Tuesday, December 2, 2014

However you say it

On the way to the library this evening:

Caroline: Mommy, is the Christmas Eve mass going to be bilanguageal? Or just English? Or just Spanish?
Me: Ummmmmm... Probably just English. 
Caroline: Yeah. That's what I thought. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Feature: my Friday night

This week has gone by in a blur. That seems to happen to me whenever I have weekend travel plans. I always think I have plenty of time to figure out the details of my trip, to let high school friends know I'm coming home, and to think through options for outfits. 

Then BAM, it's Friday afternoon and I'm struggling to heed the Outlook calendar reminder I set weeks ago that I have now clicked "Snooze for 5 minutes" on at least five times. Gotta go. Gotta go. Gotta go. 

Hit the bank and Walgreens on the way home for cash and a card; run in the house and spend 15 minutes piling clothes on the bed, hoping my best guess for Houston weather in November is close enough; and run back out the door to pick the kids up from school. Get Caroline's bike on the car bike rack; back home to actually put the pile of clothes in a bag; check the kids' overnight bag; throw it all in the car; head over to my best good friend's house. 

See, this isn't just the weekend I'm going home for my cousin's wedding, it's also the weekend Justin has class in Little Rock. I like to think Caroline is extraordinarily mature and independent for nine years old, but unsupervised time at home for the midgets that exceeds about fifteen minutes is not yet in the cards. I am so blessed, so fortunate, that Shauna and Andy are such good friends that they'll keep the kids for me tonight. Score another one for making the deliberate decision that this place is home. 

Dropped them off; hugs and kisses; sandwich from a drive through and off to the airport. So this is my Friday night. 
I'm off to Houston for a whirlwind trip that includes a drive to Austin and back tomorrow. No worries that the last few hours have been the blurriest of the week. I wouldn't miss this chance to be with my family and to celebrate my baby cousin Meredith's wedding. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Feature: Puzzle Piece

As a mom, I've realized that there are so many things about your children that "just are," despite the assumption that you're guiding, molding, and teaching them in all that they do. This week, Caroline brought home some art that I inferred was a part of a bigger masterpiece, a way to show that every child in her class is unique but still fits in and is an important part of the whole.
Just another reminder that my sweet, sensitive, thoughtful daughter who sometimes mystifies me because she's so different than I am is a beautiful individual, and our family would be missing a piece without her. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Our common thread is made of shoelaces

I run. Quite a bit compared to some people. If you read my blog with any even semi-regularity, you already know that. You probably also know some of the reasons I run - there are a lot of them - but if I had to pick just one, it would be because of the time I get to spend with my friends as we tick away the miles day after day, week after week.

The thing about runners is that the definition of "running friends" can be pretty fluid. The truth is that anyone you see while out on a run with sneakers on their feet moving at anything more than a standstill is your running friend. You say good morning, give them a smile if you're unable to speak, or stick your hand out for a high five as you pass by. It isn't something you're told when you start to run, it's just something that seems to come naturally when you're out there on the trail, pickin' 'em up and puttin' 'em down.

I'm so fortunate that my running friends are also my "friend friends" - over the last three and a half years of living in NW Arkansas, the people who welcomed me to their group when I showed up new in town and with whom I've run ever since have also become the people I choose to spend time with on the weekends, ask for professional advice, vent about life's frustrations, and celebrate life's successes together. When I changed jobs this past spring, having friends who didn't care who I worked for or what I did for a living made it that much easier to manage the transition.

This past week, I saw the power of running friends bridge across two of my social circles. There happened to be a meeting that brought a friend from P&G to town, a friend who has become an avid triathlete and runner over the last few years. He sent me a note and asked if I wanted to get together and run while he was in town - of course I did!! - and I naturally asked him to join not just me but the group of friends I run with.

Tuesday and Wednesday morning, a little after 5AM, we met and headed out for our runs together. It didn't matter that it was the first time Michael had met the group; as soon as he showed up in a tech shirt and sneakers, he was a friend. The conversation was as natural and easy as it is on any given weekday morning, and it was such a joy for me to be able to spend time with him doing one of my favorite things.
Runner selfie!!
As it turned out, Wednesday was kind of a Hail and Farewell run - hello to Michael and goodbye to Joon, my friend who after many months of training at Quantico, is headed out to his first duty station as a 2LT far across the ocean in Okinawa. We haven't seen him in many months but nobody missed a beat - he's a running friend, he's a friend friend, and it was good to see him. He'll hopefully be home for a short visit in a few months but after that, it'll be a two year stint in Japan. I guarantee, though, after two years if he comes back to NW Arkansas, the time apart will fade away and it will be like he never left.
There are days when I need and enjoy a solo run; days when the run is the therapy that clears my mind. Even on those runs, my friends are with me, as I turn things over in my head and think, what would Shauna say? How would Mary handle that? I wonder if Richard ever had to deal with that?

The ties that bind friends together are different for all of us. Mine just happen to be made of shoelaces.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Feature: Crack the code

This is John's first year as a Cub Scout and things are going swimmingly. He has made some new friends, is looking forward to a big event including BB guns, and is cute as a button in his uniform. 

In last week's meeting, his den talked about encryption and secret messages, and then tried their hands at doing their own. 
Get ready, CIA. John's on the case. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Feature: Who's the Boss

As many challenges as there have been in the first six months in my new job, one consistent positive has been my role as a team leader. I've had the opportunity to hire, train and promote some really great people, and I'm reminded on a daily basis that the business will ebb and flow, but my impact on the people around me is more important to me than numbers on a page.

Even with the daily mantle of responsibility, though, I don't necessarily think of myself as "the boss." Combine that with my general inattention to the calendar and National Boss' Day snuck up on me. Until I walked into my office around 3:00 yesterday afternoon and found this on my desk:
There are a lot of days where I've questioned whether I'm making a difference, if I really have what it takes to transform this business. This was a nice reminder that making a difference isn't measured solely on the P&L. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Feature: Student of the Month

This school year has been going very well for both kids. They both love GT; they have teachers who inspire and excite them; and we've received only good behavior reports from their classrooms.

That's really no surprise for Caroline but this week, she was recognized for going above and beyond. Way to go, kiddo!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Life List: Time for an update

About a year and a half ago, I was inspired to write my own bucket list by reading the wonderful list my dear friend Sarah had created and shared on her blog. I did a little bit of research online as far as what was typical for these "before I'm gone" kinds of goals, and as you can imagine, there are as many of these out there as there are good ideas to add to them.

I found that some people have multiple lists for different things they want to do: places to go, adventures to have, restaurants to try, famous people to meet. When I began compiling my list, I included some very aspirational things that may never happen without heroic effort and everyday things that should be easy to do but for the million and one things that get in the way and then suddenly, life has passed you by.

Reinforced for me in this exercise was the magic of writing something down - when you can see it in writing it is more concrete, more tangible, and more attainable than a wish voiced in a conversation or an idea texted back and forth but never solidified. The list has given me something to return to, to measure my passing days by, and to inspire me for the coming days. It helped us "just do it" this past summer, giving me the opportunity to do more than one thing on the list in a single epic adventure. And that same trip inspired me to add a few more things to the list.

So after 18 months of some successes and some misses against the list, I'm officially updating it. It's still the big and the little things; that's what this blog was meant to celebrate, so it feels right for my personal list to have both. I still think of it as my Life List vs. a Bucket List, as it has added more life to the 365 days I have each year.

  1. Donate enough money to have my name on something at West Point
  2. Celebrate the 4th of July in Boston
  3. Win 1st place in my age group in a race - DONE!!
  4. Cross something off a friend's life list together
  5. Sing in a symphony chorus
  6. Go to the Olympic Games
  7. Watch Army play in a bowl game in person
  8. Take a train as my primary mode of transportation on a trip or vacation
  9. See my cousin Jay perform live
  10. Become a published author
  11. Visit the American Cemetery in Normandy
  12. Take my kids to the Army/Navy game
  13. Be in Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day
  14. Run a marathon in all 50 states
  15. See Mt. Rushmore - DONE!!
  16. Take a Creative Writing course
  17. Go to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC 
  18. Buy something at the actual brick-and-mortar Akinz, my cousin Suzanne's retail store - DONE!!
  19. Swim around Key West
  20. Watch the Dallas Cowboys play a regular season game in Cowboys Stadium
  21. Spend a whole day riding roller coasters and amusement park rides with my kids - DONE!!
  22. Give a graduation speech
  23. Tour the White House
  24. Complete a full Ironman Triathlon
  25. Hike some of the Appalachian Trail
  26. Grow strawberries in my garden - DONE!!
  27. Learn to surf
  28. Visit Yellowstone National Park - DONE!!
  29. Sew matching outfits for my daughter and her American Girl doll
  30. Qualify for and run the Boston Marathon 
  31. Decorate a fancy cake, like one from a bakery
  32. Cook / bake every single recipe in a cookbook
  33. Own season tickets to something
  34. See the Rose Parade in person
  35. Take a vacation with my sister Susannah, just the two of us
  36. Read a biography of every U.S. President
  37. See Lenny Kravitz in concert
  38. Own a convertible
  39. Take my kids on a Civil War staff ride vacation
  40. Apply to be a contestant on The Amazing Race
  41. See the California Redwoods
  42. Walk underneath / behind a waterfall
  43. Legitimately begin a presentation with the words, "My fellow Americans..."
  44. Ride my bike across a state
  45. Hike to the most remote spot in the lower 48
  46. Ride my bike through a national park
A few more added to the list, a few more complete. I'm sure I'll keep adding ideas as they pop into my head.

What about you? Do you have a list? If you don't, what are you waiting for? Grab a piece of paper, a pen, a marker, whatever inspires you. Write something down. It doesn't have to be 46 different things - start with one, or three, or ten. Just start. You'll be inspired when you realize how rich your life is because of the big and little things that you could do if you made a point to.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Friday Feature: pictures are worth one word

So far, 2nd grade has been fantastic for John. He really likes his teacher, and from that flows all good things. Stellar behavior so far this year; enthusiasm for learning; and curiosity for the things ahead. 

They have done several activities this year where they take a word, illustrate it, and write the word below. Both his teacher and I both thought that this week's efforts went above and beyond. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Feature: chip off the old block

The conversation on the way to school yesterday morning:

Me: "I'd like for you both to make sure you read your goals for this year when you get home. You need to think about making a plan to achieve them because writing goals down is good, but accomplishing them takes work. Remember what you learned at school, begin with the end in mind. And what do you do after you begin with the end in mind?"

John: "Make a plan!"

Me: "That's right!"

John: "How did you know that, Mommy?"

Me: "Because I know a whole lotta things."

John: "But you don't know everything."

Me: "True. But I know a whoooooooole lotta things."

John (giggling): "You don't know that I'm awesome."

Me: "Yes I do."

John: "How do you know that?"

Me: "Because you take after me!"

John: laaaaaughing and laaaaaaughing and laaaaaaaughing

If that isn't a great way to start a day, I would be hard pressed to say what is.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Feature: get your red pen

This came home from Caroline's class this week. What to even say.
My eye's hurt. (See how I did that?)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Saturday run that wasn't

It's been many, many weeks since I've been out with my regular Saturday running group. The Java Joggers have been my constant in the three and a half years I've lived here in Fayetteville; I found them via a Google search when we were checking out the area, and they welcomed me warmly and graciously as runners tend to do.

With multiple injuries over the last 18 months, I haven't been as consistently faithful to the weekend runs as I was in the lead up to my Boston qualifying attempt in Houston. In fact, I would go so far as to say I even experienced a little bit of burnout after my back-from-rehab marathon this past January. But there certainly was a long stretch of time where those Saturday runs were on the calendar, rain or shine; wind or snow; heat or bone-chilling cold.

These recent weeks have seen my return to running after a broken foot in March and then some lingering, nagging hip pain. I finally got that seen to, and am back in a ramp-it-up running routine that includes four mile runs on a few weekday mornings. Finally, this morning, it also included my return to the Java Joggers, planning a little over 6 miles on the Hobby Lobby loop with my best good friends.

Mother Nature had other plans, though - I saw the thunder and lightning as I struggled to keep my eyes open in between hitting the snooze button; I hopped up and sent a text to check if we were still on. As is typical, the west-side-Fayetteville weather was nothing like the east-side-Fayetteville weather, and we all agreed rain or no rain, we'd head on over to Starbucks and go from there.

We stepped off in a light rain, and before Mary and Hank (her canine running companion) could catch up from a sniff-and-pee break, the heavens had opened up. We stood under the overhang at Home Depot until they caught up and made an instant group decision - turn it around, we're going back for coffee!!
Hobby Loop turned into the Home Depot sprint interval workout!
Note the weather on the left ... and the obvious turnaround point on the right!
It probably would've been good to get a run in, but honestly, the reason I so look forward to those runs is because of the time I get to spend with my friends. Shauna, Mary, Macey and I were the first ones back (that tends to happen when you only run a half mile), so we got our coffee, then sat and laughed and talked and recounted the events of the week. We four women range from a U of A sophomore to a U of A professor to a fitness instructor to my crazy life, and the stories are endless.

The guys got back a few at a time (they did run in the pouring rain, as if additional evidence was needed to prove that women truly are the more intelligent of our species), and they joined us around the table. We talked about plans to ride on Sunday and Monday; relaxing over Labor Day weekend; and saw another good friend who's moved away with the Marines but came home for the holiday. Our Starbucks truly is our local coffee shop, and they don't mind a bunch of wet, stinky runners who spend an hour laughing too loudly and telling the same jokes a few times with each returning runner, because they're too good to only tell once.

Today was the run that wasn't, but that's okay. I'm not as hard core as I was a couple of years ago; I'm not training for a race; I don't have a plan that I have to stick to no matter what. I got to spend an hour with my best good friends, and that's the spirit of the run, anyway.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Feature: Throwback award

Every once in a while, I'll get something random in the mail from my mom, presumably from a cleaning of a closet or drawer or box somewhere in the house I grew up in. This past week, I got a big package full of certificates from various achievements over the years.

It was fun to flip through them and remember the myriad activities I participated in growing up; there were a ton of piano related certificates, a few athletic awards, several reading achievement certificates and the annual Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo art entry acknowledgement.

This was the only one of its kind in the stack, though:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Feature: goals for the school year

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree; to start out this school year, Justin had the kids write out ten goals for the year ahead. Amazingly, the results were almost 100% their ideas, with just a little bit of help from Daddy to articulate them more clearly.

I believe in the power of writing goals down, and in posting them where you can see them frequently. These goals hang on the wall in the kiddos' rooms, so that they can see them every day - and maybe as importantly, I can see them every evening. I'll help them meet their goals where I can, but I'm excited about a year where they might better understand the link between effort and results.

Here's to achieving the goals we've set before us!

Monday, August 18, 2014

From Summer to School Year

Another summer vacation come and gone, with a treasure trove of memories and pictures to remember how amazing it was! We spent this past weekend celebrating the end of summer with a special dinner out at a grown up restaurant, taking the kids to Vetro 1925 here in town for what was definitely their fanciest dinner experience with the parents to date:
Sunday was the last ditch effort at soaking up some sun; I took the kids to the pool for a couple of hours because that's what you do in the summer, right? Given yesterday was the last day it was open for the season (what happened to weekends until Labor Day?!), it seemed like the thing to do.
Last night, though, lights were out by 8:00, because today was the first day of school for the kiddos; back to Holcomb Elementary for another year of learning and growing.
By the end of the summer, I think most kids are ready for a new school year, with their bright new backpacks and shiny new sneakers, with the possibilities of renewing friendships and making new ones in their classrooms for the year. Summer vacation was cut short by one week thanks to the crazy number of snow days we had in the 2013-2014 school year, but we did our best to make every single day in the ten weeks of summer vacation count. I mean, really count.

There was, of course, the Great Western Adventure and the trip home to Houston that followed hot on its heels (so hot, in fact, I haven't had time to capture it in words, but hopefully one of these days I'll get to it!). There was the summer reading program, sessions at the Botanical Garden, and a few trips to the pool. There was church camp and tennis camp and swim lessons, and there were days to just hang out at home and play with stuffed animals, Hot Wheels, or ride bikes around the neighborhood.

There was the Coussoule Curriculum, scaled back this year to allow for travel but also to avoid the meltdowns that accompanied the plethora of worksheets from the year before. There weren't too many sibling squabbles that turned into full blown fights, but there was plenty of annoying-little-brotherness and know-it-all-big-sisterness to go around.

I know a lot of parents are 100%, fully ready for school to start by the time it rolls around every year. I'm appreciate our predictable routine during the school year, but unlike the last couple of summers, I'm not quite ready for the kids to have a firm 8 o'clock bedtime or for the dreaded hurry-up-and-eat-your-breakfast screaming match on the occasional morning.

Here it is, though, ready or not - and just like the long days of summer, we are going to make the most of every day of this school year.

Let's see whatcha got, second grade. Saddle up, fourth grade. The Coussoule kids are ready to take it on and make it count!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Feature: My dad, Then and Now

This past weekend, we celebrated my dad's 70th birthday at a surprise party that came off beautifully, despite my sister, Mom and I never having put one together before. My main responsibilities were the invitation and the slideshow / video, which meant looking through lots and lots of photos, scanning lots of old photos, and then using the magic of the Mac to create something fun to watch.

I was pretty happy with how it turned out - it's really long, but then again, the funnest part is the beginning with all of the old pictures of my dad and his family. If you make it through some, or all, of the video, thank you for letting me share my dad with you. He's one of a kind, and one in a million.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Happy birthday, Daddy

Today is my Dad's 70th birthday. To me, this is not one of the little moments in the 365 - this is a BIG moment. A milestone. A day to stop and take stock of all of the reasons my dad is the best. I mean, the BEST. I know everyone says their dad is #1, the tops, world's greatest. I'm just lucky that for me, that all happens to be totally true.

I've always considered myself a chip off the old block - I searched the mirror for every physical sign that I looked just like my dad for years. The blue eyes are the obvious answer; I think I have his nose, too. As I've gotten older, though, I've realized the most telltale signs are in my personality. I'm proud of that, and I hope he is, too.

My dad came to every single one of my high school basketball games. Every. Single. One. You think that's impressive, consider this - my team didn't win a single game for two years. And yet, he still came. In fact, his perfect attendance began with my junior high school games, during which he got so frustrated with the lousy refereeing, he became one. Because that's what my dad does - if something isn't right, he fixes it.

I hold so precious the memories of laying on the couch talking to my dad about anything and everything, sometimes staying up until the wee hours of the morning pondering the big questions in life. The hours-long conversations didn't end with my leaving for West Point; the toll free number my parents got so that I could call home from the pay phones in the barracks basements was worn out after four years of cadet life. If I remember correctly, my parents kept that number even into my years as a lieutenant, during which the marathon conversations between me and my dad continued.

There are a million reasons my dad is the best, but the most important ones are so hard to articulate. He just is. He gets me; he loves me despite all of my failings; he's always there whenever I need him, at a moment's notice, no matter how long it's been since I last called because life has gotten in the way. If you need an example of the unconditional love of a parent, look no farther than the love my dad has for me. I'm doing my best to be the same kind of parent to my own children.

So happy birthday, Dad. I love you and celebrate everything you are to me and to everyone who loves you.
Me and my dad, c. 1976
My dad and my daughter, August 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

The countdown to summer's end

Here it is already - the last week of summer vacation. One week from today, we'll send the kids off to school to begin another year of learning, growing, and making friends. This time of year is always a mixed bag of emotions - yearning for the long, sunny days stretching in front of us like a lazy river waiting to be enjoyed, but relief at the approach of routine and predictability of schedule.

It isn't like we didn't pack everything possible into the last nine weeks - in fact, there's been so much fun, I haven't had the chance to capture it all here on my blog yet. There are still a couple of thoughts from our Great Western Adventure that I want to get down before they're lost from my consciousness, and we just returned from yet another trip out of town, this time for our annual summer pilgrimage to Houston.

The kids attended church camp; tennis camp; and participated in the library's summer reading program. We rode bikes; swam at the pool; had sleepovers; went to the movies; and played with friends in the neighborhood. The garden still has full tomato plants and beautiful sunflower blooms, and it's still too hot to sit outside before about 5PM.

It's hard to believe the summer is almost over, but that disbelief is no more stark than the end of any other summer. I'm back to work this morning, heading out the door in a few minutes, but the kids are still fast asleep upstairs, enjoying the last Monday of no alarm clocks or wake-ups from Mom and Dad. I'm sure they'll cram as much as they can into every moment this week, in between hair cuts and meet the teacher night.

As summer begins to blend into the start of a new school year, I will try to savor every moment. Not just because it's this last precious week of summer break, but because I should always do that, 365 days a year.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Coussoules' Great Western Adventure: Days 11-13 in South Dakota - Mount RushMORE!

It was finally here, the moment Caroline had looked forward to for months - it was Mount Rushmore day!! We'd gotten a small preview from the parking lot of our hotel, getting us excited to see the famous landmark up close.
Way back in March when we planned this trip, there had been a couple of catalysts that sparked dreams of this adventure. One was my trip to Colorado in the fall for my cousin's wedding. I came home awestruck by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, telling Justin we had to take a trip out there with the kids someday. The second was being home over the holidays and my mom talking about how she'd always wanted to see Mount Rushmore, and here she was not getting any younger and she didn't know if she ever would get there. I like to think that I live life All In; there are no guarantees for tomorrow; and as the days pass and I see my children growing up so quickly, I realize that in just a few short years, they will be gone, venturing out on their own great adventure. With all of that in mind, we picked my parents up and headed up the road to finally see Mount Rushmore - a bucket list item for my mom, a life list item for myself, and I would daresay for Caroline too, if she had a list of her own.
Mount Rushmore is so fundamentally American, not just in its sculptures of our greatest leaders, but in its audacity; in the dream to carve a mountain as the only medium large enough to embody the American spirit. It is a place to reflect on the endowment of our freedoms and the outsized nature of American life.
We spent some time in the Visitors' Center, watching the movie recounting the herculean effort to carve a mountain, looking at the displays and stories of the carvers, and of course, getting the passport stamps for the latest of our National Parks that we visited along the way.
Standing in the shadow of the mountain, with time to truly take in the art of the sculpture, one can't help but wonder if Gutzon Borglum originally planned to carve more than the heads of the Presidents. In the Sculptor's Studio at the base of the mountain, there is a model that seems to indicate that he dreamed even bigger than the monumental achievement completed in 1941.
After a couple of hours, we had done everything there was to do at Mount Rushmore. But here's the thing - South Dakota is so much more than the mountain. A map of the southwest part of the state has more attractions, historical sites, beautiful parks and general things to do than you could possibly do in a weekend, much less a day. But a day was all my parents had, so it was Dad's choice for the afternoon - and after grabbing some lunch, it was off to Deadwood, South Dakota.

I'm not much of a TV watcher, and I've never seen the HBO series by the same name. I do consider myself reasonably well-educated, but this trip had taught me that my education was more broad than deep when it came to the history of the American west. With Justin and the kids taking a needed afternoon break from the car, I went with Mom and Dad about an hour down the road to visit this town whose entire city limits were a National Historical Site. Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok - I'd always heard the names, but beyond the legend of the Dead Man's Hand and a vague recollection of having heard of Jane, I didn't know anything about the history of Deadwood. My post-vacation reading list was growing by leaps and bounds!

My lack of knowledge was fully offset by my dad's seemingly endless knowledge of history; with two degrees in history and a lifelong love of reading and learning about the past, he filled in the gaps in my knowledge as we toured the town.
It was really nice to spend the afternoon with my parents, and I was so excited that my mom had finally made it to see Mount Rushmore. We had a fun dinner together again that Sunday evening and then said our farewells, as they flew out the next morning.

We, on the other hand, had another big day of sightseeing in front of us! With almost two full weeks of the adventure behind us and two long days of driving in front of us, our plan on Monday was to take an easy drive through Custer State Park and then spend the afternoon relaxing and packing for the journey home. An absolute jewel in southwest South Dakota, the Park wildlife loop was a beautiful drive with vistas of grasslands and wildflowers, and in the true spirit of the West, the herd of bison we'd been yearning to see since first arriving in Yellowstone.
The kids were able to participate in a wonderful Junior Ranger Program at the Visitors Center while Justin and I relaxed in the shade. Driving the scenic loop, we were able to see much of the park and then drive back on the Needles highway. More dramatic beauty as we wound our way through the Black Hills area of the state.

Our third and final day in South Dakota began the long drive home. With the assumption that it would be difficult to ever get back to this stunning part of the country, we intended to make the most of it, and mapped out a detour through the Badlands and a stop at the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. Not everything was about history and natural beauty, though - South Dakota has its own South of the Border attraction, Wall Drug. Miles and miles of signs saying, Wall Drug! Stop at Wall Drug! I'd heard of it from my dear friend who originally hails from South Dakota, so we swung off the interstate, made a pit stop for one of the best donuts I've ever had, and had the good fortune to realize the National Grasslands Visitors Center was right down the street. Bonus passport stamp!
After two weeks of jaw dropping vistas and indescribable beauty, I wasn't sure there could be anything to top our previous stops. But oh, the Badlands - you've never seen anything like it, not imagined there was something so unique, so beautiful, so captivating.
I wish we'd had more energy to get out and spend time exploring. The Badlands is an entirely open area; there are no restrictions on where you can hike and explore. We were limited only by our fatigue and desire to get closer to home, now that we were on the tail end of the journey. By the time we got to the Missileman Historic Site, we had missed the opportunity to get tickets for the silo tour. If we ever make it back to that part of America, there is a new Visitors Center being built, and I'm sure based on the short film we saw and the few displays they had in its temporary home, it will be an amazing place to visit. Someday.
Of course we got the passport stamp!

For now, though, it was time to hit the road and really start putting on the miles. We drove all the way across South Dakota that Tuesday, through Mitchell for a short stop at the Corn Palace (foiled by summer renovations) and turned right at Sioux Falls into Iowa. Reaching Sioux City, our stop for the night, we arrived at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center only to find it closed for the night. We decided to come back the next day, closing the chapter on our three days in South Dakota. So much more than the Mount Rushmore State!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Feature: tales of our travels

For many years, whenever we've traveled, we've tried to make a point of obtaining two specific souvenirs from our destinations: a Christmas ornament and a refrigerator magnet. As we have a stainless steel refrigerator that isn't magnetic, we've improvised with a metal board from IKEA to display the kids' artwork and schoolwork over the years.

As we completed the unpacking process over the course of a couple of days after returning from our Great Western Adventure, all of the new magnets made their way to their new home. Looks like we're going to have to hit IKEA for a second board when we're home in Houston!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Coussoules' Great Western Adventure: Day 10, Cody to Keystone - South Dakota, here we come!

My watch alarm went off at the crack of dawn on Saturday, and despite being able to sleep another, oh, infinity hours or so, I repeated my morning mental motivational saying to myself to help me get out of bed: you never regret getting up to workout, but you almost always regret skipping it. Up I got, and out the door for a three mile run skirting the Buffalo Bill State Park in the Wyoming sunrise.
A lot of this trip has been about rolling with the punches and going with the flow, and this time it was my turn: no hot water!!!!! Reframe - shower pioneer style! Hoooo boy, must've been straight from the Shoshone River because it was chilly! Breakfast of bagels and coffee in the room, and we once again hit the road.  
Today's itinerary: head north to Montana to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, then back to Wyoming to see Devil's Tower, ending at Keystone, South Dakota where my mom and dad would meet us after flying in from Houston. 

As we drove north and east, the skies progressively grew hazier. Instead of Big Sky Country with never ending blue, we saw haze and smoke coming drifting down from the fires in Canada. A bummer for sure, but more than that, a reminder of how different everyday concerns are for our fellow Americans who live out west. 
After a couple of hours of driving, we arrived at the site of Custer's Last Stand:
What a fascinating hour and a half. The Indian Wars didn't get covered as extensively as other conflicts in our nation's history in all of my years of schooling. Seeing the terrain and trying to understand how and why Custer made the tactical decisions he did made it more real than any book could ever do. My reading list has grown during this vacation; I want to know more about so many of the things I've seen, and Custer and the Indian Wars are on the list for further study.

In our speed-touring mode, we stayed long enough to see the Visitors' Center; get the passport stamps; briefly walk the cemetery; and drive the auto tour road.

The next on-the-way destination: Devils Tower. In the northeast corner of Wyoming, it was another long stretch of road in front of us in these massive western states. A quick stop for lunch in Sheridan, Wyoming for pizza that turned into a to-go meal, and we were rolling down the highway.
As we turned off the main road onto the spur that would take us to America's first national landmark, Justin and I talked about how amazing it was to have the time and ability to see so many things. Little Bighorn and Devils Tower would never be destinations, but thanks to the route for the total vacation, we were close enough to make it work. What's another 60 to 90 minutes of driving when you've been in the car for a week and a half? And then, there it was in the distance - the Devils Tower, or the Bear's Lodge or Bear's Tipi, as many Native Americans prefer
How have I never seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Put it on the list - I'll watch that when I need a break from reading. On to the Visitors' Center! Passport stamps - check! 
Souvenirs - check! Pictures of amazing landmark - check! 
On the way out, bonus wildlife viewing - prairie dogs!! Fastest visit ever to Devils Tower, but there long enough to once more be awed by the diversity of the lands of America.
We arrived in Keystone around 7PM after a twelve hour day in the car, but were reenergized by the wonderful K Bar S Lodge that had a view of Mt. Rushmore from our parking lot. How exciting for Caroline, who'd been waiting for that the entire trip! That was the plan for Sunday, though, so we unpacked, regrouped, and headed out for dinner with Grandmommy and Granddaddy.

We had been excited to see them but little did I realize it was perfect timing - after a week and a half with nothing but each other's company, everyone was happy to have someone new to talk to and share some of our stories with. We ate at a local favorite, the Powder House Lodge, where I got adventurous and tried an elk steak. It was excellent, but the company was better - so great to see my parents!!
We collapsed in bed that night, excited to have another day of adventure in front of us.