Saturday, August 31, 2013

You Live Where?: Take me out to the ball game!

I think we're there - my son is finally interested in sports. He's always been interested in kicking a ball, swinging a bat, and tackling his sister. But tonight is the first night he's wanted to understand the rules of the game

And I am in heaven, sports fans. 

I love sports. All of them with varying degrees of intensity. Baseball is my lazy summer indulgence, a soothing Sunday afternoon soundtrack that gives me permission to fall asleep on the couch. But here in Northwest Arkansas, we have our very own minor league team. Tonight is the last game of the season, and it feels great to be in the summer air of the evening that kicks off Labor Day weekend. 

As we were walking up to the stadium, John asked if these we're the Razorback players. I got to explain the whole minor league, major league thing. And he actually listened and asked questions to make sure he understood. Added bonus: Caroline was even listening. 

Inside the ballpark, we headed straight for the concession stand for the requisite hot dogs and peanuts, then settled into our seats. In the shade. Oh, sweet fancy... What a difference the shade makes. It went from dog days, unbearable sun to the perfect night at the ball game. 

I got to explain fair and foul territory; where the strike zone is; how to read the count; and a bunch of other fundamental rules of the game. 

What I say and what he hears aren't always the same thing, though: "One more out and that's the ending!" Um, well technically you're right...

More fun than a stick of cotton candy...


Caroline was kind of into it, too, asking questions:

Who's the one that's throwing again? 
The pitcher. 
Oh, yeah. What's that thing the pitcher is standing on?
The pitcher's mound. 
Is that supposed to be helpful for him or something?

Look Mommy, eyeballs!! (Take that, Washington Nationals' racing Presidents!!)


Minor league parks are big on inter-inning entertainment. So far we've watched the Crawfish Shuffle on the replay board (brought to you by Zatarains); the eyeball race (brought to you by Vold Vision); the Sundae Scoop Toss involving upside down painted traffic cones and rubber balls (brought to you by the Walmart Visitors Center); and the Triple Roll Bowl involving throwing rolls of toilet paper into a toilet seat held by your partner (brought to you by Cottonelle). I can hardly wait for the end of the fourth inning!

Under the lights!


End of the fifth and the grounds crew stops halfway around the bases to dance to the Bee Gees: Look Mommy, there's a dog in the field!!


We made it all the way to the end of the 6th inning. Game was tied, and the night had been fun, but both kiddos were on the fine line between fun and exhausted meltdown. We packed it in, headed home, and were in bed not too much later.

Hope your Labor Day weekend started off with as much fun as ours did!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Feature: John's artwork

I try hard to alternate the Friday features between the two kids, but here in the first week of school, pickings are pretty slim. Add to that my work hours this week have been off the charts, and I'm not even sure I've seen all of the school work that's come home.

I noticed this picture this morning when I was waiting for my coffee to brew:


Excellent first week of school subject, right? What I did on my summer vacation!!

Except we went to Disney World last year. And there seems to be an extra sister in our family portrait. Hilarious. 

Except John didn't think it was hilarious. When he came down this morning I could tell he wasn't his usual chipper self. I think the first two weeks back to school are tiring after a summer of setting your own schedule, and he was a little bit subdued. I gave him a hug and told him I saw his picture but, silly goose, we went to Disney last year!

Bad move, Mama... Tears of frustration, before we even sat down to breakfast. Poor little man. I wasn't making fun of him, just thought it was funny that he got his summers mixed up. So I'll find a way to reassure him tonight that I didn't mean to hurt his feelings, and keep in mind in the future, Mama's teasing words sound different to little ears sometimes. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The new normal at school

I always love hearing how the kids' school days went. Just a week and a half into a new school year (first week recap to come!), everything is still shiny and new, bright and exciting. Usually, I ask questions over dinner, and the kids jockey for verbal position to be the first to tell me about what they did at recess, at lunch, in the classroom that day. 

This evening was another late evening at work, and I missed dinner again. Add to that the fact that Tuesday is piano lesson night, and it was a hectic hour of cleaning the playroom, piano lessons, and showers, alternating between the kiddos. As I helped John into his pajamas on his way to piano lessons, I tried to get the download on the day. 

Apparently the most exciting part of the day was the fire drill. I remember those! I remember the excitement, too; the break from the classroom routine, and five minutes out on the playground waiting for the all clear. I relayed my enthusiasm to John, saying we used to do that when I was a kid, too. 

Did you do intruder drills too, Mommy?

Intruder drills?

In that split second, as I fought back tears, it hit me just how different it is in schools these days. Fire drills, tornado drills - those I know. But intruder drills - John says that's when you lock the door and hide in the corner so nobody can see if there are any kids in the classroom - the idea of the necessity of the drill brings me to my knees as a mother. The recent, horrific incidents of school violence have changed things all the way down to my little community here in Northwest Arkansas. 

Yes, schools have changed. More calculators; less cursive; more computer labs. More testing; less play time; more homework. And. More danger; less innocence; more vigilance. Change is hard, and accepting a new normal is uncomfortable. But uncomfortable is nothing next to the unthinkable alternatives. Vigilance is the new normal. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Our special guest - Colt, John and Caroline's Saturday night

We have a special guest this evening - our friend Colt's mom and dad had a fundraising gala to attend, so we got to have Colt over! He's such a precious little boy, and some of the things he says absolutely crack. me. up. Here are some highlights from our evening!

Car ride conversation on the way to Saturday mass:


My best friend is four. She's still in preschool. We've been friends for about twenty-one years. Or maybe a few months. 

My birthday is June 18th. That was fifty years ago. Or maybe a week ago. 

Leaving mass: your church is waaaaay different than mine!

At the restaurant: say pizza!!


Caroline, let's make a together picture.


Ms. Amanda, when someone's done talking on a walkie talkie, do you say Rogers Backs?



And reading Treasure Island before bed: Ms. Amanda, are we going to read any books that have pictures on every page or just this one with words?

Every moment is special - and some are funnier than others. We're so glad Colt got to spend Saturday evening with us!!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Feature: John's schoolwork

First week of school, and not much came home other than instructions, requests, rules, procedures, and the cafeteria menu. After looking through the backpacks last night, I figured my options were to 1) force the kids to draw something at home or 2) entertain you with my own creations. Neither of those were that exciting, so I'm pretty happy this showed up today:


A booklet illustrating things John sees in first grade. 

Title page: big! Bold! Red!

First picture: complete! Creative!

Second picture: going strong!

Third picture: losing steam...

Fourth picture: out of time. 

Oh, well. It's the first week, John had great behavior and stayed on green all week, and every day he announced that math was his favorite thing that day. 

It's going to be a great year. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forwaaaaard, March... DOUBLE TIME!!!

Finally - FINALLY - I can RUN again!!!!!!

It has been a looooooong eleven and a half weeks for me. I went from 40 miles a week to nothing, just like that, when I stepped on a rock and broke my ankle the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. I spent six weeks in a boot with absolutely no physical activity, and the last five weeks able to walk, swim and cycle but still no running.

And today - today, the good Dr. Powell gave me the best possible news: I. Can. RUN.

I know I need to start slow - a half mile run, half mile walk, half mile run, half mile walk to start out. I honestly kind of surprised myself by being a good patient and not running this long in the first place, so I know I can follow doctor's orders and work my way back up to normal. Well, to what's normal for me. As my coworker so kindly pointed out, running 40 miles a week isn't normal. To her.

I think if I'd done this ten years ago, I would've poo-pooed the need to ramp it back up, and probably would've gone right back to what I was doing before I broke it. And, most likely, probably would have hurt it again. Wisdom comes with age, they say. They are right.

Despite having to start slow, the doctor gave me some unexpected and welcome news that it should only take about 8 weeks to be back to that normal. Which means I'll have enough time to train for Baton Rouge in January, and then whatever else ends up on the spring race schedule from there. Still not sure if I'll actually get into Boston this year given the circumstances around last year's bombing and those who didn't finish automatically granted entry this year - rightfully so. If I do get in, awesome - I'll be up in Bean Town in April crossing off an item on my life list much, much earlier than I ever expected to.

If not, though, there are always options. Lots and lots of options, especially if I broaden the options to include triathlons. The broken ankle obviously kept me from racing any tris this summer, and ironically, two of the three local races I would've done were cancelled. In my weird triathlete mindset, that means I was actually #winning when I broke my ankle. Don't question, don't judge. Just ask Sarah - she'll explain.

So Bean Town, triathlon, marathon, or some combination of the above, look out, Spring schedule. I'm back, and I'm all in. As usual.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

This time of year, it's practically mandatory for people to lament the passing of summer, and how fast the days went. There's never enough time, they say; if only we had one or two more weeks, you hear.

Me? I say, we squeezed every single moment of fun out of every single second of this summer. We lived in the big moments and the small, making the most of the here, there and everywhere as we woke up to the sunshine and the rain; played in our backyard and in Houston's biggest waterpark; hung out with our family and our friends; and did all of the other things that made Summer 2013 the best it could've been.

We did artwork, journaling and worksheets; went swimming and biking; traveled for work and for fun; met new friends and reconnected with old friends. Caroline learned to ride her bike; John learned to swim. There was a major bummer, a major milestone, and a majorly fun party. And that just scratches the surface.

So if you have about 9 minutes, I hope you'll enjoy this video compilation of How We Spent Our Summer Vacation. Because we certainly enjoyed it while it lasted.

Click to see our Summer Vacation video!!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Houston in August: my favorite place to be

Last week was the annual summer pilgrimage home to Houston, and I cracked up at this text exchange with a friend of mine back in Arkansas:

Friend: Hey Amanda! Are you swimming this week? I can go on Friday.
Me: Hey Friend!! I'm in Houston on vacation, back tomorrow night. Maybe Friday lunch?
Friend: Amanda, you may be the only person ever who had visited / could visit Houston in August and call it a vacation.

Yep. Heat, humidity, mosquitos the size of small birds - paradise, I tell you.

The kids look forward to the trip home all summer long, with the promise of seeing Grandmommy and Granddaddy a source of sheer excitement. Throw in new cousin Claire and the mandatory trip to Splashtown, it's no wonder they were counting down the days!!

I love the trip home too, for the more obvious, grown up reasons. I get to see my parents; my kids get to spend time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; I get to see old friends who still live in the area; I get to eat Mexican food until I have to be rolled out the door of the restaurant. More than anything else, though, I love the trip home because it's HOME. It's Texas. And like every other Texan you've ever met, there is no place on Earth I'd rather be.

I can't really explain what that feeling is. I honestly think you just kind of have to be a Texan to have that feeling, that deep down, in your gut, visceral love. It isn't really the geography; the climate; the friendly people; the millions of things to do. It's... well, it's Texas. And if you don't get it, I can't really explain it.

So for the six days we were there, I soaked up as much of that as I could get. We went and did, and we sat and stayed. And we loved every. single. minute.

We had a ton of fun hanging out with my high school friends:



We went to church with my mom on Sunday and got to hear her play a special piece for the offertory:


We hung out at my sister's new home, grilled an amazing steak dinner, and celebrated the three August birthdays in our family:


We spent six hours at Splashtown in the Texas sun, loving every minute of it, riding almost every ride in the park:




And we hung out in the neighborhood, playing in the backyard and swimming at a neighbor's house:



We all would've loved to have stayed much longer, but I figure no matter how long we stay, it's always hard to leave. So we're back home now, enjoying the last few days before school starts. We have the memories, and we have the pictures. Thanks to my mom, those pictures include the latest family photo.

Gig 'em!


Friday, August 16, 2013

It's that time of year

Home from our vacation to Houston (more to come!) and the changes are coming fast and furious. We went almost directly from unloading the van after our 9 hour drive to Holcomb Elementary for the Meet the Teacher Open House. School starts Monday, and we have a first and third grader. I'm excited for all the new things they'll learn!!

After dinner, the other big change was obvious... While we were gone, the summer weather decided to take a hiatus. Caroline asked if we could turn the heat on in the van:


I explained if it was April, we'd all think it was warm. For now, we've got a few days of unseasonably beautiful weather ahead of us. 


I'm sure we'll have more summer weather ahead. For now, I'll enjoy the change and just put an extra blanket on Caroline's bed. 

Friday Feature: Sewing Cousins

Final week of the summer, and the Coussoule Curriculum clearly stated Medium: Sewing. Project: Pillows. Seriously, Amanda... where did I come up with this stuff? But on the schedule it was, so we bravely forged ahead.

This week's feature has a guest appearance by my niece Kira, since we were in Houston for a visit. But again - vacation or no vacation, sewing was on the schedule!! Onward!! Machine was packed with patterns and remnants, all conveniently fitting in the sewing machine case I never, in a million billion years, I thought I'd actually use as a case for transport. You just never know...

I have a TON of fabric remnants from projects I've done in the past, and I also have a pattern for letter pillows that I have just been waiting to find the right project for, and voila. Here we go.

I did my best to let the girls do everything they could, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them both throw themselves into the project enthusiastically. I unfortunately did not get any pictures of either of them at the sewing machine (Mom/Aunt fail), but I promise, they did the machine sewing. Despite protests and repeated assertions that they prefer sewing by hand.

STEP 1: CUT THE LETTER ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN



STEP 2: SEW (Okay, okay, I know, no pictures. But it's step 2, and it feels weird to leave it out.)

STEP 3: STUFF THE LETTER PILLOW



STEP 4: HAND SEW THE FINAL SEAM



STEP 5: POSE LIKE A ROCK STAR WITH FINISHED PROJECT


 
So cutting, sewing, stuffing, and finishing done, we have two new letter pillows that I have every confidence will find a place of honor on two little girls' beds in the near future. This project may not have encouraged them in future sewing endeavors, but I bet it will make them think of each other whenever they see those pillows. And that, my friend, is a true work of art.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Houston Visit 2013: KHS Twenty Year Reunion (the after party)

Remember prom, and the all night party that followed, purportedly to keep us all out of trouble but which turned into the thing that everyone looked forward to more than the prom itself? Yeah - that was the party at Cindy and Brandon's house yesterday.

When I came home for my 20 year high school reunion several weeks ago, it was definitely a highlight of my summer. Unfortunately, there were quite a few of my closest friends who didn't make it to the Reunion, for reasons that ranged from totally legit to totally lame. In the run up to the 20 year, this group of close friends good naturedly argued via Facebook messaging the merits of attending the official function. We all agreed that we definitely wanted to see each other, reunion or otherwise, so plans were made for the after party - a summer get together for us and our families at the Baylors'  house. 

As I get older, I am more and more thankful for the friends of my youth. As is probably true for most people, the friends of my formative years kind of fell into groups, based on the activities or classes we had in common. I had my basketball friends; my honors classes friends; my live-on-the-same-street friends; my Standleader friends. But the true, forever, no-matter-what friends for me are my band friends. Some of us were thrown together to endure the screeches and honks of middle school band, then expanded our circle when we got to the big pond of high school and marching band. 

Shelby, Cindy, Lisa, me and Molly
and we all look FABULOUS
 
In those hot, humid, Houston summer mornings we forged friendships and bonds that have stood the test of time. As we drove over to the party yesterday, I told my kids that I'd known these friends going on 30 years, but hadn't seen some of them in 20. Saying it out loud just made me shake my head... How do we let time go by so quickly? 

As soon as we got there, though, I realized: with your childhood friends who've known you almost your whole life, it doesn't matter how much time goes by. It doesn't matter if you're a big shot professional or a stay at home mom. It doesn't matter if you're married or single; wealthy or just scraping by; skinny as a rail or a few pounds heavier than in high school. We're friends not because of what we have, how we look, or what we can do for each other. We're friends because, well... Because we're friends. Because we always have been. And always will be.

The crew minus a few - they have 51 weeks to plan and BE HERE next year!!
Brandon, Molly, me, Lisa, Jeff, Oscar, Shelby and Cindy
 
And now, after spending several hours with not just my friends but their families, too, I know that whether they like it or not, the spouses and kiddos are caught up in this friendship, too. We missed a few of our group yesterday - work, distance, and circumstances kept a few away. But we've already set the date for next year. With 51 weeks' notice, I hope we all make it back. 

It's the after party that, if we're lucky, will never end. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's journaling

The natives are restless... Caroline's journaling for the week starts out just fine, but takes a turn toward revolt with the rant about the worksheets!!


Maybe it's a good thing school starts a week from Monday. The summer Coussoule Curriculum seems to have lost its novelty appeal!!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Making Progress - my mid-year resolution

So about that mid-year resolution. I may need a stretch goal. Apparently, I overestimated how hard some of these projects were going to be. I knocked out one more in the last few days, bringing my total completed projects to three.

The doll cheerleader outfit:



Lucky for me, I'm actually down from 15 projects to only 11 left to do. Turns out, I made the doll Aurora dress last year, and just have so much left over fabric that I thought it hadn't been started.

  • Tooth fairy pillow for John
  • Red/black/white twirl skirt for Caroline
  • Music fabric twirl skirt for Caroline
  • Doll cheerleader outfit
  • Doll Belle dress
  • Doll Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
  • Doll Colonial outfit
  • Five coloring bags for friends' and cousins' kids
  • Brown pants for me
  • Pink dress for me
  • Monkey pajamas for John

It never fails, with every project, there's always one thing that I messed up, but when I realize it, it is usually too late to go back and fix it. On this one, I mistakenly flipped the ribbons on the sleeves, so that the blue and red stripes don't match up with the bodice. Oh, well. Let's just all pretend it's supposed to be that way.

It's also true that with every project, I get a little bit better. My seams get a little bit straighter; my darts match up a little bit more precisely; my hems get a little bit more even. This was my first attempt at pleats, and I'm proud to say that the skirt at least looks like a pleated skirt.

When I think about the prom dresses my mother made in high school, I can't even begin to imagine the intricate pattern piecing and stitching she had to do. I knew then that they were pretty complicated projects, but honestly, I had no idea just how complicated.

Sure am glad I don't have a prom dress on my project list.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Today's Your Day - You're 8, Hooray!

No cliches about time flying or my baby getting too big - I love every moment with my kids, the big and the small, and look forward to all the moments to come. Today, my daughter, my child who first gave me the name "Mommy," turns 8.

Caroline is a bright, sweet, kind, giving, and loving child. Every day I see a little bit more of her personality blossom, and learn a little bit more about how to be a better mom.

So here's to you, Caroline, and everything you did in the last year to learn, grow, and become who you are on this day - the only 8th birthday you'll ever have!

Caroline picked all three meals on her birthday,
starting with breakfast at Briar Rose
Birthday breakfast of Monkey Bread at Briar Rose
Pizza lunch with friends
Swimming at the Springdale Aquatic Center
Who needs birthday cake when you have cupcakes from Bliss??
Man, that's a lot of presents...
My baby, the birthday girl 
Hooray for being 8 years old!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

You Live Where?: Silver Dollar City

We keep a calendar on the wall in our kitchen to help us keep track of all the comings, going, and doings in our family. Sometimes Justin and I have to be careful what we write up there, because the kids will see it and then hound us until they've worn our patience down to a nub. This summer, I put a trip to Silver Dollar City on the calendar in part to make sure I remembered to block my calendar at work and take the day off, but also because I read an article at the beginning of the summer that one of the ways to make summer feel longer and to enjoy your vacation more, is to savor the anticipation of a fun day. Mission accomplished.

Last week I took two days off from work in the middle of the week to try and spend some time with the kids. After Disney in 2012, we figured this would be a low key summer as far as vacations go. Combine that with a work schedule that has been borderline over the top crazy, and I just haven't been able to find much free time. A local vacation was just the ticket, so off we went.

When people are unfamiliar with Northwest Arkansas, I tend to use the phrase "the foothills of the Ozarks" as a way to efficiently convey not just spot on a map, but topographical features, as well. Boy, did we get our fill of the foothills - Silver Dollar City is in Branson, Missouri, so we had a bit of a drive to get there. Google Maps led me astray with the shortest possible route, and all four of us were car sick from the ups, down, twists and turns by the time we pulled into the parking lot. Probably didn't help that Caroline was reading in the back seat on the way there, but still...

Queasy stomachs aside, it was time for FUN!! Can't you tell how excited John was?


We got pretty lucky - it was an overcast day, middle of the week, and the crowds and the weather were about as good as you could hope for. Silver Dollar City has a great mix of rides, for kids and adults, but in a park just the right size to do it all in one day if you want to. We started off with the carousel - a perennial favorite.


I love that the kids are big enough to ride rides together, without us. I think they have more fun that way, anyway.

Our day in the park was a great study in the contrasts of the kids' personalities. John and I are roller coaster buddies - he and I love the thrill rides, and finally this year, he's tall enough to ride almost every single one of them. Daddy and Caroline, on the other hand, aren't so much for the drops, twists and turns of roller coasters, so they hang out together while John and I have our hands in the air screaming with delight/fear and meet us at the bottom of the craziest rides.
I was super proud of Caroline when she wanted to try some of the bigger rides. I could almost hear her internal monologue, talking herself into the Giant Barn Swing. This thing is a massive swing on a hydraulic arm that, at its height, has you looking up at your toes and then returning down at almost 50mph. As we waited in line, I could almost feel the anxiety rolling off of her; I kept assuring her she didn't have to ride it, but she told me she wanted to be brave and try it. I was so proud of her - facing your fears and doing something even when you're scared is a tough thing, especially when you're not-quite-8-years-old.

 

When it was our turn, I sat in between the kiddos while Daddy waited for us. Almost as soon as we started swinging, Caroline very calmly looked at me and said she was "just going to close my eyes," and kept them closed the whole time. Her face was so screwed up with fear that I reached over and put my hand on her leg, and I could feel her whole little body just trembling. Nobody ever tells you before you're a parent that you could feel overwhelmingly proud and equally scared for your child at the same time - but that's just how I felt.

After the ride, Caroline looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and told me that she was glad she did it, but that she didn't think she would do it again. I hugged her and told her, you bet, kiddo - but that I was so proud of her for trying it.

On the flip side, John and I rode all the coasters we could, including Thunderation multiple times in a row because THERE'S NO LINE, MOM!!!!! We skipped Outlaw Run, a massive wooden roller coaster that has dips, turns, loops, barrel rolls, who knows what - John saw it and told me he thought we'd just wait to ride that one until next year. Fine with me, kiddo. I don't know that I could've enjoyed it because I would've been so scared for him. Powder Keg was a back and forth decision - pretty long line, which gave John time to almost talk himself out of it. Sure was glad the girl behind us was able to allay his fears, and of course, he LOVED it.

John's only bummed out moment of the day came when he wanted to ride one more coaster at the end of the day, and we managed to find the one ride that he wasn't tall enough for. My thrill seeking daredevil was on the verge of tears because he was denied the opportunity to have the bejeesus scared out of him.

So what happens when it's the end of a long day, the kids are tired, and we have a two hour drive home in front of us? Funnel cakes and the kids' first root beer floats, of course!!

Even with the crazy busy schedule and no big, planned vacation that involved airplanes and hotel shuttles, this has been an amazing summer. If we'd had some major outing planned, we probably wouldn't have made it to Silver Dollar City, and that would've been a shame. Because now I know that when someone says "You live where?" I can include this little gem in the foothills as one more reason this is an amazing place to live.