…No Pressure!

I’m behind in my posting, which irks me almost as much as being late with homework.  But it couldn’t be helped.  Sometimes taking care of things is more important than writing about what you’re taking care of, and my days seem to be filled with that circumstance with greater frequency.  How cool is that?  I think, once the impulse to scold myself passes.

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My food manager certification is in the mail, as I passed the exam with flying colors!  So I’ve now begun working on the first real business plan of my life, the construction of which is redefining the term time-consuming as I know it. Rent or purchase?  Mobile or stationary? Wholesale or retail?  These are the questions for the baker side of my life.  Then, there’s the Sijeh part.  (Greater explanation of these “parts” discussed here.)

I ordered sashes this week to tie around my students and hopefully inspire greater investment.  The key to the success of the kung fu side of my future lies in keeping the students I have, of course, and acquiring new beginners every session.  Flier construction has already begun for enticing the next crop in November.  The difference between the number who expressed interest and those who finally showed up was too large.  I’ve got five weeks to shrink it.  But, no pressure.

Meanwhile, it appears there’s a new form on my horizon.  On Saturday, I was assigned a move with the staff that involves shooting it off the left arm from behind the back and catching it with the opposite hand.  It’s a nifty little trick that requires moving the breakables out of the way and making sure the lower back muscles are sufficiently stretched.  I thought Sifu was a making a change in one of the final moves of White Eyebrow until Siheng Allen (pictured below, instructing the Monday night class) said: “Oh, that’s for the spear.”

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Spear??  There’s a spear in my future…  along with a whole lot else!  :-)


Skip to My Whaat!?

For me, it’s another form of walking.  It’s almost second nature.  For the layman, it requires thought, concentration and suppressing the urge to skip.  Moving forward in a fighting stance is simply a lot harder than it looks – a fact I’d forgotten until a trio of primary school students reminded me by making a mess of their leg movements.

The lone parent in the class was the only one who got it right on the first try.  The five, six and seven-year-olds, not long from having learned that the fastest form of human motion without aid of machine is to put one foot in front of the other, weren’t comfortable being asked to keep one foot permanently in the backfield.

All of a sudden, I had to hit the pause button on my recently crafted curriculum.  Forget about doing rows of double straight punches.  We needed more repetitions than I had time for of simply moving down the floor in a fighting stance.  Ultimately, I assigned it as homework, so we could move on to form practice.

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All four of today’s students are enthusiastic, follow along well and catch on quickly.  Still, in the second class of the session, I find that we’re running out of time to complete the day’s tasks.  What I hope to determine next time is if having the mother-daughter team practice what they know while I keep the two youngest from skipping will keep me from having to strip techniques from the session plan.

It’s a learning experience for me, too, as a teacher.  I love that!  I wish I could do it everyday…. :-)


Clear and Close

Baltimore is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the onslaught of Fort McHenry.  That’s the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.  He didn’t know that ‘s what he was doing back on September 14, 1814, and I didn’t know so many people were moved enough by the tune to celebrate it and the Battle of Baltimore more enthusiastically than any July 4th of recent memory.

There were fireworks from every conceivable launching point in the waterways of the harbors and points that form miles of city coastline.  I caught the first sights and sounds of them from the passenger seat on the way home from grabbing some chow.

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The ones around the corner from the house, across the street from the seafood joint where my son used to work, were clearer and closer.

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But the ones I always like best are those that are set off from the water walkway three blocks from my stoop.

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My neighborhood is loud and boisterous during celebratory times for the city.  But that’s part of what makes it convenient and cool!


Charmed

I’ve never seen a single episode of the HBO program The Wire. What makes that strange is the fact that I live in the city where it’s set.  I’ve lived in Baltimore for six years, now; so I’ve had plenty of time to rectify the anomaly.  But the longer I live here the more I’m happy I’ve never seen a show that I’m told presents the worst aspects of the city, albeit in fictional form.

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These were my thoughts early this afternoon walking five blocks down the street to my neighborhood Safeway.  It’s been forever since I’ve been out of the office and home, with the time and opportunity to walk to the grocery store, and it was a beautiful day for it.

This is the view in the front of the place where I buy most of the family’s food.

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The Wire’s settings are very real, however, and we go through a few of them on the way to the guan and back.  So I fully understand the D.C. friends who asked incredulously why I was moving to Baltimore – almost all of whom asked, “Haven’t you seen The Wire?”

Nope.  I’ll get around to it eventually.  But much to the chagrin of my D.C. native son (my daughter considers herself from Baltimore, despite being born in D.C.), in a battle between the nation’s capital and Charm City, the latter has won me over… in everything but baseball. :-)

Now, off to the first kung fu class of my second session at the gym.


Like a Walk in the Park

Week 1

Techniques

Rows of snap kicks

Backfist

Backfist-straight punch-snap kick in place

__

Rows of double straight punches

Rows of Backfist-straight punch-snap kick

 

Inter-mezzo

Palm strikes in horse stance

Up block

Front hand block and finger strike

 

Form

Through #4

And so on….

I spent so much time Tuesday night working out and writing down my curriculum, by the week, that I have nothing left to write a pithy post about the day’s events or even a stream of consciousness.  I’ll just leave it at this before I crash: I’m ridiculously excited to start implementing this night’s work on Friday evening.  It turns the annoyance of dealing with the trials of the television world into a walk in the park. :-)


Before Pizza

It was one of those days.  My boss was in a foul mood from the moment he walked in the door.  That’s not compatible with hosting three hours of live TV.  My director couldn’t see or hear clearly for the first ten minutes of the show, which resulted in several on-air errors.  Those are uncorrectable when you’re live.

I was sitting in the control room on the opening Sunday of football season – a fact that’s been frustrating for the last six years of my life.  But to make matters worse, both teams that matter most to me didn’t just lose, they embarrassed themselves.

I took a cab ride home from the train station with a driver who kept swearing he knew where my street was but still asked me at every red light if he was going the right way.  By the time I started chopping an onion for dinner prep, I was glad the powers of the universe had saved the worst day of the working weekend for last.

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My working weekend actually began right after leaving the office on Friday.  The first of my long-scheduled demo classes was waiting for me at the gym.  In it were two children with moms along for the ride.  By the end of the hour, everyone was sweating, rubbing their legs… and smiling.

“This was fun,” the seven-year-old girl whispered to her mother.  Her mom looked like she didn’t agree with the word choice.

“This is a real workout,” the other parent said rubbing her legs.  “I didn’t expect that.”

“Yes, it is.” Playdate with punches this ain’t!  I thought.  The mother-and-six-year-old son duo said they’d be signing up; the mom and daughter left without sharing a decision.

Fast-forward to Saturday.  An hour after inhaling a plate of pancakes to quell the hunger caused by intensive classes at the guan, I was back at the gym for the second of the demo classes.  This one introduced me to a five-year-old who approaches martial arts the same way my daughter did when she started tae kwon do at four: with a non-stop smile.  (I’m not sure if there’s anything cuter than a kindergartener doing double-straight-punch-snap-kick combinations to the chin with an ear-to-ear grin on his face!)

At the end of the class, he was still smiling but not as broadly.  So I asked, “Are your legs hurting?  Was that too much for you?”

“No,” he said without pause, sounding slightly insulted.  When he turned to his dad, I could tell it was decided.

“So what do you think?  Should we put kung fu before pizza on Friday nights now?” his dad asked.

“Yes!” he shouted, showing almost all of the pearly whites.

It looks like I’ll have a class of at least four people this session who know what they’re getting into.  That knowledge and the joy of future students’ smiles enabled me to handle a difficult time on the day job today with a healthy measure of grace.


Dead White Guy Favorites

It used to be called the canon – the must-reads of Western literature that allegedly represent the best in creative writing and exploration of the human condition.  At the very least, they represent the books and plays most written about by those who study literature.  These books and their glaring absence from my children’s curriculums weighed heavily on my mind Thursday, after a fantastic kung fu workout in which I realized that I’m much more mentally aware of how to fix what I’m doing wrong in a form than I’m often conscious of.  This incredible “Aha!” moment was juxtaposed to the awakening just an hour earlier that, academically, my kids don’t know nearly as much as I did at each of their ages – at least as far as literature is concerned.

It all started at dinner out with my son earlier this week.  As we scarfed down Polish fare, he asked me to name great books for him.  He hadn’t read any that I mentioned; more disturbingly, he hadn’t heard of a number of them either.  I expressed my concern at the time, but concern turned to a mild form of ire yesterday when discovering that the syllabus for his senior year doesn’t include any canon books either.  Silly me, I thought his teachers would patch up the curriculum in the final year.

My son attends a Jesuit school that’s geared toward providing a better education to children of urban, working class families who can’t afford private school.  Now, I understand that there’s been a move in the last decade or so to get away from caring about the perspective of dead, white men and thereby make reading more appealing to the largely non-white student bodies of most of the public schools in America’s largest urban centers.  However well-intentioned, this move seems to have all but eradicated from those same schools any trace of what used to be required reading no matter where one lived and what one looked like.  If administrators remove from literature curriculums all but a few of the dead white guy favorites, we’re going to end up with a generation who, ten years from now, will immediately recognize and understand any reference to the “ice bucket challenge,” but who won’t have the slightest idea what grandma is talking about when she compares Johnny’s ill-advised pursuit of a person or thing to Ahab’s quest for the great white whale.

I remember as a kid watching a Bugs Bunny episode I’d seen dozens of times, listening to Bugs go into a riff about an apartment number that started with “2B or not 2B; that is the question” and understanding for the very first time that the Hamlet allusion is what made it funny.   Something about that realization felt good, especially since I could go on to finish most of the monologue, at the time.

Does it matter in the grand scheme of things if today’s youth understand literary references?  I can’t answer that.  What I know is this: my children have excellent grades.  But I’m not sure if their grades accurately reflect how much they know.

Not getting the joke may be no big deal.  But not knowing what their grade point averages suggest they should could be huge.

 


Cramming

I’ve spent the night studying.  I haven’t had to study for anything since the last set of exams some nine years ago.  This is nothing like that.

Food, glorious food… and scary foodborne illnesses that I’m cramming to learn how to keep out of my baked goods.

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Can it really be coincidental that I got my groove back on my White Eyebrow form tonight, in between study sessions?

Cupcakes and kung fu – a day closer to fruition!  Back to the book…. :-)


Acceptable Labor

The bad news is that Merle and I both spent several hours of the holiday working.  The good news: Merle can still work.  She’ll get the results of the MRI tomorrow and fingers remain crossed until then that it’ll be a quick recovery back to black sash testing.  Now, she tells me, it’s a vendetta.

My son and I finished out the waning hours of the holiday walking down to a Polish restaurant he’d been wanting to try for a while.

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We settled on Perogies and Chicken Kiev…

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Then I returned to my own kitchen to experiment with new cake recipes and prep for a food safety certification course.

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At the office taking care of current obligations… in my kitchen looking forward to new, sweeter ones.  That’s a more than acceptable Labor Day.


Nothing But Crickets

The God of my understanding has a strange sense of humor.  I can’t say I’ve ever liked it much, and last night was no exception.

My better half has never had an affinity for martial arts.  It’s just exercise to stay in shape and provides quality time with the kids and me.  She’s also never been all that enamored with her career as a massage therapist.  She’s extremely gifted at it, as any client of hers will attest to, but it too is exercise.  It requires body mechanics that are probably more complex than those needed for good kung fu.  In short, her work can be as physically taxing as the family hobby.

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For the nine months that she’s been eligible to test for black sash, she’s vacillated on wanting to, while also dealing with minor injuries.  There are a number of red sashes perfectly content to stay where they are in rank.  They attend class mostly to become better fighters and nothing more.  But after watching both me and our boy go through the process, Merle decided to try her hand at acquiring a few of those positive changes the experience gave us.  Mostly, she didn’t want to regret not having tried.

Thursday night, at her second test for black sash, the first of six with sparring, she caught her foot against a loose rug in the basement training room while warming up.  The resulting injury to her knee left her unable to test… and possibly unable to work.

As she sat in the waiting room of the orthopedist’s office this morning, she was notified by gallery personnel that she sold a second piece of art in as many days, after months of hearing nothing but crickets by way of artistic reception.  Sculpting is the other work she does with her hands, the one that feeds the soul, if not the family.  It’s the job that brings her joy.

What are we to make of this debilitating injury sandwiched between music to an artist’s ears?  God has a strange sense of humor, all right – one that I’m rarely fond of.  And yet… I can’t say I’d want to gamble on living without it.


Predictable and Purged

Two people dear to me received bad news this week.  The issue for one was professional; for the other, medical.

Bad news produces a predictable response for me.  I feel angry and know that emotion will last a while.  I feel self-pity and immediately try to will that response away as quickly as possible, because it simply produces more anger.  (Self-pity makes me feel weak; the Marine father is responsible for that.)

I do my best to get a prayer out as quickly as I can, even if it’s one of complaint.  It serves to remind me that most things are beyond my control and that they always will be.

Depending on the news, I probably shed some tears or at least feel the sting of salt from the ones that don’t fall.  Then, I make a call or send a text to Merle, because being loved makes all things bad better.

Finally, I do some kung fu: a volley of triple straight punches into the elevator air, as if the bad news has taken physical form that I can strike.  A couple of sidekicks against the wall of the handicapped bathroom stall – gently, so as not to damage a knee or be heard by others.  The release is cathartic and just enough to get me to the next class, where I can thoroughly purge it all out and take the next right step to the next best thing.

Neither of my friends do kung fu, but they have their equivalents.  We all do, I believe, even if not recognized as such.  Whatever returns one to center, provides assurance that all will be right at some point, even if “right” looks different than initially imagined, that’s the best bet for getting to the other side of bad news.


Seems Like Minutia

My son doesn’t believe in free will.  He’s a philosophy buff with strong analytical skills that serve him well most of the time, but he may be overthinking things on this one.  By contrast, my daughter acts as if she thinks free will is the end all and be all, and there should be nothing but personal choice.

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Sitting in front of the flower stand in Philadelphia’s South Street today, scarfing down a snack before an author interview, I was feeling pretty philosophical.  That’s what got me thinking about my children and choices.  I wondered if the very campus I was headed to for a work assignment would be Aaron’s home by this time next year.  He would then spend a fair amount of time in the very station I was sitting in, catching trains home for… kung fu.

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Will he be chosen by the school(s) of his choice?  What will he choose to do if not? I wondered.

What if my own first and second choices for colleges had been reversed and I’d gone to Boston instead of D.C.?  I wouldn’t have been in D.C. to choose to help a co-worker drive from Washington to Austin for graduate school.  Aaron and Ava wouldn’t be here, then.  I wouldn’t have met the Texan ex-husband without those choices.

Choices and the consequences thereof can be wild and crazy things.  Even the ones that seem like minutia can be game changers. I thought as I sipped from a soda.

As I gathered my equipment to head to the taxi stand, I could feel a headache coming on.  It was time to give philosophical musings a rest.  So I chose to do just that.


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