Monday, December 29, 2014

A Year in Brief Review

This year has been some kind of year. Our Christmas card shows that I ran the gamut of hairstyles...three different ones in three photos and this doesn't even cover the colors...

We do, incidentally, wish you all love, joy, and laughter for the coming year. Ahem. We took a weekend trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.

That was pretty near, we also traveled far. In fact, the farthest west we have been as a family of three.

We had family photos at the beach, sealing our suburban status!

I got two black belts and the two are as different as night and day and both equally as special.

One of my bestest friends got married.

We had an adoption fall through and, a few months later, life definitively informed us that this is not the time for our family to grow.

We celebrated and mourned Garrett's 3rd birthday.

To end on a happy note, Autumn took the best picture ever of me!

So, this year was a typical year, I suppose. We lived, loved, cried, partied, laughed, and felt all the emotions in between that make up life. I have so much to write's to a more consistent year of blogging! Thank you for your support and prayers this year. How would we ever have made it this far without you?

Monday, December 15, 2014

In which we meet our internet friends

I've discovered that there are two kinds of people. One has internet friends. The other says, "you have what??" I never really thought it was weird but my Facebook page is peppered with people I've met on LiveJournal, through blogs, and even Warcraft. Not many, because I am rather paranoid, but these are people I've "known" for years or possibly know through friends I do see in person. Some of these online friends have supported us through the best and worst times of our lives.

My friend Shang is one of those. We "met" back in the early 2000s on LiveJournal when I first started blogging there and we frequented the same martial arts forums. I don't know exactly how, but over the years, we became real friends and not simply people who live behind pseudonyms. Shang got married and had a daughter not long after Autumn was born and I became friends with his wife Lisa, too. All online, of course. We talked for years of meeting up but they live in California and we're in Tennessee so it seemed a little unlikely.

Until my test! Much to my pleasant surprise, Shang and Lisa were willing to drive up to San Francisco. Not a short drive! And, on Thanksgiving weekend! I am so glad they did because it was fantastic to spend a day with them. The coolest thing? It was totally normal, in the sense was the kind of comfortable like we always spend time together as families.

This one is even better...

The girls totally hit it off. At first Autumn was in hiding mode but by the time we ordered breakfast they were chattering away like old friends.

We talked about doing cheesy tourist things in the city but it was raining so we decided to go to Big Basin State Park. The drive was pretty incredible. I have a thing about heights and cliffs so I don't have any photos of the drive but I did peek over the edge from time to time. Once we got into the forest and there was less twisting, the forest was downright amazing. In some spots it was like being in a Jurassic Park or old horror movie. The scale of the trees is staggering. Even having wandered forests in many parts of the US, Mike and I had never seen anything like it.

Also, the red in the corner of the photo below and the walking red plastic above: that's my mom! She joined us for this trip as well as the rest of the week. Anyway, how crazy is this? I told our friends and Mike that it was like taking pictures in the jungle in the Philippines. I took a bunch but they simply don't convey the reality.

I mean, 329 feet is pretty crazy. And some of them were wide enough to drive a car through.

So, that's what we did with our No-Longer-Internet-Now-in-Person-Friends. We ate, drove, saw Redwoods, and had a great time together. I was joking with one of my particularly horrified friends that it wasn't like we were going to meet in someone's basement. By the chainsaws. On Halloween Night. Instead we met at an isolated state park surrounded by old, vaguely creepy wilderness. Hahahaha. Not really. It was pretty busy. Busy enough that Shang and I could only talk about martial arts and not actually do any. So, another trip is in order! This time to a place with access to a martial arts-ing without freaking people out area!

We'll definitely get together again sometime. I'm keeping an eye out for seminars in their part of the world. And the girls have been sending each other short videos. Autumn sent Lily a picture this week and she's all "I HAVE A PEN PAL, MAMA." So sweet. I feel like I had more to say about this but for now, I'll call it a night! Until next time, have some Autumn Feeling Trepidation about This Tunnel.

(If you missed it, check out my post on my test!)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ten Years Later...Shodan!!

Well, for the folks who aren't following the Aikido school's Facebook page, I have news! A week ago today, I passed my black belt test!

And then I came home Saturday and immediately got sick. I tested positive for strep throat. Oh, AND the flu. So that was fun. But, I feel quite a bit more human tonight than I have in a while so I can blog! I'm also very happy that I didn't pass it on to anyone, not even Mike and Autumn. Yay for good hand washing and prompt medical attention?

Anyway, last week was the craziness. We left for the Bay Area the afternoon after Thanksgiving and arrived very early on November 29. I'm glad we did it that way because we had a day to spend with some friends before I started training. More on that later because that was a big deal! I trained quite a bit Sunday through Thursday at Aikido West in Redwood City. Three to four or more hours a day. Some of it was class time. Some of the time was spent with students who were there simply to help me at lunch and after the evening classes.

For example.

I am unbelievably thankful for the students and instructors who helped me out. It's tough coming from such a long distance to train much less prepare to test. Stephan wasn't with me the first few days so it was all me. It took a couple of days for the terror that I was going to fail or they were going to hate me to go away but it finally did as I became more comfortable and got to know more of the dojo members. I didn't perform extraordinarily well in the beginning. It was partly due to the aforementioned nerves and partly because we, inevitably due to distance and infrequent contact (which is going to change), do things just slightly differently from the testing standard. It would have been, of course, super impolite to say, "I was terrible at that because we don't do it the same way," so I smiled and asked for help on how to do it properly. At one point, I was concerned enough about the differences that I outright asked after a particularly difficult run-through whether or not my test was even salvageable. Of course, everyone was nice and said things about polishing and not worrying but, seriously, not worrying WAS NOT HAPPENING.

It turns out that between their help and my, um, determination, my test went pretty well. I went first of two shodan exams and one yondan (4th degree) demonstration. I only slept two hours the night before the test and spent Friday afternoon with a stomachache so going first was GREAT. Pressure was off a little sooner! I did my best to remember the changes to the techniques, to keep slow, relaxed, smooth and steady, and to follow test protocol. Watching a test on dvd isn't quite like showing up for the real thing in person for the first time! There was a training break between each person and then we were individually called back to discuss our tests. If you come out in the new belt, everyone cheers. I asked someone if anyone ever came out failed but he said it was rare. Of course, I was all, SO IT HAS HAPPENED. Because it could happen to meeeee. But it didn't.
This part went better than I expected.

I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to share but I got really great encouragement from the testing panel during my post-test interview. The hard work was definitely worth it for the result. Everything I spent the week working on, I managed to remember and do under pressure which tells me I had a good foundation so I could learn and that I can adapt. That part was important to me. I needed to be able to make the adjustments to the standard with skill and good humor. And I did! Mike had some excellent and insightful parting advice for me before he and Autumn headed home. He told me that my ability to adapt that week was the mark of what kind of martial artist I am. And he, of course, said he knew I could do it.

I need to cut some of the interesting sections of my test video and post them but that will have to wait! In the meantime, I feel good about where I am, what I accomplished, and what the future holds. Most importantly, I feel good about the amazing friends I have here in Memphis who helped me prepare, the friends everywhere who encouraged me when I was down and wondering if I was going to make it through the week, much less the test, and the new friends who helped me get from scared and worried to passing my test with flying colors.

Thank you to everyone who prayed and encouraged and helped me in so many ways. I told everyone that this was a team effort and it was! If only I could have shared the effort of the flu and strep.......

I'll definitely write more about the trip and testing. This is such an abbreviated look at an intense week that tested more than simply my Aikido skills. And, of course, we did some touring in the Bay Area! Until then, here's the one of the first non-blurry photos of me doing Aikido in 2005 at age 25. I have better posture now.