Monday, December 31, 2012

A December to Remember: White House Visit!

I know I said I wasn't blogging again until 2013 so surprise!  Actually I found a minute and Little Helen and I finally were able to share and compile our White House photos so I wanted to write a little bit about that day.

As you know my December started with me taking the test to receive my first degree black belt, which I actually received at the show.  In between testing and receiving the belt, I took a quick 3-day trip to Washington, DC because Little Helen received an invitation to a Holiday Reception at the White House.  Unlike the Holiday Tours that are offered, this is an invitation only event and though there were several hundred people, it is still pretty exclusive.  All the rooms in the East Wing of the White House are actually open and available to walk through and take photos.  This trip will definitely go down as one of the most exciting things I've ever done in my life!

I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving looking around for something to wear and just as I was about to give up, I hit the jackpot and found a beautiful dress that was a pinkish-beige color.  I wanted something classy looking but not sparkly as I was trying to go between holiday and business with my look.  Besides, I wanted to accessorize with sparkles, which I pulled off with my pocketbook, shoes and jewelry.  I also found out that if you try hard enough, it is possible to find the perfect undergarments for a dress like this that will make you look smooth without squeezing the life out of you.  That is a whole other blog though.

The day of the event arrived and Little Helen had to go to work, leaving me alone to putter and get dressed at my leisure which was quite lovely.  I was able to really take time with my hair and makeup and accessories and I'm not gonna lie, by the time I left to go to the reception, I felt not only White House worthy but like a million bucks.  Don't you just love it when that happens?

I took the metro into DC and met up with Little Helen and we went to the appointed gate and got in line for the security checks.  Ultimately we ended up going through four (and this was after providing personal information for a pre-clearance!), including being sniffed by dogs and metal detection, which my jewelry promptly set off, leading to being wanded.  Worth every minute it took.

Little Helen said as soon as the saw the amount of secret service and the dogs she knew that the Obamas would be making an appearance, which was confirmed fairly quickly once we were inside.  So right away, we had to make a choice to either eat some food and tour and view all the rooms or immediately go to the area where the Obamas would be so that we had the chance to shake their hands.  It was not much of a decision for me:  I wanted to fully experience being in the White House and I knew I would still see the Obamas and hear them speak so off we went to tour and get food!

It was an amazing, dream-like experience.  There was so much to see it was like sensory overload.  I realized once I looked at the photos I'd taken that I'd missed so much and those things will just have to remain in my memories.

To have had the privilege of visiting the White House during such an exclusive reception and then to have the opportunity to be in the presence of our standing President is almost indescribable. So, I'll let the photos do the talking.  Because there are so many photos, I didn't want to download them here as I wanted to share them all.  So please, click on the link under this photo to get to the album and join me on the tour and be a part of my December to remember!

Joy to All Holidays at the White House 2012

P.S. Make sure if you set the slideshow option, you show the captions as they  give the details and tell our story.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Since The World Didn't End

I'm able to get in one last post for 2012.  So, I'm going to use it for wishes...

May your days be merry and bright...

Merry Christmas

Happy New Year

See you on the flip side!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Ten

1. Actual photo that a friend of mine posted on Facebook.  Taken at her house; not photo-shopped or retouched.  Look carefully - click on it to make it bigger if you need to.

2. Actual Facebook status update written by an 18 year old friend.  Though he meant it literally, get ready because this will make you think:

How am i supposed to do anything with my life if i cant get my car out of park?!?!?!?!

3.  Since the Power Weekend when I tested for 6 hours for my black belt, I made a conscious decision not to be too exercise driven.  I really want my foot to finish healing up.  So, I'm not doing two-a-day exercising.  If I want to go to a Muay Thai class, that's all I do that day.  If I want to get up and run, that's it.  I think it's working because I've had a couple of days where I realized at the end of the day I didn't even notice my foot all day long!  This is an unusual place for me to be as normally in December I'm pushing hard with the running to make a yearly mileage goal.  I'm not worried though.  Heal up 100% and there will be lots of running opportunities in 2013.

4.  This is such a great idea, I am seriously contemplating doing it!

5. This is the ornament that is tickling my fancy every single time I look at my tree this year.  Mr. Helen bought it for me a couple years ago but I think it just found the perfect spot on the tree this year and it's making me happy.

6. On my recent visit to Little Helen, I took the train.  It's about a 7 hour ride.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Amtrak is modern.  There was free wi-fi and plugs.  Next time I'll bring my laptop.  I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the passengers are modern too.  There was a woman who got on the train in New York City and talked, non-stop, on her cell phone.  She literally made one call after another until we both got off in Washington, DC - about a 4 hour time frame.  Made me understand the reason why they now offer a quiet car:  no conversations or cell phone use allowed!

7.  Can't remember if I mentioned it or not but I lost 6 pounds from Friday-Sunday of my black belt testing. Here's the good news:  I haven't gained it back and I've lost 4 more.  Leaves me 12 to lose to get back to pre-foot injury weight.  But here's the great news:  I haven't been dieting at all, just eating sensibly.  I am also certain my return to exercise put a stop to stress eating and drinking.  No desire to drink when I want to get up at 4 am to run.  Looking for this trend to continue!

8. Did you see this video?  If not, click click click.  You just can't help but smile.  The Roots playing kids instruments make it worth the watch.

9. Three hardest things I've ever done that rank equally in how hard they were to finish: give birth to Little Helen, run my first marathon, my black belt test. After all three I said I'd never do it again.  I was right about giving birth, wrong about running another marathon.  Does this mean black belt testing is the tie breaker?

10. I tied one on and I did it in front of 600 people!  See the single red stripe on my uniform arm and pant leg?  That means I'm a first degree black belt.  The belt is a pretty good indication as well. This is the Shihan presenting me at the Spectacular on Saturday. Very proud to have earned it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's A Wonderful Life

I live in Connecticut.  While I am 90 minutes away from where the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place, Connecticut is still in many ways a small New England state.  The grief has been palpable here, whether people knew anyone directly or not.  But the thing is - and I learned this the hard way with unexpected death in my own family - life does AND MUST go on.  So this week as the victims of that terrible tragedy, both adults and children, are laid to rest, we must, must continue on.  We must in their honor remember truly what A Wonderful Life we have.  Live it and treasure every minute.

As President Obama remarked, "God has called them all home.  For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory."

If you did not see President Obama's remarks at the Memorial Service last night, I've provided a link to them here.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday High Five

1. I am swamped people.  This is when I'm busy at work and with the black belt activities, which culminate Saturday with the show, I haven't had time to do much of anything that I should be doing, much less blog or comment on blogs (if I'm not commenting, I'm still reading when I can). I should get a bit of relief after tomorrow and I'm looking forward to that.

2.  In the midst of all the craziness, I had to say goodbye to this little munchkin.  I took her shopping and out for dinner.  I let her pick where we ate.  She chose Moe's Southwest Grill.  That was a totally different experience seeing it through a child's eyes.  Her mama said she cried the first day at her new school, which made her mama cry when she got in the car and made me cry when she told me about it.  As of today, I hear she's doing much better. I miss her so much already!

3.  Also in the midst of the craziness, I have managed to get my Christmas shopping done, mostly because Mr. Helen and I are not exchanging gifts this year as we're saving money for a big trip in the spring.  I did more online shopping than I've ever done in the past though. Last night I had one uninterrupted hour and managed to wrap about 4 things that we'd bought for nieces and nephews. It makes me tired just trying to figure out how I'm going to fit in the rest of it.

4.  Also in the midst of the craziness, we found time to go get our tree and get it decorated.  I had exactly one day to get it done and of course, it poured rain and was 60 degrees.  Nutty weather.  But it came out beautiful, I think.

5.  Another thing that has made it busier than usual is that on Tuesday, I went to a reception at the White House!   Once in a while it pays off in a major way that Little Helen is such a mover and shaker and this was one of those times.  Eventually, I promise to blog about it but I need to get her photos first because we collaborated.  Preview of coming attractions: the one photo taken with my iPhone.  I'm in the China Room.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It Ain't Over until It's Over

(This is the final part of a four part series on my black belt test. For part one go here, for part two go here, for part three go here.)


As the Shihan asked us to rise, I could feel the exhaustion starting to set in to my bones and I was looking forward to the end.  Then I heard him say, I want you all to take off your shin guards and your gloves ONLY.  Now I want you go to put on your socks and shoes, then put your gloves back on.  Leave all your other sparring equipment except your shin guards on.  Leave your mouthpiece in.  Find your Team Captain and once you're all together, run the two mile loop.  You have 5 minutes to get outside and 20 minutes to run the loop.

Let me just tell you that the entire audience gasped so loud when he said that it sounded like a roar. No other group has ever been required to do this much running, nor to have to do a timed run at the end of their testing. I know parents were very concerned for their children.  (In fact many parents ended up running the loop with their kids.) I couldn't believe what I was hearing and for a split second, I started to cry.  I just knew I couldn't do it.  My foot was hurting (but thankfully not swollen) from all the running and sprinting and car pushing we'd done in the morning.  Mr. Helen said he saw my head go down and he thought that was the end. He was right. I was done. I was broken.  Sort of ironic for a runner, right?

I slowly walked back to where my bag was, sat down and took some deep breaths. Mr. Helen came over to me and told me to just do it even if I had to walk.  Then he said, "You know if you don't try, you'll regret it."  Then my friend, teammate/supporter ran in the back and said, "I know you can do this.  Remember I did my timed run two days after I fell of that bike with my shoulder and hip all messed up.  You can do it!"   From somewhere inside that I didn't even know existed I pulled out the mantras I had chosen for the weekend and started saying to myself, "Never, never, never give up! When you're going through hell, keep going!" (Thank you Winston Churchill.)

I put on my socks and shoes, and put my headgear and gloves back on and went outside.  The same friend who had just encouraged me, came running outside after me, unwrapped an energy chew and ordered me, "Chew it and run like heck!"

So I did.  One foot in front of the other. My left foot hurt and I had tied my shoe too tight on my right foot.  Guess what you can't do when you have boxing gloves on?  Adjust your shoelaces.  But I kept on going and once again, I started picking people off.  At one point I came up to one of our junior black belts who is about as fierce as any kid you've ever seen.  I could see her dad and brother were running with her and I could hear him quietly talking to her.  As I went around, I heard her sobbing, "I don't want to do it!  Please daddy don't make me do it!  I hate this!  I hate everyone!  I hate karate!  I'm not going to run!  No! No! NO!"  I briefly tried to encourage her myself and kept going thinking, that she couldn't have said it any better, that's exactly how I felt.  And I knew I'd been broken and then broken through to what being a black belt really means.  As I finished the run, my friends were there screaming and yelling and running down the sidewalk to meet me, they were so excited.  Just the push of adrenaline I needed to finish.

After the run, we were told to get with our teams and get ready for our show.  Each team went out and did whatever routine they'd chosen.  My team was last, which was a compliment of sorts as we have a saying: "Last one, best one!"

When we finished, the audience roared their approval and we went to the back room where we were separated from our teams and put into lines with the other people from our own dojo.  Then we were marched back out and lined up in front of the Shihan and all our Senseis.  They then proceeded to call out our names and as we stepped forward, placed a white stripe on our belts, signifying that we had earned our black belt.

We had done it, all 57 of us were black belts! Mr. Helen said, "That was some old school martial arts testing right there.  I'm a little jealous because your test was harder than any I've ever done (he's done three). But I'm so proud of you I can't even find the words to express it!

I won't actually receive my black belt until we have our show on December 15th and when I tie it on, I'll know deep in my heart, I earned it.  I'm a black belt!

My personal cheerleaders throughout the weekend.  The woman with the pink and white jacket is the one who ran after me and gave me the energy chew.

My team captain for Power Weekend, my sparring partner and my Sensei

My Kyoshi.  She is the one who decided I should test and evaluated me all weekend.  She's an amazing martial artist - small but mighty!

My biggest fan
And she lived happily ever after

Monday, December 10, 2012

You Have to Face Your Fears

(This is part three of a four part series on my black belt test.  For part one, go here, for part two go here.)


After the morning session, I was so hungry!  As soon as we got in the car I told Mr. Helen I wanted to stop at Shop-Rite and buy a bagel.  My plan was to eat an egg, ham and cheese bagel sandwich around 11 am which would give me a good carbohydrate and protein boost and plenty of calories for the afternoon session.  As soon as we got in the grocery store and went to the bakery, I spied a cinnamon roll.  Freshly baked and glazed.  I bought it and when I got home, I ate it with a cup of hot coffee.  There may never be another cinnamon roll in my life that tastes as good as that one did.

After showering and stretching a bit, I basically just sat around and relaxed, waiting for 12:30 to come so we could get ready to go back.  I thought I might fall asleep but again was so wound up I couldn't.  I did, however, have to deal with leg cramps that were identical to the ones I got when I ran my very first marathon.  They started at my ankle and went all the way up the inside of my leg to the very top.  Even though Mr. Helen felt for me, he couldn't help but laugh at my jumping around trying to get them to subside.

Unfortunately, right around noon, after I had eaten, I felt like I could sleep but didn't dare do so.  I think the waiting between the morning session and the afternoon session was worse than the short sleep from Friday night to Saturday morning.

Soon enough though we arrived back at the dojo where we each had an individual photo taken and then a couple of large group photos.  The Shihan told us he did this prior to the test finish so we all wouldn't look a hot and sweaty mess.  Then he told us Photoshop existed to edit out anyone who didn't make it.

Once the photos were done, my team had a quick meeting finalizing what we would do for our show and then we all put on our full sparring gear.  Full gear consists of headgear, a mouthpiece, a chest protector, gloves and shin guards. We marched out to the main room and stood in line waiting to be given instructions.

The first thing that was done was to separate the youth  from the teens and adults.  Then we were told to get in groups of three.  My sensei and team captain asked me to be in her group and then she chose Bronwyn who was a teen karate candidate.  I realize now she did this because as a 3rd degree candidate she needed to know both the karate and Muay Thai material so that gave her one of each to spar with.  We were sent into the back room and began to spar in  1 1/2 minute rounds.   Then one person would step out and the other would come in.  The result was you sparred for 3 minutes straight - just like a real boxing match!  The Senseis were there sort of referreeing and making sure nothing got out of control.  To be blunt, it was exhausting and I was sweating like a stuck pig with all that gear on.

After we did that, we were told to switch rooms so we went back out to the front room where the Shihan instructed us to form a large circle around the perimeter of the room.  He then called out Sensei Sheryle and one of the 2nd degree candidates and put them in the middle.  We thought they were going to fight, but nope, he challenged us:  Who has what it takes to spar with these top guns?

Confession:  I have never liked the sparring aspect, even though I know it teaches me things I need to know about self defense.  But I have always just been so afraid that either I would get hurt or I'd hurt someone.  By now my stomach was doing flips as I realized I was going to have to spar someone in front of a bunch of people (including Mama Helen, my sister, Jacob and Gracie).  Then the group of women from my dojo who had come out to support started chanting, "Helen! Helen! Helen!"  Even though I had been sparring with my in the back room, this was different.  It was in the ring, in front of the Shihan.  I took a deep breath and faced a fear I've had for nearly 4 years:  sparring my own Sensei, who I was pretty sure was going to take me down.

I'm not even sure how long we sparred, but not only did I manage to stay on my feet, I actually got a couple of kicks and shots in on the Sensei!

Once done we were asked to kneel so that the Shihan would know that we had been in the ring.  As we knelt there, I lifted my headgear up to cool off a bit and thought about how glad I was that that part was over.  I knew we were coming up to around 2:45 and the session was scheduled to end at 3:30 so I was beginning to anticipate the end.

All of the participants finished and then the moment came that broke me...

Tomorrow the conclusion (I know some of you are thinking, finally!).  In the meantime, please enjoy this video of me sparring with my Sensei in the back room.  Constant hilarious commentary and coaching provided by Mr. Helen!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Pushed A Car

(This is part two of a four part series on my black belt test.  For part one, go here.)


Saturday morning wake-up came much too early.  Mostly because it took me so long to wind down from the Friday night session that I didn't get to sleep until almost 11 and then my alarm went off at 3:45.  I had decided I would treat this just like I would a distance run and hydrate and fuel accordingly.  I got up and had some coffee then around 4:30 forced a bowl of oatmeal as well as 16 oz. of Nuun water down my throat.  At the time, I had no idea, just how smart this would be.

When we got to the dojo, the first thing I wanted to do was stretch out because the morning session has been traditionally when the 2 mile timed run took place.  I'm not going to lie, I felt old and tired!

When we were finally marched into the main room, the jumping jacks, shoulder touches started all over again.  The Shihan was no where to be seen which worried me a bit...

Around 6:20 he arrived saying he'd had to go and check things out for safety sake. Here's my team waiting to hear what he was going to say...

What he said was, Get you shoes and socks on and whatever else you might want.  If you have a coat, you might want to bring it for the end.  You're going to run down the road about a half mile and stop at the parking lot.  You'll be given instructions there.  Then you're going to run another 1 1/2 miles to Bluff Point (a local beach area) where we will gather and you'll be given further instructions.  By the way you have 35 minutes to be at Bluff Point.  If you're not there, you'll be sent back and will not continue with the test.

Having no idea what the parking lot stop would consist of we all dashed as fast as we could to get our shoes on.  We had to stay and start with our team and then at Bluff Point the captain had to account for everyone in the team before we were considered in.

At the parking lot, we had to do five sprints of the full length before we could continue on.  I had a jacket tied around my waist - thankfully Mr. Helen was able to take it from me.

Once our team regathered, we took off for the point. Yes, it was cold and dark, and as you can see, no fancy wicking running clothes - just a Gi (although I did think to put a wicking shirt and shorts on underneath - yay me!)

Once there, we started with our teams but then were separated by height into groups of 5 or 6.  I don't think I can adequately describe to you what happened over the next hour and a half.  We did drills in the dirt, showcased our material, and yes, indeed, I pushed a car!


When all of this was over, we were told to get back to the dojo.  And no, we were not allowed to ride with our loved ones who had followed us over there in cars - we had to run and we had 25 minutes to get back, where we were told to line up on the sidewalk.

I'll just admit, I was terrified that once we got back, we were going to be forced to do the knuckle pushups on the sidewalk cement again.  But I was more afraid that if I didn't get back, I'd be failed, so run I did.  I was really pleased with my run too, especially after all that hard work at the beach.  I started out slowly and just kept running and the next thing you know, I was picking people off one by one.  While I wasn't the fastest runner in, I most definitely was not the slowest and was very, very proud of myself.

When we were all once again assembled, the Shihan told us that we should be back by 1:00 for photos and as soon as we had our picture taken we were to put on full sparring gear.

My team then assembled for a quick meeting to discuss what we would do for our show that afternoon.  We also did about a 2 minute rehearsal so we could figure out how we would rotate our karate and Muay Thai candidates back and forth.

As Mr. Helen and I drove away for a few hours break, I kept thinking, "sparring?"   I was tired, but  I wasn't broken, not quite yet...