Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I hope all have had wonderful Christmases! All three grandparents are here now, with my Mom & Dad arriving last night about fifteen minutes before we headed off for midnight mass.

I was polite this year. I asked permission from the choir director to sing descants to the congregation hymns, which she very graciously gave. Unfortunately "The First Noel" was not part of the line-up, which is my best hymn for singing descant. However, we led off with "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" which has a lovely descant, and finished with "Silent Night" for which I do a descant that's all my own (and it came out pretty nice to, if I do say so myself).

The church choir is a decent choir, but I think (and Rob agrees) that I should not join. They're about a dozen people, mostly older, with mostly decent senses of pitch, and pretty good voices. They get a little wobbly when they're unsure, but straighten out nicely when they get to things they know well. They can do four part harmony credibly, if without much flair. In short, for a church choir at a small church, they're pretty darned good.

Unfortunately, if I joined them, it would be "Cindy and the Choir". My voice does not blend well with "average decent voice". I'd sound like the flute in the middle of the clarinet section - and my voice doesn't do clarinet - so I would either have to sing barely above a whisper at all times, or actually make the choir sound worse. I had rather suspected this - long experience tells me that I need to either be in a choir of more than forty people, or I need to be with people with a similar vocal quality to mine - but I didn't know for certain until I actually heard the entire choir.

Which leaves me with a little bit of a dilemma, because the choir is all but stalking me. The choir director and at least six other people are actively trying to recruit me every time I hold still long enough. They hear me sing, and nice voice = should be in the choir. I'm a bit at a loss as to how to decline without making it sound like I think they suck (they very much don't), or like I'm completely stuck on myself. "I'll overpower your entire choir, even if I'm trying not to" is not exactly a modest statement - but it's true nonetheless. Sigh.

At least I didn't have to listen to "Oh, Holy Night" being mangled this year. The choir director sang, and did a very respectable job of it. I was still champing the bit a little, because she's an alto and sensibly chose to avoid the high notes, but it certainly wasn't painful to listen to. (For those playing along, my particular Christmas doom appears to be being forced to listen to "Oh, Holy Night" be mangled over and over again, while I'm absolutely dying to sing it for somebody, sometime, and never get the chance.)

Christmas morning got a late start, due to our peculiar children, who view Christmas morning as a great chance to sleep in. Once we got going though, things went very well. The boys are delighted with their various presents (Wii games, science kits, Bakugan starter set, dinosaur stuff for Aaron, books for Robbie, clothes for both), and have been very hard to pry away from the Wii so far today. Rob's main present is the car (which he still adores), but he also a digital camara, a couple of books, some new kitchen knives, and Guitar Hero: World Tour. My main present is the laptop I've had since the beginning of Nano (and still adore), but I got my piano books (Cristofori's Dream is coming along nicely), some scented shower gel, a reed diffuser, and a couple of books. The grandparents got various and sundry goods - books, videos, a TomTom, clothing, etc.. Everyone seems quite happy with their gifts. Rob fed us prime rib and the adults settled in for a good evening of chit-chat, while the kids played Super Smash Bros.. A good day, and a very merry Christmas all around.

On a slightly different note - I have a website I have got to pass on. For the role-playing fans in your life who have trouble with housework, I present Chore Wars. Go on adventures! Make the bed while fighting off the fearsome bedbugs! Anoint the kitchen floors with holy cleaning fluid, to ward off the dust bunnies and earth elementals! Essentially, you create role-playing characters. Your dungeon master creates adventures (chores), which earn you experience and gold pieces. Various monsters can show up when you claim your chore at the website, and you try to defeat them. As you go up in experience, you get stronger and can defeat bigger monsters. (I'm not looking forward to the first day the red dragon shows up while I'm cooking dinner.) Is it cheesy? Sure! But anything that makes Robbie run off saying "I get to make the bed! Woohoo!" on Christmas, is worth a little cheese. And it wasn't even his bed, it was his brother's. Go, Chore Wars!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The State of the Holiday

We had Aaron's school play today. He was very eager to get there, and afterwards was very enthusiastic, which seems odd, because during the show he looked like it was torture to be there. I suspect that while he likes singing and performing for us, the actual moments of being in a choir of enthusiastic 2nd graders is a little hard for a hearing-sensitive kid with good (likely perfect relative) pitch.

We have a new(er) car! Rob has been going to our county auto auction for the last several weeks, ever since we sold our minivan, looking for something younger and smaller to replace it with. Wed. night he found a good one at a good price and bid for it, won, and then had to negotiate with the seller because the reserve hadn't been met. He talked them into a price higher than his bid, but lower than their reserve, and Thursday we went to collect. So now we have a Nissan 200SX SE-R in gloss black sitting in the driveway. It's a pretty little thing. It needs a new muffler, and there's a small piece of rear bumper missing (which is odd, because the rest of the bumper is not just intact, but glossy-new), and the engine computer reports a knock (which we can't hear). Otherwise it seems to be in excellent condition. It's certainly got zip, as it was pulling away from the Saturn at every acceleration opportunity on the way home. Rob is over the moon about it - he's been grinning all day. He's got a temporary muffler solution he'll be putting in tomorrow to last until the title shows up (in the next three weeks).

In somewhat grimmer news (making the happy car thing very timely) Rob's new 90-gallon tank has developed an in-tank infection, which is devastating the fish. We've lost more than a dozen so far, including two large severums, one of which was more than two years old. The last four days have had multiple fish deaths per day. We're treating for everything we can think of and crossing our fingers. We still have a Red Devil, a Raphael, and a couple of Firemouths in there that we'd hate to lose. The Red Devil particularly has a lot of personality, and has been with us for quite a while now. The 75-gallon tank is going along great, but even if we could guarantee that she wouldn't bring the infection with her, we couldn't move her back, because she would tear into the Bala and Iridescent sharks that are in there now (never mind that they're more than twice her size - she's not the type to care).

Dad W. is up for the holidays now. He and the temporary neighbor are going out hunting a Barnes & Noble tomorrow. He'll be here through the New Year, and then he vacates the same day A comes in. A has torn her rotator cuff in her left shoulder, so unless something changes drastically between now and the New Year, she's going to need a lot more help than usual while she's here. With the torn muscles, she can't transfer (from her chair to a couch, or a toilet, or a car seat), and needs to be assisted heavily with things she normally manages herself. Nor can she use her crutches at all. She's likely to need surgery on the shoulder and I'm crossing my fingers that if she does, it can wait until March, because right now all her local support has gone south for the winter.


I had my last class of the year last night (there's another class tonight, but it conflicts with Aaron's school play). This was our first brown/black only class, and I loved it. I learned so much more than I usually can in a mixed class. To wit: I finished Tokumine no Kun, I finished Sunsu, and I started Kusanku Sai.

My promise to myself is that when we have our first class in 2009 (Jan. 6th), I will have retained and ingrained all the new stuff learned yesterday. Towards this end, I've started going to the Y about an hour before my class starts each day, when I can have the workout room with the nice big mirrors all to myself. As of this morning, everything vital is still in my brain, and has now been reinforced by going through it a half-dozen more times. Though my left-hand sai work needs some serious improvement -blech!

Sensei and I discussed testing plans. He says that if I have everything new I need to learn down by the end of January, he will consider me on track for testing late March-early April. As of right now, that means: finish Kusanku Sai, learn Sanchin, and learn the last three self -defense patterns. Kusanku Sai isn't a problem, since the patterns are (surprise!) virtually identical to Kusanku. Sanchin is a little more concerning, but I'm pretty capable of learning a kata in a month if I can get the time with Sensei - which he seems determined to make time for. He'll be here Saturday to discuss custom tonfa with Rob, and we're going to discuss doing some private lessons while he's here.

That leaves only the self-defense patterns, but the only reason I haven't gotten them down already was because I had nobody else to practice them with - no other brown belts, and Sensei D. isn't physically a good choice for praticing falls - his legs are in horrible shape. But as of last week, we now have two other brown belts, so drafting them for self-defense practice is emminently feasible.

Other than that it's all technique work - more speed, less telegraphing, better stances and transitions, etc. etc.. Getting from "I know all this stuff" to "I can do all this stuff well."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New Music

Hee! Rob was poking around on the web last night, looking for some small gifts for people (including me), and stumbled upon piano music - lovely New Age style piano music that I've been looking for for about ten years now. Even as we speak, the music for Cristofori's Dream and The Gift among others have started wending their way in this direction. This will be the first new piano music I've had in ages - since my eldest brother and his wife got married to be precise (they asked me to play, and I felt justified in spending some money).

Another bonus, Rob really likes several of the pieces, which means he can stop nagging me to practice things he likes instead of the stuff I like. I generally gravitate to Debussy, Chopin, and Beethoven while Rob would really rather I played more rock and ragtime. We both love The Gift, however (sorry, I can't find a video or audio file of it), and the Windham Hills collections in general, so this should provide some good times.

Unfortunately, even once it arrives, I still have to wait until Christmas before I can take it to the keyboard!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

And Away We Go!

Or will in the spring. I just registered for the IWKA World Championship Tournament - June 18, 19, 20 in the Hilton in Pittsburgh, PA.

The IWKA WCT is held once every two years. The location varies, but Master Shimabuku comes and teaches a seminar or two - two this time, and I'm signed up for both. Hanshi Duessel also teaches a seminar, which I'm also signed up for. Honestly, given my chops as a competitor, I'm likely to get the most bang for my buck out of the seminars. My record at Isshinryu-only tournaments is abysmal. Though oddly enough, my record at open tournaments is quite good - the only actual trophy I have (Senior Women's Champion) was at a Louisville open tournament about three years ago - wherein I beat six other white/yellow/orange competitors in kata and kumite (I was orange), and then a purple belt in kumite.

Also, I've fought the woman who won the senior women's division last time. She's not far from here, so we hit some of the same area tournaments. She's ferociously good - a previous competitive body-builder, who turned to karate and brought along that same focused determination. As a white belt she came to the Lennox Legacy a few years back and got put in the intermediate women's division because her division was too small. She cleaned our clocks, defeating every single woman in the intermediate division handily (5-3 was the best score).

On the plus side, I cannot possibly do worse than the last time I went to a truly large tournament. In my first karate incarnation I went to the Hall of Fame tournament. I was young, fit, and in good training. I came in dead last in both divisions I entered. It was not a pretty sight, but it did teach me some humility.

However, I'd like to avoid that particular lesson again, so training, training, training!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Belt Musing #2

For the first belt musing see here.

When it comes right down to it, a belt is a piece of fabric that holds your pants up, or your jacket together. In the case of a karate gi, it usually doesn't even do that, since the jackets and pants really don't need it. The function of a karate belt is symbolic. It functions as a visible sign of where you are in your karate journey.

So, given that, what does a black belt mean?

For some people it means the end of the journey. The first year as a shodan has a higher drop-out rate than practically any other part of a karate student's time - excepting the first few tenuous months. For those people, a black belt is their graduation certificate, the symbol of their having "learned" karate. If that is how one sees the black belt, then it's not at all surprising that people would drop out - after all, why would one keep going to school after graduating, unless you're one of the few inspired to become a teacher?

Even of those who stay, some feel the black belt symbolizes a graduation, the shift from student to teacher. A mark of "I know what I'm doing," in some essential way.

This isn't to say these people are wrong. A black belt often is a teacher - indeed I would think it difficult to become a black belt without doing at least some teaching, if only for the extraordinary amount of learning that occurs when one sets out to teach something you're sure you know - only to discover that the student will teach you far more than you teach them.

Yet that isn't how I feel about a black belt. Maybe it's because I've done at least a little teaching from fairly early in my karate career. Maybe it's because I know down to my bones that I will never be done learning about karate. Maybe it's because I've become aware of just how little I will know, when I become a black belt, standing there with my bucket beside the ocean of knowledge. But to me a black belt doesn't feel like a graduation certificate.

It feels like being handed my library card.

If the black belt certifies something about me, it certifies that I've learned my ABC's. I can write them, pronounce them, even sound out words with them. I'm making that phenomenal leap, from letters on a page to words, sentences, meaning.

The black belt means that I've mastered the fundamentals of my karate craft. That I have my understanding of stance, strikes, blocks, focus - all the vital minutiae - sufficiently for me to start seeing the meaning behind all this stuff. The katas become less about the individual steps and strikes and more about flow and bunkai (explanations of the purpose of the moves, for the non-karate readers). Fights become less about finding the target and hitting it - but not too hard! - and more about strategy and tactics.

It's a world away from "toes forward, heels out, knees bent," and yet it incorporates all that - just as someone writing a letter must still form their 'H's correctly, lest a shirt become a skirt. The letters must be correct, yet the letters become words, and the words become sentences that one could never imagine when still struggling to understand the individual letters.

And that is what a black belt means to me - the opening up of meaning from my letters of kicks and punches to the stories of karate.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Random things that have happened in the last few days:

The student whose house burned is generally doing well. Their insurance has come through in a big way, and they moved into an apartment less than a mile from their house today. On the down side, the dog definitely died in the fire, either by smoke inhalation or by having the roof collapse on him.

We are now officially in the market for a newer car (our youngest car being 10 years and 210,000 miles old). Rob is hanging out at the local auto auction to find our replacement. He is having so much fun doing this that he make take his own sweet time in actually purchasing said car.

The aforementioned youngest car has developed a large crack in the radiator - so there goes Rob's plans for the weekend.

I have a reader for Drowned Deep who has not previously read Ghost Dancer - which should allow a reasonable view of whether it stands alone decently or not. Now I'm just waiting on my new toner cartridge to arrive so I can print it out. I can't complain though, I have a draft printer Rob gave me for Christmas three years ago, and this is the first cartridge change despite heavy usage.

I've finished Sunsu kata. I love this kata, but it's seriously crazy-making. The patterns are so similar both to patterns in the other kata, and to other patterns within Sunsu, that it's incredibly easy to either slip into a different kata, or to accidently skip or repeat sections (or do them in the wrong order). You have to be present every moment in this kata in a way that just isn't necessary in any of the previous katas. It's wonderful - and crazy-making!

I'm also down to the last section or two of learning Tokumine No Kun. I would suspect two, just because I'm not getting many lengthy teaching times with Sensei, which means I'm getting the katas in smaller bits than I could actually handle. Which is all right, but is slower.

Our last karate class is the 18th. We resume on the Tuesday following New Year's. No sign of a Christmas party this year. Rob and I hosted one a couple of years ago, but with a houseful of guests, A. coming to visit after the New Year, and Dad Wood moving in after that, I'm just not feeling the impetus to step up and offer this year.

I'm freaking out bad about A. coming to visit. She and her husband have a neatness standard that is just insane - our house on its best day would be an utter disaster by their standards. Mom is offering to help me clean while she's here, but not to put too fine a point on it - her track record with such offers isn't great. Plus, even Mom & Dad's house on its best day, though much better than ours, would still be a hovel by A&M's standards - not that they'd make snide comments or look down at us, or make a fuss - it's the veiled pity and the offers of help that make me want to beat my head against a wall.

Deep breaths. A&M have a lovely apartment, lived in by two neat freaks, and maintained by a succession of aides and a once weekly cleaning team. I have a house double that size, lived in by four people, none of them dreadfully neat, and maintained by me (which should frighten anybody who's ever seen me clean or *god forbid* attempt to organize something). My inability to keep a house to A's standards is not an indictment of my worth as a person, wife or mother. Really. (If I keep repeating this maybe I'll start believing it?)

Oh - and I should have a new belt musing up in the next few days. It's cooking in the back of my brain quite noisily by now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Horrible Start to the Christmas Season

T is one of our teenaged students. He's a recent brown belt, also bright, conscientious to a fault, and generally a great kid.

His house burned down yesterday - with his dog in it.

Leastwise, we believe the dog was in the house. T was at school and his parents were out looking for a Christmas tree when the house went up. A neighbor called 911 and their cell phone, but it was way too late for the house. The roof is in the basement, though the garage is apparently water-damaged but intact, and the (brand-new) deck is in reasonable condition. Their dog hasn't been seen, though it has been posited with more hope than anything that he may have escaped and run off in fright.

The loss of the dog is the worst of it, but besides that, they've lost pretty much everything - clothes, pictures, toiletries, the works. T is supposed to be back in class Thursday (he wasn't there tonight for obvious reasons), Sensei has a new gi and belt waiting for him - fortunately he had spares in his stash.

Poor kid - poor family. What an incredibly awful way to start the holidays.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Have a Novel - and a Basset

Done! I'm done, done, done, done, done!

The novel, tentatively entitled Drowned Deep, is finished. The first draft stands at 50,646 which includes two (2!) prologues, an epilogue, and various other word boosters. As I noted before, I actually hit the end of the story at about 43,000 words, the epilogue, first prologue and a couple of internal scenes got it to 49,644 as of this morning. Whereupon we hit the road home, and between car troubles, dinner, and getting back in gear at home I didn't actually get back to the file until eight tonight. Fortunately, 300 something words is a cinch at this point - though figuring where to stick them was something of a problem. Hence the second prologue. One or both of them may eventually go away. One or both of them may eventually move into the body of the novel. But right now they're prologues. The epilogue is probably staying. I like it, and it matches the epilogue at the end of Ghost Dancer fairly nicely.

Now I'll ignore the file for a month or two, because if I go read it right now, I'll be convinced it's a pile of crap. Whereas if I wait until my memory has faded somewhat, I may be pleasantly surprised - or not - but at least it won't be certain that I'll hate it.

In the meanwhile, have a basset. Nicky is glad to be home. Being one of four dogs is exhausting. Unfortunately for him, he's going to have to get used to it, because sometime in January or February, my father-in-law is moving in with us (until we can get the house sold, and him into an apartment, which will probably take some time), complete with his three dogs. Rest up while you can, Nicky!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Two Second Update

Posting from my FIL's computer with the wrong kind of keyboard, so this will be short.

I finished my Nano storyline today, which marks the first time I've ever completed a story, instead of just getting the 50,000 words. Unfortunately, the story as it stands clocks in at just over 43,000 words. When filled in it will definitely be over the mark, but that kind of filling in is generally slower than full-forward writing. So my task for the next two days is to find 7000 words worth of additional scenes, description, and anything else I can come up with.

The hopeful part is that since we're at my FIL's, I don't have too much else I need to do but write. And since I have my laptop with me (early Christmas present - thank you, Love!), I can write the whole four hours on the way back home Sunday.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nano Notes

A brief update from the throes of writing agony - which both is and isn't this year. As can be seen by my little sidebar widget, I'm definitely running behind at this point. I'm still within striking range - unless I get badly stuck, I should be able to pull it out - yet there's little doubt that I'm going to be writing long, hard hours every day between now and Nov. 1 if I'm going to pull the full 50,000 out of my hat.

On the good side though, the story is really running well now. I have a plot. I have decent characters. They're all hanging out and doing the things they're supposed to be doing. My prep level this year seems to have been just about right - enough pre-planning that I was rarely at a complete loss (thanks Bill and Leslie for the periodic brainstorming when things got clogged), but not so much that the characters felt constrained and wooden. It's even possible that I may finish this plot as part of the NaNo shot, which would be a first. Of my previous successful NaNo's my first -Ghost Dancer - is the only one that's complete at this point. My second is still stuck on the difficulty of a character who refuses to die, and my third, while it finally has an ending that I'm heading for, hasn't yet actually gotten there. Even Ghost Dancer was incomplete as a story at the end of NaNo; it didn't, in fact, acquire an ending for nearly four more years. Not until I started putting chapters up for my on-line writing group, and when I failed to put up new chapters, people would write me, write little ditties to post about me, or even contact my brother to tell him to tell me to get on the ball and write more, did I get down to business and finish out Ghost Dancer. So it feels a little weird to be 30,000 words in, and be fairly confident of where this book is going and how it's going to end. I may even wrap it up in the 50,000 words .

Which is not to say it will be a 50,000 word novel. As I've been speeding along, I'm discovering all sorts of side issues that will need to be retconned in once I hit the end (a little terraforming, anyone?). I'm estimating at least another 10-20,000 words just to put in the necessary additional information after I hit the end. We'll see when I get there - but it's feeling really good to actually feel like this is going to end in the first pass. A little less like writing the Neverending Story.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Matter of Time

I ran into this article in the Guardian on-line, thanks to Erin of A Dress A Day (excellent site for anyone interested in sewing).

It's a summation of the notions in a new book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers: The Story of Success. It was so fascinating that the book went on my Amazon wishlist before I'd even finished reading the article.

The summary of the summary would be essentially: there is no such thing as inherent genius. There are bright people, certainly, and talented people, but what makes a genius is opportunity, perseverance, and time - 10,000 hours of time, to be precise. And all of it boils down to that time.

The opportunity is what allows somebody to spend 10,000 hours perfecting a skill - that's not a trivial amount of time. Working eight hours a day, five days a week - I.e. making your desired skill your full time job - it would still take five years to put in 10,000 hours. And how many of us are truly working at improvement every minute for a whole work day, even if we're lucky enough to be making a living at our skill? A would-be designer working as a dressmaker or a writer actually having a day-job that requires writing would generally be considered exceptionally fortunate. Most genius comes from middle and upper classes, simply because people lower down the economic ladder don't have that kind of time to devote to perfecting skills - they're too busy keeping afloat.

Perseverance is the will and desire to keep pushing at your desired skill, to keep working at it and loving working at it for years.

Both of which add up to - more time spent learning, perfecting, and pushing the limits of your skill.

Apparently the thresholds run as follows: if you want to be better than average - but no great shakes - you need to spend about 4,000 hours perfecting your skill. For really good - but not genius - about 8,000. For genius - 10,000 and up.

This would jive with my experience of my skill levels in various things, thus far. My one, true, genius-level skill, would be my reading ability. I read fast, voraciously, and continuously. Hard reading material doesn't slow me down much - and I retain what I read, often to the point of being able to tell you position on a page for a given bit of information.

Timewise? Well, I learned to read independently somewhere between two and three. I puttered around in children's books until I hit five years old. I can still remember the day, a few days after the end of kindergarten, when I was bored silly. I was past the children's books and board books. I had read all the intermediate books we had (not many) to death , and Mom and Dad's books were still beyond me. I was kicking around the house, desperate for something to read, and my eyes lit on this row of blue hardback books in the den, just to the right of the fireplace. These were books my brothers read, and maybe, just maybe they weren't beyond me? So I pulled one down and looked. It was a Hardy Boys book, and it had pictures - not many, about six for the whole book, but enough to convince me it wasn't a scary adult book. So I took it off and read it. It took me a few hours, but I liked the story, and went straight into the next one.

Long story short - I read the entire set of Hardy Boys that my brothers possessed at that time (32 plus the dectectives handbook, and two random Nancy Drew books) in the summer between kindergarten and first grade. By the end of the summer it was taking me less than two hours to make it through a book, and I never looked back. In fourth grade at Christmas, my eldest brother gave me some Fantasy for Christmas (Dragonsong, Night Mare, and Ogre, Ogre). By middle school I was reading three or four hours a day every day - more on weekends. On one notable occassion, I killed off the entire Lord of the Rings set, plus The Hobbit in one 27 hour reading marathon. On another I checked 27 horticulture books out of the library on a Friday, and returned them, read, on Monday after school - though this was a bit of a cheat, since the material was often very similar book-to-book.

So I put in those 10,000 hours reading and then some. Small wonder I'm a bibliovore.

Singing on the other hand, I probably log in at the 4,000-6,000 mark - and indeed, I'm a good , strong singer. I stand out a mile in the average church choir - but I'm not even professional performer level, let alone a genius at it. And these days I don't push my skills singing. I just sing at the level I am and enjoy it - so I doubt the time I spend now accrues.

Which brings me to my current most desired skills - karate and writing, which is what I've been pondering since these links came my way. Here, I'm still short of even the 4,000 hour better-than-average range. My best figuring would put me at about 1,000 hours total practice in karate - perhaps bolstered somewhat by the sheer amount of time I spend visualizing and reading and thinking about karate. Still a long way to go. Years, most likely. Likewise for writing, where I come in slightly higher - but not very much - perhaps 2,000 hours.

Which is followed by the next thought - do I want these skills badly enough to put in the 10,000 hours required? Or, presuming I persist in both these pursuits over the years, how many years is it going to take me?

Writing seems more doable - more related to reading, perhaps. I can see myself spending multiple hours a day, every day, writing - even if that's a rarity right now (well, not right now, it is NaNo month, after all). I have trouble seeing myself putting in that kind of daily effort into karate - daily practice, yes, but not hours and hours of it.

On the other hand, it wasn't all that many years ago, I couldn't see myself doing karate at all. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The To-Do List

One of the most anxiety-inducing parts of knowing Sensei intends to test me soon, is that I don't actually know everything I need to know for the black belt test yet. I'm not down to polishing, I'm still actively learning new material. Now Sensei knows how fast I can learn (and so do I), but there's still that extra edge of "I don't even know this stuff!" So, I'm putting up a to-do list here, and going to try to make some sort of attempt to sort it out. Ideally, I'd like to have the new stuff down by early January, giving me at least a month, and more likely three months plus to give everything the appropriate polish.

Empty hand katas:
Sunsu - started, unfinished(1-2 classes to learn the remainder - I'm almost there)
Sanchin - not started

Weapons katas:
Tokumine no Kun (1 class to learn the very first bit (reverse-shaping kata), otherwise in excellent shape)
Kusanku Sai - I know the empty hand version, but only know the opening section with sais.

Still need to learn the last 3 patterns. First six in good shape.

Vocabulary is under control.

Essays still need to be written. I have posts on this blog that would do for first draft versions of two of the three essays (more coming soon).

Huh. I think I'm better off than I thought. Sanchin is really the only thing that really worries me on the list. Sunsu is going well (though I need to spend more time at home working it, it's still choppy - largely because I'm so in love with Tokumine no Kun that I spend most of my at-home kata practice working on that .) Kusanku Sai is going to be more a matter of getting reacquainted and comfortable with my sais (Please, Santa, can I have the Sureido sais for Christmas? I've been a very good girl!) than of memory, since I already have the patterns. The self-defense patterns are short and sweet - the main concern is that the people testing them on me really will be trying to deck me, and so far nobody in the dojo has been willing to practice with me full-tilt. I'd hate to get my nose broken at my own black belt test!

But all-in-all, I think that's a pretty doable to-do list for two months.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Official confirmation from Sensei. He expects (hear this word with a heavy layer of emphasis) that I will be ready to test for my shodan before my birthday (early April), and that he will test me by that point.

I had had an inkling of this from Sensei D a few weeks ago, but when he realized that Sensei had not said anything to me yet, he shut up abruptly.

Bringing up promotion expectations with Sensei is a big no-no with him, you wait until he brings it up, so I've been twitchy about this - wanting to know more, but not daring to ask. (Sensei wouldn't spring a black belt test on me on short notice, would he?)

Though honestly, I can't say I'm less twitchy know that I know. Just twitchy in a slightly more focused way.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Lennox et al.

I'm back again from the Lennox Legacy tournament. I had an absolute blast this year - the best time I've ever had at the Lennox, and I usually enjoy this tournament.

This year I was able to go up to Akron Friday night, arriving about midnight (as opposed to last year where I left at 2am and arrived 5 minutes after the start). I got up in good time to get to the tournament and change into my gi. One advantage of going to this same tournament every year, is that by now I'm familiar with where everything is, so there's no wasting time thrashing about looking for the Tadmor Shrine, or my hotel, or the local grocery store.

This tournament always starts with a seminar by Hanchi Duessel. Duessel is the highest ranked American in the IWKA (Isshinryu World Karate Association). He's a ninth dan, an elderly but still very fit man who is a vertible font of karate knowledge. If you ever get the chance to pick up a copy of his book Beyond Black Belt, I would recommend it.

This year's seminar started with retraction - the pulling back of the opposing hand as you strike. We covered four different types of retraction (to hip, to solar plexus, to neck, and to the rear) and practiced all of them, with some explication of possible applications for each one. From there we moved into stances, covering Seuichin (horseback riding stance), T stance (Cat stance), and Crane stance (Hook stance). Hanchi Duessel and his second prowled up and down the lines giving corrections and suggestions. I know my T stance improved markedly from their advice. I've been going to these seminars since I was an orange belt, and I feel like every time I'm getting more and more out of them, because I have a bigger base of knowledge to start from.

After the seminar, I got to meet up with someone I have thus far only known on-line (from the Isshinryu women Yahoo forum). Sunshine is aptly named and an absolute delight. She's young (early twenties) and a 2nd dan. She's a font of knowledge, but very humble with it, because she feels like she's young for her rank. She and I spent most of the day where we weren't competing, hanging out watching the rings and talking and talking and talking...

I did not break my streak of last place kata finishes, making this the fourth year running I've finished last in my division in kata at this tournament. However, unlike last year, I feel pretty good about this year's results. Last year I finished last in a good sized division where there were several people who really weren't very good, and none of the judges placed me very high at all. I desperately wanted to go shake them and wail "What did I do wrong?" Even after watching videos, my sensei and I (and a few other consulted black belts) were just puzzled about the results. It wasn't the perfect kata by any means, but it just didn't seem to be as bad as the judges apparently thought it was.

This year I finished third out of three. However, the panel of judges was entirely divided about our respective rankings. My three scores placed me first, second, and third, and my competitors' did likewise, making the final placement rest entirely on score totals. Plus, the judge who placed me first talked to me afterwards (made a point of it), and was extremely complimentary about my flow and timing - two things I was getting negative commentary on last year. A note to those of you who judge - this is possibly the nicest thing any judge has done for me in four years of competing. I was nearly in tears, because it's the first time someone (other than my sensei) has told me I'm doing things right in my kata. I'll take my third place and those compliments over the gold medal any day. Not that I won't work my heart out for gold next year, but now it doesn't feel like a hopeless task.

Kumite was simply weird. They didn't have enough competitors in senior women's kyu ranks to make up a field. (Kata and weapons are co-ed, fighting is split out by gender). So they decided to combine all the kyu ranks into one field, leaving us with a white belt (3 months experience), a blue belt (Taekwondo, first tournament), and two brown belts, both of us with four plus years and multiple tournaments, in the same group. Adding to the weirdness, they then paired the blue and white together, and the two browns together in the first round. Patti (the other brown) beat me in a fairly close fight (3-5 with multiple no decision exchanges). She then demolished the white belt for the gold medal, while I beat the blue belt 5-1 for third. I've made a suggestion for future tournaments that small groups (3-6 competitors) use a Round Robin format before progressing to single elimation, both to give everybody more chances to fight, and to make sure medals are more fairly distributed. I don't particularly care about a third place vs. a second place, but Patti, who actively competes for the year end awards (points given by placing), would have been severely annoyed if I had beaten her and she had been placed third beneath a white belt she could beat easily.

T. also came to the tournament and did very well, with three silver medals, especially impressive since he just recently (in the last month) moved up from the pre-teen intermediate category to the teen advanced category, which is a massive leap in competitiveness and aggresiveness. Sensei did not compete (to my surprise), but instead ran the peewee ring all day. He was slightly miffed at the way a tournament that used to be exclusively Isshinryu (non-Isshinryu people could compete, but had to use Isshinryu katas to compete with.) has become an open tournament, with the only concession to Isshinryu particularly being that all weapons must be Okinawan weapons.

I (along with Sensei and Sunshine) was invited back to the tournament organizer's house for dinner and after-chat. I had a blast with this (and found a new beta reader for Ghost Dancer!), and ended up leaving very late, not getting home until past 1am.

The boys meanwhile, had their time with Daddy. Their costumes were a hit, with multiple people stopping them on the street to take pictures. Unfortunately, the pictures Rob took came out too dark, so sometime here we'll try to stick them back on the boys and post them up. Their report cards also came in this week, and both of them did very well, so all is good on the school front. Plus I really like Robbie's fifth grade teacher, whom I had not had a chance to talk to before this week. She's very sweet, and the fact that she seems to adore Robbie doesn't do her any harm in my book. Robbie is also going to be on the Academic Team again this year. It should start in Febuary to prep for spring competition. He really enjoyed it last year, so I'm looking forward to having him do it again.

NaNo is going. My meter is up in the corner for those following along. I'll only be updating every third or fourth day, due to the extreme slowness of the NaNo boards right now. I may change that once we're back from Great Lakes Games and I'm not trying to cram every spare second into simply not falling too far behind. For example, my actual current count is 3687, while the meter shows 2011, but I won't be updating until tomorrow morning, with whatever number is accurate then.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Still Kicking

We had my FIL visiting this last two weeks (over the anniversary of Mom W's death), which put a severe damper on my on-line activity. The major activity of the moment is prepping for NaNo, which is going to be a severe squeeze to make work this year. 50,000 words in thirty days is always a tight squeeze, but due to scheduling considerations, it's more like 50,000 words in 20 days for me this year. Yikes!

A more detailed breakdown of why things will be so tight can be found at my LJ account, which is where I'm putting the more technical writing stuff.

Lennox Legacy is this coming Saturday! I head out with my great ambition of not finishing dead last in kata, unlike my previous three appearences there (I have had much better luck in kumite and weapons). I'd feel more secure if I had actually had much practice time in the last week, but not only is that not true, but five of my usual practice times got nixed, due to a day at the car shop, a day at the emergency room with my FIL (he's fine, bad bronchitis), and a day icing my back, which chose to remind me that it does not like extended sitting - such as happens in ER and dealership waiting rooms. Seriously, I sprained my back eleven months ago, isn't it about time it stopped being sensitive about such things?

Oh well, all I can do is practice my little heart out this week and pray that it, plus the prep before this last week will be sufficient. The major problem I seem to have may not be practice affected that much anyway - I don't appear to sell myself well while doing kata, no flair. My technique is good, but it wasn't bad before (so says my sensei and two other black belts after viewing the video), I just don't seem to have that charisma in the ring that arrests the judges' attention. And I'm not sure how to practice that. All I know how to do is to try to make my kata more intense, snappier, more perfect in technique.

So I guess I do that and hope for the best. Sigh.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yes or No

Copped from Becky, who got it from Robin.

Only yes or no answers allowed, no explanation unless asked. And away we go!

Over 18? Yes
Danced in front of your mirror naked? Yes
Ever told a lie? Yes
Been arrested? No
Kissed a picture? No
Fallen asleep at work/school? Yes
Held an actual snake? Yes
Ever run a red light? No
Ever drink and drive? No
Been suspended from school? No
Ever been fired from a job? No
Totaled a car/motorbike in an accident? No
Sang karaoke? No
Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t? Yes
Laughed until something you were drinking came out your nose? No
Ever laughed until you wet yourself? No
Caught a snowflake on your tongue? Yes
Kissed in the rain? Yes
Sang in the shower? Yes
Sat on a rooftop? Yes
Thought about your past with regret? Yes
Been pushed in the pool with your clothes on? Yes
Shaved your head? No
Blacked out from drinking? No
Had a gym membership? Yes
Been in a band? No
Shot a gun? No
Liked someone with nobody else knowing about it? Yes
Played strip poker? No
Been to a strip joint? No
Donated Blood? Yes
Liked someone you shouldn’t? Yes
Have a tattoo? No
Have or had any piercings besides ears? No
Made out with a complete stranger? No
Caught someone cheating on you? Yes
Skinny dipped? No
Regret any of your ex’s? Yes
Been to a rodeo? No
Been to a NASCAR race? No
Been in Love? Yes

Monday, October 06, 2008

Regressing to the Front

We've had three sessions with Tokemine no Kun working with backwards shaping now. I think we'll be doing this again in the future, as sensei is tickled with the results (as am I). There are three of us learning the kata (two first timers, one re-learner). Of the three of us, I'm picking it up fastest, most likely because I'm already comfortable with backwards shaping from piano. I'm loving it. I'm much more secure in each new segment, and can demonstrate it without hesitation within three or four repititions when learning - and I've yet to forget or exclude any sections while practicing at home (which happens with some regularity learning forwards). At the rate I'm moving, I have hopes (slim, but hopes) that I can get Tokemine no Kun down in time for the Lennox Legacy tournament Nov. 1. I wouldn't be likely to place (now that would be a coup for backwards shaping!), but I've done Tsu Yoi Bo to death, and I'd rather do something else, as long as it's not embarrassingly bad.

T, our new brown, is also learning noticeably faster with backwards shaping than forwards. He's not terribly comfortable with it, and tends to stutter at the junctions between new segments and old segments more than with forward learning - yet you can see him getting more confident as he progresses towards the segments he knows better, and even if he doesn't see it, he's definitely got more kata down more securely than he usually does in a week and a half. I would suspect that as he gets used to the weird new learning method, he'll get more adept at adding on, since it's not something that bothers him the other direction.

Sensei D is our re-learner, and also the one with the most trouble with the learning method. I'm not sure if it's interference from already knowing the kata in slightly different form, somewhere buried deep in his hindbrain, or if it's generalized discomfort with the learning pattern, but he doesn't like it much. He is still learning it though, and not noteably slower than he has relearned his other katas.

It's a little hard to tell how much of the difference in speed of learning here is due to comfort with the method, and how much to our more general learning speeds, but all-in-all, this little experiment has been well worth our while thus far.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bassets Make People Smile

Growing up my family never had dogs - or any other furry pets for that matter. Mom was allergic, so the issue never really came up. Yet I loved pets, and doted on other peoples' whenever allowed to. I eventually developed an allergy of my own to cats, but dogs remained safe, and I generally loved nothing so much as snuggling up to someone's pet.

Rob's family was the opposite. Not only did they always have a dog when he was growing up, they pretty much always had two dogs. When I started dating him, they had a beagle and a Doberman. The Doberman was a sweetheart, friendly and protective (of me) from the get go, while the beagle never forgave me for stealing her boy.

So it's not exactly surprising that Rob and I started looking for a dog to love nearly as soon as we moved to a place that would allow dogs. Our first dog found us, more or less by accident. He was older (8), a pre-rescue placement, as his original owner was getting ready to dump him in favor of his new dog-hating bride. Cosby was as sweet as they come. A poppy-red Golden Retriever with the kind of manners that make you understand why dog training is said to make other dogs behave like Goldens. Cosby lived another eight years, to the ripe old age of sixteen. Yet in all that time, he was never really our dog. He was always looking for his person to come back; always waiting for the boy he grew up with to come take him home again. We were just the nice caretaker people.

So the next time we were dogless and feeling it, I wanted a puppy. A dog to be our dog, not always looking past us. At this point the boys were very young (2 & 4) and we wanted something we could rely on to be tolerant. Rob had fond memories of the dog he first remembers - his parents' first dog, Sam, a tri-color basset. I liked the idea, so we looked around and ended up with Nicky.

Nicky is anything but a show basset. Sometimes for fun I'll list all his faults that would get him thrown out of an AKC showring (assuming we hadn't had him neutered). I can get over a dozen without even trying hard. He's about 4" too long, 2" too tall, swaybacked, crooked forelimbs (ricketts as a puppy), and double-coated, just to hit the highlights. But as a family dog, he's perfect - endlessly tolerant, good-natured, adores children (all children, not just ours), not at all territorial or food protective. He's also undeniably my dog. Not even the family dog - my dog. He sleeps beside my side of the bed at night (in fact he's curled up on my feet right now and won't go to bed until I do).

But there's one side of owning a basset I hadn't expected at all - how much people like them.

Since Cosby was both friendly and strikingly beautiful, I was pretty used to getting commentary when out for walks. I had, without thinking about it much, expected that this wouldn't happen as much when we had Nicky. He's a handsome boy, but bassets just don't hit many people's lists of gorgeous.

So I was a little surprised the first time somebody pulled over to the curb and leapt out to come exclaim over my dog. And even more surprised when it happened again a few weeks later. In all the time I'd had Cosby, no one ever pulled over to tell me how beautiful my dog was. The people who commented were the people who were already out walking or in their yards. But with Nicky, people would get out of their cars, come out of their houses, or cross the street to come see him. And nearly all of them would be grinning ear to ear as they patted Nicky and told me about their neighbor's basset when they were little, or their own bassets at home.

I finally decided that bassets just make people happy. Something about that goofy amiability is so endearing that people will go well out of their way to experience it. Not everybody of course - we hardly have traffic jams when I take Nicky to school to pick up the boys. On the other hand, it's a rare month when somebody doesn't pull over to ask about him. Nicky with his easy-going temperament and open face (white blaze with freckles) seems to attract this more than most, but even my father-in-law's current basset, Toby who is nervous and distrustful, comes in for some of the generalized basset love that seems to be floating around.

Even the pizza delivery guys, who have every reason to not like having dogs crash the door, don't seem to mind when it's Nicky. Instead they reach down and ruffle his ears (after turning over the pizzas). Nobody seems to believe for even a second that a basset could possibly be hostile to them. Which, in Nicky's case at least, seems justified. The first Christmas after we got him, we came down in the morning to find that my Dad had come over and let himself in. He was reading on the couch with Nicky, who had never met Dad before in his life, happily curled up beside him, having never made a noise.

Nicky's getting older now himself. He's six now, and just starting to slow down and realize he's not a puppy. He's not likely to make Cosby's sixteen, but we can probably hope for 12+, and he's in good health thus far, despite the ricketts. And as long as he's up for it, I'll keep taking him around the neighborhood, even though we have a fenced back yard, because it's so delightful to see people smile just because they've seen a basset.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Happy Stanislav Petrov Day!

Look out your windows at your lovely, non-nuclear-winterized world, and lift a glass for Stanislav Petrov, a man who made the right call under immensely difficult circumstances. And as is customary, was punished for it.

No karate tonight as nobody but me would be there. I am amused to discover that Robbie's fifth grade friends have decided I'm the coolest Mom ever for intervening in the fight the other day. If only I'd known when I was that age that the fastest way to gain the admiration of pre-teen boys is to make them think you can wipe the floor with them!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Doing it Backwards

We finally got around to trying backwards shaping for kata. For once there were three of us ready to tackle a weapons kata (T, Sensei D, and me), so Sensei started us on the end of Tokumine No Kun. I had asked him a while ago if I could learn this one backwards, and he was intrigued by the idea, but didn't seem to follow up on it. Well tonight he said that to give it a fair trial, a bunch of us had to try it, so he showed us Tokumine no Kun, and then gave us the first chunk (from the last head block to the end). It's good so far. Sensei didn't seem to have any problem teaching that way, and learning the last chunk didn't seem to weird T or Sensei D out particularly once they got past the initial round of blinking. The real test will come next time when we learn the chunk preceeding this one.

It was a weapons' night tonight. Bo and sais both came out. It was one of those rare nights when only upper belts came to class, and as much as we need more new students I treasure the nights with the people who have been doing this for a while and are in this for the long haul. No having to make everything fun lest someone be bored into leaving - we all already think karate is intrinsically fun. No having to explain terms or make minor corrections - if someone does make a basic mistake a quick mention and they're back to form. It's delightful.

In other exciting events of the day, I got to break up a fist fight today. A pair of HS boys got into a serious knock-down, drag-out fight in front of the elementary school just as it was letting out. Big boys - roughly 5'10" and 6' respectively. I don't know what started it, but they were really trying to hurt each other (fortunately neither one of them had a clue as to how), and they were so focused on each other they weren't hearing or seeing anything else. One of the elementary school mothers was screaming at them and they weren't paying any attention at all.

Fortunately for me, they were really easy to break up. All it took was a wrist-lock on the shorter boy to spin him away from the fight and make him notice what was going on. They both stopped immediately and took off on their bikes in opposite directions. Thank goodness. I really didn't want to get seriously physical with two boys too young to have good sense and significantly bigger than I was. The odds would have been way too high that I would have to hurt somebody to keep from getting hurt myself.

I talked my tactics over with Sensei D afterwards - he's the most experienced person in our group in dealing with real life fights. His only negative comment is that he thinks I should have gone for the bigger kid instead of the smaller one. His reasoning being that you want to go for the aggresor, or the one who's winning, and while I was certain of neither, the bigger kid seemed likely to get the upper hand soon from what I could see. According to him, if you can control the one who wants to fight more, the other is more likely to break off, which makes sense to me. I went for the shorter kid simply because he was closer, and I wasn't sure who the instigator was.

I'm wondering if I'll ever find out who those kids are, or what they were fighting about. Given HS kids it's possible even they don't know .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Congratulations, T!

I'm officially no longer the only brown belt in our dojo. T passed his brown belt test, and I have to admit the tall, slim teenager looks a hell of a lot better with his belt than I do with mine. He had some bobbles, mostly due to over-thinking, but he plainly knew his stuff and the test got better and better as he went on. I was especially pleased with his kumite. In free fighting T tends to the timid and over-analytical, not because he's afraid, but because he has a lot of native caution. Tonight he was able to put that aside and really go after his opponents, even knocking J (a very aggressive fighter), clean off her feet at the end of their bout. His katas, which started the test, looked very stiff and constrained, but when we had him redo his last kata at the end of the test, it looked about 10x better, showing what we already knew, that the stiffness was nerves rather than knowledge.

Sensei has already commented that T and I are going to start getting more things thrown at us, now that there's more than one brown belt. I'm really looking forward to it.

The boys are out of school this week because of Ike. A lot of our area is still without power, and several of the district schools are being used as shelters. We haven't lost power, but two poles near the back entrance to our subdivision are leaning at better than 45 degrees, and if they go down, we will lose power. Logically, but unfortunately, we're right down at the bottom of the priority list, because those wires are still intact and our neighborhood does have power. I'm crossing my fingers that they stay up until the crews can get to them, which isn't supposed to be until at least this weekend. Our personal damage is minor - several large limbs down, none of which hit anything major, a strip of flashing and about a dozen shingles torn off the roof. Rob will have to climb up there later this week and fix things.

And heaven help me, I'm having lengthy, daily theological debates with our neighbor's brother, a retired Baptist preacher. As much as I love theology, I'm not fast enough on my rhetorical feet to be good at, or particularly comfortable with, defending what I believe and why I believe it live and personal to someone's face. Particularly a very bright someone, whose theology is not terribly compatible with mine, and who has several decades of practice at this sort of thing. I'm torn between enjoying it very much, and wanting to scream and pound my head against the wall, mostly dependant on how well I feel I'm managing to make myself understood (agreed with is an entirely different matter). I find myself both eager to talk to him, and relieved that he's only visiting and will eventually wander off again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pushing Stuff

Thanks to Nicole who included me in her list of nominations for Brilliante blog award. (Sorry it took me so long to get around to posting about it!) Apparently the rules are as follows:

1. Post the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who gave you the award.
3. Nominate 7 other bloggers who you think deserve it.
4. Add links to their blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message on your nominees blogs.

So, having just done #'s 1 & 2, #3 is the list and links.

1. Fine Martial Fiber
2. Black Belt Mama
3. Martial Arts Mom
4. Benes_Hacha (who really needs to update more)
5. Atheist in a Minivan
6. Fugly Horse of the Day
7. Cakewrecks

So now that I've pushed my favorite blogs at you, I can go on to pushing other stuff. My hand has healed up beautifully. Rob's care in how he dug out the glass really paid off, as despite the depth of the damage, everything sealed back together. By now it looks like I minorly skinned my hand. I tried doing pushups for the first time on Thursday, and was fine except for a little deep aching in the heel of the hand for a few minutes afterwards.

So I'm going to restart the 100 Pushups tomorrow. I'll be starting in the low category, as 1) I want to work up slowly. 2) I've lost some ground from even my far from impressive starting position. So my testing number of pushups will officially be 5. They are, however, nice proper form pushups, rather than the slightly shallower version I use at higher numbers to avoid elbow aggravation. I'll post progress as I go.

I promise to check where my hands are landing first!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Good Luck!

We have a test scheduled for our next brown belt!

I've been the only brown in our dojo since last December. It's been interesting, but I'm getting a little tired of it. Among other things it costs me learning time - Sensei could not readily scurry off to the side with me to teach me things - who would handle the class? So at best I was getting five or ten minutes stuffed in at the edges of class, and so my progress on learning my black belt material has been very slow. Also, since I've been the only one learning this stuff, I have no one to bounce ideas around with, or to watch me, or for me to watch to just add time-on-floor and familiarity with the new katas and self-defense.

In some ways I think being the sole brown belt for a while has been good for our group dynamics - I started below most of our students in rank and passed them over time, and this gave settling time for everyone to get used to me being senior - a good thing when dealing with hormonal teens (boo, hiss, testosterone!). But by now I think any good that can be derived from being where I am by myself has been long since attained.

So when Sensei announced that T would be testing on Tuesday, it was a definite "Woot!" moment for me. Sensei and I have both been over his stuff with him, and he knows what he's doing. Actually, he's known what he needs to know since March at least. What's been holding him back has been a killer lack of confidence. T is very quiet, and usually determined to get things right. It makes him a little timid and inclined to overthinking in kumite and prone to odd hesitations in kata (though he has generally done excellently in competition). So when Sensei started talking about him being ready for testing back in the spring, you could see the supressed panic in T's face. He plainly didn't believe he was ready - and the way our brown belt test goes, he would probably have been right. Confidence is about 80% of getting through that test.

This last month, however, T has started to gain some confidence that he really does know what he knows, and that it's not going to desert him under pressure. He's still hesitant to teach, but has been willing to go over stuff one-on-one with the other students, and even let himself be talked (well, okay, railroaded) into leading the exercise session once. He still has a ways to go in believing his knowledge gives him any authority, but at least he's trusting that he has the knowledge.

So, best of luck to T! I should be one of the people matching him for kumite at his test, and he'd better chase me out of that ring!

Edited to add: Completely OT - but what coffeem said.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Music Meme

Via Becky at Fine Martial Fiber. From Music Outfitters these are the top 100 songs from the year I graduated high school. Bolds are songs I like, italics are songs I hate, asterisk is my favorite.

1. Walk Like An Egyptian, Bangles
2. Alone, Heart
3. Shake You Down, Gregory Abbott
4. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Whitney Houston
5. Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now, Starship
6. C'est La Vie, Robbie Nevil
7. Here I Go Again, Whitesnake
8. The Way It Is, Bruce Hornsby and the Range
9. Shakedown, Bob Seger
10. Livin' On A Prayer, Bon Jovi
11. La Bamba, Los Lobos
12. Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Wang Chung
13. Don't Dream It's Over, Crowded House
14. Always, Atlantic Starr
15. With Or Without You, U2
16. Looking For A New Love, Jody Watley
17. Head To Toe, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
18. I Think We're Alone Now, Tiffany
19. Mony Mony, Billy Idol
20. At This Moment, Billy Vera and The Beaters
21. Lady In Red, Chris De Burgh
22. Didn't We Almost Have It All, Whitney Houston
23. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, U2
24. I Want Your Sex, George Michael
25. Notorious, Duran Duran
26. Only In My Dreams, Debbie Gibson
27. (I've Had) The Time Of My Life, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
28. The Next Time I Fall, Peter Cetera and Amy Grant
29. Lean On Me, Club Nouveau
30. Open Your Heart, Madonna
31. Lost In Emotion, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
32. (I Just) Died In Your Arms, Cutting Crew
33. Heart And Soul, T'pau
34. You Keep Me Hangin' On, Kim Wilde
35. Keep Your Hands To Yourself, Georgia Satellites
36. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), Aretha Franklin and George Michael
37. Control, Janet Jackson
38. Somewhere Out There, Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram
39. U Got The Look, Prince
40. Land Of Confusion, Genesis
41. Jacob's Ladder, Huey Lewis and The News
42. Who's That Girl, Madonna
43. You Got It All, Jets
44. Touch Me (I Want Your Body), Samantha Fox
45. I Just Can't Stop Loving You, Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett
46. Causing A Commotion, Madonna
47. In too deep, Genesis *
48. Let's Wait Awhile, Janet Jackson
49. Hip To Be Square, Huey Lewis and the News
50. Will You Still Love Me?, Chicago
51. Little Lies, Fleetwood Mac
52. Luka, Suzanne Vega
53. I Heard A Rumour, Bananarama
54. Don't Mean Nothing, Richard Marx
55. Songbird, Kenny G
56. Carrie, Europe
57. Don't Disturb This Groove, System
58. La Isla Bonita, Madonna
59. Bad, Michael Jackson
60. Sign 'O' The Times, Prince
61. Change Of Heart, Cyndi Lauper
62. Come Go With Me, Expose
63. Can't We Try, Dan Hill
64. To Be A Lover, Billy Idol
65. Mandolin Rain, Bruce Hornsby and the Range
66. Breakout, Swing Out Sister
67. Stand By Me, Ben E. King
68. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Genesis
69. Someday, Glass Tiger
70. When Smokey Sings, ABC
71. Casanova, Levert
72. Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine
73. Rock Steady, Whispers
74. Wanted Dead Or Alive, Bon Jovi
75. Big Time, Peter Gabriel
76. The Finer Things, Steve Winwood
77. Let Me Be The One, Expose
78. Is This Love, Survivor
79. Diamonds, Herb Alpert
80. Point Of No Return, Expose
81. Big Love, Fleetwood Mac
82. Midnight Blue, Lou Gramm
83. Something So Strong, Crowded House
84. Heat Of The Night, Bryan Adams
85. Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You, Glenn Medeiros
86. Brilliant Disguise, Bruce Springsteen
87. Just To See Her, Smokey Robinson
88. Who Will You Run Too, Heart
89. Respect Yourself, Bruce Willis
90. Cross My Broken Heart, Jets
91. Victory, Kool and The Gang
92. Don't Get Me Wrong, Pretenders
93. Doing It All For My Baby, Huey Lewis and The News
94. Right On Track, Breakfast Club
95. Ballerina Girl, Lionel Richie
96. Meet Me Half Way, Kenny Loggins
97. I've Been In Love Before, Cutting Crew
98. (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party, Beastie Boys
99. Funkytown, Pseudo Echo
100. Love You Down, Ready For The World

Honestly, though I like lots of these songs, none of them is on my all-time-favorites list. Most of my very favorite bands (even from that era), don't seem to have had much out that year. All in all a pretty good year for music though, and I'm surprised at how many of these songs I not only remember, but could start humming immediately. I'm an unabashed sentimentalist with my music, which is probably obvious - I like pretty. Also singability (my ability to love something is halved if I can't reasonably hum along), and good rhythm.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

R. Daneel Olivaw for President!

"If a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you're on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring, where's your attention going to be?" That would be Dr. Laura talking about Sarah Palin.

Apparently she doesn't realize that she just made the case for electing robots to the Presidency, or maybe orphans raised by wolves. Because any human person - certainly any person with enough human feeling that you'd want them running things - is going to have loved ones. And people worry about their loved ones and are potentially distracted when bad things happen to them.

How insulting is it to men that she thinks a father (which would be every President I remember) would carry right on as if nothing of import were happening when their child was ill or in danger?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Push-up Postponement

Like Becky and several others, I was planning on following the 100 Pushups plan and seeing if I could boost my pushup performance from its current barely acceptable level. I had done the pretest and the first week twice (I'm going slowly due to the easily aggravated nature of my left elbow.).

This morning however, I got down to do my pushups for the day, and the heel of my hand landed on a largish glass sliver. I then reflexively jerked the hand sideways (with my weight still on it), and successfully drove the sliver way down in. It took Rob most of an hour with an Exacto knife and tweezers to get that sucker out. I now have an inch-and-a-half long cut, shallow on one end, quite deep on the other, exactly where I put my weight when doing pushups.

So I think I'll be dropping out for a week or so and then restarting. Right now the very idea of pushups is making me feel a little queasy. Yoga on Tuesday is going to take some modification too, I suspect. Primarily I'm crossing my fingers that extensive washing and liberal applications of Bacitracin are sufficient to keep it from getting infected.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Moments in Basset-hood

*sounds of dog scratching at door*

"Robbie, could you let the dog in?"

"He's not here."

*sounds of dog scratching at door*

*Wander off to look -dog is not at back door *

*sounds of dog scratching at door*

*Check bathrooms & bedrooms to see where dog got trapped. Nada*

*sounds of dog scratching at door*

*Open FRONT door. Dog trots in.*

"Nicky! How the $*#!! did you get out front?"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

State of the Brain

I spent the last few days getting my pituitary MRI again, plus blood tests various and sundry. This morning I went trotting off to the endocrinologist for the review.

The good news is that the adenoma hasn't changed at all in the eighteen months they've been watching it. Both my endo and the neuroendocrinologist agree that I can safely drop down to having an MRI every other year. Yay for fewer MRI's and resultant less money spent taking pictures of my brain!

Also in good news, my weight is stable despite a summer of much less activity than my norm, due to the combination of travelling and trouble getting to the gym while the kids are home from school.

The less good news is that except for thyroid, which is stable, all my other numbers are showing the effects of the more sedentary life. Everything is still in a decent range, but cholesterol is up, HDL is down, insulin sensitivity is down, LDL is up.

Fortunately I get back into my normal schedule next week (The Y is shut down for annual cleaning this week), and there shouldn't be any difficulty with kicking my numbers back into place within the next few months. Next week I'll go back to yoga and pilates, once I've recovered from those sore muscles, the next week I'll put back the Turbokick, and then the weight work. I'm debating between going back to the weight class, which was what I was doing before, and going to the weight room to do my own workout. I tend to be more loyal to classes, so I'm more likely to actually get regular hard workouts if I take the class. On the other hand, the class does a lot of lunges and squats, which aren't always on when my knee is acting up, and is somewhat awkwardly placed time-wise, as it starts 15 minutes before the kids' swim lesson, and ends at exactly the same time.

All this is at an apropos time, since my major work of the week is revising my article on pituitaries for the Damn Interesting book. It's somewhat frustrating because Alan wants the article done in a significantly different way from the way it now is. Instead he wants it - exactly the way I initially wrote the dratted thing last year, before I was asked to do major revisions. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure I didn't save my initial draft. Blarg.

Karate was all drill, all the time last night. We worked up a pretty good sweat, and Sensei was in an explaining mood, showing us bunkai from the early katas, and alternate ways the sequences of moves could go. Friday is kumite.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Teacher Night

I'm a few days late writing this one, but we met Aaron and Robbie's new teachers - or at least Robbie's new teacher. Aaron has Robbie's old teacher, so we made short work of getting reacquainted with her. She did a good job with Robbie, even though they weren't a match made in heaven, and she hit it perfectly when recommending his third grade teacher, so I'm happy Aaron has her.

Robbie's new teacher is still an unknown quantity. She seems nice enough and Robbie likes her, so first impressions are good. On the downside, she spent the classroom portion of meet-the-teacher night giving a presentation on how her class runs. It was informative, but she left no time for mingling and simply getting to know her better. Though I may be doing her a disservice, because Rob ran out of patience and we left about fifteen minutes early. On the good side at least one of the mothers I know with older children absolutely loves her. We will see. I am glad to notice more signs of independence with Robbie's homework this year. Last year he started doing his math in school before he came home - but I was thinking that was probably because his fourth grade teacher encouraged it. But he's doing it again already, so it seems to have become an established habit. Not only that, but at least one night he came home with his spelling homework already started. Now if only I can get him to pack his own backpack reliably...

Karate is a swelter this week. Our new location is an old building with unreliable air-conditioning. So far it's been out more than it's been in. Fortunately the Jazzercise people keep about six monster fans set up. The room sounds like an airfield, but at least there's moving air. I'd have been ready to fall over after sparring without them. As was I was just soaked. While we were in the park, sensei was allowing t-shirts & pants, but now that school has started and we're indoors, it's full uniforms.

I've started Sunsu and I'm really liking it so far. Though it inspires interesting comments from Sensei: "You look like you're cupping your boobs! Move your hands lower!" He still doesn't seem to have decided whether to pursue Tokomine no Kun or Kusanku Sai as my next weapons kata. If he doesn't start with one or the other soon, there's no way I'll have it down by the Lennox Legacy Tournament, which would leave me stuck with Simple Sai (I've done Tsu Yoi Bo three years running now). Erk. I hate finishing up learning katas just in time for tournaments. There's no time to get feeling really comfortable with them and they're much more prone to falling apart.
On a more optomistic note, I'm thinking of drilling Seisan in mirror fashion (left to right), and talking either T (blue belt, my age) or one of the purple belts (both young teens) into joining me for the team kata competition. I think two people doing mirror katas would look really cool.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Belt Musings #1

As people who read my blog regularly already know, I'm a brown belt looking at a probable test for black within the next year to eighteen months. Part of that testing is submitting three essays. I don't have the sheet listing subjects to hand, but one is on the meaning of the black belt, one on the meaning of martial arts in general, and the third is something more personal (Why do you take karate, or why did you choose Isshinryu, or something of that nature). Towards that end, I started writing on the first essay (What does a black belt mean to you?), only to discover that my thoughts were running off in several different directions which didn't seem to all fit well together in a single essay. So I thought I would make some blog posts on the subject and get my thoughts out in the open where I can get a good look at them - maybe see which themes develop into something essay worthy.

When I first started karate, I really didn't care at all about advancement or what color I had wrapped around my waist. My sensei was pretty casual about advancement - he only gave two formal tests: one for yellow; one for black. Other than that, he simply announced promotions just before the end of class as he thought you were ready. I was at that dojo for two and a half years and was promoted to brown just before I left. That final promotion was the first inkling I had that I did care about rank. Not because I was excited about being brown, but rather because I felt I didn't deserve the belt and was hideously uncomfortable about receiving it. In a dojo primarily known for fighting skills, I had been training for the last five months pregnant, unable to fight. I'd been training katas, largely by myself while the class fought, and without anyone other than my sensei himself to check me. There was no way I had the fighting skills that dojo expected of a brown belt - and even if I had, there was no way for me to show it.

That discomfort was underlined when six years later I tried a dojo in a different form of karate. That sensei requried newcomers to continue wearing the highest belt they had ever earned - his reasoning being that students on the floor deserved to know the potential skill level of the opponents they faced. Which was horrible from my point of view. The brown belt I already felt I hadn't deserved often left me acting as the senior student even as I was still learning their first form and basic exercises.

By the time I got back into Isshinryu, I knew that I cared very much that my belt not overrepresent my abilities and knowledge, but I still thought that I didn't care about advancement in the other direction. I wanted the knowledge and skills, not a black belt around my waist. Offered the chance to restart at white, I lept at it. With nearly eight years away from serious karate, I didn't feel I could live up to a higher rank.

At first, I was right. After that long, my skills had gotten pretty rusty, but they started coming back quickly. At the time, we were not in a formal dojo, having classes out on a volleyball court, and belt testing was sporadic, as Sensei had little to remind him of who was ready. Several times he would mention I was ready, and then forget to set a date. I was ready to test for yellow within a month of coming back - but I didn't actually test for nearly six months.

In those six months I discovered that I did care about that belt around my waist.

It wasn't that I minded wearing a white belt, per se, but it began to feel like playing pretend. I was coming to class wearing that white belt, and yet with skill levels well beyond people two and three ranks above me. It didn't make for good class dynamics, as someone who worked hard and long for an orange belt is unlikely to feel great about being trounced by a white belt, even when they know why the white belt is good. As an orange belt, I ended up running class at least once, because when Sensei was called away, the blue belts were not willing to teach me, but were more than willing to have me teach them. The belts weren't matching up with the actuality on the dojo floor.

And so I discovered a lust for a black belt. Or, more accurately, the lust to become a black belt. I had been uncomfortable wearing a brown belt, because in reality I wasn't a brown belt - I was a person wearing a strip of brown fabric around my waist. I was uncomfortable as a white belt later, because again, I wasn't a white belt, just wearing one. I discovered I wanted to become a black belt, to have the skills, abilities, and discipline that would make any other belt seem like a mismatch.

Now I'm a brown belt for the second time and it's a whole lot different. This time it's a good match for where I actually am in my karate journey, and I'm comfortable wearing it. However, part of being a karateka is the drive to improve. Being comfortable can never mean being complacent. So I have become ambitious. The drive to learn and improve is in some sense, inseparable from the drive to advance. So unless I give up my desire to do karate at all, then the black belt is going to mean a great deal to me. Because if I continue to improve, then eventually I will reach the point where I am a black belt, regardless of whether or not I wear one.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


For the interested, here are samples of various songs that were part of the Wellesley College Choir repertoire while I was in it. Unfortunately I can't find any tracks of the current choir, but imagine these done by an 80-120 woman choir that can split into up to 9 parts at need. We also sang with men's choirs on occassion - usually a rude shock for the poor men as they discovered what they had signed up for. The Worcester Glee Club (WPI Men's Chorus) sang with the Choir regularly up until the first time they sang with Constance directing, whereupon they took to singing with the Regis College Choir. Fortunately I had already met my husband Rob by then, since we met at one of those joint concerts.

Cantique de Jean Racine - Gabriel Faure

Lift Thine Eyes - Mendelssohn

The Snow - Elgar

Ceremony of Carols (video is Balulalow)- Benjamin Britten - When we did this I had the solo part for Balulalow, and this particular piece from within the Ceremony of Carols was sung by the Chamber Singers, even though the whole choir did most of the pieces.

Es ist ein Ros entsprugen - Brahms

God Bless the Master of this House -

Requiem - Mozart (Lacrymosa and Domine Jesu in video)

Unfortunately, the more contemporary pieces are a lot harder to find on-line, so most of these are classical. Some of this is due to more people preferring to post pop and classical, some due to things like common names (You try finding the modern piece "Love" when you can't remember the composer!), and some due to my imperfect memory. Some of the pieces I remember but couldn't find on-line are:
Gesang aus Ossians Fingal - Johannes Brahms
The Virgin Martyrs - Samuel Barber
Litinies a la Vierge Noir - Poulenc

All three of those are gorgeous, and if you get the chance to hear them, you should. Particualarly #4 of Gesang aus Ossians Fingal, which is possibly the single most beautiful piece of music I've ever heard.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Pursuit of Perfection

Elizabeth McClung of Screw Bronze wrote an entry based on a segment of my entry on our new dojo. She got me thinking about the perfection as a goal, how we get there, how you drive yourself to achieve.

Perfection has been both boon and bane of my existence. A boon when it drives me forward, taking me to levels I wouldn't have thought I could attain. A bane when it's very unattainability causes me to either drive myself past the point of diminishing returns, or worse, causes me to simply toss my hands up and give up. The pursuit of is why I have a novel at all, let alone another two in process. But perfectionism is why I can't ever seem to make that novel good enough to pass my own muster and get sent out into the world.

My first real experience of an utter drive to perfection came in the form of my college choir director. The new director, that is. I tried out for the Wellesley College Choir when I first arrived on campus and made it in. At that point they had a director who had been with the choir for 40+ years. He ran a warm, friendly choir. They were good, no doubt, but they were comfortable. That Christmas I got my first ever solo part (I had been a year behind a couple of extraordinary singers in HS, and then switched schools my senior year.). I thought I had this singing thing pretty well down.

Then after winter break, things changed. Our old director got ill, and we started a hunt for a new director. In the meanwhile we had a temporary director. Our interim director pushed us harder, gave us new material, and generally livened the place up. We loved him, and most of us wished he could become the new director, but he committed to Harvard instead. So we started interviewing candidates. I remember four, but I'm not sure if there were more than that. The choir officers would review applications, then interview, and then the choir would have a working interview.

Constance stood out from the pack. She wasn't able to make the working interview on a regular choir night - so she came to the Collegium Musicum to do her trial. Unlike the Choir, the Collegium did not do tryouts. Anybody who liked medieval music was welcome to sing - so we had everything from serious musicians and singers, to people who had serious trouble holding pitch. I was in it largely because I would sing in any group that would have me - for someone with perfect relative (though not absolute) pitch, the Collegium could be pretty painful on occassion.

The night Constance tried out, she stood us in a row, and tried to get us to divide a whole note into sixteenths (that being the number of people we had that night) - not rhythmically, by pitch. The person on the left hand side started by singing a C, the next person sang just slightly higher, the next higher still, until (theoretically) the last person was singing a D with the group having gotten there by even steps.

She nearly managed it. With a group of largely untrained (maybe 50%) singers, many of who couldn't hold a pitch to match the group, she nearly managed to get even 16th divisions. I was completely floored. The rest of her trial was equally impressive, but that one thing was what stuck in my mind. When time came for the final vote, I voted for Constance, and urged everyone who would listen to me to do the same. And she got the job.

We had no idea what we were in for.

The next year Constance (DeFotis) showed up. The differences became evident immediately. By Flower Sunday, the first concert of the year, only two weeks into the school year, it was already evident that this was new management indeed. Good wasn't good enough. Flower Sunday, by its nature tends to have old familiar music, but even with stuff we knew cold, Constance found things to work on - lots of things. Lots and lots of things. Our unison wasn't great. Our vocal technique wasn't great. Our rhythm wasn't solid enough. After Flower Sunday she started introducing new and more challenging music, and driving us harder than ever. We went from good to excellent. At the same time, she instituted a Glee Club to be a training ground for singers who weren't quite up to her stringent standards for the choir, and a Chamber Singers as an elite group. By the time the choir auditioned for new singers in my junior year, the choir had become so much better and so much higher profile, that despite the requirements being more stringent than ever, we had the largest choir ever - 127 women.

It didn't last. My junior year we were scheduled to go on tour (Ireland, England, Wales) in the spring and compete in the Limerick Choral Festival. Within three months we had gone from the largest choir ever to the smallest. Constance drove us. We learned new music - amazingly difficult contemporary pieces, complicated classical pieces, even one piece written just for us by her brother, William DeFotis named (no I'm not kidding): How Many Times Have We Found Ourselves Mouthing Recieved Opinions, Using the Language of Oppression, Before We No Longer Have Any Claim To Be Oblivious, To Our Having Become, Both Victims and Perpetrators of Injustice. If you think it's a mouthful to say, it was much more to sing. We were expected to practice several hours a week on our own time as well as the time in official practice. When we went home for winter break we were expected to memorize a pile of new music - in German. We were tested in quartets when we got back - and everybody failed. Constance was disgusted. At the first rehearsal she absolutely tore into us, and then started working us even harder. It was insanely hard. Every word of every piece was memorized. We rehearsed them in sections, in quartets, with our eyes closed, in triplets, while counting - any and every way I have ever heard of to rehearse music. We worked on our singing technique. We worked on responsiveness to our director. We worked on our German diction with a native German student. And we did all of this over and over and over to Constance's exacting standards. I alternated between loving how much better I was getting - how much better we were getting - and hating how much work and how much of a time suck the whole thing was. Was it really worth thirty minutes of drill just to better differentiate our triplets from our quadruplets? Was it worth doing that drill over and over again?

The tour was astonishing. We knew we were improving, but from the inside, we never really got a good view of just how much we had improved. At the Choral Festival we won our section easily - and then we won the whole shebang. We were the first non-Irish choir to ever win that competition (going by what the other choirs were saying, I've never actually looked it up), with the highest score ever given. We blew the roof off!

But the most amazing thing was that the competition wasn't what we were shooting for. The competition was the side-effect. What we were shooting for was perfection, and while we never achieved it, as no one ever can, we became glorious in its pursuit.

I have, somewhere in my old tapes, a recording of the Wellesley Choir in my senior year. It's the Vespers concert. In the middle of a song (Lullay my Liking), one of the soloists comes in a third high, leaving us in the wrong key. In the split second between the end of the solo and the entry of the choir, Constance gave us the correct note. Every person caught the cue and the choir comes in on time and on key. In the recording, even having been there and knowing exactly what happened and when, I cannot hear the correction. It was that fast and seamless. Never before or since have I been part of a group that truly excellent.

But I keep hoping that someday I will. And I keep striving to become that truly excellent in my individual endeavors, knowing that the glory is at least as much in the pursuit as in the achievement.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to School

Both kids are safely ensconced back at elementary school again. It's hard to fathom that this is Robbie's last year here. Next year he'll be busing down the road to middle school.

Aaron's teacher is who we thought it was - the same teacher Robbie had for second grade. He was scared when we went in Wed. morning, but recognized her as soon as she came over to say hello, and relaxed immediately. His best friend Ashley has moved (fortunately only one town over), so he was also nervous about who his classmates were, but there are at least two kids in there he knows, and several who are new to the school altogether, so that makes him happy. I was a little surprised by his thinking in being happy about new kids in his class, but his explanation is that new kids don't come in with friends already made, so they're more likely to be open to being friends with him. Logical enough, I suppose!

I'm having a horrible time remembering Robbie's teacher's name. Every time I think I've got it down, I ask Robbie and it's wrong. It's long, ethnic (though not as distinctively ethnic as I keep thinking), and begins with an H. I'll get it eventually. There are half-a-dozen kids Robbie knows in there, and at least a couple he likes, including the little girl who lives behind us. He seems to like his teacher, which is great. We get to go in next week for a meet-the-teachers evening, and I'm looking forward to it.

Robbie's also decided he wants to try out for the track team. This is surprising, since he's never shown any interest in any kind of sports before. He's already practicing, doing several wind sprints on our way home from school. He wants me to start timing him as he goes. Also surprisingly, this seem to have nothing to do with the Olympics, though he's now planning on watching the track-and-field events next week, which he hadn't particularly thought about before.

I'm running very short on sleep these days, due to the aforementioned Olympics. The swimming has been fantastic, of course, but I've been paying most attention to the gymnastics and the equestrian events. Rob, who really doesn't give squat about any of it, has been very good about letting me watch without griping about how it all doesn't really mean anything anyway, or how I should really give up and go to sleep. I have been discussing the gymnastics with my friendL in Massachusetts though, to avoid making him repeatedly discuss stuff he doesn't care about. For myself, I grew up listening to Dad (who was a college gymnast, and quite good) commenting on the gymnastics, and as with most things, the more you know, the more interesting they are. I never got very far with gymnastics myself (too big, not enough explosive power), but did enough to appreciate just how darned tough those routines are. The injury rates on elite gymnasts are horrific (I believe 93% have either broken a bone, or had a soft-tissue injury severe enough to require surgery.), and their toughness and dedication to their sport is truly awesome.

So I guess I'll be losing sleep for at least a few more days.