Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fishies!

Rob has used some of his Christmas bonus to buy himself a larger fishtank (75 gallons), which he has spent today cleaning and setting up. No major fish will go in until we're back home to watch it, but it's pretty impressive just sitting there. Tomorrow he'll drop in a couple of guppies, who will get a week or so to make themselves at home (and possibly make more guppies), before he starts dropping his cichlids in - whereupon the guppy population will quickly plummet to nothing.

He's also gone back on his word to give me his 30-gallon tank when he moved up - but he promises that my anniversary gift will be a 30-gallon tank of my very own. This will leave us in the somewhat ridiculous position of having three 30-gallon tanks, one 75-gallon tank, and 4 fishbowls (bettas and feeder guppies). It's nice having all the fish though. Some of Rob's are quite lovely, even if they are a vicious lot. Aaron's are mostly not quite so pretty, but he does have some really nice long-finned Rosy Barbs that look like they might spawn soon. I'm still debating what kinds of fish I'd like to try in a tank of my own. Glofish are tempting - they're just so cool (transgenic fish, they're crossed with jellyfish genes), but they're also peaceable, and so small that even a mildly aggressive fish will make hash of them. I'll have to start looking around the local fish stores and see what I fall for.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mashed Potatoes and Sore Ears

Well, I've been properly Snarked. My query hook to Miss Snark was deemed "Mashed Potatoes in the Sunday dinner". I had the form down, but apparently I'm a little to bland to catch an agent's attention right now. So off I go back to the drawing board to cook up a hook with more zest.

Aaron woke me up at 5am day before yesterday "Owwww. Mommy! Ooowwwww!!!" When your child goes straight through step throat (with double ear involvement), without a word of complaint, you pay attention when he says it hurts. So off we went to the doctor, where Aaron had the shortest ear exam on record. The doctor didn't even get the tip of the otoscope in Aaron's ear before backing off and announcing "That's an ear infection all right. I could almost see that from across the room!" Poor kid.

So we get to take antibiotics along for the ride to Grandma's house. At least Aaron is starting to feel better today. When asked, he says his ear feels funny, but refuses to discuss it further than that. I suspect that it's clogged and itchy, but not hurting anymore.

People are dropping like fall leaves around here. One of our kids left mid-class because he didn't feel well - and looked so bad that our resident doctor made him lie down while he waited for his mother to come pick him up. Another mother reported that her son's choir concert had three separate kids throw up on stage. Thus far, the ear infection is all we've had, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Two Christmases ago, we had the joy of Aaron starting to throw up early Christmas morning. Aaron doesn't do nauseous by half-measures. If he throws up once, you can pretty much guarantee repeats. On Christmas he was throwing up every 20-30 minutes from 6am until almost noon. He insisted on coming down to the living room, though, and at least trying to unwrap presents, though his enthusiasm was understandably muted.

I'm crossing my fingers for no repeats this year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Thoughts on Breathing

On Tuesday, I was the only one to show up to class, so Sensei and I had a very nice, highly instructive one on one session. We covered the four empty-hand kata I know thus far (Seisan, Seiuchin, Nahanchie, and Wansu), plus three self-defense patterns that he is adding to the requirements for belt testing. While I won't have to know them until black (there are nine altogether), he's teaching three at green, three at purple, and three at brown.

Toward the end of the session, we got to discussing the two brown belts who have left the dojo since I arrived. One is essentially a black, just without the belt, as he never was able to make the time commitment for long enough to push through and test for the black, even though he basically had all the skills necessary. Sensei still has hopes that they may be able to work out an arrangement that will allow L to put in the training time, just elsewhere (he now lives quite a distance aways).

The other brown belt left for reasons I'm not clear on (and that aren't really any of my business), but she had a lot further to go before she would have been ready for black. She was (and is) an excellent brown belt, but she had worked herself into a corner, and getting out - well, it would take a tremendous amount of work and time.

The problem is that she didn't breathe correctly. In every other way, her technique is all over mine, so I feel a little funny commenting critically, but she breathes backwards. It's something I see all the time in the world around me, and all the time in white and yellow belts, but most upper level belts have started, by sheer necessity, to breathe more properly.

You see, to breathe correctly, you need to use your diaphragm and your belly. Hold your arms out straight to either side, shoulder-level. Now rotate your thumbs until they're pointing straight behind you. Feel the position your ribcage is in? That's good breathing position - and that should never change. Drop your hands, but leave your chest and ribcage in the same position. Now put a hand flat on your belly, just about on your bellybutton, and the other hand in the small of your back. Breathe in deeply. If you're breathing correctly. both hands should be pushed out, the belly more than the back, while your ribs should not move. Doing this while maintaining muscle tension in the abs takes time and practice, but will reap huge dividends in stamina.

Breathing backwards is exactly the opposite. The belly and back don't move while the chest and even shoulders do the expanding and contracting. The problems with this as regards karate are two-fold. First - you simply don't get as much air for the effort this way. Moving your ribs is hard work, much harder than moving the diaphagm and belly, and you don't get nearly the lung expansion - so you exhaust yourself much quicker. This is where most beginners run afoul of bad breathing, and why most of them begin to change, even if the Sensei does nothing to correct it. Sooner or later they exhaust themselves, their bellies loosen, and poof, they start breathing more correctly. The body knows what's good for it, and so the more this happens, the more the student tends to start breathing that way, often even without realizing it.

Secondly, breathing backwards will get you into trouble even if you develop the stamina and lung-power to work around problem one. This is where our brown belt ran into trouble. You see, if you're breathing with your rib muscles, then those muscles are not available for other work, and vice versa. If you want to throw your very strongest punch, and you breathe with your ribs, you cannot breathe while punching, because you will leach muscle power from the punch. So our brown belt was fine fighting, and fine during most practice, but when she would practice katas full force, with all those techniques coming one after another, she would run out of steam very quickly - long before she could possibly have gone through all of the empty-hand kata. Unfortunately, as ingrained as her breathing pattern was, I suspect she would have to break almost all of her technique down, retrain her breathing, and build it back up with the new breathing worked in.

Breathing is something our Sensei does fine himself, but he doesn't particularly teach it, other than the old stand-by of having the students breathe out with every technique. I'm beginning to think, that if I start teaching a regular weekly class, I should work up a lesson on proper breathing. Most of the techniques I know come from singing, though, and I'm a little uncertain as to how they would be received by a karate class. I mean pushing against a wall while singing will teach you not to use your chest muscles in no time flat, but how are a bunch of pre-teen karateka going to respond to being asked to sing in karate class?

Something to ponder. I've still got time.


PS - for those interested, I've sent in the hook for Ghost Dancer to Miss Snark's Crapometer for critique. (It's #133, not up yet)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Because I haven't posted in too long.

Books read thus far in December:

Grasp the Stars: I wanted to like this one; I really did. The protagonist is interesting, and the other POV characters aren't bad either. It was the hodge-podge of a plot that made me put it down at the end and go "Meh." There are threads of what could be fascinating plots lying about all through the book. We have a 3000 year old, immortal (though killable) alien, with a secret that even she doesn't know half the time (intermittant drug-induced amnesia), a candidate for the Earth Council, who doesn't know it, with an existing councillor plotting against her (and she doesn't know that either), and a mysterious ancient artifact, with several possible translations, some quite provocative. Unfortunately, the author weaves all these in and out and around each other, without ever really getting ahold of one and pulling. Too bad.

Being a Green Mother - Piers Anthony: This is a middle book in his Incarnations of Immortality series. Some of them are very good, some are pretty bad, this one is okay. I've read it before. It's not a book that improves with repetition, though. The Piers Anthony tropes become more obvious when you reread it. If you read PA, and haven't figured out his tropes, I'm not going to give them away, because once you find them, you almost can't read him again. Even his good books are chock-full of all his favorite obsessions, and the bad ones have nothing but.

Outland - Tad Williams: I loved the Dragonbone Chair trilogy, so I thought I'd give this a try. Another meh, unfortunately. The plot is good, the characters are good, the only problem is that he writes so many damned words before you get to the payoff. Or to put it another way - I hit the end of nearly 800 pages, to discover that the plot was only just getting going. It's really more the first part of a reallly, really long book, than a stand-alone. And frankly, I'm just not sure my love of the characters and what plot I've seen is enough to sustain me through another 1600 pages or more.

The Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold: Another reread. This time though, it's a favorite book from a favorite author. Ista dy Chalion is definitely in my top ten favorite characters of all time, and this book never fails to delight. Following Ista as she frantically struggles to get her loving family to let her do something, when she's supposed to be living in genteel, quiet retirement as the dowager royina, is something that most people, locked into a role that doesn't quite suit them, would relish.

Blood & Iron - Elizabeth Bear: The second book I've read from this Bear. I like her writing, and I will continue to read her stuff, but this book somehow didn't quite connect with me. It may simply be that the protagonist is a little too much like my mother. My relationship with my mother is difficult in some weird ways, and I'm not sure I want to be reading about her in my spare time, even as an elven changeling.

All Dressed Down and Noplace to Go: What can I say? It's Dilbert.

Flinx in Flux - Alan Dean Foster: It's a Flinx and Pip adventure. This time Flinx stumbles upon a (lovely, female) gengineer who's been kidnapped, rescues her, and returns her from whence she came. As ever in Flinx's life, though, things aren't that simple. He rapidly finds himself holed up deep in the unexplored caves of a mostly uninhabited planet - and then things get weird. I like Clarity as a character, and in general like this the way I like most Alan Dean Foster books. They're not deep, but they make darned good reading. Plus, I have yet to figure out how he makes his books so darned cheerful. He's the only man I know who can write a cheerful, feel-good read that involves the bloody slaughter of three planets worth of people. (No, not this book)

There were a few other books in there as well - one on dog-training, two on writing, a few others, but none of them are springing to mind this moment, so I won't worry about them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Note to Self

Check the ingredients of new chai blends before having a big mug at bedtime. The old blend was spice-based and caffeine free. The new blend is black tea based and features an impressive caffeine blast.

Of course I didn't think to check this until it was 4am, and I was still wide awake. For that matter it's now 8:30am, and I still couldn't go to sleep if I wanted to. I'm not even a tiny bit sleepy. Tired, yes. Sleepy, no.

In other news: NaNo was succesfully completed. Official wordcount was 50,127 on Nov. 30, around 2pm.