Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Feature: Old School

John has had some trouble lately. Trouble listening, trouble remembering, trouble doing the right thing. So Daddy went old school and John spent several hours the last couple of days writing lines.
Unfortunately, John didn't retain the lesson, so he's spending another day writing four different sets of lines. Let's hope this handwriting exercise also helps improve his memory.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A change will do you good

Now that it's been a full four weeks, I figure it's time to officially blog about my new job. My NEW JOB. After ten and a half years with Procter & Gamble, I have moved on to a company called Shopper Events as the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for their Sam's Club team.

Fancy, no?

A fancy new title deserves its own story. This is my story about knowing what you want and never knowing when people are watching.

I have long known what I wanted at P&G: to lead a team within our sales organization. West Point trained me to lead - to lead myself and my troops; to lead in thoughts, in words and in actions. Whether a platoon of soldiers, a corporate organization or a group of aspiring runners, I have always gotten the most satisfaction out of being the one who provides a vision, sets the direction, and leads the organization to its goal. I have known for a long time that I am at my best and my most professionally fulfilled when given the opportunity to be out front.

I have also known for a while that though P&G has opportunities to lead, it would be at minimum another ten to fifteen years before I could reasonably expect to be a sales team leader, and only then after another two, maybe three, relocations. I kept having the right conversations every year with my leadership, did my best to achieve and exceed goals, and networked where I needed to in an attempt to put my name and face out there with the decision makers. In a big machine with lots of cogs, though, there are only so many opportunities to get the attention of the right person at the the right time to accelerate a career.

And now the part of the story regarding never knowing when people are watching.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to attend the Network of Executive Women's national conference in California, and it was an exciting few days of speakers, classes and networking. In the large sessions, I frequently got up and spoke during the Q&A, as any well-trained West Point graduate could do. A life lesson I learned in uniform: never attend a speech with a senior leader without being prepared to ask a question, as it is uncomfortable and even disrespectful to leave the General on stage in silence during the Q&A. So a few times during the NEW conference, I approached the microphone, gave my name and company, and asked the speaker to elaborate on his or her topic for the group in some way.

Of course I knew the whole group was watching - but you never know who, specifically and individually, is watching.

It is a common occurrence here in Northwest Arkansas, where every Consumer Packaged Goods company in the world of any size has an office to serve the Walmart and Sam's Club businesses, to receive frequent phone calls from headhunters. I always took the calls, but usually ended them by declining interest in the proposed lateral move to a similar job at another company. I figured, if I was going to sell CPG widgets, then I should sell the best CPG widgets in the world at one of the best CPG companies in the world. I always told the recruiters that the exception would be a job that took me home to Texas, or if they had a team lead job, to please call me.

In January, I received a call from a recruiter who opened the conversation by telling me she had a job opportunity to share with me. In an unusual opening bit, she stated that technically and on paper, I might not be qualified for the job (always a humbling thing to hear) but while she was at the NEW Conference in the fall, she had seen and heard me ask questions of the speakers. She had been so impressed that, when this job came across her desk, she knew I was the right person for the job. You never know who's watching.

So there I was - I knew what I wanted and hadn't known she was watching, but the opportunity to accelerate my career by 10-15 years without leaving the area we've grown to love or the friends and schools my children know was right in front of me. The interview process was long and drawn out, as these things tend to be, but it was worth every moment, every deliberation, every pro and con that had to be weighed to determine my staying at P&G or moving on to Shopper Events.

I accepted the job and gave my notice to P&G in April, and officially assumed the title and responsibility of the Shopper Events Sam's Club Team VP on April 28th. It's been a life on fast-forward for four weeks now, exhilarating in its newness and challenge of setting direction for a group of talented people who have literally been without leadership for almost a year. I have moved from a traditional CPG sales role to leading an agency that manages the retail force that you may know as "Tastes & Tips" at Sam's Club. Free samples!! We deliver fun!! There is, of course, more to it than that, but for now, that's the easiest way to explain what I do - we develop, sell, and schedule programs for CPG Suppliers to bring their products to life inside of Sam's Club.

In seventeen years post-graduation, this is now my fourth employer. We got out of the Army all those years ago in part so we wouldn't have to keep moving around. Ironically, in just 10.5 years with P&G, we moved three times: Maryland to Massachusetts, to Ohio, and to Arkansas. In fact, we moved more with P&G than we did with the Army. As the kids got older, I could look ahead and see that the next move would be much more difficult, as they would be at an age where they would feel the pain of leaving friends, understand the uncertainty of moving to a new place, and deal with the low-level anxiety of trying to fit in.

This new job means no imminent move looming over us, and unexpectedly, it has given me a sense of being in control of my professional path instead of being at the mercy of the needs of the corporation. There may not be visits from ESPN personalities to our 75 person office; there may not be as many opportunities to visit big cities for meetings or enjoy free samples of amazing brands like Tide, Cover Girl and Bounty. But last Thursday, as I stood at the kitchen counter looking out the window into the backyard and stirring my coffee in my travel mug so I could head to work, I paused and thought, this could be my life for the next 15 years. And that was a really good feeling.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Feature: John's artwork

It's almost the end of the school year, it's Friday, and everyone is tired. Today's feature is short and sweet: here's John's artwork that he brought home yesterday.
It's a turtle. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Summer's Coming, and so is Coussoule Curriculum 2014

Despite the lengthening of the school year by a week due to the crazy number of snow days we had this year, it is, in fact, only three weeks until the final bell rings and Caroline and John are home for the carefree, sunny, lazy days of summer.

Well, sunny at least. While the kids will have plenty of time to have fun, play with friends, go to the pool, and generally goof off, just like last year they'll also have summer curriculum courtesy of Mom. Add in the worksheets with Dad, the summer reading program at the Fayetteville Public Library, swim lessons and tennis camp, and it should be a jam packed ten weeks.

Last year, we had weekly Bible verses to memorize, three journaling prompts per week, an art project, a science topic with hands on learning, and a recipe for Mommy to try. We were triumphantly successful in Bible verse memorization; the journaling results were priceless; the art projects were fun but toward the end of the summer got a little bit overwhelming; and the science projects were hit or miss, at best. I managed to get all but one of the recipes made, learning along the way that the cookbook I had identified for my life list effort was less than gourmet (or less than edible, a couple of times), so I'm giving myself a break this summer until I find a more reliable source of new family meals.

I have had it on my list for weeks now to get this year's summer curriculum written, but for reasons ranging from legitimate (job transition took most of my excess mental capacity for several weeks) to really lousy (I still have three Candy Crush lives left!) it was left undone, a blank slate, until this morning. Thanks to the early-spring-like weather we are having, my morning bike ride plans got pushed to this afternoon, so I sat down at the computer to knock it out:
Given the hit-or-miss nature of some of the pillars of last summer's curriculum, and with another year of the kids' learning and growing behind us, I tweaked the pillars of study this summer to give us more flexibility and to make it a little bit different and challenging. The Bible verses are still there; in fact, they're already written and ready to go for each week:
The journaling prompts are a staple for every summer to come - last summer I came up with probably half of the ideas myself, but this year I asked The Google for some help, and found a fantastic website that has me thinking this could be a year-round possibility for us.

Gone are the art projects; gone are the science experiments. In their place are the combined History, Science, Geography lessons, and a new pillar on Money Management. My dearest wish is that by the end of the summer, Caroline and John never again say "well we can just go buy one!" about whatever toy or object their fickle hearts desire at the moment.

While not a formal part of the 12 weeks of 2013 summer learning, we also read several children's classics together last year, and I hope to do the same again this summer. We need to finish up one book that we started last year, but there are a few new ones on the list, too. Good readers make good writers, and good writers are hard to find, so I hope to equip my children to stand out with their ability to punctuate, capitalize, use appropriate verb tenses, write complete sentences, and all of the other things that this English nerd Mom loves to see.

The biggest difference between last summer and the one to come is the two week summer vacation we're taking out west. I can't WAIT - there are sights to be seen and natural wonders to behold and Rocky Mountain states to be explored. There will be plenty of fun learning on that trip, including (I hope) Mark Twain audiobooks along the way. Those western states are awfully big, and there will be a lot of driving, and there are only so many movies I can responsibly let them watch in the back of the van. Keep your fingers crossed for me that they like Audible as much as I do!

It's an ambitious curriculum, but I hope it's a balance between keeping the kids inside too much and preventing "I'm bored!" by the third week of June. Summer isn't here yet, but we're ready to hit the ground running when it arrives, barefoot, in our shorts, and ready to learn all at the same time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Feature: Sharpening the Saw

A foundational program at Holcomb Elementary is the Stephen Covey "The Leader in Me" program, where the 7 Habits are adapted for children. Education today is about so much more than the three Rs; it's a highly complex, confusing, shifting world that our children were born into, and it will only get more complex as the technology revolution accelerates. In my almost 20 years of professional experience, though, what I have seen is that no matter the industry, no matter the location, organizations hunger for leadership. True, authentic, decisive leadership - and there's no time better to start teaching how to be a leader than when children are at their most impressionable and most receptive.

The habits are taught in many ways, reinforced with Friday morning assemblies and classroom conversations. We don't see a lot of it overtly reflected in school work, but last week John brought home an illustration of how he can Sharpen his Saw:

It's wonderful to see how John thinks about this, but nothing tops the written sound effects. "Honk shoe!!"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Caroline's Got (age-appropriate) Talent

This evening was the annual Holcomb Elementary 3rd and 4th grade talent show, and my big 3rd grader made her debut! Thanks to long-distance piano lessons with Grandmommy May, Caroline was able to perform one of the pieces she's been working on this year at both the afternoon and evening performances.

I thought back to my own elementary school days and a faint memory of a talent show; if I remember correctly, I performed a lip sync instead of playing the piano, to (I'm sure) my mother's eternal frustration and disappointment. Not only did I demand to be allowed to lip sync, but I chose a song by *gasp* Madonna, and of all songs, I chose *what-was-I-thinking* "Like A Virgin." In fact, my 4th grade teacher, Ms. McCray (who I always thought was super cool because she was young and fun to my 10 year old eyes) let me borrow one of her prom dresses so that I was in full costume.

As an aside, I'm not sure whether color commentary is more appropriate for me or for Ms. McCray on my being able to wear her prom dress at the age of 10.

Regardless, as I watched the show tonight that included a couple of gyrating, booty-shaking dance routines to current popular music that were suspect in their appropriateness for 3rd and 4th graders, I finally understood how mortified my own mom must have been all those years ago. Lip syncing Madonna, as a 4th grader? Could it get any more inappropriate? Not to mention, it was common knowledge that my mom was a piano teacher. Her own daughter didn't have a piano piece to play at the talent show?

I'm sure it wasn't for lack of something to play; it was the earliest stages of the rebellion of a daughter who insisted on being her own person; choosing her own path; defining her own self in large part by highlighting how she was different. You can't possibly know the hassle and frustration and occasional disappointment of being a mother to a headstrong daughter until you have your own, and I'm just starting to see that side of motherhood.

So Mom, I want you to know, tonight was kind of a do-over for you. Caroline was so courageous, getting up in front of all of her peers today and then again in front of their families tonight. She had poise and determination, and she played beautifully. Not once did she fight me on the suggestion to play the piano for the talent show. I was so proud of her tonight, and I know you would have been too.

Second time was the charm.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday Feature: Where We Live

Today's feature, not to be confused with "You live where?", is all about Caroline's third grade social studies unit on Arkansas history. Of course, I grew up learning Texas history - the Alamo, Davie Crockett, being an independent nation, and having the true Texas pride that all of us from the Lone Star State proudly share.

Like all Texans, I have a natural bias for the superiority of my state - 21 years after moving away to go to college with only a 9 month stint of living back home at Ft. Hood, I still strongly identify myself as a Texan, and I'm sure I always will. Lucky for me, my kids have inherited this sense of pride in being at least an honorary Texan, and I hold out hope that someday, we'll all get back home to bluebonnets, cowboy boots and pickup trucks.

In the meantime, though, I feel almost as blessed to be an Arkansan (pronounced Ar-KAN-san for those who, like me, couldn't quite get the syllabic emphasis right the first few times I tried it) as I do to be a Texan. The Natural State is full of wonderful people, the living is easy, and it comes by its name honestly from the beauty of the area. So while my kids aren't going to learn Texas history in school, they will learn all about Arkansas, and this week, Caroline brought home the brochure she created in class:
I added the fireworks... but it kind of feels like she earned them :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Feature: Life Cycles

Every night at the dinner table, I'm as predictable as they come - I turn to the kids and ask, "So how was your day?" So predictable, in fact, that Caroline has begun to preempt me with, "Let me guess, you're going to ask how our day was!"

Um, yep. Every night.

Lately, John has told me about the life cycles they've learned about - the butterfly, the frog, and apparently, rocks. I don't recall ever learning about the life cycle of a nonliving thing, but John illustrated it for me at home one night: