Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Feature: Lincoln Logs

There's been a dearth of material for the Friday Feature coming home from school. I guess this is just another sign that my kids are getting older, that there aren't many pictures or art projects coming home, but there are plenty of math worksheets and writing assignments. Those aren't nearly as much fun to share as artistic interpretations of their world.

I told them this week I needed something for Friday's Feature, so John got to work in the playroom. According to Caroline, he's really good at Lincoln Logs.

So he is.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Feature: John and long division

John has always shown an aptitude for math, beyond what the standardized tests capture and the perfect grades on worksheets that come home. While in kindergarten, his teacher had him help teach the other kids during individual work time because he didn't just get the right answers, he understood the mathematical concepts behind the answers, and could translate them for his fellow five year olds. 

We make a math problem out of every possible opportunity. In fact at dinner the other night, when Caroline asked if we would ever install solar panels on our house, I got to give my first lesson in return on investment. John grasped it right away, and understood that we wouldn't live here long enough for it to make sense. 

So when he asked me one night to explain division I figured, why not? He told me the problem he'd been trying to figure out: 47 ➗ 7 = ?? He understands multiplication, and had figured out its relationship to division, but was stumped with this one. So we drew circles, I explained remainders (I figured we'd wait for decimals for another day), and it was ON. 
It didn't take long for him to tire of "the easy ones" so we tried some long division. No problem. So we kept going. One problem after another, adding double digit multiplication to the mix. Carrying digits, figuring remainders, counting multiples. 
It's so fun to see the world of math and logic opening up to him. I need to enjoy every moment of teaching him because once we get to integers, fractals and geometry proofs, I'm going to have to go back to school with him. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pretty fly for a little guy

My two kids are a study in whether you can develop style or if you're just born with it. I fully believe you can learn style, that it can be acquired through observation or pop culture osmosis or maybe even a super persistent friend. But John is a walking example of That Guy. He was just born with an innate sense of cool and style all his own.

He can wear a baseball cap backward and make it look normal, not like an affectation in an attempt at cool. He cares more about the clothes laid out for him every day for school than Caroline does; some shirts are just never going to get worn because they violate his sense of first grade style. 

Several months ago, he began asking for gel to put in his hair. He likes to make it a little bit spiky on the top for school. I can only hope it's completely attributable to his sense of style and has absolutely, positively nothing to do with girls. At least not yet. 

Knowing all of this about my son, it wasn't surprising at all when I walked in the door from work this evening to find that he had sweet talked the woman who'd cut his hair today into using some "product," as I like to call it. 
I'm not quite prepared for hair product and designer labels. At least his style still includes wearing Lego Star Wars shirts to school. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Race Report: The Louisiana Marathon (Geaux Run!)

This past weekend saw my triumphant return to marathoning! For selfish purposes, we will officially define triumphant as "I finished."

I had a reasonably healthy perspective going into the race. I'm only eight months removed from stepping on a rock and rolling my ankle so violently that I snapped the bottom of my tibia. I'm only five months removed from a total running restriction. And, I'm only three and a half months removed from week one of this particular marathon training schedule. I figured 14 training weeks would be plenty for a seasoned marathoner like me. This was #7, after all. 

I failed to account for the fact that the marathon doesn't give credit based on past history. That 26.2 mile ribbon of pavement just wants to know, what have you done for me lately, baby. And my lately wasn't quite enough to run a race defined by anything other than "just finish." 

The great news: the Louisiana Marathon is a jewel of a race. It had everything going for it: 1) within driving distance of home; 2) a state I haven't run yet; 3) flat and fast; 4) January in the south; and added bonus, 5) the Marathon Maniacs reunion race. All of that before I get to the fact that it's an incredibly well run race just the right size for this small-race-loving runner. 

My friend Mary and I headed down on Friday: while it's within driving distance of home, it's a full day's drive, and we pulled into Baton Rouge around 6PM ready for dinner and hotel check in. We were tired, and not that interested in making a production out of finding dinner, so we hit the Japanese sushi and hibachi all you can eat buffet next door to the hotel. I'm sorry to say, that is an indicator of what (in retrospect) were poor pre-race food choices. It was cheap, quick and filling, though, so in the moment, I was happy. After the weeks I've had at work recently, I was so looking forward to crashing on the bed, reading for a little while, and staring at the backs of my eyelids for as many hours as possible. 

Success! I slept uninterrupted, without an alarm set, and woke up a solid eight hours later. We eased into the morning, putzing around the room for a bit, then headed out for an easy couple of miles. It was a beautiful day; winter in Louisiana felt a lot more like Houston than Fayetteville, and we enjoyed the sunshine even with the little bit of chill there was on the air. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we didn't go quite as easy as intended, but hey - it was only a couple of miles, so what could it hurt, right?

As this is only the third year for the Louisiana Marathon and the total field on Sunday is still just a few thousand people, the expo / packet pickup didn't open until 11AM, and there was no maddening crush of bodies. Score.
We were some of the first people there, and I didn't start out on the best note: I went to get my packet, and it wasn't in the box. The volunteer hypothesized that they might have accidentally given it to another runner, and I would need to see about getting a replacement. Um, what? Not that I plan to be an age group winner, but won't that mess up my official time if someone else is wearing my number? I dutifully walked down the row to the Woman In Black for help, and ended up in the VIP room. There was no lost number - I'm a Marathon Maniac, my friend, which for this race makes me a VIP!! Suh-weet!!! I knew when I signed up there would be a Maniac photo and a lot of other Maniacs running, but I didn't realize there were the additional benefits of a beanie, a special medal ribbon, and admission to the post-race VIP area. Not gonna lie, I kind of felt like a Big Deal. 

Now having whipsawed from packet-mistakenly-given-away to you're-a-big-deal, it was time to hit the vendor booths. The very first one was for the Marathon itself, and they had some excellent swag for sale. Their logo is one of the neatest I've seen: a cypress tree and the bayou contained inside of a shoe print. Hard to get more Louisiana than that. Of course, I'm too cheap to buy much of anything, so I longed for a postcard, eyed the long sleeved tech shirts, admired the coffee mugs, and moved on. 

The expo had everything you could want: the local running store, local (and delicious) natural granola, booths for several regional races, a running-inspired jewelry vendor, and all the race apparel and running stickers/swag you could want. I had to swing by the Sweaty Bands booth to check out the new goods, but managed to back away slowly without parting ways with any of my personal wealth. I think that's a first for me at a race expo. When we got to the booth selling the race belts that hold a phone, your keys and (the holy grail) don't bounce, I couldn't pass up a good deal. Mary and I got the joint purchase discount, though, so really, I saved money by buying it. Shopper logic. Just trust me. 

And it's sweet: I wore it during the race and it is officially a must-have piece of gear for me now. No more leaving my keys in the gas tank while I run! (Don't judge. It's a small town with low crime and besides, it's a red Chevy Impala. I don't think they show up on the most-stolen list with any regularity.) Race day bonus: I can carry my phone with me the whole time, which means start line and finish line pictures. Given that I rarely have an entourage at races, I'm now officially winning. 

Having spent just enough money to minimally stimulate the local economy, we did some sight seeing on a micro scale outside of the River Center. A gorgeous day, we turned our faces to the sunshine, walked down to the water for a few minutes, quickly acknowledged our need to get off of our feet, and we headed back to the hotel where we relaxed and each knocked out some work for the rest of the afternoon. 
My lunch choice seemed good at the time: loaded baked potato and some cheddar broccoli soup. I'm lucky enough to not have food/stomach issues, so throwing down an overload of carbs worked for me. Come dinner time, my choices went downhill. We went to a great local place called the City Cafe with friends of friends, and thoroughly enjoyed the pure Baton Rouge atmosphere. Understandably, I wasn't willing to take a chance on gumbo, boudin balls or étouffée on the night before the race, so I made what may have been the worst choice possible: just a couple of sides - some butter-sautéed vegetables and mashed potatoes (that were out of this world, but still). Throw in some sweet potato fries picked off of my friend's plate, and that's my pre-race dinner of champions. 

No meat. No protein. Not even an adult sized food serving. Official fail. Didn't realize it at the time, but race day morning before mile eight, there was no doubt. More on that in a moment.

Race day morning: perfect. I mean, PERFECT. Check out this race morning forecast:
Wake up time was 5AM, which is actually sleeping in for me and Mary vs. a regular run day. Rice cake and peanut butter consumed; fully dressed; ready to go. 
Ten minute drive to the start line, free parking, and a two minute walk to join the group of runners. Added bonus: race belt with phone meant pre-race pictures!!
Since it was the Rendezvous on the Bayou, that meant getting a group shot of all of the Maniacs, too. As a VIP, it also meant private porta-potties. Runners talk about bodily functions and the availability of facilities with the same regularity and lack of sensitivity as a parent of a newborn. Private porta-potties? Reason for celebration. Standing in line for them, I even had a Maniac celebrity sighting: Steve Yee, Main Maniac #1, one of the founders of what I affectionately refer to as the Nerd Club for Runners!
my selfie skills need some work
Small enough race that there were no corrals, and I'm guessing a small enough race that most of the runners were not new to this rodeo, so no walkers at the front, ifyouknowwhatImean. I found the 3:45 pace group with the intent to hang with them as long as possible, and chatted with my fellow runners awaiting the start.
My distinctly Aggie paraphernalia from the Brazos Running Company got several comments, all of a good nature. Given that I was in the heart of LSU Tiger country, I thought that was gracious. Of course, most of the people who said something were self-proclaimed Texans, so there's that.

Then it was time - we were off. From the start, I felt anxious, strangely so given that I really thought my only goal was to finish. Ha - nice try, practical brain. Competitive brain ditched that idea as soon as I crossed the timing mat, and I unintentionally set myself up for frustration for pretty much the entire 26.2 miles. I hung with the pace group for quite a while; in fact, going back and looking at my splits, I made my classic, pretty much every race mistake. I WENT OUT TOO FAST. Um, hello mile 2.
I had all of 14 weeks of training that included approximately zero speed workouts. Okay, maybe two or three if you count unintentional tempo runs. In my practical brain, doesn't-matter-what-my-finish-time-is planning, I had decided that I wouldn't check my Garmin for my pace throughout the race. I would run my race, I wouldn't worry about going faster, and I would enjoy it for the sheer pleasure of running. What I didn't realize is, I need to check my watch because I'm an idiot and can't pace myself or avoid running too fast. You learn something with every race...

As I ran the course in downtown Baton Rouge, through the campus of LSU, and on Lakeshore Drive around University Lake where the homes and views are breathtaking, I more and more fixated on how lousy I felt. I knew I was going too fast; my heart rate was too high; it was mile 6 and I still wasn't in a rhythm. Still, I ran through beautiful Louisiana neighborhoods, on streets lined with live oaks, their limbs reaching across the course creating a canopy of southern charm. I saw crowds wearing a lot of purple and gold, cheering for the runners and their efforts. I tried to focus on the joy of the race, the privilege of my return to health, the novelty of my Louisiana race. By mile 8, my mind began its revolt, with niggling doubts that I even wanted to run this race today. 

I hung in there between mile 8 and 11, beating back the negative thoughts, but by the halfway point, it was too much. I succumbed to the physical meltdown and focused on the elation I knew would come at the finish line. I took a quick walk break for fluids at mile 11, picked it back up, but by mile 14 had eased into a run/walk pattern. 

Unlike Houston, when I only had to stop for fluids a couple of times, I was shotgunning Powerade and chasing it with water every couple of miles. On top of that, completely out of character for me, by mile 10 I had already eaten a Clif Shot Block, downed an entire Stinger gel by mile 12, and seriously considered another one around 16. Again, in the past, it's been a half or maybe a full gel around mile 18, and that's it. My food choices had definitely come back to haunt me - my elevated heart rate and the feeling of teetering on the edge of hunger during a marathon are terrible things to try and work through when you're not on your game.

As I made the turnaround and found myself in the home stretch, I had already been passed by the four hour pace group, so I knew that was out of reach for the day. I was unreasonably let down and even annoyed by that - it wasn't like I had trained with a time goal in mind. In fact, just the opposite. I had trained trying to give myself permission to "just finish" this one, because my ankle still isn't pain free and back to normal. The competitive fires aren't out, I guess, just banked for a while. Because I still want the sub-4:00 time. It just wasn't in the cards for that day, as the back half proved to be my downfall.
Despite all of the self-inflicted problems, the mental gymnastics to stay focused on the finish, and the steadily slowing pace, I did, of course, reach the finish line. Official finish time: 4:12:16. Eighteen months ago, I would've thought myself a superstar, running a marathon with an average 9:33 pace. This year, I was mildly let down and mentally hazing myself for my poor physical and mental preparation. 

I've been working all week on changing that attitude. I mean, I run for the bling, right? Not only was this an excellent medal, I got the added bonus of the Marathon Maniac ribbon.
And my life list includes running a race in all 50 states, right? State #7, done. Thank you, Louisiana. Or as they might say in Cajun country, "Mesi!"

More importantly, I think, this race reinforced that I run for me. I run for the feeling of accomplishment. I run for the conversation with great friends. I run for the need to work off the stress of my paying job. I run so that I can eat potato chips. I run to be healthy. I run so that I can wear the skinny jeans that hang in my closet. I run to show my kids that staying fit is just part of your daily routine, not a big production or major project. 

I run because I can, when just a few months ago, I couldn't. So thank you, Louisiana Marathon. You said Bienvenue and put on an excellent race to celebrate my return to the sport I love. In that, I am triumphant.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Feature: a note home from school

As usual, folders came home on Monday with work from the previous week. I always enjoy looking through the worksheets, spelling tests, essays, and occasional artwork. The last couple of weeks have been much busier than usual at work, meaning later evenings, so I didn't have the chance to look through anything before sitting down for dinner.

As I got up from the table headed for the counter where the stacks of evidence of learning sat, Justin asked, did I see the note from John's teacher yet?

My heart sank. Before the Christmas break, not only had his behavior improved, he'd even "clipped up" on the behavior chart for modeling exemplary behavior. Here we are only a few days into the new semester, and we were back to the old ways. 

Lesson learned: I should have more faith in my child, because this is what the note said:

Hooray for teachers who take the time to share good news!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes

So here I am, on the eve of another race trip. I'm headed out tomorrow to drive down to Baton Rouge with my friend Mary, to meet our friends Liz and Tim, to run The Louisiana Marathon on Sunday. I'm super excited, and looking forward to a fun weekend with friends doing one of my favorite things in the world.

What a difference a year makes.

The second weekend of January last year, I was a bundle of nerves, headed down to Houston with my husband and kids to run the Houston Marathon. I had a specific time goal, I had trained my patootie off, and I was one lean, mean, running machine. I had my best race ever, despite less than perfect weather, and left every bit of me on that course that I had. When I finished, running a Boston Qualifying time, I knew that even if it wasn't good enough, it was all I could've done that day. I had given it all, and I was proud of the work I'd done, the effort I've given, and the result I'd achieved.

Fast forward to today, January 16th, 2014, and I'm simply happy to be looking at another 26.2 start line. My somewhat-serious injury last summer really put my running in perspective for me. I'm not going to lie and say it hasn't been disappointing to have gained a pound here and there and lost a step in the same heres and theres. It took a serious commitment and countless hours of work, often painful, to get better, to run faster. I hope to get back to something approaching that level of fitness again in the coming years, despite now knowing exactly how much work it is to do that.

Even with all of that work, with all of that commitment, it wasn't all unqualified success. Sometimes doing our best truly isn't good enough. That's when we learn just a little bit more about ourselves, and realize just a little bit more clearly that sometimes, achievements aren't about garnering recognition from others. The BAA told me my Houston marathon time just wasn't quite fast enough to come run their race in 2014. I was disappointed, for sure. There was a bit of a funk for a few days. Then I snapped out of it, and continued the work to rehab my ankle and just enjoy the freedom of lacing up and hitting the pavement.

So here I am - a year later, a little more than 365 days after a cold, windy, personal best marathon, and I'm thrilled to just get to the start line. I may run a sub-4:00, I may run a 4:30, I may have an unexpected, unforeseen, and inexplicable day and run another 3:38 (but don't count on it). Unlike last year, though, I really don't care what the clock says when I cross that finish line. I know I'm blessed just to be there, laced up and ready.

Ready to run.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Feature: Caroline's new craft

Christmas brought many new clothes and toys, one from Santa that was a big hit: the Cra-Z-loom. If you haven't seen the rubber band bracelets sweeping the nation, then you must not know many 8 or 9 year olds. They're EVERYWHERE.

With her new loom, Caroline has become quite the expert in rubber-band-bracelet-making:

She discovered several YouTube instructional videos, and has tried her hand at multiple versions of bracelets.

So, naturally, the plan this weekend is for her to make her own video. Looks like Caroline is going to get a crash course in iMovie this weekend!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday Feature: Caroline's art project

Last day of Christmas vacation and Caroline picked out one of the small craft projects I keep in a drawer in my scrapbooking cabinet. Said drawer was accessible because I got organized, made my list of projects, and got started on my New Year's resolution! More on that on another day. 

Today's feature: a Peanuts headband where the sticker glue was so old, Caroline had to use Elmer's glue for a backup. We will definitely want that to completely dry before she tries it on!!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolutions 2014

It's that time of year - turn over a new leaf, start anew, make plans to be a better version of yourself. And I shall start by reviewing my resolutions from last year:

1. Start and keep a blog for one year
2. Take one photo every day
3. Stop messing with my phone while I'm in the driver's seat!!

One out of three is a pretty lousy track record, no? And since you're reading this post (for which I thank you very much!), it's pretty obvious which one I stuck to.

I truly enjoyed this blog over the last year. There were times when it felt a little bit like another chore, but it's been a wonderful outlet for me to write, share triumphs, disappointments, and most importantly, the little moments that made up 2013 for the Coussoules. So while my resolution was originally to keep the blog for a year, I think I'll see what 2014 has in store. Less pressure in my mind to keep it up this year, but keep it up, I will.

That brings me to 2014, a year full of promise and unknown blessings. Also, a year for resolutions - more than last year. I mean, maybe if I make more than three, I'll have a better chance at keeping more than one.

For the record, with all of you as my witnesses, here are my official resolutions for 2014:

1. Write one snail mail letter, card or postcard per week - I'd love for you to be on the receiving end, so if you comment here, you'll be at the top of my list!

2. Achieve a higher Marathon Maniac level - now, this one is a stretch. In fact, I would say it's more of a goal than a resolution, but I feel compelled to write it down, as that makes it much more real than just hoping for it. I am currently a Bronze Maniac, having run two marathons within 16 days back in 2012. I did the Hogeye Marathon on April 15th and then the Nashville Marathon on April 28th. The next level up requires three marathons in 16 days or six marathons in six months. I think I can do six in six months, but it will require a lot more advance planning than I've done at this point. So like I said, doing this one in 2014 is a stretch. Be prepared for it to show up again on my list in 2015.

3. Be on time to meetings and events. Truth: I suck at being places on time. It doesn't matter that in general, it's culturally acceptable at work for every meeting to start a few minutes late. Being late is rude and shows disregard for others' schedules. I'm going to try and remember that little fact this year at work and at home, regardless of how much I may not want to be wherever I'm going. On time.

4. Treat myself to a manicure/pedicure/massage once a month. You'd think this would be an easy resolution to keep - I mean, you can get an express manicure in something like 20 minutes, right? But without planning for it, the days, weeks, then months fly by, and I haven't done anything to pamper myself. Or recover from a race, either way. I hope by writing it down, I'll put it on my calendar, then actually schedule it and make it happen. My cuticles and hamstrings will thank me.

5. Make a list of scrapbooking projects and FINISH THEM. Just like my sewing projects, I have beaucoup pictures piled up with accompanying paper and embellishments just waiting for me to sit down and put everything together. I haven't made the list yet, but I will before I go back to work. And my deadline will be December 31st again - though this time, I'm giving myself the entire year instead of starting in August. Pretty generous, I think.

6. No eating straight from the chip bag. I KNOW!!! I honestly don't know if this is humanly possible. I mean, look at it:
Party of ONE, they mean. This resolution is going to take some serious self discipline. I can walk by an entire buffet of sweets, but you put a bag of potato chips (or Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos, whatever crunchy/salty) in front of me, and I'm down for the count. But it's a terrible habit, mindless consumption of empty calories, when I work so hard to be fit and keep my body in shape. So that's it - it's straight cold turkey come January 1st. All chips must be in a bowl or on a plate before consumption. ** Disclaimer - snack size bags don't count. I mean, the whole point is that you eat them from the bag. But I must limit myself to one snack size bag, if I stoop so low as to raid my kids' lunch chips. **

7. Stop using air quotes. Do I even have to justify this? I do it so often I annoy myself.

8. Do pushups and sit-ups before every run. My team building trip to the rock climbing wall gave me several days to acknowledge my pitiful, pitiful lack of upper body strength. And since yours truly is not about to start lifting weights unless they come with a personal trainer, a tropical island, and endless wealth, pushups and sit-ups it is. I've tried doing them after my runs, which lasts for about a week and then peters out. But I think this time, the before-the-run part is the key piece. Also, that I have a friend willing to do it with me, so I have accountability. Nothing like peer pressure.

9. Mark at least one thing off of my life list. This year, I think it's going to be "grow strawberries in my garden." That feels manageable, especially since last year we decided we'd had it with everything except tomatoes, green onions, carrots and radishes. There is some mysterious something that has wiped out our cucumbers and squash the last two years, so we're done trying that. But strawberries - well, we will give it a go, at least.

10. Finally, to round out the list to an even ten, I need to try once again to stop messing with my phone while I'm in the driver's seat. I at least progressed to acknowledging how dangerous it is every time I did it. But my kids aren't getting younger or less perceptive, and I absolutely must do a better job of setting this example. Lord knows, I'm going to blink and they're going to be asking for the car keys.

I'm ready - bring it, 2014. I've got goals and resolutions, and I expect I'll have both successes and disappointments along the way. To paraphrase a friend, though, life without goals is just the repetition of waking up everyday.

Here's to making the most of the next 365. Happy New Year!