Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Feature: John's schoolwork

Where in the world is John Coussoule? In 1st grade, he's learning the skills to answer that question: map skills!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I'm a Wicked Disappointed Runnah

Remember that period of elation when I qualified for the Boston Marathon?

It was awesome while it lasted.

With the awful events at the 2013 Boston Marathon, there was significantly higher interest in running the 2014 race. I've surprised a lot of people - read, non-runners - with that little tidbit. What do you mean, more people are interested? Wouldn't less people want to do it? But runners are like that - you put an obstacle in our path, a challenge, and it's in our nature to want the prize beyond the barrier just a little bit more.

The BAA did increase the field this year - 9,000 more runners than usual, a total of 36,000 runners for the field of the 2014 race. For me, though, it wasn't enough. I missed being one of the runners by 9 seconds.

Nine. Seconds.


I spent a day being way more disappointed than I thought I would. For weeks, I kept telling myself that with the best-time entry process, and the significantly heightened interest in the race this year, BQ-1:29 probably wasn't going to cut it. And that if it didn't, I was fine with that, because I had left it all out on the course in Houston. I couldn't have run that race one.second.faster than I did. And besides, if I didn't get into the 2014 race, I'd have a whole five minutes more for qualifying in 2015, because I'd move up to the 40-44 age group. Silver lining.

But when that rejection email came across, the disappointment was overwhelming. And it lasted for about 24 hours.

Today, I've snapped out of it. I've moved from sad and disappointed to mad and determined. I've been in a bit of a holding pattern with my workouts - between the broken ankle and not having a race committed on the calendar, I've done little in the way of organized workouts. But this morning - this morning was my first workout to get ready to try and BQ for 2015.

Not a bad start.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of road tripping

This past weekend, I embarked on my most epic road trip to date: 2,090.5 miles in less than 72 hours. I've driven much of the United States: I-95 from Boston to Jacksonville over the course of several years of East Coast living; West Point to Chicago one snowy winter break; Virginia to Kansas for CAS3 when I was a young Army Captain; and multiple shorter trips for races, weddings, weekends with friends, you name it.

But most of my driving has been on the East Coast, and much of it has been shared with another driver. This time, it was just me and my company car, loaded up and ready to go to my cousin's wedding. And if you're like me, and have driven much of the interstate system in the U.S., you know that our country is an amazing place. We are so blessed to live in a nation where we can travel freely across state borders on an interstate system that is so well kept, with scenes and geography so uniquely American.

I could go on and on (kind of like my drive did) but instead, here are some random thoughts captured mostly with the amazing voice-to-text function on my iPhone while driving from Northwest Arkansas to Steamboat Springs, Colorado…


Thank God for the ESPN radio app. Why would anybody have satellite radio anymore, if they have an iPhone?

Google maps to me when I turned at Salina, Kansas: "Continue 494 miles on I 70 W." Colorado, here I come!! I'll be there in nine hours.

Windmills are mesmerizing. They are the summertime version of driving in a blizzard.
somewhere in Kansas
I'm officially a big windmill fan
Somewhere past Hays, Kansas… Allman Brothers and then Stevie Ray Vaughn. Road trips demand classic rock.

This is what people mean when they say "wide-open spaces":
Colorado is as flat as Kansas in the part right next to Kansas

What are the single, old-fashioned windmills in the middle of a vast tract of land actually doing?

I have a remarkable ability on all of my road trips to hit rush-hour traffic in the biggest city on my route on a Friday afternoon.
I know I was driving when I took this picture. Technically, I was in the driver's seat. Because I was not moving.
In Colorado, when you see a sign that says "Falling Rocks," they really mean it. I couldn't figure out how cars the same size as mine kept kicking up rocks to hit my windshield. Then I finally put two and two together.

You could have almost no historical context on any state, but if you put together a list of cities, towns, creeks, rivers, and counties, you could come up with its story.


I loved the road trip. I thought that many miles in such a short time would be grueling; draining; almost unbearable. But I was wrong. I hope to have another chance to drive west - huge, wide open spaces with miles of ribboned interstate just waiting to be explored.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Feature: Homework

Despite my travel this week, I've been home and able to help with homework twice. It's been eye opening. Justin usually unpacks the backpacks as soon as the kids get off the bus, and they sit down right away and finish their homework before they do anything else. There's a lot more worksheet homework in first and third grade than I realized.

Even before this week, I've had the chance to go over spelling words with Caroline this year. Well-known fact for people who knew me when I was eight, but since lost to the passage of time - I'm a spelling bee champion. We'll save those pictures of me in god-awful fourth grade, 1984 outfits for some Throwback Thursday when I finally give up and decide to have no shame at all.

But I digress.

It's been fun to do the verbal spelling quizzes with Caroline - she gets as much joy out of getting the words right as I get joy out of seeing her delight in it. It takes me back to the hours spent with my sister asking each other words out of the Scripps Spelling Bee book. With a spelling test every Friday, there's a new list of words each week, so it's also where I can easily see the progression of her school work. Win win.

This evening, she had a new request - can I quiz her, but can she do a practice test, and write the words down?

That's pretty much like saying: Hey Mom, want to play school? You can be the teacher!

Who wouldn't?!

I feel another A+ coming on!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The First Day of (Trouble at) School

Why post brag pictures of your kids on the first day of school when everyone else is doing it? I figure I'll just be fashionably late. So, almost five full weeks into the school year, here they are:

I had joked with a friend of mine on the over/under for her first phone call home from the principal of her kindergartner's school. I had the under on one week - but I'm pretty sure he's doing great, boundless energy but a great kid.

My kid is a great kid, too. I promise. And he has boundless energy. But he also has a problem keeping his hands to himself. I'm sure there is parenting failure in there; like every other honest parent out there, I'll tell you I'm doing my best, but there are days I'm not quite sure I'm doing it right. I try my best, but every once in a while I'm too freaking exhausted to repeat for the millionth time: "use your words" or "stop that" or "keep your hands to yourself." Maybe that millionth time would've made a difference.

Because we got a call from the Vice Principal's office today.

John was on green so far this year - until yesterday. There was a shoving/shirt grabbing incident at recess. But from the note that came home, and his explanation, it sounded like typical horseplay gone awry because my six year old occasionally can't curb his enthusiasm.

Today, though - there is no excuse for his behavior. He hauled off and popped a kid right in the nose at lunch today.

Mad, embarrassed, disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, unsure exactly how to discipline him... all of those things. I wish there was a Parent Handbook with a cross referencing index, because I really could've used it today.

So I spoke to the Vice Principal, and I spoke to John through the tears. I asked that his teacher call me after the school day, so I spoke to her, too. Turns out the other little boy had been calling John names - but that's part of first grade. We have talked about strategies for dealing with name calling - literally, talked about it on the way to school this morning. Seven thirty on the dot this morning, on the way to school:

Me: What do we do if someone calls us a name?
John: Ignore them!
Me: What do we do if they don't stop?
John: Tell a teacher!
Me: Right on, buddy.

That was only about the thousandth time for that conversation, so I guess I have nine-hundred ninety-thousand to go.

Again, there is never an excuse for hitting another kid. Still, I relayed this conversation to his teacher today, and asked if she might have known the source of the inferred argument. She shared that the other little boy had called John a name - "Diaper," in fact. An odd choice for name calling, given the universe of available first grade insults.

Ironically, without knowing it, the other kid pushed John's arm-the-warhead button. Let's just say, he's hypersensitive to anything that implies he's a baby. Especially anything having to do with wearing diapers. And when I sat down to talk to him about what happened today... yep. Hurt feelings on a seriously disproportionate scale.

The anger and the frustration and the determination to impart severe punishment swiftly turned into trying to reassure my child that Mommy understands. In those moments, when he's trying so hard to hold the tears back, I see the vulnerable little boy that he still is. He may be a big man in some ways, but reality is, he's not a big man. He's my little boy who can get hurt with words as easily as with fists.

There will be times when harsh punishment is appropriate. Spankings have their place in the Coussoule discipline arsenal, just as grounding, taking away privileges, and taking away favorite toys have theirs. Tonight, though, love and sympathy with strong words of disappointment and warnings of "if this ever happens again" are all he got.

I hope I'm doing this right.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just Another Day in the Office

I was in Cincinnati this week, the home of the world headquarters of Procter & Gamble. I had full days of meetings, including prepping and working 1:1 with some of my counterparts. As it approached noon on Monday, I got a call from a coworker who had just left me:

"Amanda, I just saw Steve Young walking past the Central Building toward the Towers!"


Now, it wasn't totally out of the blue - Monday Night Football was in town for the Bengals/Steelers game, and I had already considered and dismissed walking the four or five blocks from the office to the stadium just to try and see the MNF bus and maybe even catch a glimpse of Jon Gruden, one of my favorite analysts. But the day had gotten crazy busy, crazy fast, so I just had my head down trying to get things done. 

I figured this was as good a time as any for a break, though, so I grabbed my phone and hurried downstairs to try and get a glimpse of the Hall of Fame quarterback. I made my way from the Central building to the Tower Lobby, to find a party going on:

P&G has a major sponsorship deal with the NFL - you may have seen some of the amazing Tide ads - and Cover Girl's #nailgating and #fanicure tie ins are genius. (No, I didn't get Bengal stripes on my fingernails... but I AM going online to find the Cowboys set!!) I figured I must've missed Steve, and seeing a friend, figured I'd chat for a few minutes and then go put my head down again. 

Until THIS guy walked by!!
Me & Trent in the Tower Lobby
He said he rarely gets people that excited to see him...
Turns out there was an ESPN panel starting in fifteen minutes, and I had perfectly positioned myself to be there with the marketing group. Score!!! 

I snagged a seat in the front row right where they walked on stage and managed a fun candid of Rick Reilly, sportswriter extraordinaire.

He even commented on my Cowboys phone case. I think that officially puts me at one degree of separation from every single ESPN analyst. I mean, I'm practically Herbstreit's buddy already. 

So I spent the next hour listening to Rick Reilly, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, and Ickey Woods talk football.

I even got to ask a question during the Q&A (which should be a huge not-surprise to anyone who knows me). When Icky got a question about how he came up with his famous shuffle, I should've been ready - but I did at least catch the last bit of the Ickey Shuffle redux:

All in all, the highlight of my business trip this week. What's crazy is when you work for a massive, world-class company like P&G, this really is just another day at the office.

Amanda/Rick Selfie - he pretty much has my dream job

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's essay

Y'all know all about our summer - I've had a ton of fun blogging about it, posted endless pictures on Facebook, and regaled you with tales if you were ever lucky enough to be close enough for me to bend your ear. This week for my Friday Feature, you get to see Caroline's take on what we did this summer.

A+, kiddo!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

He'll Get It

I find it ironic that the phrase "It's like riding a bicycle!" conveys the ease of doing something. I mean, have you ever tried to teach someone to ride a bicycle?! The important nuance, though, is that the phrase refers to the ease of doing something already learned. The actual learning part - that's much tougher.

Earlier this spring, when Caroline learned to ride her bike without training wheels, it was the ultimate test of my parental patience. I admit - my patience isn't exactly legendary. In fact, it teeters on barely adequate much of the time, especially when it comes to teaching something that requires extra effort by the student even when it's HARD. And when you're eight years old, things are usually HARD.

This past weekend, John decided he was ready to give it a go. The training wheels were coming off, and he was ready to make the move to big man on two wheels.

Look Mom, no training wheels!
Given that John tends to be a little more naturally athletic than Caroline, I thought - this is going to be easy. And I was kind of right. With little more than four runs down the sidewalk with Mommy holding the seat, he was able to stay upright without any assistance as I ran alongside. Victory!!

Yeah... victory, kind of like Mission Accomplished. Too soon... too soon.

Given that it was 106 on our back deck according to our household thermometer, I couldn't manage too many more runs up and down the sidewalk, anyway. I told John I needed a break inside, and we could go out later. I had already promised Caroline a ride together on the trail, so John announced he was going with us. Ummmm... maybe a little more practice, buddy.

So out he went, determined to practice starting, going, and stopping on his own. He could ride on two wheels, for crying out loud. He had already done it, like four or five whole times for at least twenty yards at a time. He's got this thing.

About five minutes later, I looked out the front window to see John standing over his bicycle with a scrunched up face, tears of frustration, and angry clenched fists in the "I'm about to give up" pose. Turns out, starting on your own is a lot more difficult than when Mommy holds the bike upright as you push off. So out I went, ready to help out again.

Hold, push, start... and careen to the left because it isn't as easy as he thought it was. Stop, start over: hold, push, start... and careen to the left, this time out the driveway and into the street. Whoa whoa whoa... one more time, back on the sidewalk: hold, push, start... and again, careen to the left, back into the street, toward the neighbor's driveway... TOWARD THE NEIGHBOR'S CURB STOP JOHN STOP BRAAAAAAAAAAKE!!!!!!!!!!!

Uggggghhhhhh... the first crash is inevitable, and that means so are the first tears. And first scratched knee, first big bruise on the shin, and first realization that you are, in fact, vincible.

So we put the bike away, took a breather, and decided we'd try again another day. Maybe next time it will be more like riding a bicycle.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's schoolwork

Oh, math, why can't my daughter just love you?

I'm trying to figure out why it's so important to me that my daughter not just like math, but LOVE math. And science, for that matter. I've said before, my kids can be anything they want to be. As long as it's a scientist or engineer. But I can already tell, three weeks into third grade, it's going to be a constant state of encouragement and cajoling to keep Caroline focused on why numbers are so important.

I'm encouraged that she seems to be "getting it" a little easier this year. She says they're still reviewing math from last year, but I don't remember her doing two and three digit addition, and learning to round to the nearest ten. So maybe she's just more comfortable with it, or maybe it's coming easier so she thinks she's done it before.

Either way, I'm just glad she doesn't seem to have the angst about math that she had last year and even over the summer with her worksheets. When I saw her math quiz this week, I was super excited to see that she got all problems attempted correct:

Being the overly competitive person I am, I wondered if finishing eleven problems was enough. How many did the other kids do? How much time did she have? Was there one in particular that was hard for her that we could work on at home?

And then I stopped - took a mental step back - and let it go. She got all eleven right. And that is an excellent place to be in the third week of third grade.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Time to Get Moving

As a mom who prides herself on staying fit and considers exercise critical for both my physical and mental health, it's really important to me to instill in my kids the same love of being active. With John, it's no problem. I swear, the kid has two speeds - 100mph and asleep. Even inside the house, he can't walk from here to there; it's a run of varying speeds depending on how urgent the question or the idea he justcan'twaittoshare.

Plus, he plays soccer. This is his third season of Fayetteville Rec Soccer, and he looks forward to his two nights a week of running up and down the field. I think we're finally entering the year where the kids don't swarm the ball and try to take it away from their own teammates. Fingers crossed.

Caroline, on the other hand, has had a tougher time finding a sport or activity that she really enjoys. We played one season of YMCA soccer when we lived in Ohio, but never picked it back up when we moved to Arkansas. She did swim lessons for a couple of sessions, but the pool was a 30 minute drive right at rush hour which didn't make anyone happy. She's asked about kids' triathlons, but with my broken ankle this summer, I never could figure out a way to teach her how to train.

So here we are at the beginning of third grade, still looking for a way to get her more active and into a sport. We floated lots of ideas - soccer, basketball, swimming. None of them sparked her interest. She asked about dance or gymnastics, but I gotta tell you - the kid's got my build. She's out of luck with the long, lean, lithe frame. Then she asked about karate. I can't really explain why, but Justin and were both..... yeah. No.

Then Justin suggested tennis. Tennis! I love tennis. In fact, my sister and I used to sneak onto the courts at the neighborhood club we didn't belong to when we were in high school and make the most of weekday evenings under the lights. Plus, it's a lifelong sport - if Caroline learns to play now, it's something she could do forever. Excellent.

We found a local racquet club where they have once-a-week lessons for beginners on Wednesday nights - perfect - we don't have any other activities on Wednesday nights. They didn't even require a racquet; we could borrow one until we were sure this was going to stick.

So last night, there we were: Caroline's first tennis lesson. And it. Was. AWESOME.

There were three other kids in her class, all of whom had varying degrees of proficiency from previous sessions. I think by the end she was just a little bit frustrated with missing the ball or hitting it into the net, so we talked about how even professionals do that sometimes. When I reassured her that you learn something every single time you hit it into the net, I think that might have helped a little bit.

So we'll see where this goes. I'm just glad she had fun - and who knows. If this becomes A Thing, maybe the whole Coussoule clan will pick up the racquets.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

(Little) Man at Work

If there's one thing you can count on after meals, it's that both kiddos will ask, "May I have something for dessert?" Half the time the answer is yes, half the time the answer is no. But when the answer is yes, it's usually qualified with, "You may have something small from the white bowl."

There is a plain white melamine bowl that sits on the buffet in the dining room, a repository for Halloween, Christmas and Easter candy, as well as whatever comes home from birthday parties in treat bags. When the answer is "something small from the white bowl," I can usually count on them picking out one miniature Reese's cup, or one Cadbury egg, one chocolate coin, or maybe one Tootsie Roll Pop if they're feeling brave enough to ask if that qualifies as small.

Unfortunately, there are also dentist-defying candy necklaces and packets of Fun Dip in there, and yesterday, John picked out one of the Fun Dips and asked if he could have it. I think I'm probably a typical mom, because my knee-jerk reaction is to always say "no." But if I always say no, then the thing keeps sitting in that bowl, patiently waiting for the next time it's requested and I have to, once again, say no.

So I gave in this time.

If you aren't familiar with Fun Dip, it's basically a hard sugar stick that you lick and dip into colored sugar crystals. Yeah, I know. I can't believe I let my kids eat that crap, either. Throw in there the fact that my children are literally physically incapable of eating anything without making a galactic mess, I'm not sure exactly what I was thinking. My almost two hour workout yesterday morning clearly got the better of me. I told him if he spilled anything, he needed to make sure he wiped it up with a wet cloth, and I left it at that.

Fast forward a little bit, during which time I'm half awake on the couch watching football and playing Candy Crush, and John calls out a question from the office: "Mom, how do you spell caution?"

That should've registered. I know. Kind of like this conversation yesterday morning:

Mom, where do we keep the duct tape?
John, why would you need duct tape?
Um, you know, for emergencies.
Do you have an emergency right now?
Um, no, I was just wondering.
Well, I'm not sure we have any, and if we did, I'm not sure I'd tell you where it is.
** insert small worried face here **
Ummmm, Mom, I may have a little emergency...

Turns out, the emergency was a broken piece on the Mousetrap game. Crisis averted. But back to the spelling...

I answer John's question, he says thanks, and that was it. Or at least I thought it was.

Maybe a half hour later, I get up from the couch to get something to drink in the kitchen, and come across this:

In case you can't read it, they are all hand replicas of this:

Apparently wiping up with a wet cloth left quite a bit more water on the floor than was safe. Thank goodness for Safety Inspector John. Given the choice to expend the effort to make five signs instead of just get a dry paper towel to wipe up the water, I think he may have a very bright future in government. OSHA, just send me the application, and I'll hold on to it for, say, about 16 more years.