Thursday, August 31, 2017

It's Been Quite a Month

We had a house fire at the beginning of August.

People are fine, pets are fine - we were lucky to be home when it happened.  Smoke alarm went off, I ran upstairs and opened the door to the Eldest's room and it was full of smoke and flames. Savageman called 911, I put the pets outside and got the extinguisher.  The 911 operator said not to try to put it out - to just close the door and leave. So that's what we did.  I grabbed the laptops on the way out, but that was all.

Waiting for the fire department (departments as it turned out - 8 companies showed up), was the worst part. Not knowing what was happening, not knowing if it was spreading next door to Middle's room, which is wallpapered with his own original favorite artwork, not knowing how much smoke damage was happening to the rest of our bedrooms and belongings.... It seemed like an eternity.

It didn't take them long to put the fire out.  They said that, with the door shut and the outer panes of the windows still intact (the inner panes broke), the fire had lost oxygen and was dying down.

They carried out the Eldest's beautiful (and expensive) acoustic guitar, his 18th birthday present from us.  He had fallen in love with it when he picked it up and we knew we weren't leaving the store without it. It suddenly was all too real.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

A few minutes later, he called, wondering why he couldn't turn on to our street.  We had to tell him and when the fire police let him through, he sat on the lawn and cried.  It was heartbreaking. His room was his refuge, his one space that he controlled, and now it was gone, along with a lot of his stuff.

The cause was a power strip, which happened to be sitting on a plastic bin when it ignited, so the air was thick with the smell of melted plastic.  Fortunately, it was a nice day (and turned out to be a nice month) so the windows could be open and the place aired out. Over the next few days, none of us slept upstairs.  Savageman and I crashed on the couch, Little at the grandparents, and the Eldest started at a friend's and wound up in a hotel, thanks to some great insurance. The fire restoration people spent days tearing out the walls, ceiling and floor, deep cleaning the upstairs, the ductwork, all the clothing, bedding, rugs, curtains, etc. They inventoried all the damaged property.  Next week begins the rebuild and restoration.

Considering how bad it could have been, we're feeling pretty fortunate. No one was hurt, and the stuff is being replaced. Life is getting back to normal, or perhaps a better version of normal. The Eldest liked living on his own so much, he agreed to move out and get his own place, which has been a long time coming anyway.  Middle came home for a week, but then went back to start his fall semester at Penn State. Little started high school and has asked if we can put fitness equipment in the new room we'll have.  Moving the martial arts gis and mats, etc up there has opened up space in the rest of the house, so it was probably a better choice than a guest room or office would have been.

Trying to focus on the silver linings rather than the hassle this has all been and the destruction and mess.  Which is a good exercise for life in general.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Two Straight Weeks

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So today concluded my second week of training every day.  Sometimes twice.

I had to do something drastic to get myself out of the slump I was in.  After the week of downtime at the beach, and a day visiting Middle at college, I began my new routine.

Sunday night, I dressed in my gi pants and rashguard before bed.  The alarm was set for 5:15 a.m. I woke up easily Monday, and again on Wednesday and Friday, and in the second week found myself waking before the alarm, ready to go.

The nice thing about dressing for class the night before is that I can get up, turn the alarm off, brush my teeth, grab my bag, and head out.  After class, I have time for a quick shower before the race to get Little to work, and then myself to work on Monday and Wednesday.  (No work for either of us these last two Fridays.)

The morning class is a recent addition to the school's schedule, and it's pretty small - probably 10-15 guys who are all pretty serious about their training. It takes a certain degree of dedication to want to drag your ass out of bed at 5:15 to engage in such a grueling activity - or drag your ass in to train after finishing a late shift at work, as the case may be.  The guys who teach the class are brown and purple belts, and very good at what they do.

After warm-ups and some time drilling the technique of the day, we rolled a few rounds.  When I finished my round with the brown belt instructor, he said, "You know all this stuff.  You know what to do. But you hesitate.  The next step for you is to stop thinking so much and to trust it."

Hmmmmm... a recurring theme with me, perhaps?  I did try to remember what he said and incorporate that advice throughout the next two weeks. Things definitely went better when I was a little less cautious, a little more reckless and daring. Something good to keep in mind going forward.

I took the evening classes as well, and open mat, yoga, no-gi, and women's class last weekend. It seems like a lot, but it really only came down to an hour or two per day.  This weekend is the Keystone State games, and I'm not competing, so I will rest and recover.

For now, feeling pleased with myself for making this change.

Friday, July 14, 2017


It's the last day of vacation. Funny how the first few days stretch on forever, and then the last few fly by and suddenly it's time to start thinking about the trip home. Time does weird things on vacation.

I think that, for me, a lot of this has to do with making the transition to a new routine.  It's uncomfortable at first, being away from familiar surroundings and having this much downtime.  It's difficult to adjust to not having to do anything, and I'm restless, constantly searching for ways to feel productive. I'm reading, writing, exercising (or trying to), and doing math.

By Wednesday, I'm staring to adjust to hanging around doing nothing all day.  I wouldn't say I've embraced it, but it's no longer uncomfortable.

Today, I feel like a slug.  Savageman got up and went for a run.  I wish I felt like it, but all I want to do is lie around, maybe read a book.  The thought of returning to the real world tomorrow, with work and housework and my new ambitious training schedule - is exhausting.  Not to mention the idea of 8 hours in the car to get there.

Heading to the beach one last time.  Today will go fast - got to soak it all in.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

OBX 2017

We do this (almost) every year, but this year it's a little different. 

With Middle already away at college, and The Eldest and Girl of the Eldest working full-time this summer, it's only Savageman, Little, Me, and The Parents at the beach house with the pool and the hot tub, just a short walk from the ocean.  

There were some advantages. 

With Eldest and Girl watching the house, we could leave the pets behind.  That Dog is getting kind of old to put him through an 8 hour car ride, new surroundings, and a house full of stairs.  Also, dogproofing the house is always a trick, as he loves to eat things he's not supposed to eat. It's nice to not wake up to him yodeling to go out in the morning, or constantly have to worry about latching the doors or hiding the trash cans. 

My Cat usually stayed home alone, but I had someone stop by and check on her. This year, it's not an issue. 

Plenty of room in the cars, less food to buy / prepare / more opportunities for field trips, etc. with only one kid. 

But it's not the same. 

Little (not so little) is 14, and he's being a good sport about not having his brothers to play with.  He's been looking for ways to meet kids (girls) here, and he was always pretty comfortable with his alone time, even when there were brothers around. 

I reminded him that my entire childhood was spent doing vacations without siblings.  He responded, "Yeah, but you read books and stuff."  

Books!  And Stuff!  What a great idea!

I brought a copy of a good YA novel I thought he'd enjoy reading, and of course the math we've been doing all summer to get him ready for High School.  He's not especially amenable to doing either of these things.

Still, it's nice having some time with just him.  The Eldest had his time as an only child when he was little. Middle never did, but we did a lot together with JSD, traveling with demo and competition team, etc. Little and I have had BJJ together, so that's something, but most of our interaction consists of him trying to bite or choke me, or me trying to get him to do math and him running away.  

So there are some things we can work on.... 

Today is Tuesday, and we're here until Saturday.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Math Goals

I've always tried to stay a step ahead of my kids when it comes to their academics.

When we were homeschooling, this was a necessity. I couldn't very well teach them things I didn't know how to do myself.  On rare occasions, I would have to cram the night before, or give the "You know, maybe we should look that up together" answer to a question.  It's not a terrible thing to do that from time to time, but it's not ideal.  For the most part, I've been fortunate to have been able to navigate familiar waters.

This changed when Middle started taking the advanced science and math classes in High School.  I was no longer able to help him with his homework (and thankfully, he didn't seem to need my help).  I paged through his textbooks with envy, wishing I had been taught the cool things he was now learning. My own high school math career ended in my Junior year with Honors Algebra II / Trig.  I took Statistics in college and grad school.  No Pre-Calc or Calculus, and certainly no Linear Algebra.  I was advised that I didn't need these and it would only pull down my GPA.

Annoyed with the fact that I would soon know less than one of my kids, I started working on the math I never learned.  I had taken the oldest two boys through Algebra I and some Geometry before they started school, and that was all pretty fresh. On the other hand, Calculus was a complete mystery, and Trig was a distant memory from age 16. I dove in.

At the age of 42, armed with The Guru's college Calculus textbook (and some context to make it more comfortable), I started working through the course on my own.  I supplemented with Khan Academy and a few Coursera lecture courses here and there, and it was going well until I hit the chapter that dealt with Trig functions.

There was clearly stuff here I was expected to know but didn't.

I went back to Khan Academy and pulled up the Trig course.  Completely overwhelming.  Had I ever learned any of this?  If I had, it was gone.  I couldn't go forward without knowing this piece, and it seemed so overwhelming to start a second course at the very beginning. I took a break.

Several times over the last few years, I've revisited the course, vowed to make sense of it without the Trig, vowed to simply learn the Trig...  But I didn't. It just seemed like too much.

I've also attempted to take a few physics courses online and again, this Trig stuff comes up and it's assumed that I know it.  Being trapped by the lack of knowledge in this one area was definitely a source of frustration.

About a month ago, the frustration peaked.  I enrolled in a Coursera Trig class, watched the lectures, took notes, and did the practice problems.  I followed up with Khan Academy and as of tonight, I have about 90% of the course completed. Honestly, once I knew what I was doing, it was fun.

As I near the finish line in that subject, I've taken a look at the Pre-Calc and Calc courses offered on Khan Academy.  I had considered skipping Pre-Calc, assuming it was essentially just more Algebra and Trig, but the first time I pulled it up, there were questions on complex numbers and matricies, neither of which I've learned in a math class ever.  So it looks like Pre-Calc will be my next mission, both on Coursera and Khan.

We're currently at the beach with Little and my parents, and my mother noticed I was working on the Trig course after dinner.  She was surprised that I would do math for fun.  I thought about the kinds of things we do to pass the time when we have downtime, and I think learning a new math is not really any stranger than doing crosswords or Suduku or reading a novel or watching TV.  Yes, it's challenging, but it's also quite satisfying to work on a problem and get the right answer, and it's just as much of a mental exercise as reading or doing puzzles.

Even if I never need to use this knowledge, constantly challenging myself is as good for my brain as doing puzzles would be, and it feels good to know I won't be confused by one of Little's High School textbooks.  He will likely need my help with math in particular, and I want to be comfortable enough to help with it this time around.

Getting past the mental block regarding Trig was a big step.  It only took a few weeks, and, had I done that right away, 5 years ago when I hit the snag in the first place, I'd be miles ahead of where I am now.  It's a good reminder that the time passes anyway.

Starting the Pre-Calc classes tonight.  Should be fun.

Friday, July 07, 2017

When Motivation Fails....

... discipline prevails.

Or so the saying goes.

I'm working on it...

After a few months of low motivation and sporadic attendance, I got up at 5:20 a.m. this morning and headed in for the early class, which I have to admit was quite awesome. It was definitely worth the sleep I lost, and hopefully something I can add to my MWF routine when we get back from the beach. Mornings are busy for me this summer - driving Little to his job dismantling cars and getting to work myself by 8:30 a.m. - but barring unforseen circumstances, it's doable.

In other developments, Middle graduated with multiple honors from high school on June 3rd, and headed off to Penn State on the 25th for the LEAP summer program.  He's taking English and a Kinesiology class which will include a 5 day backpacking trip.  Am I jealous?  You bet I am.

And I miss him.

We spent the night before he left watching videos of him as a baby, which was quite entertaining and seemed apropos.  My sweet little guy... sigh.

In a few hours, we'll be headed for our annual trip to the Outer Banks of NC, but this time without Middle, and also without the Eldest, Girl of the Eldest, and That Dog, who devoured one of Little's first real paychecks today. They have to work, and That Dog is getting too old for travel.  Maybe he'll find more delicious Important Things around the house to eat this week.

Last year, I spent the entire beach vacation trying to rehabilitate my bad shoulder. Fortunately, this year the shoulder is pretty much okay.  Not perfect, but okay. I can do most of the things I did pre-injury, except for judo.  My judo career may have ended at Orange Belt. I'll spend some time this week on yoga and strengthening exercises, and swimming, of course.  But the main goal for the vacation is to get my mental mojo back.

My goals:

Sunday: Women's class and open mat - I need to start bringing a second gi
Monday: 6am BJJ and evening kickboxing
Tuesday: 10 am JSD and evening co-teaching kids and women's self defense classes
Wednesday: 6am BJJ and possibly evening BJJ or kickboxing - or rest - we'll see
Thursday: Two evening BJJ classes
Friday: 6am BJJ and evening open mat
Saturday: 9am yoga and no-gi open mat

Yoga and lifting a few times per week will be icing at this point, but I'm willing to try for those as well.

One of the pieces of encouragement I got from a brown belt at early morning class today was to commit to rolling at least 3-4 times per week when I feel myself hitting a plateau.  Resuming my previous schedule and adding those early morning classes should help get me back on track.

So... discipline.  Until recently, my rule for days I'm not feeling it is that I have to drive to the school and then decide if I'm going to train or not. 9 times out of 10, I'll roll if I'm there, even if I had to drag myself in. Adding the early morning class will help a lot, if only because it's novel and fun and means training with a smaller group of highly motivated people. Discipline is contagious.

It's an ambitious plan, but I'm going to try.
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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Leaps Forward

Apparently, the work has been paying off.

Much to my surprise, at the end of class Wednesday, I was called up by the Coach and the Coach's Coach to receive a stripe.  GirlCoach was downstairs teaching kids, and there was some speculation that she would be pissed that they did it without her, but I was fine with the timing of it. I was having a really good night - hell, I was having a really good week, and those are hard to come by.  Getting promoted on an "up" phase is awesome, and you never know how long those phases will last.  I have no idea if they promoted me because they noticed the change or not, but I'll take it.

It was a big week overall at our gym - on Saturday, the Coach and GirlCoach both received their black belts.  While it takes 3-4 years to get a black belt in my other style, a BJJ black belt takes about 10-12 years.  So, huge accomplishment for this amazing couple (who already both have black belts in Judo).  They are an amazing inspiration to all - especially my GirlCoach, who is the only female BJJ black belt in our part of the state.  Watching her regularly handle bigger, stronger opponents with ease gives me hope that someday I'll develop the technique to make up for my own lack of size and strength.

The next day, we had a news crew visit our women's class and report on our self-defense program in general.  Nice to get the media attention, and good to be involved in such an important effort.  GirlCoach is away today and will still be away Tuesday, so I'll be covering both women's classes for her.  Grateful for the opportunities I get to teach there, and for the trust they put in me.

In other news, Middle has officially chosen to go to Penn State, and he's leaving in June.  Very, very excited for him, but wow, it's going to be weird not having him here this summer.  Needless to say, I'm taking as many hours as I can at work, with the goal of having him graduate with as little debt as possible.

Between work and training, life is busy.  Good busy, happy busy.

Enough writing.  Off to teach some badass BJJ to some awesome women.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Digging Out

Both literally and figuratively.

After one of the mildest winters I can remember, including a week of temps in the upper 60s in February, we finally had a big snowstorm this week. We had one day of Trapped Inside and another day of shoveling out of 2 feet of snow.  Now it's starting to warm up and melt everything, just in time for the first day of Spring.

In the figurative sense, I'm digging my way out of what feels like a deep training hole.

I'm a one-stripe Blue Belt, and have been for a very long time.  It's probably an appropriate resting place for someone who (in my own self-assessment) has a lot of very good technical knowledge, but can't put most of it into practice during a competitive roll. After about 6 months of taking it easy, choosing the safest options, teaching instead of training, and generally not taking risks, I feel weak and shitty, I've been stuck under stronger and heavier opponents (all but 2 outweigh me), and I've spent too many months now squirming around at the bottom of a bad position.

Blue Belt Blues is a Thing, and it's worse when you're trying to bounce back from an injury. The drop out rate between Blue and Purple is dramatic.  Injuries play a factor, of course, as do work, financial issues, and family responsibilities.  But a big part of the Blue Belt Blues is the fact that you feel like you should have enough knowledge and skill by this point to deal with lower belts, and this isn't always the case.  Eventually, this becomes frustrating; you feel like you're not improving, people are catching up to you, you're tapping to less experienced people, and generally feel like you're making backward progress.

It's hard, but knowing that this is a Thing actually makes it a much easier thing to deal with.  It's part of the process, everyone has been there, everyone understands the frustrations involved at this stage. Many of the lower belts are stronger, younger, and more athletic, Branching out beyond your most comfortable techniques and experimenting with new stuff is going to get you swept, passed and tapped - a lot.  It's the only way to grow, though, and it's crucial to check the ego at the door and not beat yourself up for getting tapped.

So says the conventional wisdom, anyway.

All of this is true, but I'm getting tired of being here.  And I'm not inclined to quit.  It's time to get off of this endless plateau.  So I'm doing that. My coaches have been wonderful, giving me increasing levels of teaching responsibility this year, inviting me to seminars, and being generally accepting and supportive. This week, they both encouraged me to start lifting, but not in a general way.  Download this book and this app, says the Coach.  The Girl Coach walked through each of the items with me, showing me proper technique and tips on using the app.  They've both been working with me on the trouble spots in my rolling. I'm eating more carefully, torturing myself with foam rollers and lacrosse balls, maintaining my 3 days / week PT regimen, and reminding myself that I'm an athlete and need to behave as such.

Hoping this all makes a difference and I get back to where I was.  So much easier to maintain than to dig my way out of a hole.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Since November....

I spent a bit of time reading through some old stuff here this weekend, appreciating the fact that I had been recording the goings-on of my family, my training, and life in general throughout the years.  It was disappointing to see the large gaps, and I wondered what I would have written during those phases.  Realizing that I was currently creating one such gap, I am taking some time to catch up now, and hopefully be a bit more conscientious about putting something down from time to time that I can look back upon later.

So, currently...

I'm still training at both schools, but the balance has shifted very far over to BJJ.  Some weeks, the only time I get into JSD is Monday night with my CardioPal, who also recently started taking women's BJJ with me on Sundays.  We've been spending more time together this last year, which has been nice. I've done another 2 months of PT for the shoulder, and I competed in our in-house tournament in February.  I lost both my matches, but this time on points and not by submission.  Small successes. Competing at blue belt level is definitely tougher and I'm still a "young" blue belt with a crappy shoulder. In any case, I'm there at least 4 days per week, and at JSD for cardio and sometimes morning classes. I also started taking a spinning class Friday mornings.

The family has been busy.  Middle has spent this year as the Communications Chair for the high school's Mini Thon program, which has been a huge undertaking, on top of his schoolwork and job at the new hipster wine bar.  This weekend was the actual event, and they raised around $300,000 this year - more than they had expected.  Savageman and I were there as parent helpers and stayed up all night so we could be there for the big Reveal at the end.  It was exciting to see all the hard work paying off.  Super proud of the kid, and excited to find out what's next for him.  So far, he's been accepted to Pitt and Penn State, main campuses for both, and VA Tech, where I did my graduate work.  Waiting now on the others.

Little is enjoying his 8th grade year in public middle school.  The academic part has been a struggle, but we're working on it. He's still doing BJJ and has some nice friends from there.

Eldest is working full time at a local cafe and just spent a week with the girlfriend, who was home from PSU for spring break. She'll be graduating this year, so it will be interesting to see what's next for him (them) as well.

Savageman has taken up yoga, and does that 2-3 times per week. Netflix and chill every evening together is a nice way to end the day.

Which I should do now.  Goal is to write more consistently