Saturday, November 30, 2013

Race Report: NWA Turkey Trot 2013

Of course I started out my Thanksgiving Day with a run! Third year running (see how I did that? haha), I did the local Turkey Trot. It's been unusually cold around here the last couple of weeks - morning temperatures have already been in the twenties and even the teens once or twice - so it was a good bit colder this year than last. Not one to let cold deter me once I have paid for a race, though, I was up, dressed, and headed to the ballpark for the race by 7:15.

I finally got out of the car after about 10 minutes of contemplating the cold, since I knew some of my friends would be there and I wanted to find them before the race. It's really something to be a part of the running community here - not only did I see friends from the group that I run with every weekend, but I found fellow triathletes I have trained with; runners I recognize from passing on the trail; others I've met through work; and I even saw a few familiar faces from church. I never thought I'd say it, but I think I kind of really like living in a small town.
Jennie Horton, triathlete extraordinaire, with me and Nate the photo bomber!
Brett and Jeff, two of my running buddies - and again, Nate the world's cutest photo bomber
Greg and Kim, recent NYC marathon finishers!
with Joon and Jeff
As the clock ticked toward 8:00, I made my way to the start line, still contemplating my race strategy. Run with my 5k group? Run a good pace but not so hard that it hurts? Go all out and see if I can repeat my win from last year?

Turns out, I had plenty of time to contemplate - there was some issue with the computer and the timing system, so we stood. And stood. And STOOD. Holy cow, it was cold - we were all shivering, and after about ten minutes of standing, my feet were numb. Not the best way to start a race, I would say. Finally, after maybe twenty minutes, we were ready - steady - GO!

And, of course, given my All In nature... I was off like I was being chased. Which, technically, I suppose I was, since most of the field was behind me. Even though my feet were numb, it was a pretty good day for a run - sun was shining, air was cold but crisp, and not much wind to speak of. I'm familiar with the course now, too, so could anticipate the rolling hills and turns in front of me.

I decided to keep my eye on a guy in a red shirt - I would just try to hang with him. Then, of course, I started noticing the women around me... and trying to guess their ages. Which was when I officially decided I would be really happy if I placed in my age group again this year. So, laser focused on the guy in the red shirt, I picked 'em up and set 'em down, faster faster, pounding, pushing, and did what I could to keep up.

Right around the one mile mark, I realized there was a woman who very much looked like she was in my age group that was right behind me - then passing me - then behind me - then passing me. I shifted my focus from Mr. Red Shirt to Mrs. Age Group Competition, and she pushed me. Past the first turnaround, around the second corner, toward the two mile point. Then we hit an uphill - and that's where I pulled ahead. Since every run here in NW Arkansas has a hill (whether you like it or not), I've gotten pretty good at putting my head down, pumping my elbows, and even accelerating up those hills.

By the time I got to the flattening out of the rise, she was a couple of steps behind me, and I didn't see her again. Back to looking for Mr. Red Shirt, now a good ways ahead of me. Refocus: pick 'em up, put 'em down, control the breathing, keep pushing pushing pushing.

I'd caught up with some of the kids from the local cross country team who run every year, always starting in the front of the pack - now it was old lady vs. the youngsters. I hung with a couple, passed one or two here and there, and finally got to the last hill of the race. Little bit more pushing, turned the last corner, and the finish line was in sight.

I knew I hadn't run as fast as last year when I won my age group, but I also knew from the pain in my lungs that this was at least a good effort for a tempo run, which happened to be the workout on my marathon training plan for the day, anyway. Just as I began to mentally congratulate myself on a race well run, I heard footsteps, coming up fast on my left. I picked my knees up just a little bit more; lengthened my stride as much as I could; but I didn't have enough left to keep her from passing me. Turns out she was 24 years old, so I guess I don't feel too badly about being passed at the end!

Almost there...
Almost there............
I crossed the finish line with a time much faster than I would've guessed given that I still consider myself in rehab from my broken ankle - 22:49 for 5k (3.1 miles). An average of 7:22 per mile, a pace that for the vast majority of my running life I never would've considered remotely possible for me to run.

Third in my age group, ninth female finisher, and 49th overall - I'll take it! I never did catch Mr. Red Shirt, and despite not having seen Mrs. Age Group Competition again, it turns out she was literally just a step behind me - 1.7 seconds, to be exact. Whew!

This year, the turkey trot was extra special - it was graduation day for my Couch to 5k group that I led at work! I was so proud of those that had finished the program - especially the ladies who had never run a race before. I'm always ready to preach the gospel of running, and I hope that they had as much fun with the program as I did.

Tonya and Malisa tore it up!!
C25k Graduates Kimberly and Kennetta with their kiddos - second 5k in six days!!
Gobble gobble, wobble wobble - another turkey trot in the books!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Feature: Birthday decorations

My kids both love to draw, color and paint - and today their artistic endeavors focused on decorations to celebrate my birthday!! 

Clearly my kids recognize there's more to celebrate today other than another trip around the sun. Cowboys two games above 0.500?

Happy birthday, indeed!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Thanksgiving is, hands down, my favorite holiday of the year. It's low pressure, unlike Christmas and birthdays, though lots of work - well, for my husband. I am ashamed to admit that I don't help much - but in my defense, I'm not much help even when I do make an appearance in the kitchen. I mostly feel in-the-way, so over the years I've been relegated to the deviled eggs and buttering the rolls. Oh, and putting the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes in the years that we make those.

I've apparently never progressed from the same tasks I had as an 11 year old.

I did buy the pecan pie today, and will be responsible for transportation for the international students we're hosting from the University tomorrow. So there's that.

Justin and my mother-in-law, Betty, are already in full turkey dinner preparation mode.

The things that can be made ahead of time are in progress, and Caroline has lent a hand to the making of the pumpkin pie. Her helping also includes periodic scrunched-nose-face as she proclaims she doesn't like pumpkin pie, but help is help, after all.

Part of what's so great about Thanksgiving is the fanciness of it all - Justin sets a beautiful table, and it's one of the few times during the year we use our china and crystal.

Can't wait until tomorrow - family, food, friends, and football. Yes indeed, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What a work week

It was another one of those weeks where in the course of any given day, I found myself with a grin on my face thinking, "I love my job." The people, the things we do, the fun we have - I'm so grateful that most days, I walk into work with a smile on my face.

I was out of the office four of the five days prior to last week; I had a meeting in Cincinnati, and then stayed home with sick kiddos on Friday. When I got to my desk early Monday morning, this is what greeted me:

It's a well known fact that I'm a sports fan; a football fanatic; and faithful to the Texas Aggies. So while I found this hilarious - me and Nick Saban, we're apparently Besties now - the timing was curious. I mean, it's been a couple of weeks since 'Bama beat the Ags, and on top of that, I have no idea who did it.

Still funny.

Tuesday was our first Sales Manager offsite for our team. We have a few offsites for the managers throughout the course of the year, but this is the first one that was focused on those of us functionally coded as Sales. Team building, cohesion, and friendly competition - all of that in an excursion to Lewis & Clark for the rock climbing wall, and then the Apple Blossom Brewery for happy hour.

I have never been rock climbing, and I will be the first to admit that I underestimated how physically demanding it is. I made it to the top of the "easy" climb - barely - but couldn't conquer the medium difficulty climb. I paid for my multiple efforts for the rest of the week, with sore back and shoulder muscles. Strange how running a bazillion miles doesn't prepare you for upper body exertion...

Bonus of happy hour was finding a neat, local microbrewery. I told Justin we need to check it out sometime. Excellent food, solid hefeweizen, and fun conversation. 

Wednesday I think I actually got some work done... no pictures to share on that one.

Thursday, though, the big event for the week - the Cover Girl tie in with the premiere of the new Hunger Games trilogy movie: Catching Fire. Corporately we have a big tie in with the films, and our local Cover Girl team went all out to bring it to life in our building. I was chosen to represent one of the Districts and the associated Cover Girl look inspired by District 2, Masonry:

What total fun to get all did up. The local Paul Mitchell cosmetology school sent a troop of people over, and it was managed chaos as they did hair, makeup and nails for about fifteen people in prep for the big reveal to the team. 

Added bonus: free tickets to see the sneak preview of the movie that night. A new experience for me - seeing a movie with a theater full of people I actually know. 

Friday got a slow start - no run for me that morning, between getting in super late and being a big baby about the cold and wet weather. But a fun surprise to wrap up my week was waiting for me when I got to my desk:

Again, common knowledge I'm a football fanatic, and on Sundays, a diehard Cowboys fan. 

So now I've got me another piece to put up on the walls in the bonus room to add to the decor.

What a week. All I need to do now is to actually get some work done while I'm on vacation to make up for all the fun I had.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Four eyes are better than two

Genetics: you can't escape it. Eat the right foods, get a lot of exercise, avoid bad habits. If everyone in your immediate family tree has high cholesterol / high blood pressure / heart disease / etc., there's only so much you can do.

Exhibit A: Caroline officially needs glasses. 

She mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she couldn't see the board in school, so I told her we'd get her in to see the optometrist during the Thanksgiving week break. Daddy managed to get her an appointment today, so off to the doctor we went.

I remember pretty clearly the sentence handed down from the school nurse when I was in 3rd grade. The fact that I had to get up from my desk and sit on the floor about three feet from the blackboard every day never connected in my little eight year old brain with the fact that I might need glasses. And once told after the school screening, I certainly wasn't excited about getting glasses. 

Note another point of difference between me and my daughter. She has been positively elated about the possibility of getting glasses. I think she sees them more as a fashion accessory than anything, and honestly, I'm grateful for that. Of course, it helps that they are more of a fashion accessory now. If I had a picture of myself in the horrifying Army-issue-esque glasses that I got in 3rd grade, you would agree that my reluctance was justified. 

I know that Walmart isn't exactly a hotbed of fashion, but the selection of kids' frames was pretty good. Grown ups want Michael Kors, Coach, Ray-bans, etc. Kids, on the other hand, apparently want Nickelodeon, Barbie, Fisher Price or Hello Kitty. Or if you're Caroline, you want "small pink glasses, please."

This is the part where the lucky parents get to high five because said small, pink glasses are in the low to mid price range. Sweet. 
The only disappointment of the day came with the pronouncement that Caroline's glasses will be ready... Next week. Eight or nine whole days of waiting. When you're only eight years old, that's an eteeeeeernityyyyyyyyy. At least it postponed the tortuous decision of which glasses case to buy. 

Fashion accessory, remember?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Feature: No Rest for the Weary

I've been gone most of the week, in Cincinnati on business from very early Tuesday morning until very late Thursday evening, so I didn't see most of the schoolwork that came home this week. Then, this morning, when I went to find what did come home on Monday, it had long since gone into the recycling bin and off to the city's central point.

Then, to top it off, John came home from school sick yesterday and was still running a fever this morning, so no school for him today, which meant no potential for anything coming home in his backpack today, either. Caroline got off the bus with a few things, but nothing that seemed Friday Feature-worthy.

Good thing we're the meanest parents in the world and made John do worksheets while he was home sick today.

If you are a parent, you know that kids don't know how to be sick. I mean, if I was running a 101 degree fever, I'd be on the couch watching SportsCenter and snoozing in between chapters of whatever book I was reading. But when the medicine kicks in, kids decide they're not really sick, and want to bounce off the walls until it's time for the next dose of ibuprofen. So we took advantage of one of those bursts of energy and made him sit down with Mommy at the kitchen table to work right alongside.

No rest for the weary in the Coussoule household. Until the medicine wears off, at least.

Monday, November 11, 2013

And so it begins

Last Friday night, I got to go to a party. And not just any party - a grown up birthday party. And, of course, not just any grown up birthday party - a FORTIETH BIRTHDAY party.
Greg in the limelight - not his favorite place to be!
Whoo. I just finished up the "my friends are all having babies" phase. That phase had directly followed the "my friends are all getting married phase" which of course was a logical consequence of having passed through the "my friends are all getting engaged" phase. 

When I found myself swiftly approaching 30, I had a little moment. A, what do you mean 30? moment. I decided I needed to do something big, something monumental. So I trained for and ran my first marathon. 

It's funny, though, how what seemed big and monumental at 30 is pretty much routine at 40. I mean, not just marathons. Things like, I am going to take a fun vacation this year. And, my kids said something funny or intelligent or totally unexpected. Or, my friends make me feel good about how I look. No catty remarks allowed. It's kind of like I was on a high wire through my 20s, and opinions, words, impressions and looks made me teeter one way or the other. Then in my 30s, I... Well, actually, I have been sleep deprived for much of my 30s. Two kids, demanding job, my newfound devotion to excessive running. 

I wouldn't change it, of course. Without the constant angst of my 20s or the relentless exhaustion of my 30s (so far), I don't think I'd be ready to face my 40s when they do finally arrive. 

So as I approach 40 - careen toward it, I like to say, as that sounds so much more fun than approach - I'm okay with this "going to 40th birthday parties" phase. I don't think the balloons should be black; I don't think the over the hill jokes apply. I also don't think 40 is the new 30. Forty is 40, and I'm glad it is. We've all earned the knowledge and wisdom we have, and are blessed to be starting a new decade. I have another year to go before I get there, but the company getting there with me is excellent. 

So once again, happy birthday to my friend Greg. Thanks for being the one that kicks off this phase of my life. And here's to 40 truly being fabulous. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Feature: Caroline's schoolwork

Third grade seems to be the year that learning begins to morph into something resembling what we all remember from when we were kids. Book reports, weekly spelling tests, learning about the three branches of government. Reading, too. Lots and lots of reading. In third grade, you are done learning to read - now, you read to learn.

They have been studying the U.S. Government in class, including the office of the Presidency. We've talked a little bit about it at home, but of course, most of my knowledge of the school day is shared in between bites over family dinner. And since half of those snippets of information pertain to recess or art class or lunchtime, I don't have what we could call a full picture of what their little brains soak up, day to day.

I loved this worksheet that came home in Caroline's backpack on Monday. Not only does it show in the first column what she's learned (I'll work on the Teddy vs. Franklin thing, don't worry), in the middle column, it also showed me what made her stop and think.

I'm happy that she wonders if a woman can be President at the same time it makes me sad that we still haven't had a woman to show her it's possible.

Keep wondering, Caroline. When we ask why, we make progress.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween 2013! (It rhymes! Say it out loud!)

We're still eating our Halloween candy, so the way I figure it, I'm not late with the Halloween Trick or Treat report.

And by the mere fact that we're still eating Halloween candy, you can easily skip to the not-surprise-ending that Trick or Treat 2013 was a resounding success!!

Halloween predictably began with costume shopping. Which is great when your kid knows exactly what they want to be. It can be not great when they know exactly what they want to be and the costume is impossible to find. But we got lucky this year - Caroline wanted to be Harry Potter, and Harry Potter she was. John was far less specific, but Clone Trooper was in the Star Wars universe, so of course, it was exactly what he wanted to be. Costumes - done.

The thing about Halloween costumes is that at this age, when they grow approximately an inch every eight minutes, there's no chance of using a costume twice. Unless, of course, you have parties and fall festivals and all kinds of goings on to celebrate a holiday that is a much bigger deal than it really should be, ifyouaskme. You didn't. So I'll get back to my story.

So Halloween arrives, Daddy saves the day by carving the jack o' lanterns while the kids are at school, Daddy also saves the day by getting all of the costume pieces together as well as glow bracelets for Trick or Treating, and Daddy saves the evening by having everything ready to go for dinner at 5:00 so that we can get Trick or Treating RIGHT AWAY at 6:00. Can't waste a minute, you know.

Halloween immediately became more fun for me when my friends Sarah and Jeff arrived with their own little Trick or Treater, Colt. We started this last year, and now that our kids have gone Trick or Treating together two years in a row, it's officially a Thing. Capital T Thing. This year, we also got to have our international student that we've adopted join us. Her first American Halloween! She shared with us that in Brazil, there are a lot more tricks than treats. Chalk another one up for the good ol' U. S. of A.
Christiane and the kids
Pizza eaten, costumes donned, time for obligatory pictures in the front yard.

And of course, obligatory Trick or Treat action photos. Which I only got a few of, because the "good" camera was completely out of space on the memory card. #momfail

Some of our neighborhood friends
The kids are still small enough that after about three or four blocks of hard core doorbell ringing and candy gathering, their little legs and feet have had enough. Which of course is fine with the grownups, so we headed home after about an hour or so out in the neighborhood.

New Halloween feature at our house this year: the sorting, counting, and categorizing of the candy:

Just enough to sort, not so much that we will have Halloween candy lingering at Valentine's Day. Halloween 2013 - we hit the sweet spot. (See how I did that?!)

Friendship. It's a Thing, too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Conceptual Math is Elementary

It's kind of a running joke at work that math isn't my forte - I mean, I'm an English major, I never had a single business or accounting class at West Point (go figure), and selling is fundamentally painting a picture with words. With loads and loads of data behind that picture, but still.

The thing is, I love math. And I've always been really good at math. In fact, I was an A student in math all the way through school, including through my required courses in college, and when I first chose a major, I signed up for math. But I was sadly young and naive, thinking "We all have the same job when we graduate, anyway - why should I work so hard?" so I changed my major to English (via one semester of being a Russian major, but that's a whole other story).

Suffice it to say, I love math. I think math is important. And I'm determined that my kids will love math, too. I mean, you can sell laundry detergent with a math degree. But you can't build a bridge with an English degree.

So to that end, I'm forever encouraging my kids with anything math related. It saddens me that my children have so easily fallen into stereotypes: John (my boy) loves math, Caroline (my girl) "hates" math. Her words. Which I dispute every.single.time. she says them. I believe that parents are kids' best teachers, and I take developing a love of math in each of them very seriously.

Sometimes, though, it's really nice to have help. And for those of us lucky enough to live in a college town, it's incredible to have help in the form of a University professor with a PhD in mathematics.

Last Saturday, my two kids were super lucky - though Caroline might beg to differ - to be a part of the inaugural Fayetteville Math Circle meeting. On the first Saturday of every month, two professors from the Mathematics Department at the University of Arkansas host an hour at the local library for the Fayetteville Math Circle, a program dedicated to showing kids that math can be fun. Perfect! Because Caroline, of course, thinks math is booooooooriiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

Not knowing exactly what to expect but assuming it would be awesome (because it's math), I was just a little bit blown away that their first topic was conceptual number theory. That's right. Number Theory. For elementary school kids. But in a simple, visual way that the kids had no idea it was officially and formally number theory.
That would be Dr. Harriss of the UofA Math Department
Teaching my kids Number Theory
For Free
It's simple, really. Close your eyes and think of numbers. Count them in your head, and then open your eyes.
How many different ways can you make 1? 2? 3? and so on until 17. I wandered in and out - it was 15 kid-free minutes at the library, after all - but I probably should have stayed. It looked like fun.

John is all in with this one - again, stereotypical boy. I hope that this helps Caroline truly learn that math is fun - and colorful, and creative. Because she is already both of those things. She's good at math, too - she just needs a little convincing.