the agenda, the kids got to play to their heart's content. Add a friend from Caroline's 2nd grade class, and it's almost like a play date. Except I made no effort. Which makes it the best play date ever, actually.

McDonald's down, treat time next. This month, the kids are participating in the Book Hogs reading program at school. For added incentive, I told them that when they hit 500 minutes of reading, they could pick their treat. Naturally, Caroline is already at 600-something minutes, so today was the prefect day for the treat of her choice:

There is apparently a lot of peer pressure in the 2nd grade set around Dippin' Dots. She shared with me that she was the recipient of mild ridicule when she told her friends she'd never had it before. Problem solved.

Next up: Fayetteville Public Library, one of my absolute FAVORITE things about living in Northwest Arkansas. National award winning library, right here in my little town. Since we moved here, Caroline has read her way through the entire Junie B. Jones collection, and just last week finished book #48 in the Magic Tree House series, all courtesy of the FPL. John has recently been into anything Star Wars, and loves the Elephant and Piggie books. That's what he wanted today - and I realized, this is the perfect opportunity to teach my kids about call numbers!! (Get excited! Book nerds unite!!)

Author: Mo Willems. John finds the "W" shelf:

Just like that - two new Elephant and Piggie books. BOOM - I'm feeling like a pretty good mom today.

John found LOTS of books today - Berenstain Bears, Elephant and Piggie, a couple new Star Wars book, and other random titles that looked good to him:

Caroline, on the other hand, wasn't sure what to look for. I made a couple of suggestions, but she's just not-that-into Mommy's Ramona Quimby or Nancy Drew ideas at the moment.

Trying to be the paying-attention-Mom, I asked Caroline what she thought she might like to read, and immediately, she responded with a request to find some new American Girl Doll books. We head right to the computer to look them up, and voila! Caroline's turn to learn how to find books in a library. We hit the jackpot - the entire Rebecca series, two of the McKenna books, and one on Jess. I'm clueless, but Caroline apparently knows who each of these girls are, so she's super happy. Which in turn, of course, makes me super happy. Today's haul:

Pouring down rain outside and nothing pressing to do or places to be, so I tell the kids to settle in on one of the comfy chairs by the window, hang out, and read while Mommy goes up to the adult section for a couple of minutes to pick out a few new books of my own.

True confession: romance novels are my guilty pleasure. Sure, I'll read Pulitzer Prize winning books and if I ever get my Masters degree in British Literature I'll write my thesis on how Thomas Hardy used his writing to expose the oppression of women in 19th century London society, but in the meantime, I can tear through a 300 page Nora Roberts tome in about a day and a half.

I do enough heavy thinking at work, anyway. :)

Last up for the day - homemade oatmeal cookies. My mom used to make oatmeal cookies all the time, and my poor kids have never even had one. Before Christmas I got a wild hair to make some, so naturally, two months later, I finally did it!

Nothing is ever the same as your mom's, but I have to say, they were pretty good. The white chocolate chips and dried cranberries didn't hurt.

So that was our Monday Funday, also known as President's Day. I feel a little guilty that I didn't take the time at the library to do a little history lesson on Washington and Lincoln, but there's always next year.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What motivates you?

I run for lots of reasons: fitness, socializing, competitiveness, me-time, to prove I can.

I also run for the bling:

Justin and I made some medal hangers for my growing collection, and I'm pretty excited with how they turned out. I'm not the most creative person in the world, but I hope to earn a few more triathlon medals for this one:

Wonder how long until I need another one? Once I do, any ideas for a witty title for it?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Feature: My Two Valentines

I'm a pretty lucky mom. Both of my kiddos agreed to be my Valentine yesterday.

When you have kids, you know just what true love is.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Guessing Games

Constant entertainment - the goal of kids everywhere. Lucky for me, my two midgeroos do a pretty good job of entertaining themselves, taking much of the burden off of me and Justin. Guessing games are a an old standby, especially when we're in the car, as there aren't all that many options when you're strapped to a seat that's strapped to another seat, and unbuckling incurs the wrath of God Mommy.

Last night, Justin had the kids in the car, driving from Ash Wednesday services to IHOP. I had come straight from work and was in my own car, so didn't get to hear this little gem:

Caroline: "I'm going to think of a number and you have to guess it."
John (aka Easiest Going Kid in the World): "Ok."

Now, if you remember the universal rules of The Guessing Game, bracketing the answer eventually leads to a correct guess. The accuracy of your guesses is relayed with a variation on temperature: you're either hot, or you're cold. Or, in my kids' case:

"You're in the stove!"

"You're in the fireplace!"

This feels like a semi-dangerous game.

When it was John's turn to choose a number for Caroline to guess, he came up with my favorite response yet to an incorrect guess:

"You're in Antarctica. Without any clothes on. In outer space."

Caroline immediately protested that it didn't make any sense. Um, yeah, it kind of does. In an awesome and creative way. Nice work, little man. You've upped the Game.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What I'm Giving for Lent

It's not a typo; you read it right. What I'm GIVING for Lent, not giving UP for Lent.

On Ash Wednesday last year, my parish priest, Fr. John, gave a homily that has really stuck with me. It essentially boils down to challenging the traditional approach to the 40 days of Lent and turning it on its head. In giving things up, we can sometimes end up inflating our ego and pride by pointing to how disciplined we are to avoid chocolate; what a martyr we are to forgo coffee. While giving up checking Facebook or desserts after a meal at least alludes to the spirit of penance as Jesus did by fasting for 40 days (seems like a tenuous parallel when it's written down, doesn't it?), aren't there ways that you can give of yourself that in turn demonstrate your love for others?

This year, in the 40 days of Lent and hopefully beyond, I plan to:

  1. Give more help to my husband. I will fold more clothes; do more dishes; make more PB&J sandwiches for lunch boxes.
  2. Give more time to my children. I will spend 1:1 time with them in the evenings after work; I will read a book before bed even if it's after 8PM; I will put down my iPad and listen with my full attention when they want to show me their Lego creation or winning move at checkers.
  3. Give more kindness to my co-workers. When things aren't going well, or someone at HQ does something I disagree with, I will bite my tongue; I will assume positive intent; and I will find the opportunity in the midst of irritation.
 I hope I'm successful at all of these. I also hope that in 40 days, they become a habit that eventually turns into part of who I am.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Go Red for Women

I'm constantly amazed at the unique opportunities that come from working for P&G here in Northwest Arkansas. I've been introduced to the circuit of lunches that raise money for charitable causes, attending as a guest of either my company, or of a co-worker who volunteers for one of those groups.

I have attended a Susan G. Komen event, a CASA luncheon, and today, attended the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" annual event. Definitely a worthy cause; certainly every one of us has been touched by heart disease in some way.

Did I mention that Kirk Herbstreit was the keynote speaker?!

You know I love to run (I can hear the groans; yes, I know I talk about it constantly). I love football about as much as I love to run. I love college football with a fervor that has only intensified since moving to SEC Country. If you're a college football fan, too, then ESPN's College Gameday is likely an important part of your Saturday routine in the best season of the year (not fall, people - FOOTBALL season).

I have enough like-minded co-workers that we even co-opted the College Gameday theme for our office's annual campaign supporting the United Way. It helps that I'm the co-chair and have input to the theme, but still. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea.

P&G's Des, Fowler, Corso and Herbie - pretty good, huh?

So today, combine support of a worthy cause with Kirk Herbstreit, and it's clearly a good day.

But it got better.

I had the opportunity to join the pre-lunch meet and greet with Kirk, which I figured would be a quick handshake and a picture. Not minimizing that - super cool, right?! I mean, how often do you get to shake hands with Herbie and have a picture taken with him? Turns out, the guy is as easy going as he appears on TV. He didn't just shuffle people through the line; he stopped and chatted for a minute, and seemed to genuinely enjoy being there.

Fast forward through lunch to his remarks where he revealed that he'd been through his own episode of managing a heart condition, and we get to the Q&A portion of the presentation. Being the shy, retiring wallflower that I am, I was ready - and got my chance as the last question-asker of the day.

So I asked what was on the mind of everyone, everywhere: How did you manage to keep a straight face during the National Title game when Musburger started talking about Miss Alabama???

Followed by: What do Johnny Football and the Aggies have to do to beat Alabama again this year? (This was followed by several Whoops and Gig 'Ems in the audience - Aggies are everywhere, I tell you.)

Gratuitous Johnny Manziel picture
He answered the Johnny Football question first, essentially saying that he's a sensation akin to Joe Namath who brings a presence and a buzz that's going to make next season a lot of fun everywhere the Aggies go. He also mentioned he's pretty sure that Coach Saban has a plan for his visit to College Station next year, but DUH.

I figured he was going to skip over the question about Musburger, but he surprised me by returning to it - and cracked me up when he said, in obvious honesty, he didn't know what to think. He was like, "Wow - where do we go with this? Back to the game..."

So there you have it, sports fans. He was thinking what everybody else was thinking. About Musburger, I mean. Can't say what he was thinking about Miss Alabama. I didn't ask him that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Race Report: Inaugural Mississippi River Marathon

Another weekend, another race: the inaugural Mississippi River Marathon.

Self portrait pre race

I must begin with a strong and enthusiastic endorsement for this race. In an inaugural year, I would guess it's 50/50 at best that things will go smoothly. In my opinion, MS River got it 100% right, so kudos to them and the event organizers Start2Finish for their work and planning. It definitely paid off! With just over 400 runners in the full, it was a small race, but felt big time with the attention to detail and support they provided the runners.

First benefit of a smaller race: I parked about 500 feet from the finish line which was also about 500 feet from the buses that took us to the start of the point to point race. #winning (Yes, I know hashtags do nothing in a blog. Roll with it.)

The big yellow buses, ready to go

Second benefit: the pre-race gathering of marathoners felt a little bit like a gathering before a long-run-Saturday. It's not every day that sunrise at the start line is next to rice silos, but chalk one up for a uniquely Mississippi Delta experience:

Add the considerately placed bonfires to keep us warm, and it was a friendly, almost partytime atmosphere while we stood in line for the port-a-potty, dropped our gear bags, and walked over to the start line.

Another cold race day - in the 30s at the start

Not related to being a small race, but a HUGE thing they got right - aid stations and port-o-potties at every mile. Every one, people. I know port-o-potties may seem like a weird thing to get worked up over, but if you've ever needed one in the middle of a run and not had one, you know it's not weird at all. And the aid stations at one mile intervals ended up being the glue that kept my mental state together between mile 18 and the finish. More on that in a moment.

Now to the mopey whining, accompanied by a dose of self pity. It was a tale of two races, soundtrack by Bob Seger: "Running Against the Wind." Again. Seriously. I can't catch a break with the wind. Check out the flags:

Tale of two races: What I did wrong

My first mistake: I had no plan, no strategy. Which on one hand seems about right for me, and on the other, is a shocking lapse. I had focused so much energy on running a Boston Qualifying sub-3:40 in Houston three weeks earlier; upon achieving that, I clearly spent too much time enjoying the afterglow. Which meant on race morning for Mississippi, I literally walked up to the start line thinking, "I wonder how I'll do today?"

Start line: What'll I do today? DOH
Stupidstupidstupid rookie mistake (made worse by the fact that I'm no longer a marathon rookie). I had no idea whether I planned on trying to improve my time from Houston, back off just a little but still run a sub-4:00, or just enjoy the run and the scenery for the experience while marking one more state off the long quest for the 50 State Marathon club.

My second mistake: I went out waaaaaay too fast. My splits on the first five miles illustrate my second mistake in black and white:

Sub-8:00s, anyone?

My third mistake, which directly contributed to my second mistake: not enough rest between races, pushing too hard on what should have been recovery days (or even a recovery week). By mile 6, my legs told me I had arrogantly assumed I didn't need a break in my training. Arrogant, egotistical, stupid, naive, etc., etc.... over 26.2 miles, you have a lot of time to think of synonyms. But they all added up to the same thing - I just didn't have the oomph in my legs or the spring in my step to keep up the sub-8:00 pace I set early on, or even the 8:20 pace I needed to improve on my time from Houston.

Tale of two races: What I did right

It took me about two days of mental self flagellation to realize that some things did go right. Now that I figured them out, they kind of offset my annoyance with what I did wrong. Kind of.

My first got-it-right: By mile 12, when I realized how physically demanding it was to keep that BQ pace in the face of a sustained 10-15 mph head wind, I made the call. This wasn't going to be a better day than Houston; it wasn't even going to be a BQ. So back off now, and do what I could to enjoy the rest of the race. I wish I'd made the call around mile 8, but hey - mile 12 was better than making the call at mile 20, right?

Trucking right along... until I made the call

By the time I got to mile 16, not only was I not at a BQ pace, I couldn't even keep running. I began walking through the aid stations, getting some blessed relief. (Side note: what nobody tells you when you're all amped up about a flat, fast course is that the lack of any elevation change means the exact same spots on your feet take a pounding for a straight 26.2 miles. DOH.)

With the aid stations a mile apart, I was able to mentally break down the last 8 miles, promising myself a one minute walk break if I would just keep running to the next aid station. Mental game, yes, but one that I played with success.

My second got-it-right: Even before I fully backed off the punishing pace, I made a mental effort to note what was cool and unique about this race. Like, the start line was in Lake Village, AR, right on Lake Chicot, the largest oxbow lake in North America. And the first several miles were right on Lakeshore Drive. Lakeshore Drive, Lake Village, AR, but still - Lakeshore Drive. Eat your heart out, Chicago.

We came off of Lakeshore Drive and headed down US 82. About mile 8, as we ran with fertile fields of the Arkansas Delta on the right, here comes a small plane practically dive bombing out of the north directly across the highway, just barely ducking under the telephone lines to crop dust a field, then pulling an incredible vertical climb to just clear the top of the lines on the opposite side of the field. Repeat three times, and you start to think the people running 26.2 miles aren't crazy at all. It's the guy in the twin prop plane playing chicken with live wires who's the real nut job.

Definitely one of the coolest moments, and to me a huge draw for this race, was running across the mighty Mississippi on one of the most beautiful cable stay bridges I've ever seen. With recent rains the river ran strong and swift, and it was impossible not to be impressed by its awesome power. (On a side note - can't wait to see the professional photos, as they picked a sweet spot just over the crest of the bridge to capture a moment. #winning Yes, again with the hashtag.)

Image courtesy of Google Images
My third got-it-right: This one took me a couple of days and the perspective of a friend to figure out. Today, I realized that MS River taught me that every race has its own purpose: not every race can be a PR, not every race is one in which I can improve upon the last. Sometimes, I just need the race to be an affirmation that my mind and body can make it through 26.2 miles, or that there is nothing that can compare to seeing places through the lens of running a marathon. I think I'm lucky that I figured this out with MS River, because it's true of every race I run. And since I'm only 4 states into a 50 state plan, there are at least 46 to go that will have their own purpose.

There's more than just a lesson about a marathon in there, huh?

It took a little bit more mental endurance this time than I expected, but that made it just a little bit more rewarding, too. Two donuts and one cool finisher medal later, I'm ready to sign up for the next one.

Shipley Donuts. That's right. #winning

Land of Oz, here I come. Who's in?