A good day in Burlington

That's one gold in sparring, and one bronze in kata. And a million-dollar smile.

When the worst thing you can say about a tournament is that the first stretch of the road trip was miserable due to inclement weather, you know you're having the right kind of problem.

Today we were in Burlington for the first ever Impact Nationals, and we did pretty well. Me half-way by default (I had no opponents in my fighting division and therefore won a "free" gold; but I did have to compete for my gold in kata so there's that), but Catherine earned her bling.

There were 15 kids in her kata division (9-10 advanced, boys and girls together), and she came third - and the only girl to medal. Then she was off to fight (9-10 advanced, girls only). There were five girls in her division and she got a by then had to fight one girl against whom she won fairly easily then had to fight again for gold - this time her opponent was much more of a challenge. Catherine won the fight 1-0 with only 5 seconds to spare - it was an excellent fight in which two smart girls of reasonably equal calibre patiently and purposefully worked to create openings while avoiding getting hit.

Many thanks to Master John Douvris for all the training and coaching. It's starting to pay off. Now if we could only deal with those freak snow storms...

Working through weakness

It's the end of a long day, and mama is feeling about as tired as she looks...

Today was tournament day in Quebec City. We did well. Eldest got a second place in kata out of 15 kids, which had me jumping up and down with excitement. It's one thing to medal in a field of four of five competitors. Getting second out of 15 is awesome. I was so proud of her I thought I might burst. Sparring for her didn't go quite as well and she didn't place there, but still, overall we're both happy with her performance today.

Me? Ah well. Now.

As you know, I'm an older kind of gal, by which I mean I'm 46. And us ladies, as you also know, have issues at times with that wretched menopause thing. And this weekend mama got hit pretty hard by it.

Remember during the last Olympics the world fell in love with that Chinese swimmer who was so darned cute talking about how she didn't think she'd done well because she was having her period?

Yeah, well. About that.

Female athletes have to deal with their cycle and that's just one of those things, right? Right. No stranger to that myself, thanks very much. But peri- and full-on menopause are something else - sort of like the cycle on nuclear steroids. (And not in a good way.)

You get the violent mood swings, the violent hot flashes, the violent and unpredictable periods, and the crippling cervix pain that feels like it would be a relief if you could cut your body in half.

I had that today. Well, not the hot flashes, really, but the rest, yes. And cramps, too. Wearing my crisp white (ga!) gi to boot, eating pain killers for breakfast and hoping the, er, equipment wouldn't malfunction.

And then I had to perform. And make it look strong.

Nothing to it, right?

Wrong. I started my kata feeling quite wobbly. I had the shakes and was dizzy as all get out. And I had to make a decision: either I was going to let all this perimenopausal nonsense kick my ass or I wouldn't. I decided I wouldn't. I steeled myself - hard - squeezed every bit of energy I had and threw it all out there on the mat. I finished my kata and took my spot, waiting for the results.

Would you know it: Out of five ladies I came out first! It had worked! Now I'd have to compete in grands, against all the other forms winners!

Crickey. Could I crank this out again?

I did my best, and I think my kata was stronger that second time around but it wasn't enough to get me near first place. Still, I felt I'd done about as well as I could have, especially given the circumstances.

I had a quick break before it was time to spar, so I ate something energetic hoping it would make the dizziness go away. It didn't, really, but it helped a bit.

It would have to do.

I was up fighting against a lady I'd fought once, over a year ago. That time she beat me pretty easily. Today, not so much. I won 10-3. After that I had to fight the 2016 world champion (35 years and older) and that wasn't an easy fight. But! Thanks to excellent coaching I managed to win a very close fight and get gold. YAY!

Which meant, of course, fighting in grands against the gold-medal winners in the 18+ divisions. I was up first against a spectacularly good young fighter who disposed of yours truly pretty quickly but still, I was happy with that fight because I managed to score once, woot.

When I got up this morning I didn't really know what I could do. Usually I'm lucky with the timing and don't have to deal with very powerful peri-menopausal symptoms and I confess I was tempted to throw in the towel before I even got started. But I didn't. Instead I chose to push through the unpleasantness and it worked.

There are all kinds of excuses and reasons not to push ourselves as hard as we can. We shouldn't use those excuses and reasons. Instead we should just grit our teeth and keep pushing anyway.

When criticism feels like victory

We did a whole bunch of sparring at training today - almost an hour, or so it felt. And as frequently happens I'm out there fighting against teenage boys and/or young men who are not only faster than me but also much better at sparring. And that's hard. I mean, against them I stink to high heavens. I'm slow, and I feel it.

But!

Sparring against these fine fellows with the long arms and the fast twitchy muscles improves my sparring like nothing else would. So part of me is very grateful for the opportunity to stink (er, you do get my drift, yes?). And you know, when I get in the ring with ladies my age, I find them slow. So there's that.

Anyway, what made me super happy today is a piece of criticism I got not to try to score all the time, but to relax and occasionally let my opponent make mistakes instead. Your aggressive game is fine, he said. You can score, and you do that well - but you shouldn't do it all the time because that makes you predictable.

OK, got it, will try my best. But at the same time, yay! Because I've been working on being more aggressive and go-getter-y since the provincial qualifiers last April. I remember at that time feeling like I was fighting decent but not being aggressive enough and therefore coming home with silver medals instead of gold ones. And I also remember shouting at myself (inside my head) on the drive back from London to Ottawa (duration: approximately forever) that it was time for me to stop being such a chicken and stop fighting so defensively. That it was time for me to get more aggressive and go get my points.

So yeah, today's criticism indeed felt like a very sweet personal victory. I've managed to fix one problem. It's just that I fixed it too much... I guess now I'll just have to recalibrate all that and see what happens.

We can all do our bit for these eager karate students

Great news! The physical copies of my new karate book, Not Just for Kicks: Dublin, 2016 are in production and are available for pre-order. It will retail for $15 , or $8.99 on Kindle), and I hope to sell a lot of them because...

A portion of the sales ($1 for the Kindle format, $2 for the paper version) will go to the karate program of Maison de la Gare, in Senegal. This program, started by my friends and fine martial artists Sonia LeRoy and her son Robbie Hughes, benefits talibé children in St. Louis. You can read more about the program here.

Karate is about more than just kicks and punches. It's about working to become the best we can be, and sharing this progress with others. I'm pleased and proud to have helped Sonia and Robbie with their project in the past, and I'm delighted to share the proceeds of my book with them. So don't be shy and buy a copy!

Hey, but we like Burlington

  Today was a fun day. Almost, in fact, entirely super positively great day. With one tiny exception, all of us girls (mama bear and her three girl cubs) did excellently at the 41st Ontario Provincial Open Martial Arts Championships in Burlington.

The weekend started wonderfully after not getting much traffic on the 401 Friday afternoon (miracle! we cleared Toronto in 20 minutes flat!) and getting to our fine hotel (Sandman in Oakville, we loved it) early enough that we had time to squeeze in a haircut for Eldest, who was determined to get bangs. Bonus: there is a Lindt chocolate store next door to our hotel. Of course we had to go, because 1) chocolate is a food group and 2) hey, they give you a delicious sample just for walking in...

After securing dessert (and yummy pizza from the grocery store), we went to the hotel pool for 20 minutes of gentle splashing then up to our room for dinner, some brain-sucking TV and early bed.

We got to the venue early enough on Saturday morning to witness the Para division - a truly inspiring display of talent and courage. Then it was the kids' divisions, to be followed in the afternoon by us grownups.

OK, so let's clear the iffy stuff. Youngest was fighting in the 6 and under novice division. Her fight was against a kid who evidently has been sparring a lot more than her. I love my baby to the moon and back, but I'm not blind to her faults and one of them is her temper. She's a feisty little girl. She got kicked in the ribs a few times by her opponent and screamed and cried that it hurt and basically threw a fit right there on the mat.

Now. The other little girl's kicks were good and solid, no doubt about that. But they were absolutely above board; I would not dream of complaining about her kicks one bit. My daughter had a different opinion, and voiced it loudly. The ref talked her into finishing her round and Youngest managed to do it, but let's just say that wasn't her finest moment. We talked about it on the way home; I think she understands a bit better the need to get used to hits if she wants to continue competing, to say nothing of the need to control her temper generally... Let's hope the lesson will sink in.

Meanwhile, Middle Daughter was up fighting in her division (7-8 advanced) while Eldest was doing her kata in her division (9-10 advanced) and Mama was filming one while looking at the other. Not ideal. But I'm delighted and proud to say Middle Daughter fought exceedingly well and earned herself a beautiful silver medal that she wore all the way home.

Eldest finished third in kata, and went on to win her fights to get gold in sparring woohoo. I didn't get to see her fight because her sparring happened at the same time as Youngest's tantrum, but I gather she did well.

After lunch (not that I ate anything) I was up for kata and sparring against two other ladies. I got gold in kata then fought both ladies to win gold in sparring, too. I'd never had double gold before, so yay me.

This was by far our most successful tournament to date (at least measured in medals), and to top if all off we didn't get bad traffic on the way back and were home shortly after 9 pm. Some laundry, some chocolate and wine, and a good night sleep to follow. Coach gave us tomorrow off training so if the weather cooperates Eldest and I (plus pup) will go run 10K in the morning to celebrate.

I mean, wouldn't you?

Not just for kicks book - another update

Yes, I'm on vacation, but still I managed to squeeze in a little work time and lo! The revised draft is now done. It's off to the copyeditor now and should be back soon I hope. Then it's the final layout work, followed by ebook version then paper version. We're looking fairly good for the end of the month - at least for the ebook version. Thanks again to all those who've supported this project! You guys rock.

The magical tea bag

We are roadtripping these days, on our way to Florida for a few days of theme parks. No, not Disney. We've done Disney. We wanted to do the other ones this time. We love theme parks. The rides, especially. I always loved thrill rides, and I'm delighted that my kids also enjoy them. I'm excited because I got a huge deal on Six Flags season tickets last fall ($53/person for unlimited access to any and all parks for a whole year, parking included), and I can hardly wait for the nice weather to come back to Canada so we can go hit La Ronde.

So yes. Florida. Which can be done on a budget provided you plan right and execute the plan according to, well, plan. That means driving instead of flying, and staying at budget hotels. Oh, and saying No to children who want all manner of treats on the way down. See, kids, the big treat is Universal... Try to behave grateful.

Another way we manage to make these trips work is on the food front. We don't go to restaurants much. We go to grocery stores instead. I always travel with a few insulated bags to store my things, a few empty plastic containers to store/serve food, a few utensils, and a sponge/detergent kit to wash dishes in my hotel at night. Amazing how much money (and time) you save that way. And how much healthier you eat...

Plus - and this is where we reach the point of this post - you discover all kinds of fun things about the places you're visiting on you way. There's this big Giant Eagle on the side of the highway in Frederick MD that I like to stop at whenever I'm in the neighbourhood. I went there yesterday. Dropped Dad and the kids at the deli counter so they could order themselves a salad or sandwich, and went merrily on my way through the giant labyrinth of aisles filled with products both familiar and not.

I love doing that. I love exploring a grocery store, seeing what kinds of food people tend to eat. And I love to try new things, such as melon kombucha, Lapsang Souchong and Prince of Wales teas from Twinings. We have that brand of tea where I live, but not those particular varieties. I tried them both in my hotel room this morning and find them both delish. I'm planning to grab myself a few boxes on the way home. I also tried a container of some Cajun fish spread that was made in-store. It had cream cheese, some bits of fish, cheese and spices - and it was crazy good.

I'm looking forward to another grocery-store expedition in Georgia later today, very much including finding a new kind of craft beer I haven't tried yet. I find much joy in these small, inexpensive pleasures. They help put a little sunshine in my heart.

Some days you win, some days you learn

It's true what they say, you know. You either win or you lose. Today, there was a lot of learning.

Nope, we didn't bring home anything shiny. It wasn't that kind of day. But among the things we learned is how to deal with disappointment and defeat - especially true for Youngest, for whom this is all very new (today was her second tournament). We also got good lessons in how to manage our nerves, how to be less scared of enormous opponents, and how to handle defeat gracefully by cheerfully going about the business of cheering on our teammates.

Not everything in karate has to do with kicks and punches.

Challenge accepted

Hey! Tomorrow is the first tournament of the season, just north of Montreal, and it's one we've done before. Yes! This is officially our second year on the circuit, and we have a whole bunch of new goals and challenges ahead of us, first among which is the drive to continue improving ourselves and keep working towards being the best people/martial artists we can be. Here are rules I gave my daughter last year, and they still stand today:

  1. Remember that I love you.
  2. Remember to fight clean, even if your opponents don't. Titles and trophies are not nearly as important as your honour and character.
  3. Remember that sometimes judges and refs make mistakes because hey, we're all human. Accept the ruling with good grace and move on.
  4. Always show respect for your opponents, their coaches, the judges and referees. If you win a fight, bow to the ref and your opponent and go shake hands with your opponent's coach before you start celebrating.
  5. Fight to win, but don't worry about winning. Worry about being a good person. That way when you win you'll still be pleasant to be around.
  6. Now go kick ass. ;)

That's it! I'll let you know how it goes.

An update on my Not Just for Kicks project

Well! Now that February is around the corner I feel like I should let folks know where I'm at with the Not Just for Kicks project. The writing of the book is going well. I'm still looking at a February deadline but, ahem, we might be looking at late-ish February... The video will come after. I'm still hoping it'll be ready by the end of February and keeping my fingers crossed. I will keep you posted on my progress. Thanks again for your support!

"Self, I said, you monumental moron..."

Hey! We have our first tournament of the season next weekend. So to mark the occasion let me repost this thing from last year. I will point out that the novel is now published (serially on this website; look under the "Fiction/Normal by Death" tab).

Soul-searching times, aka tournament week

There is a pattern here somewhere. Every week there is a tournament I find myself searching my soul for answers to the great questions of my life.

Such as: Am I good enough?

I don’t mean, am I good enough to win. I’m not yet at the point where winning is all that realistic so my goal is to be the very best version of me I can be right now, and to keep improving. I’m training as hard as I know how, through cold/flu, soreness, stiffness, and so on, but it’s amazing really how it takes competition to push you past your limits.

So yeah, I compete. But that’s not what the soul-searching is about. It’s much more general than this.

See, I’m finally getting around to editing my novel, after sitting on it for about a year, and also – not particularly related, but there you go – I’m finally getting around to working for real on my home renovations. We started fixing up this old house back when I got pregnant with the Eldest, and did a fair bit of work over the following three or four years, but something about having three babies inside of four years plus buying a cottage that also needs extensive work slowed me down some. Oh, alright. The work has completely stopped. And even though both endeavours, novel-writing and renovations, are unrelated, they share a trait: I’ve been waiting for the longest time to do both because I was somehow convinced that I had to wait until I was in the right space (mentally, financially, head-space-ly) to get started on those jobs.

And recently I said to myself: Self, I said, you monumental moron, you gonna wait like that until your teeth fall out, or maybe get going? What are you, chicken?

I didn’t really like that question, and I especially didn’t like the answer. So I changed it. I decided I didn’t have time to wait much longer, that if I did wait much longer I’d never get to it (plus I’m sick of unfinished jobs), and so I should just get to it and get it done, however imperfectly.

I decided to convince myself that I was in the right space now, even though I’m not really. That the space I’m in right now has to be good enough. That people publish novels that suck more than mine, and live to tell the tale. That I can certainly stain my oak windows and make them look awesome. That if I can go and battle scary opponents at karate tournaments that meant I was no chicken and what was my excuse for not getting that novel done, huh?

So yes. I need to work at it and keep getting better. But I am good enough.

What I miss the most these days

It's January and I'm grumpy because I'm always tired and low on energy plus these days I'm fighting off the cold or flu or whatever bug it is that's plaguing my house (Youngest hasn't been herself in a month), mostly by ignoring it, gngngn. I was going through my old posts this morning and this one, from July 2015, made me wince with envy. The only positive thing about it is that I know spring is coming back and I'll get to do the morning swim thing again in just a few months...

IMG_0628

Or why I need a waterproof camera. My swim this morning was nothing short of magical. It's quite cold these days, about 11C (slightly under 60F) this morning and the water is much warmer than the air, which creates this thick mist that slowly dispels as the rising sun warms up the air. There's barely any breeze at all. The whole thing feels like Middle Earth except the lake isn't spooky.

There's nobody but me and some fishing guy in the distance (plus wildlife making its usual cacophony), and it's like I'm gliding smoothly into liquid smoke as I swim westward towards the island across the channel. I go like this for about 300 feet, then turn to face the beautiful golden pink of the rising sun and swim back to my dock while a flock of birds skim across the quiet waters.

I'm just sorry I couldn't film it for you.

Oh, blah

And I mean, blaaaahhhh. Mama's finding this winter tough. It's either too cold or too dark or not sunny enough and what with one thing and another it's been very difficult to find time to stick my nose out the door for a boost of vitamin D. And for the last month I've been extremely tired and low on energy. Not depressed or anything, this is a purely physical thing. I'm just terribly tired, all the time. It's not weird either, this happens to me every single year, at about this time of year. The little indian in me needs Mr. Sun on her skin, and the proper light of day all around. Sure, you can take vitamin D supplements until you go blue in the face (I take at least 2,000 IU a day), and iron supplements and a really good diet that includes enough sleep, nothing works as well as that magic potion, aka "spring weather" does.

I'll get through it the way I do every year, by trying to ignore it until it goes away. But gngngngn that's hard.

_________________________

Night time update: Well! I stuffed myself full of vitamin D (pill form and Mr Sun form - I took the kids skating) and lo, I feel *almost* my old self again.

Hmmm, a science experiment that didn't go very far

Looking back at my posts from six months ago, I see this:

Been wondering lately how I could reduce the amount of time I spend with my nose glued to the computer screen. I spend a lot of my time that way. It's all important work, don't get the wrong idea. I try very hard not to waste time (don't have much to spare anyhow), and there is a lot of things I need to get done. All good things that I enjoy doing. But maybe too many of them.

"Reduce computer time" and have more attention to devote to other matters (like cleaning my house and drawing with the kids) is a fine goal. But how to go from goal to reality?

The answer came to me Friday night. I would measure my computer time to see where and when I spend the most. That's the first step. Gathering knowledge.

So I stuck a big giant clock app on my desktop and I start it whenever I work and stop it when I get up. So far I got 00:54:57 on Friday (partial day; I started tracking myself after dinner), 2:12:18 Saturday and so far Sunday I've got 2:36:12.

I believe, based on how much time I had to putter in my backyard, that 2:36:12 is a massive improvement compared to last Sunday. It may be that I want to avoid seeing my counter go up too much and therefore focus better while at my desk so I can get things done more efficiently.

I like what this is doing to my work-life balance so far and will keep it going some more.

I didn't keep up with the experiment past the two-week mark. I found I kept forgetting to log my time, which kind of ruined the thing. I have, however, managed to spend less time at the computer - especially now that both documentaries are edited and done. It got nuts there for about two months. Still. Working less and living more - especially when you homeschool three curious kids - is not so much a resolution as an important life goal. And I'm getting there, slowly. Like say yesterday, where we spent three hours roaming downtown delivering care packages to homeless folks, followed by a half-hour goose chase looking for a book someone had claimed to leave at a grocery store (my kids have decided to start bookcrossing, which looks like fun). The older me would have resented the time away from the computer a lot. The newer me didn't - and we all had a much more pleasant time as a result.

So there. While the scientific experiment sort of flopped, I intend to continue with the goal.

Learning to give back

My freezing troopers One thing social media is good for is providing sources of inspiration (yes, absolutely, it's there in-between the click-bait nonsense - you just have to look for it).

Case in point, my friend Anna Bélanger recently posted pictures of her and her kids getting ready to deliver care packages to homeless folks for Christmas. And I though, hey, what a great idea and why am I not doing that, too?

So today we prepared a bunch of care packages, stuffed our backpacks with them, dressed up warmly, and headed out. At first the kids were too shy to approach anyone so I had to do the talking, but by the end Eldest was keen to do everything herself. They were involved in the entire process; from picking items to give away to preparing the packages to carrying them in pretty miserable weather. And in the end they commented on how good it made them feel to have done something for people who don't have a lot of attractive options right at the moment.

Homelessness is a complicated issue. You don't always know or understand how or why someone winds up sitting on the very cold sidewalk with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It's easy to judge, but it doesn't help anyone (including the person doing the judging). And one of the worst things you can do to someone in that situation is treat them like they are less than human. Having a sweet 10-year-old girl hand you a sandwich she made herself and a few other chocolate-covered goodies will not solve anything either. But it has the power to warm a heart, and sometimes that's all you can do.

So yes, thanks Anna, for the inspiration. We shall do it again.