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.