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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Red Recommended

I earned the last color last night. It felt good to tie on a red belt, and know that the next time the color of my belt changes, it will be to black. Of course that's another 6 months or so away, but it feels so close. And I felt stronger and more confident as a martial artist than I ever have at any other promotion. I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of things. But that wasn't the best part of last night.

My Little Man earned his blue decided belt. He's still a long way away, but he has come so far. Last night, after hours of hard work, and frustration, and practice, he looked like a real martial artist and not just a little kid doing it because his parents told him to. I am so proud of him. But to be honest, that wasn't the best part of last night either.

The best part of last night was my dad. My dad, who as long as I can remember has constantly pushed himself to improve, and done a thing wholeheartedly or not at all, got his black belt. He has ever been the rock of our family, and an inspiration to everyone he meets, but he stays humble. In class, he is focussed and powerful, helps others, makes jokes, and makes everyone around him want to punch harder, kick higher, and practice more. He's not just an incredible martial artist for his age, he's an incredible martial artist period.

When he executes a form better than people half his age, or punches through double boards and makes it look easy, I can't help thinking (and sometimes saying) "Yes, that's my dad!" I couldn't have been prouder to see that black belt tied on him, and I couldn't be prouder to call him my dad. As he always has, he makes me want to be better simply by being himself.

(I tried to add pictures, but I can't seem to get them to post correctly - if I can get them to cooperate I'll add them later.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

White Belt

May 26, 2009

There's a fancy official description of what the white belt means that uses the word "pure," but what it boils down to is: you don't know jack yet.

I certainly didn't know jack when I tied on that belt.

I didn't know where the journey would take me, but I was (reluctantly) willing to find out.

I didn't know how I was going to support us. I had a fledgling direct sales business of my own at the time, but it wasn't making me much (any) money and I wasn't in love with it.

I didn't know how to be both mother and father to my son.

I didn't know how to get the confidence and independence back that I had lost somewhere along the way.

I didn't know when, if, or where I would find a partner who would truly love me for who I am, love me the way I needed to be loved.

And because I fear the unknown, and need to be in control, and most of all (worst of all), need to be perfect, I told myself for far too long that I still didn't know jack. I kept that white belt and everything it meant. I dropped to a class where I wouldn't promote in rank, and I stayed a white belt for close to a year.

I had my excuses: I didn't have time, I had other priorities, I just wanted to exercise and not memorize stuff, I had a business to run.... but they weren't the truth. I was in the habit of telling myself I wasn't good enough.

The best, most important thing I didn't know at the time was how martial arts would help me find so many of the answers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Beginning

May 23, 2009

"Where is his father?" was the first thing the school owner said to me.

My eyes filled up. Not here. On the other side of the country, and I think maybe he prefers it that way.

He asked because on my son's very first day in TaeKwonDo class, he would only listen to female instructors. His particular favorite was the one he would eventually call his sister (though of course we didn't know that yet).

At the time I could see very little good about where I was. I can look back now with gratitude that it led me here, but that day I was just surviving. Confused, badly wounded, searching for a way to raise my son and make a life for us.

My son got his white belt that day. I had no idea that I would join him, or the nature of the journey we were just beginning. All I knew was that I needed help. I wanted something to give my bright, stubborn, rambunctious, charming little boy a physical outlet and some more discipline and focus.

I didn't know, as I stood in the back of the room and watched my son try (and mostly fail) to stand still and pay attention, that we would find a family here. And a goal, and a whole new life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Knoxville and Chattanooga

Okay, I'm back. I'm sure my brother is the only one still interested in reading this, but I'm going to write it anyway. Just for you, bro.

We left Warren, OH (can you guess?) very early in the morning, since it would take us all day to drive down to Knoxville, and we wanted to get there early evening. Of course we got there about an hour and a half late due to completely inexplicable traffic (I still have no idea why everyone slowed down!). As we neared town, I sent my brother a text message:

"Pick a really nice place to go eat, we want to take you guys out to dinner."

He replied, after a few minutes:

"How does Greek/Mediterranean sound?"

Well, I love Greek food, so I thought that sounded awesome, and told him so. He replied:

"Okay, we'll make a reservation."

No further conversation required. So we get into town, and thanks to our trusty GPS, finally find the house - a cute little old cottage house on the slope of an uphill road (okay, so people who live in mountainous areas would laugh at me, but it felt pretty steep to this flatlander), with a little garden in the front, and the fireflies were just starting to appear.

My brother and his wife greeted us at the gate, and we went in to visit a while before dinner, since it was only about 5:30.

The house had been divided into three apartments, and theirs was tiny, but neat and cute. To be honest, my family greeted the news of them moving to TN with a great deal of apprehension, but I've never seen them happier. They clearly really love that town.

The name of the restaurant, they said, was King Tut. They had been told by many of their friends that it was a great place and they really should eat there. Well if it's that good it must fill up on a Saturday night, right? Should we call and make reservations? Sure, why not. So The Man put in a call and told them we would be coming to eat about 6:30. The lady who answered the phone said "OK" and started to hang up without even getting his name. Huh. Weird.

So we all pile into the car and head over there. I almost didn't see it... it was a tiny building that sort of resembled an old shotgun house, painted an entirely unremarkable shade of brown, and the sign was barely visible from the street. Okay....

Then we walk in, and see this:

Yep. Take it all in. Santa in the window (remember, it's July), shelves of random trinkets, a box of CD's (you can't see it, but there's a karaoke machine to the left, too), and my favorite, the novelty traffic light. Awesome.

We all turned to look at each other in shock, and had a few awkward moments of deciding whether to turn around and walk out even though the owner of the place has already seen us. My brother said to me, "Sorry, we've never been here before." Oh well, we decided. We're here, might as well eat.

The place is tiny - there are four booths along the wall and two or three tables in the center. The opposite side of the restaurant (at this point, I hesitated to call it that) is dominated by a bar, which is filled with hanging glasses and various trinkets on the shelves, but no liquor in sight. Apparently the place is BYO. Classy.

So the owner of the place, who calls himself Mo but probably has a longer, less pronounceable name, comes and seats us at the first booth (with what looks like a white card table and an aluminum chair pulled up to it to accomodate our slightly-too-large-for-a-booth group). He greets us in broken English and suggests that we have the Greek salad and Mediterranean sampler. He gives us each a menu, which is completely befuddling in its syntax and decidedly unappetizing in its choices - so we go with the recommendation, and order our drinks.

While we waited for our drinks we entertained ourselves by reading all the novelty license plates and bumper stickers that lined the walls. They were all kind of like this one:

Surprise number two: he brings out our drinks (go back and check the first picture to see what I'm talking about) in huge flower vases, each one different. With regular-size straws.

Surprise number three: We were, um, admiring the decor while we waited for our food, and noticed a review article posted in a frame next to our table. About halfway down, the article said something about the place being "cash only." Oops. So to avoid having to wash dishes for our dinner, The Man and my sister-in-law slip away to the bank down the street.

While they were gone, Mo brought us our salads ("Best Greek salad in Knoxville, and second best Greek salad in Knoxville"). First of all, they're huge. I'm glad he recommended one salad per couple. There's no way one person could eat all that. We waited for them to come back before we ate, so it was a few minutes before we got surprise number four: they were fantastic. It really was the best Greek salad I've had outside of Greece.

Then came the sampler. A small plate for each couple with two servings of each of three mediterranean foods (hummus and four pita triangles, two small grape-leaf wraps, two falafels, and a tiny dish of white beans). Um, ok. My brother said something about being baffled by the portion sizes. Guess we're grabbing a burger on the way home? Nope, there's more. Two more plates of similar things. And another plate of a noodles and sauce concoction. Four plates full of food. And once again, it's completely delicious. Now we all understand why my brother's friends told him to come here.

While we're eating, a large party comes in and fills up the center tables. Mo entertains them with bar tricks (I can pull this dollar from between these two bottles without the top one falling, and so on), and jokes - and of course since we can see and hear everything, he is entertaining us too. At some point we noticed that there were mulicolored disco lights on the ceiling - maybe King Tut doubled as a night club?

We finish every bite of our delicious dinner, pay our bill in cash - at the register at the front, of course, rather than at the table, and head into Knoxville to explore downtown. Once we got there I realized I left my sweater in the booth at the restaurant.

Downtown Knoxville has a market square that's cute, and fun, and has an extremely small-town feel to it. There were tons of people walking around and kids playing in water spray - very idyllic. We had some delicious fresh-made dessert crepes in a little cafe, and walked through the sculpture garden (Little Man liked the man-made stream running through it... he had to walk the length of it twice).

And of course, despite half of us being afraid of heights (no, I won't admit which half), we went up in the glass tower to see all of Knoxville from the top.

It was lovely at sunset. I can't remember the name of the tower. I could cheat and look it up and pretend I remembered, but I won't. If you ever go to Knoxville, it's easy to find. Its the only building with a giant glass ball on the top of it.

After we finished our tour of the town, we went back to King Tut to retreive my sweater. When we got there, it was about 9 pm. The  place was packed, the flourescent lights were off and there were black lights on and the disco balls were rolling. You could see the flash of colored lights and the noise of music and party chatter from outside the tiny windows. I guess it really does double as a nightclub. That was the strangest and funniest dining experience ever.

We went back to my brother's house and visited a while, and I'm so glad we stopped to see them, because they are so clearly happy, and it's more obvious in person than on the phone or by email. I needed to know that, to understand that they did what was right for them, in order to see that them moving so far away for no apparent reason was a good thing.

We left for Chattanooga that night, and spent our only night in a hotel of the whole trip (thanks to lovely, generous family all along the way!). The next morning we went to Ruby Falls. Yes, I know it's kind of a tourist trap... but it's also fun, and beautiful, and interesting, and worth doing at least once. It's about a half-mile, one hour guided hike down to the waterfall and back. It was when we rounded the corner to the room where the waterfall is and saw this:

...that Little Man said, "This is the BEST VACATION EVER!" After we got home, his conversations about vacation consisted almost entirely of "going to the underground cave."

After we returned to the top, which is actually the top of Lookout Mountain, we were treated to this view of Chattanooga:

Since we were finished with the tour by lunch time, and it was only a few more hours back home, we decided to go home a day early and sleep in our own beds. We were tired after all that excitement (and driving)!

That's it. No more vacation stories till the next one. :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Goodbye, Paul.

I know, it's not the weekend anymore, and no, I haven't written the story about Knoxville yet. I know.

I was preoccupied by the passing of a great man. We lost my grandfather on Friday evening.

It's always sad when you lose someone you love.

But when that someone has left a legacy of deep faith, and quick humor, and quiet love, and hard work over his 97 years, and raised 9 brilliant, funny, interesting men and women, and had dozens upon dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it's a little easier to handle. We all miss him, and we're all sad, but we know he has gone to his reward. Home to his amazing wife. To his son who died far too soon. To count the blessings of the almost-century of his incredible life.

Goodbye Grandpa. Thank you for raising my dad to be the man he is. Thank you for your example of faith and devotion. Thank you for memories of holidays surrounded by family members and great food. Thank you for the funny stories we'll never forget. Thank you for being you. I love you.