Monday, June 30, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: mid-year update

Here we are, June 30th, halfway through 2014. Cliches become cliches for a reason: the older you get, the faster it goes.

Have I made 2014 count for as much I wanted it to, so far? I think so - we've had family fun, personal adventures, set backs and triumphs. But what about the list of goals and resolutions I laid out for myself at the beginning of the year? How am I doing on that?

The unvarnished truth: I'm doing... meh. Okay. Not perfect by any means, but not too bad, either. Here's my mid-year-in-review:

  1.  Write one snail mail letter, card or postcard per week. Success! That's right - every week, I've managed to get a real, live, handwritten item in the mail to a friend or loved one. There have been a few random letters or notes sent out there, but nobody said they had to be manuscripts of the highest order. And it's been fun, too - I've remembered a few extra birthdays, reached out to friends who I thought might like a little cheer in the mailbox, and reconnected with friends I've missed keeping up with. Twenty six weeks down, and this is one I look forward to keeping all year long.
  2. Achieve a higher Marathon Maniac levelAnd so begins the tale of woe... the biggest setback of 2014 was yet another broken bone, brought on most likely by a combination of too many miles and new shoes that didn't give my feet the support they needed. I was on track to move up from a Bronze Maniac to the Gold level, but just a few days after completing the Hogeye Marathon, I got that twingy (read: searing) feeling in my foot that indicated something wasn't right. Eight weeks later I'm still on the road to recovery, but at least I'm back to running. I won't manage this resolution this year and, frankly, this may never appear on the list again. I think a modification to "run injury free" is appropriate for the rest of 2014, and I'll reevaluate come January 1st, 2015.
  3. Be on time to meetings and events. Better, but definitely not perfect. With a new job in a new office and in a new culture, I recommitted to this as of April 28th, but easier said than done. I can at least point to a few meetings where I've actually been early. And by early I mean, there a minute or two before the scheduled time. Baby steps on this one.
  4. Treat myself to a manicure/pedicure/massage once a month.  I was doing so well until THIS MONTH! Maybe I'll go for two in July to make up the miss. My resolutions, my rules.
  5. Make a list of scrapbooking projects and FINISH THEM. Forget finishing projects; I haven't even made the list. I do have a couple of adorable sewing projects to point to, though. Recommitting to this for July through December. First one on my list: getting my race album up to date. Second: Disney trip from 2012. There! List begun - positive progress.
  6. No eating straight from the chip bagI was doing so well with this, but fell off the wagon sometime in late March or early April. Actually, now that I think about it, the slip-up was concurrent with the broken foot. Doh! True confessions: I ate straight from the chip bag this evening as part of my dinner. I knew this one would be hard. But here we go - back on the wagon! Giddyup!
  7. Stop using air quotesUnqualified success!! I don't think I've used them one time this year - ok, maybe once, but I caught myself immediately and stopped. I did resort to the hashtag thing, but that was short-lived. Now if I can just break my not-yet-nine-year-old daughter from the air quote habit, this will be a major accomplishment in 2014.
  8. Do pushups and sit-ups before every run. What is it with me and my weak-willed inability to do anything that remotely resembles weight-bearing exercise? I'm a cardio junkie and I need a 12 step program. Cutting bait on this one - know thyself, know thy limits. I can at least take credit for my running twin picking up this excellent habit. Shauna, you're welcome.
  9. Mark at least one thing off of my life listNow THIS one - I am so on track, I'm a steam engine!! More to come, but our upcoming summer vacation was in large part inspired by this resolution and some of the items on that list.
  10. I need to try once again to stop messing with my phone while I'm in the driver's seat. Would someone please tell me why this one is so hard? There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that is so important that it can't wait. Recommitting to this one, too. If anyone has any tips or recommendations on how to get better at this, let me know!!
So there you have it - halfway through 2014, and about 50% success on my resolutions so far. I'm a big believer in things happening when you write them down and when you revisit them. If you made your own resolutions and set your own goals this year, tell me about them! Misery loves company; success begets success; and I'll be your cheerleader as we cram every bit of living we can manage into the second half of the year we've been blessed with so far.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Feature: Summer Journaling

It's hard to believe that June is almost over; just like every year, the long summer days go by in the blink of an eye. Around here, though, we're all starting to get very excited about our upcoming epic summer vacation, which I hope to share day by day on my blog once we hit the road.

I read an article once that said one of the ways to make an upcoming vacation better is to enjoy the anticipation. With the kids getting older and better able to conceptualize time, we told them not long after we made our plans in the spring about the summer vacation. The first few weeks of the summer curriculum have been focused on subjects that have helped us get excited, too - the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore, books about the western states we'll be visiting.

The journaling topics helped them both use their imaginations, too. One of the recent journaling topics was:
"What do you most hope we'll see on our trip?"

Caroline's narrative
John's illustrated answer

Saturday, June 21, 2014

America the Beautiful: Camelback Mountain

This week saw my first business trip in my new job, heading out to Phoenix for a one day meeting. Travel from Northwest Arkansas is rarely quick and easy; getting from here to there required a layover both ways, and travel on Monday was a bit of a disaster. Which, as my sister reminded me, tends to be the status quo for me.

Long story short, after a multi-hour delay at my point of origin; a handwritten-gate-check-bag-tag; lost luggage; and a return to the Phoenix airport to retrieve my errant bag, it was a 21 hour day for me on Monday.
I was tired, but that had to be ignored: I had big plans for Tuesday morning.

I've been to Phoenix on business travel before, and did my typical morning run in the hot, dry air of the desert. Last trip, though, a friend mentioned that rather than doing his morning run, he had gone to Camelback Mountain, hiked to the top, and come back down again, all before that meeting had begun. I decided right then and there, if I could ever get back to Phoenix, that was going on the list of things to do.

With that in mind, and despite American Airlines' best efforts to thwart my plan, I had planned ahead and researched Camelback on TripAdvisor, bringing water bottles; a hat; sunscreen; and sturdy sneakers to manage the climb. I figured it would take me right around two hours to finish, so set my alarm accordingly (4:20AM) in order to be back in time for the 8:30 meeting start.

Given that The Weather Channel app on my phone said that sunrise was officially at 6:15, I brought my hat with the built in lights. I wasn't too worried about climbing in the dark; if Phoenix was anything like home, the first rays of dawn would light the sky well before the official sunrise time. Imagine my surprise, then, when I peeked out my hotel window at 5AM and it was already light enough to not need those lights. Apparently The Weather Channel app didn't get the word that Arizona has its own approach to Daylight Savings Time; sunrise was at 5:15AM, not 6:15. I felt behind schedule before I even started!

My sense of frustration was compounded when I neared the base of the mountain; the street parking clearly told a story of many others who knew sunrise was earlier and had been there to greet it. I hadn't planned on parking a half mile or more away from the trailhead, but I somewhat uncharacteristically took it in stride, flipping a quick u-turn in my rental car to get to the right side of the street, parked, and hustled up the sidewalk behind several other people heading the same place I was: the Cholla Trail.
Since this was exercise as much as sightseeing, I set out at a quick pace. The dry morning air felt great; a little warm, but certainly not as oppressively hot as the humidity of a Northwest Arkansas summer. I passed a few people already coming down, most of whom were wearing Camelbaks (which then of course led me to spend several minutes wondering if the mountain is the namesake or if it was a nod to the animal, as I'd always assumed); all of the reviews stress that the mountain is not to be taken lightly, and to carry more water than you think you should need. I passed a few folks making their way up, and was in turn passed by others going faster than me, but I had struck the right balance between exercise and sightseeing. I figured this might be my only hike up Camelback in my lifetime; I wanted to take it in as much as I wanted to burn a few calories.

My frustration at missing out on being at the mountain before official sunrise quickly dissipated; I had arrived at the perfect time to see this amazing sunrise:
The view didn't disappoint - there is a spectacular beauty about the desert, even with the sprawling city of Phoenix below you:
The first 2/3 of the hike was pretty straightforward; the trail was well marked and well maintained, so while it wasn't a walk in the neighborhood, it wasn't strenuous enough that I ever worried I wouldn't make it to the top. A little over a mile up, though, it got steeper; it got less well maintained; and the trail was harder to discern. It began looking more like this:
Of course, I didn't come to Camelback to *almost* make it to the top. Onward. Upward. Never quit.
I had set my alarm for 6:30AM as the deadline for making it to the top; being late for the meeting wasn't an option, so it gave me some incentive to push myself a bit. I made it to the top at 6:21, plenty of time to take some pictures, drink some water, and just enjoy the view.
It hit me as I looked back down the trail, though, that going down would be a bit tougher than going up, so I didn't linger long. Back down the mountain I went, punishing my knees and quads in some places, missing my step in others, but exhilarated by the accomplishment of achieving the peak of Camelback.

America is an unbelievably beautiful place. This was just a couple of hours of enjoying the desert vistas, but it has me counting down the days with even more fervor until our vacation out west in July.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Feature: Catholic Kidz Camp

As the second full week of summer vacation draws to a close, I can confidently say that 2014 will definitely be a summer to remember for the Coussoule kids. This week's activities included Catholic Kidz Camp at our church, St. Joseph's, and there was much singing, playing, crafting, and learning about our faith all week.

Among the many things they learned, they heard again the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes
Caroline's (top) and John's (bottom) fish
May we all be fishers of men

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Feature: A boy and his dog

There is quite a menagerie of stuffed animals in the upstairs playroom, but each of the kiddos has their one special friend. Caroline's Kitty is well-loved and even-better-worn, and John's Scoocoo is no different.

It's one of life's mysteries from where the name "Scoocoo" came; John was only 2 or 3 when it came into his possession, and I'm sure it meant something to him then that was unintelligible to anyone other than himself and his big sister. 

Over the years, and through countless games of school; house; city; and any other amusement the kids could imagine, Scoocoo has been a central figure. It was, therefore, no surprise when John brought me an artwork original that was a portrait of his faithful companion:
I never tire of the prodigious artwork in the house, but even my motherly bias is unnecessary to see that it's not a bad likeness for the real thing:
My boy's best friend. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Feature: Science on a Shoestring

One of the second semester modules in Caroline's GT Class this year was called "Science on a Shoestring." She really enjoyed it, to the point that we talked about maybe someday being both an ornithologist AND an electrical engineer!

Their capstone project was to build either a series or a parallel circuit with materials that clearly explain the module's Science on a Shoestring title: a shirt box top, masking tape, brads, and aluminum foil. The design was up to each individual, and I love Caroline's choice!
Check out how her engineering comes to life in this video: