Category Archives: sports

Gratitude and Grief

“I guess I better stop bragging,” he said. “You were a big shot, and now you just work retail.”

“I’m still a big shot,” I responded between gritted teeth to the man who’s supposed to love me more than any other.  But in 46 years, he’s never gotten the memo.

Ironically, the apparent loss of bragging rights, from the realization that his talented multitasker of a daughter couldn’t quite pull off a full-time job in television production while running a business that operates seven days a week until 11 p.m., happened in the middle of the most euphoric period of the shop thus far.  From mid-January through the Valentine’s Day/Presidents Day weekend, business was booming more than a two-month-old endeavor probably has the right to enjoy.  Then came the blizzard and restaurant week.

Those who aren’t hunkered down in their layers of sweatpants and sweaters saving up to properly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for the entire month of March (at least that’s how it goes in Baltimore) are braving the cold and ice right now to go out to dinners that they can only afford one week out of the year. Either way, the end of February has brought with it my winter doldrums.

I’ve now spent a week wondering if the previous month was a figment of my imagination.  It doesn’t help that Lent has started.  I don’t even want to think about the number of folks in Charm City that have given up sugar for the next six weeks!  Calmly navigating the rollercoaster of retail may be a greater mental challenge than surviving black sash training.

Speaking of kung fu, I miss my kids – those who aren’t mine and the two who are, as well.  This unwanted hiatus from the adrenaline rush of being busy comes while I’m in between teaching sessions at the gym.  I awarded four sashes at the end of last session – one white, one yellow and two green. My first green sashes mark a transition for me as well: I’ll be teaching my first intermediate-level class, starting this Sunday.  That will include intro instruction in staff work, the very thing that has attracted students to me in the first place and the part of kung fu I love the most.  I can’t wait!

I can however wait for my daughter, who is days away from the fourth of her six black sash tests, to finish growing up.  Leaving a training session at the gym last week, I had the horrifying experience of watching my little girl get checked out for the first time.  The guy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her after saying hello twice (she didn’t know he was talking to her the first time) was wearing a college lacrosse shirt.

Even if you’re only a freshman, you’ve got five years on this girl, which makes you a virtual pedophile! So move it along!!

That’s what I wanted to scream at the perfectly normal looking, red-blooded, athletic man waiting, like us, for an elevator to the parking lot.  But I managed to simply step between him and Ava, silently.  And so it’s in the winter doldrums of 2015 that I’ve first come to miss that little girl of mine who couldn’t possibly have been mistaken for a woman.

As for the child who’s already wearing black around his waist, I can’t remember the last time we were in a kung fu class together, and that used to be our quality time.  We don’t know when they’re getting on our last nerve complaining about eating the broccoli or brushing their teeth that we’ll wind up wishing those days were on a loop.  My son dropped his gym membership (which was the second place we spent the most time together) and has a new-found social life that, frankly, fills me with dread.  I’m being well-prepared for his departure from my daily life at summer’s end, if not sooner, and I’m caught between gratitude and grief.

For seven years, I knew with certainty the bulk of what the day would bring.  I had obligations to fulfill as a producer, a mother, a kung fu student and a spouse, and most of those obligations had predetermined, expected outcomes.  Now, I wake up with a head full of questions on the day.  How much will I make? Can I get her to train harder? What will he realize? How much can she help? Almost everything feels out of my hands – at least until I create a new recipe, hit the gym with my staff or both.

I can control the quality of my food and my kung fu, and I don’t yet have to miss either.  Those facts will always make me feel big – hold the shot – even in winter doldrums.

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Juggling January

It’s a great feeling to have people pacing in front of your business door, waiting for you to open up.  That was Sunday afternoon, the day I only open the storefront for a few hours in late afternoon/early evening because I’m teaching kung fu in the morning and early afternoon.  People were walking through the door and telling me what they wanted before I had the cash in the register.   I did a (slow) day’s worth of business in about 35 minutes.  Then came the rest of the week: steady a few days – but just a few.

I’ve had a headache for at least a few minutes a day every day since Sunday.  I blame the highs and lows of food service during frigid cold winter days.  It doesn’t help that it’s barely more than a week into January, the resolution month.  Probably thirty percent of the population has sworn off the goodies I sell and are still sticking to their guns.  Is it February yet?

Thank God for my kung fu kids!  They’re the instant headache remedy.  My latest six-week session at the gym began several hours before my busy Sunday at the store.  I have siblings for the first time in a long time and a second mother-daughter pair joining the crew.  All of my second level students returned; so for ninety minutes, I had to be adept at juggling curriculums and managing my time well enough to give the old students something new to work on for the first time in three weeks and the new ones a clear picture of what they were in for.

There’s never enough time to get in all I want to when I have all the students in the building at the same time.  But trying to feels like an accomplishment in and of itself.  That seems to be the story of my life.

There’s more going on, of course, much more – like managing kung fu instruction and practice with physical therapy for the tear in my rotator cuff, and trying to find a new commercial kitchen that’s closer to the store, so there’s just a touch less running around. But I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to keep typing; so that’s all I’ve got for now.  It is way past time to sleep.  No way to get through a busy weekend without that!


Meal After Midnight

The clock reads 12:30 a.m., and I’m in the middle of my fifth straight hour on my feet.  The extra work for the lower extremities usually follows either a high-powered, double-timed training session in the gym or a regularly-paced self-training session at the guan with my two favorite females.

Merle and Ava just finished their second of six tests for the black belt and are very much in touch with my pain of two and half years ago.  As I continue to watch my better half give the young’uns a run for their money and my daughter shed the last vestiges of her baby fat doing crescent kicks that make me envious of both her youth and long legs, I’m momentarily shaken by how fast time flies and how dramatically things change – even when doing nothing to facilitate it.  Neither of the family’s other females have ever loved kung fu the way my son and I do.  To watch them work so hard for something neither imagined working for at all can sometimes be surreal.

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Equally ethereal is the fact that my overworked knees have never felt better or held deeper stances in forms than they do now that I’m either cooking or selling food all day with minimal benefit of a chair.  It really is true that sitting for long periods with arthritis in lower joints is more painful and difficult to work with than constant use of the joints.  Quite a few people have looked at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that my knees feel best while doing kung fu. I can now add that they feel better when I stand all day.  Who knew?

But it ain’t all sunshine and roses by a long shot.  I take my meal (yes, just one!) after midnight, daily.  There simply isn’t an opportunity to feed myself while baking for the store.  Eating has to wait until I’m home, and that need mentally arm wrestles the desire to shower.  The shower always wins, pushing the meal even later.

As clear and convincing evidence of the search for time in my daily existence, I’m beginning this paragraph of my post three days after beginning the first.  ‘Nuff said.  Time to wrap this up or it’ll be President’s Day and irrelevant when I finally publish it.

I had my first taste of entrepreneurial anxiety this holiday week with the departure of my neighborhood regulars to hometowns of origin and not enough tourists taking their place.  The flip side, however, is that a popular pizza joint in Fells Point and a landmark deli in Canton are now carrying my desserts.  Folks are also taking pictures of my place from the other side of the street and selfies right below my sign.  The name alone appears to be popular, which, along with having long-standing food business pros loving my desserts enough to toss their Restaurant Depot ones in the garbage, keeps this sleep-deprived baker smiling.

Almond Joy Cap'n Crunch(Current favorites: “Almond Joy” and “Cap’n Crunch.”)

Happy New Year, WordPress family!  Thanks for being a part of my crazy story.  Gotta go back to work now….


Tomorrow’s Target

From elated to deflated.  That’s the succinct description of my holiday week, raging against the machine of regulatory madness.  I should have known it was too good to be true when the health inspector squeezed me in for my final review just two days before Thanksgiving.  She made a beeline to the bathroom to inspect the all-important “open” toilet seat, ignoring the painstaking time I’d spent affixing the soap and paper towel dispensers to the awkward corner wall nearest the sink, to say nothing of the arthritis aggravating purgatory I inflicted on my knees to caulk every crevice along the baseboards.  But at least the work was done.  It was there, as it was ordered, irrespective of being acknowledged.  And with it, I passed the health inspection – with a particular note to how cozy I’d made the place since she was last on the premises a month earlier.  I was bouncing off the walls on the way to the Restaurant Store for added supplies.

First thing Wednesday morning, I phoned the building inspector’s office to set up that inspection – the third and final city-inflicted hurdle before opening.  He could come out first thing Friday morning, while the rest of the country recovered from turkey overload.  Seriously?  I could actually wrap everything up and open my doors any time after Friday?   After all the plumber and carpenter craziness, could the grand opening really be that drama free?

No.  Decidedly not.

“Did you have a fire inspection?” the building inspector asked when he called to tell me the time window for his arrival at the store.  “It’s not in the computer.”

You mean the three-minute inspection that cost me three figures that the nonchalant inspector told me would be in the system that afternoon?  The inspection that took place two weeks ago?  That one?! I thought.

The building inspector was exceedingly gracious when he arrived to tell me that everything looked in order for my use and occupancy permit.  He didn’t even have to go through with the inspection without proof that the fire department had already been there.  I lucked out on that, at least.  I did not, however, luck out on reaching the fire guy to have him correct his oversight.  I had the man’s cell phone number, but he wasn’t answering!

Monday morning and three phone messages later, the desk-bound fireman was still not in the office!  It was time to go over his head.  His supervisor said he would take care of my approval within thirty minutes.  Twenty-four hours later, I discovered he had not.

By 10a Tuesday morning, I was closer to tears than I had been at any time through this challenging experience.  I had already missed my intended opening week.  How much longer were these guys going to keep the next phase of my life on hold?

Not minutes after asking myself that self-pitying question, I received back to back phone calls.  The fire inspector had been on medical leave and apologized profusely for the two-week delay in my approval.  I thanked him and told him to get well soon.  Immediately following that surprising expression of good will, the building inspector called to tell me that with the fire inspection approval in the system, I could pick up my permit downtown. I will be there when the doors open about eight hours from now.

Who’s left to torture me before I ring the register for the first time?  The sign guy, that’s who.  That’s tomorrow’s target, before teaching two classes of kung fu.  My students are going to think I’m on something if I don’t get my signs before I get to the gym.  Good thing tomorrow’s classes are in the boxing room….

 


Karma Calling

I rarely use the word fair.  It’s a concept that bothers me.  I’ve never personally experienced or witnessed something that was equitable or just to one person or group that wasn’t undesirable to another.  So I tend to think that there’s usually somebody catching the short end of the stick whenever something is allegedly “fair.”

My discomfort with the concept has served me well as a middle-aged, arthritic martial artist who loves teaching the activity as much as doing it.  It especially comes in handy when, at the start of a Saturday class, just half a day after hitting pay dirt with my newest students and seeing beautiful horse stances for the first time in half a dozen classes, there’s a pop beneath my knee during a routine roundhouse drill.  Moments later, it happens again on the front kick.  And by half time, my left leg is buckling each time I put weight on it.

Damnit! I scream in my head.  When class is over, and it’s just Merle and me collecting our gear to leave, I curse aloud.  I’m so tired of injuries!  I have weak knees, surrounded by muscles that become more pronounced with every good set of low cat stances.   I also have all of last session’s students and three new ones, with interest already being expressed for next session.  It’s not a good time to be out for surgery.  Management would cancel my class.  AND it would be twenty times more challenging to bake desserts and manage a store!

And so I’ve spent the last three days stretching, rubbing, slathering with ointment, freezing in ice, and heating in microwavable heat pads a leg that I must will into continued production. In fact, several hours after the injury, I hobbled over to a carpenter’s wood shop to pick up the furniture for my store.  It was painful and perfect at the same time.

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Two or three times since the weekend, I’ve stopped in mid limp to ask why I have to go through another major leg injury.  I immediately follow the question with the answer: Because that’s just how it goes for someone my age with my physical history who does kung fu for no less than ninety minutes a day, six days a week.

There’s such excitement going on for me right now, the monkey wrench had to come in some form.  I certainly can’t say it’s not fair.


Old Times and New

It felt like old times.  Sifu was cracking jokes.  The audience was standing room only and so was the head table.  A dozen black sashes were on hand to evaluate those testing.  Half of the promotion candidates must have been nervous enough to wet their pants when looking at a table full of teachers, all sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities, decked out in red from neck to ankles, waiting to rate their performances.  The other half was composed of three red sashes anxious to wear black themselves.  Two of those were my family.

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Ava had the best sparring match of her life, fearlessly battling a faster, more strategic opponent, but one much shorter and lighter than she is.  She knocked him down twice with her roundhouse kicks, and she wasn’t even trying.

Then, it was Merle’s turn.  Her opponent was almost a foot taller and almost 40 years younger, but neither of those facts seemed to matter.  The “old lady” put the kid to shame.

The black sash demonstration – the real main event of a day geared toward trying to attract more students – was one of the most entertaining in months.  Aaron gave a near flawless exhibition of 12 Kicks, and I performed White Eyebrow in public for the very first time.  Nerves slowed my pace, but I made no errors.  Both Aaron and I received words of approval from Sifu.

October testing day was the first time ever that all four members of the family performed at the guan on the same day.  We all had a reason to be proud and happy.  It felt like old times… only better.


Family Trait

The landlord for my storefront encroached upon my personal space and time every single day for a week.  I finally had to send a gentle email requesting that he give me space.  Perhaps I should have shelled out for the more expensive property on the other side of the park….

Middle-aged, longtime plumbers can be incredibly insulting and condescending when one is simply trying to obtain an estimate for the installation of a sink.  My life experience forces me to wonder if being both African-American and female didn’t fuel his lack of manners and professionalism….

One hundred pounds worth of flooring is showing up at my house today for carting down the street to the store, and it’s a complete toss-up as to whether someone will be home when it arrives.  Being forced to trek to some far out postal facility looking for the floor to my backroom two days before the health inspection is not my idea of a good time.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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Meanwhile, on the kung fu front, my boss at the gym is on her way out the door to another job, and her boss doesn’t care enough about the kung fu program to properly promote the next session.  The new flier is great.  The problem is getting it out of the company computers and in view of the gym members!  Call me crazy, but I’m fairly certain that’s the best way to attract students.

Last night, my son was intentionally mauled by a Siheng who outranks him for having the audacity to land a good punch in Sanshou class.  Now, there’s a new measure of bad blood in the family relationship with the guan.  I’m just glad I wasn’t upstairs to see the fight.  My mother bear alter ego (or is that my primary ego?) might have turned it into an all-out brawl.

I have to admit I was happy to hear that Aaron recovered from the beating to ultimately win a fight that was only supposed to be a sparring match.  That’s kind of how I felt going through my whole week of remodeling and regulatory madness.  It must be a family trait.


Sunday Rites

Back in the blogosphere, if only for an hour or so!  I haven’t had time to write or read (outside of work material) for a week, which has been disturbing.  I thought about pouring out all that I can about the week’s adventures in store making, but my thoughts keep coming back to the warmth of my favorite day.

Sunday is great.  It’s almost as busy as any other in the week; so its greatness doesn’t lie in being a day of rest.  What makes Sunday so wonderful to me is that it’s the day I get to do everything I most enjoy.

I get up and indulge the journalist in me by watching the news talk shows.  After twenty years of covering the federal government and the people in it, it’s a task as automatic as brushing my teeth.  It’s also an unspoken job requirement (for just a little while longer), since I’m supposed to know what the big stories and sound bites of the day are.  I watch while eating, stretching and warming up for the beginner kung fu class I teach at noon.  Then, I’m off to my students.

I teach the kids for an hour, doing my best to keep a straight face when the front kick instruction suddenly turns into a conversation about peanut butter and birthday parties.  Today was a particularly special day, as it was the last class of the session.  I taught everyone the final moves of the white sash form, and my star students perfected what they already knew as I worked with the younger attention spans in the group.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taught a set of students an entire form – and the only time I’ve done it alone!   I look forward to awarding yellow sashes in a couple of weeks.

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After my kids and their moms left me alone in the yoga room, I continued my Sunday ritual.  I always spend a second hour in the gym trying to lower my stances, speed up my spins and quicken the pace of my performance of the White Eyebrow staff form.   I use Sunday to practice the corrections Sifu gives me in Saturday class.

For several months now, the day’s routine has ended with me replenishing the carbs I burn off in training as I watch a baseball or football game.  Then, I cook dinner for the family and work on recipes for the sweets shop.  This Sunday, I ended the afternoon by meeting one of the better handymen I’ve ever known at the site of my future store and going over all I need to hire him to do to get it ready for a grand opening.

And so, the ritual has changed.  Going forward, Sunday’s greatness will likely always include time at the store.  Soon, that will be true of all days.  How great is that?

 


In the Corner of My Eye

Sunday was a great day to be a Sijeh.  My seven-year-old social butterfly, who’d rather chat with me about friends and fashion, gave her most focused effort yet.  I had to have her practice alone for a bit as I worked with the five year old who missed class last week, and I was stunned by what I saw out of the corner of my eye.

She did one repetition after another without prompting and even self-corrected after watching me with her classmate.  I didn’t know she had it in her – the inclination to keep her mind and body on kung fu for more than three minutes at a time.  I was so proud of her (and the classmate who finally earned his white sash) that I felt high for hours afterward.  A second grader’s concentration made my favorite day of the week even better than it normally is.  It’s still the little things, always and forever, that make the biggest difference.


Inspired… but Tired

It’s after 1 a.m. on the East coast, and I’ve just watched the Royals battle back to win the wild card game.  It’s hard not to be inspired.

In the wee hours of this first day of October, however, I realize, as I tend to my throbbing right shoulder, that I’ve now been working on this form for the same amount of time as a full-term pregnancy – and I still haven’t been taught the final moves.  I’m ready to have this baby already!

Not yet.  Not yet….

Sleep would be good, now.


The Probability of Blows

Martial artists know techniques for injuring quickly and with minimal effort.  That fact floats into my head whenever members of an increasingly inconsiderate public seem to enjoy acting uncivilized – but not for the reason one would think.

An instance of uncivilized behavior has stayed with me for a few days now.  A man was flying through the parking garage at the gym, ignoring stop signs.  I had to hit the brakes to keep him from plowing into the passenger side of my car – which, at the time, was occupied by my son.  I looked at the driver with a what-is-the-matter-with-you expression and motioned for him to continue on.  He stared at me a second, then laughed before peeling away.

“I wanna rip his face…” my son said angrily.  “Never mind,” he quickly added with a heavy sigh.  “But did you see that?? He was laughing!”

I told him I saw it but thought it best not to think about it.  Thinking about it would make me want to go chase the guy out of the garage.

A chase would be stupid and juvenile, of course.  A chase would automatically escalate the confrontation.  And once words were exchanged – particularly with a son who already wanted to “rip his face” – the probability of blows would be disturbingly high.

I’ve met many who, upon learning that I practice and teach kung fu, raise their eyebrows with what looks like disapproval, though usually cloaked in politeness.  One acquaintance actually made comments about promoting violence.  But the truth is precisely the opposite.  Most people don’t know that an evaluation of kung fu skills includes assessing one’s level of control.

Some of the most anti-confrontational people I’ve ever known wear a black belt or sash during their off hours.  The power to injure quickly and with minimal effort is sobering.  It frequently creates people who would rather just say “never mind.”


The Safe Subject

At about 10:30 on Thursday night, I dialed my father’s phone number for the first time in a couple of months.   Why I don’t talk to him more often is a long, complicated, sad story – some of which I mentioned here.  Tonight, our negative history was irrelevant.

Sounding simultaneously happy and sad, the first thing he said to me was: “I knew it was you.”  Of course he did.  Only I could be calling him when Derek Jeter had just knocked in the winning run in the last game he’d ever play in Yankee Stadium.

It was 1977, and I was in the third grade.  It wasn’t my first trip over the western state line, but it was the first I could remember alone with my dad.  My parents were thankfully separated.  Life was much quieter.  But I saw almost nothing of the former man of the house – until suddenly he was taking me to Yankee Stadium.

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(from Wikipedia)

We sat with his friends from work in seats right above the Yankee dugout.  I yelled out to Reggie Jackson and got a smile and a wave.  My father smiled a lot, too, in between answering my questions about the rules of the game.  I couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked to me so much.  I’ve been a Yankee fan ever since.

The safe subject for most people is the weather.  For my father and me, it’s the Yankees.  Bad trades and costly contracts, win or lose, I’ll always love them for that.