Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why We Do TSD

     Besides those few questions that we always get asked about Tang Soo Do, the other one we get is this:

     "Why are you doing it?"

     It's not because we're naturally sporty people who love to be involved in all these classes and activities. Don't get me wrong - we like Tang Soo Do a lot! But it really was the first of this kind of thing the Clan has ever done. None of this family has ever been in any of the local baseball or football teams, we don't sing in choir (lucky them) - we just plain don't do a lot of this kind of thing. So we didn't start taking Tang Soo Do because we wanted one more thing to keep us busy.

     We do it to be safe. Mom wanted all of us to learn some self-defense. She thinks - and I agree with her - that it's important to be watching, to be aware of where you are and what's happening around you. Sometimes that's enough to keep you out of a lot of trouble. And even if you end up in a dangerous situation, regardless of what you did, it helps to be prepared and to know there's something you can do.

     Mom didn't immediately think of martial arts when she started looking for something for us to get into. And even when that did come up, she didn't think of Tang Soo Do - I don't think I even know Tang Soo Do was a thing back then. YMA just happened to be close and handy, so that's where we went. In the end, I think it's turned out to be a very good fit for our family, but we didn't know that going into it. We just thought it would teach us what we would need to know to be safe and smart about our safety.

   Since we started TSD, I can definitely see places where we've become smarter in our thinking and more aware of what's happening, at least most of the time. Here at the house we still have no idea when someone is talking to us, but when I'm out around people I have my eyes open. We know we don't have to be ridiculously paranoid, but to be naive is just as foolish. A little bit of paranoia goes a long way to keep us from making dumb mistakes that can end up causing a lot of trouble for us. Also, knowing that there's a way to escape if someone grabs you is a huge confidence booster. That's something TSD has taught.

     Since we started in 2013, we've learned many, many different aspects of self-defense. It turns out there are many ways to break free if someone grabs you, even if they're much bigger than you are. We learn these techniques, along with strikes, kicks, and other martial arts techniques, and then we drill them over and over so that they become our first response. Hopefully, at least. Sometimes we don't know what's going to come out, but the more we practice, the more likely it is that we'll know what to do when it's important. This takes a lot of time and work sometimes, but in the end it's worth it to know that if any number of things happen, we have a response already prepared.

     And just through all this practice, we've gotten in the habit of keeping our eyes open, being watchful, and staying calm. Sometimes those first two are all you need to keep yourself out of a bad situation, but even when that doesn't work out, staying calm is just as important. If you freak out, you've already lost.

     Those are the ways TSD has made us smarter about our safety. And that's what Mom was looking for. I think it was a smart choice, not just to give us something to do as a family, but also to equip us for the rest of our lives with important skills. These don't have to be the reasons for learning martial arts, but they're our reasons. And now that we're in it, we stay because we like it, not just because it's important to us to know how to do it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tang Soo Do

     Many of you may know that the Clan has been doing martial arts for over a year now. We started in September of 2013, and since we're still at it I guess you could say we've enjoyed it. Since we do get a lot of questions about martial arts, I think some of the most general ones should be answered. And since I hope to write more posts about our martial arts experience, I'd like to get a few things cleared up right now.

     The first question we always get asked is what martial art we're taking. When people think about martial arts they typically think of karate, judo, or Tae Kwon Do. We're not taking any of those. Our martial art is called Tang Soo Do - easy to confuse with Tae Kwon Do, and in fact they're very similar. They're both Korean based martial arts with a fairly equal focus on combat and self-defense techniques. The belt ranking system is also very similar, so unless you're taking either one, it can be hard to get what the difference is. I actually don't really know why they're two different martial arts instead of just one, but I never said I was an expert. Generally, when people ask me if I'm taking Tae Kwon Do I figure it's close enough and let it go at that.

     The other question we get a lot is: "What's your rank?" Tang Soo Do uses colored belts to show rank, just like pretty much every other martial art. The ranks run white, orange, green, brown, red, blue, and then black. Every rank has an advanced level, which is signified by a white stripe added to your belt (except with the white belts, where it's black.) The other exception is the blue belt, which signifies a junior black belt. We're at the brown belt level, so we have another year or so of training - if everything goes well - before we'll be junior black belts.

     And the other thing we get asked a lot is: "Is the whole family in it?"

     Yes and no.

     Only eight of us are enrolled. That would be Mom, myself, Skinny, M, Jo, Tubby, Cob, and Pete. However, there's a certain amount that the little kids have picked up from seeing us practice around the house, and I know a few of them think that hopefully someday they'll get to do martial arts as well. So it might not be a whole-family thing yet, it could be someday.

     Here are all the semi-ninja Clan people that have enrolled in TSD so far. There may be more eventually, but right now these are the only ones.
The Orangies
The brown belts  ---   My picture-taker chopped off part of
Skinny's head, but I guess that's okay. He was too tall anyway.
     These next few weeks I'm going to be doing some martial arts posts. I figure since we've been doing it for going on two years, I ought to write something about it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What We Get Up To

     It appears my Star Wars post yesterday had an effect. Last night, I came upstairs to find Pete making himself a Jedi Padawan learner braid. He wasn't the only one. By the morning, everyone from M on down had braids, except Tubby, of course. Tubby isn't interested in braids or dress-up, thank you very much. But he'll swing a lightsaber with the best of them.
     Not all of them are real braids, of course. The boys always sport a really short haircut, so there's no way that was braided. Fuzz and Becca are the only ones in this picture with braids made of real hair. The boys had to make do with taping braided ribbon to the sides of their heads. 
     The things we get up to when we're in the mood. Especially on weekends. Oh, and the bathrobes? Jedi robes. Maybe you didn't pick that up right away, but that's what they are. In fact, bathrobes are a very handy costume accessory and can stand in for pretty much anything. We've made use of them before.

     As I'm writing this, they're downstairs swinging lightsabers and shooting each other up with blasters. That's good, wholesome fun and entertainment as far as I'm concerned.
Go Nah! Beat 'em up!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Of Star Wars

     I grew up watching Star Wars, might as well admit it. I've been developing my Jedi Force powers for years, and I'm always on the lookout for Sith Lords to pick a fight with. Star Wars is something I can always remember knowing about. We used to watch Episode I while Mom and Dad were at Bible study - we saw Episode I so many times. Since Mom and Dad prefer the original trilogy, I've seen Episode 4 a lot as well. I can't count how many times we've seen each of them, though. Too many to count.

     With the entire Clan well and truly steeped in Star Wars, it's only natural that we have more than the usual number of lightsabers in our house. We have a lot of the plastic kind, with the collapsible blades. Some of them even light up and make lightsaber sounds.

     Others we've made ourselves from foam pool noodles and duct tape. There's a very nice selection of these around the house.
The rainbow colors aren't normal for most Jedi, but we think it looks intimidating.
     The number of Force users in the Clan is phenomenal, though. Every one of us at some point has attained the rank of Jedi Master, and a few think they're on a level with Yoda - although when 900 years old they are, look so good they will not.

     And we've had a Sith Lord living here for years and years as well.

"You don't know the power of the Dark Side!"
     By the way, I am not the biggest Star Wars fan in this house, despite what you might think. I do have my moments, but that title belongs to David, no question about it. He has bought many, many Star Wars LEGO sets, being the science-fiction geek that he is, and there is so much random trivia he knows about the ships and weapons, etc. But Mom and Dad have always encouraged our lightsaber-swinging tendencies, so you can be sure they enjoy the movies as much as we do. This particular obsession isn't entirely the fault of the kids. Mom was the one who suggested we make lightsabers out of duct tape, and I can't remember which one of them had the idea to get David the Vader helmet for his birthday years and years ago. Star Wars has been in our family forever.

     With that kind of history, we get an unnatural amount of enjoyment out of books like these:

     Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. What a book. It's full of pictures of things from all six Star Wars episodes: clothes, weapons, planets, ships, even the bazillion different types of aliens. I could read that thing for hours. What's especially interesting is that it's set up like any other visual dictionary about something real - space or ancient Greece or fish. We have a shelf full of Eyewitness books downstairs, and though they don't have nearly as many pages as the Star Wars book, they're set up the same, with the little lines pointing to important features. 
     The Complete Visual Dictionary is just like the Eyewitness books. The detail is amazing - big pictures, full color, little panels where it talks about what this or that does and where it comes from. It's a really interesting book to read. And what makes it even more funny is the amount of work and techno-babble that must have gone into making it seem authentic. All for a pretend world that supposedly existed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Study your lessons well, Padawan.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On the Coming of Spring

     Last night, while driving home with my Mom, I realized I had material for a post about the coming of spring, as seen through the eyes of one who lives in southern Minnesota.

     Don't let the "southern" part fool you. Where I live we get what many states consider "a lot" of snow, but I wouldn't think it had been winter unless we had piles of snow taller than me where Dad had pushed out the driveway. Temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees are considered "warm" in Minnesota during the months of January and February. 
Our garden in the winter
Our garden in the early summer
     With that kind of mindset, I think we sometimes associate different things with the coming of spring. And so they are, the signs that herald spring in southern Minnesota.

     After seeing how much snow we get, definitely one of the first signs that winter is finally over is when all of that starts to melt off. Less than a mile from our house at the bottom of the hill, there's a bridge that crosses a little creek. During most of the year, the bridge stands nearly twenty feet over the surface of the water. In March, snow around where we live melts off, runs down the hill, and for a day or two, the water can come up to the bottom of the bridge.
     Almost every spring, the pastures at the bottom of the hill are totally flooded out. We drive down there almost every spring to take more pictures and look at it again. It's a very awe-inspiring sight, all that water in one place where I'm used to seeing a narrow creek only a foot or two deep. Seeing the flooding is one of my strongest memories of spring.
     Something else that means spring to us is when the robins descend in herds to suck down worms in our backyard. I know you're not supposed to say 'herds' with birds, but the amount we have going through out backyard some days goes beyond flocks. Also when the dandelions start to bloom by the septic tank lids. They seem to grow there first.

     Even more indicative, though, at least in the part of the country where I live, is when you start to see the red-winged blackbirds. When you can hear them singing as you step outside and see them on the fencelines as you drive by, that's when we know spring is really here.

     But way before all these things, there's something else that tells us Minnesotan's that spring is on the way at last. And that something is the smell of dead skunk on the road.

     That smell isn't one commonly associated with spring, but if you think about it, it should be. Skunks are hibernating animals, and when the days start getting longer as we progress into February, the skunks start to wake up and move around. And then they get run over. Basically, it's like Groundhog's Day. When we smell skunks on the road in February, we know there's about four weeks left until spring.

     Those are the signs of spring, folks. And since Mom and I smelled skunk the other night, we should be heading into spring by the middle of March. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Project

     In general, I'd say I'm big on planning. I like to know what I'm getting into, what will be required, and what I can expect. There are exceptions - I don't plan my blog posts hardly at all, I rarely plan my writing, and I have no plan for what I'm going to do most days besides the everyday. But for bigger ventures, I insist on knowing what will be required.

     Which is why it's something of a surprise to me that I actually agreed to make a blanket for my cousin a few years ago. Actually, it hasn't quite been what I'd call a 'few years' yet. He asked me at Christmas time in 2013, so if I can finish it this year, I can say I did it in two years.

     But the blanket-making experience was not what I was expecting at all. In fact, I don't think I expected anything. I thought it would be no problem. 

     I'm a big crocheter. I enjoy crochet, and it's the only craft that I consistently like doing. Sewing is on and off, but all other forms of crafts are just plain out. I cannot draw, I dislike painting, and I'm not into modeling. But crochet I really like. 
This is the chair where I do most of my crocheting.

     That Christmas, my cousin asked me to crochet him a full-size blanket for his bed. Basically, an afghan. He had a few guidelines I was able to get from him to narrow down exactly what I was supposed to be making. He wanted it to be the Harley Davidson colors: orange and black. Not tiger or Halloween, though, so I had to be careful about what orange I picked. He also wanted it to be checkered, which really helped, because after I said I'd do it and then started seriously thinking about what I'd do to make it, there were all sorts of options.

     I've never planned a crochet project this big. I've never even planned a sewing project this size. I did sew a quilt once, but for that I had my grandma's help and a pattern already picked out. For this job, I had to make everything up as I went along. I didn't have any idea how much yarn I would need, how long it would take, and how I was going to make all my checks the same size so they went together well. I learned a lot as I went along. In fact, not only is this afghan the biggest thing I've ever been asked to crochet, it's turned into a really central thing for me in these past few months. It's not just my cousin's blanket anymore, it's the Project.

     When I started, I had to figure out all the basics myself. How much yarn does it take to make an afghan? When I first went to the store to pick up some to start out with, I thought I was buying about half of what I'd need. I got a big one-pound ball of black, and then two smaller balls of orange. Because I rarely buy new yarn and just use what I get for free from people, that was the most yarn I had ever bought at one time. But as it turned out, that was not enough yarn. Since then, I've gone back and gotten that much again, and right now I think I'm about halfway or two-thirds of the way done with this afghan. I'll be going back to get at least black again, and probably more orange as well.

     I tell you, when I finish the Project, I'm not going to be using black and orange together for a long time. 

     The checkered pattern was also a challenge. I knew I wanted to just crochet squares and then stitch them together. That way I only had to carry around little squares instead of a huge afghan that would be hard to work with. But I didn't want to use just basic crochet stitches to make the squares I'd need, because that was going to be so boring to repeat over and over and over and over. Luckily I had gotten some crochet how-to books for my birthday that year. And those books had about 175 different crochet stitches in them that could be used for just this kind of project.
     So I just started making squares. I didn't really plan ahead there, though, because none of my squares ended up being the same size. Some were bigger, some were smaller, and even the ones that were supposed to be identical didn't match. I had to backtrack a lot. After ripping out squares several times, sometimes three or four times each, it finally occurred to me that if I wrote down my pattern as I went along, I'd be more consistent.

     It took me weeks to figure that out.

     But I tried it, and having a pattern was a huge help. I started to turn out squares that were pretty close to the same size. 
     The other thing I didn't think about when I started the Project was the sheer amount of time it would take to make all those squares and stitch them together in rows and then stitch the rows together to make this afghan. When I started, I was full of enthusiasm and thought I'd have the job done in six months. Then I started having setbacks as I picked stitches, made uneven squares, and realized how long it took to make just one square. By my estimate, I would need more than 100 squares.

     And at that point, I started to lose interest. The Project was a huge commitment that took up lots of my time. One square was the work of about an hour, sometimes more. That was an hour of time when I couldn't be reading, couldn't be writing, wasn't doing chores and school, and couldn't really use my hands for anything else. With lots of other things I was involved in and interested in doing, I didn't end up sitting down to crochet very often. For about four months in the middle of 2014, I don't think I worked on it at all. 

     Then I started my high school world history course, and as part of the course, I had to listen to something like six audiobooks. Suddenly, I had lots of time to crochet, because it turns out I can crochet well enough that I don't have to think about it. I just go, and my mind can pay attention to the tapes while my hands are busy. I made massive progress. Just a few weeks ago, the drawer where I was keeping these squares got full, and it was time to start putting rows together. 
     Right now I have four rows put together, and three of those are actually joined to each other. My drawer still has squares for two or three more rows, so I'm guessing that before the end of February I'll have half of that blanket done.
     With all that progress made, I'm looking to get the Project done so I can finally give him his blanket. It has been a great learning experience, but I'm ready to be finished. My plan is to keep working on it when I'm at bible-study, and once the days start getting longer so I'll have light, I'll be taking my bag of yarn along in the car and working on it then. I think I can realistically hope to finish by the end of 2015 or early 2016 if I keep working in it.

     So, cousin, it's coming. Not as quickly as I expected, but I haven't forgotten. Hang in there.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Memphis Week

     When Mom and Dad are both away, which doesn't happen extremely often, the job of keeping the house from going to pot and getting meals on the table is delegated off to the oldest of the kids left at home.

     That used to be David and Eli. But right now, David is working part-time and taking college classes, and Eli doesn't even live here at the moment. So that leaves me.

     I got my turn to take charge this earlier this month when Mom and Dad went to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. No, they weren't competing, but the Clan is a big fan of Jimmi and The Band of Souls, who were the blues band in the competition representing Minnesota. Mom, Dad, and a few friends drove down to Memphis for about a week to watch them play.

     This International Blues Competition turned out to be a big thing for all of us, not just Jimmi and the Band of Souls. For one thing, Mom and Dad haven't made a trip of that extent without us kids, so I imagine it was a pretty good vacation for them, even though they didn't get a lot of sleep. For us kids, though, it was definitely a new experience. Mom and Dad have certainly been gone before and left us older ones in charge, but that's usually only for the weekend, maybe three or four days at most.

     The Memphis trip was in many ways a learning experience, and in other ways, a test of endurance and stamina. Many parts of it weren't anything different then what we've done before. Most of the pre-trip preparation goes into food. If there's no food, there's certain to be a mutiny among the ranks, so to speak. So before they left Mom got the groceries we'd need and wrote up the menu in our red folder. This wasn't a really complicated job, either, since the food for these times when we're managing without Mom is pretty simple.

     I've never had dreams of being a cook - okay, I haven't recently had dreams of being a cook, but what little girl doesn't think she's going to be a cook when she grows up? And here I am, grown up (somewhat) and I can cook (somewhat). All the canning we do other times of the year is really handy when Mom is gone because those staple foods are just downstairs, and all we have to do is stick them in a pot and heat them up. 

     But regardless of what I said about being a cook, I can make a variety of meals. Off the top of my head, I know I can make lasagna, fajitas, and bake bread without following a recipe. I can prepare the staples: rice, noodles, baked potatoes. You don't need a recipe or any special skills to cook pancakes or fry eggs - or run a toaster, which is what we usually eat in the mornings anyway. And with a recipe I can do pretty much whatever. Furthermore, I'm not the only one equipped with these skills. I'm the oldest girl, but with plenty of other kids younger than me who want to do something with Mom, she has taught them most of what I've learned. Stick can make pretty much anything I can, and I think if I'd wanted to, I could have put her completely in charge of food for the Memphis week.

     I didn't, though, because I'm like that. Even if I'm not actually running the show, I like to feel like I am.

     For Memphis week, we didn't have anything really complicated. Most of it was what we could make from our canned foods. Spaghetti, chili, chicken melts, and hot dogs. Easy stuff. We had to follow one recipe, and that was to make ham chowder, which isn't rocket science at all. The only really complicated meal was bowl omelets, which I specifically requested. All bowl omelets requires is fried broccoli, onions, and potatoes served over scrambled eggs. Obviously, that's not really complicated at all, as long as we get everything started ahead of time so it's ready in time for supper.

     Breakfasts were easy as well. We had toast a lot, which is normally what we have for breakfast anyway. Other days we got muffins Mom had made ahead of time out of the freezer and let them thaw during the night so they'd be ready for breakfast the next day. Granola and yogurt is another zero-prep breakfast for us. And because we don't eat a normal lunch at noon, but have a snack-ish type meal at 2, that was no big deal. We have plenty of snacky type foods on hand, so we had smoothies or peanut butter on crackers/celery. No problem. 
Red folder menu with each day's meals written out,
along with what we need to thaw out for the next day.
     And that was all we really had to do about food. We had one small crisis when we ran out of bananas, but since I can drive, I took care of that little problem. So all in all, food wasn't a big issue, as long as we had it. No, the problem really was - what do we do with ourselves for a week!

     A big question, and a good one to have answered. For one thing, we kept up our normal school load, so it wasn't like we had a week of weekends, which would have been really hard. We all wish we had more free time, but a week of weekends would have been too much free time for any of us. Plus, having school go on maintained our normal routine, so even if Mom wasn't there, things weren't totally screwy. But school only keeps people occupied until about noon usually, so there's still a lot of daytime left. 

     There was outside playing. As often as possible, I tried to get them outside, because Mom is right. Kids cooped up in the house during the winter can be very hard to cope with. It's loud, and there's just too much pent-up energy running around and literally bouncing off walls. I kicked them outside at least once or twice, and they built snowmen and had a good time. And we have all kinds of games and puzzles and toys that they can play with, so it wasn't like we spent all week sitting around and staring at each other going: "We don't have anything to play with!"
The Game Shelf. And we have still more games downstairs.
     The biggest part of keeping people occupied for a week with the minimum of bickering was accomplished through just being available. And I don't mean just me. If I had had to be available to play with the littles or Melonheads for an entire week, I wouldn't be writing this post right now because I would still be in recovery from the ordeal and not speaking to anyone. All of us made a point of being more available than we usually are. Skinny played Paintball on the Wii with people, and Stick often volunteered to play games and puzzles with the littles. And the Melonheads pretty much know what to do with themselves, and they were great to have around to assist with small jobs.

     In retrospect, I think we did a really good job of keeping things going. I know that Skinny and I were very aware of how many days we had to keep this ball rolling. We weren't about to do anything that would land us with crabby people right when we were getting started. In fact, it wasn't until the very last day, around suppertime even, when things started to fall apart. Which means, ahem, I started to fall apart. 

     I actually texted Dad that last evening, when they were on their way home, and told him I didn't know how parents were able to sign up for this parenting thing full time. Because if the Memphis trip taught me one thing, it's that parenting is hard! I suppose I did get thrown off the deep-end, with ten kids, but none of them were little, little kids - Becca is four, after all. And I wasn't the only one running that deal, Skinny and Stick did as much as I did. But just being responsible part-time for a week was all I was ready for.

     The biggest thing we had to deal with, though, wasn't food, or what to do with ourselves. It was the fact that Mom and Dad have never been away for this long. Period. And we weren't entirely sure how everyone would take it, and if they'd be extra crabby and difficult or not. So Mom and Dad would video call us from their rental home every morning and we'd 'talk' to them for a while. That helped a lot. There were still some afternoons when Nah and Becca did not have it together, and Fuzz was maybe more antagonistic than usual, but on the whole, it wasn't terrible. 

     All in all, I'd say we came through Memphis week pretty good. Next time Mom and Dad are gone for that length of time, we'll be even better prepared to keep things going. That's the theory, anyway. Sometimes you can't prepare for real life.