Sunday, December 02, 2012

Post-NaNo Goals

Alrighty - so that was a month. Overall, I'm really tickled with my NaNoWriMo results this year. I've ended up with a viable first draft novel; something that not only doesn't happen every time I do NaNo, but doesn't even happen every time I win NaNo (I.e. sometimes I end up with 50,000 words that still don't make a workable story).

This time I have a story. I have not only a plot, but at least two or three viable subplots, and a nice major twist at the end - which, entertainingly enough was not the major twist I had planned. The twist I had planned is still part of the universe, but there was no good place within this book to put it, so I think it's getting moved to book two. The major twist for this novel didn't come to me until I was literally writing the conversation in which it appears. My two major male characters have a conversation right after the big final battle and in that conversation one of them dropped this bomb that I hadn't seen coming, but which makes total sense in context of both book and character. The ironic thing was that in the first iteration of this book, which I wrote several years ago, and which got stalled out a bit beyond the halfway point, this is the same character responsible for that stalling out. Very opinionated character there - if he doesn't agree with what's going on, he effectively refuses to do anything, but if things are going well, he helps push them along nicely. Well, maybe not nicely, Radik is not a nice sort of person really. But he's fun to write, and I think this second iteration of the book is a significantly better book than the first version would have been.

For the next couple of months, my writing goals will be to finish filling the plot holes and straighten out the currently somewhat wonky timeline in the first draft, so I can send it out to beta readers and with luck, get some decent feedback. I'm planning on putting 500-1000 new words per day on the draft, but probably not much more than that, since the structure/timeline issues need as much work as the filling in, and that's not likely to be adding much verbage.

For other goals this month, I have a lot of house cleaning to do, since things suffered mightily during NaNo, especially the last week, when post-Thanksgiving left me with 3000+ words/day to be written. Plus there's a lot of singing for church coming up. I don't know if I'll get anything soloish for Christmas Eve this year (which would be a disappointment, since I really, really would like something), but I can't complain too much if I don't, since the reason would likely be the sheer amount of solo singing I'm doing in Advent. There are enough people capable of doing solo work in this church that if I do four pieces in five weeks, it's likely to cause some upset, and that's understandable. It is a bit unfortunate in that it seems to be a reversion to an improved version of my problem under the last choir director, which was that he gave me solo work not because he liked my singing and wanted me to do solos, but because he would want certain things done, and I would be the last singer standing - the only one with the technical chops to do what he wanted to do. This new director seems to have more regard for me as a singer, but there's still an extent to which I seem to be getting the solo pieces because I'm the one who can learn a technical piece fast enough and reliably enough to do it on short notice, and he seems to fly by the seat of his pants a lot. In many ways I think I'd feel a lot happier doing fewer solos that were done more deliberately, and more because they suit me, suit the occasion, and are beautiful, than because "we need something for this Sunday, and the choir isn't ready. Cindy can you sing X?"

Next Sunday should be special, though. We'll be doing a piece for choir, bells, solo flute (Robbie!!!!) and soprano (me!). It will feel wonderful to get to do a piece for church with Robbie and I working together. He and I have both learned our parts separately. This week we need to start working together at home, so that by Wed. rehearsal it won't throw him to suddenly have the other parts there. Plus our director tends to not allow for a lot of rehearsal time, so the more prepared we are ahead of time, the better.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Lennox Legacy and NaNo Begins!

Well, NaNoWriMo seems to be off to a good start. I'm up over 5000 words despite spending the weekend up in Akron, OH. Plus, after the first scene, the re-created Flayed Queen seems to be taking off in a significantly different direction than the first one, which is good in two ways. First, it means I'm not limiting myself to trying to imitate something I did before closely, which would be very limiting. Second, my first edition of FQ got stuck at about the three-quarter mark with plotting issues involving an extremely uncooperative character.

This time, I seem to be concentrating on different aspects of the plot, and I have pre-warning of my stubborn survivalist, so I have hopes of a clean run to the end. I even got in about five hand-written pages while I was on the road, which kept me on track for word count. Wish me luck as I plow into the middle sections in the next few days.

As I do at the start of every November, I spent this weekend up at the Lennox Legacy tournament. It's run by Sensei Heidi Gauntner, who is one of the most experienced tournament organizers in the Isshinryu world - by now she runs an excellent smooth tournament - always worth going to. This year was a little different. Sensei Gauntner will be running the IWKA Isshinryu World Tournament in 2013, and she is starting now to try to make things run smoothly. Toward this end, she is working with a few of the most highly ranked people in the IWKA (Hanshi Duessel and Hanshi Markum) to create a new set of rules for judges within the IWKA. The new rules are intended to encourage more clean, proper technique and more consistent judging both within and across rings.

Since revealing the new rules at the giant World Tournament would be an invitation to disaster, Sensei Gauntner held a seminar on Friday night for all the black belts who could make it, to explain, discuss and illustrate the new rules. The center judges at the Lennox Legacy were then chosen from those who had been at the seminar, and supposedly disseminated to the corner judges.

The seminar was really interesting, and having been over them thoroughly now, I like most of the new rules. There are bits that need to be better explained, or more explicitly stated, but it's a much better set of guidelines than we've ever had to go by before. Applying them the next day proved to be a lot more difficult, as a number of the judges, including ones who were at the seminar, and absolutely should have known better, were only applying the new standards haphazardly. My particular center judge was mostly applying the new rules, but failed to explain them to her corners at all, and on a couple of occasions ignored them for no apparent good reason. I gather some of the other judges were uneven in application, probably due to confusion or disagreement with some of the standards. In general, though, the new standards seemed to hold up well. The new kata scoring system in particular seemed to work much more smoothly. I suspect that the new rules will be in effect in pretty similar form to this by the World Tournament, and that they will work pretty well, despite the inevitable pain and grousing of trying to get this kind of change through a bunch of people as inherently conservative (in the non-political sense) as senior black belts.

I was intending to compete this year, but got drafted by the scorekeepers instead. There were a good number of competitors, but a real shortage of support people (making Heidi and Marybeth's superb organizational skills a real life-saver), so I opted to go where I was needed. Scorekeeping turned out to be both informative and a lot of fun (my partner was great), and I got to see a lot more of what was going on than I usually do. I do want to compete at the World Tournament, though, so if Marybeth wants to draft me again, she's going to have to wait until the senior women blackbelt ring finishes.

Summary - Lennox Legacy is a great tournament, a lot of fun, and you should go (it's open, not Isshinryu only).

For this week - I'm on a writing/cleaning challenge kick. I'm hoping to spend the next few days alternating between writing NaNo and cleaning my disaster of a house. With any luck you should see a before/after post or some variant of one later this week. In the meanwhile, wish me luck - I take Robbie (who is needle phobic) in for a blood draw in the morning.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo KickOff Party

Despite having been here for eight years, and doing NaNo all but one of them, I've never been to any of the local NaNo events. First off, they're generally across the river, making them a fair drive to get too, and secondly, they are invariably weekends and evenings, which are usually spoken for. This time, though, I kicked free the couple hours of a Sunday afternoon and went to the kick-off party. It was pretty good sized - thirty-plus people by my guesstimate - and a lot of fun. I met about five people of the thirty, two of whom are already published authors, if of small-press, or e-book only books. We had lunch, wrote a story together (one line from each person), had a dare draw, and other such things.

Eight days and counting to NaNo!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NaNoWriMo - Ten Point Novel Template

Here's my completed template (the template itself comes from Lynn Viehl at paperbackwriter) for the novel I'm intending to write for this year's NaNoWriMo challenge. It should be noted that I did a successful NaNo with this same novel several years back - except that a) I didn't do any pre-planning, and got bolluxed and stuck about halfway through the plot, and b) That file, along with several others, was lost completely when my hard drive crashed about two years ago. I really liked my characters and the basic idea of the story, though, so I thought I'd give it another shot with a bit more focus, and see if I could get an entire first draft down instead of 50,000 meandering words with some neat bits.

I've also done a lot of thinking about the world and character in the intervening years, and have the basic set-up for novel #2 (Dragon) pretty clear in my head, if not the resolution or plot twists yet. Book #3 (Dominion) is vaguer, which is funny as heck, because this whole series stems from a scene at the beginning of book 3, which then led me to start working forward and backward with the character in that scene (How did she get here? Why are things like this? What happens next?) I'm amused that the book idea that started the whole thing is still nebulous as hell while the two prequels are pretty clear in my head.

 Note to readers: Please, please, feel free to critique this - offer ideas, commentary, or anything else you please. The more thinking I do about this at this stage of the game, the smoother November is going to be, and the more likely that I'll end up with a workable finished product.

The Flayed Queen – Book One: Demon

Ten Point Plot Template:

Who: Davila – novice mage
          Radik – journeyman mage, demon hunter
          Demon – various names

What:  Radik and Davila must prevent the demon from opening the Portal to Other Worlds, or when that fails, reseal it.

When/Where: The small country of Inviko, approximately 500 years after the demon wars (when the demon arrived), and about 1500 years after humans arrived.

Why:  Demon life is incompatible with human life. Wounds they cause do not heal, and their general presence causes instability and panic. An invasion would likely eradicate humans from the planet.

Primary plot line: Davila knows nothing of magic, and Radik must teach her what she needs to know while they try to track the demon cross country.

Subplot #1:  As one of a pair of male/female fraternal twins, Davila and her twin Daav automatically become heirs to the regnants if she becomes a functioning mage.

Subplot #2:  The demon subverts the nuva-regnant (the non-mage ruling twin) with a promise to help her wrest mage powers from her brother, who is distracted and ineffectual as a leader, in return for her help to open the Portal “so it can return home.”

Subplot #3:  The magus-regnant is dabbling in forbidden magic trying to get his wife to conceive.

Major Twist: Humans are no more native to this land than the demons are. In fact they were the successful demon invasion of their own era, having adapted to this world over the last 1500 years. (I.e. 1500 years ago, they were as inimical to life on this world as current demons are.) Demons may even be human as they were then – nobody knows.

Resolution:  The demon succeeds in opening the Portal, but Davila and Radik manage to seal it again before more than a handful come through. Daav, warned by Davila, manages to get enough of the army there to kill those who come through. Davila is terribly mauled, and as of the end, her survival is still in question.

Writing and Deliberate Practice

As we head into NaNoWriMo season, I find myself once again trying to figure out this writing as a possible career stuff. Frankly, while other things, as always, figure in, I just don't feel like I've gotten to be a good enough, steady enough writer to make a career right this moment. I can write decently. I can tell a good story. But I'm not a consistent writer, nor an outstanding one.

Unsurprisingly, the key to becoming a consistent, excellent writer is practice. Not just any practice, but dedicated, directed practice. Practice on things that I need to improve. Practice with feedback, so that I can tell what I need to improve. And lots of it.

And that's where things get a little tricky. Because quality feedback is hard to come by. Submitting stories and novels gets one sort of feedback, but generally until you clear the minimum bar of acceptability, you don't get feedback beyond "This isn't for us." You don't know if an editor liked your plot, but the characterization was wooden until the story is good enough to warrant more than a form letter rejection. For people (like me) who tend to think and write in novel-length plots, the rate of feedback to effort from just writing and submitting is huge, and not particularly helpful.

So, if I want to become the writer I think I can become, I need to figure out how to do a few things. I need to find ways to work on specific aspects of novel craft during daily writing - so that my daily writing becomes working for improvement, not just words flung onto computer screen. I need to find quality feedback for those same aspects of my writing, so that I have some measure for improvement. And I need to leap the Dunning-Kruger gap, and find ways to learn what it is I don't know about novel writing, so I can set about learning it. Right now, an awful lot of what I "know" about structure, pacing, and the technical scaffolding of a novel is subconscious - something gleaned by the immense amounts of reading I've done my whole life. It gives me a pretty good feel for when something is working right, but few ideas of what's going wrong when something isn't working, and even fewer ideas of how to fix it. That's all knowledge that needs to become conscious and explicit if I'm to become consistently better at this writing stuff.

I can crank out a B+ college paper pretty much as fast as I can lay the words down on the page, but that's not the skills I need now, nor the kind of writing I want to do. Time to set out and find what else I need to do.

Expect to see a lot of speculation, exploration of these things, particularly through NaNoWriMo, as I try to finish the re-boot of The Flayed Queen (discussion of that later), because by the time NaNo is over, I want to have some plan of action in place, so that I don't lapse into post-novel ennui. If you haven't run into NaNoWriMo, go look it up. It's a lot of fun, even if you don't want to become a writer forever.

Friday, October 12, 2012

That Japanese Stuff

In the process of focusing my efforts, I'm running into things that are maybes - things that could arguably help my main goals, but aren't indispensable. The biggest of these by current time and effort is my push to learn Japanese. I've been working on it for close to a year now, at varying levels of commitment, and am at the verge between beginning and intermediate student by most measures.

Now, learning Japanese is a lot of fun, but actually learning a language in some useable form takes daily commitment, and it's link to my three main purposes is not so clear. It doesn't particularly help me be a better wife or mother (or at least any more than any other satisfying intellectual pursuit would). It helps me as a writer only in as much as learning more about how languages work in general can make me more aware of how I use my English.

The karate front is where the closest connection of Japanese to my purposes is (duh, right?). It's perfectly possible to be a serious, committed karate student without ever learning more Japanese than required by the dojo. However, ours is an Okinawan art, our Osensei speaks Japanese natively and English only poorly, and knowing what the words of Japanese used to describe our art actually mean can definitely affect how you see them. Just for one example "uke" is generally translated as "block", but comes much closer in meaning to "reception". Last, and most direct, I'm hoping to make a training trip to study with Master Shimabuku in 2014. If I can understand him directly, if I'm not tied at the hip to a translator, if I can carry on my own conversation and ask my own questions, I suspect I will get a lot more out of the trip. Not to mention, I suspect strongly that learning Japanese will help me go on the trip in the first place, as the Sensei organizing the trip has many, many applicants, and will probably be weeding them out on various criteria.

So I think for now, the Japanese will stay. I will be paying close attention to how much time I spend on it, though. The language podcasts in the car can stay - not otherwise used time right now. My writing practice is mostly on the bus while chaperoning the marching band right now (other than 20 minutes each night on specific kanji). As a major plus, if I can get my reading to a middling fluent level, I can practice the Japanese by reading things relevant to either writing (there are a lot of phenomenal Japanese writers) or karate, which will combine.

Thoughts? Am I deluding myself because I like learning Japanese and don't want to give it up? Or is this a reasonable decision vis-a-vis my focusing efforts?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Change in Philosophy - or the Return of the Blogger

So - I've obviously been away from blogging for quite some time. Past the point where an "Oops!" is the appropriate return post. So I'm viewing this as effectively the start of a new blog with the same name. And, hopefully, a few of the same readers returning, which would be lovely.

Nothing particularly happened to cause the long blog hiatus, just my life as my life usually is - and therein lies the problem, and the titular change of philosophy. My sub-title "Life is too short to specialize." is seeming less and less appropriate, and more and more like a problem. My life is full of too much. A cousin of mine aptly called me a skills collector, but I think I've hit the point where amassing more "good enough" skills, or even more "pretty darned good" skills isn't going to do anything for me. I need to focus on making some skills "so good they can't ignore me" (Steve Martin), and that requires more focus.

  I've been reading through Cal Newport's blog (which I highly recommend btw), and discovering that much of what he writes about learning, careers and passion seems to apply to me in spades. The biggest and most stunning was the idea that following your passion is a trap for many people. If you're convinced that you need to find and follow your passion, it can lead to being a dilettante, always skipping from one thing to another, hoping that this one will be your one true passion. But what if you don't have One True Passion? I mean, I don't believe in the One True Soul Mate, but rather that there are many people out there that I could have satisfying, meaningful relationships with. Which means that a bump in the relationship road doesn't mean that I mistakenly married the wrong person, but rather that relationships have bumps sometimes. Even a loss of passion isn't a death knell, but rather a warning flare that the relationship needs attention.

What if careers work the same way? When I change focus from "what am I passionate about" (which is either everything or nothing depending on where you draw the lines), or "what am I good at" (which is too darned many things to be useful), to "what things do I do that I could see making a life out of doing?" things suddenly fell into much better focus. Mr. Newport advocates in one spot no more than three focuses, one or two work focuses, and one hobby. And when I looked at my life and said "What three things are that important to me?" I came back with three answers easily. Mom/wife, writer, karateka. So for at least the next year, and if results are promising, continuing on from there, I'll be concentrating on those three things. Of any commitment, the questions will be "Does it make me a better wife or mother?", "Does it make me a better writer?" and "Does it make me a better karateka?" if the answer is no to those three, then I'm not making a commitment to it. This doesn't mean I'm not doing anything else, but that I'm not working on actively improving those things. I'll still play piano. I'll still sing. I'll still knit and do fiberwork. But I won't be committing to doing those things, or making active attempts to become better at them. In effect I'll become a purposeful dilettante at everything else to give myself the time and energy to really improve on the other three.

Which brings me to the rededicating of this blog. In writing my biggest problem is that I simply don't write enough. I've been doing better lately about getting my butt into my chair every day, but while I write a lot for someone off the street, I don't write much for a would be professional writer, let alone for someone trying to actively improve her craft. That's writing of all kinds, and I'm not excluding blog updates. I enjoyed writing the blog, and it is writing practice if I use it as such, so blogging is back on the menu. Expect to see updates at least several times a week. And as one might suppose, I expect to be covering a somewhat narrower range of topics. Not all that narrow - I am still a polymath at heart - but put through the lens of my more narrowed focus.

 *Waves* Hi! I'm Cindy, your new writing/karate blogger! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Perfumery and other stuff

Actually, let's start with the other stuff, because by golly, I'm proud of this:

This is a piece of needlepoint I've been working on for over two years. I finished it this afternoon, and will be taking it to the framer tomorrow. I may even keep it. (I generally give my needlework away as gifts.) The kanji under the butterfly reads "Beautiful" - I will note that doing needlework of a kanji certainly ingrains it to your memory. I may have only a couple dozen kanji memorized, but "beautiful" is definitely one of them.

Next up is a counted cross-stitch peacock. I have no idea how long it's liable to take me.

Karate continues pretty well. We'll be shifting over to a new room next class because the Jazzercise studio is switching rooms. We've gotten a look at the new place, and as long as they finish by tomorrow night, it should be quite nice (they were still painting, and there were finishing nails all over the floor as of Thursday). I may bring a broom to class just in case, since a tetanus shot is not on my agenda for the evening. We had a good sparring night this last Tuesday, the first in quite a while. Once again, I wonder why defense is always the first thing to go when I'm not getting in good practice. Sensei D says he's almost back in decent enough shape to start sparring again, which would be awesome - it's been over a year since he had to stop, and as small as we are, it makes a big difference. We're also supposed to get two "new" students this week, which is even better. "New" is in quotes because one is a returnee - she trained with us three years ago, and then got into soccer. Now she's back, and with a good bit more maturity than before (8 to 11 makes a huge difference). The other is a TKD black belt who wishes to do Isshinryu. I haven't met him before, but Sensei TJ has. If both of them really join up and keep coming, it will make a huuuge difference to our classes, which would be wonderful.

And last, though not least, the perfumes. Explanation first: Rob got me a sampler set of perfumes from ZOMG Smells! for Christmas. Through the month of January, I was trying one a day and posting the results on Facebook. Then it occurred to me that I really needed to keep my opinions on the perfumes somewhere where I could find them again, for future orders and the like. So I thought I'd post them here. Plus a lot of the people on FB got a kick out of the reviews, because the sampler set in question is ZOMG Smells! "You're wearing WHAT?!!" - a set of their weirdest named perfumes. So for my records and your amusement, a list of perfumes and my opinions on them - keep in mind that perfumes can smell very different on different people, so what I love, you might hate and vice versa. I do recommend their sampler kits though, great fun!

In rough order from most loved to least:

Five Stars:

Sugar Dragon: Sweet and smoky - the site says sugared almonds, but to me this smells like rose incense. My runaway favorite out of this set, and the one I'm wearing daily now. When wearing it, I keep running my nose up my wrist, it just smells that good.

Kudzu Doom: Goes on as resinous pine, turns mellow and flowery over the course of the day. Another one that makes me look like I'm longing to eat my arms.

Four and a Half Stars:

Kuiper Belt Objects Unite in Vengeance: Dark cherry and smoke. Similar in kind to Sugar Dragon, and I like it very nearly as well.

Four Stars:

Seagull Eating a Starfish: Light, dry and gingery. (Described as beach and sea scents with a gingery whiff of starfish terror.) The lightest of the scents that I really like. I tend to use it on karate days, where I don't want to knock people over with a stronger scent.

Coronal Mass Ejection: Vanilla and orange on first application, turns into warm, sweet amber.

That Dream You Have Where You're Naked at School: Sharp citrus/green scent that turns to vanilla/orange as it settles. For some reason I rather liked this citrus when I didn't care for most of the others.

Three and a Half Stars:

Sexy Giant Isopod: Starts as a powder and incense smell and ends up as warm amber. I like the final scent much more than the beginning, but don't find the initial smells offensive. This is an experimental scent, and not part of the standard ZOMG offerings.

Pirate Queen (off duty): Smoke and burnt wood which mellows into cloves and incense.

Deified: A quite sweet scent, mostly vanilla notes. I found it pleasant, but uninteresting on me.

Brontosaurus Loves Triceratops: Not sweet at all - warm, grassy and dry start to finish. Would make a nice guy's scent, I think.

Three Stars:

Four Seasons in Mighty Contention over Trivial Matters: Starts off with a kick of anise, then for me mellows out into sweet amber. I gather this one is particularly sensitive to personal chemistry, smelling very different on different people. I rather liked the smell after about two hours, but knocked a point off the score for the strong anise at the start, which I didn't like at all.

Snail Fur: A light and woody scent going on which becomes a light, warm amber, which somehow smells fuzzy. Pleasant and light.

Swift-Tuttle's Shiny Butt: Light woods and resins. Nice enough scent, but it had no staying power on me - it was gone within a couple of hours.

Wrestling Tigers While Calling Your Mum Long Distance: Complex and powdery. It was hard for me to discern individual notes in this one. Okay, but unremarkable.

Two and a half Stars:

Lemonbomb: Pretty well as one would expect. Strong lemon to start with, with a slightly astringent smell in the background. It fades to a citrusy amber. Not horrible, just not my scent at all.

Soft Lavender Cake: Strong cake batter smell, fades in to the more herbal lavender scent. Really, really smells like baking cake - to the point where Aaron wandered through the room and wanted to know what was in the oven.

The Triumph of Direct Current over the Peril of Alternating Current: Starts as orange and pepper and mellows into a citrus/incense scent. I would have thought I'd like citrus scents (I love them in the house), but I just didn't care for most of them on me.

Smoky Black Chai: As advertised, strong spicy tea/chai smell. I like it once it fades a little, but there's a very strong initial kick of anise that I didn't care for at all.

Two Stars:

Requiem for the Juan de Fuca Plate: Minty! Starts as chocolate mint. Over time the chocolate fades out, leaving mint and incense. Apparently I just don't care for mint in my perfumes.

One and a half Stars:

Candy Mechanic: Chocolate with a whiff of machine oil. Oddly enough it's the chocolate I object to. It really does smell like fudge sauce, and I don't want to smell like an ice-cream sundae. If you do, this might be the scent for you.

Giant Robot Birthday Party: Coconut, vanilla, cake - and a metallic tinge, like a cake that's been baked in an old, scratched aluminum pan. Didn't care for this at all, the metallic tinge is very slight, but enough to put me off, and the main perfume scent is too sweet for my taste.

- there was nothing rated under one-and-a-half stars. My rough divisions are:
5 - love, love, love: want to smell myself all day long
4.5 - like a lot, will happily wear, but just don't obsess over like the fives
4.0 - like a lot, will wear willingly, but isn't as much "me"
3.5 - like pretty well, willing to wear, but doesn't excite me at all
3.0 - okay, willing to wear, but has some note that bothers me
2.5 - ehh. Not objectionable, but not something I want to wear
2.0 - ehhh again. Don't care for it, but not awful.
1.5 - don't like at all - not terrible smelling, but not good either
1.0 - actively dislike
0.5 - this is perfume? Why would anyone wear this?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Welcome to 2012!

Wow - has it really been Halloween since I last posted? I need to do better about updating here! It's really easy to get out of the habit, and the next thing you know it's months later and you haven'tput a thing on the blog. Oops!

Life has actually been fairly busy over here. Karate continues apace. All three of our white belts have passed their yellow belt tests within the last month, so congratulations to all of them! It's very nice to look at the class and see all that color. Now I just want to see a little less color again - a few new white belts, and our brown making the leap to black would make the winter just perfect.

I, personally, appear to be on a serious learning binge. Given that I'm always learning something (hence the name of the blog) this translates into a serious amount of new stuff coming down the pike. In karate, I'm plugging away at Urashi Bo, the longest of our kata, and my second-to-last 1-person kata to learn. I seem to be about a third of the way through right now, which means about the length of one of our normal kata. In karate-related, I'm plugging away at learning Japanese. This is seriously fascinating, and the more I learn, the more interesting it gets. It's very, very different from English, and it's probably going to take a while to achieve any fluency. Right now I can form and parse simple sentences. I can (for example) Ask how much something is, where something is, order food, introduce people, or discuss the weather (and have some prayer of understanding answers). We'll see how all this holds up the next time it gets put to use (2013 at the next World Tournament at the earliest).

In addition, somewhat inspired by the Japanese, I've been brushing up on my French, at which I used to be fairly fluent, but which I let lapse after never really having a real-life use for it. I may never speak French real-time, real-life to a French person, but at least I can read my Tintin and Asterx le Gaul books in the original (OMG there are soo many puns in the Asterix in French. It's awesome!)

We have a new choir director at church now, and he's exercising me pretty thoroughly too. Whereas the previous choir director seemed to be a little reluctant to have me sing, and would often only decide to have me do something reluctantly and at the last moment, the new guy seems to be more than eager to have me do solo work. Unfortunately the first thintg he's pulled out for me is gospel. I love good gospel, but I have never trained or sung gospel (unless you count two songs sung as part of my HS choir), and my usual style of presentation runs to the formal and somewhat stiff. I'm very afraid that me attempting gospel may be more pathetic than inspiring. Or possibly inspiring of laughter! I'll give it my best, but we'll have to see how it goes down. I'm very hopeful, though, that once he runs me through my paces on a couple of his choices, he might let me choose to sing something of my choosing, which would be really awesome. (Also something that's never happened at this church. I tend to do solo work when it's down to "We want to do this piece, and Cindy's the only one who can (hit the high B, handle that run, learn it that fast, etc.) which means I do a decent amount of solo work, but almost never stuff I love.)

In a complete aside, I did not, despite pre-planning for almost an entire year, get to do a duet of "Oh, Holy Night" at Christmas. For some reason I did not quite fathom, the Music Committee decided that the ladies who did the piece three years ago should repeat this year - and then those ladies decided, when it got to be the week before Christmas and they were still having serious performing problems, that they would bow out and not sing. At which point it was too late for Cindy and Cindy to get back in. So bummer, I still didn't get my shot, but at least we broke the standing tradition of "It's not Christmas until somebody mangles "Oh, Holy Night"! Seriously, if after this much effort I had had to listen to a bad rendition, I think I would have burst into tears.

And the last bit of new learning for the new year, and my favorite of all? The flute! My wonderful sons, with their father's collaboration, got me a flute of my very own for Christmas. (My precioussssss!) Despite various family medical emergencies (now over, thank goodness), I have practiced every single day since. I'm up to about an octave-and-a-half of range, though I still have some problems with flipping registers unintentionally. Recognizable (if breathy) music can be heard! I've wanted to play the flute since middle school, and it would never have occurred to me to ask for one for Christmas, but I really, really love it it pieces.