Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas (and Christmas, Jr.) 2013

Ah, the joys of the season. This Christmas was delightful, just as most are. Now that the kids are six and eight, we've had a few years to enjoy the traditions of Christmas and to make some of our own.

We kicked off the season with my company holiday party. I've blogged a good bit about how much I love my job, and how fortunate I am to work with the people I do. And then there's the time we spend together after work - and that's when I know I'm really lucky. I wasn't able to stay late (20 miler scheduled for the next morning) but Justin and I got a rare photo of just the two of us:
And of course, we were there long enough for me to herd the cats and get a photo of the team, their guests, and some of our alumni who we ask to join us each year:
Next up: Coussoule Casa Christmas Cookie Chaos. After the Snowpocalpyse, five snow days, and persistent subfreezing weather, we were ready to have some friends over and make the holidays bright!
I'm not sure at what age they realize that more sprinkles aren't necessarily better...
We continued our now-annual tradition of attending the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas for their amazing Christmas concert:
Meanwhile, the house sparkled and twinkled with decorations - inside. The weather was so frightful, we never were able to get our outdoor lights up this year. But the upside of the cold, cold weather is that we had a fire crackling in the fireplace almost every day in December. Yes indeed, it has felt like Christmas all month long at our house:
The family tree in the living room where the stockings are hung with care...
... and the show tree in the front window
All of this to lead up to every kid's favorite day of the year: Christmas. And Santa did not disappoint. Despite our best efforts, our shopping got a little bit out of control again this year. 
We've done a better job on focusing on the true meaning of Christmas this year; we started our morning with the reading for Christmas Day, and lighting all of the candles on our Advent wreath. Then, it was presents time!!
I know there are a lot of toys in the pictures, but that's because those are pictures of presents from Santas. The presents under the tree sadly disappointed, because this was the year we reached the dreaded most-of-the-gifts-are-clothes stage. I actually felt a little bit badly by the time they got almost to the end of the boxes - they're only six and eight, definitely too young to ask for clothes much less enjoy receiving them for Christmas.

All was not lost, though - as Caroline said the next day, it was actually Christmas Eve, Jr. Which made the 27th Christmas, Jr. We were headed to Houston to do it all over again with my family! Woohooo!!

No matter how pretty the packages or how fun the gifts, nothing could possibly top my niece in her elf hat. Add my own cute kid in there, and it's a cuteness explosion:
And then... then it was time to open presents. Again.
Caroline couldn't believe that she got the American Girl doll Saige, the Girl of the Year. Conversation with her cousin as she opened it:
Caroline: "It can't be!"
Kira: "It can be!"
Caroline: "It isn't!"
Kira: "It is!

And for John, Granddaddy came through in a big way. I think the only thing we have to figure out is how to take turns, because Mommy and Daddy want to play with the AT-AT Walker, too.

So as we round out our Christmas vacation here in Houston, I'm like everyone else and looking back at the year, counting my blessings. 

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Finishing What I Started: Update on my mid-year resolution

Back in August, I shared that I was a bit of a pack rat when it came to sewing projects. Over the years, I had accumulated more than a handful of projects that had gathered dust without any plan for completion. I made a resolution that I would go on a craft-buying diet until all of the projects were done - and the list wasn't small. Fifteen things to finish, almost all of them different patterns, with a deadline of December 31st.

So here we are, and 2013 is almost finished - and I'm more than just a little giddy when I can say

I DID IT!!!!

Nothing like coming down to the wire - the last dress took every spare minute I had between putting away Christmas decorations and packing for our trip to Houston. But if there was ever an example of where writing things down and giving myself a deadline are a sure way to make sure I stick to a plan, this is it.

Once again, this time with feeling, the projects I laid out for myself back on August 5th:

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

I can't say that every single project was a smashing success - in fact, the brown pants were such a terrible fit that they went straight to Goodwill. I hope some very, very thin woman finds them. The pieces for my kiddos probably won't last another season - John's pajama pants were short from the first fitting, despite lengthening them as much as the fabric allowed, and the waist on both skirts for Caroline are tight enough that if they make it to fourth grade, I'll be surprised. Thrilled, but surprised.

I also didn't get pictures of everything - below is evidence of a few, and you'll just have to trust me on the others!

John's pajama pants and tooth pillow:
Caroline's twirl skirts:
Coloring bags:

Pink dress for me (I promise, it looks much better on me than on the hanger):

And finally, the best dressed American Girl dolls in Arkansas:

Belle, an All American cheerleader, and the envy of the American Colonies

It feels great to have all of those projects done. I don't think I'll run out and buy more fabric any time soon, either; my remnant basket overflows with the detritus of good intentions, and I have enough craft patterns that I'll give it a go to use those remnants up before investing in another project.

Far be it for me to not have something going on, though, some sort of list to work off of. Across the room from my sewing spot is my scrapbooking cabinet... so come 2014, I'll put another list together of long-neglected projects, and I'll take it from there.

Here's to finishing what I've started!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter running, or, How Not to Freeze Your Digits Off

It's definitely been a mixed bag with my running this year.

I started out the year with a mileage goal of 1,200 but with a broken ankle, three months off, then another month of rehab, I gave myself permission to put that goal aside and to focus on just getting back to running. I also started the year with a marathon PR and BQ time, only to be crushed in September when I still didn't get in for Boston 2014. I added three more states to my quest to be a 50 Stater, but didn't run a single fall marathon, so Missouri and Oklahoma remain on the undone list.

Through the ups and downs, the elation and frustration, I've learned a lot. Running has been my teacher, my therapist, my upperclassman haze, my fan and my foe this year. It has been my constant when life whirs by at a dizzying and accelerating pace. 

So now that I'm on vacation for the rest of the year, I can kick back, relax, enjoy the holidays and spend quality time with friends and family. Which, obviously, means getting up at 4:45 on my first day off to go run. In the wicked cold. 
Eeeerrrggghhhhhh... According to the local station, the wind chill was actually six degrees. Six. So cold the word only gets three letters and then it freezes. So cold we had our own lake effect fog running across the dam at Lake Fayetteville. So cold we ran faster than we thought we could because we apparently were trying to get done just a little bit faster. Pretty solid this morning with my buddy Jeff:

So how does one go about running in the cold weather?

I'm not going to lie and say it's all in your head. People who say that... well, I think someone needs to examine their head. Because when it's cold, it is COLD. You psyche yourself up and go get it done, but there ain't no getting around the truth of the temperature. I've gotten better at knowing how to dress for runs below 30 degrees - this morning it was a base layer long sleeve Under Armour shirt, my Reebok running tights, Asics running jacket, Sugoi running pants, and wool socks. 

The key piece to successfully running in the cold, though, is the accessories.

#1: protect the digits. Through many, many opportunities for trial and error, I have learned that gloves are not really my friend. I don't know if I have unusually bad circulation or just an usually low tolerance for the cold, but my Asics mittens are the bees knees. On a morning like this, slip a couple of hand warmers in, and boom - no numb fingertips. Santa is my main man, because I get those bad boys in my stocking every year. 

#2: cover the whole head. I have a fleece ear wrap that I love - dual sided, Go Army, Beat Navy. I challenge you to top that. But we all know you lose the most body heat off the top of your head, and when the wind chill matches your youngest child's age, you gotta go skull cap or beanie. I recently commandeered this piece of vintage headwear from Justin's collection:

USMA, rah rah! It looks good when covered with icicles formed from your sweat. You're welcome for that visual. 

#3: if it's exposed, grease it up. Aquaphor is a miracle product. I use it for EVERYTHING, including covering my cheeks, chin, nose, and lips. It doesn't keep me from getting cold, but it does keep me from getting chapped and windburned. And to that effect, I think it does help prevent numbness, at least, because it seems to mitigate the effect of the wind. Which was kickin' on parts of the run today, thankyouverymuch. 

Throw a head lamp in for good measure since we start at 5:15, long before the sun is up, and you're ready to go. Be careful, walk the slick spots on the bridges, keep an eye out for black ice, and then there's only one thing left to do.  


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Friday Feature: Christmas artwork

It's the season!!
John's Christmas wreath
John's Christmas tree from his school party

Caroline's ornament made at school

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December goal: update

Remember that awesome idea I had to run at least a mile every single day in December? Turns out Old Man Winter didn't think it was as good of an idea as I did. 

When I was on a roll last winter and into the spring, I was a running fool. There were several mornings when I would run a half marathon before work. My weekly and monthly mileage piled up, and I was running the farthest and the fastest I had in my life. I felt strong, healthy, and admittedly, pretty tired a lot of the time. But it was worth it because I got to spend a lot of time doing one of my favorite things. 

Then I broke my ankle, had to take six weeks off from everything, took another six weeks off from running while I swam and cycled to rehab the ankle, and finally, in September, got back to running. Slowly at first, then built time and miles with the Louisiana Marathon in January in my sights as my "I'm back" run. With a modified training schedule culminating in 26.2 on January 19th, running every day in December didn't seem unattainable or even like much of a stretch with the right planning. 

Then Snowpocalypse 2013 blew into town, and I couldn't have run a foot, much less a mile, unless I wanted to do laps in my living room. Which I did not. With six inches of snow and not a plow in sight, it was three days of no running for me. The streak was broken a mere five days into the month. 

What's a girl to do?

I managed to get to the gym on Monday despite the roads looking more like a skating rink than blacktop, but I figured I had to get out and go to work one way or the other, so I may as well take a practice run and hit the treadmill. By Thursday my motivation to face the dreadmill was waning, so I enlisted the help of my friends Richard and Shauna to get me out of bed Friday morning. They actually met me for an indoor, treadmill run. Runners are a special kind of friend to meet at 5:15 in sub-freezing weather, braving icy roads, to go indoors and run in place for 45 minutes. Best run of my week, too. 

Though my streak is broken, I'm still on track for my marathon training, and almost two weeks later the trails are finally clear of the snow and ice. It may be a long winter, so no more pronouncements of running streaks. Just a commitment to stay on track for the marathons in 2014. 


Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Feature: The Volcano

So I mentioned the snow days - and if you live here in Northwest Arkansas you've talked about them ad nauseam for the last week - but if you asked my kids the most fun thing they did during their days off from school, they just might say:


Best dad in the world, I'm tellin' ya....

Step by step, fabric layers and paint

Finished project:

And now, for the grand finale...

You'd think after the official eruption, that would be it... except the next morning, I found a dinosaur march in the living room:
It's the Land Before Time
And to get even more mileage out of it, the volcano made its way to school in both the 1st grade and 3rd grade classroom with baggies of supplies needed to make it erupt all over again.

Love that man of mine who makes snow days so much fun for our kids.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Love letter to my husband

Today was five - count them, five - school snow days in a row, with a homebound weekend thrown in the middle for good measure. The snow didn't fall after mid-afternoon on Friday, but the total inability of the local government to deal with snow and ice in Northwest Arkansas has resulted in roads that resembled skating rinks until the sun mercifully appeared with enough strength to overcome the just-barely-above-freezing temperatures and finally get the roads clear enough that school will be open tomorrow.

Not a moment too soon.

My husband, who has sacrificed so much in support of me, my goals and desires, who is the full time parent to our kids, has to be at his wits' end with our two yay-hoos bouncing off the walls this last week. But you wouldn't know whether he was at his wits' end or not, because in his own patient way, he has managed to keep them occupied without losing his own mind, being cooped up and out of the routine for a full week now.

I thought about that while I was back at work the last three days, how my routine went back to normal after just a couple of days, but he's still waiting for normalcy to return. And he hasn't complained. In fact, he's made the extra effort to find things to keep the kids both entertained and intellectually engaged during the unexpectedly long and drawn-out break from school.

Thursday, the first snow day, he got their worksheets out and got them focused on learning. Friday, he shoveled the driveway and the sidewalk - I think he was the only one in the entire neighborhood - so that we wouldn't be pulling onto a sheet of ice when we finally did get out of the house. Over the weekend, he built Legos and played board games with the kids. Monday, they started a project to build a volcano. Tuesday, he took them to the grocery store, to the movies that afternoon, and finished the volcano so the grand eruption was ready when I got home. Today, he took them out again so that Caroline could buy gifts for a party this Saturday.

I know it was exhausting, boring, and frustrating. But the kids would never know if he felt that way, because he's an even keel, bring-calm-and-order-to-our-house kind of dad. And I so rarely take a moment to tell him how much I appreciate that, how much I need that balance to my whirling dervish approach to so much of life.

It's easy to tell your husband you love him on Valentine's Day, or Thanksgiving, or any other special day. It's easy to bestow words of passion when life is momentous and milestones are being marked.

But this blog is about the things that make up our lives 365 days a year. So Justin, while my words aren't flowery or eloquent, or poetic in any way, I want you to know that I love you for being a great snow-day-dad the last week. You make my life so wonderfully comfortable, even when baby, it's cold outside.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Feature: Snow Days

Old Man Winter arrived in NW Arkansas yesterday and has decided to make it an extended visit. Two snow days already this week. In fact, as soon as Thursday was cancelled, I knew Justin and I needed to come up with a plan to head off stir craziness at the pass. Even without more snow, it's going to be too cold to play outside for a while:
Pretty much no relief in sight. So we went to the old standby, worksheets, which resulted in an overwhelming amplification of whining and complaining. To try and give the kids options, I told them we would also have reading group (reading on their own) and music class (practicing the piano). Not sure they saw as much humor in that as I did, but sometimes it's okay if just Mommy laughs.

Then I got a moment of inspiration when thinking about what their science instruction could be for the day. The forecast called for a wintry mix, which we explained to Caroline and John could be a combination of sleet, freezing rain and snow. None of which I could actually define when the kids asked what they were.

Voila - science lesson combined with computer use, as they had to Google the questions to find the answers. Done.
However you define it, the weather has been a mess lately. Here's hoping that the snow plows make their rounds so the kids can go back to school. I'm pretty sure they think it's too much work to stay home.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The games we play

Remember those months - no, years - of mind numbingly boring play with your children?

Oh, please. Admit it. The infant and even toddler years are something just to get through half the time. The payoff to parenting - if and when it comes - surely happens sometime long down the road, in the fuzzy future of adult offspring who don't stomp away and have a meltdown every, oh, eight minutes. 

Come to find out, there are little payoffs to be found here and there along the way. Right now, we are officially past the days of Hi Ho Cherry-O and Chutes and Ladders. We have moved on to games that I might choose to play with a group that doesn't even include kids. 

Caroline and John have long played our grown-up board games with their own rules, and a couple even according to the written rules. But in the last week, we've cracked the code on a classic: Clue

I relented to the request to teach them how this past weekend, much to the surprise of the wheedling midgeroos. We got it all set up, and I pulled out the instructions to read aloud, as it's been quite a while since I've played the game myself. 

Oh, yeah. It's a murder mystery. That I'm about to play with my six and eight year old children. Mother of the Year award, once again. 

The thing about kids, though, that all parents figure out pretty early as a defensive maneuver to save a shed of sanity in the face of the onslaught of never ending questions - they don't really expect a lengthy answer to any of their questions. Truth: they don't even have the attention span for a full explanation most of the time. And while I expected quizzical looks as to why I might suspect Miss Scarlet in the Ballroom with the Revolver, to them, it was just how the game was played. 

Let the playing commence!
While we've gotten past the games that suck my will to live, we've not yet gotten past the childhood tendency to want repetition of one thing for days, weeks, months on end. So we've played Clue every day but one since they learned the rules. We've even sucked Daddy in to one round, which he won in record time. Best game of Clue yet, by the way. 
Today was a snow day, which meant boredom set in for the kids in the early afternoon. I worked from home and managed to block out most of the noise, but at one point when I got up for a drink, I found the marathon board game session set up and ready to go. 
Not sure how that one came out, but we did get our nightly game of Clue in a little while ago. If this goes on much longer, I may have to reframe my definition of mind-numbingly-boring. 

For now, though... Whodunit?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December goal: 31 days of running

I follow several running pages on Facebook and more than one blog that focuses on my obsession, and throughout the year I always see calls to "join in!" for a month of running every day. I've always managed to ignore those, focusing on my current training plan or just not feeling the need to participate.

Maybe because I missed three months of running this summer, or maybe because I'm going to miss my annual mileage goal, or maybe just because I want a new goal to work toward, I decided to give it a whirl this month. 

So for December, I'm going to try and run every day. Every. Single. Day. No minimum mileage required, just put my shoes on and and get out there. Shouldn't be too hard, honestly - I'm hitting mileage ramp up time for my January marathon, so there aren't too many rest days on my schedule, anyway. 

And with this weather coming, I probably need extra motivation to get this weekend's 20 miler in the books:

Man oh man, snow in December?? And I thought the temps in the mid-20s were bad. It's been unseasonably cold already this year; looks like we're in for more of that in the week ahead. 

I've got my training plan; I've got my stalwart running partners and friends; and now I have a monthly goal. Here's to being harder than woodpecker lips and going all in this month. As my friend Greg says: Run.